Fall is here, like it or not. Some people feel that fall is just an appetizer that shows up right before we’re served up a big plate of winter. Personally I love this time of year. New England is awash in color, the days are crisp and sunny, and the smell of wood smoke becomes familiar once again. It makes me want to snuggle up with a cup of tea and a cozy blanket, after a full day of weaving, of course.
Speaking of blankets, I want to talk a bit about how to make something big from something small. Specifically, this month’s project: a 53” wide x 54” long wool blanket I wove on a 20” Flip Rigid Heddle Loom!
Just because your loom has a 15” or 20” weaving width, or whatever width narrower than the project you have in mind, it doesn’t mean that you can’t weave a wider cloth. Another option to consider is double weave, but I find weaving narrow panels and stitching them together easier.
Sewing panels together, at its most basic, requires nothing more than a bit of extra weaving yarn and a yarn needle. Believe it or not, it’s rather quick too. If you’re comfortable with a bit of stitching, the possibilities are limitless. After finishing this blanket, I’m ready to weave something even larger.
This is a good time to discuss sampling. Sampling is an excellent way to get to know your yarns and how they respond to everything from the loom to the washing and drying process. I admit that I don’t always sample. Oftentimes I use an educated guess as to how my yarn will behave based on notes that I have made from previous projects. I will say, that when I’m using a yarn for the first time, or if my project is large, I almost always sample. Imagine buying ten skeins of yarn, which you then use to knit yourself a sweater, but you skip knitting up the gauge swatch because you just can’t be bothered. I have a sweater like that. Never been worn in public.
I’ve heard a few different opinions about how to sample. Some folks say that you should add extra length to your warp when project planning and use the first ten inches or so of weaving as a sample. This would be cut from the loom, the warp re-tied and the sample wet finished. The only issue I have with this method is that if for some reason I decide that the width of my warp needs to be adjusted, this isn’t necessarily a quick fix. Another opinion is that a 10” by 10” sample should suffice. I think it all boils down to how precise you really want to be.
I have been using my Cricket Loom to sample new yarns. I can warp up the full 10” width if I feel like it, and have a sample woven off in no time flat. This gives me a great idea of how a new yarn will behave. But for the sake of experimentation, I wove two samples to compare whether or not sampling the full width of my project would have made a difference in my project planning. For this project I used Harrisville Highland. It comes in 56 colors on 450yd/8oz cones. I had steered clear of this yarn before weaving this project because frankly, it doesn’t feel very nice on the cone. But here again is another reason to sample. Wet finishing this yarn releases the residual spinning oils, causing the yarn to bloom nicely and feel lovely.
Sample #1 Woven on the Cricket Loom
Sett: 8 ends per inch Width in reed: 5.5”
Total ends: 44 Pre-wash dimensions: 5” x 12 3/8”
Post-wash dimensions: 4 ½” x 11 1/8” Shrinkage: ~10% length and width
Warped with the project on the Flip Loom Sett: 8 ends per inch
Width in reed: 17” Total ends: 136
Pre-wash dimensions: 15 ¼” x 11 3/8” Post-wash dimensions: 12 ¾” x 10”
Shrinkage: ~15% width, ~11% length
Both samples were washed the way I intended to wash the final project: in a delicate cycle with hot water, allowed to soak in hot, soapy water for ten minutes prior to starting the wash cycle, and then dried on low heat in the dryer. You can see that it did make a difference when I sampled using the full-width sample. That said I had already planned and warped my project based on the loss in dimensions experienced by the first sample. Therefore, I knew that my finished object would end up slightly narrower than I had originally intended. Thankfully I wasn’t too worried about my blanket being slightly narrower, but if I had intended this fabric to be used for a specific purpose requiring a specific dimension, I could have been in a bit of trouble. For the next blanket, I will make the width adjustment to the warp to compensate for the extra shrinkage.
So on to the project. This blanket is constructed of four woven panels stitched together at the selvedges. I warped my 20” Flip twice for this project with each woven panel cut in half width-wise to form two blanket panels. To clarify, you will warp your loom with a 170”-long warp two times. Each warp will give you enough cloth to cut and form two panels.
Project details for each warp: Sett: 8 ends per inch
Width in reed: 17” Length of warp: 170”
Total warp ends: 136 Total warp required: 63 yards x 2 = 1,286 yards total
Width in reed: 17” Length of one pick: 18.7
Picks per inch: 9 Total inches woven: 140”
Total weft required: 655 yards x 2 = 1,310 yards total
I used a variety of Harrisville Highland Colors: #8 Hemlock
#13 Peacock #67 Marigold
#68 Olive #69 Cypress
I didn’t use a particular pattern in the warp or the weft. I switched colors as I felt like it forming a random plaid. With 450 yards per cone, about six cones are required. This yarn comes in so many colors, that choosing just six may be the most difficult part of the whole project.
Weave your two lengths of cloth. I like to use a measuring guide pinned along my woven edge so that I know that I have woven the correct amount of cloth. I hemstitched at both the start and finish of my woven panels as extra security. If you’d like to measure to the mid-point of your weaving, you can also hemstitch at the end and beginning of each smaller panel.
Once my two panels were off the loom, I set them out on the floor to determine what order I wanted to stitch them together. From here, simply measure out a length of your leftover yarn equal to about one and a half times the length of your panels. Select the two panels you want to stitch together first, and using a yarn needle, simply pick up your weft loops along each selvedge and stitch together. I picked up every other loop forming a zigzag pattern at the seam. Don’t pull too tightly. You want your panels to lay flat when you’re finished.
After stitching the four panels together, they went into the washing machine. Hot soapy water soak for ten minutes, then a full delicate cycle. From here pop your blanket into the dryer to finish. If you were to use a different yarn, I would stress that you should sample unless you want a baby blanket.
After washing, I hemmed my cut edges. If you were very precise with your measurements, you may opt for a fringed edge of some sort. I trimmed off the excess fringe, double folded the seams down and machine stitched in place using a walking foot and a zigzag stitch. You could also hand stitch your seams if you prefer.
Now comes the part that requires a bit of muscle. Steam pressing. I steam pressed the heck out of my blanket to give it a nice drape and a smooth surface using the hottest setting of my iron and pressing both sides with equal fervor. This isn’t just a twiddle-dee-dee-I’m-ironing-a-shirt technique. This is a get-your-body-up-over-the- iron-and-throw-your-full-weight-into-it sort of thing. Iron with gusto, Friends.
This project, despite its size, weaves up quickly, and I’m so pleased with the end result.