Designing to Weave: Choosing Structure, Drafts, and Drawdowns
A couple weeks ago I posted my top ten tips for designing. I figured perhaps a few of you might find it helpful, but I ended up being astounded at how many of you found my blog post useful! In response, I thought it would be fun to go into a bit more detail with a series of posts about the specifics of designing. I’ll take you through my process starting with how I narrow down structure and drafts.
When I think about weave structure in regards to a project I keep in mind the yarns I’m choosing, what I want the effect to be visually, and the purpose of the textile. For this example I’m going to design a hypothetical set of scarves (which will probably become real scarves eventually) that I’m going to design around some beautiful silks I’ve got in my stash: some skeins of dark purple Bombyx (warp) and a single skein of naturally golden Muga (weft).
In this case my primary design concern is choosing a weave structure that will give me some nice weft floats so I can showcase the Muga (that rules out plain weave). I also want to choose a pattern that look equally nice on both sides (no honeycomb). I know I don’t want to weave lace (it just doesn’t feel right for these two yarns) and I need a fabric that will have a good, elegant drape. Given all that I’ve decided on twill, probably a 4-shaft 2/2 so the Muga will be just as prominent on both sides of the cloth, but I’ll look at some 8-shaft designs as well. Crackle would also probably be a good choice (and it is technically a sort of twill) so I might look at some of those designs as well. Think about the cloth you want to create and think about how it will be used and what that means in regards to structures.
Next step is the fun bit: choosing a specific draft. Now other folks might have better methods for efficiently choosing just the right draft, but often I will grab my favorite books of drafts and search through them putting sticky notes by my favorites.
If you want to design your own woven projects on a multi-shaft loom, draft books are an absolute must. If you have an 8-shaft loom and you don’t have a copy of Carol Strickler’s A Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns then you are missing out. Similarly, I adore Anne Dixon’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Directory not just because it’s full of beautiful drafts, but also because the cloth photos are in full color AND the book is spiral bound which makes flipping through it and keeping the pages in place easy. I would say that without a doubt the most useful tools I have for designing are my books of drafts. Draft books are not just a great place to find drafts, but a wonderful starting off point for creating your own. (More on that later.) If you’ve been thinking about expanding your library with one or both of these books, or if you need more convincing, right now these both the Strickler and Dixon books are a whopping 50% off, but only for a limited amount of time.
I go through all the drafts in whatever structure or structures I’ve chosen and really think about how it would translate into my cloth. (This is why I like Dixon’s book—the color photographs make this visualization much easier!) I think about floats, about how the warp and weft interact, and how the reverse of the cloth looks. I also think about the realities of the situation: there are some amazing 8-shaft twills, and I have 8-shafts, but they require 12 (or more!) treadles which means I need a skeleton tie-up. Also, I only have so many chains for my treadles so if I have to hook up 5 shafts to all 10 treadles I’m going to need to improvise. Also, do I really want to life that many shafts each time I step on a treadle? That could get awfully tiring pretty quick! I try to limit myself to four shafts per treadle at most, although you might be comfortable with more or less.
Once I’ve narrowed down my draft choices I’ll often plug them into my weaving software—especially if I’m doing an 8-shaft draft—to create a drawdown. The drawdown shows me what pattern I’ll get in my cloth if I weave it as written in the draft. While you can absolutely create this by hand, weaving software lets me easily play with the draft. Say I found a lovely 8-shaft twill that I loved, but it had a really long float in part of the pattern. I might gently adjust the treadling, threading, or tie-up to see if I can get a pattern that’s similar, but with less of a float. When I’m weaving multiple projects on one warp, and don’t necessarily want to make them all the same, I’ll similarly play around with treadling and tie-ups to see if I can find some interesting variations to weave.
There are lots of options out there for weaving software to fit a variety of needs, and it’s pretty easy to use (I promise!). Many of the programs out there have free trial downloads so you can try before you buy and find the software that works best for you.
Next week I’ll be talking about all the math behind designing: figuring out draft repeats, sett, dimensions, draw-in, shrinkage, and more as I take my chosen draft and plot out a full project.