When I was just a new baby weaver I went on a week-long weaving course with David Gurney in Turriff. David was getting rather frail by then and I don’t think he offered any more courses the next year, so my mum and I were lucky to sneak in just in time.
For the first four months of my weaving life I had been warping my table loom from front to back. Then David showed me how to warp from back to front and his method is the one that has more-or-less stuck. Reading Peggy Osterkamp’s book on warping — one of my Christmas presents! — has reminded me of this as her method looks very like David’s. The book has also caused me to reflect on the way I have adapted the basic method to suit the looms I have and the sorts of things I like to weave, and for some reason I find that very encouraging. I think it encourages me because it shows that I haven’t been automatically repeating by rote the things I learned, but have been responding to problems and circumstances as they arise.
I haven’t been aware of making big changes of the “right, I’m not going to do it like that any more, I’m going to do it like this from now on” sort, but looking at the key elements of the back to front method Osterkamp presents has shown me that I have gradually made adjustments as I’ve been going along. The result is a couple of areas where my practice now looks quite different from what I learned and I’m going to start by describing the first of them here.
I always use a raddle but never make a raddle cross
David showed me how to make a raddle cross — i.e. a cross with several ends together in each section so that one section fits in one raddle dent. How many ends per section depends, of course, on the sett of the warp and the size of the raddle dents.
At the time I learned this technique I had a raddle with 2 cm dents which was incredibly taxing to work out — all the more so as I kept forgetting they were 2 cm and thinking of them as inches (more like 2.5 cm). However, as they were relatively large dents, that did mean that I got to wind a fair number of ends before I had to think about changing to the next section. There were two main reasons why winding a warp with a raddle cross was challenging:
1. I have an Ashford warping board. This only has one set of three pegs for making a cross. If you want to make a nice easy cross at each end of your warp (and not end up with something lopsidedly wound around a corner) then it takes a lot of planning and in any case only works well for short warps. Now I have been meaning to add an extra peg to that board for years, but it still hasn’t happened. I might have got around to it by now if it hadn’t been for the second reason.
2. I like warps with lots of yarn changes. When I am winding a warp like this, I am not counting total ends but am counting how many ends of blue cotton, of teal silk, of blue cotton + teal silk, so that I know when to change from blue cotton + teal silk to blue cotton + blue silk. And the number of ends in any given yarn may be very small, like one, for instance . If I am winding 1 end of this, 2 ends of that, another end of this, 6 ends of the other and so on, I find that is more than enough to keep me occupied without also dividing them into arbitrary groups of 17 or 25.
Taking these two things together, I was getting a bit stressed by the demands of the raddle cross, but then I got my first floor loom, a Louet Delta. If you are a Louet user then you either love or hate the Louet built-in raddle. I love it. It has 0.5 cm dents so there are approx 5 dents/inch. I don’t weave with especially fine yarns, but I do like double-layered cloth structures so my warps can be quite dense. Even so, you don’t get that many ends in 0.5 cm.
So I wind my warps with just one cross. I put the lease sticks through this cross and then simply count off the number of ends I need for each raddle dent and pop them in. Another thing I like about this method is that I can improvise as I go with yarns of different thickness. I might know that I would need 8 ends of the cotton per raddle dent or 5 ends of the silk, but about those parts of the warp where there is a bit of each, or I am changing from one to the other? I like the freedom of making it up as I go along.
As you can see there is a wee mark on the top of the castle, kindly put there by the people at Louet to indicate the middle dent. Sometimes — usually if I have planned my warp bouts carefully! — I start filling the raddle from the centre and work outwards. In this case I had two differently sized bouts so I counted half the total number of dents to the right and started filling from there. This current warp doesn’t have any of the complications mentioned above; in fact, it was completely improvised and I simply wound until I ran out of yarn (hence the unplannedness of the bouts). So it has a uniform sett and filling the raddle took me just a few minutes. By the way, the slice of corrugated card is there so that the rest of the warp sitting over the castle doesn’t get tangled in the dents to the side of my working area.
I’m pondering these matters because I am planning to start making some quite demanding warps. I have been playing around with parallel threadings for a while now and during this play period I have kept my warps fairly simple to concentrate on the structures. However, I have a growing desire to complicate the hell out of things and see what I can do with mixed colours and textures. Watch this space for the gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair.