Category Archives: weaving

The Cassimere Insanity Part II

The Cassimere Insanity Part II

Just a warning that this turned out to be a very long post. I could have said more, though, so it could be worse.

I need to know more!

This is how my everyday insanity progresses. I find something interesting, I ask myself questions about it, I look for answers, I find fascinating nuggets of information that give rise to more questions … and before I realise it I’ve dug myself into a hole so deep that if myth were correct I’d see stars in the sky at midday.

Yerbury’s Patent contains very general information. As a hand spinner I have specific questions that it doesn’t answer.

What was that ‘Spanish wool’ really like?

“soft, good wool, all Spanish or a mix of Spanish and English”
By 1800 Great Britain was importing 5 million pounds weight of fine merino wool each year from Spain. In Sheep and Man Ryder states that the name ‘merino’ was first applied to the sheep in the 15th century, but the breed type can be traced to at least the 13th century. There is evidence of fine-wooled sheep in Roman times, including textiles from 1st-century Italy containing fibres of 16-24 microns. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that by the 18th century ‘soft’ Spanish wool was similar to modern Merino, which is roughly the same range. At some point during all this research I found two manufacturers selling cassimere fabric for re-enactors. I ordered samples from both, but only that from Kochan & Phillips resembled my memories of the fulled cassimeres in the V&A. Sean Phillips kindly advised the use of fine merino, so I used 16 micron merino for this project, which on reflection was almost certainly finer than necessary.

fibre preparation

How were the wools prepared for spinning? Warp for traditional broadcloth (Yerbury’s ‘Common Cloth’) was combed, and probably spun with some type of short forward (worsted) draw for strength, while the weft was carded and probably spun softly woollen to encourage fulling. Yerbury’s ‘New Invention’ has warp and weft spun in similar fashion, and worsted yarns don’t full well, so they were probably woollen or semi-woollen spun. But from hand-carded wool or drum-carded wool?  Lewis Paul’s spinning machine invented in 1738 drove rapid development of carding technology, and in 1775 Richard Arkwright was able to patent a carding machine fundamentally similar to modern drum carders that produced continuous lengths of roving.  Only 10 years later Arkwright was unable to prove his invention had been unique – which suggests there were other carding machines in use at the time – and his carding machine became common property. Yerbury seems the type of man who might well have taken advantage of new technology, so I felt it was reasonable to spin from drum-carded fibre. As I was not spinning a soft and lofty yarn – this had to be strong enough for a singles warp as well as weft – I eventually found it more convenient and faster simply to spin my modern merino ‘top’ (traditional top is produced by combing, but most commercial top we buy today is pin-drafted from carded fibre) from the fold.

spinning and preparing the yarn for weaving

One fundamental assumption based on my general research into historic textiles is that cassimere, like most fine historic textiles, was woven from singles rather than plied yarns; the samples I’ve seen do seem to be singles.

What grist was the yarn for this ‘superfine’ cloth? Superfine by contrast with earlier cloths, so what were they? Textiles and Clothing 1150–1450 speaks of coarse as fewer than 10 ends/cm, good middle quality 12-13 ends per cm, and fine as >18 ends per cm. The authors are writing of archaeological finds, so that’s in the finished cloth. What did it look like before fulling? Crumbs. There’s an entire research program for me right there if I have time. Fulled broadcloth was roughly half its woven width (hence the name: it was broad on the loom) so roughly half that epi?  Sean Phillips discussed cassimere specifications with me, and his suggested grist of 9,000- 10,000 yards per lb (ypp) was similar to what I’d found mentioned elsewhere.

I looked at twist angle in the Kochan & Phillips sample – which was thoroughly fulled – and concluded that I couldn’t conclude anything useful from it, even with a microscope and Mabel Ross to hand.

So I sat down at my Majacraft Rose and started spinning fine singles in the standard clockwise direction. Skeined a sample  – a known length – off the bobbin, weighed it, calculated yards per lb. Fail. Try again.  This was not an easy grist for me to maintain: the fibre was so fine it was easier to spin a finer yarn. If I stopped paying attention the yarn would become too fine; when I then tried for thicker it would be too thick.

FindingGrist

But I persevered, wound a decent sample on a control card to sit by the wheel for quick comparisons while spinning and, more importantly, wound off samples and checked the ypp regularly throughout the spinning process. I spun and I spun and I spun and I looked at the yarn I was spinning – so much finer than any handspun wool I’d woven before – and wondered whether it would weave. I am not an experienced weaver. I didn’t want to spend weeks spinning something I couldn’t make into cloth! I stopped spinning, wound off into skeins, steamed them to set the twist and sized them with gelatine to further hold the twist. I don’t have my notes for this to hand so I can’t remember the exact strength of the size, for example, but I have found a picture of one of the cassimere warps drying after sizing in what I call The Sizing Room (everyone else calls it the bathroom).

sized warp

The skein is spread evenly on the chopsticks so as few threads overlap as possible. If necessary I will cut tight skein ties to spread it more widely, as fewer ties are needed once a sized skein dries. I do not mess about with it any further: too much handling will increase the fuzziness despite the size. The milk bottle supplies enough weight to eliminate pig-tails and straighten the yarn, but not so much as to risk stretching it. The plastic separator increases airflow around the two sides of the skein. I try to remember to rotate the skein once or twice to minimize pooling of the size at the bottom of the skein, as this glues some of the threads together; it’s not a fatal flaw but pulling them apart is unnecessary stress and can create fuzz. I am all about preventing fuzz.

weaving

I remember thinking it was a good sign that the warp beamed on my Ashford table loom with no trouble at all.

Cassimreweavesquare

The 45° angle shows I tried hard to beat square!

It wove like a dream. On reflection I should have sett it slightly tighter for a slightly denser cloth “well struck in the loom” as Yerbury phrased it but at this point I had no idea how fulling would affect it.

I wove to the end of the short sample warp, cut it into six pieces, blanket-stitched the cut edges with more of the singles as thread (in case cotton sewing thread interfered with the wet finishing of such small samples). A soak in hot water followed by hand washing removed the size and allowed the fabric to find its shape, which was lovely. Light and warm. But nothing like Yerbury’s cassimere: fabric isn’t finished until it is finished. Wet finished.

finishing

Yerbury’s cassimere was to be “smartly grounded at the fulling mill by a quick motion”. Fulling has two purposes, the first being to remove any fats and oils used in processing the fibre for spinning. We’re talking serious oils here, such as rancid butter and fish oils used to grease wool for combing, but fortunately these combine with the ammonia compounds in stale urine to become soap that not only scours the cloth but lubricates it. This aids the second purpose, which is to work the fibres together, starting the process of interlocking wool scales that leads to felting. The fabric thickens, becomes denser and less flexible, also more resistant to wear, and for centuries it was a normal part of the finishing of wool fabrics, converting wide bolts of relatively thin plainweave broadcloth into narrow bolts of water-resistant warm hardwearing fabric. The picturesque ‘waulking’ of cloth in Scotland is fulling by hand, suitable only for relatively small scale fabric production. The Romans relied on slave labour walking in place, trampling the fabric in tubs of ankle-deep urine. Water-powered fulling mills had been in use since the 12th century in medieval England: a stock mill imitated the action of walking feet with wooden stocks driven by a waterwheel working either horizontally or vertically. Modern fulling mills are rotary, uniformly processing immense lengths of fabric. I knew without even asking that no commercial fulling operation could do anything with my tiny samples!

I first tried fulling my sample as I’d fulled wools before, working it by hand on a flat surface. Always in the warp and weft directions, never on the angle as that will deform the fabric. The result was nice to the touch, but far from even and both thicker and less dense than seemed right.

From left: cloth off the loom; washed; fulled by rubbing

loom,washed,firstfull

So I imitated a vertical fulling mill with a wooden mallet wrapped in plastic. The remaining three samples were wetted, lightly soaped and then fulled by incessant (or so it felt) tapping with the mallet on our kitchen counter. It worked. It more than worked, it made a lovely fabric, dense and light and very different from the hand-fulled sample. If you’re at all interested in fulling, you should try this technique.

So that will suffice. What next? Raise the nap: brush to raise fibres from the surface of the fulled fabric. In times past teasels mounted in wooden frames might be used for this, and it was skilled work. I used a nailbrush and would not call myself skilled, but the fabric developed a lovely soft halo of fibres.

After the nap was raised it was sheared or cropped. Shearsmen were probably the most highly skilled of all the craftsmen involved in this process, able to crop a uniform finish by eye on yards of fabric using huge steel shears. Fabrics were often napped and sheared repeatedly to obtain the smoothest possible finish.shearman

Fortunately I had tiny shears (my embroidery snips) to match my tiny piece of fabric.

shearing

I love this piece of fabric. It’s delightful. Not as densely woven as the 18th-century swatch I saw in the V&A, but still cassimere. It’s light, warm and the singles woven in twill structure make it remarkably stretchy. But each time I handled the swatches I ended up admiring the second one, the plain washed fabric. Still flexible, but soft and smooth with a lovely drape. I wondered what it would feel like as a larger piece. I had more fibre, I could find out. For speed I spun the singles for this fabric from the fold and thinner, which I found easier. Roughly 11,000ypp, roughly 13 yards spun per 5 minutes while watching tv, so could have been faster.

The full set of samples from the first cassimere warp: from right, loom state; washed; fulled by rubbing; fulled with a mallet, no further finishing; mallet-fulled, nap raised; mallet-fulled, nap-raised and sheared. Plus my control card and a sample skein spun for the second cassimere warp.

FirstCassimereResults

I spun, I skeined, I sized as before. I wound a shorter but much wider warp and wove it off sett at 48epi (it wrapped at 72). Soaked in hot water, washed and ironed, it had a subtle sheen and draped beautifully.

Cassimer2

By the twentieth century it seems from catalogue descriptions of fabrics and garments that almost any wool twill could be described as a cassimere so, while this isn’t Yerbury’s patented cassimere, it’s still a cassimere.  And once I’ve spun the current big bag of silk, I’ll be spinning to make more of it.

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The Cassimere Insanity Part I

If you’re visiting because you’ve heard about my article A Brief History of an 18th-Century Woven Cloth: Cassimere in the Winter 2019 Spin Off, welcome.

Honestly, that’s what it is, insanity. I just didn’t realise it until I’d dug the hole too deep to climb out:
I had to keep going all the way to the other side.

I am deeply curious about how yarns were spun in England before the Industrial Revolution. In the Middle Ages England was the leading producer of woollen textiles in Europe: across a wide swathe of the country you can still see the ‘wool churches‘, magnificent structures paid for by the profits of the medieval wool trade, which is to say people buying and selling wool fibre, yarn and fabrics. ‘The medieval wool trade’ … four words that encompass centuries of skill needed to breed sheep producing different types of wool, to develop the hand spinning, dying, weaving and finishing skills to spin the different types of yarn needed to create different cloths that could then be finished to create some of the most beautiful and desirable fabrics known in Europe at that time. In England at that time skilled hand spinning was so fundamental that we have little information about how fibre was spun except in illustrations: everyone knew how to spin, so there was no need to document it. Nonetheless surviving fabrics can tell us something about the fibres and skills used in their construction.

the beginning

In 2014 I was invited to be one of the spinners demonstrating techniques at John Styles’ ‘Spinning in the era of the spinning wheel’ workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum Clothworkers’ Centre in London. Historians and fibre arts handworkers met to discuss the making of an array of fabrics from the V&A’s immense collection. One of the items on display was a book of fabric samples, ‘T.350-1989: Bound sample book containing different types, qualities and colours of cassimere or kerseymere cloth.’ I’d first seen cassimere (also known as kerseymere) mentioned in Kerridge’s Textile Manufactures in Early Modern England as a cloth invented by Francis Yerbury and patented by him in 1766; I remembered it because of the name, which I had read somewhere is thought to have been derived from ‘cashmere’ to reflect its softness, and because it had never occurred to me that a fabric could be patented. And now here it was in front of me, or at least examples of what were known as cassimere in 1795.

25.Cassimerebook27.CassimereSample

Note that my finger is NOT TOUCHING anything.
It’s hovering about 1cm above the fabric to give some idea of scale.

I was entranced. Moths and time had removed some patches of the surface fibre from one swatch (the one I photographed), revealing the twill structure and the beautifully-spun yarn. There were many other wonders spread out on the tables, but I left the workshop determined to find out more about this thing called cassimere. Kerridge focuses on the history of textile manufacturing, not the textiles themselves, and mentions cassimere again only as being responsible for bringing weavers into employment in large workshops, which was “possible because the looms were narrow and necessary because the weaves were new and intricate [compared with earlier standard weaves].”

The search for information

The internet rapidly made clear that cassimere/kerseymere continued in production until the 20th century and beyond, but also that these were very different fabrics from that patented by Yerbury… Aha! The patent! We were now living in Canada, so I couldn’t just pop down to the British Library in London. I emailed the Business & IP Centre asking if there was any way I could find a copy online, and will be eternally grateful to the  staff member who noticed I was writing from Canada and sent me a PDF.

Yerbury’s patent YerburyPatent1766-1

Page One of Yerbury’s patent.

Greetings from the 21st century, Francis. But I wish you’d given me more information! The meat of the patent is on pages 2 and 3, where Yerbury’s ‘New Invention’ is contrasted with the ‘common method of making cloth’. In short:

Common cloth warp is spun with a lot of twist, the weft with as little twist as possible and about 2/3 thicker than the warp, and the two should have different twist directions in order that they interlace tightly when woven. The fabric is a plain weave and the final fulled cloth is thick, water-resistant and durable.

Yerbury’s new Invention warp and weft are spun in the same manner “nearly about the same degree of smallness, weight and twist”. There is no specific weight or thickness of yarn but it should be spun from soft, good wool, all Spanish (i.e. merino) or a mix of Spanish and English. He describes two kinds of cloth distinguished in the weaving; one is clearly a straight twill, right or left; the other “quilled in the weaving with a flat whale [wale]” defeats my current understanding. According to the Google Books preview of The Dictionary of Fashion History, Beckinsale’s The Trowbridge Woollen Industry mentions only twill weave for cassimere.

Yerbury developed his new ‘cassimers’ fabrics to fill a niche in the market, which at that time was virtually crying out for lighter wools suitable for wear in warmer climates. But on the third page of his patent he mentions another reason for devising an innovative fabric: not only was the common cloth “hot, inconvenient and heavy for the summer wear at home and warmer climates abroad”, but it “hath also been introduction of many slight and whimsical things from our great rivals in trade the French”. In other words, the French were saying rude things about heavy, traditional English broadcloth.

So this is how I discovered cassimere. In Part II I’ll tell you how I found more information and began spinning.

 

 

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.)

WPI

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.

washed,ironed

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.
diamond

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).
diamondcotton
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.

fullsizeoutput_380

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.

IMG_3578

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.

img_3581-e1515077975775.jpg

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!

Why spin for weaving?

Sample

To make fabric like this.

I can’t look at it without smiling.

The seeds of this project were sown at SOAR, the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat at Tahoe in October 2012 when I attended Stephenie Gaustad’s ‘Spinning for a replicate or reenactment textile’ aka the Class of Awesome!  It truly was a Class of Awesome: I left with far more knowledge and confidence about spinning for weaving as well as a class handout containing descriptions of several historic textiles. ‘Donbæk Check’ – named for the burial site where it was found, near Frederikshavn in Denmark – sounded fascinating. Dating from the Iron Age, the 2/2 twill fabric had a chequerboard pattern produced by the light falling differently on the intersections of singles spun clockwise and counter-clockwise in the warp and weft. I’d heard of/seen pictures of twist-patterning in tablet-woven bands but hadn’t thought about it on fabric. Back in the UK I made a special expedition to the University Library to photocopy the reference and vowed I’d try this one day.

Fast forward to January 2017, when I was preparing to teach my first ‘Spinning for weaving’ workshop. While I enjoy making *any* fabric from my handspun, I wanted to show the students something memorable, a fabric that would be impossible or at least very difficult to weave from commercial yarns… and I remembered the Donbæk Check. Perfect. I had 2 x 100g packs of charcoal grey Wensleydale combed top from Julia Desch/Diamond Fibres: this is not pin-drafted top from giant drum carders, this is real (commercial) combed top. It’s special. It’s lovely.  I spun each 100g in a different direction using a short forward (‘worsted’) draw for a dense and shiny singles yarn that would – I hoped – reflect the light effectively.

WensFibreThe fibre: a slightly darker version of the Wensleydale top, together with a washed lock from a Wensleydale fleece. Shiny!

Sized&unsizedThe singles, before and after steaming to set the twist.

I wanted to protect the smooth surface of that yarn and wasn’t sure how much I’d use for the warp, so I used a gelatine size on all of it.

sizingThe sized singles yarns drying on the clothes tree. The plastic bin is weighted with just enough water to hold the singles taut, removing the pigtails, but with minimal stretching. Remember that wet wool is weaker than dry wool.

I wound a warp from just over half the yarn by weight, alternating clockwise and counterclockwise yarns every 26 ends to yield a rough 1″ check. Sett at 27epi for twill calculated from wpi it was seriously sleazy. I unwove the first 2″ and re-sleyed at 36epi, an eyeballed guess. This produced what I think is a lovely looking fabric that wove with a delightfully clear shed; although I hadn’t spun the yarn particularly tightly, the fact that it’s a longwool meant there were fewer ends, well locked down, so relatively little fuzz.

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I was worried at this point because although I’d dutifully alternated the clockwise and counterclockwise singles in the weft (carrying the unused yarn up the selvedge), I could not see a pattern. I checked the underside… no pattern. Well. I needed to know how the cloth would behave after finishing (simple washing, in this case), and as the class had been moved forward I needed an example of it as soon as possible, so I cut that strip off as a sample, roughly stitched it to bind the ends and create a tiny ‘loom state’ sample, then washed the slightly larger piece.

Swatch

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Magic.

The size was obscuring the pattern on the loom state fabric. It’s even more subtle than I expected: if the fabric is flat so the light does not play on the surface the pattern is scarcely visible.

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I didn’t have time to finish the sample warp before the class, so I took the table loom and that small sample to show them, which was probably better than the finished sample alone, as students who hadn’t woven were able to try their hand.

Then I raced home to weave it off the loom, stitched the ends and threw it into the wool wash cycle of the washing machine. I ironed the damp fabric on the counter top (not the ironing board, which is too soft), using all my weight and the ‘linen’ setting to flatten it: the chequerboard formed hills and hollows in the unironed fabric.

Sample1Unsurprisingly the weft stripe is more obvious on one side, the warp stripe on the other, but the chequerboard is visible on either side if the light is right.

It’s even more visible if light passes through the fabric. Isn’t that interesting?  I’ll just go and find a hand-lens so I can mark the twist directions of the singles in the sample…

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In The Big Book of Handspinning Alden Amos wrote “If warp and weft have the same twist direction, the threads will bed together better during the weaving … If the warp and weft have opposing twists, the individual yarns will be plainer or clearer in outline, the cloth will not be quite as dense.”

First I must consider another factor: the amount of twist I put into the singles when spinning. I almost always spin singles clockwise or ‘S’ – it’s the modern tradition – and this means my hands don’t get as much practice drafting while spinning counter-clockwise. Spinning counter-clockwise felt awkward, and I had to adjust my whorl and treadling to accommodate the slower drafting. When I look at the singles at 20x magnification, I can see that the counter-clockwise singles have a shallower twist angle – less twist – than the clockwise singles.

In that photo the clockwise (S) singles certainly do exactly as Alden suggests: they bed together tightly, forming the densest squares (S/S). Looking more closely at the fabric than I can photograph – you’ll have to take my word for it – I see that the counter-clockwise singles also bed together tightly, but only in small areas of the Z/Z squares: the variation in twist is interfering, and this is why on average the squares look less dense. In the S/Z or Z/S squares, the yarns do seem to form a more regular grid, as though the warp prevents the weft yarns from cuddling together and vice versa. It occurs to me that this sort of interaction would have caused the hills and hollows in the fabric when it came out of the washing machine – and that my hot iron and heavy pressing may have altered the ‘natural’ interactions of the singles.

All food for thought. Further experimentation is required!

The Hat of Authority

That’s a gripping title if ever I saw one. Thanks to Freyalyn, who named the hat during the ‘Spinning for Weaving’ workshop on Saturday as I put it on to call the class to order. It’s hard to miss, especially as the coins and charms chime as I move.

hatwalkingWearing The Hat in public for the first time, hiking in Derbyshire.

Two previous blog posts tell the story of the fabric of the hat: ‘The wrong fibre in the wrong place at the wrong time‘ describes how a highly unsuitable fibre preparation was re-processed to become something far more suitable (if any of the workshop attendees are reading this, note the use of a small cardboard loom-equivalent to establish whether the fabric would full), and ‘A project for the Cotswold.‘ briefly describes how I came to make a hat from it. I didn’t post more because the description became an article for Spin-Off Magazine (Summer 2014, ‘Uzbekistan by Hat’.

The executive summary, in pictures:
I work primarily with handspun singles. To prevent loss of twist, to make the yarn easier to manage and (to some extent) to protect it during the weaving process, the singles may be sized. Here the sized warp is drying on a makeshift stretcher in front of the bathroom radiator. (Workshop people, note that’s a hiking pole and chopstick stretcher, not the broom handle and hoe I use if I have more skeins!)WarpSized

From left to right: the Cotswold warp as it came off the bobbin, after steaming to set the twist, and lastly the dry sized skein.Warp

The hat fabric on the loom: Cotswold warp and handspun ‘Falklands’ (unspecified blend of Romney, merino and similar) weft.Fabric

I chose Falklands for the weft because I wanted to full the fabric, which I did in a hot indigo vat. Here the fabric is drying immediately after dyeing. I agitated it considerably in the vat to aid the fulling; the end result was not entirely even, but very beautiful. Or at least I think so.FabricDyed

Samples of the fabric for my records. Despite the fact it would be difficult to duplicate these handspun yarns (not that I can see any reason to try), the samples are useful records of how the wools and the fabric behaved. Note the tracking (the twill-like diagonal ridges) visible in the finished samples.Samples

I’d never made a hat from fabric. Clearly before I could make a hat I had to make a pattern. Having decided to make a hat inspired by those worn in Uzbekistan, I chose a style that looked as though I might be able wear it in public without dying of embarrassment, and started cutting up bits of paper to work out a pattern.hatplan

My first attempt proved to be a tiny yurt suitable for wearing on my head. But after some adjustments and more waste paper, I tacked together a fabric version to test the size and fit, then untacked it for use in cutting my fabric.TheHatProject.hats

Time passes. A LOT of time passes.

Sheila Paine and many others have written many words about the significance and meaning of folk embroidery. A gift from Sara Lamb, ‘Skullcaps of Uzbekistan‘ proved particularly interesting and useful. Reading and re-reading, I eventually could no longer postpone putting needle into cloth. What to use for the embroidery? Silk, in bright – and significant – colours. Some I dyed and spun for The Hat (it had acquired initial capitals in my thoughts), some were thrums of silks dyed and spun for my tablet-woven bag.embroiderysilks

Research suggests traditional makers usually embroider the hat fabric before the pieces are cut but, as I had never made a fabric hat before and had very little clue about what I was doing, it seemed wisest to make a hat that fit and embroider that. Having used some of the finer silk to sew the hat together, I rapidly discovered that I needed guides for the geometric patterns, hence the lines of white sewing thread.HatAgain1

Each of the patterns has – or is thought to have – a meaning or purpose, generally protective: bringing good fortune, or warding off bad luck and demons. The colours, too, have meaning: in many cultures across the globe red is apotropaic: it wards against evil.

In the photo above, the maze of complex swastikas is a demon trap in the making: entranced by the complexity they wander into the maze and are lost. The mirrors of the shisha embroidery dazzle and confuse any that elude the maze. Above, ram’s horns symbolise strength, courage and protection.

Below, one of my personal favourite symbols, a non-traditional orobouros symbolising infinity and the cycle of life becomes two owl eyes to frighten demons. The mother-of-pearl buttons used for the eyes and the silver coins are traditional embellishments, catching the sun to distract and confuse evil spirits. Hatback

Below, just visible on the left side band are two traditional Uzbek stylised birds. Apparently there is an old belief that if a bird sits on a man’s head it will make him happy (don’t ask, I don’t know). At the front is a sun disk, offering protection from the evil eye and any passing impurity. It is flanked by guardian cats.hatFront

Somewhat distorted by perspective, at the top of the hat is a band of shepherd’s crooks (protective), below which is a band of ‘amulet triangles’. Thought to be based on very, very early depictions of the Goddess, these are protective. Some of mine have diamond-shaped ‘heads’ containing four squares, the shape known as ‘fertile field’ that usually means fertility in the sense of offspring but I’ve used as heads because I’m interested in fertility in the sense of ideas. Tiny gold stars (light to distract demons) and the s-shape that may be a greatly simplified dragon (protective) also appear.  Dangling from the top of the hat are glittering, noisy coins and a miniature silver Maes Howe ‘dragon’.

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When I presented my project to the spinning group I found my voice breaking with emotion as I tried to convey how I’d felt as each stitch linked me more closely to the many, many others who for millennia have made clothing to protect those they loved. Writing this I find the same emotion rising again. Think of the work involved in making a garment, even a hat, when women clothed their families in the days before millspun, machine-woven cloth. Gathering the fibre, preparing it, spinning it, weaving it, thinking of the person for whom you’re making it. Saving and bartering for cherished bright silks, shiny coins. Hoping and believing with every stitch that your embroideries are more than embellishment; you are creating a garment that may offer guidance and protection to the person who wears it, a tangible expression of your love and skill.

We’ve lost that. Our lives are so much easier… but we’ve lost something along the way.