Friday, September 30, 2011

The Harness-to-Treadle Tie-Up for Barn Looms

So, here goes. This is likely to be slightly dry and a bit academic, but very useful to those of you who have been asking for detailed descriptive information on the various knots and tie-ups that we use on the barn looms. This post will focus solely on the tie-up from harness to treadle. I'll deal with other tie-ups and knots in separate posts.

To begin with, this usually occurs in the process of setting up the loom after the heddles are threaded, and the reed sleyed and fitting into the beater. You could do it either before or after you tie on to the cloth beam rod, but definitely before you try check the sheds for threading errors, because you simply can't do otherwise!

Before you get under the loom, the first thing you'll want to do is sit on the bench and find the center of your warp and part the two sides with your hands so that you create a space on the bottom harness sticks for the ties to be put on exactly in the center. This helps the mechanics of the harness movements be direct and efficient, which will help give you a clean shed. The harness will pull down straight from the center, rather than being cockeyed and wanting to twist.

Then you'll get under the loom with your ties for the harnesses and the treadles; you'll need four of each. The harness ties are long-ish lengths of cotton cord* (clothesline works well). To fit a harness with a tie, you'll fold the cord in half as shown, so that there's a loop formed at the halfway point.

Next, you'll bring that loop over the bottom harness stick as shown, making sure that you bring the cord under the heddle safety tie so that you don't bind it up. I also set each harness up the same way, so that the leads are all acting in the same manner.

Then you'll feed the two tails of the cord through the loop as shown. This knot is called a Lark's Head. There are a couple of different ways to make this knot, as I'll show in the next sequence of photographs. The one you just made is from an open ended loop. The next two will be from a closed end loop.

Then I cinch the Lark's Head up snug on the harness stick, and do all of them in the same way.

Then I'll move to getting the treadle ties ready. A treadle tie is the same cotton cord length, but with an overhand knot tieing the two tails together, so the whole piece will form a big loop. Each treadle will have one of these tied to it by another Lark's Head, so to start this knot, simply slip the loop under the treadle as shown. For the sake of description, the knotted end in this case is on the right side, and the loop end is on the left side.

To make the Lark's Head around the treadle, simply slip the loop end under the knotted end and cinch it up. You will then have a Lark's Head knot around the treadle, with the knotted end down on the treadle and the loop end coming up towards the harness.

Now comes the really cool part. You're going to make another Lark's Head out of the loop end of the treadle tie. I slip my right thumb and forefinger into the loop end as shown, and hold the tails with my left hand.

I probably should have taken another photograph, but I'll just talk you through this movement. It's so cool that's it's like a magic trick, that once mastered is easy and simple and such a fun movement to execute, so bear with me. To create this new Lark's Head out of a closed loop, hold the tails with your left hand, and spread your the thumb and forefinger of your right hand (which are in the loop end) apart from each other so thy go out over the top of the cord and to the sides. Then rotate your right hand (and spread thumb and forefinger) to the left and downward, so that the end of the loop is now on top of and crossing the tails. Your thumb and forefinger will now each be enclosed in new loops, as shown.

With your right forefinger, pull the two tails up through to form the new Lark's Head from the closed loop! So neat, huh?

To tie a harness to a treadle, simply slip the tails of the harness tie through the Lark's Head loop at the top of the treadle tie.

Then figure out the height you want to have the treadle from the floor and cinch up the Lark's Head on the tails to keep it in place in the location you choose.

To keep this from slipping out, next simply tie an overhand knot against the Lark's Head with the two tails.

And then tie a slip knot against that overhand knot.

And here is the entire finished tie-up, top to bottom.

Hopefully this has been descriptive enough to really help.

*There is also an efficient tie-up for texsolv cord, if you prefer to use that, but I'll treat that in a separate article.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sharon and Kelly - A Week of Carpets

freshly dyed yarn before warping

designing the warps

writing up warping sequences

5# of warp!

Kate working out a few threading bugs

Sharon threading

Kelly's warp beamed on

Kelly weaving



Sharon's carpet

Sharon weaving

samples that Lynnette wove last week

Well, you can tell it's really fall. We held a class on four block rep weave carpeting this week. Sharon came from St. Louis and Kelly came up from central Pennsylvania. I was busy the week before, skeining, weighing, and custom dyeing all of the wool for their projects. When they arrived Monday morning their first task was to design the pattern in their rugs and write up a warping sequence. For each design there were four colors to create the different color blocks, plus a background carried across the whole warp. And those colors are decidedly autumnal, as you can see.

These are wonderful, if not somewhat more head-bending designs to execute, as there are four different threadings that create four different patterns. There is much more design versatility in these carpets than in plain-old-plain rep weave. There is a pattern on one side that is completely reversed on the opposite side. And, along with four different threadings, come four different treadlings that correspond to them.

These rugs are a great body work-out to weave. There are two alternating wefts, a thick cotton carpet filler and a thin 8/2 cotton. The shed has to be cleared with a sword for each shot of weft, and then beaten in with the sword. But once you get the hang of it, it rolls along pretty quickly, much like a rag rug does.

And they're beautiful.
And they feel good under your feet.

This is the lush-est thing to put in a hallway as a fancy runner!

Stay tuned...I'll be putting some posts up about the various tie-up knots we use on barn looms, for all those of you out there who have a hard time remembering the knots.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Last Outdoor Dye Class of the Season

going over the game plan with our students

freshly picked goldenrod heads

the goldenrod dye pot simmering away

the wonderful surprise of beggar's tick!

locally collected black walnuts soaking in water

fermented black walnuts beginning to simmer in the big iron kettle

we always cook the walnuts over a wood fire outdoors

dipping indigo skeins in the thiox vat

first dip

Eleanor dyed a range of shades in the indigo urine vat

Norman Kennedy teaching spinning to a full house in the barn studio

in the afternoon the walking wheel spinners came outdoors to work

skeins and wheels

wetting skeins

our witches' brew on the fire

It's been a busy few weeks, so I'm playing catch-up right now. We held the last summer dye class over Labor Day Weekend for two students from the local area. Deb was from Northfield. She's a weaver already, and was interested in learning more about the local plant dyes, so we worked up a range of colors with her, primarily on wool, as the silks with these plants are mostly not as interesting. Elise came from Middlesex to dye a large amount of yarn for her employer who is a sheep farmer interested in developing a market for locally produced and processed wool.

First thing, we set off into the open fields around the school to collect fresh plants, in particular, goldenrod, beggar's tick, tansy, and black-eyed susan. Kate brought some fresh madder root and japanese indigo from her dye gardens at home. Norman had collected a large amount of fresh black walnuts some weeks back, and they've been sitting in the big iron cauldron outside, fermenting. We also used dried madder for Elise's quantity of wool, and it was interesting to see the difference between the fresh and the dried roots.

For these classes, we typically start the mordanting (with alum and tartar) three days ahead of the start of class. The active part of this is on the first day, when the yarn is scoured and then slowly simmered for several hours in the mordant. After sitting overnight in the mordant bath to cool, the skeins are removed and lightly wrung out, then stored together in a basin covered by a damp towel for two days so they really have a chance to be thoroughly wetted by the mordant. The day of dyeing, they are rinsed out in fresh water and are then ready to work with. Most of these plants seem to be more fast as dyes if the yarn is mordanted, with the obvious exception of indigo.

Our japanese indigo was a big disappointment this time. It pretty much failed to dye anything beyond a faint icy blue, similar to weak woad. So we're thinking about the processing of the fresh plant (we were more rushed this time trying to fit in all the dyes with fewer students to do the work required - and we didn't cut and macerate the leaves the way our big enthusiastic band of indigenous dyers had gotten into the weekend before), and the water source, soft or's definitely hard here in Marshfield at the school, and I think we were using soft water from their pond when we were at Twin Pond Retreat. Anyway, there's more to tweak and fine-tune next season with getting this process to the point where were know what its absolute requirements are for successful dyeing.

On the other hand, we've never gotten such an incredibly deep dark brown from walnut before. It was quite nearly black! I'm chocking that one up to super-fresh walnuts, soaked and fermented in iron for three weeks beforehand. The thing I am staring to notice is that the most successful processes with plant dyes seem to come from a long-term process that you coax along with little nudges over the course of several weeks. This is how I've read that traditional indigo dyeing in Japan is practiced. It's in tune with the cycles of growing and processing and preparing the dyestuff, and happens at the same time every year because that's when it's ready for use. And then it begins all over again. None of this doing it solely at the whim of when you feel like it. The dyer's life becomes molded to the life cycles of what material she works with, not so much the other way around.

Another pleasant surprise was the "black" (actually a deep deep charcoal - beautiful) that we got from purple loosestrife and copperas on mordanted wool. Having fussed endlessly with complicated recipes and logwood to try and get black, this was a piece of cake, and a much more beautiful, rich color to boot! Definitely a keeper.

Something we'll wan to try next year is jewelweed, which supposedly dyes a lovely apricot shade.

It was a really busy weekend because Norman concurrently was holding a spinning workshop in the barn studio. So there were seven students and Norman working on processing wool and flax, and using spindles, flax wheels, and big walking wheels to spin yarn. We were so lucky to have beautiful weather for most of the weekend, so the big walking wheels got set up outside as we were dyeing indigo in the thiox vat and cooking walnuts over an open fire. It was pretty cool to see all of this happening at once.

So now we're settling in to a slightly more internal kind of rhythm, bring it indoors to the looms, dismantling the outdoor vats for the season, putting the dye gardens to bed, but on sweet sunny autumn days we still take our lunch out to the picnic table to soak up every last drop of warm weather before the snow and wind arrive. Fall is definitely here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fiber Fest 2011 and Irene

I'm going to let the photographs tell the tale...


Jennifer and Kate at the pole barn

sun tea of dyers coreopsis and wool

aerating woad

fresh Polygonum tinctorium grown in the dye garden at MSW

first dip of woad

first dip of japanese indigo

Jennifer, Kate, and Joann

We had an outrageous time at the 2nd Annual Fiber Fest last weekend. There were fifteen of us there, collecting dye plants in the fields and gardens, preparing plant material to dye with, and going through each step of the process of putting color on the yarn samples. It was an extraordinary temporary community of women of all ages, sharing information, experience, stories, and gathered one point when there were several of us squatting around a big basin of woad leaves, the atmosphere was positively indigenous, and I was aware of being a small particle in the long river of history that is dyers, reaching back through centuries into a very deep place. Jennifer Steckler, the founder of Twin Pond Retreat in Brookfield, where this workshop was held, has created an amazing and wonder-filled place, where people from everywhere can come to explore sustainability in its many evolving and de-volving forms.

Saturday was sunny and warm, a glorious day to collect and gather, to work outdoors, to dye all of the leaf and flower dyes and prepare for the root and bark dyeing to take place on Sunday. Joann Darling gave a dye plant walk through the surrounding gardens at the retreat. We had great success in the afternoon direct-dyeing with fresh japanese indigo (Polygonum tinctorium) that Kate had grown in our dye gardens here at the school over the summer. It was so exciting to see that first skein emerge from the vat an ethereal blue-green, and to finally understand where the elusive color comes from that we have seen on so many antique textiles.

By Sunday morning, the remnants of Irene had arrived in the form of a steady, penetrating, relentless rain. There was some wind, enough to down rotten tree branches, but really, the rain was the worst of it. Nowhere near as torrential as the rains that caused all of our flooding on Memorial Day Weekend, but serious just due to duration. We pressed on, anxious to finish up dyeing the many barks, nuts, and indigo overdyes so that the hardy souls who had braved the weather could go home hopefully early enough to avoid any mishap. As it turns out, while we worked to finish, many Vermont towns, some of them quite nearby, were experiencing unprecedented and destructive flooding. Our power was out, and we had no running water or secondary electric cooktops, so we worked with the gas and collected the plentiful water that was pouring off the barn roof, for both the dyeing and all the washing up. I don't know about anyone else, but I was drenched to the bone and very thankful for my sturdy rubber boots.

We got a great range of colors from all that work, beautiful, considering it was ALL plant material that had been grown locally in Vermont. Part of that was Kate's genius in her knowledge of overdyes. It was a fantastic weekend! I can't recommend it highly enough, on so many levels, not the least of which is the wonderful sense of community fostered by Jennifer and Joann. If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, put it on your calendar for next year. Personally, I can't wait to go back. It's the real thing.