Weaving Silk

I’ve been mostly quiet these last few weeks as I’ve been working on a project that’s ultimately going to be a gift. So details I can share are scarce. To that end I’m not going to say what the finished product is going to be, not until after it’s finished and given to the person it’s intended to surprise. But I’m excited for what I’m doing and need to share. That and I don’t want you all to think I’d either abandoned you or stopped making things.

 

I’m weaving silk. That in and of itself would be exciting, but (as you all know by now) I’ve gone a step or two beyond. I’m weaving with 60/2 silk, or roughly 50-54 epi in tabby. Also known as doubled sewing thread, embroidery floss, dear-gods-woman tiny. To be fair I’d initially wanted to weave the slightly less insane 30/2 silk, but it was more expensive and I am broke and this project also involves real pearls so… Insanity in the name of saving money: the true crafter way.

 

Without any further context, have a photo dump. This is 54 epi x 40 picks per inch 100% silk taffeta. It’s 12 inches wide and the goal is 80 inches long all told. Weaving in white, dying it black except for the 3/4 of an inch after the gap on the right which will be cut off and dyed red.

Left to right: 8 inches in, weave close up, cut off and dyed sample.

How a project goes to hell

Or: Why Aethelflied is terrible at documenting her stuff.

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you all, writing documentation is not the fun part of a project for me. Make something? Heck yes. Research? Drown me in books, websites, research papers, and extant artifacts. Write up why I did what I did or how I did it? I’d rather pull my teeth out with rusty pliers. I’ll happily explain it, and answer questions if asked, and geek at you about string or words until you start looking for exits and wondering if I’ll notice if you just flee. But actually writing it out? No thank you.

I also suffer from chronic scope creep. Which makes succinct documentation difficult. A typical project for me goes as such:

-I want to make myself a wool hood. (Reasonable)

-I should sew half with bone needles and half with a modern needle. That way I can show there’s really no difference in the finished seams. (This slope is slippery, someone should salt it so no one falls)

– I should weave the fabric for it (Wait… self what’s happening?)

-What’s a period weave pattern for me? (Where are we going? Why am I in a hand basket?)

-What’s a period sett? I should email this museum and ask (Insert flashing danger lights)

-Well I’m already going through this much trouble. May as well spin it too. (Annnnd we’ve arrived at critical scope creep)

This is how we end up with me needing to write a multi-page college dissertation level paper about a rectangle and a pair of squares. Do I document my original project? The weave? The yarn? The needles? The stitch length? What about the breed of sheep? The corners I cut?

This is why I normally end up with a project, that I can talk about for days, that has no written documentation. I hit a point where my reaction to having to write out what I did is “I wove this out of handspun and sewed it with period tools! What more do you want from me?” The answer of course is “How do you know you used period tools?”

Right now I’m looking at documentation like warping a loom. It’s the not fun or sexy part of the project. But it’s gotta happen.

Fleece to White Belt: Post the forth (and final)

AKA: Crap I forgot to finish documenting this.

After combing comes spinning. I used soap stone bottom whirl spindle I picked up at Pennsic this year. My goal was to aim for 1mm singles since the documentation I’ve read references thread counts of 10 threads per cm or 1mm wide.

Now I will admit to a period weaving sin here. Everything I’ve read indicates that weaving would have been done with singles. As this was my first attempt at weaving with just my handspun I didn’t quite trust my singles enough to stand up to the abuse weaving puts yarn through. So I plyed. Next time I’ll do just singles since my warp never broke or even threatened to while I was weaving with it

Plyed warp yarn (yes that’s 2 ply) and the finished ball of warp.

The weft I spun using the fluffy carded under coat of the icelandic fleece. This… did not go well. My weft kept snapping and falling apart even though I’d spun it just as tightly as my warp. I’m not sure I hold with the idea that fabric in 10th century Iceland was woven with an over coat warp and under coat weft. Not discounting it mind you, since I’m not willing to rule out lack of skill on my part, but still giving the notion a lot of side eye.

ANYWAY! Because I plyed the yarn I only did a 12 card wide piece of tablet weaving since I still wanted the over all piece to be roughly one inch wide.

 

 

And I was right on the money with my finished width. Proving once again, that my intuition for my own thread craft is better than that lying “math” thing. Note: I do know that one day refusing to swatch and/or do math is going to bite me. However until that day happens? Math and I are passing acquaintances.

I finished this off by ironing it with the highest heat setting as well as the highest steam to mimic finishing with a smoothing stone. I could have borrowed one, but I was so excited to get this off the loom and finished that I got a bit impatient. The ends were not fringed, but were hemmed with a bone needle and some of the loom waste left from the warp.

The finished dimensions of the belt were 1in wide by 5.5ft long and it is (as far as I know) well loved by the recipient. I have exactly one picture of the finished belt:

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Twill: Attempt the first

Is this thing still on? Hi guys, I know I know, it’s been a while since I posted. But, life happened. Today we’re going to talk about twill. Namely the twill I am making for a specific project.

The project itself is to prove a point: namely that seams sewn with period style bone needles are nearly indistinguishable from seams sewn with a modern steel needle in terms of stitch length. To do this I am weaving fabric and sewing myself a hood where half the seams are sewn with a bone needle and half are sewn with a modern steel needle. I’ll be using different colored thread for the steel vs bone seams, but only I will know which is which. The goal is to have people try to guess which is which and also to check things like long term seam durability and relative stress on the fabric as it ages. Now I could use a commercial fabric and make the WAY faster and easier on myself, but this is me and why on earth would I do that?

Lets begin with some specs: I’m making a 2×2 twill (to explain for non weavers that means each weft thread goes over two warp threads then under the next two in ultimately a diagonal pattern. Don’t worry, I’ll post pictures further down. You’ve seen 2×2 twill, you just may not have known the name.) This produces a nice strong fabric with a bit of bias stretch. Also it’s pretty and super popular in period from what we can tell.

I want 2 yards (64 inches) of 12 inch wide fabric. So here’s the math to get there:

Warp: 

I first I need to figure out what my wpi (wraps per inch) of my warp thread is, then convert that into epi (ends per inch) for weaving. The good news is the math for that is super simple. Divide the wpi in half to get a rough idea of the epi. My yarn was 14 wpi, which means it’s going to be roughly 7 epi. NOTE: This is a super coarse gauge. This is outer wear fabric. I should be aiming for 10 or so ends per cm or 25 epi. However I am using stash wool for this and refuse to feel ashamed.

So we need to multiply our epi (7) with how wide we want the fabric (12in) to get 84. BUT that doesn’t account for draw in (when your weft pulls your warp slightly in ward) so you should do a test swatch to see what percentage of draw in you have to enough additional warp threads to get you to what you want. I did not do this and simply doubled the thread count because I am both lazy and paranoid. So yes, I warped 168 threads.

But how long should they be? Inventive Weaving On A Little Loom (Syne Mitchell, 2015, Story Publishing) suggests adding 20% to the length to account for loom waste and take up. That means 2.2 yards or 76.8 inches. I like round numbers so went to 77 inches.

Because I’m doing a two colored warp, half grey handspun I had lying around and half white commercial yarn of unknown providence I needed 84 grey strands of 77 inches long and 84 white strands of 77 inches.

Formulas for your edification:

(wpi/2)x(width + draw in %) = number of warp threads.

length + 20% = length of warp threads

Weft:

Weft math is simple. This is a balanced fabric which means my weft is the same epi as my warp. So 7, multiplied by 12 means 84 inches of weft to do one inch of fabric, times 64 = 5376 inches divided by 32 = 168 yards of weft. Notice how I didn’t need to add in the loom waste or take up or draw in to this math. Why? There’s no warp there.

Formula for your edification:

((wpi/2) x width x length)/32 = weft yardage.

Now lets actually warp the loom! One day I’ll figure out how to love warping. That day is not today. Warping alone is an exercise in both patience and self hatred. I know there are easier ways to warp, I know there are better ways to warp. I, however, live with animals who are jerks about mama’s string based hobbies and therefore Measures Must Be Taken. Which means I warp funny. Trust me guys, if you want to weave please look online and in any of the lovely print books that illustrate better ways. Don’t do what I do.

To prove how annoying this is, I present: How Aethelfied Warps, a photo tutorial.

IMG_20170304_232524435.jpg

This is the empty back beam. Yes, it is in fact a size 15 knitting needle. I realized the loom I’m borrowing had no beams at 10pm and I couldn’t find any dowels. There’s a tiny rubberband keeping everything from slipping off the tip.

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The warp tied on to the back beam in packs of 4, with all the length chained up to keep it from getting tangled.

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Next we unchain one bundle at a time, put each thread through it’s heddle and dent in the reed then immediately rechain to keep everything in order.

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Tie everything to the front beam

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Tension the back beam. Now we’re warped. This whole process took 14 hours over 2 days. Yes I took breaks, but still. Warping takes a long time. But! Now we’re ready to weave!

As you may notice from the picture above this is a 4 harness table loom. This makes weaving twill super simple. The pattern repeat is such:

1+2 up 3+4 down.

2+3 up 1+4 down

3+4 up 1+2 down

1+4 up 2+3 down.

That produces fabric that looks like this:

IMG_20170307_154238317.jpg

Look familiar?

This piece is exactly 12 inches wide (I win!) so lets take a look at my thread count

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This should be 7. It’s 17. WTF?

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This should also be 7. It’s 15. I don’t even.

Let this just go to show that math and I are not friends, but my intuition is generally correct. Glad I doubled my warp. At least this is now on the coarse end of period fabric?

Retirement

AKA Aetheflied’s king’s bard post-mortum.

So I did it.

And I just spent the last 15 minutes staring at those 4 words trying to figure out how on earth to follow them up. I should do some discussion on how I feel I did, or what I’d wanted to do and didn’t, or link back to the post I made a year ago about my goals and go over them one by one. Or something.

But honestly?

What I got out of this position was something entirely different than I thought I would. I took risks that I would have never taken otherwise. Partially because if I was going to encourage people to be brave and try something as scary as performing in public I should put my money where my mouth is and try things.

I drove across state lines by myself for the first time ever. Just to go spend the weekend with a bunch of people I only knew from the internet in their house (NOTE: do not do the things I do. If you do I can not be held responsible for your murdernapping). They turned out to be My People in ways that were unexpected and yet needed.

I stopped making excuses and picked up fencing. I was one of my King’s champions, I should fight for him at war. So I did, and found one of the most encouraging (and lovingly snarky and brilliantly witty) communities I’ve ever had the honor to be a part of.

I discovered just how far I should shove myself before I collapsed. And got picked up, dusted off, fed, watered, and covered for, until I had my feet back under me. Some times literally, some times figuratively. Some times by people who’d been complete strangers the week before.

I had people come up to me, on some of my worst days, and tell me they’d started doing something because I’d inspired them to. I met new bards, who performed for the first time, or who started performing again after a long hiatus, because I’d asked for new people to find me so I could pay it forward.

I wrote scrolls, I wrote praise pieces, I wrote phrases immortalized in metal. I got to be part of something big.

Did I do everything I’d wanted? No. I didn’t get Maldon translated, or perform the piece for all the fighting households at War. But I inspired new folks, and other folks to try something new.

So did I succeed? Yes.

Thank you for giving me the chance.

Fleece to White Belt: Post the third

Last time was washing, this time it’s combing. There are two basic kinds of preparing clean fleece to spin, combing and carding. Sure there are sub categories of those, like drum carding or flicking, but everything really boils down to those two methods. So what are the differences and which one should you use?

Carding: For making woolen yarns 

Carding is really good for making fluffy, airy, soft yarns. It basically brushes the fibers so they’re going every which way, trapping air, and giving the yarn it’s fluffy look. This is what you want to do for knitting/crochet yarns where you want that warm, soft, fluff. Like sweaters, hats, scarves, or blankets. Yarn made from fiber prepped this way tends to be more prone to pilling and not quite as strong. It also tends to have more of a halo (tiny fuzzy aura around the yarn) than yarn prepped by combing.  So skip it if crisp stitch definition is something you 100% need. This is also a lot better for short staple fibers.

Combing: For making worsted yarns

Let me get one thing clear: worsted yarns do not mean worsted weight yarns. Yeah, I know, I wish they’d picked a different term for the weight but there you have it. Combing aligns all the fibers in one direction, making them spin into a smoother, harder, yarn with less trapped air. This makes them less fluffy and warm, but stronger. Use combing if you need to make yarn for a warp, or anywhere that strength is a major concern. Also because it’s smoother yarns made from combing lend themselves really well to lace. This is your best bet for long staple fibers.

Let me let you in on a secret: the vast majority of hand spinners make some kind of half woolen half worsted hybrid yarn. It’s just the nature of the game. It’s easier to make a straight woolen than a straight worsted. So if you comb your fleece and in the process of spinning you make little bubbles of folded ends and fluffy bits? Don’t sweat it. That happened in period too far as anyone can tell.

That’s enough background. For this project I’m combing the warp and carding the weft.

Why both?

I’m doing both to take advantage of the pros of both types of fiber prep. The warp needs a very strong, very smooth, yarn in order to withstand the stress of weaving without snapping. However if I did the entire belt like this it’d be a very stiff, scratchy, and not very pleasant to touch finished product. So for the weft I’m going to use the softer, airier, yarn produced by woolen preparation in order to make the whole thing easier to use and much nicer to wear.

The fleece I chose (icelandic) is a double coated breed, which means it lends itself very nicely to this kind of mixed preparation. It has a long overcoat with very little crimp (perfect for combed/worsted spinning) and a short, fluffy undercoat with lots of crimp (perfect for carded/woolen spinning).

Fleece to White Belt: Post the second

Today we talk about fiber prep. Specifically washing fleece. I use a 100% modern method of washing fiber. Why? Because dish soap works well and is cheap, I have no desire to ferment urine, and I feel like it. This tutorial is assuming that you’ve purchased a raw and skirted fleece, as opposed to shearing the sheep yourself or buying a fleece that has not yet been skirted.

Skirting: cutting off the worst bits of the fleece, generally the underbelly, legs, and around the tail. These parts are the bits that get packed with mud, poop, straw, ect. They are also generally matted and gross. Skirting doesn’t waste wool, it saves sanity.

For the purposes of this project I bought 2.5 pounds of raw icelandic wool. Why Icelandic? Because it has the qualities I was looking for in a fleece, namely the long protective top coat and the short soft undercoat, this makes it appropriate for the type of spinning I’m doing. It’s also easy to spin and an arguably documentable breed. I say arguably since we’ve been continuing to improve fleece so even breeds labeled “primitive” don’t have the same kind of fleece they did in period. Nature of the beast.

My wool came to me like this:

buddle-of-joy

That’s one big bag of happy there folks.

Unbagged and spread out it looked more like this (ignore my toes):

raw-fleece

This is where you start to understand that just because you bought 2.5 pounds of wool does not mean you’ll get 2.5 pounds of clean fiber. All that yellow/brown/black? That’s all dirt and oil and lanolin. This is a white fleece. A lot of that weight is going to end up going down the drain.

Cleaning your fleece: Step 1. 

Acquire your materials. For me that looks like this:

materials

That’s a tote for washing, your wool, dish soap, and a couple of towels. Your tote should be sturdy and big enough to wash a decent amount of fleece. This tote (roughly 10-ish gallons) washes about .75 pounds of raw fleece at a time. You want space for water to penetrate ALL the wool so you don’t end up with raw pockets.

Step 2: Soap.

Fill your tote 3/4 of the way with hot soapy water. Add your fleece, making sure to press it under the water but not agitate. If you agitate it’ll felt. We don’t want that. Just gently shove it under the water and keep it submerged with as little handling as possible. Let it soak and let the soap do its thing.

soapy-bath

 

Step 3: Rinse

Gently remove your wool from the water (again trying to not agitate it) and dump your… well… soapy mud. Rinse out your tote to get rid of as much grit and gunk as you can from it and refill it with clean water that’s as close as you can get to the water you just dumped out. You want to try to maintain temperature to avoid felting. Gently (sensing a theme yet?) put your soapy wool into the clean water.

rinse

See how much cleaner it looks already? Side note: see all those flecks and bits of grass? That’s referred to as VM or veggie matter. Which is a very polite way of saying grass and sheep poop. Some people pick that all out before washing/carding/combing. I just pick it out as I comb because it doesn’t bug me. Sheep are animals that live outside. Sometimes outside comes in with them. Such is life.

Anyway you’re going to rise twice. So repeat this step.

Step 4: Wring

Carefully lift your now clean wool out of its second rinse. Let it drain as best you can before moving on.

Lay your wool flat on a towel like so:

lay-on-towel

Roll the towel up like a burrito:

Step on your wool-rito to press excess water out. Don’t rub it, just step directly down.

Step 5: Dry

Lay your wool out to dry. Preferably on a screen or something that lets air flow get to the entire fleece. This’ll let it dry faster and keep it from getting all mildewy. I, lacking such a set up, lay my wool out on dry towels and just flip it every so often.

clean-drying-wool

Here’s a side by side of a dirty lock with a clean lock after going through this:

raw-vs-washed-lock