Wrestles With Wool

A Sheep In The Weaving

Wool pattern stands out from the hemp background

Wool pattern stands out from the hemp background

My great weaving adventures all started with a fascination of Navajo weaving.  Navajo weaving involves wool, lots of wool, wool warp, and a ton of wool weft in lots of colors.  The cool patterns of Tablet and Inkle weaving didn’t escape my eye either.  Conversely, these narrow band weaving techniques are typically done in smoother, less elastic yarns like cotton, silk and linen.  I’ve used a number of different cotton yarns in my band weavings, such as perle cotton, crochet cotton, mercerized cotton knitting yarn, bamboo crochet thread and acrylic.  Reading about historical weaving finds containing wool for the pattern threads, and a new book, Norwegian Band Weaving also with so much wool; I decided that I wanted to try some wool as my pattern thread on my next pick-up band.  Having experience with both cotton and wool, how difficult could it be?  With a Pick-Up Inkle weaving workshop coming up, I know I need to have one of the patterns warped to use as a demonstration piece.  Hemp and linen are also on my “Must Try” list, so what better time to give these two materials a try?  Without enough time to mail order some weaving yarn in wool and linen or hemp, I head to my local yarn shop.  She’s great, she has yarn in every type fiber you can imagine and so many different weights.

Wool pattern and hemp background, loom warped with support

Wool pattern and hemp background, loom warped with support

I settled on hemp for my background yarn, as linen gave me a bit of a sticker shock.  I like the hemp, it has a rustic and sturdy feel.  They helped me find a wool yarn as close to what I needed as they had.  Since their shop can fit only so much yarn, and weaving yarns could fill a warehouse, my choices were limited to a knitting yarn.  We did find a wool knitting yarn that has a firm feel and didn’t seem very elastic.  Typically we want a worsted spun wool yarn that is dense and firm, not one that is stretchy, lofty and soft.  In warping, the best part was the fact that I didn’t need to double my pattern threads since they were already so much larger than my background threads.  I’ve decided to warp only the outside pegs of my Inkle loom so I wouldn’t have yards of fabric to weave.  I think I’ll try to use this as a backstrap for when I give a body tensioned loom a try, and if it’s not wide enough, then it will find itself as a strap for some future bag I’m sure to make.  I thought this would be a good time to try weaving tabs, I saw this as an end finish on a band in a book and really liked it.  I think the tabs could be useful in the function of the backstrap.

Tabs are a neat way to complicate things

Tabs are a neat way to complicate things

The tabs were more of a challenge than I expected.  Each tab taking its own weft, they weave independently from each other, but at the same time.  One trick is to start the band at its “established” width.  Since it’s not established yet, you have to just finagle until it looks right, otherwise the tabs will begin wide and get narrow.  THE WOOL!  I found the wool difficult to work with.  One thing I got to show the participants of the workshop, was how to fight your warp to create a shed.  It was my (faulty) assumption that the wool’s stickiness wouldn’t be an issue since the wool warps are separated by two hemp background threads.  The wool sticks to the hemp with great ease, and since the wool has more elasticity than the hemp, it stretched enough to still tangle with its neighboring wool pattern thread.  One trick to combat this is to make my warp quite tight, and the other is to clear the shed by inserting my batten and separating the warps by turning or twisting the batten instead of running it down to the fell line.  I also found that I need to sometimes poke the pattern threads down out of the shed since they occasionally get stuck in the “up ” position.  I found at least one mistake in my pattern was due to this.  At times the threads that sit on top of the band in the pattern will be too loose from creating the shed and untangling.  These “yarn loops” are fixed by giving the correct thread a tug on the unwoven side of the band, or by stroking the unwoven warp away from the fell line with a pinched thumb and index finger to smooth them.  Failing to fix this would lead to loose loops that would snag, not to mention blur the pattern and make it look sloppy.  

The wool snags, tangles and stretches.

The wool snags, tangles and stretches.

I like the look the contrast between materials provides.  I may work with hemp more, and I definitely want to work with linen eventually.  I will give wool consideration only when it involves a weaving yarn.  There’s a wool yarn meant to be used with bandweaving that Stoorstalka carries.  I’ve thought about giving that a try.  It’s cheap enough that I can afford all the colors, but the thought of having yarn shipped from Sweden when I need that one skein of blue seems extreme.  I’m glad that I gave the tabs a try, I really think they will come in handy when I use this band as a backstrap.  I’ve considered sewing some “D” rings or triangle rings to the middle tab, and having the outside tabs to either tie around my waist or use for a different set up.  I wont know until it’s off the loom and I can try it out.  I’ll be sure to post an update when it’s all finished. 🙂 .

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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