By Robbie LaFleur
Nine “Friends of Linen” met on October 1 to discuss our recent linen-related activities. We know that many who wanted to join us had conflicts, inevitable on any beautiful fall weekend, so we’ll meet again on November 12 at 1 pm. Please join us then!
Jan Hayman showed two pieces woven from warps prepared in Judy Preckshot’s “serendipitous” warp-painting class. They painted fiber-reactive dyes on the warps. In class they laid out their wound and wet warps. Nancy had premixed about 6 fiber reactive dye colors. Jan used used a magenta, orange and burgundy. They brushed on the colors and let them bleed into each other, and when they were satisfied they applied soda ash to fix the dye.
With those pieces, Jan demonstrated a highly effective, low-tech mangling technique, using a wine bottle and a piece of glass for a smooth surface. Other people mentioned that granite countertops work great, and pounding a linen piece on a stainless steel countertop resulted in a beautifully smooth textile, too. Here’s the process, in unscientific terms:
Get the piece wet, and allow the excess water to drip off before mangling. You want to puff up the fibers to the maximum extent by making them wet. Then, when the fibers are pressed with the roller, they squish down flat. And because the linen fibers are not elastic, they stay where you put them, all flattened. Linen doesn’t have a memory. Items woven with singles mangle better than those with plied yarns.
Steve Pauling was in Sweden for the last month, primarily for the Väv conference, held every three years. He stayed in Airbnb homes, and commented that every apartment and house had a mangle. They were small, industrial grade hot mangles. He was also amazed by the amount of linen weaving done in Sweden. Of all of the weaving they saw being done in studios and homes, linen was the most used material — as opposed to London, where wool was the most used yarn.
In all of Sweden, there is nothing like the Weavers guild of Minnesota. There are often weaving cooperatives, in which informal groups of people rent space and have looms available for weaving. When Steve visited these places he was amazed–every loom had a warp on it, and they were all perfectly done. They would have 18 Swedish looms in a room half the size of our larger Weavers Guild loom room. Everywhere they went, every studio had counterbalance looms, and often 4-shaft. He met and admired an 83 year old woman who rode her bike 8 kilometers to a weaving room every day. On a sad note, Steve visited and was impressed by a convalescent home, where about 22 looms were set up. Only three residents were able to weave, but more than a hundred others came to weave. It added life and vibrance to the atmosphere of the home. Unfortunately, the building is in need of repair, and the home will have to move, and there will be no space for looms.
Steve noted that everywhere there were linen bath towels, or cotton waffle weave. First he and Tom planned to buy some at a department store, but after seeing the prices, they thought, “Maybe our suitcases are too full.” Then at the conference they bought yardage for $55.00, and will finish the edges. Expect more on this in the future. Steve plans to weave his own yardage for towels, and promised to finish and wash one of the towels and show the difference between the unwashed yardage and the softened towels after they are used.
Barbara Heath and Mary Mateer talked about meeting with nuns in a small nunnery in Bloomington, a cloistered community at 86th and Russell. There are only 9 nuns left. Over the decades, they were weavers. Nuns in the 30s and 40s knew all the weaving schools. Barbara was looking through their papers and found a letter from Mary Megs Atwater, complaining about President Truman. The nuns were also testing out looms. In one bag they found three clumps of linen, Oregon linen. Oregon used to be the biggest producer of linen in the U.S. They also found a weaving draft, turned it over, and on the other side was someone’s naturalization papers.(!) The nuns made beautiful kumihimo-type braids of silk that they used for their ties on their robes. Everyone else at the meeting agreed—we want to know more!
Barb Ungs talked about attending the Midwest Weavers Conference this summer. They went to the Connor Prairie property. It has a big barn, with a huge table laden with flax from Belgium. She learned about a bacteria that grows on flax that proliferates in the water during the retting process(soaking in water to break down stalks for processing.) Connor Prairie used a baby pool and when they dumped out the water they noticed that everything the water touched died. A University of Indiana biologist found told them it is quite common on flax and in Belgium linen processors aren’t allowed to empty retting water upstream of dairy farms because it can kill the cows! Barb tried scrutching and hackling, and it was beautiful, how the rough flax stalks became flaxen golden hair. They have a docent program run by kids from 10-16. She met a boy of 16 who has become a proficient linen spinner, and demonstrates at the Indiana State Fair. He was leading them through linen spinning during the tour and he was having a hard time letting Barb make lots of mistakes. He kept wanting to help her, and she insisted on making her own product, imperfect as it was, stating “it’s the process not the product when you’re learning,” much to his chagrin!
Barb was happy to meet Brother Kim, a noted weaver. His religious name is after a Korean martyr. He mentioned that a linen warp with silk weft is particularly beautiful for liturgical pieces. He also believes in Borax and water for stain removal. Dissolve 1/2 cup Borax per gallon of warm water and soak stained laundry overnight, then wash as usual, perhaps with an extra rinse.
A ruffly edge design element on Barb Ung’s vest
Sue Mansfield showed us samples of a weave structure currently being studied by the Complex Weavers group: Bateman Boulevard. She wove a piece with cotton warp and linen weft on her 8-shaft AVL dobby loom. This led to a conversation about beautiful selvages. Sue wasn’t concentrating on her edges, as the pieces would be cut apart to share as samples. Barb told about a vest she created that capitalized on her less-than-tight, ruffly edges. She highlighted the edge, and gave the vest a name to exemplify her bold statement about perfection—or the rebelling against it—“Up Yours.”
Helen Storsinger showed some towels and a pall for a cremation urn. She wove the towels cross-wise, setting up a 30” wide warp, and then weaving 18” for each towel. In talking about finishing techniques, the question came up—should you hem before washing, or after? The group was split! For lovely selvages, Helen follows the threading instructions found on page 16 of The Handweaver’s Pattern Directory
Steve Pauling talked a bit about taking the linen class from Marian Dahlberg last spring. On the first morning, the students were feeling a bit anxious, having heard horror stories about weaving with linen. In the afternoon, Marian said, “OK- warp up your looms!” And they did, with great success. Steve learned that with pied yarns, the twist of the yarn is what causes the problems on one edge or the other. For the fix he said, “I have to have a little more tension on the side of the cloth that has sloppy edges, and less tension on the better edge.” Also, use a temple, and move it often. These are the handsome runners Steve wove.
Jan reviewed a bit from the Katie Meeks workshop this summer, along with this great tip. While winding bobbins of linen, to keep the thread straight, use a wet monofilament cloth in your fingers while winding the bobbin.
I showed a beautiful jacquard-woven piece purchased in Denmark at a jacquard loom museum on the Vesterheim Textile Tour this summer. You can read more about that here
Lucky attendees: Steve Pauling, Melba Granlund, Jan Hayman, Barb Ungs, Sue Mansfield, Robbie LaFleur, Barbara Heath, Mary Mateer, and Helen Storsinger
Next meeting: Sunday, November 12, 1 pm.