We have heddles!

Yes, it’s exciting enough for me to make it a big bold statement. For those wonder what the devil I’m talking about, allow me to give a smidge of background. I’m working on a weaving project on a warp weighted loom. I got the warp tied on, and chained up and tied to weights. So far so good. I declined to add a tablet woven band at the top because it’s just a practice piece, and I am wholly and firmly unconvinced that it’s an always thing. (More research needed, clearly). I’d say ‘fight me!’ about it, but really, just bring references about my wrongness would be sufficient. Proving an ‘always’ is hard at the best of times, and when we’re talking an era with little extant evidence to begin with.. well.. I don’t think I’m out in left field here.


And then it sat.

And it sat. And it stared at me balefully as I worked around it in our main room. (It’s not smack in the way, but it’s rather in the way). And I did other things, and I came up with all sorts of excuses not to work on it. Because I had to put the heddles on next, and I was being a wimp about trying something new. I’m a pretty experienced string person, and paralyzed by the notion of doing something new with string.

After a fairly solid conversation with my own head, and slotting in some downtime to actually recover enough cope for new things (is that just me? New things are too much when everything else is a mess.), I got out the instructions. And lo and behold.. the instructions that were promised to be easy to get the hang of were.. easy to get the hang of!

Let me back up a moment.. heddles. Great word.. weaving is full of great words really, but apparently weavers are incapable of using words that anyone else does. Heddles are the things that pull just some of the warp threads up at any given time. In plain weave (over, under, over, under) you stick heddles on half the threads, such that you can grab that half and pull them up when you need, or push them back when you don’t need. Fancier patterns require you to have just some pulled up, and then just others.. and hey.. if you have 4 different configurations of what threads you have heddled.. that’s a four shaft loom! In warp weighted looms, each configuration is a stick (rod.. dowel in my case) that has strings tied from the rod looped around a warp string. If you want a fancier pattern, you have more heddle rods. I have a very basic pattern (over, under.. it’s called tabby or plain weave.. see? All new words.), so I only need one heddle rod with half my warp threads tied on.


I get it all tied, and I take that lovely picture above and then I pause. And I realize that I have successfully put the heddle rod behind my warp. So the warp can’t move freely in their loops. So I need to take it all out, because I am an idiot.

I did get lots of practice in tying heddles, and it is now heddled up correctly, even if I forgot to get a photo of the current state. On to weaving next! (Post Pennsic at this point)

Flax vs Spindle, Round one

So the next obvious portable part of the Big Stupid Project(tm) (BSP) is to get the flax spun up for the strap. I’m sure there’s many who would say that wood carving is totally portable, but not gonna lie, I’m still working up the nerve to figure out what to do with wood, so spinning. I can spin.

It has been a very long time since I spun flax. Long enough that those same brain weasels that are having a heyday with the notion of wood carving made a stab at freaking out about the flax. Which is, by the by, patently ridiculous. I’ve spun flax before, it wasn’t amazing, but it was possible, and that was easily 15 or more years ago, and I’m a helluva better spinner now!

So in a bid to ignore the rest of my to-do list (productive procrastination ftw!), I poured some water into a dish, grabbed flax and spindle and off we went.

Flax can be spun either wet or dry, although wet spun flax is generally considered to be smoother and stronger. We’re not talking soggy here, but wet fingers smoothing over the flax and little dribbles end up everywhere. There is also popular assumption that flax must be spun S-twist (it’s Traditional! For Reasons! Because the flax plant likes to twist around things clockwise!), but as the archeological record shows that no one told the Norse that, they spun it Z. My habits are to spin Z and ply S, and that’s what the flax is getting too.


My flax is exceptionally dry and brittle, it’s been hanging out in stash for I have no clue how long, and it’s still closer to winter humidity than summer humidity around here. Flax staple length can be measured in feet rather than a small handful of inches. It has all the quirks of long staple spinning, all the irritation of silk’s desire to catch on everything, all the obnoxious of unending fuzzies like mohair, all the lack of felting like cotton (Why do you catch on everything EXCEPT when I’m trying to connect a broken spot!?), and all the stubborn cussedness of linen. (That last one.. not exactly surprising).


I got thread!

In an effort to try and tame the flax a bit, I poured some water in the bottom of a plastic bucket, stuck the flax in a tupperware container and floated the tupperware in the bucket, the lid pinned down by a C-clamp. (Feel free to envy my high class fibre tools.  Between toy wheel spindles, pvc pipe niddy noddies and various buckets, boxes and dowels, a fully functional spinning set up is under 10 bucks and a little time with a saw.) I haven’t had time to try spinning my humidified flax yet, but just the feel of it is so much nicer, for that alone, it’s totally worth the bucket trouble. Mother nature seems to be insistent on trying to keep my flax more damp for me by providing unendingly rainy weather, but honestly.. sunny and dry any time now.. I am happy with the bucket tactic!


Flax in its tupperware.

The next task is to try and spin a little less fuzzy and a bit thicker. The prospect of weaving with sewing thread is one that I’m willing to do, but not excited to do. Hopefully practice makes for more perfect, or even just less sucktastic.

Project Status Report

It feels appropriate, on the first of the SCA year (Welcome to AS LIV!) to have a moment of ‘what’s where’ and ‘you’re doing what!?’.

I eternally have lots of stuff on the go. Little stuff, big stuff, A&S stuff, modern stuff. I learned (the hard way) that too much focus makes me crazy, and drives my unreasonably fussy joints nuts. It takes me longer to get things done, but it suits my SQUIRREL! brain, and changing what I’m working on day to day, or even hour to hour keeps the stress injuries down. Even if I failed on that hardcore in the fall, and am still paying for it. (It’s healing! Slowly! I’ve never been so grateful to do a few minutes of mending in my life. Gratitude for mending will not happen again, I enjoyed it while it was there.)

That being said, there are a few projects that are in the current main rotation, and so I figured I’d share what’s on the worktable and in the project bag.

The Big Stupid Project: Ahh, scope creep is at me again. This is going to be, someday a Hedeby bag. (The Norse bag with the wooden handles, for those wondering what I’m on about). The warp weighted loom has been borrowed! The spinning for the wool has been completed! Next up is a sample warp on the loom to have some sense of what I’m doing, spinning the flax for the strap, and learning about warp sizing. There are many many steps after those ones, but let’s focus on the immediate ones, lest I fall over in a heap from my own crazy.

Pink Practice Lace: This bit of lace had exactly two purposes. To remind my hands that we still knew how to make bobbin lace, and to use up some pink tatting cotton that has been in my stash forever (and is probably easily 60 yrs old. Much of my cotton stash is vintage, that’s a whole conversation in an of itself. It’s a good thing I like stripes.) The plan was to just go ’til I ran out of cotton, there’s not THAT much on a tiny ball of tatting cotton, right? Well apparently I have an artifact of endless cotton or something, because while my bobbins are getting low, they aren’t out yet, and I’m 16″ + worth of lace done. And there’s more on the ball. So while my picots are still a dog’s breakfast, there should be at least 20″ in this (maybe more if my artifact theory pans out) and it’s been promised to a friend whose eyes lit up at the pink.


Random spinning: Now that the easy spinning for the BSP is over, and I still can’t reliably knit or use a needle (5 whole minutes! A /day/. But progress!) I still need something portable and moderately not obtrusive to work on at lunch hour at work, or when I’m sitting watching court, or just to keep the hands busy. I have some silk I’ve been spinning forever (It has a Plan!), but I also have been digging out the oddballs of dyed fleece I’ve accumulated over the years. Awesome dye jobs, totally not SCA period, but colourful and fun, generally not much more than 50g each. What I am going to do with not much colourful yarn? Excellent question. It’ll age in stash ’til needed or inspiration strikes.

Garb: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a few thousand more times. Garb is not my A&S. I can do it, sometimes its even not terrible when I’m done, but I drag my feet and grumble every moment of it. I do, however, like having new clothes for the weekend wardrobe. That last bit usually outweighs the bit that comes before it. The fact that I can’t hand sew more than mending at the moment is not helping, as I rather enjoy hand sewing, but the machine and I mostly tolerate each other. (The serger and I are not currently on speaking terms. There was an Incident involving polar fleece, and we both felt it better for everyone involved if the serger just went and lived in my husband’s workspace. It’s for the best.) There’s a few pieces I want for the coming camp season (wool coat, underdresses, chemises, new kirtle etc), and while the coat is mostly done. (see the aforementioned heel dragging), the rest are at the ‘gosh, I should probably do that, but oh look, a loom!’ stage.

That hits the highlights of what I’m working on.. there’s always more little projects here and there, and I reserve the right to Oooh Shiney! off to a new one at any moment. What are you doing at the start of AS LIV?

The Big Silly Project

This project is a study in scope creep.

It started with ‘hey, I can’t knit atm, and I picked up some fleece a couple years ago that is early period pretty close.. I should spin it up’. Dig out spindle (A modern one that I’m fond of, nice mid weight, conveniently empty), dig up the bag of lincoln longwool, start spinning. I spin thin naturally, and this was all about just ‘hey, let’s do some spinning’.


As I’m spinning, I start thinking of what I might do with my freshly spun yarn. It’s not the softest in the world, which is fine, I don’t begrudge it that. So not really next to skin sort of projects. I only have about 120g, so there’s not a whole lot of it either, so this is not about to become outer garments either. I’ve always wanted to make myself one of those Hedeby bags with the wooden handles, that seems reasonable for this yarn. Alright, project decided. Spin, spin, spin.


Brain then starts chewing on the weaving part as I’m spinning, and that internal conversation sounds something like ‘well if I’m weaving an early period bag.. then I really should weave it on a warp weighted loom.’ Because the 4 looms that live in this house aren’t sufficient, I clearly need to acquire another and learn a whole new technique of weaving. Clearly. Start reading up on the making of warp weighted looms, and how to weave on them. Arrange to borrow one, acquire books (and articles and conversation with other artisans) to help the process. Spin, spin, spin.

More thoughts as I continue to spin.. the mottled grey of this fleece is just gorgeous, it’d be a crime to dye it and not just embrace the sheepy colours going on here. Thank you brain, for saving me one step worth of scope creep. Spin, spin, spin.

Brain continues to chew on the project, and there’s a thought that the strap for this bag really shouldn’t be wool, it should be linen. Wool stretches far too much, it’ll start at my hip and end at my ankles by the end of the day. Alright. Tablet weave up some linen for the strap. That’s easy enough. Spin, spin, spin.


But wait! Says my traitorous brain.. you’ve long wanted to give flax spinning another try. It’s been a good 15 or more years, and there’s flax just hanging out in the stash. Remember this was going to be a stash busting exercise? You should spin the linen for the strap. You’re spinning everything else, after all. Gee brain, that sounds like a fine idea. Look up some suggestions for flax spinning, chat with experts in flax spinning, find the flax in the stash and another free spindle. Spin, spin, spin.

And so, that’s the state of the Big Silly Project (BSP). The dye thoughts for the linen strap are just starting to creep in, and the documentation for this is going to be a novel. I’ll keep you informed. For now? Spin, spin, spin.