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?