Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Tool Kit: getting started with inkle weaving

Schacht Inkle loom
The Schacht Inkle Loom
An inkle loom is ideal for learning about the technique of weaving.  You can weave long strips of fabric which can be used as straps, belts, and decorative edgings. 

This is my first encounter with weaving since the days of shoeboxes and string and I was a little nervous about warping up.  In woven fabrics, two sets of yarns cross perpendicular to one another. One set, known as the warp, is held taut on the loom while the weft set is woven over and under the suspended warp.  Weaving with an inkle loom creates a warp-faced weave which means that the warp threads will show on the woven fabric, this is why three colours of warp yarn have been chosen.

I used the video Weaving on the Schacht Inkle Loom with Jane Patrick (click link to view) which is from the Schacht website. Jane explains the process simply and thoroughly and I was surprised at how easily I was able to understand.

Warp and heddles on an inkle loom
A close-up of the warp and heddles
The warp is wrapped around all the pegs in a zig-zag, missing the top peg in every other circuit. A heddle (which is the knotted white yarn shown here in a near vertical position) is hooked over the first warp thread and then every other until all the warp is wound onto the loom.  In this instance, the colour of warp is changed to another colour on every fourth pass. 

The open shed on an inkle loom
The shed created by pushing the lower warp threads downwards
The open warp on the Schacht inkle loom
The shed created by pushing the lower warp threads upwards 
The two photographs above illustrate the purpose of the heddles.  The heddles separate every other warp thread and when the warp is pushed downwards or upwards a space, called the shed, is created.  The shed is the space in which the shuttle passes taking the weft thread perpendicular to the warp threads.

Allison Holland's first attempt at weaving on an inkle loom
A beginners weaving on the Schacht inkle loom
My first attempt at weaving on the loom!  It took me about 8 rows to work out how to get the edge straight and this 10cm length of weaving was achieved in a matter of minutes.  The belt shuttle has been loaded with yarn on its narrow side in a figure of eight.  The figure of eight unwinds easily once you get used to crossing from left to right though the shed.  The wide, blade shaped side of the shuttle is used to beat the weft down and compact the weaving. 

Once the accessible warp has been woven, the tension peg is loosened off and the continuous warp is moved forward.  The woven fabric is taken around under the peg and out of the way.

Visit the website at http://www.georgeweil.com/ to view the range of braiding equipment and yarns which include inkle looms, Marudai for kumihimo braids, Ziggy Rytka's Luceting kit, and tablet weaving cards.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Tool Kit: getting started with polymer clay

The tools you will need for working with polymer clay are determined by what you want to make with it.  If you're on a budget, and just want to try the clays out, many of the tools can be found around the house.  Once tools have been used with polymer clay they should not be used for preparing food.

When the polymer clay first comes out of the packet it can be quite hard. Warming the clay will soften it and the easiest way to do this is to wrap it in cling film and wear it your pocket for 20-30 mins.  Take care not to overheat the clay (such as leaving in direct sunshine) as it will begin to cure (harden) and become unusable.  Some clay manufacturers have made softeners to blend with the clays and liquid polymer clays will do the same job.

A Non-porous Surface
Rolling polymer clay on a ceramic tile
Most importantly you will need a non-porous surface, such as a ceramic tile, on which to work.  Polymer clay will not adhere itself to the surface of the tile and modelled items can be left in situ while they are baked in the low temperature of the oven.

Rolling Clay

A polymer clay blend created in a pasta machine
A rolling pin is essential and a suitable option may be difficult to find in the home.  The smooth, none porous material of acrylic is ideal for the purpose, do not use wood as clay will stick to it.

If you are going to do a lot of work with polymer clay, a most valuable tool is a pasta machine.  Feeding the softened clay through the pasta machine ensures evenly rolled sheets of clay which can be used to create blends or to make canes (find out more about these techniques from the Fact File).  The pasta machine makes light work of conditioning clay for detailed modelling.

A Sharp Blade
When working with canes and millefiori, it is very important to have a sharp knife with a fine blade so that you can make clean cuts without dragging the clay out of shape.

Adding Detail
A doll made from polymer clay by Sue Heaser
Detailed modelling can be achieved with the point of a darning needle or a thin knitting needle.  The needle can also be used to pierce the hole in beads (see how to make a simple polymer clay bead from our Fact File).

Do not use a sharp ended needle or pin as they will tear the clay rather than smooth and shape it.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Felt Beads made from Merino Wool Tops

Felted beads made from Merino wool tops

Felt beads or balls can be used for making jewellery, as embellishments for clothes and accessories, or for making simple toys such as our Caterpillar which you can see in the Fact File.

The trick to making a regularly shaped ball or bead is how you start it.  I used a bowl of hot water with a good squirt of washing up liquid.  Pull wisps of wool out from the top and loosely shape them in your hands.  If you're trying to get the beads all the same size it is better to underestimate how much you need, as more can be felted onto the ball if necessary.

Cup the fibre ball in your hands (one hand on top and the other below) and briefly submerge into the soapy water.

Merino wool about to be felted into a ball

Begin to rotate the ball loosely between your cupped palms and the ball of fibre will begin to shrink and tighten in the soap suds.  If you work the fibres together too quickly, cracks may appear in the surface of the bead. 
Felted bead, before and after repair

To repair irregularities, pull out a few wisps from the wool top and wrap them around the outside.  Submerge in the soapy water, lift out, and begin rotating the bead between your palms until the new layer has felted over the original bead.

Rolling the bead on the bamboo mat helps to harden the felted surface

When you are happy with the shape and size of the bead, rinse it in hot water and roll it for about 30 seconds onto a dish cloth or, as in this case, onto a bamboo felting mat. This will help to compact the ball and harden the surface.  Leave the beads to dry out before threading with a needle and stringing them together.

Merino wool tops and felting tools, such as the bamboo mat, can be ordered from the Felt Making section at http://www.georgeweil.com/.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Merino Wool and Silk Blended Top - FELTED

You may remember our item about Felt Wrapped Soap and the lovely Merino wool and silk blend we used.  Impatient as always, I decided to unwrap the soap before it had all been used.

After carefully cutting open the package at one end I found that the fibre had not felted quite as much as I had expected.  As the package was still soapy, I rolled up a handful of carriers bags, pushed them inside the orifice and dampened it with hot water before working up a lather.  More soap and hot water was added while I worked the piece into shape.

Merino wool and silk blend felted
A felted vessel that started out as felt wrapped soap.
It didn't take too much effort for the fibres to felt together and tranform into this organic shaped vessel.

Here are examples of how the Merino wool and silk blend looks when flat felted. The highlights of white silk glisten against the subtle blend of tan through to dark brown.

Silk fibre runs the length of felted wool
A dense felt with highlights of silk

The Merino wool and silk blend top was spilt lengthways and loosely woven, over and under before felting in bubble wrap and a bamboo felting mat.  It took a fair amount of elbow grease to achieve this dense felt but was well worth the effort.

The Merino wool and Silk blend is available in 9 colours

The Merino wool and silk blend can be found on our website, as can a selection of Felt Making books and felt making tools, including the bamboo felting mat and bubble wrap.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Soya Beans

If Jack had brought home Soya Beans, we're sure his mother would never have thrown them out of the window.

This magical bean is a valued source of protein and a healthier alternative to meat. It can lower cholesterol and blood pressure and aid weight loss. Classified as an oilseed rather than as a pulse, the bean can be used to produce oil, flour, and milk and is used extensively in the food industry.

Our customers value the soya bean for the very soft fibre that is produced from it. It has a delicate shine and a creamy yellow colour and is very similar to tussah silk - making it a silk for vegans.

It is usual for plant fibres, which are cellulose, to be dyed using fibre reactive dyes but as the soya bean is protein, acid dyes are used to produce the best colours.

Our photograph shows the fibre before and after it is spun. Yarns spun from soya bean give fabric a fluid drape, and the woven or knitted fabric is breathable and soft.

Another product derived from soy bean is soy wax. This wax can be used to make candles and gives a cleaner, longer lasting burn than paraffin wax.

The wax is also used for the dye technique Batik and as the wax has a lower melting point than traditional waxes, produces no fumes and can be washed out with hot water and soap, it is a safer choice for teaching in classrooms and workshops.

If either of these products interest you, they can be bought from the website at www.georgeweil.com: Soy Bean Fibre or Soy Wax

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Light Reflective Yarn - Highlighting Lace

photos: Ewan Mathers / Louise West
A response to our email asking for your opinions about printing a catalogue this year, gave us this very pleasant response from lace maker and jewellery maker, Louise West.

'I personally like to be able to hold the catalogue and browse through it. It is my first port of call if I want something.

The main problem with the website, is very often you have to know what something is called or know what you want before you look for it, you don't browse it the same as you do with the catalogue.

It was a typical example of the light reflective thread, I was looking through printed materials, not really looking for anything in particular but just browsing when I saw this and I didn't even know I wanted it, but ended up using it on an MA piece of work, which is currently in the Bowes Museum  exhibition 'Study, Design and Create'.  It was just what I needed but had never come across before, so I could not have searched on the website for it.'

The light reflective yarn is a 1mm wide PVC plastic strip coated with reflective material on both sides.  It is strong enough to stitch with and can be used in both warp and weft. This interesting yarn which presents as a pale grey and reflects to a silver white, can be ironed with a cool iron and will shrink when a hot iron is applied. The shrinkage does not affect the reflective quality and can be used to create special weaving effects.

Louise also said about the yarn 'It was really good to use, and gave me the effect I wanted to highlight it, I knew it was being submitted to the Bowes for possible selection, and that the lighting in there was low level, so I needed something to catch peoples eye.  (I had previously considered fibre optics but didnt want it to look like a Christmas tree!!) This fitted the bill but I think it needs careful use.' 

We recommend a visit to Louise's website to see her other beautiful designs.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Hat Shapers formers for making felt hats

Oval Dome Hat Shaper
Hat Shapers are designed for shaping and blocking felt hats. They are made from strong, recycled plastic and are lightweight and washable.  The plastic is strong and durable enough to withstand the hot steam used to finish off the felt. 

These hats were felted by Susan Litton and Monica Traub using Merino wool.  Susan's hat has a hand-dyed silk hanky felted into the surface, and Monica's hat (which is made from undyed Merino wool) has woollen yarn felted into the surface.

We keep a selection of Hat Shaper hat shapes in stock and can order in any of the other Hat Shaper hat shapes you may require.  Visit the Hat Shapers website to choose from their extensive range and contact us to find out how to order.
Our Fact File page Felted Hats with Hat Shapers includes instructions on how to get started by Wanda Tate