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I have always enjoyed Sharon Alderman’s articles in Handwoven Magazine. She has a comfortable style of explaining things and even when discussing complex structures, she is easy to follow. Recently I borrowed Mastering Weave Structures, by Sharon Alderman and published in 2004 by Interweave Press, and was quickly absorbed in the wealth of information she included.

Mastering Weave Structures by Sharon Alderman

Mastering Weave Structures by Sharon Alderman

Sharon inspired me right from the get-go by her approach to plain weave. What can a weaver do with simple old plain weave to make an interesting fabric? What about grouping warp and/or weft ends? You can vary the denting. Vary the yarn sizes. Use mercerized with unmercerized cotton. Use different fibers in the same fabric. Use colors close in hue or value. Combine basket weave, a form of plain weave, with plain weave itself. Use color and weave effects, including rep weaves. Sharon discusses how these choices and others affect the end fabric.

What makes a twill? What is the difference between an even twill and uneven twill? How do you make a twill more or less steep? What about sett? What if you weave the draft in a point, or combine different points, or advance the twill line? What happens if you weave one pick from one treadling sequence and the next pick from the second? What if you rearrange the treadling order?

She starts each structure with 4-shaft drafts and moves on to include drafts for 8 shafts, 16 shafts, and sometimes 24 shafts. She gives the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches. Several times, she points out that an uneven beat will produce crosswise striations in the finished cloth. And she strongly encourages weaving good sized samples, at least 12” x 12”, in order to see what the yarns will actually weave up as.

Compound weaves are those that use more than a single warp and a single weft. They include overshot, summer and winter, crackle, and beiderwand. Sharon covers treadling variations, skeleton tie-ups, and going beyond the expected. “Pushing an idea boils down to this: try the idea, notice what happens, and if you like what happens, see if you can exaggerate it.”

I was particularly curious about her chapter “Inventing Your Own Weave Structures.” Here she presents three different approaches she uses to achieve the fabric in her head, working backwards to the draft and figuring out what she needs to put on the loom to get the result she wants.

In one approach, she starts with paper and pencil, sketching the elements she wants in her cloth and their relative position. Another approach is to design from the tie-up: start with a basic tie-up and make changes to form the elements you want to include. Her third approach is to draw out the design on graph paper and then work out the threading, the treadling, and finally the tie-up.

Anyone who is familiar with Sharon’s articles in Handwoven Magazine will recognize her easy style and practical approach to weaving. She includes drafts, diagrams and sumptuous photos of the resulting fabrics to illustrate the possibilities.

“The important thing, as always, is knowing how to achieve the effect you want.”