I finished weaving the second phoenix yesterday – 4800+ picks in just three days! That probably doesn’t sound like much, but it translates to three hours a day of intense concentration. I had to fight through a number of technical problems, too. Towards the end, I had to replace one entire section of sixteen threads, as they had gotten too tight to weave properly. Fortunately, I managed to make the change at the very end of the piece, keeping the repaired bits out of the piece itself. It would have been tricky to change out an entire section of threads midway through the piece without leaving a visible trace.
This phoenix subtly differs from the previous one, looking more opaque and with brighter colors. The interesting part is that this doesn’t grow out of the design, but the weaving process. I made exactly one change: the timing of the beat. On any loom, the sequence of weaving goes more or less like this:
- Open the shed – raise the warp threads that you want on top.
- Throw the shuttle – pass the weft thread through the shed, so the correct warp threads lie above the weft and the others below it.
- Beat. Pull the beater back to push the weft thread against the previously woven cloth, so it locks in place
- Close the shed – lower the warp threads.
This is a pretty simple process, but subtle differences in technique can make a big difference. In particular, the timing of Step 3 is a critical element in the nature of your cloth. If you beat on an open shed, with the warp threads still raised, there is very little resistance to the beat, so your freshly placed weft threads will pack in closer. If you beat on a closed shed, the intertwining of warp and weft will offer more resistance, and the weft threads will be spaced a bit more widely. And then you can beat on a closing shed – finishing the beat just as the shed closes – which gives a result somewhere in between.
I had been beating on a closing shed, because it works better with my weaving rhythm. However, changing the location of the pedal made this physically impossible, or at least very difficult. So I had switched to beating on a closed shed, which made the weft less dense and stretched out the design from my original plan. It also allowed more black to show in the space between picks of weft, diluting the bright colors of the weft. I didn’t like it.
So I switched to beating on an open shed. This packed down the weft about 20-30% more densely. In the sample below, you can see clearly that the white section of the moon in top left is woven more densely than the equivalent yellow section in bottom right, so the white is clearer and purer than the yellow.
Of course, packing the weft more densely meant that the image got compressed by the same 20%. As you can see, the moon looks distinctly squashed in this sample. More adjustments needed!
The resulting phoenix looks brighter than the first phoenix, and doesn’t have the greenish tinge in the body of the bird. But it also looks more opaque – a trifle less fiery in the tail. More subleties!
I unfortunately didn’t have time for more than a quick shot of Phoenix 2 – I was packing for today’s trip to Southern California. But I did get a quick shot of both phoenix heads:
I’m not sure which phoenix I prefer. The first phoenix looks more translucent, so I feel the tail conveys the idea of flames better than in the second phoenix. But the second phoenix is brighter, and its body looks more solid. So there are tradeoffs. But it was interesting to see how much difference timing can make!
Speaking of which, timing can be critical in other things as well. My friend Alfred (the one whose shoes Fritz finds so incredibly sexy) was over the other day, and spent some time in the garage, playing with Emmy (my 40-shaft loom). He left three skeins of yarn in a paper bag for an hour or so, which turned out to be a mistake. Tigress is a mighty huntress with an unerring sense for her natural prey. So naturally, this is what happened next:
Doesn’t she look so sweet and innocent, even surrounded by the evidence?
Fortunately, this skein was one that was already tangled, so (per Alfred) it was no great loss. The remaining skeins have been moved to the garage, safe from the Mighty Huntress.