Remember when we all tried on the 50 Mile Coat?
That was fun…
Although the Coat has been revealed to the world (and she’s gorgeous, no?), we’re not quite done explaining all the skills that went into making the Coat.
The Coat’s final touches, hand-felted cuffs and collar and hand-made buttons, were the pieces that pulled the design together. In this post we look at felting and button-making.
Felting means to bind fibres together into a tight fabric. You’ve likely had the experience of accidentally putting a wool sweater in the washing machine only to discover that when the cycle is over your sweater is substantially smaller. This is the felting process in action: hot water combined with the agitation of the washing machine will cause the wool fibres to pull together, which equals a smaller and denser sweater.
Felters create unique pieces of fabric that can be formed and shaped according to the artist’s vision.
Following the patterns created by Jennifer (the Coat’s designer), Maura layered wool over the pattern, making sure that each layer was perpendicular to the previous.
Wool from Rose, the Newfoundland ewe from Linc Farm, formed the white base for the felted cuffs and collar. Laid on top was the natural dyed wool from Sleepy (also from Linc Farm). It is here that the artist gets to play, creating shapes, swirls and colour changes that will emerge in the final product.
To create a felted piece that follows a particular pattern, the artist can’t just toss the wool into the washing machine. Instead, they must felt on purpose. Maura, our expert felter, used soap, warm water and bubble wrap to roll the wool and create the agitation needed to pull the fibres together. She rolled, rubbed and pounded the bubble-wrapped wool, switching directions and shifting the wool to make sure everything is felted equally.
The result of all this rubbing and rolling are uniquely shaped and coloured pieces of wool fabric that were then applied to the Coat as sleeve cuffs and a double collar. Hand-spun yarn was used to attach the pieces and add decorative embroidery.
The 50 Mile Coat is entirely locally sourced, including the button closures in the front placket and decorative buttons on the cuffs. Luckily, EHS is a multi-talented guild. Finding local buttons simply meant chatting with Guild member Cheryl, a machinist by trade and fibre artist by choice.
Cheryl began by gathering dried Black Walnut from her backyard. She then decided on the design of the buttons based on the shape of the wood, letting the original shape of the wood be expressed. Debate ensued with the Coat’s designer as to the attachment style: drilled hole? notched centre? In the end, drilled hole was the final decision.
The final buttons are smooth, elegant and expressive. No stains or urethanes were used, just skilled polishing. These buttons are truly works of art.
After 3 weeks of continuous work The 50 Mile Coat was revealed this Sunday at Neilson Park Creative Centre. We’ve still got a couple of topics to discuss about the construction of the Coat but let’s take a moment to revel in the beauty of the Coat and celebrate the work that brought it to fruition!
Bringing colour to The 50 Mile Coat was as easy as stepping outside the front door of Neilson Park Creative Centre. The EHS Dye Garden hosts a number of known dye plants ranging from Bedstraw to Tansey. In this post we’ll explore the plants used to give colour to The 50 Mile Coat.
In Southern Ontario we have lots of options for dye plants during the warmer months. Many plants provide light and colour-fast dyes and even more offer colours that are not colour-fast, or will fade in time. Currently, natural dyers across Ontario are gathering the ubiquitous dandelion for its pale green dye.
Natural dye plants in Ontario provide an abundance of greens, browns and even yellows. The 50 Mile Coat used Tansy and Marigold collected last fall to make the green and yellow shades. There is, however, a distinct lack of plants that offer red dyes. Luckily, the EHS Dye Garden has a beautiful secret: a Madder bed.
Madder is one of the few plants that grows in Ontario and gives colour-fast shades of red and orange. Madder is a slow growing plant that takes a few years to adequately establish itself. The slowness of a Madder bed’s maturity is also impacted by the need to dig up the plant’s roots: the dye is extracted from the roots of the Madder plant. Thankfully, there was enough established Madder in the EHS Dye Garden last fall to dig up some roots and freeze them over the winter.
Natural dyeing is a sensitive and lengthy process. Time, ph levels, temperature control are just some of the factors that impact a natural dye’s performance. Roberta, our expert natural dyer, took on the project of dying the fibres for The 50 Mile Coat.
Over the course of a number of days, Roberta prepped fibres for dyeing, soaking and treating them with mordants. Mordant refers to substances, such as alum, copper or iron, that will help a dye take to the fibre. A mordant will also effect the colour achieved.
Roberta chopped up the plant material into small pieces, creating small dye pouches that would swim in the dye pot and allow as much colour to be extracted as possible. Dye pots were heated to and held at precise temperatures (a change in temperature can change the colour too) and finally, after all of that work, Roberta submerged the fibres into the dye pots.
With plant-based dyeing there are no guarantees. Colours can shift from dye pot to dye pot. Small alternations can create different results. The lilac skein shown above was the result of an unexpected ph change in the dye liquid when a small amount of soap entered the equation. The only guarantee offered by natural dyeing is the need for time and patience.
Natural dyes are ultimately a lesson in slowness. During the process of dyeing for The 50 Mile Coat, Roberta reflected on the need to move slowly, allowing the plants to release their dyes over days rather than hours. She told stories of allowing her own dyes to mature over weeks, and even months, in order to achieve a particular colour. The array of colours used in The 50 Mile Coat is truly a representation of local materials and time carefully invested.
In addition to using a floor loom, The 50 Mile Coat incorporates an Inkle Loom among its tool set. In this post our Inkle weaving coordinator Elizabeth, discusses how inkle bands were incorporated into the project.
This is a photograph of the inkle loom we are going to use to weave decorative bands that will be sewn onto the sleeves of the 50 Mile Coat. This Canadian loom was made by Leclerc Looms whose history goes back to 1874. Inkle looms are used to weave narrow bands that can be used for straps or belts. Last year I borrowed this Inkle Loom from the guild and wove these bands on it. Functional decorative bands have been woven for thousands of years on all sorts of looms. The relatively new invention of the inkle loom has the advantage of being portable and small, yet strong enough to maintain the tension necessary for weaving structurally sound, strong bands.
For the 50 Mile Coat we need to weave a band two yards long and one inch wide. We are using fibre from a llama at the High Park Zoo and from alpacas from Alpaca Avenue. The colours of the llama and alpaca fleece will be combined in a stripe pattern that will coordinate with the coat. We will spin the fleece on our spinning wheels to produce a yarn that is strong enough to withstand the stress of weaving and sewing and many years of wear and tear throughout the life of the coat.
I am so pleased that so many people and two animals were involved in the construction of the inkle bands: combing, spinning, plying, dyeing and weaving. No warp threads were broken which is a tribute to the caregivers of the animals and the quality of our local fibre resources, as well as to the skill of the spinners. It was a bit sticky to weave and that could have been improved by picking guard hairs out of the llama. The band has the delightful charm of objects that have been made by many hands.
In honour of the Guild’s 50th anniversary and the 50 Mile Coat, I used 50 threads in the warp. I also used a code for the number 50 in the width of the stripes. I did some research into the significance of the number 50. One of the things I found was that number 50 had significance for the ancient Greeks.
There is a special right triangle whose sides are 3, 4 and 5. The Pythagorean Theorum states that the sum of the squares of the two short sides, in this case (3 x 3 = 9 and 4 x 4 = 16), is equal to the square of the hypotenuse (5 x 5 = 25). If you add the squares together you get 50. The number of threads in the stripes are multiples of 3, 4 and 5. (There is a visual and a much better explanation here.)
***Thank you to Elizabeth Evans for writing this post and supplying photos!
Sometimes we forget that cloth is the result of many processes, people and creatures. Picking up a shirt at H&M, or even a few yards of cotton from Fabric Land, hides all of the labour, knowledge, material and skill that went into making the cloth. The 50 Mile Coat pulls back the curtain on these processes.
To make cloth we have the option of either knitting or weaving. The 50 Mile Coat used weaving to pull together the warp and weft yarns our spinners made. As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, weaving is the process of putting the weft yarn (also called threads) over and under the warp yarns. Weaving can be done on simple looms that use nothing more than rope and sticks or on huge industrial looms that mechanize the entire process.
At the Guild we have a number of different looms, each offer particular advantages and disadvantages. Choosing a loom is very project dependant. What width of cloth is needed? What is the weave structure? How many harnesses are required to achieve that weave structure? The knowledgeable weaver takes all of these factors, and others, into account.
For the purposes of The 50 Mile Coat our expert weaver Karen and the Coat’s designer Jennifer, decided that the Guild’s 40″ LeClerc would be our best choice for making cloth that is 36″ wide and 8 yards long in a simple twill structure.
A loom is an elegant technology that was actually a precursor to the computer. With a loom the weaver is able to manipulate and lift certain groups of threads while leaving other threads down. Recall our earlier post about Dressing the Loom where we discussed putting warp threads through heddles attached to harnesses. How the loom is dressed is determined by how the weaver wants to lift groups of warp threads.
Looms often use foot-pedals, known as treadles, to engage a harness and lift a particular group of warp threads. When a harness is lifted, a space, called a shed, is created between the warp threads. The bobbin with the weft yarn can then pass through the shed from one side of the cloth to the other. Essentially the loom simplifies the over/under nature of weaving by moving groups of threads up in unison and relieving the weaver of having to move the weft thread over and under each individual warp thread.
Finding this difficult to envision? If you’re still curious, come out to a Guild meeting! We’ll show you what all this harness/treadle/shed stuff means.
Weave Structure refers to how the cloth is made. In other words, how the warp and weft interact with one another via the loom. A weft thread could be made to go over one warp thread and then under the next, repeated throughout the width of the cloth. This over one/under one is known as plain weave.
Now consider how many different ways you could manipulate that over/under idea. Over two warp threads and under one? Sure! Over four warp threads and under three? No problem! The permutations are nearly endless as long as there is enough over/under to hold the threads together.
In the words of our expert weaver Karen, there is only rule to weaving: “you have to make cloth”.
The 50 Mile Coat was woven using a twill weave structure. A twill is one version of loom manipulation that makes cloth with a lot of drape, or fluidity. In a twill the over/under pattern of each row of weaving is off-set from the previous, often with a two-under/two-over pattern. Not quite sure what this means? Take a close look at your favourite pair of bluejeans. Bluejeans are woven using a twill pattern, which explains why they are so comfortable.
After all that spinning and dressing the loom, it only took our weavers a few days to hand-weave 8 yards of cloth. Needless to say, cutting it off the the loom was an exciting and triumphant moment.
After the spinners finished spinning the warp threads, the another type of yarn was needed: the weft. When making cloth, threads are interlaced (remember the over/under technique from paper placemats?) with one another. The warp threads run vertically and the weft threads run horizontally. While the warp threads need to be strong, the weft threads can be soft and scrumptious. This post discusses spinning the weft threads.
Weft refers to the horizontal threads in cloth. These threads are loaded onto a bobbin (the wooden boat-like item seen in the photo above) that the weaver can easily slide throuth the shed, or the space between the two sets of warp threads. The shed is created with the cross and the process of dressing the loom, or putting the warp threads on the loom and setting up the loom for weaving.
Weft threads are not under tension, which means that structurally weft threads do not need to be as strong as warp threads.
Both Finn and Rambouillet sheep are known for their fine, soft fleece. Sleepy’s fleece had lots of crimp and was very springy: pulling on either end of the a lock of Sleepy’s fleece felt like pulling on an elastic band. This meant that we had to add one more fibre preperation technique to get a fleece that was easy to spin: wool combing.
Wool combing straightens out the fibres, points them all in the same direction and takes out any short fibres, bits of grass or other debris. For a very fine fleece like Sleepy’s only using the drum carder didn’t straighten out and clean out the fibres enough.
Combing is time consuming but it produces combed top which is very nice to spin from. Thankfully the Guild has some skilled wool combers, like Maureen here, keeping the spinners in combed top.
In order to maximize the soft qualities of Sleepy’s fleece, we spun the weft yarn medium-fine with lots of air. Instead of smoothing out the yarn to make it tight and strong, the spinners let the fleece keep air between the individual fibres. This meant that the soft qualities of the fleece to translate into the yarn. Each skein of yarn was washed before weaving, allowing the yarn to bloom or become even more soft and fluffy.
In our next post we’ll explore how weaving makes cloth. Stay tuned!
After spinning up the warp yarn, the next step is getting all that gorgeous yarn onto the loom. This process is called “dressing the loom” and it is a process either loved or hated by weavers.
Weaving cloth on a loom requires a lot of pre-weaving work. First the weaver decides how much cloth they would like to weave. This calculation takes into account the length, width, weight and weave structure (aka the kind of weaving pattern) of the cloth. For the 50 Mile Coat we knew that the design required 8 yards of woven cloth at approximately 36 inches wide.
The weave structure for the Coat began as a plain weave (simple over and under) but changed to a twill (off-set over/under) in order to give the Coat a pleasant drape. There are other calculations such as “ends per inch” and “pics per inch” that are used to guide the weavers in process and to set up the loom. We won’t get into these details here but if you’re curious, EHS is a great place to learn about weaving!
A warp is measured out according to how many threads (width) and how long the threads must be (length).
The Warping Mill is a tool that allows the weavers to measure out the warp thread in an orderly manner, keeping all the threads aligned and easily counted.
In this photo the Warping Mill is the larger apparatus in the background (the foreground shows a swift for holding skeins of yarn).
The Warping Mill spins, allowing the user to create a length of warp without having to walk 8 yards back and forth.
The Warping Mill also helps the weavers put in “the cross” (see photo above). This is where the warp yarns cross over one another.
Remember the over/under structure of your grade school paper placemat? The same principle applies to loom weaving: some yarn will be lifted up and others will be left in the down position. The space in between these two sets of yarn is where the weft (horizontal yarn) is placed.
The weaver then uses foot treadles to switch the position of the two sets of yarn: the top goes to the bottom and the bottom comes to the top. This creates the over/under weave structure quickly without having to go over and under each individual yarn.
By establishing “the cross” on the Warping Mill, the weaver separates the yarn into two basic groups in preparation for putting the warp on the loom.
After measuring out the correct amount of warp on the Warping Mill, the weavers take it off the Mill and create a “warp chain”, which keeps the threads organized and tidy for the next step. In Warp Chain is pooling at the feet of Karen, our expert weaver, in the photo below.
This means the weavers thread each individual piece of warp yarn through the a reed, through the heddles and tie on to the back (or front) beam.
There are different ways of dressing a loom, and each weaver is different, but regardless of method the process of dressing the loom is lengthy and requires care and concentration.
Once again, if you want to know more about looms and weaving, EHS is a great place to learn!
Each warp yarn is placed through a heddle (shown above) which is attached to a harness that is in turn attached to a treadle. The weaver wants to be able to press a treadle and have one group of threads lift up: the treadle-heddle system creates this action.
When dressing the loom the weaver puts one group of yarn threads from “the cross” through a specific bunch of heddles attached to treadle 1. The second group of threads from “the cross” goes through another bunch of heddles attached to treadle 2.
This is a very simple explanation of how a loom can be warped. “The cross” threads can be subdivided into smaller groups and the division of warp threads can be far more complicated depending on the weave structure chosen.
But the premise remains the same: the weaver steps on a treadle, making some warp threads lift up and some stay down while the weft is placed between them. For the 50 Mile Coat the warp yarn threads were separated into 4 groups in order to make a simple twill pattern.
There is a lot of work that goes into hand-weaving a piece of cloth and we haven’t actually got to the fun part of weaving. Regardless to the complexity of a planned weaving, dressing the loom is a necessary part of the process. The trick to successfully dressing a loom is to abide by the rule “slow and steady”.
Spinning is by far the largest part of making The 50 Mile Coat. EHS members are hand-spinning the warp and weft, or the vertical and horizontal threads on the looms, as well as the thread for sewing the Coat together. This means that we are spinning different styles of yarn for each purpose.
In this post we are looking at spinning the warp.
Warp refers to the vertical threads that are placed under tension on the loom. Remember when you were in grade school and making woven place-mats using construction paper? The same over-under principle applies to making cloth: the weaver dresses the loom with the warp threads, placing them under tension so that it is easy to weave the weft (horizontal threads) over and under the warp. Because we’re making approximately 8 yards of cloth for The 50 Mile Coat, we are using a loom that makes the weaving process easier than when you made the construction paper place-mats. We’ll talk about the loom in another post.
The yarn spun for the warp has to be strong because it must withstand the tension of the loom. We chose to use the fleece from Brandy, a Gotland ewe raised on Dover Farm, for the warp yarn. Gotland sheep have long, lustrous fleece with an open crimp and very little spring (aka when you pull on the fleece there is very little elasticity). The qualities of the Gotland fleece translate into the yarn spun from that fleece – long and strong with very little bounce.
To make sure we maximized the long and strong qualities of the fleece, Joan, our expert spinner leading the spinning component of the Coat, advised us to spin a higher twist, medium-fine yarn. Twist refers to how many times the fibre has been twisted by the spinning wheel before it is wound onto the bobbin. A high twist yarn has less air between the fibres, producing a stronger and tighter yarn that can stand up to the high tension placed on warp threads.
Brandy’s fleece produced a beautiful, grey warp yarn that was quickly wound onto the warping mill and chained into a warp. We’ll talk about dressing the loom, aka putting the warp onto the loom in the next instalment.
This weekend we hosted a two-day Spin-In at Neilson Park Creative Centre. Spinners and non-spinners alike came out to help us prep our fibres and get started on the 2500+ yards we need to weave The 50 Mile Coat.
Fibre prep refers to the process of getting a fleece (or blanket when referring to an alpaca or llama) ready for hand spinning on a spinning wheel. There are many different ways to prep fibre but they all work towards cleaning and opening up the fibres. We used different methods to prepare our fibres depending on a fleece’s characteristics.
Not sure what this looks like? Scroll down to see pictures and explanations of the entire process.
To keep our fibre prep organized, each fleece was placed in a bin with the sheep’s photo and name. Rose, the ewe that gave us this fleece, is from Linc Farm, one of The 50 Mile Coat sponsors. Rose is a Newfoundland sheep, which means she has characteristics of a down breed and has a very hardy fleece.
A fleece usually comes with a little bit of “barnyard” or pieces of grass and hay caught in the wool. For hand spinning this vegetable matter (VM) needs to be removed. The ladies in this photo are working on hand picking and drum carding. Hand picking literally means using your fingers to pull apart the fibres and remove as much VM as possible.
A picker on the other hand, is a hand-propelled machine that moves sharp tines through the fibres, pulling them apart and allowing any VM to fall out of the fleece. This photo shows Veronica, the shepherdess from Dover Farm and one of our sponsors, working the picker. The fleece she is working on is from her Gotland ewe, Brandy. Gotlands are known for long, lusterous wool and Dover Farm is known for exceptionally clean fleece.
After picking the fibres they are further opened up by either combing or carding. Combing, which is very similar to brushing your hair, is very time consuming. In order to keep up with our spinners, we decided to card all three fleeces with drum carders. Drum carders are another hand-propelled machine that uses tines to put the fibres into airy batts. This photo shows our Guild member Helen working the hand-cranked drum carder.