Monday, 20 July 2015

Three-Twill Towels

Blog readers know how much I enjoy designing and weaving towels. People love them, they're great as gifts or for the buyer's own use, and they give me lots of inspiration and opportunity to try new ideas. I'm always thinking about towels, it seems.

I just wove 23 towels, some in three twills after I rethreaded the centre two inches into a very wide diamond. I love the look and used it for the next set of towels which are at the hemming stage.

Here are some samples. If you're interested in any, they're about 65-70 cm long (26-28") and 57 cm wide (22.5"). All are 100% cotton and can be machine washed and dried. (Machine drying may shrink them a bit though.) If you have a favourite colour or two, I can send photos of any that may meet your needs.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

A Local Source of Icelandic Sheep Fleece

I recently learned that a local friend has Icelandic sheep with fleeces processed into roving that's ready for spinning.  As far as I know, Icelandic sheep are pretty highly renowned for their fibre quality. The fleeces have long fibres that are great for spinning.

I'm always on the hunt for local suppliers because I strongly believe that we should support each other and help develop our local economy, even at a very small scale. On that note, I hope to continue to do business with Heritage Valley for their gorgeous alpaca, and the Wengers for their beautiful Romney wool. And, the local economy and doing business among friends is really positive and just plain fun.

Anyway, last week I visited Donna on Fox Mountain and met her sheep and their valiant guard dog.  I bought over a kilogram each of two shades of brown roving, which is cleaned and carded fleece that's been processed into a long strand that only needs drawing out as much as the spinner wishes. Donna and I, along with her daughter, have great plans to combine my handwoven wool cloth with her expert sewing into some useful and classic designs. This is a big part of the fun for me.

Here are the Icelandic sheep and their fearless protector:

And here are some samples of Donna's roving, nicely packaged into big balls of 200 g and 600 g.

Donna has more roving available, so feel free to contact her at dfdonnafroese "at" gmail "dot" com if you're interested. I highly recommend it! Just be sure to leave me more. :-)

Monday, 13 July 2015

Peyto Lake Blanket

Peyto Lake is an iconic landmark in Banff National Park, on the west side of the Icefields Parkway. The viewpoint close to the large parking lot looks down to a beautiful scene of a long, narrow lake with a backdrop of Caldron Peak among a range of mountains. I wonder how many cameras have been pulled out at that viewpoint to capture this beautiful scene - probably thousands and thousands every year.

The two shades of mohair in this blanket first made me think of glacial rock flour, which tinges mountain lakes in vivid aquamarine. Then I thought back to Peyto Lake, and thus the name.

This blanket is about 3/4 wool and 1/4 mohair. It's sturdy and soft, and not terribly fuzzy but just nicely soft. Measurements are 178 cm by 140 cm (70" x 55").

Whoever has this blanket for upcoming winters will love curling up in it.

Update: The Peyto Lake blanket sold at the Mac Fair craft sale!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

More Wool Blankets - in July!

These wool blankets were a slightly challenging project but totally worth it. I had a request for two new blankets in the Georgian Bay collection and I wanted to weave more wool blankets anyway, but I needed my head checked for wanting to work with wool and mohair when my upstairs studio was pretty warm at times - it sure is now. But, as I said - totally worth it. They're all woven in twill blocks in a broken twill pattern. Some have alternating yarns in the weft, which takes much longer to weave but - "totally worth it."

Here they are:

SH113 | 100% wool | 172 cm x 127 cm (67.5" x 50") | Sold

SH114 | 100% wool | 175 cm x 125 cm (69" x 49") | From the Georgian Bay collection -
showing water at bottom, rock with lichen, and trees above | Sold

SH115 | Wool and handspun mohair | 178 cm x 136 cm (70" x 53.5") |
From the Georgian Bay collection showing detail of sky with trees below | Sold

SH116 | Wool and mohair | 172 cm x 135 cm (67.5" x 53") | "Peyto Lake" | Sold

SH117 | Wool and handspun wool/mohair | 178 cm x 140 cm (70" x 55") | Sold

SH118 | Wool and handspun wool and wool/mohair | 197 cm x 138 cm (77.5" x 54.5") | Sold

As always, feel free to contact me for more photos or any enquiries - I'm at jane "at" cariboohandwoven "dot" ca or my email address above.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

"How long does it take to weave a blanket?" - Updated Version

About two years ago, I happily relented to the most frequent, and usually the first, question I receive about my blankets: "How long does it take to weave one?" I posted a five-part series under the associated label so that interested blog readers could easily click on and read the individual posts. However, I was never happy that the posts are listed in reverse order, requiring the reader to scroll down for the first part and read it, then scroll back up a bit to read part two and so on.

So here is the series in chronological order - and with editing improvements where required with the handy power of hindsight and perspective.


"How Long Does It Take To Make A Blanket?" - Part 1

This is, by far, the most common question I hear when a person first looks at a blanket.  They probably notice the size of the blanket and all the fibre interlacings and are amazed at all the time that must have gone into it.  I really appreciate their realization of the work done to produce that single item.

My quick answer is usually something like "Only a few hours, but there's much more done before and after the weaving."  I thought I'd write a blog on this ... then I planned the outline and my answer to this simple question quickly expanded to five parts!

To begin my answer, weaving a blanket does not equal making a blanket.  The actual weaving is not that long, but the complete making is far more extensive. First, the project requires adequate time for planning: the colours, weave structure, fabric design and purpose of the completed items.  I arrange the proposed cones or skeins on the floor or my work table and let them sit there as I work around them on an earlier project.  I often make changes, yanking out one colour and replacing with another, or getting some better ideas from the initial inspiration.  That process usually takes at least a few days, sometimes weeks and sometimes longer.

Along with the planning are the important calculations of how much yarn will be required for the project.  I need to confidently know if I have sufficient yarns on hand or if I need to order more.  If some of the blankets will have handspun weft, then I need to see what I have available and whether there will be enough for what I'm intending.

The planning stage needs to incubate until I'm satisfied that the ideas I have will work.  This stage cannot be rushed.  Not only will I undoubtedly find some errors or poor colour combinations, but the germination process often improves with time.  And besides, it's a big part of the fun.


Part 2 of "How Long Does It Take To Make A Blanket" begins with another last check of my plans outlined in Part 1. Like the carpenter's maxim of "measure twice, cut once," the time taken for a last check of calculations is often worth it, especially after a break from the planning with a fresh set of eyes.

My loom has a sectional warping beam, which means that I wind on one inch at a time.  If the fabric has 24 threads per inch, then I need 24 wound bobbins on the bobbin rack, and each bobbin must have enough for the full warp length for that section, or I'll have to knot on a fresh bobbin.  Cotton towels and blankets in twills often use this sett; my wool blankets are usually 12 ends per inch.  I use entire cones or wound bobbins for the towels and cotton blankets.  The wool I use is usually on cones or skeins and must be wound onto big bobbins.

The beaming process goes fairly quickly once all the bobbins are ready.  I wind the planned length of the total warp onto each inch of the loom.  That means 60 inches of wound sections for full-width blankets. Below is an almost-beamed 30"-wide warp for towels:

When all the yarns are wound onto the loom's back beam, I then thread each one through a wire heddle.  Precision for this step is critical.  Most of my projects are designed to have a consistent end point for each section so that I can maintain correctness.  If not, I design a threading map that helps me stay on track for more complicated patterns.  There is nothing more exasperating than finally starting to weave and finding a big threading error, something I try to avoid at all costs.

The threading process can be quite tedious, as I'm standing and bending between the back beam and harnesses and threading up to 1440 individual yarns through one of eight harnesses.  But, with practice I can do this as efficiently as possible.  Enjoy the flow ...

Then I move to the front of the loom and bring each thread through a space in the reed. Usually the threads are grouped and I check the threading as I sley the reed.  For each inch, I knot those threads under the same tension to keep them from sliding out, as well as to save a step in the next process.

Finally, the warp is ready to be tied on to the front beam.  I thread a strong piece of doubled linen or cotton from the rod on the front beam through the middle of each knotted section. Then, I even up the tension on all sections, tie on securely at the final end and ... take a break or forge on.

Important point: Those steps are never all done in one day!

The very beginning of the warp is always a bit wonky to weave until it starts to work as a unit.  I expect this but I'm still very observant for errors in threading, sleying or individual thread tension.  Beginning with plain weave in a contrasting colour points out errors very quickly.

Now I'm ready to start weaving my planned project.  All the design and warping steps are completed, and my investment in time and energy is ready to reap the real rewards - the enjoyment of making cloth.


Part 3 of "How Long Does It Take To Make A Blanket" is the actual weaving.  To me, the weaving is just the mid-point of the cloth production process.  Parts 1 and 2 described all the preparation, and then there's much more to do after the cloth is woven.

Once the weaving has begun and any errors in threading or sleying are corrected, all the weaver needs is plenty of bobbins ready for the shuttles.  For a series of blankets or towels, I'll begin with a simple set of colours, often from bobbins left over from warping.  The ends of the cotton tubes I use even fit into a large shuttle and make a smooth sound and lovely whirring feeling in my hand as the fibre unwinds and the cloth proceeds.

It takes about 2-3 hours to weave a blanket.  That's using only one shuttle at a time and if all goes perfectly well, which it does ... now and then.  The cotton blankets can also really weave up quickly. The rhythm of the harnesses moving up and down, the beater pushing the new thread into the cloth, my body rocking back and forth on the bench to catch the shuttle for a wide cloth - it's wonderful.

So there's the simple answer, but probably leaning towards three hours.  More complicated weave structures take longer, particularly if I'm using two shuttles at once or making many colour changes.  Each blanket has had a part of the planning and warping steps, and then once the warp is all woven there is quite a bit more to do.  That's coming later.


The fourth component of "How Long Does It Take to Make a Blanket" follows the weaving process and includes several elements of particular enjoyment for me as the woven fibres are transposed into finished cloth.

Once the warp has been completely woven, it is cut off the loom at the very beginning of the long stretch that I wove. This means loosening the front beam and unwinding it all into a roll on my lap. This is a bit crazy but quite fun, as a long warp weighs a lot but proves the work I've done. So any struggle with the bulky roll of cloth is actually more satisfying than frustrating.

The roll can be carried easily to a flat place on the floor with good light for cutting apart blankets. Towel warps I usually carry to the sewing area and cut them apart right before sewing to minimize fraying.

Hand fringing of blankets is a good task for light conversation, daydreaming or watching TV. Wool blankets usually require at least 1 1/2 hours per end; cotton blankets take up to two hours. The total fringing time for each blanket does add up but it really finishes the blanket nicely. Machine-hemmed cotton blankets take up to about a half hour each to zigzag both ends before hemming.

Blankets are then washed. Wool blankets I handwash with lots of gentle agitation and soaking time. After several rinses they go into the washing machine for spinning on a delicate cycle. Cotton blankets go right into the machine for washing and they receive the highest setting for the spin cycle. Only then do the fringes pass my test that the knots will hold. All blankets are hung to dry. I straighten them out on the line (whether indoors or outside) and pull the edges straight so that they dry as evenly as possible. Then I usually like to stand back for a moment and admire ...

Blankets next go to the ironing board. I first cut off the loose fringe below the knots to make them look tidier. Cotton blankets often require brushing with a de-linter to remove the film of lint and make the colours purer.

Each blanket side is then pressed: up one side, down the other, turn over and repeat. I clip loose ends at the selvedges, check over and over for any skips or flaws, and fix what should be fixed. Most small skips are better left, proving the blanket was human-made by an imperfect weaver. Serious flaws make the blanket unsellable ... lesson learned, don't do that again, Jane! Finally, I sew a label onto all blankets.

I check again for short ends to clip and any skips. Finally, a new set of blankets is neatly piled and taken back to the studio for the final steps that I'll cover in Part 5.


The conclusion of "How Long Does It Take To Make A Blanket" covers the business side of production. Part 4 covered all the steps from completion of the weaving into making true cloth.

I don't want to end with one of the deadly final steps, so I'll cover that now. It is the matter of studio clean-up. I usually have a variety of weft selections on the floor or table, and the remainder need to be put away. Then there are the notes to enter into my notebook for reference, coffee mugs to take away, mug rings to wipe, and last but not least - dealing with the lint. Wool blankets produce quite a bit of lint all over and under the loom and bobbin-winding area, and cotton blankets have their own lint issues as well. This means a thorough vacuuming as a major part of the tidying up before I can face the next project.

Assuming that studio clean-up has been, or will be, carried out, all blankets are entered in my inventory spreadsheet with measurements. Any particularly long or short blankets are noted for pricing differences. I photograph each blanket, usually with a fairly general view of the pattern and then a close-up to show the weave and colour detail.  For example:

All items are posted on my blog if they're for sale, grouped by the labels on the right-hand side. This process enables anyone to see what I have available.

So how long does it take to make a blanket?  Well, a few hours to cover the warping process, about  three hours (or more) to weave, anywhere from half an hour to machine hem to four hours to twist fringes, then probably another hour to wash, press and check over thoroughly. Finally, measuring and photographing take up to another half hour per blanket. As well, any handspun I use (such as in the Wenger Sheep Farm blanket above) requires considerable time to spin, ply, wash and wind onto bobbins.

Added up, a handwoven blanket clearly takes time to produce. However, it is time well spent. When I learn how long my blankets last - whether for family, friends or customers - I feel very gratified knowing my time was well-invested in something being used and enjoyed for many, many years. And that appreciation is widely shared, which makes it even better.

Thanks for asking! :-)