August 13, 2012

The Labyrinth and the Lyre

A warp tangled into a labyrinthine snarl, and a frame loom strung like a lyre.

August is always a bad month for me. It’s too hot and too bright, and I spend a lot of time very cranky. I also have a lot of insomnia, and my delayed sleep phase disorder gets a lot worse.

Which is a lead-in to explaining why I was up all night. I didn’t get to sleep until about 8am, although we had turned out our lights by 2am (my sweetie also suffers from delayed sleep phase disorder, but she, poor dear, has a day job). Rather than keep tossing and turning and disturbing Kate’s sleep, I got up and started fiddling. I worked on warping my little Zati loom for my first attempt at a tapestry, and then I got out a warp I’d found while looking for yarn that had clearly been intended for my big loom. It’s a beautiful blue wool-silk, that I had planned at 16 epi (end per inch), 36″ wide, and I think it’s three yards long, although it may be four by the time I straighten it out. Call it 1728 yards of yarn. I discovered that I had managed to tie up the warp so neatly that even though it’s a nine year old warp, the cross is still maintained.* Unfortunately, the last yard or so of it is badly tangled.

The two things together had me thinking about what I think are the two most fundamental things in most fiber arts: tension, and where the thread is going. It’s true in spinning, in weaving, in lacemaking, in knitting, in crocheting… everything I can think of except dyeing and felting.

When I warp a loom, and I have all the threads perfectly tensioned at last, I love to run my fingers across it like it’s a harp. The half-heard deep thrumming of the threads is like a song to me, and it’s beautiful. It also tells me if the threads are all tensioned evenly.

Having precisely the right weight of spindle means that the tension is just right, and the fiber almost drafts itself. It makes getting a consistent gauge on the yarn so much easier, without breaks. Too heaving a spindle for the weight of yarn you’re spinning, and it will break. Too light, and it won’t draft properly, giving you lumps, and will spin backwards frequently, undoing your work.

Being able to follow a single thread through all its twists and turns, ins and outs, means more than just being able to untangle snarls (like my poor warp! This ability has been invaluable there, though). It means knowing what shed you’re on, which stitch should be a knit or a purl, whether you’ve skipped a loop or dropped a stitch, if you should be crossing or twisting, which way to wind the yarn onto the shaft. If you don’t know where you thread is going, both actually and where it ought to be, you’ll be lost in the labyrinth of your own thread. But if you trust the thread, and follow it no matter where it goes (and correct it when it makes a wrong turn!) you’ll get safely to the end of your project. Probably. (Every fibery person I know knows all too well the curse of the UnFinished Object {UFO}.)

If you can keep the right amount of tension (which is sometimes no tension at all), and you can keep track of where your thread is going, everything else is details. OK, massively complex details, sometimes, but details!

*The cross, which is simply where the inbound loop and the outbound loop cross, keeps your warp threads in order, so that you can always find where a thread should go. It is very necessary to maintain this in most warps. If I’d lost it, my best bet would have been to unravel the entire thing and wind it back on the cone, or just trash it, even though that was about $50 worth of yarn back then, and is more like $64 today, having been most of a big cone.