In my Intro to Traditional Weaving class last week, some of my students were experimenting with the “clasped weft” technique, and it occurred to me that I had some great examples of this technique in a traditional context hanging in my house. Unfortunately I realized this too late to show them to my students in person, but it prompted me to write this post and show this technique in action in a beautiful traditional piece.
So, here’s the piece in question:
Part of what attracted me to this piece, beyond its obvious visual appeal, was the fact that it was an unfinished piece right off the loom. In fact, it’s actually two pieces on the same warp (vertical threads), and the excess warp in between and at the end of the two pieces has not been cut. The piece was originally from Peru (see details at the bottom of this post) and has a warp of white cotton that is hidden by the multiple colors of weft (horizontal threads) which is probably made from wool and/or alpaca fibers, some natural colors (brown and white) and some dyed (red, orange, and whatever color sheep and alpaca don’t come in).
On the right/front side of the fabric, you can see multiple colors in a single pick, or row, with no gaps or slits between them. Many students will see this technique and try it without realizing exactly how to do it, so they end up with slits between the colors. (It’s important to note that weaving slits is a legitimate weaving technique, just not the one these students were trying to do.)
If you look at the back of the piece, you can see what’s going on here and why there aren’t gaps between the colors. Each weft color in a single pick (row) is on a separate shuttle, and where the colors meet each other, they are looped around each other before each color goes back to where it started. This beautiful piece is very consistent – the same yarn is always over and the same yarn always under when two come together, making a very neat “stitched” look at the intersection – which also helps with maintaining consistent tension, which is always important in weaving. (Credit to Laura Fry, the great weaver and weaving teacher, for the quote, “If you can’t be perfect, at least be consistent!”)
As a weaver, the way you do this technique with two colors in one pick is basically to open your shed, take one shuttle from the left and one from the right, cross them over in the middle, send each back to its edge, and beat everything together. You should note that you’ll basically have a double thickness of yarn in this pass versus a normal single-shuttle pass, so you may want to adjust your beating accordingly. Of course, you can use more than two colors in one pick — just make sure each non-edge color loops around its neighbor on both sides before you beat in the pick. Here’s a video that I hope will make the basics easy to understand:
A word about the provenance of this piece: I bought it around 2012 at the Brimfield Antique Show (unfortunately I’ve lost track of the vendor’s name), and the wonderful vendor told me he got it and other pieces I bought from the estate of a man who had worked as an American diplomat in several countries, including Turkey and Peru. He had bought these pieces directly from local people, including some rare vegetable-dyed rugs from nomads in Turkey which I might write about in a future post.
What do you think? Are there other techniques you’d like to see demonstrated? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, and thanks!