Designing, Planning and Inspiration

Designing and Planning a Weaving Project

Graph (5)

I will often see a picture or a pretty landscape and think to myself, “I see a weaving in that.”  While I was in New Mexico several of the ladies mentioned different styles of Navajo weaving and which ones they had the most interest in.  When I thought about it, I really didn’t have a preference as I enjoy the looks of landscape most.  However, when we were at the Two Grey Hills Trading Post, I fell in love with their style of rugs.  I decided I wanted to weave a rug in that style or in homage to that style.  My interests in weaving have been moving away from geometric Southwestern designs and more towards landscapes.  While my techniques are largely Navajo, I have gained more interest in conventional European tapestry techniques.  I’m in hopes I can marry the two techniques into my own weaving repertoire.  Before I make any changes to my technique and try my hand at landscapes, I realize I still need to work on my Homage to the Two Grey Hills weaving.  So this weaving is born from that trip and my appreciation for their skills and vision.  Typically, Two Grey Hills rugs contain wool yarn which hasn’t been dyed, although, sometimes they over-dye black to achieve a truer color.  The rest of the yarn is its natural color, and different shades are created by blending.  I’ll be using a commercially prepared yarn, but my heart is pure, at least.

So I have the inspiration to draw from, and I have to have a plan.  The Navajo, to my knowledge, don’t use graph paper or plan out their design in any formal fashion.  They plan as they go along, and they do it very well, quite a vision.  I may or may not be gifted in that manner, but as Ben Franklin would say’ “failure to plan, is planning for failure.”  So I lay it out to know where I’m going and be assured it will resemble my vision.  I make a graphed-out sketch like a weavers cartoon with graph paper, pencil, eraser, colored pencils, and color cards.

In this weaving, I began with the center outline motif with squash blossoms.  I actually did this five or six times and used several pages of graph paper.  I have a package of cheap graph paper to “get it right” with, and then I use a pad of larger and more expensive graph paper to transfer the design.  Once I have that done, I get the corner motif the way I like it and taped in place to could see how it looks.  It requires constant counting.  When sketching it out, it’s very easy to wind up with a huge weaving if you’re not keeping an eye on size.  Adding a border at the end and figuring out what to do in the center of the center motif is what’s left to the outline.

After I have my motifs sketched out, I check for mistakes.  Is it even up and down and side to side?  Are there any parts too close together or motifs too far apart, with a large plain area?  I count my squares everywhere, and often my squares equal one square inch.  Other times, like with my Storm pattern bag, the squares equal 1/2 inch.  It’s amazing how mistakes creep in.  Then I check my sketch against my looms.  Which loom will I use?  Will I need to modify it?  What will I use for a warping frame?  Will I have to sit on the floor for long to weave it?  These are all important questions.

Graph (2)

Then it’s time to pull out the color cards and colored pencils.  The first thing I did was color in the border.  I also decide to make my side and selvage cords all the same color.  I usually make them two colors to get a barber pole effect, but I decide to make them all the same.  I find it’s a more difficult to see them.  It’s hard to tell they are selvage cords, but I guess I’m just used to seeing them two-colored.  I have a good idea of what colors I want and need to order.  I couldn’t do it without my color cards.  I have had several computers, and none of the monitors have shown me the true color of the yarn – none of them.  I haven’t tried printing them, either.  I figure, what I spend on color cards, I save by not buying more yarn and paying more shipping.  

Color Card (1)

I’m certain to make a legend detailing the color and color number of the yarn.  If I need to work on another project before I start this one, then my work won’t be lost as it will be recorded.  

Graph (3)

I number the squares with an “X” for the center.  Also, I color only half of the sketch.  If it’s symmetrical, then when I reach the halfway mark I’ll just flip it over.  When it’s time to weave, I have all the information I need.  For warp, it’s a simple matter of math to know how much I need.  When it comes to weft, its possible to figure that out, but it’s easier to order extra.  In this weaving, I have my warp set to 8 ends per inch.  So horizontally, each square equals eight warp threads or four warp threads in front of the batten.  Vertically, it’s a bit touch and go.  I will measure for an inch.  I have to take into account how much the weft will compact from beating.  The easiest way is to measure my footer  and then when I’m nearing my color change, remeasure my footer again and see how much it has compressed.  It’s generally 1/8 inch for me.  So I weave 1-1/8 inch vertically for a one-inch high design or 2-1/8 inch of a two-inch high design.  I mark my warps with a Micron Pen as it’s waterproof and archival quality.  I only mark a small dot in three places, one warp string on the left, right, and center. 

Graph (4)

Warp rods and stretch!!!  It’s hard to get the warp rods exactly where you want them; as only a half an inch off will add an inch of warp.  Then there is the stretch.  It’s impossible to predict how much the warp will stretch when you get it on the loom.  It’s like making bread, sometimes you need all the flour, and sometimes you don’t.  It has to do with the tension that was kept on it during the warping process, the humidity, the breed of sheep the wool is from, the adjustments of the equipment at the mill, and whether mercury is retrograde 😉  In this weaving I have an extra inch.  I have to decide how to handle that.  Some designs will look good by adding an inch to the center, but that will throw my center motif off.  So I’m adding a 1/2 inch to my header and also to my footer.  When I refer to my graph to check my measurements, I’ll need to add a 1/2 inch to my numbers.

This graph differs from a weaving cartoon in that this is a graphic representation to use as a reference and pattern.  It is to scale but fits on a sheet of paper.  Conversely, a cartoon is the actual size and generally placed behind the weaving then woven according to its lines and pattern.  At first it seems like it would be easier to use a cartoon, but after trying it once, it was obvious to me, it’s not as easy as it seems.  Perhaps I’ll write about it, once I figure it out.  I save my graphs, to me they are a part of the weaving and while I will never use them again, I can’t throw them away any more than I could throw away the weaving.  The downfall of this graph paper is, it’s non-reproduce-able.  That means, if I want to make a copy of it, the squares will not show up.  I can take a picture of it, but photocopy and scanning don’t work.

On the topic of weaving what I’ve sketched.  It’s important to note, while my motifs are outlined in regular pencil, the weaving will not be outlined.  Only what is in colored pencil will show in the weaving.  It’s important to keep this in mind so the colors next to each other will contrast sufficiently as to show off the design.  I also try to keep the colored pencil fill-ins going in the direction I will weave in.  I think it gives a better representation of the finished product, and when placed aside for storage, it reminds me which way I decided to weave it.  I also color in each individual square.  It makes it easier to follow when I’m weaving.  Instead of seeing a long color block of white, I can tell that I need to weave a 5″ color block of white.  This keeps counting easy.  If you’re interested in the small amount of math that goes into this kind of weaving let me know.


A website devoted to learning, sharing and teaching a wide range of fiber arts. Inkle, Tablet and Navajo style weaving, Spinning, Knitting, Crochet, Sewing and Lace Making. Silver Work, Beading and Tool Making grace my bench as well.

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