Ruly unruly weaving

This warp started as a deflected doubleweave draft from The Deflected Doubleweave Handbook, which accompanies a video by Madelyn van der Hoogt, adapted to the yarns I had on hand when I began it while staying with my sister and with limited supplies.

Deflected doubleweave is a weaving structure with separate yet interwoven layers where the movement of the yarns, once the cloth is off the loom and wet finished, creates new shapes, curves, even circles, and the front and back are different, sometimes very different.

When I picked it up again after arriving in Swansea, with a different limited set of supplies, I wandered away from the pattern, trying different yarns, using up bobbins and experimenting to see what would happen with different combinations of fibre and pattern.

I find the fibre interactions astonishing, what happens with the colours and the textures and how it can all shift into something so different. And even more than that, I am seeing so much potential in this weave as a metaphor for expressing the magical spaces that fascinate me – this world and the otherworld and the thin places between, those liminal borderlands and thresholds where one thing becomes another, the integration of images, ideas and emotions that seem to be in opposition but can be experienced as both/and, not either/or. What Rowan Williams calls ‘a layered and broken reality’. I’m nowhere near the technical mastery to embody any of this in the weaving yet, but I mean to practise all I can, till I am able to break (or keep) the rules through choice and not through ignorance; and to explore the debatable land a little further with every warp.

tree and moon

New beginnings

So … I’ve lost my tagline temporarily … because what I do from now on will no longer be ‘art textiles from the Isle of Tiree’ – though Tiree will always be a huge part of my heart and I’m sure will echo into my work for a long while yet.

But here I am, on the mainland, in Swansea, South Wales, in a new place and a rented home, rootless. Alan is Welsh, of course, but I’m a mixture of Scottish, Irish and Cumbrian – though I have learned that Cumbria is known as Yr Hen Ogledd (the Old North) of Wales.

It’s been a strange year, with so much uncertainty, decision-making, absence, then packing and the logistics – and emotions – of leaving a ten-year home and going into a furnished rental. Some of my equipment and most of my materials and books are in Northumberland (where I’ll be spending some of my time as well – another story). But I have a loom or two here, an almost working wheel, and enough fibre and yarn to be going on with. And I went to the West Wales Wool Show yesterday and came back with some Llanwenog yarn and some fibre – locally raised Shetland and overdyed British Jacob in autumnal colours. Just as on Tiree, there are a lot of sheep in Wales, and some unique breeds that I’m looking forward to learning about.

Newly made rolags blended with several colours of dyed Jacob fibre from Ewe Spinning Me a Yarn, ‘bramble’ coloured Merino/Zwartbles blend from John Arbon‘s ‘Harvest Hues’ range and some little bits of silk and locks from my treasure trove. I’ll be making more of these and taking them to Northumberland where my working wheel is living just now; I can’t wait to be spinning again.

Weaving with mirrors – playful doubleweave

I have a doubleweave sampler on my table loom which I need to finish to free up the loom, and having gone through lots of exercises in the excellent book Doubleweave, by Jennifer Moore, I am playing now in a freestyle way with rags and scraps of yarn.

Doubleweave is woven in two layers, and it can be used to create a thick double cloth with both layers joined across the width, or it can be used to create a cloth that is wider than the width of the loom, by turning a corner at one edge so that the bottom layer is joined to the top layer all along that edge but nowhere else. Essentially you are weaving a piece of cloth that is folded in half and when it comes off the loom you can open it out to its full width.

Here I’ve decided to divide the warp into short sections, weaving each with a different weft, I have 7 sections across the top (green) layer and three across the bottom (rust) layer – I thought 3 was enough of a challenge on the bottom, which I can only see by bending double and craning my neck or using a mirror – and by feel – ‘seeing’ with my fingers. It’s slow but satisfying to watch this cloth taking shape, and I’m not sure what will happen next, just weaving in the moment is enough.

Doubleweave by Jennifer Mooreif you’re interested in the book I’ve been following, using this link helps to support my blog.

Wet finishing a handspun scarf

Until I began weaving I didn’t appreciate how much of a transformation the cloth undergoes after the weaving ends. Wet finishing is a magical process that I enjoy every time. Watch what happens with this tweed scarf that’s entirely woven with my handspun yarn.

On the loom

The warp yarn (end to end) is stretched, and I deliberately beat the weft yarn (side to side) lightly to create an open weave with lots of scope for shrinkage. This yarn, like much of the yarn I create for weaving, hasn’t been washed and set after spinning, so it hasn’t shrunk at all yet.

handspun scarf on the loom

Off the loom

Now I’ve cut the scarf  from the loom and it’s no longer under tension: notice how the yarns are distinct and you can still see through the weave.

Scarf cut from the loom showing open weave

Wet finishing

The next step is to wet finish the cloth. For these scarves, which are mostly wool with a little silk, I start by running a bowl of hot tap water with a small amount of wool wash and soaking the scarf for at least 15 minutes. Then I work the scarf vigorously in the water, squeezing and pummelling, just the opposite of how to hand wash a finished scarf! I lift it out often to see how the fabric is changing.

How long this takes depends on how fulled I want it to be. I’m looking for a change, from individual yarns that move separately, to a surface where all the yarn looks bedded together and the cloth moves as one. At that stage I rinse in cold water, then hot, agitating it more, and repeat as needed – watching the fabric carefully all the time. This is to shock and shrink the fibres further, just like fulling felt. You can always full it more if the finished cloth isn’t quite what you are aiming for, but you can never ‘unfull’ it, so it’s important to pay attention to what is happening or the fabric will get too solid and lose its drape.

Once the scarf has reached the texture I want, I stop fulling and place it into a bowl of lukewarm water with a splash of vinegar to neutralise any remaining wool wash. Then a final rinse at the same temperature, squeeze out the water gently, roll in a towel to absorb as much moisture as possible, and hang to dry at room temperature.

This is the cloth after wet finishing: see how the yarn has bloomed and shrunk, closing the gaps to form a textural, nubbly cloth. You can still see through it a little, but only if you hold it up to the light.

Handspun scarf after wet finishing

Ironing

Once the scarf is dry or almost dry, the final step is to iron it. This creates the lovely tweed surface, bringing out the sheen of any silk or lustrous wool I may have used. After this I can really say the scarf is ‘finished’. I use a steam iron on the hottest setting (with a pressing cloth to protect the woven fabric) and press as hard as I can all along the length; then turn it over and do a lighter press on the other side.

Handspun, handwoven scarf after wet finishing and ironing

The result!

And the finished scarf is now ready to wear.

Handwoven, handspun scarf by Fiona Dix

Visit my shop on Etsy to see more handwoven, handspun scarves.

Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom

Every Sunday I get an email newsletter from Andy Ross at Global Yell in Shetland. Today’s included a post about research into linen making in Shetland and there was a photo of a little book with a linen cover – ‘Songs of the Spindle and Legends of the Loom’.

This sounded irresistible and I went looking for it online, discovering there are a few copies for sale in antiquarian bookshops and each one is too rare and costly to contemplate. I did find treasure, though.

  • The whole book has been digitised and is in the California Digital Library and so available for all at The Internet Archive. It’s full of poems and prose about spinning and weaving, with delightful illustrations and woodcuts. You can really get a sense of the physicality of it even through the screen. There’s a page-turning mode so you can view the pages close up, including the tactile linen cover, and there are various formats to download.

    book page

  • There’s a review of the book in the Spectator Archive. This is a charming extract:

    The paper was made by hand ; the cover is of unbleached flax spun by Langdale cottagers, and woven on a hand-loom ; the printing has been done at a hand-press. A kindly thoughtfulness has given the names of all, or as nearly all As it was possible to give, who have had a hand in the work. Editor, publisher, and illustrator we are accustomed to know by name ; but it is good, also, to be aware of our obligations to spinner of thread and weaver of linen, and binder.
    The Spectator 7 DECEMBER 1889, Page 11

I found a quirky personal connection as well. As the review in The Spectator mentions, the linen of the cover was spun and woven in Langdale, and the first illustration in the book is a view of the Langdale valley. And one of the reasons I’ve been so quiet here is that we have been away for a while, setting up Spinners, a holiday flat in Grasmere, just a few miles from Langdale. The view in the book is almost the same one we chose for a kitchen splashback at Spinners!

splashback

As I virtually ‘thumbed through’ the book (isn’t it interesting that thumbs are also digital), I saw that the foreword was by a man named Albert Fleming, who had facilitated a revival of spinning and weaving in Langdale in the 1880s. I hadn’t known anything about the textile history of Langdale before today, but when I’m next in Cumbria I’d like to try and find out more about this. I’ll leave you with a couple of lines quoted by Albert Fleming that really resonated with me – does anyone know what this is from?

It takes the ideal to blow an inch aside
The dust of the actual