May 4, 2015

Frame Weaving

Warning: Imagine-heavy post.

An excellent way to get closer to weaving goddesses — Athene, the Fates, Grandmother Spider, Laima — and to Spider spirits is to learn to weave or spin. Even the very simplest forms of these essential fibercrafts serve well. So here is the absolute dead-cheapest and simplest weaving I know: frame weaving.

What you absolutely need:

A piece of cardboard and some cheap yarn. If you have a rectangular picture frame you’re not using, you can use that instead, and it will make some things easier.

Handy additional things:

Scissors, measuring tape, marker or pen, yarn needle, and a long smooth piece of something with a rounded or pointed tip to use as a pick up stick and batten. This one is my usual batten, which is actually enormous for this particular project. If you’re going for something as small as this project, a popsicle stick will work, if you sand it smooth so it doesn’t catch on the yarn. A bookbinder’s bone folder would pretty work well, too. And, of course, there are many kinds of weaver’s pick up sticks. You don’t absolutely need a pick up stick, though. You can lift each warp as you go and slide your weft bundle under it, although this is easier if you’re using an open frame rather than a piece of cardboard.

If you’re using a frame instead, some painter’s or masking tape is really useful, too.

You want your cardboard to be the corrugated kind, and you want the warp threads to go in the same direction as the corrugation, because you don’t want it to bend in the middle of weaving. It screws up the tension.

Mark off the edges of your weaving space, following the corrugation as closely as you can. Then mark along the top and bottom edges every 1/8”.

For a frame, put a strip of the masking tape on each end and make your marks on that.

Cut a little slit at the top left and top right corners, to hold the ends of the warp. For a frame, you’ll want a little additional piece of tape to hold the end instead.

(image copyright The British Museum)

In ancient Greece, they dedicated their ceramic loom weights to Athene, and stamped her marks into them. If you’re doing this as a devotional craft, you may want to mark your loom with something relating to your goddess. Here’s a very badly drawn owl with an alpha for Athene.

Now you have a loom! Time to warp it.

Tuck the end of the yarn into the upper left slit, and just start wrapping the warp all the way around the cardboard. Use the marks as a guide to make sure you’re keeping it even, one wrap of yarn per mark.

Tuck the end into the top right slit when you get there.

You want to wrap it with just enough tension that the yarn hold still, but leave plenty of slack so you can get your weft through. This will take a little practice.

Take your weft yarn and wrap it into a little cocoon, with several layers of wrapping.

Now you are ready to weave!

Use your pickup stick to lift each alternate thread. If it’s broad enough, you can turn the stick raise them, and even get it to stay that way just with the tension of the threads.

Without a pickup stick, just lift alternating threads a few at a time and pass the weft cocoon under them.

The set of threads you lift is called a shed. This set is the first shed, and the next will be the second. For plain weaving like this, you only have two sheds.

On the second pass — called a pick — lift the threads that were left down on the last pick to form the second shed. Tuck the loose end into this shed first, then pass the cocoon through the shed in the other direction, and gently push them both into place against the first pick with your stick or fingers.

Now just keep lifting alternate sheds and passing the weft through. Whee! It goes pretty quick once you get going.

When you get to the place you want to stop, trim the end of the weft a couple of inches past where it finishes the final pick. Then, using your fingers or a yarn needle, pass it through several warps next to the previous pick, to copy what you did at the beginning.

Congratulations, you have finished a thing!

But you do not have to be done! If you flip your frame loom over, there is a whole other section of warp that you can weave! This is cool because warping is generally the big pain-in-the-ass part of weaving, at least as far as I’m concerned.

So go weave that, too.

Once you’re done with both sides, cut the warps along one edge.

You will now have two rectangles of woven cloth connected by unwoven warps.

Cut them apart as evenly between the two as you can.

Ta-da! Tiny little placemats.

I made these very small, only 2.5” x 4.5” including the fringe. If yours is bigger and you leave enough unwoven warp between the two pieces, you can finish the fringe by knotting, twisting, or braiding them. I didn’t leave enough, so they have to stay like this. An unfinished fringe won’t hold up to a lot of handling, though, and will unravel. You can also finish an unfringed edge by hemming or various kinds of stitches. That’s a different post, though.

Weaving! Hooray!