Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No-pain weaving 101 - The Studio

As I said in my last post, I'm no Laura Fry, but sometimes different ways of explaining the same thing can help get through to more people. So here's my attempt to help readers of this blog think about weaving and what might be causing them to be in some discomfort while they weave. And if you are NOT in any discomfort, I sure hope you comment on these posts and offer your own tips and tricks! Links to your blogs where you talk about these kinds of things are more than welcome.

I thought I might start with the studio space. Some folks have an entire yurt dedicated to their studio space. Some folks have the corner of a room. Whatever your space, however, there are a few things you should think about when you're making this the best place possible for you get down and funky with your weavin' self.

As you can see, I'm in the "corner of a room" category, which means I had to be pretty ferocious in how I organized my space. First and foremost - lighting. If you can't see what you're doing, you're going to squint, you're going to crouch closer, you're going to contort yourself to try and make things do what you want them to do. That said, more lighting does not mean better lighting. Frankly, with my eyes, I find too much contrast to be seriously uncomfortable. My light has to balance out, to come from more than one direction. So, you can see I've got a couple of windows there (lovely windows, too, I like them) but I also have a lamp in the corner and overhead lights above the door. Lights are on when I'm working at the loom!

I have used a headlamp when I'm threading, and that's a great tool when you can't control your lighting. I find them really useful when I'm going to a weaving class and can't be sure I can control the lighting. But at home, good quality light all around is the thing.

So, light lecture done. Play with lamps, ones that bounce light off other surfaces and don't aim the light like you're being interrogated at the loom. Seeing is believing.

Next bit o' lecture: space around your loom. This one was really difficult for me, 'cause I wanted ALL my weaving stuff surrounding me. Well, too bad, sister, 'cause there just is not enough room for all my stuff, my loom, and me. When there isn't enough space to move freely around the loom, getting a warp on is a royal pain in the butt, shoulders, and other body parts. You end up having to contort yourself to get to pieces and parts and, well, ask me how I know. So, I ended up putting a bunch of things in storage boxes under my bed. I looked at any unused space in the house, like small bookshelves in the dining room, that could handle some of my stuff without turning everything in to an unpleasant mess.

One cool tool I have in there probably looks more decorative than anything else, but it's really awesome. That's the garment rack the warping board is hanging on. A garment rack is a GREAT weaving tool, did you know that? It has wheels so it can be moved around - stored against a wall when not in use - and it's for more than just hanging things. When you are beaming your warp - getting it wrapped tightly on the back - you can hang it over the top of a garment rack, tie a weight to it, and suddenly you have a yard or more of tight warp that can just roll on that back beam. Look up "warping valet" or "warping trapeze". It's da bomb.

So, light and space. Important stuff. Now let's look at a couple of really little things which just made life simpler. First, what do you do with two sided sticky tape and an old measuring tape?

Well, what I did was tape it to my beater so I never have to figure out where the center of the reed is, whether the reed itself is centered or not, how much draw-in I've got going on at any given time. Some folks have found fabric store sticky tape that will work for this. You may have found something else. I found an old measuring tape. You get the idea - don't be afraid to modify your loom if it is going to make your life easier when weaving!

Last big thing. What are you sitting on? Are you weaving at a floor loom in your kitchen chair? Tell me no. Or, if you can't tell me know, tell me that you're going to go out RIGHT NOW and get an adjustable stool, a bench, something way taller than your standard kitchen chair! Let me put it this way. See your elbows? OK, no, you probably don't see your own elbows, but I'm going to assume you know where they are at any given time. Did you know your elbows are scared of the loom? Mine sure are, and if they are close to touching the loom while I'm weaving, they'll try and move up. Now, being attached and all, they can't move up without the shoulders helping out, and thus my shoulders end up just a wee bit tight. Tense. And after an hour of weaving, very very tired of trying to have a conversation with my ears. So, make sure whatever is sitting on allows you to have your elbows not close to rubbing the loom, so that in turn your shoulders can relax. Your ears really don't want to hear what your shoulders have to say, since all your shoulders are doing at that point is complaining.

So, that's the big things I've got for you about studio space set up. A few other miscellaneous things which may or may not work for you - have a small tray or something to keep your most critical tools nearby as you weave. A rolling basket-table can be good. I have a little trap that hooks on the front of my loom for good stuff. And if you are weaving off several things on one warp, have you tried cheap paper register tape to keep track of how far you've woven? Doesn't impact the cloth as it's being wound on the front beam, its cheap, and it takes out guess work. I am doing that for now, tho' I really like Laura's idea about having a different color cloth ribbon for each of the common lengths she weaves. She keeps it pinned on and just moves the pin so that the ribbon doesn't wrap on the front beam as she is weaving. Quite reusable, and you don't have to guess if you're doing a 2 yard scarf or a 3 yard length of fabric for a jacket.

I hope that helps some of you! In future blog posts, I'll try to do something about threading and sleying, and about winding on the warp.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Efficiently Weaving

Wait, November? My last post was in November? Sheesh! Well, I suppose that's what picking up and moving 1000 miles will do to a person. Throws the whole schedule in to disarray. Add some traveling to that for work and fiber fun, and, well, yeah. I haven't posted since November. Bad girl, no biscuit. But look, a whole new studio layout! (It needs work - now you know what I'll be doing today.)

But just because I didn't post doesn't mean I have not been a busy fiber person! In fact, I just got back from a week at the John C Campbell Folk School where I took an advanced weaving class with Laura Fry. The class was not about new techniques in weaving, new weaving structures, or anything like that. Instead, it was about how to move and work more efficiently so that at the end of the day, you a) did not hurt, and b) produced more lovely fabric. In the past, I have generally maxed out at about 3 scarves a week, and often that much left me with back spasms and tension headaches like nobody's business. In the week of class with Laura, 5 days of class including 1 day of lecture, I managed to make 2 full length scarves and three good-sized handtowels in various twill patterns, with none of the damage I was doing to myself before. w00t, I say, w00t!

I finally learned how to warp my loom from back-to-front, which I'd been a little anxious about since it seemed to require more tools than my usual front-to-back (Laura's method doesn't require anything I don't already have in my studio). I learned how to use a weight and a loom valet to making beaming the warp easier. I learned how to lash on the warp and tension it that way rather than do the gazillion little knots, each individually tensioned. I learned a new way to hold the threads and threading hook for greater ease of movement and faster threading and sleying. I learned to make a smiley face with my body as I threw the shuttle, rather than twisting from side to side. I learned to use a reed at the bottom of my warping board to control the threads coming off the cones as I measured a warp. I learned all sorts of things about properly wet finishing fabric. My brain almost, but not quite, exploded. In a good way.

So, here's what I am thinking of doing. As I start up new weaving projects over the next few weeks, I'll take detailed photos of the process and try to go in to detail about each one. I am no Laura - she's been doing this since 1975 or thereabouts! - and you can always see her stuff on her youtube channel, but sometimes a different voice, a different perspective will help a new technique finally click. So, I'll add my voice in there and perhaps it will help some of you as you make your pretty things.

While I'm starting to put that together, if you'd like to see a bit more on the John C Campbell Folk School, I've got a small photo album put together from the trip. I focused more on the weaving than getting photos, so it's a bit sparse, but one of the other students also took pictures. Many pictures. So, go, enjoy the photos and stay tuned for more blog posts on cool techniques Real Soon Now!