Archive for December, 2009

Weaving resolutions

Executive summary: lots of rambling thoughts about learning and goals, and a few photos of colour at the end. Not really general interest. Skim or skip as suits!

I don’t do new year resolutions. I actively and deliberately avoid them. And yet …

I’m emerging from a period of change and stress, am looking forward to more time and energy for textile pursuits, have a week off work, and “just naturally” started jotting down some ideas on where to focus next. Then I read this post from Sue at Life Looms Large. Drat and double drat! By random accident of the calendar (or so, still in denial, I tell myself), I have New Year’s Weaving Resolutions.

Maybe. I’m not totally convinced yet.

The question is, as a 2-and-a-bit year old weaver am I at a skimming the surface/general orientation/basic skill building stage? There’s an argument to deepen as well as widen skill and knowledge. I have a feeling of urgency and I can’t keep calling myself a beginner forever. I don’t want to be a dilettante, a dabler.

And yet… I’m not ready and I don’t want to specialise.  Yet. I’ve decided (provisionally) to aim at ongoing broad exploration and gradual deepening of a number of areas, but no intensive study and focus.

  • Colour. I’ve restarted the exercises in colour – a workshop for artists and designers by David Hornung (first start was last October), with a slight variation to make it more weaving related.
  • Weaving learning. Attempt a wide range of structures in continuing classes with Liz Calnan at the NSW Guild plus catchup samples on previous class work. No particular yarn focus, no exploring variations, just what is required to get a taste, an inkling of the possibilities.
  • Other weaving. Some bits and pieces planned and some un-christmas presents (this christmas I asked what people might enjoy receiving before next christmas.)
  • Reading. The Primary Structures of Fabrics by Irene Emery arrived in the post today. I have a habit of buying more books than I read and I think it will take some discipline – but this I want to read.

So overall, continued general skill building. I have a couple of other classes booked – in January 2 days with Linda Coffil dyeing painted warps, in April 5 days with Kay Faulkner “Imagery in woven fabric”. Apart from that I will allow myself to get distracted and sidetracked. Serious, systematic study and in-depth exploration will wait (sorry chenille).

These aren’t really new year plans because I’ve already started working through David Hornung’s book. The slight change mentioned above is that where the exercises specify “make a small gouache painting or painted-paper collage…” I’m attempting mini paper weavings.

Over the past few days I’ve had a lot of fun mixing paints and painting rectangles of paper in literally hundreds of colours. The photo shows a couple of rectangles where I tried to match colours of some cottolin yarn (the dark green is a better match in life than the photo shows). The paper weaving result is meant to simulate to some extent the visual effect of the actual weaving (swedish lace, blogged here). Not a good predictor of an actual outcome, but I think a technique useful for learning purposes. At some stage I might try scanning things in, then changing scale and copying to see if that looks any more fabric-like. Probably not – paint and paper is so flat.

These are assignment 1 – chromatic gray studies. The book categorises levels of saturation in a way I haven’t met before – prismatic colour, muted colour, chromatic gray, achromatic gray. I’m having difficulty with the muted colour | chromatic gray divide. I think I need to mix a heap more colours!

There are 16 assignments in all plus free studies, so one per week should take me until April. That’s if these New Year Resolutions (shudder!) last longer than most!

Chenille shibori

Silk chenille – woven, dyed, discharged.

This was hard to photograph because of the way it responds to the light. An intriguing cloth, and I’ll need to think a while about where to take it next.

Process overview:

Weaving: Silk chenille for warp and weft, sett 15 ends per inch. Monks belt threading on 4 shafts. The warp has block sizes of 6, 12 and 24 ends.

The chenille was woven in plain weave (blue weft in the draft). I wove floats in the monks belt pattern using a strong cotton thread as weft (red in the draft). I experimented with 6, 12 and 24 picks of chenille between each pick of cotton. For the second half of the sampler I only lifted one pattern shaft with the cotton, giving a mix of plain weave and floats.

Dyeing: Immersion dyed with Lanaset dyes, which dye protein but not cellulose fibres. This photo shows the varied spacing and the monks belt blocks of the cotton weft. The chenille was a rich chocolate brown and not as uneven as it appears in the photo – the cloth hadn’t been pressed after dyeing, and the light caught the texture. Simply adding colour made the cloth much more attractive than my earlier samples.

Gathering the cloth: The cotton wefts were used to gather the cloth into pleats. I pulled and knotted pairs of wefts, trying to make the gathering as tight as possible. The idea is that the next stage of the process mainly impacts on the exposed cloth, with the interior of the pleats  protected from change.

Discharge: Discharging removes dyed colour. I used thiourea dioxide (TUD) and a process from Shibori – creating color & texture on silk by Karren Brito (one of my favourite books, although it took some time for me to warm to it). TUD is pretty straight-forward to use, but you need to use protection including a proper respirator mask since a byproduct is stinky sulfur dioxide. I do it in the garage with doors and window wide open for ventilation – waiting for a good opportunity was the slowest part. First our next-door-neighbours were having a christmas gathering in their backyard (we have a good relationship and I’d prefer to keep it that way, not skunk out their guests!), the next day was too hot to move, then came rain…

Finishing:   Each end of the cloth had 20 picks of 20/2 silk. Straight off the loom I oversewed by machine using a three stitch zigzag (it takes 3 stitches to the left, then 3 to the right) using a silk sewing thread. I went over each end 3 times. The dye and discharge worked on all the different silks.

After discharging I handwashed, used fabric softener in the final rinse, and air dryed flat. I used a folded blanket to pad the ironing board surface, and pressed both sides. Although the result is big enough for a scarf I see it as a sampler and have simply cut the ends short at the machine stitching line, to see how it wears.


A few views of the results. There are areas of greater and lesser definition in the patterning. Where the gathers were widely spaced the discharge solution was able to penetrate more, more colour was removed and the effect is much softer. There was more difference on the two sides of the cloth than I expected.

At this point there are no worms. The fabric has gone through a lot of handling, so I’m hopeful there won’t be later problems. The fabric drapes well, but feels heavier than you expect. First impression is that it’s borderline for a scarf in Sydney’s climate. The hand (feel) still isn’t as soft as I’d like. I’m considering putting it through a machine wash and dry (once I’ve mustered enough courage!)

I did long overlaps of the yarn ends when changing bobbins. There’s no sign of worming, but there is a visible difference following the dyeing and discharge which I think no-one else would see. Still, I’ll try tieing the core-yarns next time.

Su Butler’s book-on-CD Understanding Rayon Chenille arrived today – a Sunday, from California to Sydney just 8 days from order to delivery, so impressive work by Village Spinning & Weaving and the US and Australian postal services! I’m looking forward to reading that while I ponder what to do next. I like what I’m getting so far, but I don’t feel I’m getting the best from this yarn yet.

Related posts:

29 November – first silk chenille samples

5 December – plan for second sampler

12 December – progress and general chenille information

Chenille progress

The story so far:

This post showed my first sampler using silk chenille as a warp, with a variety of wefts, sets and plain and twill weaves.

The next post outlined The Plan – woven shibori, plain weave chenille and monks belt pattern threads that will be used to gather the cloth during dyeing.

Progress to date: the cloth is woven and is in the dyepot as I type, becoming (I hope) a rich chocolate brown.

This project has been something of a lifeline to me the last couple of weeks. I’ve been worrying over things I can’t control, and whenever it all started feeling too much I’d distract myself by reading and speculating about chenille. (One major stress source resolved well during the week, so hopefully balance is returning).

A quick summary from internet research and my own musing, focused in particular on silk chenille yarn. BE WARNED!! Any or all of the following could be wrong, or not appropriate to whatever you are doing. This is my learning-in-progress, with no actual experience or depth of knowledge – as many questions as answers.

Still here?? “Chenille” is from the french for caterpillar – think fuzzy worm. It seems to be used for a few different-but-related things.

Twice-woven rugs – an initial weaving that is cut up between warp ends to produce shaggy long thin pieces that are used as weft in a second weaving. See Something New in Rugs, Atwater, Mary M. Weaver, Vol. 6 No. 4 (October-November 1941) available here.

Layers of fabric stitched and cut in channels to produce a shaggy look. Sample instructions here.

Confusion on the next one. When I was a child I had a “chenille bedspread”. I remember a plain woven fabric with a pattern of rows of tufts coming through the fabric. It wasn’t a separate yarn couched on top. Looking at photos on the web I’m wondering if it was actually candlewicking. Either way, it’s a red herring to my actual interest and final category…

Chenille yarn, showing separated pile and bare core yarns

Chenille yarn – short lengths of pile yarn held between two twisted core yarns. It’s the structure of the yarn which gives the name and the characteristic fuzzy worm appearance – and the troublesome twist. It can be made from all sorts of fibres. Rayon seems far and away the most common in handweaving but there’s also cotton, plus I’ve found references to linen, soy, acrylic, tencel and the one I’m working with, silk.

As well as the fibre content, chenille yarns can vary in length of pile, amount of twist, size of component yarns (core and pile), density of pile and I don’t know what else.

Twist, balance and worms. In spinning fibres are twisted together which provides strength, however the twisted yarn wants to unwind – there is yarn torque.  This is normally resolved by plying two yarns together, neutralising the twist forces and producing a balanced yarn. Try it – get a length of yarn or fibre and twist it tightly in one direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise).  Bring the two ends together, and the middle will want to twist up together.

Mostly we weave with balanced yarns that (we hope) sit nicely where we put them. Some forms of collapse weave deliberately use overtwisted yarns to cause movement and texture when the cloth is wet finished. With chenille the overtwist is used to hold in  the pile. If the overtwisted yarn isn’t held firmly in place little bits of it will want to twist up together. It can cause little “worms” bobbling up in the fabric, which could be regarded as unslightly. Anne Field covers it in her book collapse weave – Creating Three-Dimensional Cloth. With chenille, there’s an additional structural problem – release the twist, release the pile.

We need to keep the chenille and its twist firmly under control. Sett should be closer than you expect – consider the core yarns, not so much the fluffy pile. No long floats. One difficulty is that worms can appear over time – so how can I know piece A is successful before I start on piece B? Maybe carry it around lots and generally abuse it, to simulate a year’s wear in a week or two?

I’ve read in a couple of places that pile direction is significant. I don’t understand that. It seems to me that as we wind the warp it goes up then down, and as we weave the picks they go first left then right. So I guess I’ve missed something.

Cutting fabric has also been mentioned as a problem. Could this be all those new yarn ends, no longer firmly contained? Perhaps something like intense stay stitching would help.

For fringes, firm braiding or twisting with a knot seem the most common. Use of fray check has been suggested – I don’t know if that would cause a distracting hardness. In my current experiment I didn’t want a fringe, so I’ve machine stitched across each end multiple times. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I’ve  read that rayon chenille stretches a lot, especially when wet. Would that be related to the fibre (so not a concern for my silk), or the high twist which stretches out under weight (eg of the water)? I found when tying on to the front beam that the chenille stretched and in one case snapped. Maybe that’s related. I did find a comment on the strength-to-bulk relationship, but no detail.

When working with the warp, since ends were determined to twist and I didn’t have enough hands for everything, things seemed to go better when I made groups of ends twist together in a bulky, gentle way, instead of individual craziness.

Joins. An industrial reference suggests either a core knot (strip back the pile of the ends, tie a double square knot) or a splice (overlap ends and wrap). In my current piece I had an extended overlap and beat especially hard – will see over time how well that holds.

Next step is to finish and evaluate the current experiment, but I’m considering later possibilities:

  • Some combination of the chenille with the ixchel cashmere/merino (used here in my collapse weave scarf). I’m thinking the ixchel (felts/fulls incredibly) would stabilise the chenille and prevent any movement or worms. It could get a bit heavy though if there’s a collapse effect.
  • Surface design anchors – lots of decorative machine stitching, or maybe couching fancy threads or fabric strips. Again the idea would be to restrict movement of the chenille.
  • Diversified plain weave, which would keep the chenille tied down. (Link to my sampler here). It would be interesting to use a cellulose fibre (maybe rayon or cotton) with the silk chenille, then dye the finished cloth. Only the silk would take up the dye (using acid dyes).
  • Worms are mainly a problem in something used. Maybe a wall hanging could exploit them visually.


As I said at the beginning, don’t simply accept what I’ve written – I’m at the beginning of the learning curve. Other places to try:

Su Butler – definitely at the top, top, top end of the learning curve. (I have her book-on-CD on order).
YarnsPlus top ten tips
Weavezine – do a search, but this particular link describes something very similar to what I’m trying (only I read it after I started, so couldn’t incorporate any learning).
Weavolution has a rayon chenille group. (You have to join up first)
Weavetech – I searched back through the archive and found some interesting stuff. (another thing to join)
Information from CIMA – gets kind of technical. I skimmed.

A Study of the Basic Parameters Describing the Structure of Chenille Yarns by Erhan Kenan Çeven and Özcan Özdemir.   Again way technical, but I liked the pictures on the first page! There are lots of other technical papers out there – I tripped over a few CSIRO things – but they’re focused on industrial considerations and hugely over my head.

Comments always welcome – especially for all the bits I’ve got wrong 😉


Chenille Plan

There is A Plan, based on lessons from the sampler and input from weaving friends virtual and physical.

Sue‘s comment led me to Eva Stossel’s blog and this post. While I agree with Leigh that the texture looks interesting, weaving-teacher Liz cautioned that those nice plump worms can lose their pile over time and become scrawny, bare core yarns.   I think Geodyne’s  recent post could hold the answer to my dyeing concerns.

So, The Plan.

Sett: closer than one expects. Based on my samples, 15 epi in plain weave looks promising for controlling the twist, avoiding worms and still acceptable drape for a scarf.

Colour: Dye after weaving, trying out woven shibori (did you notice Catherine Ellis’s book in Geodyne’s enticing pile?).

The photo shows the relevant piece of the chenille sampler, plus a page of discharge samples I did a few years ago. Discharge removes dye from a fabric. My sample page shows pieces left 1, 2, 3, 4 and 10 minutes immersed in the discharge solution (thiourea dioxide).

Threading: Monk’s belt,  experimenting with pattern float lengths of 6, 12 and 24 threads and a range of spacing of picks of chenille between each of the floating, supplemental weft picks.

The Plan is to weave the chenille,  dye the woven piece a solid brown, then draw up the supplemental weft threads and discharge.

We shall see… Reality has a tendency to mock mere mortal’s plans. So far I have added lots more heddles to my ashford loom and am partway through warping.

Calendar of Posts

December 2009

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