Wednesday, January 28, 2009


These are the looms the Polar Bear built me, plus one jury-rigged from an embroidery frame. I mostly use them for tapestry weaving, though one was built for a pile-rug weaving class I was teaching.

They're basic frame looms, out of 1 and 1/4" x 1 and 1/4". Cheap and easy to build.

The dots on the top are inlaid inch and 1/2 inch marks, because the Polar Bear is an overachiever. And the runes spell out "This loom not of period design", because it was used in a display of medieval tapestry weaving and someone said the loom should be marked as not being a design of the medieval period, and because the Polar Bear thinks he's funny.

Sadly, so do I.

Sometimes. :)

The sides have slots drilled part of the way through the wood on the inside (about 1/2 an inch) near the bottom, with a 1" diameter dowel resting in them. The slots are about 3 inches long, so the dowel can be used to tension the warp.

There are grooves on the front and back of the bottom horizontal piece, where tie-downs to hold the dowel under tension can go, without rubbing on the slot in the removable base the loom sits in.

The advantage of this design is that the dowel can be raised enough to allow even a new, thick spool of my favourite warp thread to pass under it, and the tensioning dowel is stable and pretty tight in the slots (it's not removable), so the loom can be turned on its side to warp up without needing a hand to hold the rod in place, which I find easier.

This is the loom made for a rug weaving class. I needed it quick so it wasn't finished as fancily as the previous. I wanted a heddle rod to speed up the rug weaving, which I don't use in tapestry weaving since my weft is rarely passing under more than a dozen thread in a pick, so the Polar Bear built a basic frame loom, with rests for the heddle rod.

This loom fits in the same removable base. Unlike the previous loom, the upper horizontal at the bottom is fixed. I wouldn't have bothered with it at all except I didn't want the warp threads to pass around the horizontal piece that fit into the base. Especially the way it was warped up for the rug class (see picture two below).

For tension, there's a loose dowel that can be hung from the top of the loom. This is a whole lot easier to make than the loom with the slots in the sides. But I find it a pain to warp up, because you have to hang the tensioning rod first, and it has to be warped up standing upright unless you have extra hands to help you.

Also, you have to leave room at both the top and the bottom of the frame for the spool of warp thread to pass, which means that while these are both the same overall size, I have several inches less usable warp on this second frame, if I warp up this way.

It was designed to warp up this way for the class (this is one of the student's looms, with a permanent base and better heddle rests), and I discovered after I got it home that the space between the two bottom horizontal pieces on mine isn't big enough for a newer spool of my usual warp thread to fit through. Works fine for this other kind of warp up though, if you warp up on the two warp sticks first then wrap the whole warp onto the loom.

The removable base. 2" x 8" (or maybe 10") with 2" x 2" mounted on it. Two holes drilled through both 2" x 2"s, with matching holes in all the frame loom bottoms, and a couple of pegs to hold the frame in place. The base is quite heavy and the loom doesn't rock.

Making the base removable means we can pack the loom flat, as space is often at a premium on our road trips. Flying, I would just take the frame, which fits in our largest suitcase, and not bother with the base.

This is the jury-rigged loom, from a small scrolling embroidery frame, a couple of pegs from my spool rack, and a couple of shoelaces, for a miniature tapestry. Just to show you can make a loom out of anything! :)

The stand, for those who are interested, is a couple of pieces of wood, 3/4" x 3", about 2 and 1/2 feet tall, with cross-pieces for feet. there's three holes at the top for adjustable height and the bolts can go through the holes already in the scrolling frame side pieces. You'd want heavier feet than I have (mine are just made with the same wood as the verticals), because the whole thing rocks when I'm using it, unless I put my feet on the stand's feet.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A break from serious stuff 2

My second project was birds. I like birds.

I didn't bother finishing my first attempt as it was clearly misshapen, this was my second. Felted wool, stuffed with sewing scraps. The wool is coat-weight, so I just butted the fabric edges up against each other. Two identical pieces for the sides and head, and a bullet shaped piece for the bottom. The point of the bullet only came just up the front of the bird. The body was too slender and it didn't stand up at all.

I lengthened the bullet shaped piece to come up to just under the chin. The body looks right now, but the head is too small, at least for a corvid, which was what I was going for.

I also changed the stitch. I had been using herringbone, but since the thread only crossed the seam on top of the fabric the seams kept collasping inward if I pulled them too tight, making it hard to get the edges of the cloth to butt up against each other closely. I used the same stitch as used on baseballs here, not sure what it's called, other than 'baseball stitch'.

Expanded the head, tail's too short, and I didn't bother closing it. Melton wool, with baseball stitch. The green thread is tapestry wool. Stuffed with some indigo dyed unspun wool that got felted in a too-hot indigo dye bath.

A comparison shot which reminds me WAY too much of an old picture I have of dead corvidae laid out in a tray together.

This was my first attempt at a sewing it in a thinner cloth with an internal seam. I wanted to do a bunch of them as gifts and for my own Christmas tree, but ran out of time. Next year.

Black cotton twill, wood bead eyes, stuffed with warp thrums that were too short to use for tapestry weaving. I didn't add any seam allowance to the pattern (same as for the purple raven), to see how much I would lose in appearance. Looks more like a jackdaw than a raven. When it was nearly done I realized I was losing so much in the tail it almost disappeared, so I added on a piece on the bottom of the bullet shaped piece and made the top piece with a long wedge to be inserted into the seam that runs down the middle of the back. I'm not sure about the shape on the end itself, but I like the wedge bit. Would also mean being able to make tail feathers of a different colour than the body if I wanted.

A comparison between the two methods using the same pattern.

A break from serious stuff

After spending the better part of my time for 3 1/2 months trying to get pieces done for various gallery show submissions, I decided to spend December on less serious work (also proto-types and experiments for a possible Etsy shop in the new year!)

My first project was personalized cat toys for several cat friends. KC and Faith-Boo are two tortie cats, sisters of different mothers. Faith-Boo's has a draw-string on the bottom, and is filled with a draw-string baggie with catnip (for easier washing). KC is stuffed with mylar ribbons from a child's cheerleading pompom, for crinklies.

Linen, scrap embroidery floss, embroidery based on markings and eye colours of the original cats. Faith is rather diffused in her colouring, and since it's a catnip filled toy and she's called the Tiny Texas Tortie Tornado for a reason, I went easy on the embroidery on her. :) I couldn't resist going overboard on KC, though.

Missy's is also a draw-string-closed catnip toy. The tube is made of several sandwiched layers of cotton twill covered with beige striped linen, with a catnip baggie inside. The head is stuffed with sewing scraps. Her nose really looks like that, pink outlined in black.  It's adorable!

Smokey and BJ are two grey littermates, who, frankly, I can't tell apart in pictures. So they could tell who was who, Smokey has his beloved Mr Snail appliqued on, and I replaced BJ's tail with his Snakie toy. Both are made of linen, and the snail and snake are cotton and embroidery floss. BJ and Smokey's head are stuffed with sewing scraps, and there's a jingly ball in the bottom part of BJ. 

Sol is Smokey and BJ's litter-brother, pure black with a white 'milk-moustache'. I put a spring in his tail, 'cause he apparently likes them. Cotton twill, embroidery floss, stuffed with sewing scraps.

Batman is another black kitty (no relation). Cotton twill, and like the KC doll from the same pattern, stuffed with mylar ribbons.

Abigail is Batman's littermate (as are Reggie and Riley below). She's a calico, with a mostly black back and hood and white belly and paws. Cotton twill, embroidery floss, based on the same design as the Faith-Boo toy, without the giant floofy tail.

Reggie's a brown tabby, linen, embroidery floss, stuffed with sewing scraps, an extra long tail, I'm hoping he and BJ will like grabbing the long limbs and tails and drag the toys around.

Riley's also a brown tabby, but with a white belly, which you can sort of see here. Linen, cotton twill, with a jingly ball and sewing scraps inside. He's a bigger cube-cat than Sol, because I needed to get the ball inside.

Jack is actually my own cat. I have an idea for a Persephone toy as well, but didn't think of it in time to alter the toy I had already made her before I thought of personalized toys.

Cotton twill, embroidery floss, feathers, jingly ball. He's actually the same size as Sol, as I had figured out how to get the ball in with two sides open (mostly I sewed him as six separate pieces of cloth with the legs moved to the side, instead of front and back, which left me with two seams that met that I could leave open, that didn't need a limb or ears sewn in). The feathers are an experiment in how to secure them firmly in a toy, before I'm willing to make cat toys for sale that have feathers.

Or it would be, if I could get either of the little rotters to actually play with it!

The nice thing is, all these toys were made with nothing more than some small scraps of fabric I keep a bin of (most pieces are irregular and under 30cm square and are left over from other projects), some scrap bits of embroidery floss that were too small to wind on a bobbin, but too long to throw out, and the scraps from cutting out the toys themselves (plus a three-pack of jingly balls).

Several of these were reverse engineered from things I saw elsewhere. A few are so close to the original that I won't make them as anything but gifts, unless I find out they weren't original designs, others are changed so much I don't think they're even recognizable to their original inspiration.