Friday, 26 June 2015

How to Stick Weave a Sea Serpent

Pencil roving is a long tube, about a pencil thickness, of wool fibres combed to alignment and then very slightly twisted to hold them together.  It is meant to be drafted out finer as you hand spin yarn, but can be knitted or woven just as it comes.  This Sea Serpent is simple stick weaving, given considerably more style by being made with gorgeous indie dyed pencil roving from Hilltop Cloud

Weaving this serpent took about 30g of pencil roving to be the weft and for the warp, two 1.8m lengths of thin, flexible, plastic coated garden wire.  The wires were threaded through the holes in two weaving sticks and bent in half.  The four ends of the wire were twisted together at the far end.

For the basic technique of making the sticks and weaving, see last week's blog.  Before beginning, it helps to press the wire flat against the weaving sticks, so no bump stops the wool from being slipped down easily.  Ask me how I know. Working from both ends of a centre pull ball, leave one tail about 10cm long and the other 50cm long, then begin weaving the pencil roving.
When there is only about 10cm of warp wires left uncovered, check you are happy that the weaving is evenly packed along its length and pull the weaving sticks through. Now, go back to the bottom end to finish the tail.  Clip the loose wires beyond the twisted section, bend the twist over itself so that the sharp ends are rolled underneath, then bend it flat against the weaving.  Using the short tail of wool as the lock, whip the wires

against the weaving with the long tail.  Here is a link showing how to do a whipped knot.  Trim the loose ends of wool and go up to the top. At the head end, clip the wires where they pass through the weaving sticks and taking one wire from one side of the weaving and one from the other, twist the pair firmly together, clip this twist to about 2cm long, wind the loose end of the wool round it and bend the twist flat against the weaving to secure it, leaving the remaining two wires sticking out.  A head piece for the serpent could be made from all manner of things.  I tried a couple of prototypes, being best pleased with  a roundish section cut from a small branch off the wood pile, sawed in half and painted with some green wood preserver I found at the bottom of a tin.

"Good job I didn't throw out all this old paint after all, eh, Elinor?"
My companion was sitting in her usual observation post, on a shelf down the garage.
"Why are you cutting that firewood so small?  O, Beaut, this is never more of those kits for that Crafts by the Sea shop?  After last week's magnificent sales of one coaster kit, you just might be overloading the market."
"This serpent kit is going to be much more desirable.  No more grey and white rug yarn, lush hand dyed roving will catch the shoppers' attention and the wooden head is going to be fab, with copper and brass eyes."
"Sea serpents are horrible things.  They eat ships whole, Beaut, sailors, rigging and all." Elinor dunked a biscuit in her tea and chucked it down her gullet with grisly relish.
"Ugh, don't."  I turned back to the work bench.  "Bet serpents spit out the sheep.  Like sour pips."

I drilled holes with a 2mm bit, one through the flat depth of the wood, to take a copper wire to bend round as part of the eyes, and one through the curve of the wood to pass the remaining pair of warp wires up.  The centre of the eyes were brass upholstery studs hammered into the same hole. Actually, though the first one went smoothly, making another five heads for the kits was a complete nightmare of wire that wouldn't
bend and hammered fingers.  I smiled through the pain rather than let Elinor hear me yelp. The weaving can be bent round the head and secured by twisting the last pair of wires at the neck. I undid mine again to add a frayed square of red chenille fabric as a sort of serpent's hood and then sewed on another piece for the tongue.  Job done.

Friday, 19 June 2015

How to Stick Weave A Coaster with Rug Wool

Weaving is one of those crafts that looks intimidatingly complicated, with lots of new jargon and expensive kit.  How nice to find you can start really small and cheap, learn the basics and knock out your first item inside an hour.  To make two weaving sticks, buy a short length of 6mm wooden dowelling, cut two pieces about 10cm long, sharpen one end of each with a pencil sharpener, drill a 2mm hole about 1.5cm from the other end and pare back the sides around and below the holes. 

This coaster is made with rug wool, the grey is from Herdwick sheep and the white from Shetland.  I told my companion, Elinor Gotland, that I was calling it a Rock Fossil Coaster, as it's not a million miles from those I've seen on the beach.
"You've lost the plot, Beaut.  Who'd want that antidiluvian specimen on their coffee table?  Now you've given up work, I thought you were going to have a proper clear out in here."

Elinor had come down to the garage to watch me sawing and drilling lengths of dowelling.
"Well, people might enjoy stick weaving coasters.  I've measured out the yarn and bought enough big darning needles, when I've finished these sticks I'll put together five kits to sell in the Crafts by the Sea co-operative group shop."
Her teacup positively crashed into the saucer.
"What a waste of time! I cannot believe you've taken early retirement.  It's ridiculous at your age.  Your pension would have been so much bigger if you'd only hung on a few more years."
"Oh, Elinor.  I thought a dilettante artiste like yourself would be all in favour of me living the small crafting business dream."
"Me, dilettante!  I am an established actor.  You don't know the first thing about business.  It's taking you days to put these kits together, you're only charging £7.50 and nobody's going to buy one, anyway.  That's not a living, never mind living the dream.  You've gone tonto, Beaut.  Must be your time of life."
Having a power tool at hand does lend one a certain confidence.
"My hormones are my own business and so is Rich and Strange Silk and Wool Work. These kits are part of starting small and finding out what works.  My pension will cover the essentials. We will just have to cut back on the sloe gin."
Elinor did not flinch when I waved the electric drill at her, but she winced at that.

To continue with the matter at hand, if you did happen to fancy stick weaving a coaster out of your own scrap yarn, here is how to do it.  Cut two lengths of yarn 240cm long.  Poke a loop of wire through the hole in the weaving sticks and pull the yarn through so the tails are even.  Knot all four ends together.  This is the warp.
Hold the two weaving sticks in one hand.  The weft might be a single strand of yarn, two strands worked together, a fancy yarn or a ribbon.  In this project, the weft starts as a strand of Herdwick with a strand of Shetland yarn. Leaving a short tail sticking out in front, pass the
weft yarn back between the weaving sticks, bring it out left, round to the front and through the middle of the sticks, then bring it out right, round to the front and through the middle of the sticks, completing a figure of eight.
After the first figure of eight, bring the short tail you left at the beginning over the centre of the figure of eight and out between the sticks at the back, as this
will lock it securely. 
Carry on making figures of eight with the weft yarn until the braid is nearly up to the top of the sticks.  Now tug one stick upward, but not right out of the braid.  Then tug the other stick upward.  This transfers most of
your weaving onto the warp threads.  Once you have repeated this a few times, the weft gets densely packed and needs to be eased and smoothed down the warp to make room for more
weaving. Half way along, switch to weaving with two strands of the Herdwick to make a solid grey. When you have about 10cm of warp yarn left showing, check you are happy that the packing of the braid is even through the whole length of your weaving.  Pull your weaving sticks right out of the braid, so the last 10cm of warp is free.  Cut the warp by the weaving sticks and knot all four ends together.  If you want 
less of a lumpy knot, you can tie the warp threads in pairs, using one from each side of the braid.  At the end, undo the knot at the bottom and retie the pairs in the same way. Now, thread a length of Herdwick on the darning needle and fasten on at the grey and white end of the braid.  Start to roll it up, stitching through the whole diameter of the coil while it is small, then stitching one cm back from the
point where the wool comes out and through the curve including some of the layer below.  Pull the braid firmly against the enlarging coil to keep the roll tight and keep checking you are staying on a level plane.  Fasten off at the far end and sew the yarn tails back into the braid, cutting off the last ends.
Quick and easy, the basic technique can produce items of all shapes and sizes, blending colours or contrasting.
This table mat is made with three 1.5m lengths of stick weaving, using two strands at a time of four complementary colours.  
I knew Elinor was coming round to my arts and crafts life plan when she put on her pre-Raphaelite Black Wensleydale wig to go out. Confidence took a knock when we dropped in at the shop and heard that only one of the kits had been sold. All the way along the headland she was humming tunes from La Boheme.
I sang my own sotto voce aria "Che cosa faccio? Scrivo. E come vivo?" finishing with my head back, full blast - "Vivo!
I helped Elinor back to her hooves. "Come on. Lets go truly bohemian and blow the profits on an icecream.  Race you to the cafe."

Friday, 12 June 2015

Exmoor Horn X Blue Faced Leicester Wool - Letting the Twist into the Tops

Though the Elgin jumper was designed to suit my sister, as soon as I had tried it on, I began planning to make another one for me. Exmoorino fleece turned out well suited for chunky yarn worn next to the skin, being soft yet robust. Here is one of my drum carded batts shown above some Exmoor Horn X Blue Faced Leicester (BFL) combed tops.

When I saw them for sale on the John Arbon stall at Wonderwool, just after I had come by a 20% off voucher at the Flock Meeting, I calculated that a jumper made from these tops would cost much the same as spinning from raw Exmoorino fleece had done, taking into account the fleece postage, wastage and dye bath casualties.  Only infinitely quicker and easier to get to the spinning stage.  Comparing the two Exmoor Horn Crossbreeds, the BFL was not quite as soft.  Compared with other combed tops I have bought recently, it had heaps more character, vigour and life and still smelled faintly, pleasantly sheepy. Definitely the best of both worlds, giving a tangible feel of real wool with none of the effort of fleece preparation.

Reaching Chapter Five, on my personal pilgrimage from Worsted to Woolen, I aimed high and missed.  Thinking the pale pink would go nicely with some very dark alpaca spun from the fold, I tried to spin some superwash Merino tops dyed with sweet woodruff roots fingering weight, in the semi woolen style of this lesson. 
"That yarn would fall apart if the wind blew."
The potential ill effects of a stiff breeze are a sore subject with my companion, Elinor Gotland, who suspects her recent abrupt plunge out of a hammock was not entirely due to natural forces.  She is suffering from unspecified bruising and I have spent the week waiting on her hoof, foot and finger.   
Not that this has softened her up much.
"You paid for those Craftsy classes, you've worn the computer out watching them, but you still don't do what that Jacey Boggs says.  You are not stealing any more of these Merino tops just to ruin them.  And you should know by now I like my lemons thinly sliced.  It's like teaching a dog to walk, Beaut.  Might as well say nothing."  
Well, if only, I thought to myself as I refreshed her glass.

To get into the woolen zone when spinning, you have to allow the twist from the wheel to run into the wool supply, which means letting go with your fibre drafting hand. It's likely that the pink yarn fell apart because I hadn't the confidence to let enough twist in to secure fine singles.  When I followed Jacey's instructions and dropped to my lowest wheel ratio, I spun a satisfying ball of chunky semi-woolen yarn from the good, grabby fibres of Exmoor Horn X BFL.  Next, I tried this with backward drafting, finding it rather more of a challenge to control the amount of fibre taken up by the twist.  I could see the place where fibre was becoming yarn, but could not necessarily manage to draft from that point.  Much practice was in order, so I settled in to spin enough yarn to knit my own Elgin jumper, adding in locks of fleece dyed with woad to give a slub effect.

Wanting superbulky yarn of variable weight, I made the singles thicker and thinner on purpose.  
Well, some variation was intentional. Adding in the blue locks broke the rhythm, but in the pauses, I tried to keep reassessing what I was doing and not slip into forward drafting. Although they weren't well incorporated into the singles, plying secured the woad bits better and once the yarn was knitted up, they seemed pretty well locked in. Below is a photo of my daughter, modelling the finished Woad Elgin.  Modifications on the original pattern include three quarter length sleeves, still starting with 24 stitches, but increasing on the fifth row after knitting ten rows of ribbed cuff, then after another six rows, with the final increase on the thirteenth row after that, going on straight til the sleeve was the length I wanted. The body also starts with only ten rows of ribbing. Trying a centred decrease for the armpit reductions left no little holes, though this did create small lumps, they don't show up once the jumper is being worn. The semi woolen spun Exmoor Horn X BFL yarn is fullbodied, making a well structured fabric and it turned out quite soft enough for next to the skin wear.  I shall be a return customer for John Arbon tops.  I'm already wondering whether the other kinds they sell have equally good character.


Friday, 5 June 2015

Spinning from the Fold with the Twist Between Your Hands.

"If you carry on practicing til you can draft smooth worsted yarn off the end of wool tops, you'll be getting your bus pass before you ever spin anything else."  
Elinor Gotland looked at me, hunched over the spinning wheel, desperately concentrating on shifting my thumb across the fibre supply in my right hand, just like Jacey Boggs says. I looked up to reply, pedalled too slowly, lost the twist, broke the single and then couldn't find the end on the bobbin. As I hurried indoors, all fraught, to find a bit of sticky tape, Elinor called after me. 
"You've got obsessed with inchworming, Beaut, it's time you loosened up and lived a little."

Elinor is not the first to spot my preference for the controlled, short forward draft.  Jacey Boggs' online Craftsy class 'Worsted to Woolen' was recommended especially to help me learn about long draw spinning, as I have been having a go at this on and off for a couple of years, never really taking that leap of faith and stretching out a half a rolag backwards. Jacey is very easy on the ear, eye and spirit, such a reassuring instructor.  I think I may be developing a crush. Just as the title implies, her first lessons are about worsted spinning.  I dutifully followed the programme, watched the first three classes over and over and now understand a great deal more about the underlying principles of spinning worsted, though getting proficient is going to take me years.  

Lesson Four is about spinning from the fold, which I have tried a few times already and got on ok. Feeling quietly confident, I chose a 50g bag of lush black alpaca with a massive staple length of 18cm, which I bought from the Fleecewitch at Wonderwool. However, part way through this section, Jacey requires her eager audience to let the twist travel into their fibre supply.  This has never really gone well for me.  Having flick combed the alpaca into a nice, orderly pile of locks on the arm of the sofa,
I was relieved to discover that when you are working from the fold, since your finger stops the twist from eating up everything in your hand, basic competence can be achieved without too much swearing (or lying behind the sofa in a heap of mangled fibre, sobbing uncontrollably).

"Look, Elinor, I'm letting go of the yarn with my drafting hand so the twist can pull up the fibres. Come and let me show you my drafting triangle."
"People get arrested for saying things like that, Beaut."
"Damn it all, I shall let in the twist, draft backwards if I like, fill my yarn with air, spin 
                                            woollen, wild and free!"

"Bet you're going to knit another shawl now, aren't you?"
"Dunno.  If I had a tattoo done, what should it say?"
"Not knitting a shawl and having a tattoo?  OMG, Fran.  How about 'Cry "Havoc!", and let slip the dogs of wool?' Plenty of room to write that across your arse. Some of it might get lost in the wrinkles, mind."
It's best to be cautious when swinging in a hammock.  The wind has been awfully gusty today.