Learning to Weave on a Rigid Heddle Loom

loom

Sometime last year I got the notion that I’d like to learn to weave. Really, I was less interested in what I could make by weaving and more in learning what it feels like to create the woven cloth. A big part of fashion design is understanding different fabrics, and what distinguishes a sateen from muslin from velvet is the different methods of weaving each kind of fabric. Even relatively similar looking fabrics, like cotton shirting, have subtle but important differences in the weave. I read and read about the differences, but they were hard to grasp mentally. So I decided to grasp them, manually, by doing some actual weaving.

Not long after I moved to North Carolina my mom and I made a trip to a local yarn store, Warm ‘n Fuzzy. They have an incredible selection of yarns, mostly from small companies, and offer many classes. I saw Beginning Weaving on their upcoming class list; at $85 for about 8 hours of class time, it seemed like an affordable way to learn about weaving without committing too much time or money.

The class teaches weaving using knitting yarn to create a scarf on a portable rigid heddle loom. This fantastic contraption separates the warp threads (the ones running longways) in such a way that you pass the shuttle with the weft thread (the ones running crossways) straight through, rather than doing the over-under-over-under weaving action. It’s a little hard to describe, and this video has a good demo:

For the warp I chose a multicolored wool yarn in a red and orange colorway that I seem to have lost the label for; the weft is Jagger Spun’s Zephyr Wool-Silk in Copper. Most of the first class was spent setting up the yarn on the loom, which means measuring out each warp thread to the right length by wrapping it around a peg placed at a distance from the loom, pulling each thread through the heddle, and tying it to the spindles on either end. (Not necessarily in that order – the exact process escapes me, but don’t worry, I have written instructions.)

The weaving itself was pleasurable in a way similar to knitting: a meditative process that required paying close attention to the performance of the same action over and over again, made pleasant by the sensual qualities of the working material. The different colors and textures came together in a process as slow and delightful as the progression of a sunset; the gradual assembly of a grid from round looping yarn balls gave endless satisfaction to my systematic brain.

weavingcloseup

I have to admit, I wasn’t the most fastidious beginning weaver. But then, I’m not the most fastidious anything. When trying something for the first time I like to jump in, get a feel for it the process, and screw up a bit. I can appreciate how things work by seeing them not work. So my selvages (the self-finished edges where the weft wraps around) are a bit sloppy, and the weave is hopelessly uneven. Even so, the result is beautiful: the yarn colors are like a fall-toned rainbow, and the cloth is surprisingly light and drapey. I don’t usually add fringe to scarves when I knit them, but for this scarf I did a twisted fringe, and I love it.

wovenscarf

Finished woven scarf

The experience of weaving had its intended educational outcome: I now have a feel for what it means to weave cloth, even if I’ve only scratched the surface of different weaving patterns and techniques that are possible. I’m pretty swamped with sewing responsibilities right now, so I’m going to hold onto my new weaving skills, if you could call them that, for a later date when I can practice and experiment with materials. I really like the idea of weaving with scrap yarn, fabric strips, or non-traditional materials like used bicycle tubes.

One thought on “Learning to Weave on a Rigid Heddle Loom

  1. Pingback: The Very First Dress: Sunday Shift in Yellow and Stripes | 24 Kites to Fly

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