Experiments in Weaving
For me, it feels like the old year was led out and the new one shepherded in by new craft activities. In December, I did a few courses - one, with a group of local friends, on Christmas wreath-making and another learning to lino-cut - and following the arrival of a small rigid heddle loom under the Christmas tree, I've spent the first days of the new year experimenting with weaving. Above, is my first piece of cloth.
The loom was a gift from my husband, although I'd done a bit of research before he bought it. In the end, I chose a little 15" Cricket loom, primarily because it's really small and you can sit and weave with it on your lap, which appealed to me, as when I think realistically about what craft-related things I end up investing a lot of time in, it tends to be those that can be done on a sofa, a bed or around the kitchen table, rather than ones that require me to sit tethered to a desk or be in a particular part of the house. The Cricket is made from nice, smooth bits of ply (I may be alone in this, but I find plywood oddly attractive and clean-looking, although I'm aware that the formaldehyde in the glue isn't a great thing) and it was relatively easy to put together - I did it one night as I sat up in my daughter's room and we discussed weekly goal intentions, inspired by a notepad that I'd bought her - we both liked that it required us to list how to make those things happen, rather than just what the end result should be. It's often easy to know where you want to be, but somehow harder to home toward that place if you haven't taken the time to think through the simple things you need to do to make it happen. I hadn't really been aware of wanting to set any weekly goal intentions prior to that evening, but I'm now thinking what a good thing it is and considering buying myself the same pad, as it feels akin to a weekly self-guided life-coaching session...I've never actually had a life-coaching session, but I imagine the end result is similar. I always feel wary of sharing the actual goals or things I'm attempting to do differently, as I've read that if you announce something before you've actually achieved it, you're far less likely to see it through, because just by vocalising it, the brain registers it as having already being done at some level. In my case, even sharing something that has become a fairly well-established habit - yoga lessons, spinning classes - seems to be the death of it for me, so I've learnt that I'm best keeping any positive changes in my pocket if I want to retain them!
So, back to looms. I'd done a lot of research into weaving over the last few months, as it had become something I was really desperate to try. I watched hours of tutorials about how to 'warp' up a loom, wondering whether I'd find that aspect too complicated or time-consuming, as before you can even start weaving (the weft), you have to thread all the warp strands onto the loom, keeping them under perfect tension throughout. In practice, warping is time-consuming, but it's also oddly enjoyable once you've got the hang of it. The first time, it took me a whole afternoon to do all the warp threads (partly because I was untangling a skein of yarn for every strand...more on that later in the post), but by my third time, it took less than an hour and the process of hooking yarn through the heddle slots is oddly absorbing.
That part of the process requires quite a large space, as the threads are all stretching from the loom, to a clamp placed a reasonable distance away - I took over our kitchen table with the leaves extended to warp my loom - as my husband was working on making a guitar at the breakfast bar, the whole thing felt quite sociable.
For both the warp and the weft, I used some really beautiful lace-weight yarn from Loop - it's (comparatively, at least) reasonably priced and seems soft, strong and not prone to shedding or fuzziness.
What I hadn't realised at first though, was that yarn in a skein needs turning into a ball before it's usable. My very first warping attempt was made much slower by being forced to untangle a little more of the skein each time I laid down a new strand. Much of subsequent days were then spent winding the wool into balls - my mum remembered her father moving the skein between his outstretched arms for my grandmother as she wound it into a ball, and so she did this for me, followed by my husband and then a friend who was visiting the following day. I also used two chairs placed back-to-back, as well as my knees at times. But it's quite physically exhausting when you have many skeins to work through, so eventually I ordered a yarn winder and swift (after googling how other people make balls of yarn) and the whole thing was done in under half an hour once they'd arrived. We'll call this No. 58 in a long list entitled Rookie Learning Curve in Working with Yarn and Learning to Weave, because it has felt like one long googling and YouTubing session, with everything from tying an overhand knot, to the right way to untwist a skein, requiring me to pause and consult a tutorial. It was an odd experience to be back at the beginning of something and out of my depth in nearly every way!
I've also realised that it takes a lot of experimentation to understand how colours will appear once woven. Whether you use a colour in the warp or weft, seems to have a sizeable impact on how dominant it will appear to be in the finished cloth. My husband also pointed out that once two individual colours are woven, they visually merge to create a third colour and it's often hard to predict whether it will look exactly as you were hoping for. I was also surprised by how difficult it is not to weave something that looks plaid...I'm not actually overly enamoured with linear-looking fabrics and I'm now experimenting with pick-up sticks (which can be placed behind the heddle to change which warp threads are being woven) to create a more textured, less linear pattern.
It's worth mentioning that although you can weave a piece of cloth as long as you like, the width of the fabric you produce is always determined by how wide the loom is (although you can weave pieces narrower than the width of your loom, just not wider). I'd thought that a 15" loom would allow me to make cushion covers, but actually, once the fabric has suffered from a little 'beginner's draw in' at the edges, it's not quite wide enough to make a standard square cushion cover....it's really more use for making one of these long thin cushions (pictured below), which I made a few years ago. If you're thinking of getting a loom, I'd suggest you buy one as wide as your space will allow to maximise the things you're able to make, although the Cricket offers a really nice entry to weaving and is a good way of trialling whether weaving is something you actually enjoy before committing to a larger loom.
In other thoughts, I realised at the end of last year that I was spending relatively little time reading blogs, even though it's a medium I enjoy far more than Instagram or Twitter. When I eventually took half an hour to look through the blogs that I followed on Bloglovin', I realised that many had either disappeared or were no longer updated, which, with so few posts appearing in my feed, had given me the feeling that far fewer people were reading and writing blogs now. Although that may be true to some extent, when I went hunting for new ones to fill my feed with, I found all sorts of good things and it made me happy to think that blogging isn't the dying form I'd started to think it may be. If you have a moment, I'd love to hear what your current favourites are, as I'd still love to discover more (they don't have to be sewing related - one of my favourite blogs is still Cup of Jo, which is completely un-craft-related).
Like much of the rest of the country, my husband has spent the first days of 2018 (including his birthday) with an awful cold and flu bug that seems to involve sleeping all day and then being awake for most of the night struggling to breath. Even singing happy birthday wasn't permitted, due to its potential to hurt his head and many of his presents stayed wrapped. I seem to have finally caught it myself too now. Very early this morning, we went on a slightly surreal emergency mission for satsumas and Neurofen, before scuttling back home where I think we may stay for some time, although I am determined not to become as ill as he's been with it.
Finally, when I read Sonja's message recently, wishing people 'health, wholeness and hope' they felt like three perfect words for welcoming a new year, so I'm going to shamelessly steal her greeting and end this post by wishing you the very same thing. I hope it's a very good year for you.