In March AS 51, the Barony of Carolingia hosted a Laurel's Prize Tourney. I answered Baroness Nicholette's challenge of weaving from a Medieval draft.
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The first time I wove was before I could form memories. My dad let me sit on his lap as he worked on his rigid heddle loom when I was a toddler. He set me up with tablet weaving when my hands were too small to turn the cards. We learned how to use an inkle loom together.
School and other interests intervened, but weaving has always been on the radar. I’ve been spinning since I was 8. I can’t really remember a time when making a garment from fleece to frock hasn’t been on my bucket list. Now, all these lovely competitions and challenges in the SCA are giving me deadlines to work towards, which means I’m actually working towards completing it. A year or two ago, I learned about “Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland” by Else Østergård, and the companion book, “Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns”. I still need to properly absorb these books, but they definitely inspire me.
Via a group on Ravelry, the knitting (and spinning and weaving) social site, I am acquainted with “FiberHistorian” or Christina Petty. She wrote her thesis on warp weighted looms and she has inspired me from afar to do more. When this challenge was announced, I asked her for some guidance about where to start. I’m interested in early-SCA period, mainly the British Isles, and she pointed me towards Penelope Walton.
From her web site, The Anglo-Saxon Laboratory (http://www.aslab.co.uk/), I found Penelope Walton Rodger’s paper on Costume in the Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Saltwood, Kent. Part 1: Women's Costume Accessories. In that paper, she describes a find of a scrap of fabric with the twill pattern charted in figure 20(f). There are additional charts with the fiber types and further details about thread count and twist direction.
When I first read the challenge, I figured I would merely attempt to weave from an existing draft. While I’ve been weaving forever, I haven’t done a lot of “technical” weaving. I threw yarn at a loom and made stuff. I’ve only recently started weaving on a floor loom, so drafts are still a big mystery to me. However, once I found a chart showing the weave structure from an extant scrap of fabric, I knew I had my project.
I’m sure I could have found the draft somewhere. It’s a diamond twill (and I learned at King and Queen’s A & S Championship when I was sharing pictures that the proper term is “lozenge” twill), these have all been charted before. But I wanted to stretch myself and figure out how to turn a chart into a draft.
I’ve started a weaving project book with graph paper, so I copied the chart of the scrap of fabric. I then stared at it a lot and figured out the draft. I figured it was 2-2 twill based, and the information that the warp repeat was 6 threads wide and the pick repeat was 9 threads wide helped. I stared and puttered and figured out the threading, the tie up, and the treadle pattern.
(I used the generator for this paper. I actually used the scribbles in my notebook.)
The extant example was 12 threads per cm in Z twist and 10 threads per cm in S twist. I extrapolated out that this was about 24 epi. I was lazy and used a 12 dent reed with two threads per dent.
If I was going to go through all the effort of warping a loom, I figured I might as well make a sizable sample. I figured a 4 yard warp at 15” wide. That would be enough fabric to really see it as fabric, and, potentially, enough for a small project.
Since this used S twist thread and Z twist thread, there was no way for me to purchase singles unless I contacted a small mill. Considering the number of spinning wheels I own, this seemed ridiculous. I went to my (*cough* sizable *cough*) stash and looked at my prepared fibers. The focus of this project was the weaving, not the spinning. I didn’t have to start from fleece.
I didn’t want to pick any of my fancy hand painted/hand dyed 4 oz lots of fiber because the quantity was too small, and I didn’t want the crazy colors do detract from the weaving. When I looked through all my undyed prepped fiber, they were all exotics (merino, angora/silk, pygora/silk, etc.). So, I sighed and grabbed the first clean fleece that came to hand.
I used a Rambouillet- Corriedale cross that I had washed sometime in the past. I hand carded the fiber into rolags and spun them with a short-forward draw on a Canadian Production Wheel inspired wheel. These are not period tools and not period fiber, but the point of this project is the weaving and draft, not the yarn. This fiber probably should have been used in a sweater because it’s nice and squishy, but it worked well enough. However, it had a quantity of neps (little lumps of short fibers that should be picked out) that was annoying.
I spun the warp with a Z-twist (clockwise). I spun ~1480 yards. I skeined the yarn and then soaked it in some flax goop.
Since this was my first time really weaving with my homespun (the one belt I made on an inkle loom some number of decades ago doesn’t really count), I was terrified of breaking warp threads. On Ravelry, I asked Fiberhistorian if she knew if size was used in period. She answered that no one knows. Good size washes out, and no one has found any in extant pieces. I have no idea if size was used or not in period, but I wanted a security blanket on my first ever hand-spun warp of singles.
From other Ravelry sources, mainly “fibergal” or Phredde, I got a good recipe for flax goop: 2 tablespoons of flax seeds boiled in 2 cups of water until the consistency of snot. I was completely shocked at just how goopy this became. I ended up making 2 batches, and probably should have made a third to really soak the skeins in.
After the skeins dried, I wound my 4 yard warp of 360 ends. I warped my loom—8 shaft Baby Wolf, but I only used 4 shafts—from front to back. First time I pushed myself too far (never warp after 9 PM) and did not tie on tight enough. Some of my knots slipped. The next day my dad helped me to unwind my mistake, re-tie on, and wind on with additional tension. I think that used too much yarn (3-4” tails) in my tie on. However, this was high twist yarn and was sproingy. I was also rushing the warping, which was probably a mistake.
I spun the weft S-twist (counter-clockwise). I have no idea how much weft I actually spun. I was winding my weaving bobbins directly from my wheel bobbin because I was anxious to start weaving and terrified I’d run out of time. I had measured out 8 oz of fiber for weft, and I never finished spinning it. I even had a weaving bobbin and a half left.
I started weaving with some leftover 10/2 cotton to space out the warp. I only had two sleying errors and no threading errors! I unwove, untied, fixed things, and again spaced with the cotton. Then I started weaving with my homespun.
I wove slowly, and with care. I did not bang on the warp when beating my shed. I am a little sad that my warp and weft are the same color because you can’t really see the twill pattern at all. I’m sure that there are treadling errors, but I doubt many will find them.
Across the 8’ of woven cloth, I only had 3 warp threads break (on my second to last night of weaving).
For the last few inches, I changed to a contrasting color warp to highlight the pattern. I used some of the Shetland fleece I washed in urine last summer and hand spun on a spindle with a replica medieval whorl.
Before washing, the finished cloth was 96” long and generally 13” wide. It’s hard to count brown on brown, but the epi was ~28 threads/inch (~11 threads/cm) and picks for inch was ~24 threads/inch (9.4 threads/cm). This isn’t too far off from the original 12/10.
Taking a pair of scissors to this is just as difficult as steeking a handknit sweater. I will keep a section unwashed for comparison. I will keep another swatch as washed. I cut off a ~7” end, and then cut that in half. The unwashed swatch is 7” x 6 ¼”.
I lightly finished the cloth. I soaked it in hot water with a smidge of laundry soap (hand made of Zotes soap, Borax, and Washing Soda). I did use a plunger on it a bit, mainly to be sure all the fabric was in the water, not to actually full the material. I then rinsed the fabric twice, also in hot water. Between each rinsing I would squeeze out as much water as I could by hand. I then rolled the fabric in a towel to gently press out more water. I let the fabric dry over a drying rack, assisted with a space heater (and a cat). When it was mostly dry, I pressed it with an iron set to wool, no steam.
The size washed out, and the fabric tightened up some. I enjoy the drape and hand of the fabric. The washed swatch is 6 ¼” x 5 ¾”. The washed piece is 80” x 11 ¾”. This is about 10% shrinkage in both directions. The final thread count is ~30 epi (11.8/cm) and ~28 picks per inch (11/cm). Again, pretty darn close to the original 12/10 per cm.
My hope is that I’ll be able to piece together a small hood. I don’t really care if this hood is based on any period pattern, I will just be pleased to have a garment I made.
This has been a fabulous learning experience. If I do a lozenge twill again, I will have contrasting warp and weft. The pattern is too pretty to hide.
I’m not entirely pleased with my selvedges. Working with a high-twist, sproingy weft, occasionally I get corkscrews at the edges. However, since most selvedges will be hidden in seams in finished garments, I can deal.
There are many things I want to try. What difference would washing my warp and weft before sizing make? If I use a long wool (not as sproingy), how will that change the hand of my fabric? What difference does a warp weighted loom make?
The best thing I learned is that I can do this. I can spin yarn that will work on a loom. My spindle spun yarn will work as weft definitely. I feel more confident that (with size), it will also work as warp. When my warp threads break, I can fix them. I can make fabric.
Now I just need to spin the 24,000 yards I need for a dress.
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