Free Weaving

Having had a nightmare time trying to learn very structured tapestry weaving (much of the problem was not having the right tools and materials, but much of it was also my headlong approach and ignoring the planning required) and getting very frustrated, I finally got a small rigid heddle loom and the book SAORI: Self Innovation Through Free Weaving. SAORI is a type of weaving that started in Japan in the 70s, and specifically rejects the very structured ideas of traditional weaving. Floats, draw-in, uneven beating and other things traditionally considered flaws are instead valued and even intentionally used to create an organic and personal feel. It is weaving as a form of self-expression, self-discovery, and self-innovation.

SAORI specifically uses some really cool techniques, like clasped warps, using various materials (like wool locks, unspun roving, and sakiori fabric strips) as weft materials, leaving loose ends hanging, very loose warps, and more. It’s woven in long, relatively narrow lengths, in the tradition of kimono fabric, and made into loose, draped garments. You can see some of what I’m talking about at Weaving a Life, the blog of the Salt Spring Weaving SAORI studio.

One of the things that’s been really fascinating to me as I embark on this journey has been what traditional techniques and values have been easy or hard to let go of. It’s been very easy, and indeed joyful, to embrace throwing in whatever comes to hand and looks pretty, and to weave with areas built up here or there and then subsequent rows beaten in around it, giving curving shapes. Less easy but not difficult has been leaving ends hanging loose and beating unevenly. But what’s really been hard has been accepting the uneven draw-in at the selvedge. When I first started weaving, my selvedges were very good for a beginner, and other weavers complimented me on them, saying how nice and even they were, and I really valued that. Now the new techniques I’m using are causing wildly uneven edges, and looking at them makes me cringe. But I’ve only just started, in time I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

My first piece, which I’m working on now, is just a scarf for me. The rigid heddle loom (a Schacht Cricket) arrived before the SAORI book, so I started a more traditional piece on it, and the first seven inches or so are plain weaving. Then the book arrive the next day, and suddenly it goes wild. The progress of the scarf has become a timeline of my attempts and new and more free weaving, so I’m keeping a pretty thorough photographic record, although of course the finished piece will be its own record. It’s not like it’s not easy to tell which end I started from!


The very beginning, with two stripes of sequined silk, because I had some samples lying around. At the far end of the scarf, I’ll finish with the rest of those samples. I was going to do the same stripes, but I think I’ll do something else instead, maybe a clasped weft.


Then I moved into a variegated merino blend. I love variegated yarn for warps. The shifting colors are just delicious.


This, obviously, is when the book arrived, and I started playing. This is loose reclaimed silk fiber, probably loom waste from saris or other brightly-colored fine silks.


Then I started building curving shapes on top of the silk. I am completely in love with this effect. I was even able to build in some of the techniques I learned from my attempts at tapestry.


Some more silk fiber to build hills and valley back up, and then I pulled out a few different colors of narrow silk ribbon, and tried to create waves and oceanic effects. I’m quite happy with the result. You can see the ends hanging out as well.


Then there was a longish section (for this piece, anyway) of the clasped warp technique. This gets used in tapestry as well, and while I managed it reasonably well in that, it was kind of a pain in the ass. On the rigid heddle loom, though, it got far easier (and now I know how to make it easier on the tapestry from!), and a lot more fun. You can see the uneven draw-in on the left here (I’ve got a couple of badly-tensioned threads there that are making the problem far worse). The new color coming in from the left is from a package of small amounts of odds and ends a friend sent me. It looks handspun, and is great fun, especially to use against a yarn with a longer variation. The sudden shirt from wine to green was where there was a discontinuity in the yarn balls, where two colors had just been knotted together. In a traditional piece, I’d ben very annoyed, but here I really like the effect, especially the way it worked with the color shift in the secondary warp.


And more reclaimed silk! This one, unfortunately, has particularly poor lighting, and the true, intense violet of the larger chunk doesn’t show well.

So. I’m maybe a third of the way through this warp, and having a blast. I’m hoping to get a whole bunch more done tonight. It was a busy week, and I’m trying to decompress from it. Weaving really helps.

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