Slow stitches: visible mending

Over the last few months I’m finding a routine, a pattern to my days. Paying work begins first thing in the morning and continues until my conscience is clear. Spinning and weaving (other than tapestry weaving, of which more anon) are also daytime occupations. In the evening I sit in my comfortable chair wearing two pairs of glasses (my bifocals plus reading magnifiers) with the floor-standing task lamp lighting the sewing in my lap as I stitch and think about the life cycle of fabrics.

The time and skill needed to make handspun yarn into handwoven cloth means that fabric and clothing was once precious, something that could be measured more accurately by the days, weeks and years of the makers’ lives than by the retailer’s arm length (the ell) or measuring tape. The increasing interest in boro/boromono, chikuchiku, and other visible mending techniques pays lip service to this, but I think fashion and the stitchers working with new fabrics, even buying fashionably-distressed new clothing in order to repair it are missing one of the points: their stitches are adding value by creating something beautiful, not by repairing something too precious to discard. I am genuinely looking forward to repairing something made from my own handmade fabrics, but in the interim I’m repairing things that are precious for other reasons.

sweathsirt

I bought this (black!) sweatshirt as a souvenir at Flag Fen when it was still an active Bronze Age archaeology site in the early 1990s. I wore it regularly, until the ribbing was losing its structure and holes were appearing in the fabric. When I picked it out of the workclothes pile to wear in the garden about 6 months ago I realised it had become precious to me as a reminder of a past time and place, so I put it to one side for repair.

I chose a red handspun mulberry silk for the repairs to reflect its new-found value, to match the logo, and because the red looks wonderful against the faded charcoal greys.
An embroidery hoop holding the fabric straight under light tension made it easier to follow the lines of the knit fabric and maintain even stitching. Magnification is essential: I can’t see to stitch this with reading glasses alone!

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With the fabric under tension it’s easier to darn the hole with sewing thread matching the fabric colour and the parallel lines of the knit fabric are clearly visible. Think of the lines of the knit fabric as the warp on a loom, with the red silk needle-woven as if it were weft.   Plain weave weave is over one, under one. A 3/1 twill is over 3, under 1. The repair at top left was done freehand, without the embroidery hoop, as evidenced by the way I lost count of the overs and unders. I love the sense of movement, though.

With patience and good light it’s possible to needle weave complex patterns over the darn:

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anothre

That’s a diamond twill somewhat flattened by the difference in ‘weight’ between the silk and the knit fabric rib.
I tried several methods to restore some elasticity to the flabby over-stretched ribbing, but none were successful so I resorted to reinforcement and decoration with a mix of running stitch and chain stitch.

cuff

I may add some of this to the sweatshirt neckline, but then again I may not. It doesn’t need repair.

My vintage (made between 1971 and 1984) denim jacket had some intrinsic value: I paid hard cash for it at a flea market. There are several posts about my stitched repairs to the yoke, starting here. A couple of weeks ago I added a skull-and-roses on the main back using my hand-cut stencil and Japanese Indigo leaves. Even a pass through the ‘delicate’ cycle of the washing machine to wash out the hydrogen peroxide neutralising the bleach (highlighting the skull) and washing out the leaf juice revealed more weak points in the fabric: more opportunities for repair!

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The edges of the cuffs and facings range from ‘showing wear’ to ‘disintegrating’. I trialled an edging of Palestrina stitch in the same red silk I used for the sweatshirt; it works but is a little less even than I’d hoped on the disintegrating edge. It might have been better to encase the cuff in another fabric and stitch that, but for some reason I can’t explain I feel that would be the wrong thing to do on this jacket. I will try to come up with a better solution, though, because the facings are just as worn. I do know that I don’t want vertical scarlet lines down my front, so even if I use Palestrina or some other ‘blanket stitch’ it won’t be red silk.

The photo below shows the Palestrina stitch cuff with a different repair strengthening worn areas of the fabric body.

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People on Facebook have asked how I do this. It looks impressive but is very simple provided you’ve got magnifying glasses and good light: I’m simply backstitching a single strand of embroidery floss down the ‘ditch’ in the twill. Just for fun here’s a X80 view of the stitches and the ‘ditch’, which on this – the good or blue side of the denim – is created by the weft revealed as it passes over one warp thread: on each side of the ditch it dives under three warp threads. The diagonal results from the shift one thread to the right (in this photo) in each successive weft pass. The weft is white, the warp (the long verticals) was once dyed blue with indigo, but the surface of the cotton and its embedded indigo wore away leaving only indigo dust embedded in the crevices of the fabric. The needle in the photo is only embedded in the backstitch position to give you the idea: I confess I usually stab-stitch the backstitch for more accuracy when I’m working it.

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This is what it looks like over a larger area. I started working only with blue to maintain the sense of blue in the jacket fabric, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to change colour across a wider area. The white fuzz is in an area where the warp has been worn away to reveal the weft. In a small area like this I re-create the ditch lines with backstitch holding the weft threads together but if it’s any larger I add a backing fabric for strength, especially on the shoulders or other areas subject to stress. The visibility of that particular fuzz is annoying me, so I will probably go back and needle weave some darning structure under the backstitch to add structure before trimming some of that fuzz away.

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Now with added nettle! (a quick update)

A heads-up for anyone interested in bast fibres in general and nettle in particular: Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa and I are seriously investigating nettle fibre. I’ll be focussing on retting and other techniques that might have been used in northern Europe, as well as the splitting and spinning techniques used to work with ramie in Asia.

We’ll be recording some of our work on the Coastal Fibres blog. Come and visit!

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The four fibrous strips of a nettle ‘skin’ stripped away from the pith and scraped clear of most unwanted plant material.

 

CMYK blending: how to find and make the colours you need.

I had intended to post this as part of a “I can’t believe it’s April” post, but it’s better that this stand alone for people who might be interested in the class I’m offering on the Cowichan Hand to Hand Fibre Arts Workshops Weekend. I posted a brief teaser on the event website; here are more of the samples I’m preparing for the workshop.

I’ll show you how to use hand cards and/or combs and 5 shades of Ashford Corriedale to begin produce a range of colours, talking about combing and carding technique as we work. I’ll also show you how to use the Andean plying method to quickly produce short lengths of sample 2-ply.

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I’ll then talk about a quick and easy way to find a range of colours that work well together, and how to start creating those colours using only the wool we have to hand.
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I hope to have some samples to show you how some of these colours work together when I see you at the workshop.

 

Time for boro (sort of).

Five weeks pass in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. But not without tangible results. Some I can’t talk about because they’re for an article for Spin Off.

But I can talk about more boro-style patching. I have a Real Japanese vest/waistcoat/thing, purchased online for a low price because it had a damaged collar (which I regarded as an advantage because I wanted something to patch. We both win!) The vendor supplied a piece of Japanese indigo cloth and sashiko thread which I used to repair the collar. After about a year of frequent wear holes appeared on the back and on edge of the front facings. Time for more repairs! I dug out my stash of precious Japanese cotton scraps and started. I considered complex sashiko stitching – I need a lot of practice to gain precision and accuracy – but decided I wanted a faster repair. IMG_4846

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The reverse of the front is more worn, so the patch extends further on the underside, hence the tiny blue stars on the original fabric.

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img_4953.jpgVarious shades of blue embroidery thread in blocks of stitching. I included one of the remaining fragments of my favourite fabric, and left a circle clear of stitching for a semamori motif. Semamori are amuletic patterns stitched onto children’s garments that lack the protective line of stitches down the centre back. I decided that as the damage affected the original seam a semamori was deserved. This is handspun cotton, but I’m not happy with the thread – it should be thicker, easily done – and the quality of my stitching, so I’ll take it out and try again.

This particular Triumph of Perseverance Over Stupidity is complete.

offtheloom

The cotton warp I described in Slow Cloth, well-travelled is woven, off the loom, finished. 6.18m/6.75yds of fabric c. 9″/23mm wide. Cotton singles warp, silk and cotton singles weft, all dyed in a (fructose, from memory) indigo vat. Note that the warp stripes are unplanned and result from differential dyeing by the different colours and types of cotton.

A couple of people have asked for more technical information about the yarn (wpi, tpi). Remember that this was random spinning over the last 5 years or more, not directed spinning for the project. Cottons include pima, supima, organic green and brown, spun from punis, top and directly from the seeds, on tahklis, charkha, Majacraft quill and lace flyer. All were spun clockwise, or z. The yarn(s) vary widely in grist. In the photo below of remnants of the sized warp the 1/2″ wide sample is wrapping at roughly 52-56wpi. In the 1/8″ sample the yarn is wrapping at over 70wpi. (The greenish colour is indigo over natural brown, which together with its thinness tells me this was probably tahkli spun from seeds on my lap in front of the tv. Why weave your handspun? For the memories.)

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Twist per inch is also variable. It is difficult to see the twist in the sized yarn, but examining unsized yarn in the weft bag – the warp was selected randomly from the skeins of dyed yarn, so both are equally variable – with a magnifier I eyeballed twist from roughly 45° to 55–60°, assuming 90° is perpendicular to the length of yarn. So it’s reasonably high twist… and that’s AFTER boiling. The yarn was probably fractionally thicker before boiling, so add something to those twist angles for twist on the singles as they came off the bobbin/shaft. Basically, sample. That’s what this fabric is, a jacket-length sample.

I like it.

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That’s the fabric finished to my current satisfaction. An overnight soak followed by wool/handwash cycle did not remove the gelatine size, so I soaked this in a bucket of the hottest water from the tap plus a couple of kettles of boiling water, washed on permanent press ‘warm’, then ironed on hottest cotton setting. It’s shrunk about 10% in width. I like it a lot. Despite the cursing and frustration, I also appreciate the lessons it has taught me. Some are unlikely to be needed again, such as: Do not expect a warp on the loom to make an international move without shifting somewhat. Others may be useful time and again.

My handspun cotton weaves well, but beware of slubs.
Some of my earliest and most unevenly spun cotton singles are in this warp. Only the very thinnest singles snapped under the quite high weaving tension, and by ‘very thinnest’ I mean places where uneven singles were thinner than fine sewing thread so I confess I’m feeling smug and planning a super-thin cotton fabric. But thick slubs are as bad or even worse than thin spots: the slubs hold more size, so are stiffer and fail to bend around the weft. They stuck up out of the fabric a bit after weaving and some are still visible after finishing. I can live with this.

slub

Most of my stupid mistakes occurred during the weaving; I’m even more proud of my spinning because the singles stood up to such mistreatment.

Wind sized yarns from the skeins onto bobbins before winding the warp.
See the underline? That means this one’s particularly important. Because winding the warp from a skein held on a flexing umbrella swift with occasional pauses to break the yarn free from places where the size has stuck threads together is not exactly conducive to even warp tension, is it?

I am rubbish at winding warps.
Perhaps fractionally less rubbish now because I’ve wound a few since this one, but still. This warp was wound one thread at a time from two different umbrella swifts over the course of three days. Should I be surprised that I had to hang a chiming array of weights from slack threads? No, I should not.

Thoroughly set the weft twist before weaving.
Or be prepared to guard against pigtails forming when you slacken tension to beat it into place. I am told that many traditionally-spun and woven cotton fabrics from South America have these pigtails, so it’s authentic, but still. I prefer my fabric without.

Be open-minded about lease sticks in or out while weaving.
The lease sticks were useful for this warp, seeming to help even out the tension. But on earlier fuzzy warps (cashmere and fine merino handspun lace) the lease sticks seemed to raise the fuzz, encouraging the the ends to stick together.

But enough criticism.

ThreeFabrics

The fabric is slightly stiff even after the size has been washed out, reminiscent of the stiffness of new denim in the days before lycra. Not as stiff as those old new jeans – it’s a much thinner fabric – but similar. I’m guessing I’ve achieved my goal of spinning and weaving a cloth that will soften with wear like the denim of yore.

The warp was threaded for point twill; the fabric shows the three different weaves. To right plainweave/tabby; centre first twill (Strickler p.28 #94, Point twill from A German Weaver’s Pattern Book 1784–1810); left 8-shaft diamond twill. (The red line marks the point where I changed the tie-up from first to second twill.)  The width of the fabric decreased between patterns as the interlacement changed; the first twill (#94) is narrower than plainweave as the twill pattern packs threads more densely. The second twill, 8-shaft diamond, has no band of plainweave so packs even more tightly for a fabric slightly narrower than the first twill. The silk weft and denser packing of the twills makes both heavier fabrics, but not dangerously dissimilar to the plainweave with cotton weft.

The plainweave shows the warp striping most clearly and, like the wool singles fabrics I have woven, it is a little more elastic than a fabric woven from plied yarn. It’s heavy shirting in weight, noticeably lighter in the hand than either twill. To be expected, but it’s interesting to have it confirmed.plainweave

The patterning of twill #94 is less obvious in the fabric than I’d hoped. It’s there if you look closely, though.#94

Once again 8-shaft diamond twill is just right, at least as far as I’m concerned. The fabric has the hand of lightweight denim. It looks good with the silk weft.
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But I think it looks even better with the slightly paler blue cotton I used when I finished the silk (or at least couldn’t find any more).
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The pale blue fades in and out of the warp cottons, the diamonds seeming to shimmer in the fabric. It’s country cloth, but it’s interesting. I should play with the effect, I like it so much. I wish I had more than 24cm.

So. What am I going to do with it? Being a process rather than project person I’d really love to put it away and make the next fabric, but that defeats the purpose somewhat. There is more to be learned from this sample: I need to know how it wears. I could just bundle it into a bag and handle it until it softens but really, it’s fabric. It should be a garment. A sample can be a jacket or a shirt, and I think that’s what this will be once I overcome my fear of making garments. Why spin and weave? To make a garment from cloth you cannot buy, where one warp makes three different patterns for different parts of the garment. Eventually!

Slow Cloth update: The Triumph of Persistence Over Stupidity

Consider this the digital equivalent of a huge sigh of relief.

As you can see, the Slow Indigo Cotton warp has a new less flattering but educational name. I’ll explain that once it’s off the loom and finished, at which point I daresay more of my stupidity and – to be fair – ignorance will be revealed. In the interim, I am pleased to say my plan for it is working and we’re into the endgame.

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Why weave by hand? Why not just buy fabric?

Because as a hand weaver, even a new and somewhat ignorant hand weaver, I can make fabric you can’t buy. I threaded this warp for an 8-shaft point twill, then wove 3.5m of plain weave with cotton weft to get to this point, where I switch to a twill tie-up and indigo-dyed handspun silk weft. The patterned cloth will be used to accent parts of the garment made from the plain cloth. I don’t know what it will look like yet, that will depend on what the cloth looks and feels like after finishing. I’ve planned and am hoping for a hard-wearing heavy shirting/light jacket fabric, stiff to start with but softening with wear. Fingers crossed!*

* When I’m not using them to throw the shuttle.

Slow cloth, well-travelled

My last post was written in May 2017 sitting at the desk my husband made for me, beside a window looking out on my English garden in an English village (true, but much less quaint than it sounds).

This post is written from what was our kitchen table, repurposed as my temporary work desk, with a window looking out on our new garden on Vancouver Island, Canada. I’ve come home. Almost. ‘Home’ would be Alberta in the 1970s, but southern Vancouver Island is nonetheless a good place to be. Immigrants ourselves, in the summer of 2017 we fled Brexit Britain for our native land, arriving in time to celebrate Canada’s 150th. For nearly 12 months the logistics of our move – selling the house, selling everything we didn’t think worth shipping, packing – and fulfilling my spinning teaching commitments consumed all my time and energy. Only now am I starting to think and plan future textile projects.

But first I have to finish what I started.

Stephenie Gaustad taught me to spin cotton at SOAR in 2009. I fell in love with the banjo charkha, but couldn’t hide it under my sweater to bring it home when class finished so I’ve had to settle for tahklis and bead-whorl spindles, a T-frame charkha, Majacraft Suzie Pro and a Rose. I spun cotton on all of them and my bag of singles skeins grew larger. I learned to weave. One of my first projects on the Baby Wolf was a tiny warp of handspun cotton singles. Success! (Mostly.) Now I knew why I hadn’t plied those skeins, but increasingly I wondered what sort of cloth they’d make. In fact I needed to know, because there’s no point in spinning more cotton for weaving if what I’m spinning won’t make a cloth I like. There was only one way to find out: weave what I had. I’d spun natural shades of cotton from cream, brown and green through to white. I put the whole lot through an indigo vat because I like blue. Plus some handspun silk singles because I had A Plan.

IMG_3109Indigo-dyed handspun cotton singles drying on the rosemary bush by the kitchen door. I miss that bush, and our North Ronaldsay sky-blue doors.

IMG_3111I had to finish drying the yarns on the radiator. Hmm. Clearly I dyed silk fibre, too. I wonder where that is? In one of the many boxes, of course.

IMG_3117The gelatin-sized yarns drying under light tension – those water bottles are not full! – suspended between the hoe and an old rake handle wrapped in clingfilm aka Saran wrap on the clothes tree. The old grey lunchbag contains clothes pegs.

The shorter skeins were hard-spun ( which means with lots of twist) on the tahkli; I put them to one side for use as sewing thread, calculated the remaining yardage and wound a warp. I estimated the set, the number of warp threads per inch from wpi, wraps per inch around a ruler, then beamed the warp and wove a bit.

A digression dealing with the value of my time and the lifespan of the cloth I want to make. Modern fabric is generally soft when you buy it, even before you use it. The yarns are relatively softly spun, the cloth is woven and finished to be soft. Soft yarn, soft cloth doesn’t stand up to wear. It stretches out of shape, fibres pill and pull out of the fabric. This suits our ‘I want it soft and I want it right now’ society and, even better, it makes money for the manufacturers of clothing that will wear out as well as go out of style in under a year. But I invested a lot of time in spinning the yarn for this. Pre-Industrial fabrics, handspun, handwoven and hand-sewn, expensive as reflected the time needed to make them, wore well enough that clothing and bedlinens are often included in wills. I want to make cloth that reflects the time it took to make, that serves me well for years, that wears well. It will be hard to the touch to begin with but soften with wear and age.

Deciding the set for handspun yarn is tricky unless you’ve spun yarn to replicate an existing fabric. Standard set charts may be misleading: you can set your yarn like a commercial yarn of similar grist, but if your handspun is a different fibre and/or more or less tightly twisted, it will behave differently from the commercial yarn when finished and you’ll end up with a different fabric. With handspun I start with wpi, tweak it according to what I think of the cloth on the loom, and keep samples for future reference.

I looked at what I’d woven at 40epi, decided it was sleazy, unwove the inch, re-sleyed, wove a bit. Looked at it, decided it was still too open, unwove the inch, re-sleyed, wove a bit. I may have done this a third time, but kindly time blurs painful memories. Eventually what I’d woven looked enough like the fabric I wanted, warp-dominant to emphasize the stripes, that I cut the woven strip off to see what it looked like after hand washing. The small block shows the set and picks per inch off the loom, the long strip has been washed. The brown and tan cottons have dyed greenish. Other stripes are variations in the cream and white cottons, perhaps the result of variations in twist or in the fibres themselves.

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That doesn’t show how washing affected the density although you can clearly see the that the warp has shrunk (the unwashed sample is taller). With the light behind it the overall shrinkage is more obvious, as are the reed marks, the open lines between the groups of ends (threads) that run in each dent of the reed. They’re almost inevitable given that I had no finer reed, but I’m trying to think of them as a design feature – they can be – and they’re less obvious in the washed strip anyway. Notice also that the warp threads have moved in the washed fabric: hot water revives the twist, but the weave structure locks the threads into position. I may see some tracking in the final fabric.

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On balance that sample was acceptable. It’s 50 epi set in an 8-shaft twill currently woven plain weave according to my Plan. It’s 9″ wide on the loom and I think the warp is about 5m long (the one thing I forgot to write in the book). The washed sample shrank roughly 10% in both warp and weft.

I’d hoped to have this woven and off the loom before we left the UK, but I had no time. When the movers arrived I simply folded the Baby Wolf, roughly wrapped paper around the beams, and left them to pack it. Unlike our more fragile ceramics (yes, I am bitter), the loom arrived undamaged. The warp had shifted somewhat, but less than I feared, and as it wasn’t well-wound or beamed in the first place that’s the lesser problem. I’m getting better at warping, but I need a lot of practice.

IMG_4622I have started weaving some fine yarns with the lease sticks in place. Like back-to-front or front-to-back warping, lease sticks in or out is something weavers seem to choose as habit early in their careers. I didn’t like the lease sticks in when weaving thicker, fuzzy yarns: my impression was that the sticks were encouraging fuzziness and binding of threads in the warp. But feeding firmly sized, finer yarns through the even tension of the lease sticks seems to correct some of my warping issues. 

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The colour is more accurate above. Below, a closer view of the fabric on the loom. The slightly more open weave below my thumb is where I started weaving again in Canada. Below that you can see some annoying imperfections, places where slightly thicker areas of the sized warp threads are stiffer and refuse to conform around the weft when beaten. They become much less obvious after washing and one could argue imperfections are part of the charm of khadi fabric, handspun and handwoven, but I’d prefer perfection. I see no reason to pursue anything less. To me the imperfections in this are a reminder that some of this is my earliest cotton spinning and weaving, because they’re less obvious now after I greatly increased the tension on the warp to pull them straight.

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At any rate my handspun singles stand up to the test. They are weavable, and they are teaching me more about weaving. Time to start spinning more cotton!