Planning and Evaluating a Project
I was honored on Saturday to present a program to my local guild, the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild. In thinking about the topic, I drew on what I regularly do to plan at first, and then evaluate my own work at the end; I may not do it step-by-step as I had to present it by necessity, but the process is there.
Our group is very varied: weavers and spinners, with weavers who don’t spin and spinners who knit but don’t weave, and most people practicing other fiber crafts, like felting, quilting, sewing, basket weaving, needle work, etc. For that reason, I thought my presentation needed to be broader than just weaving, although as a spinner and knitter, I myself use the process of planning and evaluating for those fiber crafts as well.
A week or so before the program, I sent an e-mail to the group asking that they list all of the fiber crafts that they practice, in no particular order; and then, next to each, to list, in order of importance, why they do the crafts they do.
It seems obvious why we practice our crafts, but it isn’t. Furthermore, we may have a reason for one particular piece (weaving a sample for one of my Convergence® seminars) and another reason for another (weaving a scarf for the upcoming Guild exhibit). And our reasons change with time.
No reason is better than another and none of us should feel that any of our reasons are not legitimate. I told the group that they should go through the exercise of listing their reasons as honestly as they could, knowing that we would not share those. They are personal. But deep down inside we need to know because we won’t be able to evaluate our work truthfully if we aren’t honest with ourselves.
I speak from experience. I have known people whose wonderful pieces never seemed to please them. With more probing, I discovered that their stated reason or goal for a project (“I want to make a baby blanket for my granddaughter”) fell short of their unstated overall reason, unstated even to themselves (“I want to make pieces so incredible that Martha Stewart will feature them…”). I changed the story here, but the mismatches are equally striking.
Once you have thought about your global reason(s) for practicing a particular medium that you are about to use for a specific piece, then you are ready to plan. This is not the planning that we all do in figuring out our pattern, sett, yarn needs, etc.; that comes later. This is preplanning, as can be seen from this form.
PDF Form (it will open in a new tab): Planning a Project
The form is pretty self-explanatory, but you should think about your goal before you start, the limitations you have and the design considerations listed that are important to your project; perhaps you have others to add that you find particularly useful. One design consideration that is often overlooked is scale. I recently wrote a Right From The Start article about it (“A Question of Scale”, SS&D 184:18-22, Fall 2015). Look at the photo below of three fabrics all woven in a straight twill and the difference in the scale of the structure.
The article discusses not only the consequence of scale, but also ways to think about it, for example using software, simple arithmetic or hand drawing. They all have limitations; drawdown programs can help, but as I discussed in the article, two repeats of a pointed undulating twill with a 144 thread repeat sett at 24 ends to the inch could pose a problem for printing it all in one piece (and we should always use at least two repeats to check the transition between one repeat and the next). The article also provides information on how to manipulate scale when needed.
This pre-planning process shouldn’t take long, but it does help us focus where we are headed with that project. But don’t agonize over this! As I have said before, don’t spend more time thinking about the perfect project than it would take to do a good project. My husband Terry Dwyer says that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. In other words, “Just Do It!” I have taken on the more eloquent mantra from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book that I worked through a couple of decades ago and still rings true: “Dear Creator, You take care of the quality, I of the quantity.”
Here is the form for evaluating a project that we will discuss in the next blog. Meanwhile, think about why you practice the crafts you do, a goal for your next project, do the pre-planning and the planning, and then – well, “Just Do It!
PDF Form (it will open in a new tab): Evaluating a Project
I am reading a fascinating book by Richard Restak, M.D., a well-known neuropsychiatrist; the book is called Think Smart, and it describes how the brain works – or at least what is known about it – and as well as what to do to prevent the decline of brain function with age.
I have gotten to the section on creativity and it has me back thinking about the topic. The book offers a number of puzzles that can only be solved by “thinking outside the box.” Elsewhere he talks about the usefulness of playing video games to exercise the brain.
Puzzles and video games are just fine for entertainment and it is great that they can help with keeping the brain sharp, but to me creativity is all about “creating” or “making”; the word is derived from the Latin word meaning to make.
While we generally associate creativity with the arts, and that is certainly true, all human endeavors require creativity. Not to say that everybody uses creativity for everything s/he does, but consider: the engineer ensuring the safety of the bridge that has to hold millions of tons over its life span; the attorney solving the riddle of the crime to free the innocent client; the architect incorporating modern conveniences while preserving an old historical building; the computer programmer writing code for an application in the most efficient way; and just recently the LIGO physicists who figured out that sound waves could be used to show the existence of the gravitational waves, first described by Einstein 100 years ago. The list goes on. They all attain creative solutions along with the music composer, the writer, the painter, the choreographer….
Which brings me to my favorite book on creativity; I have read many, from theories to the creative lives of Michelangelo and Walt Disney, but the book by dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit. Learn It and Use It for Life, is the one than most resonates with me about how much creativity depends on hard work. There is no creativity without making and that making must be done over and over again, so that the next leap – thinking outside the box – can occur. For a nice summary, download Brian Johnson’s essay and quotes from the book. Better yet, read the book!
Next time you plan a project, think how much more able you are to come up with the perfect solution – your envisioned cloth – if you have practiced with fibers, yarns, colors and weaving structures, and whatever other elements are important to our fiber arts and crafts. I consider every piece I make a “practice” – a chance to learn about some aspect of the work I do. After all, even physicians talk about “practicing medicine.”
Practice makes perfect, but more importantly, practice leads to creativity – or as Ms. Tharp herself said: “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.” Another example of “Just Do It!”
A shawl woven in a 40-shaft advancing twill just came off my AVL loom. Here is a preliminary photo – a much better photo must wait until Terry can take it.
You can see the bands of warp (red-purple) and weft (blue-purple) interlacing. I love advancing twills and what I like about my 40-shaft loom are two major advantages: one is that a complicated treadling has to be entered once and then becomes automatic; yes, I must pay attention to avoid accidentally skipping a step which can be easily done and cumbersome to undo. But this particular twill is threaded as a straight draw 1 to 40 and has a treadling repeat of 239 steps. Clearly I wouldn’t be able to weave that easily without a computerized dobby.
The other advantage is that it forces me to design the structures from scratch, there is no reference – “green book” or “red book” – for 40-shaft structures. I must understand the structure pretty well to come up with the cloth I want.
Advancing twills can be woven with many fewer shafts; on 4-shafts, the “advancing” generally occurs in the threading and, for a more complicated motif, the treadling. Here is the draft of an example (for a better view, try to left-click, or maybe right-click, the draft and open in a new window that will appear under the current tab):
From the threading and treadling we can see why it’s called an advancing twill: one shaft is deleted at the beginning and one shaft added at the end of a straight twill repeat to make the next repeat. Here there is a complete repeat of a straight twill to start the threading of the motif, but that’s not necessary. And other twills, like pointed, can serve as the starting point of the advancing twill.
Here is the fabric that corresponds to the draft:
The treadling sequence for this advancing twill is 16 shots long, not too bad. We can simplify it by using a straight twill treadling, and that results in an interesting zig-zag motif down the fabric as shown in the draft below:
For an interesting twill “line”, try to advance a twill!
Dealing with Extra Heddles
I am going to thread a shawl across the entire width of my loom and I am quite sure that I have enough heddles on all of my shafts. So, I start threading and, sure enough, I do have enough – in fact, I have too many! On one side of my loom, I have lots of extra heddles. What can I do?
I cannot leave them at the edge of the shafts for two reasons: the first is that, especially if they are metal heddles, the weight on one side will be greater than the other, so the shaft will rise unevenly (in a counterbalance or countermarch loom, the balance will be off). This can cause a shuttle traveling down the race to catch threads and form errant floats because the shed is not open uniformly.
The second reason not to leave extra heddles on the side of the shafts is that the warp ends at the edge won’t travel the same distance as those in the middle, because the ones in the middle will be straight, the ones at the edge have to curve around the heddles – the more the heddles, the larger the curve. For example, as seen from above, look at the difference in the blue warp which has a straight path and the red warp which travels around the heddles. .
As the weaving progresses, a thread with the path like the red above will be sure to develop tension problems.
My only solution at this point is to take the extra heddles off the shafts, being careful to tie each bundle at the top and at the bottom before slipping them off the shaft, as shown below. This way, it will be easier to place the heddles back onto the shafts when they will invariably be needed later.
A much better solution is to plan ahead: disperse the extra empty heddles throughout the threading. This requires knowing the total number of heddles on each shaft, which is a very useful piece of information, regardless. Any time I add heddles, or move them, I make sure that I know how many heddles are on each shaft.
Since I know how many heddles my weaving will require, I can figure out how many blank heddles to leave when threading, as shown below. This has the advantage that, should I mis-thread, I have extra heddles if I need them in fixing my error. In this photo, two sets of threaded heddles flank a set of empty ones.
When the width of the weaving is less than that of the loom, extra heddles can be left at the edges, but there should be approximately the same number on each side on each shaft. To do this, I must know not only the total number of heddles on each shaft, but also the center, so I can figure out where I should begin threading by counting half the heddles from the middle; I still like to leave blank heddles as shown above, in case of an error.
More on Weaving Errors at Convergence®. For now, count those heddles!
Double Binding Technique for Rag Rugs
In 2014, I was fortunate enough to visit the Casa das Tecedeiras (Weavers’ House) in Janeiro de Cima, one of the Schist Villages in the Serra da Estrela mountain range, in Central Portugal. While a lot of the traditional weaving is no longer done on a regular basis in the village, various rag rugs are pretty common in Portugal and those from Janeiro de Cima are typically woven using a double binding technique. At the Weavers’ House we saw several being woven and we learned about the technique. (I co-author an article in Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot about the fiber traditions of Portugal, Spring 2015, 36-40).
Once home, I set up a sampler to practice what I learned in preparation of writing the article. Since then I used the technique to weave a rug with fleece weft, and now I am returning to its tradition: I have a warp on the loom to weave a rag rug.
On four shafts, the threading has two blocks, each of which can be repeated as long as desired, since the floats are limited; three threads are used in the transition from one block to the other. In weaving, two wefts are used: on one side, one weft is shown in one block, the other in the second block. Underneath, the wefts are reversed. The sample below shows all the possibilities.
Starting from the top of the sample, there is a large blue block in the middle, which is red underneath. Similarly, the two red blocks on each side of the middle block are blue underneath. The block colors can be reversed, as shown in the second section, by reversing the order of the shuttles. It is also possible to weave a solid area of each color, as shown in the 3rd and 4th section. A small section of “pseudo plain weave” is woven with a thin weft at the beginning and ending of the rug to make a flexible hem. It’s “pseudo plain weave” because where the threading of the blocks change, the plain weave is interrupted by floats.
The draft that corresponds to the sections of the samplers is:(for a better view, try to left-click, or maybe right-click, the draft and open in a new window that will appear under the current tab):
The draft shows the structure, but in the cloth, one of the two wefts, red or blue, disappears underneath the other. In effect the rug is double thickness, which makes it sturdier than a plain weave rag rug, all other things being equal (same fiber strips, warp, etc.).
The draft shows two repeats of block B (2, 1, 2, 4) on each side and five repeats of block A in the middle (3, 4, 3, 1); when weaving, the blocks can be repeated as needed; my warp on the loom right now has the following repeats across a width of 36”: A 13, B 27, A 23, B 27, A 13. The transition between blocks A and B is threaded: 2, 1, 2 (incomplete block A) and the transition between blocks B and A is threaded: 3, 4, 3 (incomplete block B). Since I am starting with block A, my selvage at the start is: 2, 1 (half block A) and the selvage at the end is: 2, 1, 2, same as the transition from A to B. While in Portugal I noticed that they weavers were using 8-shaft looms, even though the technique only needs four shafts. When I was planning the treadling, I realized why: 10 treadles are needed to tie-up all the combinations and 4-shaft looms typically have six treadles.
However, by using two feet, I was able to weave all the combinations as follows:
|5||3 & 4|
|6||1 & 3|
Then I can treadle the blocks using these treadles:
|2 & 4 together|
|1 & 2 together|
The shuttles alternate and to reverse the color, the shuttles are switched, as shown in the drawdown. Similarly, to weave a solid color across, we treadle:
|2 & 5 together|
|2 & 6 together|
And we treadle the header with thin weft for the hem: treadles 2 & 3 together vs. treadles 1 & 4 together.
Next time you plan on weaving a rag rug, try this technique!
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