Tuesday, May 30, 2017

“You’ve got to be warped to weave.”

If you’ve heard of Syne Mitchell, you’ve probably heard her say “you’ve got to be warped to weave.” It was her signature signoff on the Weavecast podcast, which I listened to back in the day. (“Back in the day” = 2006-2010, when podcasts were new and all the cool kids were doing them.) I enjoyed listening to her talk about her craft, even though I didn’t understand half of the vocabulary she used. Sley the reed? Ends per inch? Choke ties? It was all just lovely mumbo jumbo to me then.

I’ve had my little Cricket loom for a couple of years now, and I’ve even made a few projects on it. Mostly scarves from stash yarn, but I also tried to make towels last summer. Remember my weird towels, which were either too long or too short?IMG_0493

After that project, I packed away the loom and the yarn before my worldly travels, and then my late summer got hijacked by an unruly appendix, and then the school year was off to the races. When Red Stone Glen released their 2016-17 schedule, I took a close look. I decided to sign up for a beginner class on the rigid heddle loom to get some solid instruction. If nothing else, I figured I could pick up a few tips. The first class that worked with my schedule was last week.

(If you don’t recognize the name Red Stone Glen, what you need to know is that after The Mannings closed, the anchor teachers – Tom Knisely and Sara Bixler – opened up a new teaching studio. It’s awesome, and it’s only about an hour’s drive from my house.)

I actually learned quite a lot in this class. We started by making a chain warp, which is what the floor loom weavers do (you can wind a really long warp with this technique). Rigid heddle looms like the Cricket come with instructions to use the direct warp method, which involves pacing back and forth between the loom and a peg that is mounted a measured distance away. Here is a direct warp just after it has been removed from a peg:IMG_0381

With the chain warp method, you get to use a warping board, which is a frame with lots of pegs on it. Here is my warp on the board:IMG_5500

Then you take it off and make a big crochet chain to move it around:IMG_5505

And then you do about a hundred tiny little things to get it onto the loom. These are the things that are hard to remember because you spend a very small amount of time doing them and you only do them once for a giant project. But I digress. At the end of the second day, I had a finished scarf. This is made from wool in three colors (two in the warp, and a third color for the weft throughout): IMG_5540

Pretty, yes?

Scarves are nice, but I really wanted to know about towels. I don’t know why, but I’ve become fixated on the idea of making a stack of beautiful handwoven towels this summer. It sounds so peaceful to me, and so useful. So far the muggles I have mentioned this to don’t get it at all, but I trust that you will, dear readers.

Here are a few samples we looked at in class. These 3 towels were all woven from the same warp. The top one and the middle one use the same color for weft, but the second one uses a boucle yarn instead of a smooth one. And the bottom one has a green boucle weft instead of that nice periwinkle color. Can you believe how different they look? Captivating!IMG_5524

I took the pattern and yarn I had purchased last year for my next towel project in for consultation. The pattern is Color-and-Weave Towels. My teacher, Sara, wasn’t super impressed, because the threads are doubled throughout, and what claims to be a 20 EPI project is really just 10 EPI. I’ll make them anyway, because I have the stuff. But first, I’m going to make a different batch of towels, the yarn for which I purchased last week. IMG_3379

After some intense moments on Saturday and Sunday, I managed to get the loom warped again and have started to weave. This warp should make 3 towels (we’ll see). Here are some things I have learned:

  • It makes no sense to weave towels out of mercerized cotton, which essentially has a waxy finish on it that makes it shiny (but non-absorbent). That’s what my weird rainbow towels are made from. Why would someone put a towel kit together using mercerized cotton?!?? Grrr.
  • Trying to beat the weft to get a certain PPI (picks per inch) doesn’t work so great for me. What works better is beating a consistent PPI. So instead of counting picks to keep on track, I will measure inches as I go.
  • The finest yarn I can weave on my loom is probably 8/4 cotton, woven at 12 EPI (ends per inch) using the 12-dent heddle (the smallest one).
  • But the yarn I want to weave is 8/2 cotton, which is woven at 20 EPI using two 10-dent heddles. And my loom can’t handle two heddles. Doh! Should have taken the class before getting a loom… if I had, I’d probably own a Kromski Harp instead.
  • Respectable towels are 15” wide, but you never get a 15” cloth off a 15” loom due to take-in. Plus, it’s really hard to use every single heddle all the way to the edge. Another reason I am bummed that I learned all this after getting a little loom.

Here we go:

IMG_3377I am a beginner again. S1 keeps reminding me of this and urging me to take a chill pill (in a kind way). She also suggested that I start a blog called “Oh My F-ing God” that consists solely of photos I take right after uttering that phrase. Apparently it leaked out of my mouth a few times during the warping process (oops).


  1. Watch your language! I'd have said the same thing -- or worse. I love that you're powering through this. And we love the towels you brought us last winter. One is sitting out on our counter right now! Weave on!

  2. Somehow I missed this post, but I'm glad to have found it now. I think I understand the enticement of making a stack of beautiful handwoven towels. I wove once in high school, and imagined myself as a weaver for a long time after that. I bought a 4-harness HD floor loom and moved it from PA to FL to NY to NJ before finally admitting that I wasn't a weaver and I really hated warping. I might have become a weaver if I had some good instruction, but you clearly have the desire and knowledge, so I hope your summer will be filled with the peacefulness of weaving cotton towels.
    P.S. I would definitely read Oh My F-ing God!