The Circle Craze

Did it start in spring of 2019, with the May/June issue of “Handwoven” magazine? That was the first time I saw Susan Poague’s tempting pattern for woven circles. It only took 8 harnesses to make a row of circles offset by the next row of circles. I was crazy for them, and it seemed that everyone else was too! These dishtowels were showing up in guild show and tells and on social media everywhere.

There they are, in the lower left corner of the cover. Around that time I also found them on Etsy, woven by the author of the article herself. I bought them to use onboard Pandora because the colors were perfect for that setting. Here they are on the table of our outdoor dining room.

My friend Marilyn weaves things so quickly she’s done with a project before I finish reading the source where she got the idea. That was the case with her version of dishtowels with circles. She had a whole set coming off her loom while I was still gazing at the photo on the cover.

Susan Poague’s towels on the cover of “Handwoven” and her placemats that were for sale on Etsy are a structure called taquete that she has turned, so that the colors for all those circles are in the warp, and the weaving is done with just the one background color.

When I saw this project for turned taquete I immediately thought of my grandchildren and a blanket. Wouldn’t those circles look terrific bigger and in lots of bright colors? Oh, yeah! It’s hard to make things for three grandchildren who all live in the same family. I generally make just one and hope they’ll share until I get to the next project. Our oldest is four years old, and she deserves the next handmade thing, especially since her first blanket in knitted lace accidentally turned into a doll’s blanket (about the size of a placemat) when it got thrown in the dryer after washing. This blanket will be easy care.

Before I began to work on designing a draft for the larger circles, I thought I’d better learn a bit about taquete. I just happened to have a book on weft-faced pattern weaves in my library, and it just happens to be the best resource on this subject.

The author describes Taquete as a weft-faced compound tabby weave. I often find descriptions and definitions of weave structures hard to understand before I’ve actually made a warp and woven the structure. That was certainly the case with taquete. One surprose for me was that although every other shed in the treadling looked like plain weave, raising all odd shafts, then a pattern shed, then raising all odd shafts, those odd/even sheds were not the plain weave. Plain weave occurred when I raised shafts 1-8 and then shafts 9-16. It was a head-scratcher.

When I looked at a number of drawdowns for this structure I saw parallel threadings. In fact, when I wrote the draft for my circles, I used parallel threadings with one set of circles based on shafts 1 – 8, and the other based on shafts 9 – 16. Hoskins explains the structure further here. Examples of taquete textiles were found in Coptic Egypt from the 2nd century BCE, and in other sites in the Near East. Eva Stossel has a good description of the structure here, as well as photos of her designs. It’s a treat to see what she’s done with this weave structure, for which she credits Bonnie Inouye, and her scarves are far more adventurous than my circles!

So, circles. I wanted them to be bigger than what I saw people weaving for their kitchen linens. I had two options for bigger circles: heavier materials and more shafts. I decided to take advantage of both. Of course I should have sampled, but I don’t have heavy cotton threads in my stash. I had to order a ton of colors for this project, so I jumped in and figured I’d do some sampling at the beginning of the blanket warp. I ordered eight colors of 6/2 cotton, seven bright colors for the circles and a medium grey for the background. I planned to set the warp at 20 ends per inch. The 6/2 cotton (from WEBs) comes on giant cones that weigh more than a pound each, so I am well stocked in bright colors. Next came resizing the circles on 16 shafts. That took some trial and error, and I am so thankful I could do this with software on my computer rather graph paper. I use Fiberworks PCW. The pattern published in “Handwoven” uses 10/2 cotton set at 24 ends per inch. Each circles takes 24 threads, so the resulting circles are about 1″ in diameter. Each of my circles takes 50 threads, and at 20 ends per inch, my circles are 2 1/2″ in diameter. I have 19 circles going across the warp for a total of 950 threads. I had a plan.

Here is the draft I settled on after some trial and error.

The last thread on the warp drawdown is a background color (grey in my design), and the first thread of this drawdown is also a grey on shaft 9. Do not repeat that thread! I didn’t know how to remove it from the document! Mea Culpa!

When I checked my photos I discovered that I warped the loom back in January. It sure took me a long time to get this project going.

Then came threading the pattern through the heddles on the 16 shafts during some snowy days in February.

Next came sleying the 950 threads through the reed, two threads per dent in the 10 dent reed.

And on the very last days of February I started weaving. Voila! Circles.

I am quite happy with this project. Today is March 1, the snow has begun to melt, there is a full moon at night, and I am on cloud 9. I may be the last to arrive at the circle party, but I am a happy to be here. I am a happy weaver.

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And the Books Go on, and so does Weaving

It’s been a long New England winter, and all the new books of the past year are keeping me in good company. Have you read Threads of Life: a History of the World through the Eye of a Needle? The author, Clare Hunter, wrote with such personal passion about her various choice of examples. She has led many community projects in textiles that demonstrate how people from many cultures, male and female, young and old, have a visceral, often therapeutic, reaction to working with needle and thread. The book would be greatly enhanced with photos, but not having them forced me to search online for some of the projects the author covers. I savored the book and hated to finish it.

Now I am reading another book on a similar subject, that is handled so differently. It’s The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, by Virginia Postrel. It’s also a compelling read, from the point of view of a journalist. The stories of ancient textiles: making string and cord, the dawn of weaving, are subjects that I have loved since early adulthood. There is reasonable evidence that spinning thread and cord and rope is what ‘drove’ humans to invent the first drive band, which means that what the first wheel was used to accomplish. Thread!

It’s fairly likely that I won’t get through all the books I bought in 2020 until sometime after 2021!

I have spent some time over the past few weeks setting up my new-to-me AVL. A couple of years ago I sold my previous 16S AVL mechanical dobby, an FDL (folding dobby loom) with a 40″ weaving width, along with my 8S Toika (countermarche) that had a 60″ weaving width. I wanted to replace these two loom with one computer driven loom with a 60″ weaving width. All of this selling and buying went far more easily than I would ever have imagined. It all transpired in the course of about 3 months. Bob says I’m quite the pessimist, but I see my attitude as positive in a different way. I make peace with what I imagine might be the ‘worst case scenario.’ If I can do that, I can stay the course for however long something takes to achieve. And this whole process of getting rid of two looms to replace with one went surprisingly well.

My current loom has a fascinating history that I knew nothing about when I first pursued getting this loom. The loom does not have have an AVL plaque or a serial number, which means it is a very early model, perhaps from the late 1970s. Marion Scannell, from Waterford, Connecticut was the first owner. She had a weaving shop called Waterford Weavers, and many weavers in the state considered her a mentor. She was generous with both her knowledge and weaving supplies. She wove all the fabrics in her home, from draperies to tablecloths to upholstery fabrics. Boy, I wish I had known her and visited her house! At that point in my life I was living and weaving in New Jersey, so close but so far. She used Fiberworks to run the dobby head. She was instrumental in getting many of the weaving guild members excited about computer driven weaving. After Marion’s death this loom was given to the Blue Slope Museum in Franklin, CT. One of my friends in the guild used to volunteer at this museum and at one point noticed a shuttle with the “Waterford Weavers” label on it. When she inquired she learned that Marion’s daughter had donated a number of weaving tools as well as the loom to the museum. The loom had been disassembled and stored in a barn on the museum’s property. The compudobby box was being stored in the house. The museum personnel wanted to out-place the loom since it was far too modern for the museum’s time period. That’s when the loom came to studio of my friend Janney who just passed it on to me. Janney rebuilt it and tuned it up. She assured me it worked well even after the many decades of its life. She was right, and I am so thrilled to be weaving on it now.

These days my creative time is a balancing act. I have my fingers in a lot of pots. I’ve had to set aside a number of projects in order to get this loom up and running, over a year after I bought it. I’ll spare you the details of why that happened, but many of you know how much of each year I spend living on a boat without access to my looms! I designed the pattern that I’ve put on this AVL, and it has some glitches. Perhaps that was not the best choice for a first project to get acquainted with the loom, but my time at home for weaving is always shorter than I’d like so I thought I’d better jump into the deep end. I hope I’ll be posting photos of my turned taquete circles on 16 shafts soon. It will become a blanket for my toddler age granddaughter. Meanwhile, Mila the husky looks rather posh striking a pose at the loom.

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A few of my favorite things!…Books!

During the year just past, 2020, I bought a record number of reference books on weaving, tapestry, and textiles in general. I started reading one, then another arrived in the mail so I started that one too. This went on until I had about six books partially read, and I realized that I’m not mentally agile enough to read that many books at once!

Threads of Life: A History of the World through the Eye of a Needle is not the first book that arrived in my mailbox, but now it is the one that I have focused on finishing ahead of the others. When I decided to set the others aside and read this one, I became enthralled. I can hardly put it down. The author covers some important historical events where needlework factored heavily, such as the Norman Conquest and its recorded depiction in the well known Bayeux Tapestry. Another chapter covers Mary, Queen of Scots, and her many embroideries used as pleas to those who might give her aid. But what makes this book a page turner for me are the everyday stories of women and men who find solace or find their voice through working with a needle and thread.

The chapter titles are compelling. “Unknown” is about the women (nuns) who worked on the Bayeux Tapestry and whose identities we’ll never know. Other chapters, with titles like “Frailty,” “Captivity,” “Loss,” describe the many ways that needle and thread have assuaged human suffering or given voice to those who felt unseen and unheard. You can imagine what some of these circumstances might be before even reading the book. Jews in camps embroidering messages and emotions on fabric as small and delicate as handkerchiefs, men in POW camps doing the same. Larger works, like banners, express political ideas and personal causes. In 1985, a massive banner of appliques and embroidered quilt blocks, was displayed in Washington, DC, to draw attention to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was meant to wrap around the Pentagon.

“The Ribbon didn’t just wrap around the Pentagon. It spread across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, around the Lincoln Memorial, down the Mall, around the Capitol, back up the Mall, back to the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon.. It was 15 miles long.”

These are just a few of the many stories that the author addresses with such sympathy and understanding. She herself has worked with people who have PTSD or who are imprisoned. She helps both men and women find a non-verbal way to express their emotions through applique, embroidery, and other needle and thread techniques.

The author is well traveled, and she discusses the textile traditions of a number of places throughout the world. In one chapter she describes the traditions of many cultures that save bits of fabric from the possessions of forebears or dear ones, that are then repurposed to make new garments or accessories that are precious to the one who gathered them. I could absolutely feel the truth of this in my own life, in the textiles I have saved from both my grandmothers. In another chapter she describes what clothing is chosen in various cultures to send their loved ones into the next life. Some cultures keep a bit of fabric or clothing to cherish the memory of the departed one, while other cultures hang the clothing of the dead near the grave, out in the elements, so that the clothes deteriorate similarly to the buried loved one.

In my own experience of gathered fabrics, I have almost all of my paternal grandmother’s quilts, and they are precious to me. As a child I have a sense of lying on at least two of the quilts I now have, poring over the many fabrics used in the patchwork. Even as a young child I wondered where all the many, many fabrics came from that contributed to these lively quilts. One quilt is a cacophony of pale floral calicos that were cut into elongated diamonds and sewn together. When I was quite a bit older I realized that this quilt’s pattern is well known, a six-pointed star. It’s a riot of diamonds, mostly in pastel colors that whisper to be noticed. I think I gazed at these fabrics for many hours when she put me down for a nap during the afternoons I stayed with her. This is my favorite quilt. It predates memory. At some point when I was still a young child my parents took the quilt. The last I remember of it before I took it into my own possession was that my parents kept it in the back of our family station wagon for use at the beach, where we lived on Long Island. Even as a child I knew that this was a travesty for such a wonderful piece of family history–all those small elongated calico fabrics that encapsulated an era, probably the 1930s and 40s, in the southern U.S. where my grandmother lived. I knew I had to save this piece of family history and take better care of it than my parents were doing. I still have it. I don’t have it hidden away in archival tissue, but I do treat it gently.

I have a set napkins and a couple of placemats that were most likely woven in the 1940s. There is a small tag on one of the pieces that identifies the piece as being woven in Berea, Kentucky. Although there are a couple of pieces that coordinate with the set of eight napkins, they may not have come from the same weaver or even the same craft school in Berea. They are also precious to me, although I don’t know who wove these. Several years ago I contacted Berea College hoping to learn some of the names of the weavers from those long ago decades, but no one wrote back to me. The lower two mats in the photo are woven in Dukagang, a woven structure that I am particularly fond of weaving myself. The upper most fabric is Monk’s Belt, another favorite! I always use these during the Christmas holidays.

Melody, who is spending the fall and winter with us along with our younger son, expressed an interest in weaving, and I was happy to oblige. This is a photo of her weaving two kitchen towels at the end of a long warp.

Next we may weave some linen bread bags together for our ongoing sourdough bread baking. This is the project I have in mind, from Handwoven Magazine.

Naturally I hope all my handwoven items become heirlooms to my family, although I know this is highly unlikely! With the optimism of a typical grandmother, I hope one–or both!–of my granddaughters will be drawn to my textiles as much as I was to my grandmother’s. Time will tell.

It comes as no surprise that I highly recommend Clare Hunter’s book, Threads of Life!

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Silver Linings

Silver linings have been on my mind for some months now. In spite of the fact that I do not consider myself an overly optimistic person (I live with one, though!), I have found that the small mercies that occur quite often have been a significant factor in my outlook over the past year. I began to think of silver linings more and more as the new year approached. We’ve all got a long way to go before the restrictions we now live with will loosen, so it’s important that we stay the coarse however we can. For me, that will involve gratitude for silver linings.

I’m hesitant to list my silver linings. That doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is noticing them, being grateful for them, listing them privately to myself. Perhaps they have made the difference between madness and sanity.

During a year when I wasn’t certain I’d ever see my home again (perhaps a bit dramatic but definitely a worry), and during this time when my family grieves the loss of Bob’s mother in the last month of the year, there have been other moments that take some of the sting out of the hard things. Life has always been this way, but this year I’ve taken more notice of it.

After Bob’s mother passed he began to search through boxes and boxes of old photos. Together we’ve taken a wonderful trip down memory lane.

Our younger son moved back to the East Coast to live with us in September, after he had spent a long spring and summer isolating due to the pandemic, and being mostly confined indoors in the mildest part of the country due to the wildfires spreading through California. He came to us with his partner Melody and their Siberian husky, Mila. This is the first time in my adult life that here has been another female in the house. What a marvelous addition Melody is! She expressed interest in learning to weave, and since I had a very long warp on my Baby Wolf for making kitchen towels in an Ms & Ws threading from Strickler, I thought she might enjoy trying her hand weaving the last few yards of that warp. She made two towels: the first in plain weave and the second in a straight twill. Next time she’ll make the warp and dress the loom. She would like to weave a shawl while she is here.

I am nearing the end of winding a warp for what I hope will be a fun blanket for Tori, granddaughter #1. It’s a variation on Susan Poague’s draft for circles in turned taquete. I’ve expanded the draft to 16 shafts (Susan’s design is 8 shafts.), and I’ve chosen a heavier cotton yarn for this project to make it a better blanket weight. Or so I hope! My warp and weft is 6/2 unmercerized cotton from WEBs. I’m so excited to get this project going. If it works as I hope, I will post the draft here.

This is Tori, who will get this blanket. Her family is in our small bubble, but we don’t see them too often since they live so far away. They have a lake house that is halfway between their house and ours, so we’ve met there a couple of times. When we saw them last week we celebrated Tori’s birthday, Christmas, and my birthday. It was festive! In this photo she is playing with her first installment of her monthly activity box from Kiwi.

How has the year started for you? Now, more than ever, we need to stay connected and get excited and inspired by the new work that’s out in the textile world. This morning a friend sent a link to this article from Architectural Digest about a new tapestry by Helena Hernmarck. I hope you enjoy it! The photo alone should do that! I hope it gets your juices flowing. I’ve bought almost a dozen new books this year, and I’m so thankful for each of them. In the next post I think I’ll write a short review of each of them. Let’s keep each other engaged!

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Sheep and linen

A sheep farmer in Wiltshire left a message for me here, and when I contacted her privately, she gave me a bit more info about the sheep she raises. I hope we can continue our correspondence because I would love to know more specifics about her own sheep and the situation in the UK in general. It made my day be able to contact her!

The sheep on Margaret’s farm are related to the Wiltshire Horn breed which she told me are natural shedders. Her flock have been crossed now to shed more so that they don’t need to be sheared.

This is such a revelation to me. The earliest sheep were shedders. Women learned to spin wool by collecting the bits of discarded wool that might cling to things where the sheep had grazed. Fast forward many, many millennia to a time still in the distant past, where humans have been breeding sheep NOT to shed, to have many different kinds of fibers to be used by humans for many different products. Now look where we’ve gone–back to wanting sheep that lose their fleeces naturally. Margaret said that shearing her flock would cost three times what the fleece would bring at market. She also said that the cross she raises has coarse fibers which work well in the climate of Wiltshire. That surprised me. I can’t imagine a climate much worse than the remote islands off the coast of Scotland, where those sheep (Shetland and Ronaldsay come to mind) have wonderfully soft fibers for cold weather. There’s a lot to this that I clearly don’t understand. Margaret also told me that this fall has been exceptionally wet in her part of the world–cold and wet. Her sheep need their coarse coats in order to stay dry and warm. I am fascinated by this. If I learn more I’ll share it.

Meanwhile, if you want to read a bit about this history of Wiltshire Horn sheep, you can look here. I didn’t see anything about shearing vs. shedding there, but I intend to keep searching. I found that I could buy a little Wiltshire Horn stuffed sheep here. Tempting.

Meanwhile, my weaving feels like it is moving at a snail’s pace. On the bright side, just a few minutes ago I finally cut off 6 yards of cotton and linen blend fabric that is going to become six towels. The woven structure is in Carol Strickler’s A Weaver’s Book of Eight-Shaft Patterns. It’s #314. I used Jane Stafford’s cotton boucle for the warp and much of the weft. By the time I was truly bored with weaving, and my color options of the cotton boucle were dwindling, I switched to weaving with Gist’s cotton/linen called “Duet.” Maybe I was just so bored with the boucle, but the Duet cotton/linen seems a better look to me. I will keep that towel for myself. I don’t really know why I wove all of these! I don’t know anyone who has a kitchen that calls for out the colors I chose.

I was deeply in need of weaving when I returned home from a long winter away, locked down for months in foreign countries and feeling very much an outsider–an outsider not wanted due to the fear of pandemic we might bring to the small islands we visit each year on our sailboat. When I got home I couldn’t wait to just mindlessly sit at my small loom and weave. I wove off the napkin warp that did not get finished before leaving on the long voyage last November. Then I wove two linen warps dyed with indigo for waffle weave face cloths. Then came the warp for nine (yikes! nine!) kitchen towels with JST cotton boucle. Who will want these somewhat odd colored towels? I’ll keep two, but that leaves another four! Ah well, I needed to make them for sanity, for therapy. Now I can move on.

Next on my list is a variation of the popular turned taquete circles that Sue Poague developed and showcased in Handwoven in one of the issues from 2019. I actually bought a set of placemats from her because I was so intrigued with this weave structure and yet would not be home to weave any for myself. They cheered me up every night at dinner on our boat while we were in far away places. Back home I wanted to plan a blanket for my older granddaughter in this structure, but I wanted the circles to be bigger. I have a larger loom with 16 shafts, so I started trying to expand the pattern to more harnesses. I think I have it sorted and hope to start winding the warp soon. I’ll share the pattern when I can determine that it weaves well. I’ve bought a large selection of 6/2 cotton in eight colors so the threads will be thicker for blanket weight. I’m excited to get started! I have spent more time than I care to admit on color arrangement. I have seven colors for the circles, and the background warp and all the weft will be a medium grey. I need 19 color stripes across my warp and I’m having a devil of time arranging them in what I hope will be a pleasing order. Ugh! Isn’t it the smallest details that cause the greatest delays? I’ve taken multiple photos on my phone of color arrangements, and then I’ve edited those photos to be black and white so I can assess the values of the circles going across the warp. I’m not happy yet.

Looks like summer, right? I now use these when eat outside at home. Well, I hope my blanket will look as pretty as these placemats. I’d better get to making that warp!

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Let Me Get Out My Soapbox

Oh, boy! Last night I got quite riled up about people’s attitude toward wool. Bob sent me this article from the Times of London. It’s called “Shear Waste,” and it covers the dire situation of sheep farmers across the UK. This year many farmers burned their fleeces or added them to their compost. For years I’ve heard that farmers expend more energy and money in caring for sheep than they get when they sell the fleeces at market. This year the new low was 33p per kilo, which I learned does not even cover the expense of shearing. This is heartbreaking. Seriously, I am crestfallen by this situation.

From the Times of London, Fleeces being composted at Stuart Fletcher’s Sussex farm

I went looking for more information, and I started with the Campaign for Wool. I had no idea this endeavor is now 10 years old. Time flies. How have things gotten worse instead of better? It seems that many people in the UK feel that wool is only useful for rugs these days. Whoa! I have had the pleasure of spinning some wonderfully soft wools from the UK, and nothing–absolutely nothing!–gives me more pleasure than knitting or spinning Wensleydale or Shetland wool. Am I mistakenly under the impression that everyone in the UK knits? …at least for a few years as a child? Don’t they need fresh supplies of wool and the ability to try the many breeds that are grown all around them? Aren’t designers, especially of men’s suiting, always in need of wool?

A few months ago I read the book Wild Dress: Clothing and the Natural World, by Kate Fletcher. The author is Professor of Sustainability and Fashion at the University of the Arts London. She has written other books, but in this one her writings are autobiographical. She explores the relationship between garments and our human connection to nature. The chapters read like essays to me, and in one she marvels at people who spend time in nature by hiking through the landscape. She notes that nowadays, you have to dress the part of someone who spends times in nature by wearing the most unnatural clothing. If you aren’t wearing a polyester fleece made from recycled plastic bottles and elastane-nylon pants, you must not be a serious outdoorsman. Kate Fletcher writes, “As garments go, there are few pieces less natural than a polyester fleece pullover. Nor are there many pieces that act to distance the world outside more than those made from filaments of hydrocarbon with their high resistance to micro-organisms, poor heat isolation and low water absorbency. The things we are wearing to arrive in nature do not, cannot, let nature in… We keep her at arm’s length, or more literally at sleeve’s length, with hydrophobic fibres, an impervious fabric membrane and garments so durable they will outlive us all.”

Wool has so many uses. It can keep you warm and is fairly water resistant. Through millennia of sheep breeding wool can be soft enough for undergarments and tough enough for weatherproof yurts. It can insulate houses, hang on the wall as a beautiful way to keep out drafts. It can become stunning clothing and household items when knitted or woven or felted. I thought there were many millions of people clambering to have excellent sources of wool. So how can these farmers be in dire straits right now? I am worried that they will soon give up sheep farming and turn to something else. What will I do? I can’t possibly be the only one who fears this.

I own exactly one polyester fleece pullover which I bought at least 30 years ago to support a non-profit group I had joined. I still have it, and I wear it only occasionally, although never out in public. I have a wardrobe of sweaters I knit myself that I love to wear out in public. Most of my friends and acquaintances also love the sweaters and other garments that they have woven or knitted. Even if you yourself do not knit or weave, I bet you know at least a handful of people who do. We are everywhere.

About a decade ago I joined the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers in the UK. Ten months of each year there are online workshops to take. One month we focused on breeds of sheep that are not well known. Each participant got a small amount of fleece directly from the farmer to comb or card and then spin. I got some Ronaldsay fleece from the Orkney Islands off Scotland. I got some Bowmont-Merino fleece from Leslie Prior’s farm in Devon. That was an amazing bit of fleece to spin. She has the only Bowmont sheep farm in the world, and at one point there were only 28 sheep at her farm. I felt so lucky to get a bit of this wonderful fiber to spin. Since then I believe she has prospered with this breed. She has an outlet for getting the yarn spun in the UK, and made into garments and household items that are manufactured in the UK.

When we had the fleece workshop through the UK Guild, those of us outside the UK did not know for certain if we’d ever receive our fleece samples, or how long it might take to receive them. The ones I chose all arrived at my house, and I think the longest delivery time was only three weeks, which is fast considering these packages had to go through the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. The inspectors have the right to send back anything they deem unsafe. After playing with various fleeces from the around the UK, I ordered a kilo of Ronaldsay from Orkney. I washed the wool, combed it and spun it before knitting it into a sweater for my younger son Chris. I’d love to spin some more Bowmont now!

This is my long winded way of saying that I hope there is some way to save the wool industry in the UK. I read that half the wool stays in the UK, but the other half gets exported throughout the world. One quarter of the wool goes to China, and this year, due to the pandemic, no wool could be sent there. In the article I linked at the beginning, I also learned that British wool is used in carpets on airplanes and cruise ships, and those industries are certainly suffering at this point in time. To me, wool can be such a luxury item that we should all cherish it. I don’t want to lose that. What can I do?

I’ll end this with some stunning wool products and some links.

This is the story of a student design project for Campaign for Wool to create new designs for Holland and Sherry, a well known Saville Row shop known for their use of high end wool fabrics.

The Campaign for Wool is making a good argument for using wool to insulate dwellings.

And no post about British wool from me would be complete without a mention of the wools grown and spun and woven on the Hebrides Islands for Harris Tweeds.

Stay well, pick up some wool, and get busy knitting….or weaving….or felting…or spinning.

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Down the Comfort Knitting Rabbit Hole

Dear Reader, are you a knitter? Were you shocked when you learned that the most creative knitter of all time, Cat Bordhi, passed away in September? I did not know she had been living with cancer for some time. I did not know that she was 69. She’s the most youthful 69 year old I’ve ever seen, and I think that must be because of her inquisitive nature, her drive to find new ways to achieve results in knitting. Her creativity makes my brain hurt, but I’m always so happy and intrigued to try her techniques.

Cat Bordhi

Recently, I got another shock from the knitting world. Annie Modesitt also passed away, on October 1. I knew she’d been dealing with overwhelming health issues for many years, both her own as well as her husband’s. Two knitters of such immense creativity are gone.

This year has been stressful for everyone between the pandemic, the world political situation, advancing climate change issues, and our own presidential election. My best stress reliever is always doing something textile-related, having thread or yarn in my hands–weaving, knitting, embroidery. That’s the main reason I wove two sets of waffle weave face cloths, and now have a set of eight kitchen towels on my small loom. On Monday I saw Amy Singer’s tweet about having a knit along to relieve our election anxieties. She offered a choice of three knit designs or mentioned that any of us could just knit something, anything, together. And that’s when I knew I had to knit at least two of Cat’s ‘anemone hats.’ The first two would be for my granddaughters, Tori and Emme. Maybe I can even knit one for Rhett without the moebius brim. Outrageously cute, right?

I ordered lots of yarn for these hats because I also want to knit two adult hats, even though I have no particular recipients in mind.

The yarns I’ve ordered so far are from Lorna’s Laces, called “Shepherd Worsted.” The yarn for the adult hat, pictured on the left, is a color called “black pearl.” It will be hard to give that hat to anyone but me! Can you see the little amethyst stitch markers on the needles? They are from Twice Sheared Sheep, my favorite source of stitch markers and row counters. They came in the adorable tin on the right side of the photo. I have a couple colorways of Malabrigo yarn waiting in a shopping cart for a few more hats.

So knitting has been my ‘go-to’ for a good deal of each day this week. Most of the reason for that is there is a mistake on the kitchen towels I’m weaving! It’s a weaving mistake, so all I should have had to do is UNweave by treadling the sequence backwards. But life can be full of limiting conditions, and here are mine:

–My Baby Wolf has the combby dobby head attachment, and the reverse button does not work, and supposedly cannot be fixed.

–I use Fiberworks PCW, and I should be able to ask the program to weave in reverse, but I haven’t had luck with that. So I have looked for the place in the pattern where I can weave forward and yet be UNweaving what I did. I am using an Ms & Ws pattern (Strickler 314.5) that reverses, so as long as I’m weaving forward in the part of the pattern that is the reverse of my problem area, this should work. And it does work. I’ve now UNwoven twice without a hitch. It’s when I begin to go forward again, finding the place that goes forward from where I left off, that hasn’t worked.

After two reversals and two botched forward attempts, I walked away from the loom in a snit. That was about 2 weeks ago now. With all the other anxiety-producing stuff going on, I was not in a good place for tackling this. I think I’ve recovered sufficiently, mostly from knitting all those squiggly anemones, to tackle this again. I’m headed to the loom shortly. Wish me luck!

I must share a perk from this week of stress. A friend gave me a big treasure box of antique and vintage linens. Oh my, oh my! I’ve been swooning over the contents for two days now. I’ve dealt with the stains that mostly came from years (and decades) of being stored on wooden shelves that allowed tannins to migrate into the linen. So I have soaked some of the items in Oxyclean and then washed them in the machine. There are tablecloths and napkins, large linen bath towels, handmade bobbin lace edgings on doilies, and even linen bedsheets embroidered in pulled thread designs with satin stitch monograms. Three of the bedsheets are a stunning peachy-pink. I feel weak every time I look at these treasures!

This looks like Portuguese embroidery to me. Want to weigh in? — please get in touch! I have two of these tablecloths, and 12 coordinating napkins. One cloth is sized for a small table (72″), and the other is probably good for sitting 10 or 12, at 120″. I hope I get to try the large tablecloth someday. I wonder if we will ever have large dinner parties, or holiday dinners in the future. I hope so!

There are eight of these beautiful placemats. They have no stains, so all I had to do was iron them.

There are three of these large linen bath towels. There are tannin stains on at the folds. I have soaked them in a mild solution of Oxyclean and warm water overnight, and then run them through the normal machine cycle on warm wash, cold rinse. They are significantly better, but not yet perfect. Maybe ‘perfect’ is not attainable; maybe that’s okay.

Keeping my hands busy is definitely helping this week, especially learning the wonderful moebius cast on, knitting, and binding off, of Cat Bordhi’s fun anemone hat. I hope your hands are busy too! — in a good way.

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Spinning My Wheels

The last time I wrote something here it was late spring, and now it’s early autumn. Where did the summer go? Have you felt the pressure of these past few months? The strain on our lives due to fires in the West, floods in the upper midwest, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Along with the pandemic it feels like we are living through an apocalypse. I did not add in the political strife, but I certainly feel it. I wrote this post in early October, and now we are just days from the end of yet another month. It’s now mid-autumn, no longer early.

I’ve been spinning my wheels all summer and not managing to verbalize any of it. Ideas and plans are swirling around my head, but not much seems to come of all my deliberating. Some of this dilemma is literal. I have done a lot of spinning. What a calming activity, especially when I listen to audio books while doing it. I expected that a bit of yarn spinning would help the thoughts spinning in my head, but it hasn’t worked that way. I have a large stash of silk tops, and this summer I managed to start turning them into yarn….yarn that might become yardage, someday…..yardage that might become a garment of some kind. All of this is completely nebulous. That feels appropriate since right now nothing in my life feels defined, or planned, or like anything I might count on to happen or become.

Today (meaning back in early October) I spoke with a friend who produces a news program on one of the major radio stations. I told her I was ‘reeling’ from the news over the past week. She laughed and said we should all be reeling–reeling our yarn onto niddy noddies, onto spools, onto anything at hand. So true.

And my own weaving? Right now I cannot make myself look at the tapestry diary I started while we were living in the Caribbean over the winter and spring. It is too raw and too fresh. Of course I am berating myself that it is a diary of this year, and this year will soon be finished while the tapestry will not. At the moment, with everything else going on, I just don’t want to dwell on the experiences of this year. Who knows where that will lead. In the meantime, I’ve woven a couple of fabric projects on my smaller loom, the Baby Wolf. I finished the set of napkins that were waiting for me on my return. They are pinned for hand sewing the mitered hems, but as of right now I’ve only actually hemmed one of the four. There are six in the set. I gave the first two at Christmas with the promise that the rest of them would be done before the next Christmas arrives. I’d better get on with the hemming.

I wove two sets of waffle weave face cloths (for a total of 10), based on two I bought from Are Clothes Modern weaver Arianna Funk. Her face cloths are done in Swedish 5S waffle weave, with hand dyed indigo warps that a friend of hers dyed for her. I was lucky to find two colorways of indigo dyed linen from Claudia Hand Painted Yarns this summer. One is very pale and the other quite dark. I wove the pale indigo warp in 8S waffle weave. I love them! I thought I might tie on the dark indigo warp to weave the same structure, but in the end I decided to warp and rethread for a 6S waffle weave.

I can’t decide which project I like best. The face cloths are such simple things. Hardly worth the effort perhaps, but again, they were so therapeutic to weave. I enjoyed thinking about who might get these little gifts, and what I might include with this gift, like local handmade soap or one of L’Occitane’s lavender soaps from Provence. Weaving them was a time of escaping the current stress of the world and doing something profoundly simple but caring. Self care, if nothing else.

Here are some of the light ones, ready for giving. I saved one for myself, which is why there are only four in the image.

I could not capture the true blue of the darker indigo face cloths.

This is the closest I got to showing the color of the dark indigo skeins.

Much of the summer I enjoyed gardening and bringing cut flowers into the house. Bob and I visited our older son and his family a few times. He lives in a state that is as low in Covid cases as Connecticut, and both our families are not seeing anyone at this time, so we made a bubble together. They surprised me with a half birthday celebration since my real one falls in January when we are in the Caribbean. The twins turned two as I had a ‘half birthday.’ It’s impossible to get a photo of all three grandchildren together. They are like billiard balls released from the triangle!

The garden off my studio in June, when the clematis and astilbe were looking lovely.

One of our front window boxes in midsummer.

The garlic chives in late August.

There is a glorious finale to the gardening season this year. We’ll have a frost later this week that will end the morning glories, but not the monkshood.

A silver lining to being somewhat locked down at home is that there are fiber festivals that I would normally never get to visit until this year, when many of them went virtual. I took a virtual visit to Edinburgh in September for Scotland Cloth #20. It was well done, with the ability to visit the virtual booths of the artisans, watch videos that some of the fine crafts people had prepared, even choose music to accompany one’s tour of the festival. I’ve had a desire to buy something from Bonny Claith (aka weaver Cally Booker), and this was my chance. Now that it’s a bit colder, I’ve been enjoying my new cowl, sent all the way from Scotland! It’s a great accessory for my ancient Elsbeth Lavold designed cable sweater (Siv). And note my new do. After 10 months with no haircut my hair came down to the middle of my back. It was not youthful! I had become one of those stereotypes of a weaver with long gray hair. All I needed to complete the look was Birkenstock’s and cats.

Now that we are well into autumn, I find that I am no more focused or settled than I was in mid-summer. I am still spinning that silk stash. I’ve finished the face cloths and moved onto another ‘homey’ project of a long warp for eight kitchen towels. Kitchen towels? Truly, I am craving some simple luxuries. I got out my warp trapeze that Bob built for a much larger loom. It works quite well on my small Baby Wolf, and warping was a walk in the park!

I will have eight variations on the towels. This is the first towel, and I’m currently on the fourth.

Yet I find that I am still in a muddle, with so many ideas and plans, and no clear path to prioritize what I want to do. I just want to do everything while also enjoying what little socializing I am able to do within our small bubble. Last week I was still pining for the wonderful hand dyed indigo linen I used in the face cloths. I decided to plan a project for an undetermined top using linen from my stash. Here’s what I found in the stash.

As you can see, the linen is quite old. The front two spools are the same dye lot, but the other two are not. It will make a nice mixed warp when these subtle natural colors are dyed with indigo. Fingers crossed.

I feel so disconnected from people these days– my weaving friends, lace friends, old friends and new. I hope you are well, and that there are things in life that give you joy, make you want to get up in the morning to spin your own wheels, real or otherwise. And I hope there are gifts in your life, both received and given. Enjoy the season and please stay well.

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Solace

It’s great to be home again, in spite of these very stressful times: a once-in-a-100-year pandemic…oh!…and political turmoil that feels like the start of civil war. I have found, amidst the strife and worry, that I can find solace in simple things. Every day I make a promise to myself to do something, any small thing, that will just feel good.

Who can predict what can change an attitude? Yesterday I was so stirred up with anxiety and disappointment, I picked up a small cross stitch pattern that I bought years ago. I haven’t given this a thought since about a week after buying it on impulse. It came into my line of sight yesterday because I was looking for something else. Without conscious thought I simply brought it up to my ‘nest’ chair in the den and began to stitch the little sheep. It’s actually a Christmas design. It’s June. I have no idea what I would ever do with this little sheep….but it feels good right now. I’m going to stick with it based on just that: it feels good.

I’ve been thinking about Sarah Swett’s paper yarn that she spins from used coffee filters. One of her friends dyed some of the filters with indigo and cochineal. Then Sarah dyed some herself. Hmmm. I have a big collection of onion skins, and I have madder. Oranges, reds, golds. What a comforting way to spend time. I’ve enjoyed just washing my filter each morning and draping it to dry over the kitchen faucet. I’ve starting cutting a few in prep for the spinning. It’s mindless work that requires some attention to detail to make the concentric cuts even. A perfect feel-good activity.

Digging in the dirt feels good right now too. Some things are bursting into bloom in my garden; some things are still just seeds in pots waiting to sprout. My lettuce is in between. Right now I’m happy to watch it grow.

The whole gamut of garden life feels encouraging right now, and I need that. I’m keeping track of the types of birds at our feeders (4 different varieties of woodpeckers, goldfinches, wrens and house finches, a red breasted grosbeak! Where are the Baltimore orioles this year?) There are wrens and house finches nesting in multiple places, near doors that we now have to avoid in order not to disrupt their important task of making and raising a family. We have droves of hummingbirds nesting in the trees near our back deck. They are at war with each other for domination of the feeders we have hanging from the deck. Nature has no idea what evil lurks in men’s hearts. The garden is a great place to escape!

What are you doing for solace these days? I hope it feels good and renews your equilibrium. Is this the new normal? It’s not all bad, especially if we can each spend a bit more time doing simple things that spark joy.

I have four napkins to hem for Melody and Chris, a very simple task. Thread and needle and probably a couple of hours of attention to the detail of making small , even stitches around a piece of handwoven cloth. I feel quite lucky to have such a task before me.

Time to get to it.

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A Tapestry Tutorial on Using Goblins-Style Bobbins

I’ve written this short tutorial for a friend who would like to start weaving, although we are far apart at the moment and not able to visit during these strange times of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the moment I am living on a boat, far from home, so I do not have access to the loom or the materials that I’d use to do this. Since I do not have access to my studio, I am using a loom that already has a project in progress on it. I’ve covered the work in progress so it will be less distracting, but there is a bit of my cartoon showing in the photos I’ve taken. Try to ignore it! Also the warp is fairly fine at 12 ends per inch. At home I have a sample loom set at 4 ends per inch which makes the techniques far easier to see.

Hopefully when I return home, I will replace these photos with new ones taken of my sample loom with the big, fat warp at 4 epi! I hope my friend finds this useful, and I hope you do too!

Winding a Bobbin: In order to begin weaving, you need to fill a bobbin with weft yarn.  There is a left/right orientation to doing to this, and in the photos below I am showing it being done for left-handers since I am one myself, as is my friend.

Although the photos show winding a bobbin for a left-hander, the description is written for either handedness. With the bobbin in your dominant hand, you want to turn that hand in an outward motion so that you do not cause any wrist strain.  Start with the bitter end of the yarn parallel to the bobbin’s neck, with the rest of yarn facing upwards over the top of the bobbin.

 Make a wrap or two with the yarn in the direction that will allow your dominant hand to turn outward.  Then wind the rest of the yarn onto the bobbin by turning your dominant outward over and over again, while your non-dominant hand guides the placement of the yarn. 

Winding a bobbin for left handed weaving

Doing this allows the yarn to wind on with no extra twist. Winding bobbin with a left or right orientation allows the yarn to spool off the bobbin properly for your handedness.

Some people have hand and wrist injuries that may make this procedure uncomfortable.  If so, you can use your non-dominant hand to wind the yarn on the bobbin in a ‘round and round’ motion.  This does put some added twist into the weft yarn, but saves any discomfort.

How to hold the bobbin for weaving:  Always hold the bobbin in your dominant hand, no matter which direction you are weaving.  Making the effort to master this will enable you to weave consistently and to weave faster in the long run.  In the beginning one direction will be easier than the other.  Although I am not the type of teacher who gives ultimatums, I will tell you that I never break this rule myself. 

Hold the bobbin in a similar manner that you would hold a knife:  with your index finger extended down the shaft of the bobbin and your thumb nearby, as shown.  The rest of your fingers curl around the bobbin for support.  In this position you can beat in your weft using a motion that comes from your arm. 

The proper way to hold a bobbin

I’ve seen students hold the bobbin as they would hold a pen or a pencil.  When you use the bobbin to beat in the weft in this position it is far less effective.  It is a weak way to beat in the weft.  Do not hold the bobbin this way!

Do not hold the bobbin like this!

You will pick up weft threads with your non-dominant hand and use your dominant hand to pass the bobbin through the shed you have created, putting the head of the bobbin in first.  Keep the bobbin in your dominant hand as it exits the shed. 

How to insert the bobbin from right to left in a shed.

–Do not make a bubble of weft!  Meaning: do not make a curve of weft before beating. Leave the unwoven weft rising up from the fell of the cloth at about a 30-degree angle.  Holding that weft with your non-dominant hand, beat the weft in place with the point of the bobbin (in your dominant hand), while adjusting the amount of weft in the shed as you beat toward the last warp thread in your shed. 

In this shed I am weaving from the right selvedge to the left. My non-dominant hand is underneath tensioning the weft as my dominant hand beats the pick into place.

–In one direction of weaving you will be picking your shed in the direction you are weaving, and this will feel logical and normal.  Going the other direction you will have to pick the shed in the opposite direction of your weaving.  It may seem awkward at first, but with practice it will start to feel as normal as the other direction feels.  Keeping the bobbin in your dominant hand will make for more consistent tension and better-looking weaving.  The hand that is picking the shed will quickly learn to go in both directions.  Trust me on this!

Begin Weaving: Based on the loom you are weaving, you will have some kind of foundation weaving before starting your woven design. On the copper pipe loom I am using I have a scaffolding of warp yarn going across the warp as well as a section of foundation weaving using warp thread as weft. It looks a bit disheveled because I have just added it to a project that is already underway. For a real project I would also have added a row of double knotted soumak in thread before starting the weaving for my project. These are procedures for warping a copper pipe loom, which needs its own tutorial. To start weaving you need to put a half hitch of weft around the first warp thread of the area you plan to weave. 

In the photo below I am pointing to the selvedge where I will begin weaving. The two outer warp threads show a high and low. The edge thread is a low, which means it is not covered by the foundation weaving. The second thread in is a high; it is covered with weft of the foundations weaving.

The bitter end of the half hitch always goes under the weaving that will commence.  It will lie between the fell of your foundation and the first row of weft.  Later when you hitch off in order to start a new bobbin of yarn, that bitter end of yarn will also lie between the fell of your woven cloth and half hitch you are making.  In this way, the half hitch will always be well secured by the weft rows that pile up on top of it as you weave.

I have placed the bitter end of my weft between the first two warp threads. To begin weaving I will bring the bobbin around the outermost thread as well as behind the second warp thread which needs to be a low. In other words, I will pick up both the edge threads and put the bobbin behind both of them. That will give me a covered edge thread and uncovered second thread, which matches what I need to weave to continue the plain weave I established in the foundation weaving. After picking these two thread together, I can continue across the row picking every other thread, as normal.

Starting to weave by making a half hitch to secure the weft.

–During weaving you will only pick 1” or less of warp threads.  If you pick more than an inch of warp you are likely to have tension problems, especially as a beginning weaver. Your practice warp is set at 8 ends per inch.  To pick a 1” section of warp you will only pick up 4 warp threads at a time, pass the bobbin and beat, then pick up no more than 4 more warp threads.  Repeat. This is the other ‘rule’ that I never break.

–Selvedges are a little fussy.  In reality you need to have slightly more tension as you turn the weft around the last warp thread.  This may not be a noticeable difference that you can observe, but eventually you will feel it.  Too much additional tension will pull in your selvedges and the weaving will get distorted at the edges.  Too loose tension at the selvedge will cause some bumps and bagginess.  This is true of the shapes you’ll make in weaving. Small shapes need a bit tighter tension than large shapes. Getting your tension just right takes practice, practice, practice! 

–While weaving, it helps to pay attention to the space between your warp threads.  If a section of warp is getting closer than the original sett you will begin to have trouble packing in the weft.  That area of weaving will start to rise higher than the rest of your weaving.  When it gets too tight you will begin to see warp threads through the weaving.  This is called ‘lice’ because it looks like little white spots.  (I guess medieval weavers immediately thought of lice, rather than some other small white dotted thing, like snow flakes or grains of salt.)  In normal weft faced cloth, the most recent pass will have some warp showing because there is not yet enough weft to cover the warp.  After two or three passes of weft the warp should be completely covered, and there should be distinct weft beads covering each warp.

–There are simple solutions to warp space problems, especially if you catch the problem early on before you start to get warp spots showing.  Try using your bobbin to strum across the warp before continuing to weave.  In the next few picks of weaving use the tip of your bobbin to go a bit deeper into the warp as you beat in the weft. The tapered tip of your bobbin will spread the warp a bit if you put the tip in deeper than you’ve done in previous passes. If you need a bit more adjustment, you can take both hands and pull on that section of warp threads.  You’ll be pulling horizontally across the warp, each hand pulling outwards to pull the warp threads apart slightly. Continue weaving paying close attention to the area that got too tight.

–The warp in my photos is sett at 12 epi and the section I am weaving a section 3″ wide. At this sett, that is a bit wider than I would normally weave with one bobbin. I would weave this space with two bobbins of the same color weft. To weave with multiple bobbins in any given row you must weave each section of the row in opposite directions. That is called weaving in opposing sheds.

My initial weaving was done in the open shed with the bobbin going right to left. Your loom may not have an open and closed shed, but you can check which shed you used to weave with the first bobbin. You need to go in the opposite direction with the second bobbin in that same shed.

I am holding the open shed in this photo, and it matches the weaving in the shed that goes from right to left. Therefore, to start a second bobbin, I need to weave left to right in the open shed in order to be going in the opposite direction. To do that I will start my 2nd bobbin on the left side of my warp and weave in the open shed toward the right.

I am holding the open shed in this photo, and it matches the weaving in the shed that goes from right to left. Therefore, to start a second bobbin, I need to weave left to right in the open shed in order to be going in the opposite direction. To do that I would start my 2nd bobbin on the left side of my warp and weave in the open shed toward the right.

I will demonstrate this now using a different color of yarn to make a small angled shape. As you can see the final warp thread needs to be covered since in the shed below it was an uncovered warp (a low). To hitch on, I put the bitter end of the weft between the first and second warp thread to the back. I then picked up both the first and second warp thread and placed the weft behind both threads. This allowed the first warp to be covered (a high) and the second warp to be uncovered (a low). Also the hitch lies between the previous row of weaving and the new row which will secure it in place. Now I can weave across the row picking every other thread, as normal.

This is the first pass of the second weft bobbin.

If you notice I have worked the second bobbin to place where I wanted to turn to make a new shape. When I turned the weft to complete the pass, the warp thread where I turned is covered, which is called a ‘high.’ You may need to open this image in a new tab and enlarge it to see that I turned on a high, or covered the first warp of the new row. When I weave the first color to meet it I should turn on a low, which will be an uncovered warp thread. This will maintain the high/low plain weave structure across the whole warp.

Here the first bobbin has been worked over to meet the lighter color on the 2nd bobbin.

If you look closely you can see that the plain weave high/low is constant across the warp. This will allow me to weave the dark color to meet the next turn of the light color.

Here you can see the first pick of the next pass of the dark color. The weft is on an angle, not bubbled (!), and I will beat it in place with the bobbin in my dominant hand.

Here I have completed both shapes, and the wefts have now returned to the place where they each began. I can continue to make this angle or do something else.

–Let’s look at the selvedges. On the right where my weaving started, the selvedge thread is a high because when I turn the weft around it that thread is covered by weft. At the other side of this warp, you will see that when I turn the weft around that last thread it is not covered in the new pick. It is a ‘low.’ Take note of how this makes the two selvedges look quite different from each other.

First Exercise: The first sample to weave is to make a warp about 4″ or 5″ wide, set at 8 epi. Put in whatever foundation is required for the loom you are using, then begin to weave with one bobbin across the entire warp for about 2 inches.

After that, divide the width of the warp in half and weave one half with one bobbin and the other half with a second bobbin. Don’t try to work completely across the warp with both bobbins. Weave one shape and then the second. Don’t forget that the second shape must be woven in the opposing shed from the first shape. Do this for another 2″ – 3″.

Keep a close eye on the selvedges for both shapes. You now have 4 selvedges. There will be slit between each shape. As you weave the internal selvedges that fall in the middle of the warp, try to keep the weft from taking up more than half the space between the warp thread where you are turning and the warp next to it that will be the selvedge of the second shape. Weave until these two shapes are about 1″ – 2″ high.

Next divide the warp in four sections across the width, in order to weave 4 squares across the warp. Complete each shape before moving to the next bobbin. Keep track of how to do this so that each shape is woven in the opposing shed from the shapes on either side. Make each shape in a different color from its neighbor.

Let me know how you get on with this little exercise!

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