Ask Madelyn: Plague of the Opposites

Recent Ask Madelyn questions have reminded me of an aspect of learning to weave that I think of as The Plague of the Opposites.

When learning to weave, sometimes the instructions are written in inconsistent formats as in these drafts from A Handweaver's Pattern Book.

Figure 1. Draft formats from Davison

The people in your life who are not weavers will never really understand what you have gone through to become one. Not the least of the reasons why is what I think of as “the opposites.” When learning to weave, just about everything can be the opposite of what you think. You first learn about this from Marguerite Davison in “the green book” (A Handweaver’s Pattern Book). “It is so wonderful,” you think, “that she shows a draft along with a photo of the cloth that it produces.” You merrily thread the loom and tie-up the treadles and start weaving. But your cloth doesn’t look like the photo. It takes awhile before you drop your shuttle and down on the floor you look up and, “Oh. The back of the cloth looks like the photo.” Those x’s in the tie-up are what you don’t tie up.

Your teacher (and Handwoven magazine) have taught you to read a threading draft from right to left with the tie-up and treadling on the right and have told you that you should follow the treadling from top to bottom. But in Davison, half of the threading drafts are written in the opposite direction and half of the treadling drafts from bottom to top. These differences, your teacher says, don’t make any difference. Oh. In fact, lots of these opposites don’t make any difference, but how are you supposed to know which ones do and which ones don’t?

Many beginning weavers are confused by the fact that there are often two ways to thread any given pattern. It's one of the things that makes learning to weave a challenge.

Figure 2. Two ways to thread huck lace

In fact, it seems as if up can mean down, face can mean back, left can mean right, top can mean bottom, 1 can mean 2. Take huck lace, for example. We usually thread Blocks A and B 2-3-2-3-2, 1-4-1-4-1. With this threading, plain weave is evens vs odds (which we tend to think is always true). But traditionally, the threading was 1-3-1-3-1, 2-4-2-4-2. In that case, plain weave, when the threading is extended to more shafts, is 1 and the evens vs 2 and the odds. Hmmm.

This Beiderwand example demonstrates a challenge of learning to weave: understanding the difference between pattern and background.

Figure 3. Beiderwand

We think of a heavy weft that floats on a cloth as the “pattern” weft, but it can also be the “background” weft as in the Beiderwand example shown here. In fact, “pattern” can often be “background,” and vice versa.

Tie-up and treadling orders can also be written in a multitude of formats. Some that have a plain-weave cloth with a pattern weft place the tabby treadles on the left, others on the right, others with one tabby treadle on either side. The 1’s and 2’s can be placed in several different orders, too (Figure 4 shows four different ways to tie-up summer and winter and they don’t include the possible skeleton tie-ups you might find.)

Summer and winter can be confusing when you're learning to weave because there are four different tie-up options.

Figure 4. Four tie-up orders for summer and winter

When you are struck by something that is presented in a way you don’t expect as you’re learning to weave, you think there must be a good reason. Most of the time there isn’t one. Everything can be its opposite. The point of all this is to tell you to congratulate yourself for everything you have figured out and be tolerant of your friends and family who don’t understand how hard it all is.


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