The Tortoise and the Hare

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Cotton Lace Kitchen Towel

Cotton Lace Kitchen Towel

“How long does it take to weave that?”

Well, that depends. Is it a sports car kind of project or a minivan on the loom? Is it a thoroughbred or a draft horse, a short story or an epic, a tortoise or a hare?

What makes one project a “hare” and another a “tortoise”?

“Hare” projects are fast weaves. They are easy to follow, easy to thread, easy to treadle, quick to the finish line.

The weave structure has a lot to do with it. Tabby, or plain weave, is just over under, over under. It can be threaded on just two shafts: one, two, one, two. I only have to go back and forth in the treadling: right, left, right, left. A four-shaft twill can also be a hare weave: one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.

Fast and slow yarns

Fast and slow yarns

Materials can make a project slow or fast. Thick warps and wefts take up more, thread in less time, and weave up quickly. Smooth yarns stick less in the warp and in the weft. All the lovely texture of a mohair or a bouclé can really slow down the weaving if used in the warp.

One-shuttle weaves are faster than two-shuttle weaves. If I want to make a fabric more interesting and still keep it fast, I put more color in the warp and just use one shuttle for the weft.

And this one is a bit counter-intuitive, but longer warps can actually be faster to weave. Why? Because I can set it up once and weave several projects on the same set-up. Even if it takes longer to measure, I can weave longer before threading again.

Tying a second warp onto a previous one saves time as well. It’s easier to tie the knots than to rethread.

These are all characteristics of “hare” projects.

So what make a project a “tortoise”?

Well, any time I use a non-repeating threading, or one with a long repeat instead of a short one, that will take more time to thread. I have to stop frequently to check for errors and follow the draft carefully. The same with the treadling, I have to focus on what I’m doing.

Fine threads equal more threads per inch,  take longer to thread and weave up.

Any time I add more colors in the weft, I add more time for the weave. Accents have to be planned out, bobbins must be wound, ends must be tucked in. Think of all the color changes in a well-woven tartan. It takes time.

Snowflake Damask Runner

Snowflake Damask Runner

Any complex weave is, by definition, going to take more time than a simple weave. In this case, complex can be defined as using more than one weave structure, hand-manipulating the threads as in leno lace, or using a multi-harness loom technique like damask or opphämta.

There are some weaves that defy these generalizations. Tapestry, for example, is a plain weave, which is normally quick to weave, but because it is hand-manipulated, it is slow, very slow. And oh so worth it!

Just being slow or fast does not make one weave better than the other. It’s just a characteristic of the fabric to consider when you are planning a project or purchasing a handwoven. When I need some hostess gifts, I want a fast weave. I just choose a simple threading and a one-shuttle weave. When I weave something for an exhibit, it has to be unique and specific to the exhibit theme. That will take longer, both in designing and execution.

Summer is often a time for “hare” weaves. I’m in and out a lot, there’s garden work to do, family to visit. Weaving fits in between and I can’t afford to lose my place in a long, complex design. And it’s fun to see fast results.

During the winter months, I work on more complex pieces. There is more time to design, to thread, to work with the projects to get the most from the warp.

Here in mid-Missouri, we are smack dab in the middle of summer and baby blankets just came off the loom before a recent trip. Back home again, I finished the hemming and will now work on finishing the dragon placemats. After that, who knows? Perhaps another “hare” project.

Or maybe I’ll buck my own definitions and start another “tortoise” during the summer months.

Tortoise or hare—what is your favorite kind of project?

Containing the Excitement

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Two weeks ago The Shipment came. In three long, heavy boxes: loom extension; shaft draw system to upgrade from the old one; combination single unit set-up. It was like Christmas in June. I think my husband was just as excited as I was. Let the fun begin!

The view from the back

The view from the back

The pieces of the extension were finished but the other wooden pieces needed to be oiled and finished before I could put them together. And I’m a bit slow to comprehend things, so I read and reread the sheets that came in the boxes. One box only had a parts list—I was on my own to figure out how to assemble it. Another had more instructions, but no identification of the parts, so I had to figure out what some of the pieces were. The third box not only had instructions, but they were numbered to correspond to a drawing and little baggies of bolts and nuts. Hurray! I also had an idea from the Vävstuga video, Dress Your Swedish Drawloom, about how to proceed.

Hanging the treadles

Hanging the treadles

Piece by piece, it started to come together. By the end of last week, I had most of the attachments assembled and installed. Some had to wait till I had a warp on the loom.

As I was learning more about drawlooms this spring, my husband joked that he wanted some dragon placemats. That seemed like a good project to start with.

I found a fun graphed dragon in Here Be Wyverns by Nancy Spies (©2002 Arelate Studio, Jarrettsville, Maryland) and adapted a border from 826 Textila Bärder by Britta Johanson (©2009 Korssstygnsbolaget) Designing the border posed its own challenges. It took some work to balance the design to fit an 18” placemat.

The dragon taking shape

The dragon taking shape

I chose to weave a 6-thread irregular satin with an 8/2 cotton warp. This allows me to be able to see what I’m doing and make any adjustments more easily.

Because my existing countermarche is too long to fit within the new drawloom frame, I set this warp up on a counter-balance beam.  This, too, is a first. With the 6-shaft satin on this counter-balance tie-up, shaft 1 is tied to shaft 6, 2 to 5, and 3 to 4. So when I pull up shaft 1, shaft 6 goes down; the same with all the others.

I tested the shed by weaving a couple inches and measured a few random units to get a feel for how well the graphed design would fit in my planned weaving length. All set, the mat began, first with the hem, then the border, and on to the tail.

The view from underneath

The view from underneath

The wings took shape, followed by the head complete with “flames”. Finally the border and ending hems. The mat ended up a bit longer than I intended, but the cotton will shrink in the finishing.

First mat finished

First mat finished

This has been a satisfying first project. Now I have to decide what project to follow.

Always Learning, Always Growing

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“What does this loom do that your other loom doesn’t?”

That’s the question my sister asked me when I told her last year that I was thinking about getting another big loom. It’s a reasonable question. A loom is a big expense. It takes up a lot of space. There’s only one of me and I can only weave on one loom at a time. So why get another one?

There’s no short answer, really. Weaving is just making threads go up or down to produce fabric. This can be done with your fingers, on frames, with back straps, even pieces of cardboard with slits cut in it. How many of us, as kids, wove those ubiquitous little pot holders with knit loopers on metal frames?

Looms are tools. Weavers use them to create the fabric that is in their heads. The real question is what do we want to weave? That determines the loom.

Schacht Baby Wolf jack loom

Schacht Baby Wolf jack loom

Most weavers learn on jack looms. When you step on a treadle, the shafts connected to it are jacked up, the others stay down. That’s how the shed is made. Each treadle controls any number of shafts, making design possible. My first loom was a four-shaft Harrisville jack loom, 22” weaving width, a good starter loom.

Counterbalance Union rug loom

Counterbalance Union rug loom

Many old rug looms and barn looms are counterbalance looms. Each shaft is tied to an opposing shaft so that when the treadle tied to the first shaft is depressed, that shaft goes down and the opposing shaft goes up. My grandmother’s old Union loom was a 2-shaft counterbalance loom.

Many Swedish looms are either counterbalance or countermarche. On countermarche looms, when a treadle is depressed, every shaft goes either up or down. Every shaft is tied to every treadle. This opens the shed in both directions, up and down, and is easier on the warp threads. It’s also easier to treadle designs with lots of heddles on individual shafts.

Countermarche tie-ups, every treadle on every shaft.

Countermarche tie-ups, every treadle on every shaft.

All these looms produce beautiful fabric: simple plain weave, twill, lace, overshot, blocks, units, diagonals, layers. The weaver is only limited by the number of shafts on the loom. Without going into a treatise on weaving theory (for which I am definitely unqualified!), I can say from experience that each type of loom has its design possibilities and limitations.*

When I bought my first big loom, my intention was to get the one loom that would do whatever I wanted to weave forever and ever, amen. But how was I to know what directions my weaving would take at this early point?

Besides my little Harrisville, I had woven on Glimäkra countermarche looms at a week-long class and really liked how sturdy they are, the overhead beater, the treadling action. During that week, I also wove samples on both a single-unit drawloom and a shaft drawloom. Drawlooms add a whole world of possibilities to weaving.

A drawloom has a set of shafts separate from the ground shafts. The shaft drawloom produces repeating designs across the warp. These can be symmetrical or mirrored, tiled or single figures. The single unit drawloom lets you lift individual units to produce asymmetrical non-repeating designs. After some careful thought, I chose a Glimäkra countermarche loom with a 20-shaft drawloom attachment to grow into.

But a couple years ago, I thought a second big loom would be very useful. The drawloom setup is different than the regular set-up and every time I needed to switch from one to the other, it took a day to change heddles and rebalance the loom. It would be more efficient if I could have one loom as my regular loom and one loom set always as a drawloom.

That was the short answer to my sister’s question—efficiency and productivity.

And now I am getting closer to that goal of a dedicated multi-shaft loom and a dedicated drawloom. This week I ought to take delivery on a combination shaft and single-unit drawloom. This set-up fits onto my second loom and will allow me to continue weaving the damask designs I’ve been doing, as well as adding single unit motifs. I’m thinking of flowers, birds, dragons, even words.

I can hardly wait to see what this new set-up will do. Always learning, always growing.

* For a thorough look at weaving theory, check out these books:

  • Madelyn van der Hoogt’s The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers (1993, Shuttlecraft Books).
  • Sara von Tresckow’s When a Single Harness Simply Isn’t Enough (2014, The Woolgatherers, Ltd.) describes in detail the workings of drawlooms.
  • The Book of Looms by Eric Broudy (1979, University Press of New England) presents a good history of looms of all kinds from around the world.

Refilling the Creative Well

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Our part of the world enjoys four seasons and right now spring is transitioning to summer. The days are getting longer, warmer, and greener. There’s renewed hope for the garden, renewed energy in the morning walks, the desire to break out of the routine, for something different on the loom, something to get excited about. Getting away for some kind of retreat is a good way to refill the creative well for the coming months.

This past week was just such a retreat for me. I spent the week at Vävstuga Weaving School in Shelburne, Massachusetts studying Drawloom Basics with Becky Ashenden. Becky’s warm welcome and enthusiasm for all things Swedish made all of us feel right at home from start to finish.

What an inspiring week! Yes, I’ve woven on a drawloom for many years, but only with a few structures. Where I’ve woven 5-shaft satin damask before, this past week I had the opportunity to try 8-shaft satin damask.

Damask in 8-Shaft Satin

Damask in 8-Shaft Satin

We learned the properties of the various damask weaves, 5- 7-, 8-, and 10-shaft. We even worked with weaving swords to hold pattern sheds open on two different looms.

4-Shaft broken twill woven with a weaving sword

4-Shaft broken twill woven with a weaving sword

Where I’ve woven opphämta in the past, at Vävstuga I saw the variety of designs beyond what I’ve tried, combining borders and designing effective figures.

Opphämta with Weaving Sword

Opphämta with Weaving Sword

Opphämta borders on 10 patterns shafts

Opphämta borders on 10 patterns shafts

And with Smålandsväv, there seems to be limitless variations to keep me busy indefinitely.

Smålandsväv

Smålandsväv, back

Smålandsväv, front

Smålandsväv, front

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have shaft drawlooms; last week I also wove on single unit drawlooms, both with pattern-saving lashes

 

Damask with Pattern-Saving Lashes, front

Damask with Pattern-Saving Lashes, front

Damask with Pattern-Saving Lashes, back

Damask with Pattern-Saving Lashes, back

 

 

 

 

 

 

and without.

Single Unit Draw in 6-shaft satin, front

Single Unit Draw in 6-shaft satin, front

Single Unit Draw in 6-shaft satin, back

Single Unit Draw in 6-shaft satin, back

 

I’ve woven mostly with cotton; this week, it was almost exclusively linen or cottonlin. I beat my warp with a steady hand; this week, I learned that some weaves just need a heavy thump.

Lithuanian Opphamta on 21 Pattern Shafts

Lithuanian Opphamta on 21 Pattern Shafts

I can follow simple directions, but I don’t always know the “why” behind the “how.” After a week of discussing the different kinds of looms, deciphering drawdowns, and weaving on several different set-ups, I have a lot more understanding of how to make the loom do what I want it to do.

And now that I’m home again, I’m putting more thought into rearranging my looms and their set-ups. When I bought my second Glimäkra last year, it was basically so I could have one dedicated to drawloom weaves and one to wide and multi-shaft weaves. The class gave me the incentive to make that happen. Over the coming weeks, I will take the draw attachments off my bigger loom and allow it to be used fully as the 12-shaft loom that it is. The smaller loom will then be the dedicated drawloom since I usually don’t weave wide drawn pieces.

I so appreciate Becky’s encouragement and the warm welcome from all the Vävstuga staff.  Many thanks to all you! Now that I’m home, there’s so much to weave, so little time!

Designing Double Duty

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Blue and Red Towels off the loom

The blue towels came off the loom a couple weeks ago and before the last shuttle thrown, I already knew a red warp would follow.

The blue warp has three shades threaded evenly across the ground with plaid-like bands of pale yellow bordered with purple on either side. This was the first time in a while that I wove distinct bands in the warp and it turned out to be a relaxing weave—I knew the drill, followed old habits and came up with several variations for weft-wise borders.

Even as the blue towels are waiting to be hemmed, I was measuring the red warp, this time a blend of various shades accented with yellow, purple, orange, and fuchsia. Using the same treadling orders, this set of towels wove up fast. All the designing was done already. And yes, I did tie the red warp onto the blue.

The first three towels were an experiment in themselves. Twill draws in more than tabby. Twill woven within a tabby towel often leaves scalloped selvages, but could I reduce or eliminate those scallops by bubbling the weft more? The answer is yes –and no. The twill bands didn’t draw in as much, but there is still some difference. And if I wasn’t careful, the excess weft sometimes left loops on the surface.

This twill threading allows a variety of different treadlings too. This is when I really appreciate the computer. I was able to eliminate a couple ideas because they resulted in some long floats. I took careful notes on how I treadled each set so that I could repeat them with the red warp. Even so, there are plenty of options with straight draw twill:

Straight Draw Twill on Ms and Ws Threading

a combination of tabby and twill (bubbling carefully):

Tabby with twill

woven as drawn in (what is sometimes called “trompt as writ”):

Ms and Ws woven as drawn in

and point treadling:

Point treadling on Ms and Ws threading

I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a green warp next. However, a niece is expecting a baby this fall and baby blankets and bibs are next on the to-do list. And then there’s a loom reassignment coming up—more on that next time!

When have your designs done double duty? Share your story!

Making the Most of Time

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Gebrochene on the loom

Gebrochene on the loom

Last night our study group met. We were a small group—the local colleges are on spring break and many people are out of town. Those of us who came shared our current projects and the conversation turned to tying a new warp onto the previous one.

Susan said she rarely ties on. She says she is always planning the next project while she is weaving, and it is often in a different structure.

As an example, Susan brought a rainbow colored baby blanket woven in 8-shaft crackle. What a bright and cheery blanket! The blocks for her crackle pattern came from an overshot name draft that she designed. She showed us that same name draft woven in fine white and blue linen overshot. Then there were the lace towels in 10/2 cotton—again using those name draft blocks, this time in lace. That’s three different structures from one block design. She couldn’t tie each warp onto the previous one because they are different structures, but she started with the same block design for each.

Paula said she ties on whenever she can. Paula has an Ms and Os warp on right now for a baby blanket after which she will reduce the sett for a scarf, then after that, she’s spread the warp again and tie on for a rug. Paula has studied Ms and Os for years. She starts with that one weave structure and interprets it into everything from fine to heavy fabrics. She knows just what to expect from different yarns in that weave and how they will respond to the floats and interlacements. One weave structure—many ways.

I’m somewhere in between in the tying discussions. I tie on when I can, but like Susan, I’m often on to a different structure with the next project.

Gebrochene Draft

Gebrochene Draft

Currently I’m working on a gebrochene weave. That’s an old German name for a fancy Ms and Ws twill. I really love the intricate patterns created with just the classic twill line going in different directions. From this one threading, I can weave plain weave with a fancy twill border, gebrochene in a straight treadling, gebrochene in a point treadling, trompt as writ, or a combination of any of these. Using different colors and fibers and tying on to the existing warp, I can weave towels, runners, napkins, even scarves before I have to rethread.

All of us have ways to get the most out of our creative time, whether it tying on to the previous warp, or using the same draft in multiple structures, or weaving a single structure into a variety of items.

How do you get the most out of your creative time?

Problem-Solving in the Works

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my thrums dilemma and eventual inspiration to weave a bench pad in rosepath boundweave. On Friday, I pulled the pad off the loom and yesterday, finished the hemming.

Thrums waiting to be woven

Thrums waiting to be woven

The bed covering in the painting “Lallah Rookh” is my source for inspiration. It has, as one of its motifs, an elongated flame shape on a solid ground. Because I had a limited supply of thrums for patterning, I focused on that shape rather than trying to duplicate the entire covering. I supplemented the thrums with other wools from my stash for additional colors. From this image, I went to past magazine issues for specifics.

I have seen different tie-up methods for boundweave. Tom Knisely threads boundweave in the typical rosepath arrangement and treadles the colors in blocks which float two ends up, two down. (see “A Boundweave Rug” p. 34 November/December 2010 Handwoven). This results in a reversible fabric.

Flame taking shape

Flame taking shape

However, I chose the tie-up from “Rugs in the Scandinavian Way” in the May/June 1987 Handwoven Magazine for no other reason than I just wanted to see how it would work. Here, Phyllis Waggoner uses a boundweave tie-up that lifts three ends against one. With this set-up, the backside is definitely a backside. Her rug shows several design bands in varying colors, one of which was a distinctive flame motif. Sometime, that would be a fun rug to weave in its entirety, using the block treadling to produce a more reversible fabric, but for now, I needed to focus on that flame pattern and maybe a smaller diamond.

Backside of the boundweave, right off the loom

Backside of the boundweave, right off the loom

Weaving progressed slowly, not just because boundweave is a slow weave, but because I was working with weft in one-yard lengths. Lots of loose ends! Every end had to be overlapped and tucked to the back of the web while weaving. Here is where I made a decision based on expediency: because the back side would not be seen, indeed would be tied down to my loom bench, I decided not to worry about all those loose ends. If this had been a piece on which both sides would be seen, I would have used a needle to weave those ends in after taking the piece off the loom.

Because I didn’t know how long the flame motif would end up, after weaving the hem and header, I started the border just a couple inches in from the beginning. As it turned out, one repeat was going to be too short, and if I wove a second one, the pad wouldn’t fit on my bench. An added smaller diamond on one end resulted in a more useable length, even though it does bother my “symmetry” sensibilities a bit.

The finished boundweave bench pad

The finished boundweave bench pad

This was definitely an exercise in problem-solving that resulted in something useful—which is what I wanted from my thrums.

What challenges are you working on this week? Share your discoveries!

Passing It On

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We as humans seem wired to want to pass things on to the next generation. We tell our children about our family heritage. We save heirlooms to hand down.  We hope our children remember all the things we tried to teach them. And sometimes they even learn things we unintentionally model.

I did not learn to knit or weave or sew from my Mom. She was a busy farm wife, mother, and freelance writer without much leisure time. But I saw that she sewed, she knit, she wove when something was needed, and I wanted “to do that too.” However, I learned to knit and sew and weave in 4-H and later in school.

The Knitting Lesson

The Knitting Lesson

As a young mother myself, I wanted my children to know how to work with their hands. I wanted to share with them the pleasure of making something themselves. But I also did not want to force them. I did not want to make it a dreaded project. So I crafted around them, asked them from time to time if they wanted to try, and if they showed interest, I showed them. Now I wish I had been more tenacious. None of my four has taken up knitting needles, shuttle, or fiber. That may soon change.

My daughter’s family just left after a week’s visit. In between trips to parks and reading stories, one granddaughter asked to learn how to knit. So I picked out some bright green yarn from the stash, a pair of easy-to-handle needles and off we went. She stuck to it and today before they left, she cast off a nice little sample piece.

I did warn my daughter: now that her daughter is learning to knit, she, too, will have to learn so that she can help her daughter on this adventure. She smiled and nodded.

A turn at the loom

A turn at the loom

Not to be left out, another granddaughter asked how to weave. I have a towel warp on the loom with a bit of warp at the end. So I showed her how to move the treadles and how to throw the shuttle. She wove through one sequence of the twill pattern, then she skipped off to another game. Shorter attention span on that one! Someday, she may try it again. At least she knows whom to ask.

Not every child or grandchild will be interested in fiber arts, but every one we teach will in turn pass along the skills in their own children. It’s been going on for generations.

Pass it on!

What To Do With Loom Waste?

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Loom waste from the wool blanket warp

Loom waste from the wool blanket warp

After I took my blanket off the loom, I was left with a familiar dilemma—what do I do about all that loom waste—thrums in weaving parlance.

Loom waste is the warp yarn left when you can’t get weave any further. Most of the time, it’s about 36” that is either cut off and thrown away or tied on to the next warp. On my Glimakras, it can be as much as 42” depending on the draft. For a wide warp, that’s a lot of yarn.

I left the warp knotted on the loom after I cut off the blanket. I just couldn’t bear to throw it away, knowing how precious good wool is. Yet what could I do with it?

Back in 2014, I used thrums for mug rugs in an overshot weave but I don’t need any wool mug rugs right now.

A couple years ago at a Midwest Weavers Conference, I took a class by Robyn Spaedy on making jewelry with thrums. She creatively wound precious yarns around pipe cleaners and twisted them into curious shapes to make whimsical pendants, earrings, and bracelets — an inspired used for sparkly, fun yarns, but these muted colors of wool wouldn’t make much of a statement.

So the thrums stayed on the loom.

At the same time, I’ve been pondering what I can weave for our annual guild challenge. The past few years, the challenge has revolved around the color of the year. This past October, we met at the University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archeology. We were challenged to use something in the exhibits to inspire a finished product. “Lallah Rookh” by Francis John Wyburd is filled with elements that can be translated to the loom, from the bed covering to the drapery, and even the women’s clothing!

As I walked past the loom with the wool this week, it occurred to me that this wool could make great cushion fabric for my loom bench. And the bed covering in “Lallah Rookh” looks like rosepath boundweave! At last, inspiration!

Boundweave sample from a recent workshop

Boundweave sample from a recent workshop

In boundweave, the weft covers the warp entirely. It makes good sturdy rugs with striking figures if more than a couple colors are used. My thrum wool colors may be subtle, but they do contrast with each other and will bloom nicely after fulling to cover the warp. Because the lengths are only about 36”, I will weave the cushion sideways, 18” wide by 30” long, folding it around the seat and hiding the cut ends on the underside. Extra thrums can be used as ties to keep the cushion in place. A path forward feels so good!

How do you use up your project leftovers?

Storm Warning — or How to Spend a Weekend Indoors

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What do you do when an ice storm looms (no pun intended)?

Wool on the cone

Wool on the cone

Dire predictions preceded Winter Storm Jupiter, so named by the National Weather Service. Ice is nothing to fool around with, so we did what most everyone did this weekend—we stayed home.

It was a perfect excuse to work on a wool blanket, something nice and warm.

Before the holidays, I agreed to weave a full-size wool blanket for a customer who attends 1800’s era reenactments. This is a little out of my experience, so it required some research.

Wool Blanket on the Loom

Wool Blanket on the Loom

Because the customer will be using this blanket outdoors, it has to be warm and sturdy. I chose Harrisville Highland Wool (900 yds. per pound) and straight twill for the weave structure. A 24” square sample helped me determine how long to soak and agitate it to get the desired finish.

The size is wider than my looms, but weaving it double-width makes up for that. I had to watch the bottom layer to avoid skips and catches as well as a messy selvedge.

And I weave cotton more than wool, so I had to brush up on how to treat this lovely yarn respectfully, to make it bloom into full potential.

Wool twill blanket off the loom

Wool twill blanket off the loom. Finished sample is in the upper right.

Yesterday I pulled the finished warp off the loom with a sense of accomplishment. I still have to hem it and make any necessary repairs before fulling the finished blanket, but it was a pleasant way to wait out an ice storm.