An Ode to Sampling

  Christina's Samples
  Samples may not be pretty, but
they are just as useful as any
scarf, dish towel, or runner. 

I know it probably sounds strange, but I love sampling before I weave. For me, there’s something cathartic about knowing that I can try anything I want to and it won’t damage the end result, as the ultimate goal of sampling is to learn what to do, or more often, what not to do when weaving with certain materials or structures.


I quickly warp up my rigid-heddle loom and do little experiments with color and texture. I try different finishing techniques and then compare all my little samples to see what I’ve learned from them. Sometimes the tiniest changes in technique or materials can be the deciding factor of whether or not my “real” weaving turns out well or gets filed away as a “learning experience.” Sampling helps me to weave my projects with confidence.


In an earlier post, I mentioned that I wanted to try my hand at weaving with rags and make a runner and some placemats. Well, as is often the case when I so clearly have a project in mind, life happened, and it was only recently that I had time to sit down with my loom and start sampling.


Weaving with rags made me nervous for a number of reasons. How would I change colors without leaving little tails? How hard should I beat the warp? Do I want to squish it a lot or just beat until I feel resistance? How would I keep it from raveling since the cottolin warp was so thin and widely spaced?    


I kept all this in mind as I began sampling. I wove three small samples using my rags, and in each one I tried to do things a little differently. I took notes, and from my sampling I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit of what to do and what not to do when weaving with rags. For example, do cut the end of the rags at an angle so when you change colors and overlap you won’t have a bulky bit. Do not simply cut off the warp if you haven’t woven a hem with yarn. It will ravel and you will cry. And most importantly, for me at least, pay attention to the selvedges much more than with a balanced weave because all too easily your square sample can turn into a trapezoid.


I’ve also learned some ways I can probably improve my technique, and I plan on making a second round of samples to test out these theories before I do anything else. Once those are done, I’ll be ready to tackle the projects I’ve marked in the eBook Best of Handwoven: Weaving With Rags. I’ll admit, part of me does want to just jump in and start weaving my runner, but I know that later I’ll be grateful I took the time. Sampling is a lot like studying before an exam; it’s not always the most fun, but when you evaluate the results, you’ll notice the difference.


Christina Garton

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