Saturday, February 18, 2012

The things I learned

I spent a couple of weeks weaving a pair of wicklebander recently. These are the Viking version of ace bandages, except not particularly stretchy. Puttees, really, except who knows what those are these days? Anyways, they are long, narrow bands that you wrap around your leg from the knee to the ankle (or the ankle to the knee), over your pants. They keep the snow off your pants and the icy winds from blowing up your legs.

They were something of a challenge for me to weave. They are pretty long -- I was aiming for 4 yards per band. They're only 3 1/2 inches wide, but 8 yards of fabric is 8 yards no matter how narrow. And the warp is sett at 30 epi, which is much finer than anything I've woven on a loom before.

Because of the fine sett and longish warp, I decided I needed to warp back to front. I have Peggy Osterkamp's second book on warping, and have warped from the back once before, but really I didn't remember anything about it. And of course I was trying to do this as quickly as possible, in order to enter the bands in this year's Kingdom Arts & Sciences competition. So I would skim the book, do the next step, skim some more, figure out what I should have been doing in the previous step, fix it, etc., etc. It turned out pretty well, though. I especially liked the way I could easily spread the threads and heddles out while I was threading; they weren't crammed into their 30 per inch closeness until I put them through the reed. And I sure don't miss the headaches I know I would have had, trying to keep track of three ends per dent.

I made a couple of mistakes. When I was threading, I had four threads at the end. I chose to put all four through one slot in the reed, which crowded the selvedge and made it hard to pack the weft down. After about six inches I cut those threads and threaded repair threads two to a dent. What a difference that made! In fact, I could say that about so many things -- I fixed a lot of small problems and each one made a big difference. Usually I just put up with nuisances, but knowing that I had yards and yards of weaving ahead of me made it seem too foolish to do that.

I had decided to use a skeleton tie-up mentioned in Osterkamp's book -- you tie shaft 1 to the outside left treadle, 3 to the second one in, skip the middle two treadles, then shaft 4, and finally shaft 2 to the outside right treadle. This worked out very well. You "walk" a twill -- left foot on 1, right foot on two; move left foot to three for 2,3; move right foot to four for 3,4; move left foot to one for 4,1. By the time I'd woven a yard, I could do this without thinking. I always moved the foot towards which the shuttle was headed, which made it almost automatic. And raising one shaft at a time meant that the warp didn't stick; I never had to clear a shed. I will definitely continue to use this tie-up.

But at first I had trouble with my brake suddenly releasing. I realized that because I had only one shaft tied to each treadle, the treadle went down further; the lamms were pressing on the brake pedal and releasing the cable. For about a yard, I was very very careful about how far I pressed the treadle, but that seemed more and more foolish as I went on. So I lengthened the cord on the brake pedal, which took about 20 seconds. I think actually that I should have done this years ago, as it made the brake much easier to operate.

Later on I realized that my hips, knees, and ankles hurt after a weaving session because my chair was too low. I stuck a big book underneath my chair pad (Beyond Craft : the Art Fabric is the perfect size) and the difference was astonishing. Paying attention to ergonomics really paid off.

The other big mistake I made was during beaming. I'm not sure, but I think that at one point when I was tightening the warp I just forgot to tighten one of the edge bouts. As I was weaving along about four yards in, suddenly one selvedge was very loose. I weighted those threads which worked fine for a while, but I could see that the loose threads were sagging. Since I had another four yards to go, I worried that the loose threads would become more and more difficult to tension separately. My warp was superwash, and since that affects resilience, I didn't think I could count on any recovery between weaving sessions.

So I decided to end my piece of cloth at what I thought was the midpoint of the warp -- I had been measuring carefully all along, and I was right at four yards. I hemstitched the cloth, and then fixed the tension by weaving in some sticks and pulling up the loose warps. I wove a header, fiddled with the tension some more, and started the second band.

This worked pretty well. I still had some issues with looseness; almost every time I advanced the warp, I pulled the edge six threads forward a little bit with pins and fastened them into the web. And I kept a very close eye on the fell, making sure it wasn't curving up on that side. If I saw any hint of curve, I wove a pick or two a little more gently, but with the beater a little heavier on that side. That compressed the weft on that edge but let it fill out more on the rest of the cloth. And any time I added a new bobbin, I overlapped the wefts so that there was essentially an extra row everywhere but on that iffy bout of threads on the right. All these things together let me keep weaving a nice, even cloth; they did slow me down, though.

As an odd side effect, my selvedges improved dramatically on this second cloth. I think it's partly because of all the care I was taking, and partly because I had re-read several book sections and websites about even selvedges. I found the Glimakra FAQ especially helpful: everything in there is about boat shuttles. This made me realize that all the rules I know are for people using boat shuttles; maybe they didn't apply to my stick shuttle. So I abandoned the one about never touching the selvedge. Also I paid a lot of attention to how & where & at what angle I should bubble the weft.

As it turned out, I was right at four yards when I finished off the first band, but that wasn't the center of the warp. I had used more warp than I realized experimenting with wefts at the beginning, and despite being as parsimonious as I could be, I used about six inches splitting the two bands. So my second piece of cloth was only 10 1/2 feet. I like the 12 foot length much better; it's much easier to wrap it. But I like the actual cloth of the second band better -- it's more flexible, because I wasn't beating as hard, and of course it has better selvedges. It's also a different color, because with fewer picks per inch, more of the warp shows. Ah, well.

All in all, I think this was a successful project. I sure learned that details matter, and that fixing problems is much better than just accommodating them. And I want to do more back-to-front warping. But I want to get the high castle attachment for my loom, so that I can suspend the cross from it instead of using my Cendrel inkle loom / warping board:

My project was did fairly well in the competition. I had some problems with my write-up but now I understand the process better so I don't expect to have those issues in the future. And my husband has a new addition to his Viking wardrobe.


Caroline M said...

I can do puttees - I had to equip a six year old first world war solider for school.

I never have tension problems on the left side, only ever the right side. I suspect if the crank were on the other side it would be different.

Shan said...

Oy! I know what puttees are, too! (Because I read, y'know.)