my 5 principles of improvisation

I started writing this post after sharing the picture of my improvised trapeze, but got distracted by the need for further improvisation in the area of yarn management so I didn’t finish it. Improvisation seems to be a strong theme in the life of many weavers — indeed, it is one of the things that appeals to me about the weaving mindset — but everyone has an individual approach depending on their personal assortment of skills (and the skills of too-slow-to-duck family members). Reflecting on my own improvisations, I realised that there are some basic principles underlying the decisions I make so I thought I would try and pin them down (with a tip-of-the-hat to Isabella for getting me thinking in lists).

1 Rearrange what is already there

Having moved into my new studio, I suddenly have space for things I have always wanted but couldn’t fit in before. The very first item on my wishlist was a warping mill so that I could make longer warps than my warping board would allow. Unfortunately, my early attempts to obtain one secondhand were unsuccessful and I had to park the idea for a while. But I happen to have two identical warping boards and acres of blank wall, so I could arrange them one above the other or side by side or turned 90° — or any way I wanted. I settled on one above the other as I wanted to be comfortable with the reach from side to side.

double warping board from side

I can’t wind a warp which uses the whole of this double board as the bottom is too low for comfort, but I can wind a few more yards than I could on the single board and that is now what I do. Although I can’t stand far enough back from it to get it all the picture…

double warping board in use

2 Any household object is fair game

When I realised that I was going to be winding several skeins of a fine yarn for dyeing, my heart sank at the prospect of using the swift.  The first thing I did was to google the price of skein winders. The second thing I did was to turn to Stuart and ask, “What do we have in the house which rotates?” As Stuart headed for his old meccano sets, I spent a few moments in contemplation of bicycle wheels. For the not-quite-trapeze we had a solution on hand in the clothes rail…

hanging rail

…but none of the rotating household objects quite did the trick for the skein winder. The swift was a better approximation than anything else we could muster.

3 Spending money is OK if it buys a longer term solution

One of the other things I googled was “how to make a skein winder” which yielded various constructions based on plumbing parts. These looked quite appealing but would require an outlay of twenty quid or so on the parts. That would be twenty quid I wasn’t saving towards buying a “real” skein winder. Would it be worth it in the longer term? If my future holds a lot of skein winding, which I suspect it does, then I think I would rather hold out for one which has been really well designed for this particular job. So I won’t spend the money on the short term option.

However, in the case of the photography backdrop, the only professional bit of kit we needed was the backdrop itself — the part that will show in the photos of my work. There was no need to save up for a purpose-built stand, as our improvised purchases of copper pipe and curtain pole supports will — we anticipate — be sufficient for our needs in the longer term.

4 It pays to rethink the process

The first item on my new studio wishlist was a warping mill. Then I started working with much finer yarn than I had been used to and I started wishing for a sectional warp beam. But a sectional warp beam isn’t a standalone wish: it leads to dreams of spool racks or warping wheels and all kinds of wonderful things. I have studio rent to pay now, so none of those things are in my immediate future. Instead I had to adapt my processes.

For a scarf in 2/20 or 2/30 silk I would typically wind my warp in two or three bouts, each approximately four inches wide on the loom. Even though I am bundling up the finer yarns to use at a similar sett, I found I needed to halve the size of my warp bouts to get them onto the loom without gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. The purple warp shown above is 200 ends of two strands each (set for lace at 20 epi) and I have wound it in five bouts of 40 ends each. That’s a lot of choke ties, but I got it on the loom without so much as a whimper. I’ve also changed my starting point on the warping board from the top left peg to the top right. Surprisingly hard to do! My left hand is so used to being in charge of making that turn and my right hand is clueless… It does make a useful difference, but that’s a topic for another post, I think.

Anyway. Less gnashing and rending → more weaving → more income → get that kit sooner!

5 It depends

In the end any improvisation is a personal trade-off between convenience, cost, usefulness, elegance and anything else which might be appropriate to the individual situation. In the photo at the top of this post — the one with the warping boards seen from the side — you may also have noticed a little heap of random objects in the bottom left corner. This dates the photo back to last October when, in order to make my weft out of multiple fine threads, I improvised a doubling stand out of a stool with a wicker seat and a shoebox. I was thoroughly chuffed with my ‘design’ and it works really well, but… I decided that I didn’t actually like doubling. I know that it is supposed to be beneficial, but I find that simply setting the three cones on the floor together gives me perfectly good results. Improvisation cancelled — though I know what to use should I need it again.

If you’re looking for a principle to take away, this is the one: it’s your weaving, your studio, your call. Watch, listen, learn, budget… then do what suits you best.

my 5 principles of improvisation” was posted by Cally on 19 March 2013 at

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4 Responses

  1. Sandra Rude
    | Reply

    You hit the nail on the head. “The RIGHT way is the way that works for YOU.”

  2. Kerstin Froberg
    | Reply

    I don’t know if the toolbox is considered a “household object” (cultural differences are sometimes unpredictable), but don’t forget it! Or the box of misc nuts and bolts, or… A hammer often makes a nice weight, and…
    My best tool for cleaning the sweing machines (esp the serger) is one of the between-the-teeth brushes, a flat screwdriver is good for turning collars outside-in for pressing…

    • Cally
      | Reply

      It definitely counts in this household! As does any garden tool or anything normally resident in the garage…

  3. Charlotte Engstad
    | Reply

    It takes sometimes surprisingly lot of time to find the right the solutions, household objects have been of great help to me and of course a lot of things from the do-it-yourself shop.

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