Experimental weekend

So, the weekend was busy. Really busy. Let me explain.

I’ve been toying with the idea of selling some of my handmade stuff. The “profits” (because, really, most people wouldn’t be able to afford my time beyond $5/hr, so we’re talking mostly cost of materials here) could go towards my hobbies, and if even marginally more successful than half of minimum wage, it could go towards helping me pay off my car loan and student loan. Weeeell, I can hope.

I also have some new brand (to me) of weaving yarn: UKI. A friend had told me about how it’s really the gold standard for mercerized cotton, so when an opportunity came up for me to get a cone or three without shipping costs, I decided to go for it and bought white, natural, a wonderful golden orange, and a nearly perfect red.

The goal of this past weekend’s adventures was to gather data for both figuring out if a profit were at all possible, and to see exactly how great this UKI yarn is. The first step for figuring out if profit is possible is to add up the total cost of materials used and time spent working with them in a given project. (The second step is to see if the market will bear the cost of your finished product, but I’m not there yet.) I already have receipts, so I needed to find out how long it takes me to complete a given project. Because there is a definite economy of scale in weaving, I broke it all down into steps.


The first block of steps involve measuring the warp, getting it on the loom, and then getting all the ends in order so you can start throwing the shuttle (what most people think of as “weaving”). This is a six yard warp, and I would say that the four yard warps took about the same amount of time – the difference was really only in the measuring and beaming (winding the warp onto the back beam while it’s under even tension). But two yards don’t make a huge amount of difference. Since this and the last three warps have required the same amount of heddles to thread (600), the time spent is about the same. If I were to beam a 12 yard warp, the only difference in time spent in this top block would be in actually measuring out and winding 6 extra yards.

Now I know I weave about 15″/hr as I’ve been keeping track over the last 12 towels. That’s 12 hours to weave half a dozen towels. (Which does not include hemming.) Already, you can see that about half of this project is spent getting the warp on the loom. But, in that delightful economy of scale, if I were to put a 12 yard warp on, and say that it only adds two more hours (for argument’s sake – there is a slightly faster way to measure the warp), then throwing the shuttle is up to 24 hours, but getting the warp on and ready is only 12 hours.*

Well. You can see that I think about this a lot. I’ve also been thinking about weaving rugs and wool or silk shawls because I think I’m more likely to get paid a better hourly wage than for dish towels. Though I do love weaving dish towels SO MUCH!

The really interesting thing about all this is yes, it’s a lot of work, but this is how cloth is still woven. Much is done by machinery now, but there are people who run the machinery, and make sure of dye lots, and make sure there are no mistakes, etc etc. And that cloth is later cut out to be sewn together into the clothes you’re wearing right now. This process of making cloth is at least 20,000 years old. Think about that for a moment. Twenty thousand years. TWENTY THOUSAND years. Not two thousand. Not ten thousand. One thousand years would even be famazing. We as a species have been clothing ourselves with fibers that human hands processed, twisted together, and woven (and we haven’t covered spinning yet, which is a whole other can of worms) in basically the same way I’m weaving towels.

The really, REALLY interesting thing is that because hardly anyone in the first world has been exposed to this process, it’s super easy for them to opt for bargain prices that, in the end, don’t actually pay the people involved in the manufacturing process what we in the first world would consider a living wage. (I need to find references for you guys.) All the time, I hear, “oh, I could never use that towel! It’s too nice!” And then they go to Walmart and spend $1.99 on a dishtowel that’s been made by the same process. I mean, I get that not everyone has $25 to spend on a single towel, but…this is getting into a different rant, so I’ll stop now and save it for another day.

Ahem. So. The other goal for this weekend’s weaving adventures was to see how this UKI yarn really weaves up. And I’m smitten. Compared to the yarn I had been using, this stuff is smoother, glossier, much tamer and less prone to tangling, and it weaves up so well! Also, weirdly, my selvedges seem neater. I’m pretty sure this is not due to all the practice I’ve been getting, but rather some quality of the yarn. I’ve woven two complete towels so far with UKI brand yarn wefts, and the third, which I started this morning, is with a previous brand weft.

I’m REALLY happy with those edges. Really. I know they’ll shrink up and neaten even more once the cloth has been washed, so I’m less critical pre-wet finishing. In this case, I think the edges will look really professional post-wash. Exciting!

We’ll see how it washes and how it wears. I’ve got another few cones coming in the mail – they should arrive this week. I’m going to have to sell something to address the dip in my bank account… wish me luck!

*This is the amount of time it takes for me to work with my loom, which is old, slightly rickety, very much handmade, and has wooden ratchets and pawls. And no crank levers. Which means I wind the warp on by physically grabbing back beam and rolling it. One day, I’ll be able to buy a newer loom with metal ratchets and pawls, and lots of crank levers, which should speed things up considerably.

Bright! Towels! finally finished. Really.

The Bright! Towel! project has come to a very final end, which is not meant to sound so serious and dire. Honest! I finished hemming on Sunday, and then laid them all out on the floor to admire. It’s kind of amazing and almost surreal – I mean, I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that I started with string, and ended with super brightly colored pieces of cloth. I can hold a towel, or two, or the whole stack in my hands, and even though I know I spent hours and hours calculating, measuring, beaming, threading, sleying, treadling and throwing, it seems disconnected somehow from the cloth I can hold. I know I made it. I know that every inch of string passed through my fingers at least twice during the whole process. And yet.

And yet, I’m intensely proud of my accomplishment!


Look at those colors!

Here they are according to warp:


Warp #1 – yellow and orange


Warp #2 – blue and green


Warp #3 – pink and purple

I’m looking forward to recreating a few of these, but not just yet. I’ve taken pictures and made some notes (to be fleshed out with more detail soon so I don’t forget completely), and I have some of these colors left. The next weaving project will likely have a white warp, and there may or may not be overshot – so many choices! I’m toying with the idea of selling towels, but I’m not quite there yet (though, if you’re interested in this, let me know!).

In other news, yesterday we had Weather. It was about 2″ of sleet, which you’d think would be pretty innocuous, but I can tell you that 2″ of sleet is like wet sand: it’s difficult to walk in and nearly impossible to drive in. There was only about 1/2″ on the porch railing when I got up, so I thought, “It’ll be fiiiiiine.” I got ready for work, and tromped down the walk where I realized there were actually two whole inches of the stuff on the ground. “It’ll be fiiiiiiine, ” I thought. I cleaned off my car, then tromped down to the end of the 400′ driveway to make sure the road was cleaned off. There was quite a bit of sleet piled up at the end of the driveway, so I figured I’d have to shovel that out a bit. Still firmly believing it would be fiiiiiiine, I tromped back up to my car, got in, put it in reverse, backed up, put it in drive, drove for all of 25 feet, and got pretty firmly stuck.

Things began to be not so fiiiiine. I started to rethink whether I should attempt to get to work at all.

An hour of shovelling and scattering salty sand, I attempted to back up. The plow guy would come eventually, and I didn’t want my car in the way.

A bit more shovelling and more sand later, I managed a running start in reverse, skidding everywhere, missing trees and boulders, and getting mostly where I wanted to be.

More shovelling and a bit more sand, and I finally got my car back in its spot, out of the way of the plow.

(The plow guy came at 5:30pm. Sigh.)

So, the lesson is: if you have 2″ of sleet, wipe all thoughts of driving in it from your mind. Also, this week I will be making an appointment to get two new, better quality tires put on my car.

The result of all this was a Snow Day for me (I have a cool job with an awesome boss – also no internet at the house, which makes working from home very difficult). So some knitting happened. Because knitting just happens.


My First Hat

The yarn is luxurious! It’s Berocco Ultra Alpaca Chunky. So, so soft. I love this stuff, having made a few pairs of fingerless mitts with the worsted weight stuff, I’m totally smitten with it. But I’m not sure it’s the right yarn for a hat because alpaca and stretching. Also, this hat (pattern completely made up by me, totally on the fly – okay, there was some ripping out and knitting back up, possibly several times) may not fit the intended recipient’s head. It’s a little loose on my head, and I currently have hair with a mind of its own (read: big), but I’ll send it anyway because my friend has a very cold head right now and probably this can serve as a layer. The next hat will be improved!

And then, with the hat nearly done (I have to weave in the ends still), I tackled a pillowcase.

When I lived in Germany, I bought a bed pillow, which was totally square. This seemed to be pretty common there, and since I didn’t have a real pillow for my bed for quite some time, actually having one was a welcome change. I got a cotton flannel pillowcase for it, which was gently used at the time, and that’s been on it since, um, 1996. Yes, it’s been washed a bunch of times, no worries there. But it was the only pillowcase I had for this pillow. When I returned home, my cat claimed the pillow. When she passed away (sniffsniff), I used it on my bed. Eventually, it ended up on my couch. The pillowcase developed a couple of rips last year(?) and since then has been slowly disintegrating. It’s embarrassing. The only thing I can say is that I’m sort of glad I don’t get many visitors at my house because that pillow is right there on my couch in the living room where people would sit if they ever came over.


An artful display


Hand bound is the way to go

I’m really super happy with this new pillowcase. It’s made of heavy linen I got a popular online site (a company I don’t actually recommend generally) that will likely last me the rest of my life. Or much, much longer. I may have to include it in a will eventually. Linen is that awesome.

And the buttonholes are bound by hand. I hear you asking, “but why??” Because I do not own a sewing machine that does any stitch other than straight. Why not? Because Singer Featherweight all the way, man. They just don’t break. Ever. And hand bound buttonholes are more durable and not that difficult to sew, honestly. Relatively quick, too – the five on this pillowcase took maybe a bit more than half an hour? Maybe longer – I was watching some pretty exciting Poirot. I still need practice to get the knots and stitches even, but everything requires some amount of practice, right? These are done with perle cotton, which I literally have miles of now that I’m weaving, with a light coating of beeswax. Actually, I usually do buttonholes with silk twist, but my stash of twist did not offer up any appealing colors, not even black. I find it absolutely delightful that the perle cotton is so versatile: weaving, buttonholes, and it can also be used to quilt quilts! (Hand-quilted quilts forthcoming. At some point.) Aaaand, there’s definitely something to be said for using cellulose fibers with cellulose fibers rather than mixing a protein fiber like silk in there, because then weird pH things happen in the wash and something doesn’t last as long as you wanted it to…and and and…a discussion for another day.

Out of a sense of completion, here’s an artful display of the old, 20+ year old pillowcase:


Auf Wiedersehen, lieber Kopfkissenbezug! Du hast mir gut gedient.


Weaving is where it’s at

Currently, the obsession is weaving! Honestly, there’s no better feeling than starting out with basically string, and unwinding long lengths of beautiful cloth at the end.

Last year, I bought six cones of brightly colored 10/2 mercerized cotton with the intention of weaving my good friend Lee some OMGBRIGHTNESS for her kitchen. I came up with a plan for three warps using two colors each, and then the four remaining colors would be used as the weft. That way, I would end up using just about the same amount of yarn off each cone, I’d have fairly short warps, I’d end up with a dozen towels, and I’d certainly learn things along the way about color, beaming the warp (always need more practice), different threadings and treadlings…


The Cones of Brightness!

And after several weeks (there were a few interruptions – you know, knitting just happens…you can’t control it), I ended up with these:

That’s nearly 10 1/2 yards of cloth total after washing. I’m beyond thrilled with how these turned out – I had no idea it would be this colorful. Actually, I’m not sure what I thought I’d end up with, just something not quite this magnificent. I learned a lot about color and beat and tie-ups, and I want desperately to weave several of these towels again because I love them so much!

Also, I’m really, really inspired to start saving the waste yarn (I think I read somewhere that they’re called ‘thrums’? I’m not sure…) and make paper! Oh yes. You’ve heard of ‘cotton rag’ and ‘linen rag’ in reference to types of paper? Those are actually made of cotton and linen rags. Isn’t that cool? You take cotton or linen (or both) scraps, cut or rip them up into very small pieces, put a bit in a blender with plenty of water (a blender you’re never going to use for food!), whiz it up until it’s a pulp, and now you have paper pulp.

But. I’m getting ahead of myself (as usual). When I actually make paper, you’ll be the first to know!