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Sewing Handwoven Material

Working with any boutique fabric can be nerve-wracking. Before cutting, you wonder whether the pattern is right, then after cutting, the fabric frays like a mo-fo and starts to crumble in your hands.

I’m here to tell you how you can avoid such worries and work with handwoven, and other high-end fabrics.

Handwoven cot blanket with quilted edges

Right Fabric for the Right Job

Like with any project, your fabric has to suit the end use of the item. This includes final care and washing. For example, you wouldn’t create a wool fabric for a tea towel, and you wouldn’t make the weave super wide for a wallet.

A smaller yarn (8/2) with a slightly high epi (22 for plain weave, 25 for twill) is a good all-purpose fabric.

Figuring out your proper EPI is essential for ensuring a fabric which is fit for purpose. Sampling is a great way to ensure this, but I don’t actually know any weavers who do sample. Most work on prior knowledge, both their own and from the community.

Fabric fit for purpose also includes drape and density. If you’re weaving for garments, drape will be fairly important. Tencel creates the best drape of any fibre I’ve used, but it’s also my favourite, so I’ll recommend it for everything.

Wool/Cotton fabric by Sonder Handwovens

Preparing the Fabric for Cutting

I always wet finish before sewing, but some people do hems prior to finishing. I personally think this misshapes the hem and prevents the fabric in the hem from finishing properly.

Wet finishing includes washing and pressing, and you really can’t miss the press stage if you’re going to sew the fabric beyond a hem.

Jean by Sonder Handwovens

Setting up your Sewing Machine

The settings for sewing handwoven material is slightly different than for thinner fabrics.

The tension should be slighly reduced. If your tension is usually between 4 and 6, shift it down to a 3. If it sits at a different tension, adjust it accordingly.

As well as this, your stitch length should be increased. I sit mine at around 3.5mm, except for stay-stitching (explained below).

If your presser foot pressure can be reduced, do this slightly too.

Cutting and Pre-Pattern Sewing

I cut with a rotary cutter which keeps the fabric stabilised on the cutting mat, rather than being handled as it would be with scissors.

Once the fabric is cut, sew a stay stitch 4mm from the edge of the fabric. Stay stitches are around 2-3mm long, and stabilise the fabric. Without a stay-stitch, the fabric would become misshapen while being sewn to other fabric.

After stay-stitching, zig zag the edges. I usually leave the fabric under the foot after stay-stitching and just switch the machine to a zig-zag stitch.

Zig zagging misshapes the fabric and can stretch it out, hence why a stay stitch is done beforehand.

Every piece that you’re working with should be treated this way.

Fabric under the Sewing Machine

Final Tips:

  • Any woven pattern can be used with handwoven fabric. Accessories, earrings, clothing, anything.
  • These tips also apply to jacquard woven fabric and woolen blankets.
  • I use a size 90 needle. It’s halfway to a jeans needle, but it just handles the thickness better.
  • Baste first, just because unpicking handwoven fabric can be a pain in the arse.

Never be afraid to use high end fabric. It’s too stunning to sit on a shelf waiting for a project. So if you’re nervous about jumping in, don’t be! It’s beautiful, and a joy to work with.

As always, if you have any comments or questions, post below or email me at hello@sonderhandwovens.com.au.

Happy sewing (and weaving!).

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Weaving for the Budget Conscious

Have you ever thought about starting to weave but decided against it because the cost seemed prohibitive? All the tools, yarn, equipment, not to mention the loom itself?

I totally feel you! Starting out was a whirlwind of buying equipment to improve my weaving while on maternity leave. And often you’re putting money into weaving before you even know that you like it. No one would ever say that’s a good idea!

Luckily, there are some simple tricks to make weaving a much more accessible hobby.

Stack of multicoloured tea towels by Sonder Handwovens
First project on a floor loom: tea towels for my family.

Looms – Affordable Options

Tapestry, or Frame Looms

Many beginners start with a frame (or tapestry) loom, as this is an inexpensive and accessible option. There are many types on the market, and one can be easily made up from a photo frame, or from a 2×4 from the hardware shop. Alternatively, both Louet and Ashford sell tapestry frames up to about 70cm long.

Weaving with a frame loom looks simple, but takes a sophisticated approach to colour and texture, and requires quite an artistic flare. The end product of a frame loom can be easily hung or framed as a gorgeous art piece.

Local artist Jasmine of Jazzy Makes (Facebook here, and Etsy here) is an accomplished tapestry and wall hanging weaver. Her work with colour, texture, and flow really shows the complexity that can be achieved with a frame loom. The frame loom doesn’t have to be the ‘Beginner’ option, it can take you far in weaving.

Natural, blue and brown coloured wall hanging.
A stunning example of a wall hanging by Jazzy Makes.
Closeup of woven wall hanging showing intricate texture.
The intricate texture of the weaving makes a gorgeous example of what can be achieved with a frame loom

 

Rigid Heddle Looms

Rigid Heddle looms describe their biggest feature in their name: the heddle is static and the ends per inch can’t be adjusted. They’re quite affordable (compared to other looms) with the Ashford SampleIt priced around $150. Furthermore, they seem to keep their value when buying or selling second hand.

They’re great to learn on as an introduction to shaft weaving, and are simple to warp and require very few tools. The SampleIt mentioned above comes with all the tools you need to start weaving.

A rainbow warp on a knitters loom.
A Rigid Heddle Loom in action. Weaving and photo by Sandra.

A brown handwoven scarf
Photo courtesy of Annemarie Butler of finefibreboutique.com.au

Second Hand Looms

All of my looms except 1 (The Louet Erica courtesy of Thread Collective) have been bought second hand. The beauty of this machinery is that the design was specialised pre-20th century. Therefore, the technological advances are relatively slow and looms from the 1970s have very similar features to looms bought new today.

Second hand looms can be found in a variety of places, and it helps to know where to search.

Gumtree and Ebay are both options. As is Facebook Marketplace. It’s important to know what search terms to use: “Louet Erica 3 Shaft 50cm” will yield little to no results, whereas “Weaving loom” yields many. Yes, you’ll have to trawl through results, but it’s better than getting no results at all. (Another option is just “loom”, but as I quickly realised, this is also a name for an auto-electrical part which people commonly try to sell.)

Specialist facebook groups are another option. On a side note, if you haven’t yet joined the Australian Spinners and Weavers Facebook group, make it a priority. They’re amazing.

Check your local guild. The NSW Guild has a page specifically for secondhand sales of looms, tools, and spinning equipment.

A studio full of looms
I found all of these looms on Gumtree

Guild Membership

Speaking of Guilds, membership to one enables you to rent or borrow equipment for a whole range of fibre arts from weaving to felting. They have extensive libraries, and offer study groups for weaving technique and skills. As well as this, they run classes, and have a range of experts on hand.

It’s a great, low-cost option to introduce you to weaving.

Fibres

You’ve now sorted your loom. It might have come with some yarn (many do) or other accessories which make the start of your weaving journey that much easier.

You can use almost any fibre for warp, and you can definitely use any fibre for weft. If you’re restricted by budget, or you are worried about making mistakes with ‘good’ yarn, acrylic from your local wool shop or Spotlight/Lincraft will work. If it’s strong enough to take a tug, then it’s strong enough for warp.

Op shops also have yarn in their craft sections, or you could ask around. You might have friends or family who have a tiny mountain of yarn at home.

Dragon Scale scarf by Sonder Handwovens
My first project in many years. The warp was free with the loom.

 

Tools of the trade

“What tools do I need to weave?”

The answer to this question really relies on what kind of cloth you want to make and what loom you have.

I’ve developed the following from trips to Bunnings and Kmart:

  • Warping board
  • Temple
  • Tensioning device
  • Stick shuttle
  • Bobbin Winder
  • Treadle tie-ups
  • Heddles
  • Swift
  • Bobbins
  • Raddle
  • And other things I can’t think of right now!

A lot of weaving tools are glorified sticks, or a circle of wood around another bit of wood, or some cardboard and some tape.

A Kmart Peg Board with a warp on it
A doubled up Kmart pegboard makes a great Warping Board.

I will go into more detail about various tool hacks in a later edition, but please don’t think everything has to be wizbang. A lot of the time, especially when you’re first starting out, you will make do with ‘good enough’. And if you enjoy weaving, you’ll upgrade; if you don’t, then there’s less money spent.

Bonus Tips

  • Leclerc sell a plastic moulded shuttle for $35. It works just as well as a wooden $150 shuttle, and the bobbins are freely available.

 

  • When moving to a shaft loom, buy as many shafts as you can afford. This is particularly difficult in Australia as our weaving community is small and widespread, but 8 shaft plus weaving looms do come up every now and then.

 

  • Borrow the weaving book you need. Weaving books are prohibitively expensive, and not much information about weave structures etc exists on the internet (yet!). Put a shout out to your guild.

 

  • There are yarn “destash” pages on Facebook where artisan yarns go for cheap.

 

  • I often use cotton as a warp yarn. It is about $25 from Thread Collective for 1/2 lb. Alternatively, Bendigo Wool Mills sell thicker cottons.
A double shuttle with a yellow and blue silk
A double shuttle by Bluster Bay Shuttles

 

Weaving doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to require much space. From the large floor looms, to the small tapestry looms, it’s all weaving.

If you have any further tips, post them in a comment below!

As always, if you have any questions feel free to send me an email via the Contact page, or comment below!

Happy Weaving!

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How to Achieve Flawless Threading

Want perfect threading? Me too!

Firstly, there are two things to know about me: I am not a perfectionist, and I love complexity. These two things often intersect, and complexity in weaving often requires perfect technique.

That’s where this threading method comes in. It involves rigorous and perfect counting, but that’s about it.

Below I will provide a step by step guide to how to ensure that your threading is perfect, every time.

A shadow weave sample on a loom, as seen from above.
Shadow weave with a 94 thread repeat.

 

Firstly, analyse your draft.

Threads

The draft for the above weave is a 94 thread repeat and is on 8 shafts. This technique works with any number of shafts and any number of threads and repeats.

If you feel that your repeat is too long to manage in a section, break it up. 50 is my threading limit in a section, so anything more than that gets broken down into smaller chunks. In the above example, I broke the repeat into two different sections, A and B. From here on, treat these sections separately.

Threading pattern of a weaving draft halved into sections A & B
Separated sections A & B

Section A and section B both have 47 ends. Together they make up the 94 thread repeat of the draft.

Number of threads on each shaft

The next step in analysing your draft is to determine how many ends are assigned to each shaft. You can see above that in section A, there are 7 ends to go into heddles in shaft 8.

Threading pattern on a weaving draft
Section A with numbered threads on shaft 8

Write down the corresponding number of ends per shaft onto a piece of paper and set aside. Do this for both sections.

At the loom

Count your bundles

Your warp is wound on, your cross is ready to go, now it’s time to thread. I weave back to front, but I’m sure this technique can be adjusted to your weaving technique.

So far you have the number of threads per section and how many threads per shaft written down. I’m the type to print out my draft as I’m threading. This is basically the only thing I print out ever for weaving.

Starting from the edge, and using the corresponding section in your draft, count how many threads there are in that section. Because of how my loom is set up, I thread from the left, so in this example I would start with section A.

Continue counting until you get to the end of your work. Remember to account for floating selvedges if you’re using them.

Your threads should now be held in little bundles just behind your shafts.

Bundles of multicoloured yarn knotted with hitch knots.
Little bundles ready to thread.

Count your heddles

All of your heddles should now be at the edge of your loom. Using the numbers of threads per shaft you analysed earlier, move the heddles across so that they’re distinguished from the not-yet-used heddles.

In the example above, I would move 7 heddles on shaft 8, 6 heddles on shaft 7, 5 heddles on shaft 6, and so on until the section’s heddles were all together on the loom.

Grouping heddles and threading
Groupings of heddles

Threading

Thread your heddles as per your draft.

As you get to the end of the group, you should have the same amount of threads and heddles left. This is an easy way to check that you have threaded correctly.

As a result, it’s easy to find out where you have gone wrong by counting the number of heddles left on each shaft and tracing this back to the mistake.

Furthermore, it means that once you discover the mistake, you only need to look in the relevant section to find it, rather than through the warp.

Green handwoven baby blanket
A finished handwoven product

 

I hope that this has assisted you in getting your threading perfect every time.

Please add a comment below if you have any questions!

Happy weaving!