Last week in my email newsletter, I wrote about how I made a surprising impulse purchase of the Sashiko Stowe Bag kit. What was equally surprising was that as soon as the kit arrived in the mail, I sat down and started working on it, and had a finished bag the next day. Usually kits and yarns of all sorts have a habit of lingering for a long time before I actually start on them.
Inside the Stowe bag pictured above are two projects - the beginnings of my Miss Rachel's Yoke (purchased as a kit more than two years ago and finally cast on!) and the beginnings of a shawl with this yarn. As soon as the bag was stuffed with these two projects, I realized I needed yet another bag.
Originally, I'd planned to make the larger Stowe with some pink handwoven fabric - and then quickly walked back my plans when I tried to lay out the pattern pieces - there was no way I'd have enough fabric. As much as I love big bags, I felt like there could be a size in between the big and little Stowe bags, and set about drafting a medium size based on the amount of handwoven fabric I wanted to use.
Then, knowing that pattern drafting isn't exactly a well-honed skill of mine, I decided to test the pattern out on less precious fabric first.
I ended up choosing to line the bag, using this tutorial. I did end up using a little bit of this handwoven fabric as the pockets, and lined those too. Instead of doing step 13, I did a more traditional boxed bottom using the basic fold-and-sew method. I used a kumihimo braid that matched the handwoven fabric as a trim on the outside of the bag.
If anything, this bag might be a little bit wide for its height, so there might be some more tweaking in store for my modified pattern. Overall, though, I'm very pleased with the bag itself - right now it is hanging on the back of my chair holding the yarn for the Miss Rachel's Yoke.
Yep, I'm totally a bag lady, but I'm okay with that!
Have you heard of differential shrinkage? It's a scary-sounding word, and googling it doesn't help - you get a very technical description of building construction principles. Yuck!
In weaving, differential shrinkage is actually a very simple idea. It means that some fibers shrink more than others when you wash them. And you can use that idea to create interesting textural effects in your woven fabric.
Combining a shrinking fiber like wool with a non-shrinking fiber like silk or cotton in a single piece of fabric can create interesting results. When the fabric is washed, the shrinking fiber will pull the non-shrinking fiber into puffs. The looser and more open the fabric is, the more susceptible it will be to this effect because the fibers have more room to move around. The tighter the fabric is, the less it will be able to shrink because the fibers are already very close to each other.
The first key to working with differential shrinkage is knowing which fibers will shrink and which won't. Wool is the most notable fiber that shrinks because it has scales that act like Velcro. Wool felts or fulls as heat, moisture, and agitation are applied to it. Some wools will shrink more than others - wool from Merino sheep felts easily, while wool from Southdown sheep is more resistant to felting.
I've also included Lycra and elastic in the list of fibers that shrink because when they are on the loom, they are stretched out to their longest length, and when they are taken off the loom, they can shrink, creating textured effects. Subjecting them to heat will make them shrink more - think of stretch denim that has gone through the dryer one time too many!
Fibers that Shrink:
Plant-based fibers don't shrink as much as wool because they lack the scales that cause wool to felt. Some animal fibers, like silk and mohair, don't shrink either. And many synthetic fibers like rayon, polyester, and tencel don't shrink.
Some wools have been through a process called "superwashing," which either removes the scales from wool or smooths them down. These wools won't shrink as much, but I do find that they can shrink up to 10%, especially if they are subjected to very hot water or put in the dryer.
Fibers that Don't Shrink (as much):
Sometimes we achieve differential shrinkage on purpose, and sometimes it's an accident. I've woven pieces where I used all wool, but the wool was all different breeds and/or brands of yarn that were spun differently. The differences in the wools and yarns meant that some shrank more than others. What I thought would be a basic striped rug was a wavy, rumply thing that would never lie flat.
Other times, I've woven things where I combined different fibers on purpose, knowing I would get a textured effect. The weaving in the top image is one example - the warp was cotton, and the weft was a combination of cotton and a wool/silk yarn. Of these three fibers, wool is the only fiber that will shrink substantially. On the loom, the cloth looked flat. But after a trip through the washing machine on the delicate cycle, I ended up with a boucle-like fabric. That's differential shrinkage in action!
There are lots of different textural effects you can achieve with differential shrinkage. You can create a fabric with allover texture, like I've done here, or you can create small areas of texture within a bigger piece of fabric. The possibilities are endless!
Textural Effects You Can Achieve with Differential Shrinkage
Not a weaver? You can also use differential shrinkage in crafts besides weaving.
If you're a spinner, you can ply a shrinking fiber with a non-shrinking fiber. I love to use plying silk, which is very fine, to create a textured effect in my plied yarn. When you wet finish your yarn, you can full the shrinking fibers to create a textural effect. Maggie Casey of Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins calls this "Boucle the Easy Way."
If you're a knitter, you can use differential shrinkage in felting bags, hats, purses, and other items.
If you're a felter, you can add effects with non-shrinking fibers to create dimensionality. You can also use different thicknesses of wool layers to create puckers and bubbles - this video gives a great overview of the how and why.
Lately, I've been using differential shrinkage most often in creating boucle-like fabrics like the one pictured at the top of this post and my autumn leaves ruana. It really is a fun effect!
As you practice your fiber art skills, have you ever wondered about the craftspeople who came before you? The ones who figured out how to spin, the ones who figured out how to weave, the ones who figured out how to make fabric stretchy by interlocking loops of yarn with one another?
Unfortunately, their stories are lost to history, in part because textile production is so embedded in our culture that it began before humans had a written language. To add to the obscurity, many of the early tools used to produce and work with fabric didn't survive in the archaeological record. But the clues we do have are fascinating, and they indicate that spinning and weaving are very old indeed.
This Saturday, November 10, I'll be giving a presentation at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio. There's lots of interesting historical information about wool, fiber, sheep, and how it relates to us as fiber artists. Whatever fiber art you practice, there's something here for you!
In addition to the discussion, there will be demonstrations, explanations, and hands-on experiences that walk you through how wool is processed before it can become yarn, and how yarn is worked into cloth. The possibilities for customized cloth are endless!
You can purchase tickets at the Black Sheep Handworx Studio, or at 970tix. I hope to see you there!
The last time I blogged about this, it was still yarn. Now it's cloth, and I couldn't be happier with the outcome.
Unlike some of my other projects, warping this piece was relatively easy - after two days of warping, and a little bit of sampling, it was ready to weave. As I often do, I threaded the loom for a twill pattern, just to keep my eyes from glazing over while I was threading the heddles. A plain weave structure is typically warped on shafts 1-2-3-4, and then that sequence is repeated until the end of time. For twills, there are endless variations of patterns, but the one I chose was 1-2-3-4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1-2-3-4. The upshot is that there are more pattern possibilities with that complexity, including plain weave.
I sampled several twill treadlings, but didn't like them on the cloth. I often find that with a gradient warp like this one (and also this), plain weave just shows off the gradient in a wonderful way.
Originally, I had wanted to use a handspun weft in a dark brown. But I wanted to get the fabric woven more than I wanted to wait while I spun more yarn. Instead, I ended up using an olive green wool/alpaca blend that I bought as mill ends. It's 24/2 (laceweight for you knitters), and I bought a 4 pound cone of it that seems like it will never end. Even with about 5 yards of weaving on the loom, I barely made a dent in it.
I originally set the warp at 12 ends per inch, but it seemed too sticky. I re-sleyed the warp at 10 ends per inch in my 8 dent reed (the 10 dent is rusty), double-sleying every fourth slot. It turned out that the yarn was probably a bit too thick for a 12 dent reed, and I probably could have gotten away with 12 ends per inch if I'd started off in the bigger reed. After re-sleying the warp into a different reed, though, I was not in the mood to re-sley yet again.
Once I got weaving, there was no stopping me. It took a few days, weaving in one or two hour chunks, and then the warp was ready to take off the loom.
I wet-finished it in the washing machine. I was a little hesitant to do so, since even though I have a top-loading washer, it locks as soon as the cycle begins and it's just about impossible to pause the cycle to check on the progress. I set the washer to cool water on the gentle cycle, and selected the "deep water wash" option so there would be plenty of room in the water for the fabric to move around. It still needed a little more fulling once it came out, so I tossed it in the dryer for about 20 minutes, checking on it every five minutes or so.
The results look like this:
Because the weft is so much thinner than the warp, but I wove it as a "balanced" weave (10 ends per inch in both the warp and weft), the fabric is fairly thin and lightweight with a really nice drape.
I'd been intending to make a Wiksten Kimono Jacket from this, and started to gather fabric for a muslin when I realized how much of a yardage eater it is. My mom (an expert sewer) suggested the Fit for Art Tabula Rasa Jacket instead. I'm currently waiting on the pattern (and most of the extensions) to arrive in the mail. Then I'll make a muslin and hopefully be ready to dive in to actually do something with this fabric!
Welcome to August! Are you ready for fall yet? I know I am. We spent (at least) two or three weeks in the hottest days of July with a non-functioning swamp cooler.* Now that it's fixed, I have the air blasting just so I can put on a long-sleeve shirt every now and then and dream of fall.
In July, I managed to finish a machine-knit sweater. I tried it on to make sure it fit, but took absolutely zero photos of it. And I made a SAORI-style table runner...and tons of yarn for Tour de Fleece. But the biggest thing is what you see above! I am now selling rug hooking wool and other supplies over on FiberCrafty!
There are lots of other odds and ends, but I think that's most of it! What are you working on this month?
*For all y'all who live somewhere humid, a swamp cooler is an air conditioner that intentionally adds humidity to your air. If you live in a dry climate like I do, it actually works pretty well to cool you off. (And if you grew up in a swampy place like I did, it's pretty alien to you to consider a swamp cooler to be a good thing.)
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