Post #3072: The warping of Big-A

So! Eighteen months after purchasing the big, mysterious, countermarch loom (now nicknamed Big-A in contrast to my small loom Little-J) – I have a warp on and am weaving!

I started sleying the reed before I went on holiday at the beginning of July, and then when I got home in the middle of the month I threaded the heddles and wound on. Since then I have been slowly weaving in a basic hopsack pattern in order to learn about my loom and to get the feel of throwing the shuttle before getting too complicated with the treadling.

For this test warp, I used the yarn that came with the loom (the seller threw in a bag of brightly coloured handspun wool with no stretch – perfect for weaving). It’s a chunky yarn, heavier than worsted weight, which I offset with some skeins of Briggs and Little Heritage in black to create some colour separation. The weft is also black B&L as you can see in the photo below. The intended outcome of this is a blanket which will be created by cutting the weave in half and joining it in the middle for about 54 inches of width. I expect that lengthwise it will work out the same to create a square lap blanket. To be honest, I didn’t work the project out in too much detail because just getting a warp on was the goal, and I was improvising with the yarn on hand.

Now that I have this loom in operation – I am starting to assess it. Countermarch looms are known for being quiet – which is definitely the case with this one (jack looms have a clack and rattle to them). These looms are also known for being overwhelming or difficult to tie up – which I didn’t really find at all. Time-consuming yes, but I have read so much about these looms in the last year that when I climbed underneath to tie up the treadles, I had a good sense of what I needed to do. On the “negative” side – the homemade brake is not holding so well – the belt that the former owner rigged it with broke, so I grabbed another old leather belt that I had on hand – but it is not cinching the warp beam tightly enough to hold it. As a quick fix, I filled a milk jug with water to create enough weight to hold the warp beam back. I can live with that for now – but if I keep this loom into the future, I will probably purchase a proper brake band kit for it.

There is no question that 45 inches is probably all the loom I can handle – as I can barely reach from one side of Big-A to the other. I’ve got 27 inches on right now which I can manage with no problem. I expect that my comfortable maximum weaving width is somewhere around 35 inches. And because it requires a minimum of 2 yards (if not 2 and a half) to warp, this is definitely not a loom for small samples.  On the other hand, there is a lot of control in the overhead beater, which makes for a more even and appropriate weave structure overall. We’ll see what it’s like with 8/2 cotton on it – something I plan to do in short order to get a feel for how different weights and fibres weave on this loom. At the moment, I only have a 10-dent reed – so I’ll have to invest in others if I am going to play with different weights in the future. I will also need to purchase some additional heddles at some juncture.

Throughout the restoration and set up of this loom, I have spent a lot of time kicking myself for the purchase of something so complicated as a new weaver. It seemed to me that I spent *so* much money and time setting it up – wouldn’t it have been better had I just bought something new, with less headaches? Maybe. On the other hand, I have learned far more about loom technology than I would have otherwise. As well, this loom will end up costing me less than a fifth of what new one would cost. So far I am into this loom for about $875: $500 for the initial purchase plus $100 to have it moved, $250 in heddles and texsolv cord and $25 for the restoration wax. More heddles and a brake kit will total an additional $400. Rounding up, this loom will cost $1300 when the restoration is fully done (and I didn’t have to spend that $ all at once). A new loom of identical width/type/shaft #s and similar quality starts at $4700 US (almost $6000 cdn plus taxes!) That’s money that I just don’t have.

So yeah. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself now that I have Big-A up and running and am actually making a *thing* on it. I look forward to many more such experiments in the near future.

Post #3053: Restoration, self and loom.

Is it ironic that I took a mental health day on mental health awareness day? Because that’s what I did yesterday – I took a day off work to deal with my anxiety, imposter syndrome, and the general antipathy that I am feeling towards both my work and my co-workers at the moment. I won’t go into why I’m feeling stressed about workplace issues – because we’ve all been there and the specifics matter much less than the fact of having to sell our labour to survive in the first place.

Anyhow. I spent my day off as follows: morning meditation, long walk on the beach, studio time, 2-hour yoga class, errands, awesome healthy dinner, and more studio time. Pretty great, eh? Well yes, but the work anxiety plagued me all day and I periodically checked in on my email as a result. Turns out, I am missed when I’m not around and today I have double the number of items to follow up on. Which is why I get paid what I get paid, the buck so often stops with me.

My studio time yesterday was spent mostly on the loom. On Tuesday I was at a furniture restoration place to drop off a chair, and I picked up the miracle product: Howard’s Feed N Wax which is a wipe-on, wipe-off beeswax product that smells like oranges – and I could hardly wait to take it to the wood of my 44-year old loom. I’ve got the breast beam and the castle done and you can see here the difference between the waxed (right) and unwaxed (left) parts:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wax on Wax off…..

Even more striking are the shaft bars that I polished and strung with new texsolv heddles (you can see them in the foreground hanging in front of the old bars and string heddles behind):

Texsolv replaces string

Texsolv replaces string!

img_20170125_204421638As I’m working on the loom, I’ve got the distinct impression that it was built sturdily but in its many decades of being moved around (the former owner moved it across the country and back 3 times), it hasn’t been put back together quite right and so there are some places that need tightening, and I might end up putting a screw or two in to straighten things up. This is one of the benefits of cleaning and waxing the whole thing at the outset – it’s giving me a real chance to look at each part carefully. I’m glad it’s taken me over a year to get to this job, for I didn’t know enough when I bought the loom, and would have done a half-assed job of fixing it up had I just brought it home and got started.

In the evening, I started winding another warp, getting about 2/3rds of the way through it (and finishing the colour stripes which are the time consuming part). This is for my hubble-photo inspired  tea towels which will be of a very plain weave – and will be woven on Little-J (my small loom). I have to admit that the more I weave on the small loom, the less I like it – it’s a table loom with treadle conversion and thus very light weight and wobbly – not to mention clacky (loud). I expect that the countermarch, when ready to go, will make a much more satisfying weaving experience – but I’m glad I’ve had the small one to work with in the meantime. I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and Little-J was a lot less overwhelming to get started with.

I forsee that the Little J will get sold in the future, as I narrow down my needs and options. I now realize that it’s too small for most things I want to do (20 inches), but weaving on the 45-inch countermarch is going to be a bit of a reality check on what width of fabric I really want to make and my talent at shuttle throwing!

This weekend I’ve got to focus on making bags for an event next weekend, so I’m not sure if I’ll get my loom threaded for the tea towels – but I sure hope so – because there’s something nice about always having a weaving project set up and ready to go. Bit by bit, I’ve got myself a weaving studio happening here — not to mention a great beach to take walks on when I need a reality check….. now, if I could only ditch the work thing.

 

Post #3052: Recognizing the countermarch!

I have to confess something here and now:

When I bought my floor loom last February I had no idea what I was buying. I mean, I thought I did, but really I didn’t.

For months now, I have been circling this loom and trying to figure it out. I’ve moved it twice but never gotten it set up to weave on – partly because I want to replace all the cordage, but also because I just wasn’t *getting it*. I thought it was a standard jack loom because that’s all I really knew about, and I reasoned that it looked so different from other looms because it was hand built in Nova Scotia in 1973 (by a draft dodger and his wife) which made it unique. I figured that I had the treadles on upside down which is why they did not hang properly – I thought once I replaced the cords and tied it up, I’d get a warp on no problem and it would all fall into place….

It turns out that all of that was wrong.

Since November when I started weaving again after getting the J-made up and running, I’ve been consumed by weaving websites and discussion forums and books. It was while perusing some forum a couple of weeks ago that I found a picture of what looked almost identical to my loom…… The Glimakra Standard – and it was upon poking around some more that I realized that my loom is not a jack loom at all — but a countermarch!

While jack and countermarch looms have many things in common, they do not operate in the same way when it comes to tying them up. The weaving process is the same, but the set up process is not. No wonder I was confounded!

Now that I know what I have, I’m feeling a lot more confident about getting it up and running over the next few months. It is a beautiful piece of work, this loom – likely made of maple, with hand-forged metal fittings — a good cleaning will bring it right back again, not to mention replacing all the old string heddles and the clothesline cord before even attempting to warp and balance it for weaving on. Countermarch looms are supposed to have easy treadling and be fairly quiet – once you stop swearing while attempting to tie them up that is! So I’m eager to compare it to the little loom I’ve been working on for the last few months.

I’ve taken a bunch of photographs and created a gallery of the details here because one thing I’ve found is that there are not tons of countermarch resources on the Internet, and my pictures might help someone else ID their loom later on.  Bit by bit, I’m going to figure this one out!

Post #2096: To purchase a loom and other weaving thoughts

I am in the midst of trying to purchase a weaving loom, and like any large (expensive) purchase – it’s been giving me a bit of a headache the last few days. Nothing dramatic, of course, but lots to ponder and learn!

While I am only a month into learning to weave, I am fairly certain that even as I sweat over the warping process and drive myself crazy with colour theory, this is something I am going to continue doing. Not only that, I am already feeling limited by the small table loom I am working on and eager to sit down at a full floor loom with a full range of project capacity before me. The small loom is great for learning on, and I am quite content making samplers to explore colour and texture at the moment, but there will come a time when I want to make more than a scarf!

There are so many considerations when one is buying a first loom such as:

  • what types of items will I want to weave?
  • how much space do I have for a loom in my home?
  • can I put together a loom that comes in pieces/components?
  • how many shafts, treadles, what weaving width is preferable?
  • am I looking for portability?
  • will the loom fit through the doorway where I want to set it up?

Etc. I want to put the loom in our large upstairs bed and sitting room because it is where we have the most space, and the best light – but that means moving something through a 2 foot wide door or bringing it in pieces and setting it up. Also, some looms are really heavy which is great for keeping things still when weaving, but not great for moving it around.

In addition to all of the above, I’ve found that trying to purchase a loom second hand (my preference at the moment due to cost and ecological considerations) is a bit of a hinky affair since 1) there have been many small, independent loom makers over the last century in North America and it’s hard to find out info about some loom makers, and 2) lots of people selling looms on Craigslist or Kijiji are selling them for someone else (often deceased or in a home) and don’t know what they are selling. Manufacturers like Leclerc have many different models that have been on the Canadian market but they simply stamp their looms Nilus or Leclerc and not with the actual model name – so people will advertise that they have a Nilus when in fact it is a Mira and so forth.

This is no one’s fault – it’s just the way things are – and purchasing anything secondhand is always a bit more legwork on the front end to get the deal. I’m game and I don’t mind writing to people and doing the work to figure things out.

Thus far I’ve decided on a 45 inch 4/shaft floor loom for now – after briefly considering a much smaller loom over the weekend – because I don’t like the idea of being limited right off the bat. If I find that I also want to be able to do some weaving at the cabin or take workshops, I will likely invest in an 8-shaft table loom at some point in the future – and I plan to make myself a little frame loom and a pin loom to play with simple weave structures on as well. But right at the moment I’m obsessed with the idea of a floor loom and so I’ve been looking at the boards everyday for a few weeks. I have an appointment this Sunday to look at a loom made by a Nova Scotia craftsperson in the year I was born (1973) which I feel has good juju attached since I’m going to look just the day before my birthday. It’s in my price range and has a nice look about it so I’ll have to sit down and see how it feels (and make sure it has all the essential parts intact).

In the meantime, I’ve warped my rental loom for a second time (mostly by myself) and I’m ready to start my second weaving sampler with a focus on colour combinations and weaving in different material. I’m starting to understand how to read a pattern draft and I’ve got myself a couple of excellent books that I’m sure I will use for a long time into the future. These are:

The first is a real instructional, with lots of pictures and skill-building lessons. The second is a pattern encyclopedia with over 600 weave patterns for the 4-shaft loom. So far I’ve referenced both of them about a hundred times – I kept the first one open beside me throughout the warping process last night, just in case I couldn’t entirely remember what I was doing.

And just to finish off, here’s a little stash of weaving fibre just waiting for me to finish work today!

IMG_20160131_140145448

Post #2095: A recap of month one

My key words for 2016 (as recorded in my Year Compass) are “Movement. Motion. Mobilizing,” which is what I wrote in response to the request for a single word to describe what I wanted. It seemed like this was one word, but broken out into different aspects of the same forward-momentum that I am hoping to manifest in regards to my career, my physical activity, and my creative life. I feel like last year was more of a “sit still and listen” kind of time for me, which lead to a deepening of my meditation practice and decision to enter into more serious zen study. While I don’t want to let go of that, I also feel a bit of a push to explore in different ways and so far, I feel like I’m on that track:

  • I keep reviewing the job boards, and applied for something at another agency earlier this month. More interesting though, are the conversations that I am having inside my organization about the need for certain kinds of roles and my suitability for those roles. My goal is to get to the end of this year with something firmed up on the career/role front since my assignment ends early in 2017 and I don’t want to go back to my old position.
  • IMG_20160124_091121124We’ve been snowshoeing at the cabin! Something I have been aching to do since December.
  • I started cycling to work last week – did three days, and three days this week. I expect next week I’ll be able to do four (Thursdays are not possible at the moment due to my weaving class).
  • I’m doing a bit of community mobilizing around refugee support and neighbourhood building.
  • I’ve finally finished my first knitted sweater, started sewing on the baby quilt, started a crochet blanket, and am working on my second knitted legwarmer… but most excitingly:
  • I’m learning how to weave! And this has turned out to be a greater pleasure than I had imagined it would be. Learning a new art form is always interesting, but there is something deeply compelling about the way that two layers of yarn/string/thread meet to form patterns and I have fallen down the rabbit hole of learning. So much so that I am in the market for a floor loom and learning all about that. I plan to write a bit more about this process shortly – but suffice to say that this is fast becoming a significant interest even as I realize I probably don’t have time to make all the things!

I have also instituted a couple of daily habits so far that are really working for me and I hope to keep them up through the year:

  • Reading five pages of a book per day: I know this seems like a small daily reading goal, but for the last few years I have not been reading as much as I would like and I realized that whatever page number I set had to fit in with the actual reality of my life. I can always find time for five pages – and the act of picking up a book instead of going to my computer, means that I’m much more likely to read beyond that first five pages. Between this habit, and purchasing a wrist watch in 2015, I find myself turning to the devices a lot less (the wrist watch means that I don’t use my phone as a time piece and therefore am not looking at it nearly as often).
  • Recording the basics of each day in a daytimer: Each night I am writing down the major activities of my day – including cuddling, crafting, making dinner, cycling – as a way of looking at the balance of what I am prioritizing in my life. It allows me to adjust or notice patterns if, for example, time with my partner is being crowded out by other things (which it currently is, though some time off coming up will help shift that).

The idea really is to keep my activity level at a pace that is enjoyable to me without letting things slide into being overwhelming. I find this to be a tricky tension to maintain, but am bringing my attention to exactly that as I move forward towards month two (and my birthday) of 2016.