Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The A,B,C's and 1,2,3's of Classic Crackle

I briefly mentioned crackle weave in my last post and later I even got a  request to cover it so apparently its time has come!   I did the first level of the Guild of Canadian Weavers test program  (they have a newly designed web page!) and so I have done some in depth study of several weave structures and that included Crackle or Jamtlandvaev. If you click on the link under crackle, it will take you to a downloadable file at and shows the original article by Mary Meigs Atwater.   The link under Mary's name will take you to an older post of mine where I do a review of the book featuring the story of her amazing life. You don't have to be a weaver to enjoy her story and she literally packed six lifetimes into one!

So if you are planning a project for upholstery fabric, then crackle fits the bill nicely. There are no long floats and the weave structure is tied down every fourth thread.  Upholstery textiles needs tie downs as chair cushions can get a lot of abrasion! It also works well for blankets for babies as you don't want long floats to catch little fingers.

True classic crackle never has more than a three thread float. (but there are other variations that will go as far as five ends.) We are sticking to the classic version for now.  Each threading group uses only three shafts and four warp threads.

It is a two shuttle weave with pattern weft shots and tabby shots alternating in between. As with other two shuttle weaves, you are weaving a plain weave ground cloth and have pattern weft shots as well. A good beat is required! Proper shuttle rotation will lock the wefts at the edge for a neat appearance or if this is fabric for a sewing project, then it is usual to carry the threads up the selvedges.

Crackle is more complex than summer and winter weave as it weaves two pattern blocks at the same time.  If you weave block A, you also weave D. If you weave block B, you also weave block A. Then if you weave block C, you also get block B. Lastly, if you weave D you also get block C. Its like a two for one special with no limits on the order!  See the photo of the paper draft to see the blocks involved. The draft shows the tabby shots in the drawdown. Click to enlarge for detail!

The end results, especially if  several colours are used, are quite visually complex! We are sticking to a four shaft crackle for now but you can see where an eight shaft crackle could get very involved!

Okay, now we come to the actual drafting with crackle blocks and there are some rules that must be followed for a successful outcome. Incidentals. What they are and what they do.... and why you need them.  The various four shaft crackle blocks are:

A  is threaded: 1, 2, 3, 2
B is threaded:  2, 3, 4, 3
C is threaded: 3, 4, 1, 4
D is threaded: 4, 1, 2, 1

If you visualize the threadings in your mind or take another look at the paper draft above, you will see they are tiny little point twills and even look suspiciously like a close cousin to overshot. (overshot flows from one threading group to another with two threading groups sharing a common thread) It is common to repeat at least two threadings of a group and this becomes a unit. ( I used three groupings to form a unit in the draft above) Then you use multiple units in the designing. More on units or unit weaves at another time!

 With crackle you can thread as many block A's together as you like but when you shift to B there is a bit of a disconnect so how do you get the groups to flow?

This is where the incidentals come to the rescue! 
Incidentals or extra threads are inserted into the crackle threading to provide continuity between blocks and avoid a 'flat'. A flat is where two warp threads are unintentionally threaded through heddles on the same shaft. There are standard incidentals used with each separate crackle block:

A = 1
B = 2
C = 3
C = 4

So when you want to shift from block A and design with block B you add an incidental thread on shaft 1 and the two groups join up nicely! So you add the corresponding number 2 as you shift from B to C. You must also add them if you go in reverse!

How do you remember which one to use and which number goes with each block?  Simple. Change the name of the blocks from A, B, C and D to 1, 2, 3, 4. The number is the incidental you need! Now books will show a crackle draft, especially profile drafts, as A, B, C and D still so you will have to convert them to this.

So let's say that your particular pattern is better if you have blocks of A  and then C. No B's at all.  You can do this!  When designing using A you add the incidental for the missing B and then also for the preferred block of C.  You must use the connecting incidental for B even though you won't be using the B units.  This rule applies to joining up any group combination. Remember to do this either going forward or backwards in your groups.
{ I tried writing this last section using the corresponding number but it got too busy so you have to do the mental substitution of A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4}

Clear as mud?   Take a minute to read the last three sections again and take another look at the paper draft and see the circled incidentals in place.

We'll wait.....     :)

So incidentally speaking:  A, B, C, D is 1, 2, 3, 4 or  D, C, B, A is 4, 3, 2, 1.  A, C, D is still 1, 2, 3, 4, or  C, D, A is 3, 4, 1
Got it yet?

Edit: caught one crackle victim already   :)
No typo there.... A,C,D is  1,2,3,4  Don't forget you are adding incidentals for blocks that are not being used so to transition to the next block you are using! 
If it was A, and D only, it still would be 1,2,3,4   (but if you were going backwards D to A, it would be just 4 to join them)

Once you have this under your belt, then you are free to play and design!   I find my weaving program invaluable for times like this as you can shift blocks around and get the design in your mind onto the screen.
Multi shaft designs will have assigned threadings for shafts 5 to 8 (for example) and might be labeled E, F, G, H but they are also 5, 6, 7, 8!

 Helpful Tip:  At the loom I tape a threading print out from my PCW Fiberworks program and then use two small mini 'post it note's' to isolate the grouping I'm working on and then advance the notes carefully to the incidental required and then again to the new block being threaded next.  It can be very easy to lose your place with crackle threadings and so I recommend you take measures to keep track!

Now for some show and tell.  This sample show my understanding of block placement and not colour interaction. So this is why there is a single solid colour for the pattern.

The blocks were woven in a climbing sequence A, B, C, D. look at the bottom corner and see block A. Notice block D in the centre of the diamond. It came along for the ride! If you visually pinpoint the block being treadled on the angle, you can see the additional woven bonus block. Finally at D they descend in reverse order to A and so on.

I also completed a six week intermediate workshop many years ago held by GCW Masterweaver Margaret Hahn and one of those weeks we covered crackle and some variations:

This is crackle woven 'overshot style'. Literally woven using a summer and winter treadling.

This crackle woven on 'opposites'. So using treadles 1 and 2 against 3 and 4 (or 2 and 3 against 4 and 1)

... and finally a crackle sample treadled 'polychrome style'

If you'd like to do more reading on this topic, this link takes you to a PDF which explores four shaft classic arrangement, variations with longer floats and multi shaft designs. There are some great designs that show the  beautiful designs possible.

This book is fairly new on the market and having spent some time reviewing it, I can assure you its worth every penny! It explains everything I told you above (more clearly and with much better diagrams) and then goes onto much more and has all the beautiful pictures to show you what colour can do with this weave structure!  Its timing couldn't be better in my opinion as there has been relatively few books to turn to on crackle.

There is a brief chapter on crackle in Key to Weaving  by Mary E. Black (1982 revision). The only other book in my collection on crackle is this one:

This has been a standard by Mary E. Snyder and while filled with good information, is rather sparse, limited to four shafts, and only black and white images.

I know there is a wealth of information on crackle at Peg's blog Talking About Weaving  Peg isn't active at her blog right now but if you type in crackle weave into her  'search this blog' box and you can surf her past posts on her exploration of crackle. She loves this weave structure!

The beauty of weaving in this time period of history in which we live is that you can simply google crackle weave and read more on line. You still need to understand the basic rules of Classic Crackle.... so as you progress in this study, you can bend and break the rules.

Its really hard to cover everything off in a brief blog post and I hope this little primer helps you on your way to further in depth study and playing with crackle on your loom! (any mistakes are mine and most likely come about due to not being clear in my explanations, so feel free to straighten me out!)

On a more personal note...
Thank you for all the kind emails regarding my four years of blogging! The guest towels are on their way to all the winners and I'm looking forward to hearing what they think.

I'm back in the studio again but there's just a continuation of the older projects that were stuck in limbo during Christmas and the health crisis. New projects are being planned and so I should have more to show you soon.

Speaking of the health crisis: Bruce is much improved and now walking with no crutches or cane, no more antibiotics and is regaining his strength. The heel/ foot gets tired and so he needs rests but I know he's getting better  as he's arguing with me about what he thinks he can do. The wives out there will recognize that one and sympathize I'm sure!

As a parting shot.... here's the road to our place, taken this morning:

Winter 2012 has finally shown up. That's the view from the house and just a dusting of snow. With luck, it will be all we get.... but I see its started falling again. I'm calling it a 'snow day off' anyway..


Restless Knitter said...

I just posted yesterday about becoming fascinated with crackle! I borrowed Susan's book from the guild library and I imagine I'll end up with my own copy.

I'm by no means an expert but thought I'd point out what I think is a typo in your post in case you want to correct it. The section right under "We'll wait", I think it should be A,C,D is still 1,3,4 (not 1,2,3,4).

I'm glad to hear Bruce is doing better, and hope it continues!

Susan said...

Hello Restless!

No typo there...I have added in a clarification in red as to why. The whole incidental use of crackle is tricky but once you get it, you get it!

Hang in there.. oh, and enjoy the book!

:) Susan

Restless Knitter said...

Aha! Even though you said incidentally, my brain didn't think of the incidental being in there. It's still very new but I really want to learn it more in depth and will keep on reading.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this GREAT blog post!!!

linda said...

Wow~ What a wonderfully informative post! I've not worked with crackle, but will certainly refer back to this...probably multiple have it fully sink in.

It's so good to hear that Bruce is in a good place and continuing to improve. I think the in-depth post is a sign that the Harveys are back on track! So good to hear, and here's to wishing a healthy remainder of the new year to the both of you.

Thanks so much for sharing such an in-depth look at this weave structure!

Lynnette said...

Well done post Susan. I know that getting a handle on the incidentals is the make or break part of understanding crackle. I've had some success on 'turning' crackle to make it a one shuttle weave and can really recommend it. Loved talking with you today!

Acorn to Oak said...

So glad your husband is doing so much better. :-)

dorothylochmaben said...

You do so well when you have your teaching hat on !! I understand the basics of crackle now and might be tempted to give it a try, will put it on the list and keep an eye open for the new book !
Your basic diagram with the incidentals marked is so easy to understand and then the following explanation of how to change around the blocks is interesting.
I loved your samples, especially the first one.

Great post and one for the reference file !

Thanks for taking time to do all of that.

Anonymous said...

Hello Susan!
Thanks for the add on your blog! Also, I love your blog. I really like the stuff you have about the island. Great job!
Thanks again!

Kerstin på Spinnhuset said...

Hi Susan! First a small nit to pick: crackle is almost, but not quite, the same as jämtlands*dräll*. Jämtlands*väv* is something else (namely what we Swedes also call smålandsväv).

Anyway. Somewhere (that I can't find again, unfortunately) I have read that it should be treadled-exactly-as-drawn with a three-colour rotation. As this is unheard of in Sweden, I wonder: have you any idea of how/why this came about? (I wrote on my blog - )

Susan said...

Hi Kerstin,
I have no knowledge of Swedish (other than what I gleaned from Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, original Swedish movies :) So I had done a cut and paste to transfer the name from the PDF that I had linked to in the blog post.
It seems that Mary Meigs Atwater was doing her best with the terms from a North American weavers prespective and that being so long ago, it doesn't surprize me that it could be a little wrong. That or the modern usage has changed it yet again.

As for the treadle as writ: I don't know about this. If you look at the paper draft image you'll see the tie up is the standard twill settings and you can note the treadling used. This was represented to me as the 'correct' method for classic crackle. Since I passed a test level with two master weavers marking it, I can only assume its correct!

I think Susan Wilson's book is very timely and I'm looking forward to reading it further. There has been very little written on crackle that really defines it.

Most interesting! I will be certain to come and read your blog post as well.
Best regards, Susan

Denise/CT said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am slowly getting a handle on the different types of weaves and what makes them such. I have always been drawn towards Crackle Weave patterns and will now have to give them a try. Your red text inserts helped me check myself, and by golly I think I've got it. I look forward to seeing more crackle weave explanations and samples from you.

Dena said...

Very informative Susan! I am planning on doing some kitchen towels for a guild project and decided in Crackle as the weave structure. This post helps to explain things quite a bit. So thank you!
One question though. Isn't block C supposed to be threaded 3 4 1 4 and block D threaded 4 1 2 1? Your diagram shows it correctly but your explanation shows it differently. Could you clarify that for me please?
Thank you so much!!

Susan said...

Thanks for catching that Dena.... it seems I transposed some numbers. I have corrected it to reflect the chart.

Caroline said...

Thanks just find your blogg when I was looking for a weaving technique to weave a square pattern. It is very helpfull

Unknown said...

Thank you for a good and clear explanation. Now I finally understand how to handle incidental thread.

Leigh said...

It's been years since you wrote this post, but here I am, definitely in appreciation of it! I've definitely got crackle on my list of structures to explore, so I'm happy for good resources!

Susan said...

Thank you Leigh.... I'm able to watch the stats for my posts and this one seems to help a lot of people. Its nice to know, because crackle is a fun weave.