Spinners and weavers talk about getting into a meditative flow and the zen-like calm of doing craft. For me, it is more like a video game — a lot of stops, starts, and the occasional rage quit. (How do you reboot a loom?!?)
After getting my mom’s spinning wheel working, I got some crazy idea of going through the entire process: from fleece to to fabric. Instead of knitting, I wanted to weave a plaid. It was near Hogmanay and I was feeling my Scot oats.
Mom wasn’t going to let me abscond her wheel for another 100 years, so I needed to get my own. I decided on a Merlin Road Bug. It is small, portable, and cheaper than most others. (Did I mention cheaper–who knew spinning wheels could get so expensive!)
Turns out I love it! It trades the “charm” of looking old fashioned for being just about perfect. It’s the only direct-drive spinning wheel I know of. Instead of having a band that slips, or needs to be tightened, or that falls off of the wheel; the treadles drive the wheel with “gears” (which are really rubber wheels). The wheel moves directly with your foot. The double treadle version lets me stop, start, and reverse as my feet do. I won’t say I was perfect, but getting up to speed on this guy was a lot easier than my mom’s cranky antique.
I found an interactive Plaid Maker online. I had my plan. I was ready to get going. Things quickly got off track. For other people, DYI is all about careful planning. For mice and I, the best laid plans often give way to just making it work.
First bump, my colors were not going to happen. I managed to find a local purveyor of fleece. (Try getting that at Jo-Ann’s or Michael’s.) I never would have thought about it, but fleece is subject to the same fashions as clothes and fabrics. They only carry this year’s colors. My tartan was old fashioned and out of season — thus also out of stock.
At least white is always in style. I got a stash of New Zealand raw white, and then some dyed hanks. I spent the next couple of months –on again and off again — spinning them into skeins of yarn. This is the closest I got to zen.
As I watched my yarn stash grow, I didn’t think that my yarn was going to be thin enough or strong enough to be my warp threads. My new plan was to use purchased yarn for the warp and my homespun for the weft, except for my homespun New Zealand white which would be both the warp and weft stripes. So I spun the white yarn last — after I had the more practice with the dyed.
I has this great stash of thin mohair year in variegated fall colors: bright red, flaming orange, and yellows. It looked so nice with my jeweled homespun. New plan, use the mohair for my warp threads! This was the next big lesson.
KNOW YOUR FIBERS!!!
Wikipedia will claim that mohair is “silk-like fabric or yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat. Both durable and resilient, mohair is notable for its high luster and sheen which has helped give it the nickname the ‘Diamond Fiber’…”
The truth is that mohair is velcro in disguise! It is made by the devil himself and transported to the earthly plain by his goat servants. This is something I didn’t appreciate until I started the weaving. Each time I moved the heddle up or down, all the mohair warp stuck to each other.
I tried everything: dog combs, toothpicks, skewers, dental floss! There was no way to keep them apart. They were as grabby as teens on prom night. Diamond Fiber, more like Devil Fiber.
Second fact about mohair, it is VERY elastic. The more you pulled and teased it, the more it stretched. Keeping even tension was impossible as my warp, well, warped out of shape.
There was nothing to do but gently pull each of the 140 warp fibers apart by hand after each heddle move. Each row took 5-10 minutes depending on how persnickety the satanic mohair was that day.
It took a while, but my plaid started to form. The variegated colors actually turned out to be pretty cool. The mohair is softy and silky (okay, so maybe Wikipedia was right about that). Several months and a few rage quits later, I was from fleece to fabric. Instead of zen, I achieved about 4 yards of plaid. Zen is overrated, plaid will always be in style!