Sunday, January 16, 2011

When Weaving Goes Bad, Star Trek to the Rescue.

1.Captain Kirk fixes my weaving

I mentioned a few months ago that I bought a 15 inch table loom off of craigslist.  I warped it immediately and wove a little practice piece, which stunk.  Then I warped it for a strap. I wove the first few inches and that stunk too.   Isabel took over and wove the rest of it, which was all beautiful except for a few stinky spots where I tried to weave. I promise to leave all further strap weaving to her.  She loves to pull the weft threads really tight, which is great for strap weaving and is also why I don't like her to mess with my other weaving.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to weave place mats in some kind of fancy-pants pattern.  Place mats are in short supply around here. For one thing, there are six of us, but most of my place mats came in sets of four.  There is one set that has six mats, but they were woven by someone who stinks even more than I do (or who is underpaid and was given wildly mismatched materials to work with), and five of them developed permanent wrinkles and folds  the first time through the wash, so I hate them. In addition to my table looking perpetually disorganized, my kids drop a lot of food on their mats, so  the mats spend an inordinate amount of time in (or near, if I'm a little behind on the laundry, which I usually am) the washing machine.  And every time I look at one of my looms (there are only two, but I sound much more important if I say "one of my looms," as if there are so many of them) I think how terribly practical it would be for me to weave some place mats on them.

So I sat down a few weeks ago with graph paper and a calculator and planned my very practical mats.  Using the cotton that I have on hand, I would need 448 pieces of string (not the official weaving term, but pretty accurate), each measuring 110 inches.  No problem.  Every so often, when I'm really hard up for entertainment, I'll sit down in front of my warping board and wind some string around the posts and eventually I'll get to the right number.  Or I'll lose my mind.  Either way, it's an adventure.


(I made this warping board myself using about $5 of new materials and a bunch of stuff we had lying around the house from other projects.  A new one would have cost a minimum of $60 and, so far, I'm not sorry about having made my own. I'm kind of cheap that way, although I will admit that after two years of working with my aesthetically-challenged PVC niddy noddy, I finally shelled out $22 and got myself a pretty wooden one. It works better and on looks alone it was worth the money, although there is something to be said for a piece of equipment that you can let your kids step on.)


Today I sat down and began winding the warp (i.e.,wrapping the strings around the posts) in earnest, and I had just wrapped the 214th length of string when I looked at my loom and had a cruel thought:  to weave a project with 448 pieces of string, there need to be 448 heddles, which are the little jobbers on the loom that guide the strings and let you move them up and down to make patterns.

Here is my loom


and trust me, there is no way there are 448 heddles on there.  A quick count revealed that there are exactly 218 heddles on the loom.  Not even half of what the project calls for.

So now what??  I've already wound nearly half the warp.  I'm at 214 ends so far or, if you really want to feel my pain, 23,540 inches of string. I am too far in to give up on this project now.  Plus, I'm stubborn and I refuse to be defeated by weaving.

Heddles cost about $22 (plus shipping) per 100, so it would cost $66 (plus shipping, still) to  add enough heddles to do the project. I paid $100 for the loom (it retails at about $530, new) and a whopping $5 for the warping board (and about the same for some parts to rig a bobbin winder out of an old toy), and I felt pretty good about getting myself started in weaving at that price.  But, as necessary as a certain number of heddles are to make the loom functional, it galls me to think of spending an additional 66% (plus shipping, let's not forget) of my formerly reasonable start-up costs in order to make a few place mats.  To sum up:  300 heddles = NO!

I could stop winding the warp and just re-design the project for the number of strings and heddles that I have right now, but I can't figure out what I would do with 7 1/2 inch wide place mats.  I suppose I could call them towels, but I don't want towels, I want place mats and I'm feeling kind of stubborn about that right now. In theory, I could re-design the project for a heavier string, but I don't own any heavier string.  I own a bunch of the really skinny string and I'd like to be able to use it.

Really, there is only one way out of this little pickle. We're going to have to get all Star Trek-y and pull a  Kobayashi Maru, which is to say that  I'm changing the rules.   In the project I designed, each pattern repeat uses 10 strings and I intended to get the widest place mats possible by warping to the full width of my loom, about 15 inches. Three pattern repeats would obviously call for 30 strings (really I should start calling them "warp ends" already) and would be equal to one measly inch of weaving.  If I reduce the width of my warp by 30 ends (about one inch of weaving width), I will still produce a fabric that is somewhere between 12 and 14 inches (it will shrink in the weaving and then also when washed) wide, which is big enough for place mats. Coincidentally,  the slightly reduced project will require only 418 ends, which is exactly 200 heddles (two packages, not three) more than I currently have.  I think I can live with buying $44 worth of heddles, especially as it will allow me to keep using the skinny string that I already have.  Problem solved.  Win-Win.  Call me JamesT. Kirk.  Although I hope you'll be thinking of the new Star Trek movie and not the original TV series when you do that.

2. Microwave experiments that would have made Scotty proud

While I was busy having hysterics over my weaving, my kids were out playing in the snow.  When my son came back in, all rosy cheeked and chilled from his time outside, he decided to make some hot chocolate.  He's an independent kind of guy, so he poured himself a mug of milk and put it in the microwave. For five minutes.

When he was done, the milk had vanished and the mug looked like this:


What surprised me the most was the absence of the rest if the milk from the inside of the microwave. There was some milk-colored moisture accumulated on the top of the inside, and a thin layer on the glass plate inside, but nothing else.  Where did it all go? And will I be finding it again sometime in the future?

3. Socks that don't relate to Star Trek

I'm moving right along on the List of Knitted Insanity.   Below are the socks for Emma, which I finished late last week.


The socks turned out great, and the longer I worked with them the better I liked them.  The yarn color is all off in this photo.  Imagine a bright spring-like green instead. I used Knit Picks Stroll Tonal and held it double.  The socks are nice and cushy, but I couldn't make them any taller because this is as far as one skein of that stuff will take you.  Tonight I plan to finish knitting the lining for a hat that I made a few years ago (or was it last year? I've lost track) which is too big and not quite warm enough for really cold weather.  I have already cast on for a pair of socks for Matty, although I'm worried that he has grown enough that 50 grams of an alleged sport-weight sock yarn (can you tell that I have my doubts about that?) is not enough for both of his socks.

And that's about all for now.  Even if there were more, I couldn't stay to write it.  I declared a No Electronics morning today, and then extended it to a No Electronics afternoon.  Now that it is past nightfall, my daughter, who was nearly incoherent with horror over the No Electronics thing, is breathing down my neck in anticipation of plugging herself in again.  I fear violence if I don't repeal this brief prohibition.


  1. LOL now I know the answer to one of life's questions: how long is a piece of string. And please leave ole Willie Shatner alone - them's my childhood memories you're messin' with ;-)

  2. Hi Vivianne: The original series has a special place in my childhood, too, but boy did I love the new movie!

  3. Actually, yes, it was very well done, and cleverly linked in to so many of the 'in' jokes :-)