Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tea time

When a project changed my mind

Six tea towels, three 12-harness patterns
I vowed I'd never knit socks or weave towels. I knit socks now so I suppose it was only a matter of time before I confronted my other 'never.' 

The project this year for the South Jersey Guild weaver's study group is....you guessed it. Tea towels.  

I admit to being somewhat disappointed, but wanted to support the initiative. I wasn't exactly unenthusiastic, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money on yarn, either. I looked for the best value--and found one pound cones of 8/2 unmercerized cotton offered by The Lunatic Fringe. (I was unaware of the company until seeing their participation in the upcoming MidAtlantic Fiber Association's 2017 conference this summer in Millersville, Pa.) I ordered three cones.

Towel #1. 12-harness pattern, Ryall pg.364, no.4


I now admit it. I enjoyed the entire process--from planning through to the finished towels. The colors--peach, molasses and stone--weren't my first colorway choice, but they work just fine together. And I am reminded: They were 'good value.'

Towels #2 and 3. 12-harness, Ryall, pg.363, no.3.
Upper: stone weft; lower, peach weft
As this would be the first project on my new-to-me 12-harness Ahren's & Violette Loom, I wanted to put all the harnesses in action. Planning for six towels, I warped a six yard length in  alternating colors of peach and molasses and dressed the loom with a straight-12 threading sleyed at 24 ends per inch. I had 400 threads (including two threads for floating selvedges each side) and a 16 inch width in the reed.  

Using a sampler in my personal library that I'd woven based on a series of tie-ups from Pierre Ryall's Weaving Techniques for the Multiple-Harness Loom as a starting point, I began to play with peg patterns (tie-ups) and color on the loom. (Ryall is a classic resource for owners of multi-shaft looms.)

Patterns that work--or don't

Towels #4, 5, 6. 12-harness, Ryall. pg. 363, no.4
Upper: peach weft. Middle: stone weft.
Lower: peach, 
stone and molasses check
As I began to weave the first towel, it was very clear very quickly that the pattern that worked well with different colors on my sampler got lost in the two-color warp. So I  wove it as an evenly-balanced check in the same colors as the warp. It will dry a dish just fine but the pattern is definitely 'meh.'

Much more effective are the two twill variations. Towels two and three were a simple straight twill (Ryall, pg.363, no.3). Four, five and six were based on an advancing twill with wefts in warp or a third color. (Ryall, pg.363, no.4)

The effects of varied weft colors is a reminder how much different colors change the look and feel of the fabric. 

After weaving six towels, I wanted to see how far I could weave to the back bar, so I kept weaving. I cut off the warp with only 12 inches of loom waste on the back end and now have a tray cloth, too!

I was particularly pleased with the towels after washing and drying them. They don't really need to be ironed!

After weaving the six towels, I have about one and a half pounds of cotton left. I think I'll make a warp and....weave some more tea towels.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Getting to know you

How the loom works and key takeaways

Hand towels woven on the AVL
You may recall the "new" loom that came into my life late last fall. Although new to me, it is not new. As the 129th loom made by AVL, it is a 12-harness dobby loom that dates to the early 1980's. 

I must admit that I was a little awed by the loom and tried to find out everything I could about dobby looms. I did online research and bought some books. In some respects, the descriptions made it sound more difficult to set up than it is. (Please note: I am not talking about the construction of the loom.)

Dobby bars showing pegs and holes
My personal conclusion is that setting up to weave is simply a matter of rethinking the process. I got a little bogged down with how to peg the dobby bars. But it is very straightforward. Pegging the bars is like manually operating the levers on a table loom. They're either pegged--or not--and the harnesses either lift--or not.

For me, pegging the bar with the small metal pins was a bit counter-intuitive. A peg keeps the harness from lifting and no peg, i.e., a hole, lifts the harness. So, if I want harnesses 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 to raise, I peg the holes in 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11.

Dobby bars on dobby head
Pegging the dobby bars also made me think about how they entered the wheel. If I pegged the bars from top to bottom and inserted them onto the dobby head, my lift plan was reversed because the bars enter the mechanism from the back. Pegging from bottom to top is the right way to peg them.

My dobby bars are worn and some of the holes are stripped. For the most part, I can feel it through the peg wrench when I screw the pegs in, but not always. I haven't found them all yet so I need to carefully watch the shed and the pattern when weaving as pegs fall out. 

Painter's masking tape and 4 inch cable ties are my new best friends. I use the masking tape to wrap the pegs for the stripped holes, to mark the beginning of the lift plan sequence on the dobby bars and to mark harnesses. The cable ties I use to connect the dobby bars, which were originally connected with metal rings.

Key take-aways for my loom at this point in time:

  • Pegging and assembling the dobby bars 
    • "No peg," that is, a hole in the bar, lifts a harness.
      • Peg the bar for harnesses that should remain in place, that is, don't lift.
    • Watch for stripped holes and use tape (or the equivalent) to wrap the pegs.
    • Peg from the bottom of the dobby bar set to the top. (The AVL manual recommends a set of 20 bars minimum.)
    • Mark the first bar of the pattern weave with a small piece of tape. It's easy to get them out of order. 
    • If the pattern is not balanced, e.g., 6 and 6, peg the harnesses with the greater number of  lifts. This may put the pattern on the reverse, but it is much easier to weave.
    • Connect the chain of dobby bars with cable ties so that the connection is on the back of the bars. When joined from the front, the connector can interfere with the pattern.
  • Weaving
    • Until I am confident that my pegging is correct and the pegs are secure, I need to pay close attention to the lifted harnesses. 
      • I use a small piece of tape to mark the even-numbered harnesses so I can very quickly see whether the correct ones are lifted--or not.
      Rachet that advances dobby bars
    • My dobby mechanism does not reverse. I can disengage the dobby head, but most times it's easier to advance to the next sequence. (Tape on the bars also useful here.)

At this point, my big-picture conclusion is that although the mechanism and construction of my dobby loom is definitely more complex and very different from jack, counter-marche and counterbalance looms, it's not difficult. It's only a different way of looking at the set-up.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Simpleframe: Part II

Completed project
1x1 ribbing on the Simpleframe

Assembling and knitting

I was trying hard to knit a batch of pussyhats for the Women's March on Washington and needed to speed things up. I had a skein of Lion Brand Landscapes fuchsia yarn that I thought might be good to try on the Simpleframe

But first, I had to assemble the Simpleframe. It was simple but fiddley to put together. Lots of little adjustments to get it ready to knit. This is not a children's toy.

Needle size

Unlike standard knitting machines, the Simpleframe uses depth of needle drop to  make a larger loop--and a larger stitch. Clever

The kit includes a little comb-like tool that compares the distance of needle drop--or return--to standard knitting needle sizes. Using the tool, the knitter moves the base on the Simpleframe up or down to align the size of the stitches. Once tightened into position, the base allows all needles on the bed to drop the same distance. (You can see the base in the first photo here. It's the piece at the bottom of the needles.)

The fiddliest part for me was attaching the knitting to the roller bar that is in the hollow space beneath the "V" of the double bed. This provides tension to keep the knitting on the needles--just as weights do on most standard knitting machines.

Stockinette attachment, front view

Knitting something

The pussyhat was a perfect project. Four plus inches of 2x2 ribbing, then 9 inches of stockinette, then back to four plus inches of ribbing. 

I started on ribbing. with the Simpleframe sitting on my lap. It was smooth knitting moving the needles down one by one on each bed. My first go on ribbing was pretty uneven, but my second try was much better. Nice, even. 

Stockinette attachment, side view
Next came the stockinette section and I had to figure out how to do it. Knitting stockinette on the Simpleframe requires positioning a plastic attachment that looks like a bar with movable fingers that drop down and sit between the needles. The 'fingers' have an indentation on the back that holds the yarn for pickup by the needles. (You can see the slight angle behind the first needle in the photo at right.) It made no sense to me until I set it up and knit.


I deemed my first project knit on the Simpleframe a success. Not perfect, but adequate. I can see that a knitter would quickly get good results with practice.  

For knitters who may have one--or may find one in a thrift store--dust it off and refresh yourself with this YouTube video and start using it again. It's a fun little tool that definitely has potential for knitting projects. You just need to learn how to master it!