Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tools of the Trade

Handspinning and handweaving have evolved from a necessity to a labour of choice. It is a hobby for some and a form of artistic expression for all. The tools that we use have evolved as well. The primative spindle evolved into great granny's walking wheel then it was reborn in the 60's and 70's as the Indian head spinner. Back then, we created thick and often lumpy wool yarn that screamed handspun. Coarse woven ponchos that weighed a ton were in style along with macrame belts and tie dyed cloth. Some people still associate hand weaving with these styles.

We've come a long way since the 70's. Today's spinners have a better understanding of fibres and how they can be blended, dyed and manipulated. New fibres, both natural and synthetic, became available. Styles changed. Finer yarns became popular. Equipment changed. Spinning wheels became compact, portable and efficient. We learned a thing or two about ergonomics and that had a positive effect on equipment and on our legs and backs.

Now we can create fine plied fibres using natural and synthetic materials. We can add softness, shine, texture, amazing colours, sparkle and spring. (Think about deliberately overspun yarn.)

Weaving also evolved. We developed a better understanding of how yarns behave and how cloth can be manipulated. New yarns continue to come on the market. Loom designs also changed.
The answer to "What kind of a loom do you have?" often defines the weaver's interest, although it is not uncommon for a weaver to list a number of different looms. Looms are like cats, once you have one it seems to attract more. For hand manipulated weaving, such as tapestry or "pick up" techniques, tapestry looms and rigid heddle looms are more popular today than the home made frame or box looms of the 70's. The new looms tend to be small in size, portable and flexible.
Harness looms have tended to become more complex with 8 plus harnesses even for a table loom. As with spinning wheels, the trend is towards lightweight, compact looms that are easy to store or transport. Check out the looms at your next workshop. Texsolv heddles and plastic components have replaced the metal fittings typical of a "Dorothy" table loom. Soon you won't hear that familiar clunk from changing harnesses.
Some of the more serious weavers are going high tech. Computer assisted floor looms make it possible to work with more than 16 harnesses without loosing your mind. Imagine trying to remember the treadling order without one! My 12 harness Leclerc loom is enough of a challenge for me.
There is a loom for everyone whether your passion is texture or pattern, free flowing or structured. Thank heavens we are not all the same.

Sometimes simple is still the best choice whether it is a drop spindle that you can take anywhere or an ancient inkle loom for making a strap.

Design software is one tool that I just love. No more drawing down a pattern on graph paper. Now I can test various design options and eliminate the truly bad ones without lifting a pencil. "Fiberworks" has given me the freedom to go beyond recipes. Software is great for structure and colour but the yarn still surprises. I still can't wait to see what happens when I weave the first few inches of a new project.

The recent popularity in copper pipe tapestry looms reminds me that often the tools we use are also a labour of love for the people that make them. A loom or a spinning wheel made of fine maple, ash or even walnut is at the very least comparable to a fine piece of furniture. Some spindles rival small sculptures.

Some items are a labour of love of a different kind. It might be that copper pipe loom,warping board or spool holder that was made for you. It is more than a tool. It is a statement of support. For me, that special tool is the set of reclaimed maple shuttles that my father made.