In 2017 I set up my very own second-hand loom, with the help of my mother. It then stood empty and stripped down for a year, as I gathered the final bits to be able to dress it for my first weaving project.
First Weaving Project: White and blue towels
Most people start with something simple, a rag rug and tabby weave, but the thought of that bored me from the start, I have no use for a rag rug, and I’m not like most people. Something I’ve always wanted is a nice set of Perugia towels. But I figured for my first project I should use an available pattern, with all the math done for me, threads figured out and all of that jazz, so I bought a slim volume analyzing a bunch of cotton/linen towels from Sweden (Handdukar: väv i lin och bomull by Ann-Kristin Hallgren) and chose the pattern on page 38 which is a herringbone twill with a cotton warp (900 threads of 16/2 cotton in unbleached and blue) and linen weft (16/1 linen in unbleached and blue).
I had to purchase heddles (texsolv), because my loom only came with around 400, I had to purchase a new reed, because the one that came with the loom was not dense enough. I also had to purchase the warp-braid from someone, and let me tell you, finding the right person to do that without knowing people is difficult. Most places that advertise online for warp-braids only do rug warps. I think I mentioned that the thought of having to make a rag rug made me sad.
Finally, through contacts, I found a place that could make the warp for me, and I could finally start actual work on this project.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018: Pre-sleying the reed, in order to spread out the warp to the right width for winding onto the back beam, you use the reed and pull the end of your warp through it to get the right distribution of threads. I don’t have a pair of reed-stands, so had to improvise with some books and weights. I also discovered that I own two reed-hooks.
Wednesday, January 17: Preparing the four shafts with the right amount of heddles, 225 per shaft.
Friday, January 19: With the help of Edricus I got the warp wound and tensioned on the back beam of my loom. This was probably made much too complicated by me being paranoid about the tension, and we spent a lot of time combing through the warp braid. We had one warp thread break near the end of winding on, but I found it pretty quickly and was able to knot it back together and continue.
Sunday, January 21: Threading the heddles. Oh, boy, it was at this stage I started to think that maybe a rag rug wouldn’t have been too bad after all. I did the first eight threads and then I had to take a break to preserve my sanity. Then I took a deep breath and managed to get more than halfway through the 900 threads in the warp. This was done sitting on the weaving bench, sort of hunched over and leaning a little and with my hands extended quite a ways forward of my centre mass. What I’m trying to say is, I had sore arms and shoulders by the end of the day, and my back got a twinge when I dropped my hook and tried to pick it up in an awkward position.
Monday, January 22: Finishing the threading of the loom, and sleying the reed. The weaving draft called for two threads in each dent, and I managed to do this bit in fairly good order. I do love a good pattern.
The next step is tensioning and tying the warp onto the front, cloth, beam. I discovered I did not have a good stave to use as a stabilizer for the front beam, so I had to use two of the warp sticks put together as a front tie-on bar. It took a couple of passes for each of the knots before I got a nice even tension in the entire warp. To even them out I used a bit of tent-rope which I had at hand. Not elegant, but effective and less wastage than using another warp stick. Then on to the tie-up, where I connected the shafts 1 and 3 and 2 and 4, and then tied the shafts down to the treadles according to the pattern.
Finally, on Monday night I could start test-weaving. Pushing down on the treadles showed me a couple of mistakes I had made in the sleying, fortunately I had no mistakes in the threading of the heddles – I had compulsively checked and re-checked them while doing it. Easy fixes.
So I found a bobbin and tried a few shots of a yellow wool as my weft thread, and any lingering thought that I should have done a rag rug were banished forever from my mind.
In order to start on my actual project I had to create bobbins of my linen weft thread. Well, that was another skill I had never done before so my first couple of bobbins were horrible, and I had to throw them out after attempting to use them. I didn’t wind them on tight enough, and not in the correct way so loops of thread escaped the piece of paper they’re put on and got tangled up on my shuttle and the shuttle got stuck halfway through the shed. Ugh!
It was a disaster, but, I persevered for as long as I could. In total I managed to weave for about two and a half hours on Monday night, and I got a couple of inches on my first herringbone twill towel.
Tuesday, January 23: Asking for advice and help on making bobbins proved useful, and practice also helped. Technical tips from weavers Åsa and Maria showed me exactly how do wind a bobbin, and once I threw out the first disasters it was smooth sailing for the most part. Tuesday saw me weave for another two and a half hours.
Wednesday, January 24-Sunday January 28: The following days I progressed apace and made a total of four towels,
- learned how to keep an even tension on my weft,
- got better at keeping my selvedges neat,
- learned how to weave in a weft thread that needs to be carried along the side neatly,
- learned how to change colours in my weft,
- learned how to change bobbins and continue on the same colour in a fairly seamless way,
- learned how to mend broken warp threads: that warp thread that broke during the winding onto the back beam came apart once I got forward of my reed, so I had to fix it with another piece of warp thread, which the lady who did my warp had nicely provided for me,
- had a little fun varying the pattern as printed and understanding how to manipulate it at least a little bit,
- had a lot of fun!
Total weaving time was 19 hours from start to finish. But I did not time myself doing any of the preparation of the loom or warp, which really is quite a major chunk of time. Fortunately I knew going in that prep-work would make up the majority of the work time on any weaving project, so I’m fine with that. If I had gone in expecting to be weaving on day one I probably would have been very frustrated. As is, I am quite pleased and proud of myself.
Monday, January 29, 2018: Cutting apart the towels, hemming them with the linen weft thread, and washing them. The hemming took two hours in all, and then washing and ironing and starching another couple of hours.
The first towel I intend to keep for myself, as a keepsake and reminder of my first ever proper weaving project on a floor loom. (Slight lie, I did weave a tiny rag-rug table cloth in pre-school when I was six years old, but I did none of the setup or whatever for that).
The second towel is basically a copy of the first one, but with better edges, and I am designating that as Ed’s towel to use at feasts.
The third towel off the loom turned out slightly smaller, and overall much better worked, and I have donated it to a silent auction to benefit the Drachenwald Travel Fund.
The fourth towel, isn’t really a proper towel as I didn’t have enough warp left to make it long enough. I also experimented a bit with treadling and what I did with the blue stripes, so it’s not a mirror symmetry as the others are. But I’m quite pleased with it all the same, and will keep it for . . . something.
I had a lot of help, advice, good cheer and support from lady Åsa vävare, who was my online support whenever I needed it, helping me trouble-shoot and work through the logic of weaving. I would not have succeeded quite as easily without her. The video showing how to wind a bobbin properly made for me by Viscountess Vilde also helped tremendously.
I own a very old wooden band loom, suitable for rigid heddle weaving, or tablet weaving. I’ve made a woolen band using tablets on it, and it is currently warped with silk to make another band with the same pattern.