There’s the visible, and then there’s the hidden. Today you get both. The images are all of recent work, photos taken by the inestimable Michael Stadler, who has perfected the art of photographing textiles so that every aspect is crystal clear, including the dimensionality. Interspersed among the pretties is my long-promised narrative on how the basic design and planning proceeds. You can skip that part if you want — there’s basic math involved.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say I decide to make a series of three scarves, finished size nine inches by six feet (72 inches), plus fringes at both ends about three inches long. Simple math ahead . . . . First, I need to calculate the length of the warp threads I’ll put on the loom that will give me that result.
First, add up the total number of inches required for one scarf — 75 inches (a bit extra is added because when they’re off the loom, washed and ironed, a bit of length is lost) plus two times four, for the fringes. That’s 75 + 8 = 83″ for one scarf. I want three, so it’s 83 X 3 = 249″. Then, for my big computer-assisted loom, I add 27″ to allow for what’s called loom waste. Thus, 249 + 27 = 276″. To convert that into yards (which is the way yarns are measured), divide by 36. So — 276/36 = 7.66667, or 7 2/3 yards. I would probably round that up to 8 yards, so I have a bit extra to play with, maybe make at least one of the scarves a little longer.
Next step is to figure out how much yardage I’ll need in total. I’m going to keep it simple here, in contrast to how I rather frequently play with it in real life.
In order to end up with a scarf 9″ wide, I’ll need to make the warp about 10″ wide, to allow for what’s called “draw-in”, which is a normal result of the weaving process as the weft (crosswise thread) goes over and under the warp (lengthwise) threads. And, adding another variable, I’ll stipulate that the warp yarn I’m going to use is optimally (in my experience) spaced at 20 threads to the inch. That means I’ll need 200 warp threads to make up the width. So far so good.
An important consideration at this point is to be sure I have enough of my chosen yarn to make up the entire warp, so I simply need to multiply the number of threads by the length — 200 X 8 = 1600 yards required. Essential information.
By now, I will have designed — or chosen from the several hundred that are stored in my computer — the pattern(s) I want to use for this series. Rarely is it the case that the pattern repeats in the threading come out to a nice neat number like 200, so I’ll need to be flexible and tweak a few things.
So, just to add a little difficulty, let’s say I want to use a pattern that has a repeat of 85; two repeats across would be 170 threads, but that would be too narrow. Three repeats would be 255, and that’s too wide. I could use two, and add partial repeats on each edge, or I could use three (a more interesting possibility due to the axial symmetry) and subtract some threads on each side. But the most intriguing approach (in my experience) would be to use two full repeats plus 30 threads of the third, and make the design asymmetrical and off-center across the width of the scarves. All three options are good; the third strikes me as potentially the best from a design standpoint.
In decisions like the above, there are no “right” or “wrong” choices — all are good, and it becomes a matter of personal preference (or foible) as to which one selects.
In the example I’ve been using, the calculations were based on using only one yarn in the warp. I more often use multiple yarns, using one as the “main” or “background” yarn (usually a multi-colored hand-dyed yarn) and one or more secondary yarns as accents, both in terms of color and texture. These turquoise/teal/lavender scarves are an example of this practice.
When I’m using more than one yarn for the warp, the total number will need to add up to the number of warp threads I’ve decided upon for this particular series. So, going back to my example above, if I decide to use the main yarn (130 threads), and two additional ones, the secondary ones will need to add up to 70. I’d probably do 45 of one and 25 of the other, and then space them each randomly across the ten inch width so as to make the cloth more interesting and surprising than if they were precisely and equally spaced. It raises the degree of difficulty, but that’s what I most often like to do.
These Heart-Throb scarves are an example of a still-different approach, where I kept tweaking the pattern on the computer till I had the elaborate design perfectly symmetrical and balanced, with the number of total warp threads that I had decided upon for the finished width I wanted. Kind of a hybrid approach, which worked out splendidly.
After all the number-crunching, the real work begins of preparing the warp to go onto the loom, and everything that follows after that. What I’ve outlined here is only the bare beginning, both with respect to the process and to the time expended.