Sunday, December 06, 2015

Sewing & Quilting

Twenty-five years ago my Mom gave me a nice Kenmore sewing machine. My 19 year-old self was like, “Uh, ok, gee, thanks.” Still I tinkered with it occasionally along with my daughter as she was growing up. We made a dozen or so projects over the years - pillows, costumes, and crooked clothes. Since I kept the machine meticulously cleaned and serviced (I learned to do it myself) it still purrs like it’s brand new.

Recently I became obsessed the desire to sew something substantial. I dove into all sorts of online tutorials, websites, and library books, which overwhelmed me with thousands of ideas for projects and designs. What do I make? I finally settled on being thrifty by making a simple block quilt using fabric I already have.

Long overdue, I cleaned and reorganized our laundry/utility room to create a sewing space. The sturdy built-in desk has always been a mess, covered in crafts, tools, laundry, or some type of home-repair project. With all the drawers, shelves, and cabinets, it’s the perfect little sewing nook. If we do need the space, I can easily stash away everything, even the machine, into the cabinets.

Though a denim quilt might be too ambitious for a beginner’s project, I set my sights on a mass of old blue jeans in the donation & rag stash (the legs from daughter’s cut-offs). Because of our jeans sizes, the blocks can’t be wider than 9-inches, so I plan on cutting them up into 8.5” & 4.5” squares. I should have enough to make at least a lap blanket. To test my machine to sew multiple layers of denim, I cut out a few small rectangles and made a 3” x 4” sampler quilt. Even with a heavy needle, she whined when sewing over the seams allowances, so I had to slow down, sometimes hand-crank, at those intersections.

The old Kenmore is like an heirloom to me, and I don’t want to break her, so I found a sweet holiday deal on a Singer 4432 heavy duty machine. He will arrive sometime next week. I’ve already personified them together as a couple. Ms. Kenmore will do all the dainty work and Mr. Singer will handle the heavy lifting. Surely I’m not the only sewer with more than one. I forsee a serger and maybe an embroidery machine someday when I get good enough to justify the investments.

Even if I don’t go any further, simple sewing is very relaxing and enjoyable to me. I grew up watching the moms, grandmas, and great-grandmas sew all kinds of stuff. I feel the need to keep the tradition alive, and pass it down to my daughter and future grandkids someday.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom for Card & Tablet Weaving

I hacked up my Cricket rigid heddle loom and its stand to create a continuous, advancing, circular warp. The warp is wrapped around the entire loom and the bottom bar of the stand to make approximately a 2 meter warp. The actual length depends on the angle of the loom in the stand.
Because the bottom bar of the stand is curved, the width of the warp is limited to the width of the concave, but with a 15” Cricket there’s more than enough room for a 4” wide warp. It may not be the perfect way to create a warp for tablet weaving, but it does work!
I’m not going into detail about threading the cards and the patterns, as there’s already lots of information available. Here I simply show an alternative way to warp.

(1) Position the loom at the desired angle, and then raise the front a couple inches higher (it’ll be lowered again after warping). Tighten the knobs securely, tighter than for RH weaving, because tension pulls down on the front of the loom. Remove both apron bars but leave the cords and its loops. Turn the back beam slightly so the cord-attachment spots are to the beam is facing front, to create a smooth beam in the back. The cords get in the way of warping, so tape or tie the cords to the center bar of the loom.


(2) It’s easiest to warp the loom with the entire unit laid on its side (not shown) and place soft objects at each corner to prevent wobbling. Warp the loom with some tension. Here I've threaded each card separately and attached the yarn to the front beam. Drop the card in the weaving zone, then take the warp around the back beams, under the stand’s middle bar, and back up to the front beam, and then tie the warp ends together.
It may be possible to do a continuous warp, dropping cards one-by-one in the weaving area, but I've not tried this yet.

(3) Set the loom upright and create the tension-adjuster: Free the left & right front apron cords, hold both apron bars together in back of the loom, behind and perpendicular to the warp, and then attach the left and right apron cords around both apron bars together. Now lower the front of the loom back to the desired angle, which loosens the warp, and tighten the stand knobs securely. To increase or loosen tension simply use the cloth beam gear locks as for rigid heddle weaving, which will pull the apron bar to tension the warp.

(4) Use the normal weaving area, with cards instead of a heddle. Advance the warp by first loosening the tension, and then tightening again for weaving. Take care if using hard spacers that may scratch the beams.

(5) Excessive twist can be pushed past the back beams. If those ends aren’t untwisted in the weaving pattern, untie those card ends, unwind, and retie.

(6) Alternatively, tie the ends of each twisting card to a swivel hook clip. Use caution when advancing the warp. Cut toilet or paper towel rolls lengthwise and wrap around the beams to prevent scratches.
When all the warp is woven, remove the band by either untying or cutting at the join.  I like to weave as much as I can cram as well as leave a lot of fringe, so I carefully untie.

I’m curious if this will work on other rigid heddle looms? I’m also cross-posting this to the Tablet Weaving and The Cricket Club groups on Ravelry to see what others think and hopefully encourage more people to try tablet weaving - it’s fun!

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Learning to Weave - Rigid Heddle, 4-Harness, and Tablet Weaving

I am now a weaver!  First I learned on a rigid heddle loom.  Shortly afterwards I acquired a 4-harness floor loom.  Recently I discovered tablet weaving a.k.a. card weaving.  I'm a little obsessed, so I haven't been knitting, spinning, or crocheting as much as I used to.  Luckily weaving also uses yarn, sometimes much faster, and I definitely need more ways to utilize my now enormous stash of diverse yarns.

Nice weaving looms are like pieces of furniture, and since I don't have much storage space anymore, my looms have to live out in the open.  To accent my decor, I spent some time painting, staining, finishing, and polishing them.  My two looms now compliment my dark wood furniture, and they always garner curious questions from house-guests.

I will go into more technical details about my adventures in weaving.  I have learned too much for one post!  My individual weaving projects are posted in my Ravely projects.  For now, here's a photo-heavy description of my weaving looms and tools.


My first loom is this Schacht Cricket 15" rigid heddle loom, aquired June 2013.  It comes unfinished, so I stained & finished the wood.  Now it looks great in the living room.

Before  &  After:

I used Rust-oleum Ultimate (all-in-one stain and sealer) in American Walnut and simply followed the directions.  The plywood edges looked awfully uneven with the stain, so I gilded the edges with bronze acrylic paint.

So far I've made several scarves, placemats, and towels with this sturdy, easy-to-use loom.  It's also a good loom without the heddle for other types of weaving.


Then a month later, I acquired this previously loved Harrisville Designs 22" floor loom from my friend Kay.  It had passed through several owners, and judging from the manual and that it's an older model direct tie-up, it's from the 1970s.  After a little cleaning & polishing, I replaced the worn foot and heddle ties, and now it works beautifully.  One great feature is that it easily folds flat with the weaving intact, so it can be pushed into a corner out of the way, but so far it always stays open and ready to weave.  Kay also included a warping board, boat shuttle, and a weaving book from the the 1950s - Key to Weaving by Mary E. Black.

My current project is a set of 8 to 10 dish towels.  I'll know exactly how many when I'm finished.

A hardware store tool-bag hung on the side of my loom makes a perfect easy-to-reach weaving tools organizer.  There are lots of little accessories involved with weaving!


Recently I taught myself tablet weaving, or card weaving, from online tutorials.  In my goal to be thrifty, I made my own weaving cards and belt shuttle by recycling heavy cardstock from junk-mail & packaging inserts.

I used heavy, shiny cardstock.  Nice greeting cards, cereal boxes, cardboard notebook backs, and playing cards all work just as well.  With a paper-cutter, ruler, hole-puncher, and markers, I made a 2.5" set of 24 weaving cards.  The shuttle needs to have one knife-like edge, which none of my regular shuttles have, so I made my own belt shuttle by folding cardstock around a craft stick taped inside for extra stiffness, and then trimmed the edges to hold yarn.  Since I've never held an actual belt shuttle in my hand, I can't make a side-by-side comparison, but my homemade shuttle works great for the worsted-weight yarn tablet weaving I've done so far.

Tablet weaving is facinating!  I use my rigid heddle loom (without the heddle) to hold the warp.  I also tried an ancient method and made myself a backstrap weaving belt, but I found it more difficult to keep even tension, plus I couldn't go anywhere without untying myself from the loom.

John Mullarkey's website and a variety of YouTube tutorials got me started with basic tablet weaving.  After experimenting, I discovered how to make simple yet stricking patterns.  Eventually I plan to read books and watch videos courses to  learn more advanced techniques and designs.

It's no wonder my blog has been quiet for two years now!  Like I said, I'm a little obsessed with weaving now.  I probably will be for the rest of my life.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Yarn Harlot in Arkansas!

I've sat in lecture halls listening to teachers with multiple doctorates, and though I wasn't bored, I was definitely nowhere near as riveted as the classes I experienced this weekend taught by none other than the Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.  I love her as a writer and knitter, because she's funnier than a cream pie in the face, and because everything she feels about knitting, so do I.  Being passionate about anything can be weird and hilarious sometimes, and she sure knows how to express that about knitting, spinning, and family, in ways I can totally relate.

The Yarn Harlot taught three classes: Knitting for Speed and Efficiency, Grok the Sock, and Knitting with Mawata. The classes were amazing workshops that not only taught us about more forays into knitting, but her engaging dialogue educated us about many other life lessons in general.  She not only knows a freaking lot about knitting and how to teach it well to other people, but she also knows a lot of stuff about many important things.  I also had the pleasure during this retreat to dine with her and the other organizers, and enjoyed listening to everything she has to say.  She's educated, political, scientific, and just generally a great human being.  Her lecture on "This is Your Brain on Knitting" was a fascinating explanation about the ways knitting enhances our cognitive abilities.  Her knitting efficiency class gave me more speed on the first try, just by eliminating all the things I was doing wrong.  Her sock class is a lesson in understanding complicated sock construction easily that one can master sock knitting without a pattern.  My knitting hobby has forever changed in the best ways possible.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

More Mother Bears

I've been making a lot more Mother Bears lately. It's rewarding to know that they'll be especially loved, and it's something creative for me and my ever busy hands. If you also enjoy knitting and/or crocheting, I want you to get this cute little pattern and make a few for charity, too:

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Year of Spinning

Cheers to 2012! Among other very meaningful milestones in my life, it was also a great year of spinning for me.
I've been doing more spinning lately than knitting, and since a picture paints a thousand words, I'll just save some typing time and post my latest and favorite hand-spun yarns.


Above is 4 oz of Dawning Dreams hand-painted superwash merino. I spun it into a traditional 3-ply yielding about 300 yards of light worsted weight yarn.

Above is 4 oz of Greenwood Fiberworks hand-painted polwarth I received from a swap partner. I spun it into a traditional 2-ply yeilding about 420 yards of heaving fingering weight yarn.

Above is 9 oz of Yarn Hollow hand-painted superwash merino. It's a traditional 2-ply, about 500 yards of thick & thin ranging from sport to aran weight yarn.
Most of the time, I don't plan any color combination in spinning and just randomly split skeins and plied, letting the colors just fall where they may. I prefer spinning freely rather than methodically, that way, I just relax and enjoy, and am always surprised and pleased with the outcome.
However, for the red skein, I tried fractal plying, which is essentially splitting a multi-colored roving so that one ply has long color repeats and the other ply has much shorter repeats. I split my roving lengthwise in half, spun that half on one bobbin, and they split the second half lengthwise again into four strips and spun those onto another bobbin. I actually tried doing that in the beginning with the green-yellow-lavender yarn, but then I lost track of which bobbin held what, so it became more random in the end.
In the process I learned to always label every bobbin & skein with details of spinning methods. Not only did I loose track of my fractal method, but I also lost track of which whorl ratio I used, which is very easy to forget when weeks or months span between one bobbin to the next.
As for next year, I look forward to spinning a mountain of alpaca and silk that my fiance gifted me this Christmas. Three pounds of glistening white bombyx silk AND two pounds of unprocessed white alpaca. So 2013 will be a year of learning fiber prep, too!


Sunday, September 09, 2012

I got hooked on spinning, and though I love spindling, it's just not fast enough sometimes.  I purchased a spinning wheel back in April. That's why I've been quiet around here. Well, with that and also wrapping up my bachelor of science degree and landing a new job as a high school science teacher. Here's my Kromski Sonata in walnut, along with the jumbo and fast flyers and the arched lazy kate, plus some natural brown merino, all from

The Sonata is a portable wheel with a backpack so I've been able to haul it to a local spinning group I meet with once a month.  Three of us have the same wheel!

Here are the first yarns I spun.  The first three are from brown & cream tone mill end rovings from The last one is my first try at woolen style spinning of the brown merino. I've spun many more yarns and acquired a lot more fiber since, and I'll post photos and details a little later.

Monet Shawl from Handmade Spindles

I ventured into simple spindle making with a few household supplies and tools.   Here's the result of my lightweight chopstick and washer spindles.   Since they're nearly identical, I plied directly off these to make a lovely colorful yarn which I knit into a little neck shawl.