Shetland Tartan Blanket (Conclusion)

Well, I just couldn’t wait for the regular writing cycle for these blogs to wrap up (accidental pun) the series on my handspun, handwoven blanket.

When we last left the project, I had planned out the yardage I’d need to weave. I knew that to weave a blanket that was wide enough after it came off the loom (Tom Knisely, teacher extraordinaire, calls this the “boing factor”) I’d have to weave it wider than my loom can accommodate. Thirty-six inches is pretty wide, but I wanted something much wider than that. So, I would weave it double width (also known as double weave). That’s when you weave two layers of cloth at the same time. The path your shuttle takes with the weft determines whether you make a tube (not what I wanted) or a folded cloth (what it did want so that it would unfold off the loom and magically be wider than my loom could weave singly.)

That means you thread the loom twice as dense and lift the shafts for each layer in a particular sequence. Fortunately, I’ve done a few projects this way already, so that part wasn’t too scary (see posts on Dog Blanket).

My calculations showed that I would need 820 ends for the warp threaded 2 ends per dent (slot) in a 15-dent (15 slots per inch). Well, after I measured out the warp ends, I started by sleying the reed. I learned several things right away. 1) sleying at the loom with the reed laid down across two sticks is a lot easier on my back, than sleying while seated at a table propping the reed up vertically in holders; 2) handspun yarn that is tightly twisted (better for warp strength) can be quite kinky. (Not that kind of kinky…); and 3) winding all of one color warp threads together and then sleying them as you come to them in the pattern, can cause the colors to cross cross, and get a little jumbled. 
The process wasn’t too cumbersome, except for the brown (moorit) color that was more tightly over twisted.

The next step was to thread the heddles on the shafts so the correct twill pattern would happen when I depress the treadles. It was an easy enough pattern to follow, but 820 ends takes quite awhile. No hurry, just kept making progress. 

Here’s where things got complicated. The next step was to wind the threads onto the back beam (I warped front to back, for those of you who know what that is). The piece had a lot of threads, and was quite thick. 

Oh, I forgot, I tied a dummy warp onto each thread so that I wouldn’t waste so much of my precious handspun fiber. A dummy warp is a yard of not-so-precious yarn that extends the good stuff closer to the part that can be woven, so there’s less lost to the part of the threads that the loom can’t weave. It was a good idea (in theory). Eight hundred and twenty threads tied on, and then the process could begin to wind the warp on the back beam.

Because the warp chains were a bit jumbled, I had to unjumble (not a technical term) them. They looked much better. 

Winding on was not a happy experience. It was at this point that I realized that not only did I need to add some weight to the warp chains to provide some needed tension… 

…but I discovered that I couldn’t move the beater forward without a lot of effort. At first, I thought this was a function of the “stickiness” of the wool. But…alas, it was a symptom of a much more serious problem. I got it wound onto the back beam and tried to weave the first scrap yarn in. The beater was REALLY hard to move, and the path for the weft was very bumpy. I had a sinking feeling that this was not going to work.

I went to sleep, and as is often the case when I go to bed with an unsolved problem, my brain must have worked on it overnight. I woke up really early and realized that I needed to 1) use a larger dent reed (I opted for an 8-dent one, skipping right over the 12-dent, when I realized that it just wouldn’t make enough difference); and 2) because of the change in density to the larger reed holes, I wouldn’t be able to use all the threads. This was because, even at the full width of the loom and double width, my loom couldn’t weave that many inches (820 divided by 8 is 102.5 inches. I could only do a maximum of 72 inches times 8 or 576 threads).

Ouch! That meant that I had to take out 244 threads, and not use them. I knew that I had to re-sley the new reed, but I didn’t have to un-thread the heddles, just move them over. But it also meant that I had to re-wind the warp onto the back beam and spread it across the whole width so it ran straight from the back beam forward. Essentially, it was rather like re-warping the loom from scratch, almost.

Once I decided this, I made peace with that decision, because, after all, there was no hurry in this project and I wanted it to be done well. several hours later, the new configuration was ready, and this time, the beater worked like it was supposed to. 

You’ll note from this picture, that there is a wide white stripe at the edge of the warp. This turned out to be a happen accident, because it meant that by keeping the pattern symmetrical from the other side (the folded side) I ended up with an edge that framed the piece well, visually, I think.

Finally ready to weave. A funny thing about weaving is that the actual weaving takes very little time compared to the preparation. But fortunately, it went very smoothly. The loom worked well, and I loved the way the pattern emerged. 

Another thing I learned in this process was that I didn’t need the elaborate treadling pattern I worked out. I wove with each color until I got a square shape comparing the warp and weft directions, and tried to keep each weft pick so that I would achieve a 45 degree angle to the twill. This is something I’ve read is desirable for tartan plaids. It also made it a lot easier. No counting of picks, just follow the easy treadling sequence (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 repeat) and measuring small blocks of color.

Once woven, I took the blanket off the loom, repaired some errors in weaving (there are always a few). 

The next thing was to twist the fringe, fortunately I have a fringe twisting device that makes the process just a mechanical one where I counted revolutions of the device. It still takes a few hours, but I could watch TV while I did this. 

Then it was off to the laundry tub where I soaked it in Dawn detergent. Then a quick rinse and spin in the washing machine to help the fibers mesh together more and to continue the “boing factor”.

Finally, I laid it out to dry on the driveway on a sunny breezy day. It was dry in less than an hour. Voila!

Toward the end of the project, a friend of mine who writes for a local paper wanted to do a story about the project, and this week, the story appeared in the paper. A nice conclusion to a great project that was an amazing learning experience. Total time for the project was 330 hours!

The next project you ask, not sure. It might be with cotton that I’ve spun, or a Churro Navajo-style rug, or… The possibilities are many, stay tuned. Thanks for reading.


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