I spent all day yesterday questing for the elusive circle. A perfect circle is something of a Holy Grail when it comes to weaving – both because it is difficult to do within the limitations of most looms, and because it implies incredibly precise and consistent weaving. Weaving on a floor loom is rectilinear – threads crossing threads at right angles – so the only way to get a circle is to know exactly how many picks (weft threads) and ends (warp threads) per inch in your finished fabric, and stretch or squash your weaving draft to compensate for any differences.
But wait! That’s not all. Cloth under tension on the loom is not the same dimensions as cloth that has been removed from the loom. When you wash fabric, the threads relax, which shrinks the finished fabric. And not consistently, either: it generally shrinks more in one direction than the other. And in the warp, the edge threads get woven more densely than the center threads, so you cannot just measure your fabric crosswise, divide by the number of inches, and think you know the density of your warp. And so on.
Normally, accuracy isn’t critical. If your image gets stretched or squashed by 5-10%, it generally doesn’t matter too much. But if you are using circles in your design, accuracy becomes critical because people are very good at distinguishing circles from ovals – even more so than, say, distinguishing squares from rectangles. So to weave a perfect circle means you know precisely how the woven cloth will behave once it’s taken off the loom, can modify the design to compensate for the many things that shrink or weave to different dimensions, and can weave with enough precision that all the theoretical numbers work out.
So, with all that as background, may I present a perfect circle?
Lest you be too impressed, here are attempts 1 and 2:
Attempt #1 was a wild shot in the dark, based on educated guesses about the number of threads per inch in warp and weft. (I used different colors since I didn’t want to waste my precious, limited supply of hand-dyed weft.) I didn’t expect this attempt to work, but after carefully measuring the dimensions of the finished piece and doing all the calculations, I did expect a circle from attempt #2. Alas, the problem with empirical measurement is that it doesn’t care about theory, and I wound up with another oval. So I decided that this time, rather than measure the dimensions of the finished piece, I was just going to measure the goddamn circle, goddammit, and adjust the aspect ratio so the circle would weave properly, even if nothing else did. And that finally worked!
(To understand my frustration, realize that each sample represents an investment of at least three to four hours. Each sample is about 600 picks long, and takes an hour or more to weave. Then you have to cut it off, retie the warp so you can weave the next sample, wash it, and wait for it to dry. Then you have to press it. Only then can you decide whether it’s a circle.)
So I spent all day yesterday chasing the Holy Grail. And all because I was unwise enough to include a full moon in my design!
But now that I’ve achieved a perfect circle, I’m happy I invested the time. An oval moon would have been totally unacceptable in the finished piece! and this way I know that my image will weave up exactly as expected.
I’m planning to weave the actual piece today/tomorrow, so I hope to be able to show you the completed phoenix shortly.