Cushion commission


I don’t often do commissions, so it was lovely to be asked to design the textile and handweave a pair of cushions to match a client’s rug. What was particularly interesting for me was that the colours of the rug were not colours I would naturally weave with or think of putting together. Having just visited and been inspired by the weaving workshops at Melin Tregwynt in Pembrokeshire, Wales I decided to revisit my doubleweave weaving, a weaving structure that I decided would allow me to more distinctively pull out some of the rug colours.

The Finished Cushions

Preparatory work

After studying the colours in the rug I did some card windings which were shown to the client who chose her preferred colours.. I then did a couple of sample weaves using my TabbyandTweed frame loom and these sample weaves were sent to the client. She chose the sample which included the blocks of colours as shown which matched the rug well. This was further confirmation that a doubleweave would be most likely to bring out the colours in the rug and give the effect that the client liked.

Painting, dressing the loom and weaving

Having chosen the colours, I tried to design the fabric. I painted a watercolour image to get a feel for how I might create the fabric and then set about designing the weave. My loom has 8 shafts and I needed to work with this. A greater number of shafts would have in some ways been easier I think . Choosing the two colours in each block (one for the outer square) and the other for the inner square took some time. I recognised a need for a contrast between these two colours for the two squares to be created. If the two colours were similar the two squares would not have been distinguishable. Once I had chosen the colours I measured the fine 2/17nm merino lambswool warp, dressed the loom, threaded the heddles and programmed the dobby bars according to the chosen design. After all of this work the two shuttles could then be used to weave the fabric – this part of the weaving process was actually the quickest.

After the warp was fully woven I had sufficient fabric for 6 cushions. A few cushions in this design will be going into my SpireCrafts Etsy shop at some point.

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Making an 8 shaft Table Loom

During lockdown my husband bought himself a small computer controlled router.  Initially he didn’t have a project in mind, but with my yarn-related hobbies I soon came up with a few projects for him!  He made some wool combs, heddles, and warping paddles. Each was a trial and error process – he would make it, I would try it and together we would identify any areas for improvement!

He wanted more of a challenge, so I suggested he could try to make an 8-shaft table loom, a loom for me to trial designs before moving my work onto my larger floor loom. This was a much more involved process, involving 4 prototypes and a major upgrade to the computer router.

During the various re-designs a raddle and numbers to the shaft levers were added, a better mechanism to detach the reed was devised, some toggles were made for easier shaft height adjustment along with many tweaks to get it working.

The process of designing and re-designing the loom was fairly laborious, because the cutting plans on the computer have to be very precise to make sure all the parts fit together well. And then it all had to be tested. Many of the joints need accuracies of a fraction of a millimetre for them to work correctly.   

Version 1 of the loom was destroyed to make Version 2, which a good friend was given to ‘test to destruction’. She made lots of useful suggestions, but has completely failed to break it.  She is still weaving with it and has woven some beautiful things on it including the weaving of the fabulous length of doubleweave window pane fabric shown above. Version 3 of the loom was taken to Wonderwool Wales where many visitors had a go at weaving on it.  A number of weaving guild members visited our stand, had a little weave on the loom and made some further suggestions. This resulted in Version 4, with the squeak removed, a guideline for setting shaft height and improved collapsibility.  

Overall, it took almost two years to get from initial idea to fully functioning 8-shaft table loom. Quite a journey but, at least according to my husband, a fun challenge. It has all resulted in a lovely looking and really functional small and lightweight (only 4.5kg) loom.  More details on this loom can be found here: Loom Information.

working with local fibres

I have been very fortunate over the last few years to have been given several fleeces. Hampshire Down, Shetland, Lincoln Longwool, Jacobs and Alpaca fleeces to name a few. Several people have given me fleeces because they aren’t sure what to do with them and they have been only too pleased for me to put them to good use. Often I have been told that the alternative would be for the fleeces to be burnt.

The first image below shows the boot of my car stuffed with alpaca fleece with the back seats being equally full. The alpaca owner had two years of fleeces from 3 alpacas in white, beige and brown colours. She had kindly separated each fleece into a bag of the best fleece and a bag of slightly dirtier fleece so I collected 12 large bags in total. When I accepted the kind offer of some alpaca fleece I really had no idea quite how many were on offer!

As a thank you for the fleece donation I make something in return, a handwoven bag, cushion or scarf. I think people like to receive something made from the fleece of their own animal.

The pictures below show some of the stages going from fleece to fibre – washing, woolpicking, carding, spinning, washing, dyeing, washing, weaving and a further washing are the key steps.

I will be visiting Wonderwool Wales on Saturday 23rd and 24th April and will have some of my woolpickers, looms and handwoven accessories with me. It will be lovely to meet lots of other people who love working with yarn.

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Tabby and Tweed mini weaving kits

My husband has a CNC router and has used it to make several useful weaving tools. In February this year he made a small frame loom. A friend and fellow weaver Gill Siggers thought that these could be used to make weaving kits and from her idea we launched our TabbyandTweed Etsy Shop.

Over the last few months we have enjoyed being creative, made a number of different weaving kits and have woven more bookmarks than we would ever need personally! The first picture above shows a 9 year old weaving for the very first time – having woven her first bookmark in under two hours she then asked if she could weave another!

Using British wool is important to us as we want to use local resources where possible. Therefore, most of our kits use local British wool and some of the yarn used has been handspun by ourselves from rare breed and local fleeces. It isn’t always easy to know whether others might share your passion and interests but we are delighted that to date we have sold a number of kits and received some lovely feedback from both new and experienced weavers. Some people have enjoyed learning to weave whilst making a bookmark or coaster whilst other more experienced weavers have used our square frame looms as sampling looms before committing yarn to a larger weave.

We will be visiting Wonderwool Wales this weekend and we will have our weaving kits for sale, along with woolpickers, a larger loom and handwoven accessories. We are excited about this event and are looking forward to chatting to other yarn lovers.

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Weaving a springtime collection

Recently I have had a number of requests for cotton cowls. So, this month I have started to create a collection of lightweight cotton cowls. I am attending Wonderwool Wales at the end of April so thought these might be perfect to spread some springtime cheer.

Weaving with an 8/2 natural warp I started by creating a roughly 12m long warp of 960 ends (11.9km of yarn!). This cotton is woven with a sett of 24epi so I use a 12 dent reed and slay 2 threads through each slot. Last year I purchased a job lot of deadstock cotton yarn which was much finer than I had appreciated upon purchase. Initially I wasn’t sure how I could use it but I have worked out that if I wind 4 strands at a time onto a spool it creates a yarn equivalent to about 8/2, so perfect for the weft. The 4 strands aren’t always the same yarn but I like the fact that 4 strands of different shades gives an almost variegated effect in the weave. Warping was a straight 8 which gives a massive range of possible lifting plans and a lovely range of different weaving designs. The top design in the left hand image was taken from Janet Phillips book ‘Exploring woven textiles’ and the other patterns from the Ashford website. The first terracotta/orange and muted green cowl has now been made with further colours planned.

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Hampshire Down – from Fleece to Fibre

Last year I was given a couple of Hampshire Down fleeces which after many hours were transformed into the blanket shown. I am often asked about the process of going from fleece to fibre so thought I would summarise the steps here:

  1. Sort the fleece by hand manually removing particularly dirty pieces or vegetable matter
  2. Wash the fleece – a couple of cold water soaks then a couple of hot water detergent soaks and then a couple of hot water rinses. There are many approaches to washing fleece, much depends on how dirty it is, how much lanolin there is on the fleece. I suspect that anyone who washes fleeces will have a slightly different approach. Care does need to be taken not to felt the fleece and agitation of the fleece in the water and sharp changes in the temperature of the washing water results in felting and the production of a fleece which is then very difficult to spin and use.
  3. Drying of the fleece. Sometimes I do a quick 2mins in the spin drier to remove the excess water and then it just needs to air dry – a sunny day is preferable here.
  4. The fleece is then woolpicked which results in the fibres being opened up with the removal of some of the vegetable matter.
  5. Carding or combing is then undertaken. I card either by hand or with a carding machine and this results in the fibres being aligned enabling them to be handspun.
  6. Spinning the fibre, first singles and then plying to produce a two ply yarn.
  7. The spun skeins of yarn are then washed.
  8. Dyeing of the yarn (if desired) – some of the Hampshire down yarn was left undyed and the remainder was dyed naturally with indigo dye or rhubarb leaves.
  9. Weaving – the blanket was woven on my floor loom at double width using a twill design.
  10. Finally the blanket was washed and dried.

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weaving is a learning process

I have spent much of the last 6 months weaving with 2/17nm 2 ply merino lambswool. Some things have gone well, other things haven’t and whilst I think my weaving with this yarn has improved I know I still have much to learn. Inevitably, that will always be the case. The yarn is fine and is spun in spinning oils which I understand is used to prevent the fragile yarn from snapping. What I love most about this yarn is the fact that when it is washed, the oils are removed, there is a degree of shrinkage and almost by magic the interlaced fibres turn into the most luxuriously soft and warm fabric. I thought it might be useful to summarise what I have learnt in case anyone else would like to weave with this yarn and I would be delighted to hear of any tips other weavers might have – I know I definitely don’t have all the answers here!

  1. I weave this at 15epi – this seems to work well for both tabby weave, twill and even doubleweave.
  2. I do have problems with it snapping when winding onto the back beam. In fact, winding on the back beam is a very slow process with the fibres often tangling on the lease sticks or raddle and snapping. I try and tie my knots onto the back beam with the ends of each thread at the same point. However, it does end up being a constant yo yo movement between winding the warp onto the back beam and trying to untangle any developing knots in the threads at the front of the loom.
  3. Putting ties on the warp threads on the warping mill/warping board at more points seems to be a good idea.
  4. With wider warps I have had issues with threads snapping at the edges (usually for me it is the right hand edge). Keeping the threads on the front in line with the threads on the back beam through the reed seems to help. I now start the weaving loosely being careful not to get too much draw in at the start. Using a temple has helped, as has doubling up threads through the heddles and reed at the edges.
  5. I like to weave with a floating selvedge and I double this up, normally this works well.
  6. Removing the puppy from the room when winding the warp is also helpful – on one very sad occasion he got so excited that he bit the back beam mid wind and cut several of the warp threads which I then needed to repair!
  7. I attended a course with Janet Phillips and after that I have used her tip of using floor lino to separate my warp threads on the back beam. I only have a 6m long piece so with longer threads I need to resort to the using the sticks but I think starting with the lino is good.

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Making with local resources

In my opinion, there is something really special about using local fleeces and I have been really fortunate to have been given a number of beautiful fleeces over the last year. Sadly, a number of people with small numbers of animals seem not to know what to do with their fleeces and I have been told that were I not to have taken their fleeces they would have been burnt!

Processing a fleece to get to a point where the fibre can be woven into a piece of gorgeous fabric is however very labour intensive. The fleece needs to be washed/scoured, woolpicked to remove vegetable matter, carded to align the fibres, spun and plied and possibly dyed. Then the weaving or knitting can begin. This indigo dyed alpaca scarf from the fleece of an alpaca called ‘Alfie’ was posted off to its new owner last week. I do hope they appreciate the love that has gone into making their scarf and if Alfie were to have a view I hope he would be pleased.

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How long does it take to weave a scarf?

This is a question that I am often asked and one that I am sure other weavers are familiar with, whether it be a scarf, tea towel, shawl or piece of fabric. It is not an easy one to answer because there are many stages to weaving and it depends on so many things. The type of weave, the yarn thickness/sett, whether it was woven as a single scarf or whether several scarves were made from one warp, whether the warp was tied onto a previously threaded warp or whether the loom was rethreaded all impact on the timing.

So, in an attempt to try and be more helpful when people ask me this question I have this last week done a bit of a time in motion study on my most recent weave. It must be said that this weave was a relatively quick pattern to weave as it was a simple twill and rather unusually nothing much went wrong so no time was used sorting out issues! Rather than rethread the heddles I was able to knot the 10.5m warp of 2/17nm lambswool of 300 threads onto a previous warp. I suspect an additional 2 hours would have been taken had I needed to rethread the heddles. The final washed fabric measured 9.5m and took a total of 19.5 hours to get to a point where the fabric could be cut into scarves or fabric to make cushions or other items. (This 19.5 hours being made up of 2 hours to measure the warp chains, 5 hours to knot and wind the warp onto the back beam, 11.5 hours to weave and 1 hour to wash and finish the fabric). So, a scarf of a 1.8m length on this occasion has taken me 3.7 hours to make without a tea break. Next up is to do the same thing with a different weave, a window pane double weave takes longer but I wonder how much longer? These three scarves and cushions are already in my Etsy shop and I have a few metres of fabric left which as yet I am undecided on its final use.