Thursday, August 16, 2007

Not Counting Weaving

I have said before that I have no counting gene. And yet I weave. I think there is a shared impression that weavers are all orderly counting people, who know what "double two-tie unit weave" means. This is far from the truth.

Case in point:

tibet shawl10

This fabric (a shawl actually) is woven of some very beautiful yarn from Treenway Silks. The yarn is 55% silk, and 45% yak. Yes, yak: how cool is that? Thoughts of Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia.

I bought some of it from Karen and Terry at a show, then bought some more from Lynn this past May in Ontario. When I bought the yarn, I had no idea what I would make of it, I was pondering knitting lace. I just liked it, and the silk/camel, also the silk/angora yarns that were the same grist. It is 7000+/- yards per pound, laceweight to you knitters out there:

yak silk yarn

Planning my fair entries, I decided to use this yarn to weave some fabric. But what kind of fabric: for clothing?, a shawl?, um, what? Thinking Tibet, I decided it would be a large shawl, something to wrap in on a cold trek over the mountains (not planning any cold treks soon, but one must be prepared).

I warp with a paddle. To you non-weavers, a paddle is a device (a stick with holes) that helps one run more than one thread at a time. Because it is easier to use even numbers in a paddle, I decided to run a warp with four of the five skeins of silk/yak yarn. I will have one skein leftover, which may come in handy.

I had to determine how long and wide the shawl would be. I wanted at least a two yard shawl, therefore I would put three yards on the loom (there is loom waste, and there is fringe. I likes me some fringe). I ran the four skeins into balls of yarn, laced them through the paddle and onto the warping board and made a "bunch" of warps. No determination of fabric width yet: that will happen after I count the threads in the warps. No counting yet.

As I run the warps I am thinking about colors. Tibet being the inspiration, I decide on muted reds, golds, browns and oranges. I think the weft (to be determined) will be red, so I want to warps at the edges that match/coordinate with that, then extend that color into the body of the shawl:

tibet shawl2

I want some of the yarn to be undyed, because I really like the silver-beige color. Then I always like a few painted warps, so I decide on a large one for one side of the fabric, a small one to tie it together on the other side, and some stripes to carry the colors of the painted warp across the fabric:

tibet shawl3

So here I go, winding warps, not counting threads yet: that still will come later. Is the math onerous so far?

After I wind the warps, they are divided into piles of big and less big (as in this one is thicker = more threads, this one is thinner = less threads). Still not counting.

I dye and paint warps. Now I count. 1522 ends. I have more threads than I have heddles (little flat steel things that each have to be threaded with a warp on the loom). If I had a few more heddles (like 22 more) I could just barely fit this warp on my narrow (32") loom. At the intended sett, the warp would be 31.7" wide. I don't like pushing the width, so I decide to eliminate on warp chain: out goes the gold:

gold warp chain

I warp the loom. This involves counting heddles on each harness frame. The counting gene would come in handy here, but being gene-less, I count and then add a few to each frame to make sure. Another reason not to try to use every heddle I own: I don't trust my counting.

I thread the reed, thread the heddles, and wind on the warp. I tie on the front and reach for the weft. Decision time again.

Now, the fabric will be warp-dominant. That means the warp mostly covers the weft, and I will need less weft than warp. How to calculate the weft I will need? Hmm. Buy lots. Since I am dyeing the weft to match the warp stripes: dye lots.

I had 5 skeins of silk/camel, the same grist, which I decided to use as weft. Since I used 4 skeins as warp, and I need less for weft, how many skeins should I dye? I hate running out of weft, so I dye five skeins. I know. But I like red, and I can use any red left over. Maybe even for knitting lace (trying to keep you knitters from glazing over here).

I dyed the 5 skeins red. Not the right color red, so I dyed them again. Oops, one more time: thrice dyed they are the right color red:

camel silk yarn

Then I weave. Weaving takes 6 hours. Twisting the fringe took three days. I twist by hand. There are several devices which would help with the twisting, but none of them do as nice a job as my fingers. I like to twist fringe, and I am not selling scarves or needing lots of items twisted. I go all zen and twist. For days:

tibet shawl5

Then I wash and full the fabric, and iron it dry. I have produced one of the most beautiful fabrics I have ever made:

tibet shawl9

And there was very little of the counting or math:

tibet shawl2

Some consequences of the lack of counting are humorous: the weaving uses one skein of weft. I have four skeins left! Plus that extra gold warp. Plus a last skein of silk yak: methinks there is more fabric in my future :):

tibet shawl4


Blogger Donna said...

Sara, thanks for making me smile and exercise my internal laugh mechanism (at work, must be quiet). I so enjoyed taking this little trip with you. I must say that I will no longer feel like the "bad girl" of the weaving world because of some of my 'methods'!! I just loves company!! And, I'm still saying thanks to you for coming to Palomar to show us how to dye all those wonderful colors!!

10:35 AM  
Blogger Donna said...

ps that *IS* the most *GORGEOUS* fabric!!! Great job!!!!

10:37 AM  
Blogger Deanna said...


And hmmmm, gold warp and red weft, sounds like a good recipe for irridescent fabric.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Caroline M said...

The colours are lovely (although I find red scary), I love the combination of silk/camel for knitting. It's the way the shine and the peach fuzz work together that calls to me.

I have a mountain of odd balls of yarn from decades of knitting sweaters. My view was always to add two balls to whatever the pattern said it needed - just in case.

I have a RH loom now, and I've warped it. Red and gold, scary colours for me but it seemed right at the time. I carefully didn't count the warp threads - wide, narrow, tiny and again that's not me either. If you are doing this in my sleep can you not stop until I've finished the weaving?

12:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That is beautiful fabric. I can't imagine it would be a hardship to find something to do with all of your leftovers, either.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Phiala said...

Oh, yummy! Must go warp up something... my poor neglected loom has been sitting idle for far too long.

If it's any consolation, I have the counting gene, and still can't get heddles right.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

very funny post and very lovely fabric. I'm a counter....the other day my grown son, moving into his first apartment this week, informed me that he doesn't like the colander with slits that I bought him. He wants a colander with holes...lots of them, because "It will keep witches away." Why? "because everyone knows that witches are compulsive counters and if you put a lot of something by your door the witch will never enter because she'll be busy counting." My reply..." it, I'm a counter." His retort, "Your point?"

With apologies to any wiccans out there

7:17 PM  
Blogger JQ said...


I just can't stop ogling all your beautiful colors. I love the way that yarn looks like it feels. :) Makes me want to go and find some yak yarn. I like to repeat yak yarn and giggle, but I am very tired from a long day of crocheting popcorn toques. :P

Your blog rules if i do say so myself. I just love visiting and looking at all your pretty pictures.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Love the fabric.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Marcy said...

What? What? I'm sorry. I lost track of everything when you said, "silk and yak".

7:15 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

Since you don't count, just throw the remaining chains on the loom and wind off the skeins on the warping board and put those babies on the loom. The colors are so warm and inviting that they must be used today! Your shawl is most wonderful.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Purple Fuzzy Mittens said...

Gorgeous!! I love the colors! And my lace-knitting impulse covets your leftover red. ;-)

8:52 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Spectacular results. I can see why weavers aren't able to make fitted garments. Cutting into cloth as beautiful and carefully created as this is like sticking a knife into a living creation.

7:22 PM  
Blogger historicstitcher said...


And now I'm inspired to go weave...only...any suggestions for how to wind a warp if I don't yet have a warping device?

9:41 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

my dear, sweet Marcy. You must realize that silk comes from, er, worms and yak well that is entirely another species.
Bravo Sara!

7:35 PM  
Blogger Alyclepal said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog all summer and have been inspired to start weaving. We have a camping yurt that I am felting projects for and I've been showing my husband your blog as an arguement to move the art studio into a real yurt! My question is *how* do you pick your strip patterns? Is there a good book that would explain it or perhaps a blog entry I missed? I'm sure it's near impossible to put years of study into one short answer but could you point me down the path? Many thanks, Lisa in NC

5:21 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

Beautiful fabric!
And I am glad that I am not the only weaver who is crap at counting. Thankfully, most of my projects can survive with an extra thread or ten. And I used leftover weft yarns for the next project if I don't feel like there will be enough for another full weft. But with 4 skeins of the beautiful red, I don't think that you will have a hard time finding something to do with it.

2:59 AM  

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