DIY Dissected: Learning to Weave

I am loving the DIY and materials revival we're living in. What was once tacky and dated is beautiful again and it's thanks to wonderful makers like Maryanne Moodie that we can catch a glimpse at how accessible these handmade crafts really are. Her in-progress photos give us all hope and tease out of us that "wait, I think I can do that" feeling that's so addicting to us makers.

In this photo from Maryanne's site, you see a small table loom with a wooden slotted "heddle" — this is called a heald shaft gear, and it's a really smart way to raise and lower the alternating vertical yarn strands known in weaving as the "warp". In her kid-friendly story about how to use this type of loom, Jane of Hazel Village shares how this heald shaft gear works:

As the gear rotates a quarter turn, alternating warp threads are pushed up. Rotate it another quarter turn and the threads that were above are now slotted down into the grooves and the yarn that was lower is now higher. A pretty clever tool, right?

The basis of weaving is to get the "weft", that is, the thread that fills up the project from left to right, through these alternating warp threads. You can do it will a long needle, a crochet hook, or by hand, but weavers often use a "shuttle". Wrapping the horizontal yarn that will fill your design around this flat, pointed piece of wood makes it easier and faster to slide the weft between the narrow gap of the alternating warp threads.

In this second photo of Maryanne's in-progress work, you see a creamy weft thread coming down from the project and wound around a tapestry bobbin, which, like a shuttle, helps move the horizontal yarn through the warp. A bobbin is more maneuverable than a shuttle and allows the artist more freedom in her designs. 

For detail work, she may go through the warp with a bobbin or needle and weave the geometric shapes by hand, without a heddle (like the rotating heald shaft gear) to help raise and lower the warp. Although it takes longer than using a heddle, the by-hand approach of picking up every other warp thread gives her time and space to work her signature style.

The artist has some favorite techniques that pop up across her many weavings and with a little experimentation, we can try to capture these same beautiful textures and shapes for ourselves. As you see in this photo, she often begins a project with a thicker weft yarn and weaves it diagonally across two rows to achieve a series of "v" shapes that look like a column of knitting. By taking the yarn over two strands and then back under one and repeating it—not unlike a backstitch in embroidery—you can create a similar effect. The pink yarn towards the unfinished edge of the weaving shows what one row of this "backstitching" looks like; while the salmon-colored yarn at the bottom shows two rows and that characteristic v-shape. We can likely take many techniques from embroidery to weaving to help break up the flat back-and-forth rows.

In the above photo, Maryanne shares two beautiful ideas by playing with some of the variables of knitting. First, she uses roving, which is wool that hasn't been completely spun into yarn yet. It's fluffy and thick but also malleable, and you can pick or pull at it to make it thinner, or use it alongside yarn for a thick-and-thin effect. She's also toyed with the convention in knitting that you must alternate warp threads with every row. Instead, she may take four or five or even a dozen weft threads back and forth before switching the warp. This adds interest in much of her work:

Finally, there are the tassels, another signature of Maryanne's work. For this, we can borrow from macramé, the art of knot-tying popularized in the 70's with jute plant hangars (which is also making it's own revival). With a number of yarn threads all cut to the same length, tie a larks' head knot around two warp threads and a weft thread, stabilizing the tassel in all directions. For the diagonal angle, tie the next knot one (not two) warp threads over and just below the first, following a line down towards the triangle's point and back up to the far side. Finally, trim the tassels straight across or at an angle to the knot heads. You can repeat this for a many-layered look, adding depth and movement to your weaving.

When an artist like Maryanne shares so much of her process, it's inspiring to try it for yourself. With only a $20 wooden heald shaft loom, you can make your own inspired wall hanging. Here's the one I made with that loom and Maryanne's techniques:

Now it's your turn!

All photos but the last are copyright their respective owners.