Potentially useful stuff

In my office, I have drawer of ‘potentially useful stuff’ (or as Corey would prefer to call it, tat).  The contents range from postcards to pencils, doorstops to stones, from ribbon to a plate rack.  Today I was looking in the drawer for inspiration, and I found it!  Today I saw French knitting looms…:

knittingnancyI used to have a French knitting doll; you know the type.  Mine was called a Knitting Nancy.  I’ve also seen them called knitting spools, knitting reels, etc.  Traditionally, they are one of the ultimate re-purposed or at least handmade craft tools.  Back in the days before all cotton reels were made out of plastic, they were made out of wood; and in those days, french knitting dolls were made very simply by hammering 4 nails into the top of the wooden reel.  cotton reelI wanted to make a French knitter, but it’s impossible to get the wooden reels, any more (unless you are willing to pay ridiculously high price on an auction site).  However, my drawer of potentially useful stuff yielded all kinds of interesting possibilities, and I have spent a happy Sunday morning trying them out.

doorstopOnce you start thinking laterally, there are literally tonnes of everyday things you could potentially make a French knitter from.  For my first experiment, I used a doorstop, with 4 push pins pushed into the top around the hole, spaced at regular intervals.push pins The pins pushed in easily, but were held securely.  I used an ordinary paperclip with the outer ‘leg’ bent down into a straight line to hook the yarn over the pins.  The hole in the centre of the door stop narrows off to approx. 5mm diameter at the bottom, but the cord that was knitted expanded to ‘normal’ size once it came through.  A normal double knitting yarn or a thick embroidery cotton would fit through without a problem.

tapeFor my second experiment, I wanted to see how the size of the centre hole affected the thickness of the cord. I used a reel of brown insulation tape (I don’t think the colour of the tape matters, except perhaps aesthetically) with a central hole of approx. 3cm.  I didn’t use the tape up first, by the way (that’s still available for a future occasion); it doesn’t really make much difference either way.  My advice would be to push the pins into the inner cardboard ring, though, as when pushed into the tape they move about more.  Using 4 pins, the cord was about the same thickness as the door stop cord, but a much looser knit, because of the hole’s diameter (and therefore the wider spacing of the pins).  The cord was not as sturdy as the first cord, but if you especially wanted a looser, lacier effect, wider spacing of pins around a larger hole is the way forward.

For my third experiment, I used the insulation tape knitter again, but pushed in an additional 4 pins, spaced roughly 1 cm apart around the centre hole.  It was fascinating watching a real web build up between the pins, and it was obviously going to be a much closer knit than the previous experiment.   The resulting cord was far more obviously tubular than the previous cords.  The knitting looked like the finger of a glove (prompting me to ponder on the usefulness of ‘gloveless fingers’ as a substitute for fingerless gloves…).  The knit was just a standard tension, not especially tight or loose, just ‘normal’.

Conclusion: It is the spacing (and therefore number) of pegs that affects the diameter of the cord, rather than the size of the hole itself.  4 pegs would produce roughly the same diameter cord whether knitted through a 5mm or 5cm hole, but the knit would be looser, the more widely spaced the pegs are.  The larger the centre hole, the more pegs can be used, and therefore the diameter of the ‘cord’ increases accordingly  – and the less cord-like it becomes.

The tubular aspect of the third experiment prompts me to imagine all kinds of possibilities.  If you used a larger reel of tape as the loom, you could knit a drawstring coin pouch very easily.  Or if you knitted a VERY long cord, a tubular scarf.  If you found a much larger circle to use as a loom, and used a strong, non-elastic, yarn (maybe string, or garden twine?), you could knit a seamless shopping bag!

I have also previously made a successful knitter using the plastic centre of a cash till roll, with 4 paper clips clipped around the top edge.  The paper clips were held in place surprisingly firmly by a single covering of sellotape.  So if you don’t have push pins to hand, but you do have paperclips, you could try taping them around the inner circle of a reel of tape, instead.

Another thought: you could cut the base of a disposable drinking cup, and cut notches (like the turrets of a castle) along the rim to make a different sized knitter.   Honestly, if you think about it, you can use almost anything!

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More looms. There are, quite simply, always more…

I was harping on about the copper loom, and the Archie loom a couple of posts ago.  Well, I have just stumbled across another site, where you can buy a loom based on the same principles:Loom in a Tube.  This one is not copper, but is still aesthetically pleasing.  The text does not specify what it is constructed from; not being an expert, the best I could guess is that it looks ‘brassy’!

The additional novelty of this particular loom is that – as the site name suggests! – it comes in a tube, and (apparently) you can roll a partially complete weaving up into the tube, for easy transportation.  The only other loom I have seen that works on this premise is the Journey Loom from Weaving a Life.  The Journey Loom is wooden and comes with a whole spiritual ethic, so has its own charm, but the Loom in a Tube has a tensioning device, and the tube is far sturdier and thus more protective than the Journey Loom fabric case, so at $95 seems far better value to me than the Journey Loom ($88).   Each to their own, though!  I do like the philosophy behind the Weaving a Life site, even still.

But back to the loom in a tube: it feels as though it was designed for me!  At 12″ x 20″, it is exactly the same dimensons I had planned out when I was contemplating buying all the copper piping and constructing my own pipe loom.  I usually weave smaller pieces, it’s true; but it’s nice to have the option to work to a slightly larger scale…

I also like the books and kits provided on the same site.  The projects are all available as either book OR kit, to suit individual requirements and a lot of them incorporate beads as well as threads/yarns – something I have yet to try out, but is suddenly calling to me…!  One of the kits also introduces ‘eccentric weft’, a term I do remember once coming across in one of my vintage weaving books, but is in essence what you will find me referring to in my own work as ‘freeform’.  I really like to see that somebody out there is encouraging creative exploration in tapestry weaving; because  if you’re not into stripes, the majority of other tapestry kits available are simply not going to appeal to you…!

Well, I’ll let you know if and when I try any of these fun things out.  In the meantime, please post a comment if you have tried any of these looms out and/or have any advice!

More thoughts looming

Archie Brennan Copper Loom
Archie Brennan Copper Loom

Something I didn’t mention in my earlier post about looms is the copper pipe loom.  The original, Archie Brennan design is available online for you to make yourself – the photo shows a version constructed by Sara Lamb (pic borrowed from her blogspot).  I haven’t made one, but I’d really like to, as there’s something very aesthetically pleasing about the copper.  The Mirrix looms, although also copper pipe-based, don’t have the same aesthetic appeal for me. And I know a decision about buying or making a loom should be based on practicality rather than appearance, but despite their widely held regard and respect, the Mirrix looms are also expensive, and I just can’t bring myself to splash out so much.

Copper Loom Small
Copper Loom Small

I have just discovered that a company called Copper Loom is now putting out  a copper loom similar to the Archie.  The copper loom looks great, and I would definitely buy one (yes, of course I could make one myself, but DIY stores are not my natural habitat, and although one day I will bite the bullet and do it anyway, I would be very happy if someone just did it for me in the meantime, so I don’t have to…!) .

Copper Looms PVC loom
Copper Looms PVC loom

However, the Woolery site that distributes the loom only has a white PVC version of the same thing.  I can’t find it now, but I read somewhere that the Copper Loom designers have deliberately switched to PVC as the cost of copper has gone up.  I think this is a little short-sighted, as while the PVC version is indeed moderately priced at $25 (I can’t figure out from the woolery site if the stand is included as well as the loom), I think people would like the option of a slightly more expensive version made of copper, for its more pleasing aesthetic values whilst being similarly ightweight, portable and easy to construct.

Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett
Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett

Although I am still tempted by the PVC version to try the loom out, you can find detailed instructions on how to build a PVC loom in the book Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett.  I actually prefer this structure to the original Archie Loom, and would probably use these plans to build my own copper loom on the eventual day I get around to it.  I’m currently undecided on whether I would prefer an integral stand, as in Swett’s design, or separate, as the Copper Loom.  The beauty of buildng your own, of course, is that you can completely customise it to suit your own needs and taste, and have whatever size you need and structure you prefer.

Copper Looms Copper Loom
Copper Looms Copper Loom

Going back to the new Copper Loom, though, the authors have also written a book ($25), which tells you how to make and use your own loom, as well as a 4-selvedge finishing technique.  I’d be interested to know if the finishing technique is the same as the one on the Brennan-Maffei site, or the method outlined by Kathe Todd-Hooker in her book ‘Shaped Tapestry’ (available in the UK for £22.50, from George Weil Fibrecrafts, a wonderfully in depth site to explore).  I would just buy the Copper Loom book to find out, as I would like to read it, anyway; but it is self-published & the only distributor I can find is the Woolery, who warn of a $30 surcharge (in addition to shipping) for overseas orders…

Thoughts looming…

I go through phases, alternating between weaving and needlework (I never stray far from the lovely world of tangled threads).  Needlework expresses my orderly side, and I do take delight in the satisfying symmetricality of many of my patterns and designs (although I do also embrace the occasional asymmetric quirk).  This, of course, is because I have not yet really experimented with free embroidery, which I suspect might be quite a liberating experience.  However, needlework (for me) is the orderly craft, worked within its nice neat grids and charts.  Compact, yet beautiful.

Then after a while, I need to take a break from stitching, and weaving refreshes me.  Sometimes all I want to do is lose myself in the mind-freeing, zen-like over-under trance, and that’s when I like weaving for its basic, essential simplicity.  In those moments I’ll work a placemat on a small tapestry frame, or a rug on a peg loom, and just enjoy the process.  I like the small detail of embroidery, but sometimes I need to concentrate less, and clear my mind.

A break of cleansing weaving then frees my mind to focus awhile on my other weakness: tapestry weaving.  This is where  I find expression of more free-flowing, organic ideas, the swirls and curves and natural shapes, far less formal than counted thread work.  Like the freeform bargello I have been experimenting with lately, my tapestry weaving is also freeform.  I let the warp thread form its own shape within the weft,  then work around and into it, and find natural landscapes building up of their own accord.

Before anyone begins imagining rooms covered in tapestry wall-hangings, let me clarify: my weaving is as small-scale as my needlework.  I take great delight in being able to sit with my weaving resting in/on my lap, wherever I happen to be, and I have looms ranging in size from a self-made 1.5″ x 2″ to – well, actually a floor loom, but that hasn’t been constructed, yet – let’s say instead 18″ x 18″, to almost everything in between.  The largest two of these smaller looms are structured so that they can sit upright on a desk or table top, still very portable and fuss-free.  My tapestries are generally miniatures, explorations of curve and colour; sometimes I play with texture, tufting, needleweaving etc.

I do have a lot of small looms, it’s true but I always need more!  I love to experiment with new, different, interesting looms.  Stash-hoarding needleworkers and fabric addicts will understand what I mean; those who don’t, just never will.  I usually weave on basic frame looms rather than anything with a complicated (or even simple) heddle system – given the scale I work, it’s far easier just to manipulate the warp threads manually, which is part of the process that I enjoy.

Good Wood Frame Loom
Good Wood Frame Loom

You wouldn’t think there would be too much variation in simple frame looms, but there is, you know, there is.  I love the sturdiness of these frames from Good Wood.  They have a ‘magc heddle’ bar which I like, but would only use if weaving something with very plain stripes (it happens sometimes; I like stripes).  But you can remove the heddle bar and just warp it without.  At $58 for the 6″ x 10″ version, perhaps it seems expensive, bt there’s something about the solidity and simplicity that appeals to me (and the wood seems a lot nicer – and sturdier – than the cheaper frame looms you can buy).

Trishary Travel Loom
Trishary Travel Loom

Now this is what I really want to try, even though the weaving area itself is both tiny and primitive: the Trishary Travel Loom.  The loom was designed and is sold by Scottish tapestry artist, Trisha Gow.  Her work is strongly influenced by the Scottish landscape, the lovely muted colours a result of using wools hand-dyed with natural, locally sourced dyes.  The loom has a weaving area of just 9 x11cm, with no added extras to aid tension or shedding etc.  But it is (obviously) a gloriously portable size, and even better, your piece can remain on the loom in its finished state, ready-framed!  No more fiddling about weaving in loose ends, knotting fringes, or any of the other time-consuming finishing practises – hurrah!  (And at just £26 per hand-made loom, it’s not unrealistic to simply buy a new loom for your next piece.)

Cactusflower Miniature Loom
Cactusflower Miniature Loom

In comparison to the Good Wood Loom, the C. Cactus Flower Miniature Loom is an absolute bargain at $78.  This is a loom in the traditional Navajo style, measuring just 12″ a 15″.  I’ve never tried a Navajo loom, but this is the one I’m going to start with.  It’s got a clever peg & spring tensioning device, as well as a peg bar for easy warping.  Hand-crafted in a choice of woods (price varies with wood-type), they also do a package that includes batten and Navajo weaving instruction book.  Yum.

Beadlooms.com
Beadlooms.com

But you know what?  For practicality and fine work, the best looms I’ve found aren’t tapestry looms at all, but bead looms.  Using a warp of medium silk or perle cotton, I love the coils for even warp spacing, and the tensioning is the best I’ve found. Most people probably know that Mirrix make some of the most highly regarded tapestry/bead looms in the business.  Unfortunately, I can’t afford one of those.  Instead, I currently have a 12″ x 18″ loom (one of my largest) from beadlooms.com.  As well as the even warping and tensioning advantages, this particular style of loom is very sturdy, and if turned on its shortest end will sit very comfortably on a tabletop (or your lap), tapestry loom-style. It also has the warp bars and different heights, so the working area is tilted, which can really help if you find weavng makes your back ache.  I want to get the 6″ x 10″ version for smaller pieces.

Some other places worth checking out are Bearcat, Crazy Acres Wolf Ranch and Boomerang Professional.  Please post if you have experience of using any of the looms I’ve mentioned – could be interesting!