Saturday, March 16, 2019

Tartan Talk

I have spent the past few days finishing the Dress Stewart towels.  It was rather exciting when I placed the entire eight yard length into the washing machine to soak for a spell.   I wandered by after ten or fifteen minutes and checked.....and the water was this dark murky pink muck!   The dyes were coming out and I had to do something fast!

My synthrapol is in a box somewhere in the garage.... but as luck would have it, a friend had gifted me a couple of boxes of the Shout Colour Catchers.   I had already used a couple of sheets but this was an emergency and so I dumped the rest of the box in.   I think it was six or eight sheets. I didn't count them (or take a picture after....darn!)

The cloth came out white where it should be white and the colour catchers were totally a dark pinky grey colour.  They worked and saved the day! After the towel warp was machine dried, it took me some time to carefully snip off all the little weft tails.   I actually took it to my guild meeting for show and tell as a bolt of material.  It weighed a kilo (or 2.2 pounds) and made a nice satisfying roll.

I cut the towels apart using the serger. The cut line was every thirty one inches at the end of a colour repeat which made it much easier!  I turned a small rolled hem and hand sewed the hems.
Yes, I know it would be faster to machine them but I'm not a fan of the 'stitch ditch line' as it distracts from the tartan lines.   I can't always be sure that they will be used as intended and they might end up as a runner.

While I sewing them, I found myself thinking of my first tartan experience as a child.  I had a pair of Stewart tartan  trousers and while I liked the pattern, they made my legs itch from the wool. Mum would dress me up in them anyway....

They were the full red version of the Stewart. Me in 1958, in the UK.

I also had tartan pinafore dresses, though I don't recall the colours of this one.  I think it was mainly green. A young me with Father Christmas, 1958.

So I can hear you asking, are you Scottish?  Not a bit! I'm a true Sassenach. My forays into our family genealogy have revealed southern English, with a dash of Welsh back to my 6 x great grandfather, William Vincent. 

.....but I digress....

It seems everyone wore tartans or plaids in England and I feel that Queen Victoria and the Royal Family helped to make it popular.  She wore tartans quite regularly and made it fashionable (along with the all white wedding dress).  (If you have been watching PBS's Victoria recently, the Queen's son Bertie wore a kilt and sash in Dress Stewart in the grand finale.)

Better historians than I can give you the story of the Scottish Highlanders and their sad history, but suffice to say that after the Battle of Culloden  April 16th, 1746, Highlanders were banned, upon pain of death, to wear clan colours and regalia. 

Anti-clothing measures were taken against the highland dress by an Act of Parliament in 1746. The result was that the wearing of tartan was banned except as a uniform for officers and soldiers in the British Army and later landed men and their sons.[69]

But I'm happy to say that tartans are back and more popular than ever!  Fierce Highland pride and  television shows such as Outlander have contributed immensely.   Diana Gabaldon's series of books have come to life on the screen.  I swear she has almost single handedly revved up a love of all things Scottish, and especially men in kilts!

I wasn't immune from the new found popularity of the show and wove up a plaid using colours from my stash, in a plaid arrangement I called "Highland Heather"  five years ago:

I have also woven up tartan Mackenzie #2:

 So what is the difference between a plaid and a tartan?  People us the terms interchangeably  but is this correct?   Wikipedia says:

Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland. Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns. Tartan is often called plaid in the United States, but in Scotland, a plaid is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket such as one would have on a bed.

I personally view tartans as distinct, recognized and registered patterns by the Scottish Tartan Authority and plaids is a pleasing arrangement of colours and stripes much like my Highland Heather towels.   I may well be wrong on this but it feels okay to me!

So who can have a tartan?  Well, anyone really! There are official registered tartans for every province or state, or country in the world.  

Books by Iain Zaczek are amazing resources. Don't let the last name fool you! (ISBN # 1 894102 43 6   and  ISBN # 1 552671 79 8)
Companies, non Scottish families, governments and institutions such as universities and schools have tartans.  Its not just for royalty and marching bands any longer.

Do you have Scottish ancestry?   You can find your clan or sept in books like these:

There are weaving sett guides and history in this book by Maria Constantino (ISBN # 1 895464 20 X)
Gordon Teall & Philip Smith jr have authored a classic district guide, complete with setts and histories (ISBN # 0 85683 085 2)
What about weaving tartans or plaids yourself?   Are there rules?  Well, the short answer is 'yes'.  A true tartan is always a balanced 2/2 twill.  This simply where the threads go over two and under two and can be woven on a four shaft loom. The tricky part is the word 'balanced'.   The sett must be just right so that the twill diagonal line when measured (off tension) is a 45 degree angle.   

So to be truly finicky, to get 24 epi and 24 ppi for example, you must sley the reed at something like 22-23 and beat so you get 22-23 picks in so when its off tension and wet finished and pressed  it becomes the magic 24 either way.  You have to know your chosen yarns very well and how they react under tension, keep your beat even,  and anticipate what they will do when wet finished and pressed.  That means sampling and more sampling....  ( I speak from experience as I wove a balanced twill for the Guild of Canadian Weaver tests)

Well, doesn't that sound like fun?   😳

Unless you run a textile / weaving mill, such as Lochcarron of Scotland where such standards prevail, most weavers do their best to get just a smidge under the 45 degree line on the loom, knowing it will balance out after a wash and press. Close enough!    So for my recent towels I used 8/2 cotton sett at 24 epi.  I got a decent twill line and quite frankly, I haven't checked it after washing and drying. They look nice as they are.

So why choose Dress Stewart for my project? Well, I have always liked the Stewart tartan but it came down to what colours I had on hand in my stash.  I had some red on hand but not enough if I wove the full Royal Stewart with its wide bands of all red in between the multi coloured sections.

Stewart Dress tartan draft
I found my draft at  where they have an entire collection of 277 tartans and also some 452 plaids created by members.  I have since discovered that if you add  two threads of red mid way in the 72 ends of white, it becomes the Victoria(n) Stewart.   No doubt what  little Prince of Wales Bertie was wearing in the PBS television production Victoria, but I couldn't see that clearly.

There are three categories of colours used by weavers to guide their choices:

  • Modern colours: 19th century aniline dyes replaced older natural dyes. They are bolder and have rich depth of shade.
  • Ancient: this doesn't not denote the actual age of the tartan but indicates that natural dyes (from various sources) were used and have a softer more natural tint.
  • Muted (or also known as reproduction) colours:  introduced in 1946, based on old bits of textiles found at the battle site of Culloden. They were tartans dyed using natural dyes, but then muted by their exposure to peat. There is a further softening of the colours, especially greens and browns. Used for hunting tartans and plaids as they would blend into the hillsides.   {sort of like old Scottish camoflage !}
There are many resources on line but I have three books on hand that are focused on hand weavers and reproducing tartans. I'm sure there are many more out there, plus resources on line if you do a search.

This small book by James D. Scarlett is the tartan weaving chief guide! 
In days past, the weavers knew the sett, and colours by heart and kept sticks showing the colour and warping order of a given tartan.  You would only need to show a pared down portion and the last colour was the pivot and they all reversed from there to complete the repeat. 

The Tartan Weavers's Guide by James D. Scarlett  ( ISBN # 0 85683 078 X) was particularly helpful in learning the colour sequencing and understanding the pivot colour.  

While there was three groupings of colours to chose from, they did standardize the  abbreviations for the actual colour words:

A: light blue (azure)
B: blue
C: rose (crimson)
D: dark + colour used
G: green
K: black
L: light + colour used
Lil: lilac
Lv: lavender
Ma: magenta
Mn: maroon
N: grey (neutral)
P: purple
R: scarlet (red)
T: brown (tan)
W: white
Y: yellow

Then from the Lyon Court came these additional symbols:

Az:  azure, sky blue
Gu: Gules / Scarlet
Vt: vert / grass green
Br: brown
Bk: black
Wh: white 
Purp: purpure / purple
Bu: a duller blue
Red: a duller red
C: crimson
Gr: a duller green
Y: yellow

Let's use my draft of Stewart Dress: W 72, B 8, Bk 12,  Y 2, Bk 2, W 2, Bk 2, Gr 16, R 8, Bk 2, R 4,  W 2  

If you study this warp colour bar from the Stewart Dress draft and follow along reading right to left, you will see how they only needed half the order (for symmetrical tartans). Click to enlarge.

Many know of Mary E. Black and her book Key to Weaving  and New Key to Weaving (depending on the publication date). There is a brief chapter on weaving tartans and plaids, of which she was especially fond.   Mary Black was one of the founders of the Guild of Canadian Weavers and was their very first Masterweaver and her thesis was on Tartan Weaving. There is a small booklet produced by Lily Yarns by Ms Black. No publication year is given but I estimate it to be circa 1950's. Its a real little gem! 

GCW Founder & Masterweaver, Mary E. Black (no publication date other than  10M-1-59  Printed in the USA, which I assumes means Oct.1st 1959, by Lily Mills Co. of Shelby NC
Roll the clock forward to 2018 and I found this delightful new weaving guide :

ISBN # 9781723818028  or the Amazon here
Linda covers a lot of material on weaving tartans for current times, including designing your own, and the practicalities of setting up the warp for weaving and setts.   There is even a section on  twill variations to move beyond a 2/2 twill  (gasp! 😳).  She shows how to use a chart and spread sheet to plan a successful tartan project.

Speaking of successful projects..... how did mine turn out?

Well, I cut  them every 31 inches apart as it ended nicely with the end of the colour repeat.

I turned a small hem and pressed, then hand sewed the edges using a running blind stitch.   I planned these as kitchen towels but they may end up as a runner in someone's home or?   Does hand sewing hold up to machine washing and drying? Yes it does as all my kitchen towels are hand sewn and are in and out of the wash constantly.

 The edges look okay.... just a touch of crowding. Not too shabby given that I didn't use a temple!

I got six towels measuring 20.5 inches by 29 inches in length plus a bonus table square (no sample this time). The bonus square is winging its way to Australia as a gift as I write.  Seems that some of  the Stewart Clan made for the far flung corners of the world!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Marching Along...

I had every intention of doing another post for the month of February, but I simply ran out of month. In my defence, its a short month and I was robbed by two to three days!   😁

So what's been going on here in the studio?

Well, a slow weave slowed things down.... with lots of colour changes.  No speedy one shuttle throw here!   I have two twelve inch Schacht shuttles so I had to switch out pirns on a regular basis, which is a pain.  As much as I love the shuttles, I can't justify buying more right now so I could simply grab one and go.

Stewart Dress Tartan

 I carried what colours I could up the sides for short runs but it still meant lots of  'stops and starts'.

I took it off the loom yesterday.... all eight yards of it!  So I have yet to secure the raw edges and then it will go into the wash,  closely followed by a quick steam pressing.  It will then be cut apart and hemmed into towels.    My husband wants to wear it wrapped around like a kilt but it would be more like a mini skirt, which would necessitate some 'bloomers' underneath.

Its here in all it glory.    8/2 cotton, sett 24 epi

Here's the draft for this classic and a big thank you to  for this and many other wonderful drafts. A great resource.

I had a prepared warp ready to go and I'll give you a sneak peek...... but that's all for now.  😊 The inspiration came from commercial for travel to the Caribbean. 

I also have another project on the go as well for my local weavers guild, "The Midnight Shuttles".  I have their eight shaft Leclerc table loom here and it was just given  a complete cleaning and tune up, plus I have added newly purchased inserted eye heddles.  That was a two day job as it also meant counting out heddles, which had me cross-eyed!

There's five and a half yards of 10/2 cotton wound on for a Swedish lace guest towel project, with twelve participants including me.   

Nice new heddles! They made an interesting change to my usual texsolv on my looms.  There's also a brand new pair of oak lease sticks made by a fellow weaver's husband.  The new twelve dent reed is one the guild bought off of me, left over from my last table loom.  So the old girl is all gussied up now!

Threading is under way here.  There's quite a reach into this loom from the front. As usual, the loom is too high if you sit on a normal chair, so you have to stand.   Its why any table looms I've had in the past all had to have their corresponding stands, so you don't have to!

All ready to lace on and get started.  I have two ways of weaving the draft, so I'm going to weave one  of each to have on hand, so the other weavers can see and decide which one they would like to try.  Besides working with a finer thread, its also learning about Swedish lace,  and also to practise hemstitching techniques on the loom. 

I have to formalize my project notes up so they are easy to follow and have the two towels as full sized samples in sleeves.  The loom will make the rounds of the weavers' homes and knowing people's busy lives, this will take time to get all done. I might even need a second warp beamed as I suspect some people might like to weave both towels.

So as you can see, things are marching along here on several fronts and keeping me busy.   We still have some patchy snow in the yard,  but the mourning doves, juncos and robins are already back and checking out nesting spots.  I've also seen flights of geese up at high elevations flying northwards. Plus these guys (below) survived the snow and bitter cold.    They popped up three weeks ago and survived a few dumps of snow on top of the flowers plus some bitter cold frosty nights to boot.  

So, winter got you down?   Be a crocus!  

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Second Opportunity

You may recall a fairly recent project where I had a 4.5 yard and so I wove one shorter scarf and then had three  treadling errors in the second scarf?   Well, it was overly generous to call that a scarf as it fell quite short of the length I prefer to weave.  It was  a short length of woven cloth and it wasn't long enough or wide enough to do much with.  (Some one, a bit too late sadly, reminded me of little drawstring bags, so perhaps next time?)

I recalled that I had some tri-fold card stock tucked away somewhere and could make some (blank) greeting cards.  A hunt ensued and I finally found them and but they had been bent and creased.  This was disappointing as I had used them before with great success.

  So I did a search on line and I found card  I placed an order, thinking it was coming from Vancouver, but it actually came from Victoria south of us on Vancouver Island!   I placed my online order on Sunday night, and they arrived in my mailbox Tuesday morning.   That was fast!

I got tri-fold card stock with 3 inch square windows in both cream and white, plus a 3 x 4 windows also in cream and white. They have a mailing envelope each as well.  The bonus feature?  They come pre-set with double sided tape!   You simply cut and position your cloth, or other craft / artistic feature and then remove the cover from the tape and gently fold over to seal.  {note: the circular window does not come pre-taped}

So, out came the rotary cutter and mat with convenient grid lines and I got to work.   It was good fun and quite addictive!

So here are a variety of cards and inserts made from the  second weaving. I must add that these cards are quite difficult to photograph as the lighter card stock messes with the  white balance settings of the camera.  I have chosen to play using the computer settings to show the insert to its best version of colour reality and so this may make the card stock look like its a bit over bright.   

There was a variety of colours in the warp and some suited the cream card stock better such as the one above..... which incidentally has one of the treadling errors.  In this context, it just adds interest instead of angst!

Depending on the cuts, I could even get some of the edging border and use either sized window depending on the cloth size.  I got approximately 10 to 12 cards made.

Then I recalled a short piece of silk where I had hand painted the warp and dyed the weft. It was woven up years ago and was sitting in a drawer as a large sized sample.   The deep maroon red and turquoise suited the white card stock and I got 7 cards with the 3 x 4 window.     Now this is fun!

So I dug out my sample binders with all my project notes and cloth samples and went on the hunt!

If you are a regular reader, then these two should look fairly familiar.  I took a full width scarf sample and simply cut it in half.  Nice sample for the note book.... and also a card.

So I now have a variety of cards made using samples from past projects such the one below.  I won't trot them all out here but you get the idea. I had also bought a small 100 batch of the clear re-sealable bags so they all get slipped into their own  protective sleeve.

Now I have a unique selection of cards for giving or gifting that are special and a real keepsake*.  It was fun to do and once I had my samples all lined up, it went quite quickly. It was a nice way to spend a couple of afternoons. 

I almost used up the supply of card stock I had ordered, so I placed a second order.  It came equally as quick...

* keepsakes:  I have a card selection of many Christmases and some birthdays where friends and weavers over the years have gifted me with hand made cards. There are woven cloth, some quilting, origami, woven ribbons and even water colours. You can see a few of them in this older post from Christmas 2008

Currently in the studio:  I'm busy chipping away at an 8 yard warp of cotton in the Stewart Dress tartan.  I somehow pulled a muscle in my right upper arm so its been slow going and slower still with all the colour changes.  Its okay as it gives me time to watch the falling snow outside!

Thursday, January 24, 2019


I like to pair up cones of yarn to sit on my desk together..... and just look at them. Usually they have similar depth of shade where are both equal in intensity of colour.

I like to watch them in different lights, natural or home.....  at different times of day.
Some get put back in the closet and new ones come out to play this game.

Coppery Pompeii (8/2 tencel) sat side by side with Amethyst for a couple of months while I made up my mind.  Would the copper over power the purple?   They are technically opposites on the colour wheel. Would they just go 'blah' when woven together?

Apparently not! In this balanced, reversible six shaft crackle weave (no tabby) they hold hands quite nicely.   As nice as Fiberworks is for design, colours and all its bells and whistles, sometimes you simply have to put the real colours together as real threads and see what happens!

This picture above and below were taken when we enjoyed a brief patch of sunshine, then.....

... the sun slipped behind a light cloud and the light was more diffuse and look at the difference below.   No camera flash  and on automatic setting 'landscape' on my DSLR.   The iridescence becomes to the fore front and it changes the colours entirely.  Its has life and glow.    

All because I took a chance and committed some real yarn in the game. 

The second scarf is nice too.  I went for a tried and true neutral classic, black.  It gives good pattern definition and will pair up nicely with suits and top coats or other more formal clothing. It can also be for a man as well. 

But why do I feel I should have gone back to my stash and tried something else?  This was a safe choice. Copper is a difficult colour to work with and I've been trying to think what else might have worked.   Dark teal?  Navy blue?   This will be another project at another time...

Whether its colour, weaving structures (or even our lives in general)..... you have to be willing to take chances, a risk. If it doesn't work you learn from it and move on. In weaving, you simply lose some yarn or string. Its not the end of the world.  

When it all comes together, you can really feel it.  Your first thought is "how did I do that?" and "how can I do it again?"   That would be that inner voice or gut instinct that I over rode as I reached for the cone of black instead.    😳

The second run of fencing was completed this past Monday and it looks and smells great!   There are approximately three to four neighbours in a row all getting shared fences replaced and the air is full of fresh cut cedar.

A neighbourhood cat was surprised in our yard by Hubby yesterday and it took a leap for the fence to make a getaway..... and was somewhat surprised by the five foot tall fence when it used to be a shorter four feet.  A rather elaborate gymnastic display ensued where much dignity was lost!  

The raccoons are not going to like it either then!

But we sure do!