Wednesday 2 October 2013

Weaving Waxed Hemp On A Rigid Heddle

Having acquired a simple heddle loom frame back in the summer, it was about time I cleaned it up and got it back to work. The heddle that came with it was the width of the frame, but sadly too finer a heddle to be able to cope with an uneven handspun hemp twine. Our mini rigid heddles are more than up for the task so I took full advantages of using the frame as opposed to staking out all the warp threads to a single point at each end.
 The benefit to this frame is being able to warp up the beam with a few metres at a time whilst still keeping everything compact and easy to work with. Another major difference is the ability to have all the warp threads run parallel and true to the holes and slots of the heddle, this creates wider fabric compared to having all your warp threads heading to a single immovable stake. We are thinking to develop a similar frame on a slightly smaller scale that wood suit our mini rigid heddle, but that remains to be seen as yet!

 One of the difficulties I find with weaving handspun hemp or nettle fibre is that the naturally uneven twine can easily get worn in places leading to rather inconvenient repair missions. Through making waxed cordage for pendants, I noticed that a handspun twine becomes easier to work with if given a quick floss through a block of beeswax. It removes the twine's tendency to twist up on itself and is also more forgiving if you need to undo any knots (something I greatly appreciate if working with macrame).

 Each of the handspun hemp twines in the image above are all organic wild Himalayan hemp which has been harvested, retted and then handspun in the remote villages of the Himalayan foothills very much in the same way as it has been done for centuries.
The dying we organise ourselves and use only traditional natural dyestuffs and mordants. Weaving with wax coated hemp twine was a first for me and I was keen to know if the resulting fabric could bring any new craft applications.

 The beam on the loom frame was loaded with just over two metres of twine and with each warp thread doubled for added strength. Each of these twines had to be pulled through the wax one or two times to give them a smoother, tighter appearance. I must admit that it is an added effort, especially as all the weft threads would go through the same treatment. As I planned to use as many natural dye colours that I could get my hands on, it worked out a lot easier to load up several shuttles with different colours and always having the selection to hand.

The resulting weave was still fairly loose even after using a beater so I took advantage of another benefit to waxed thread. Due to both warp and weft threads all being waxed, they can slide over each other with relative ease. This fact allowed me to slide all the weft threads by hand to compact them. This action also adds another element of effort, but the extremely tight weave in combination with the beeswax coating makes for a fabric far more resistant to water and abrasive wear and tear.