I begin the process with undyed cotton yarn. I calculate the number of threads required as well as the length each thread must be to complete the woven fabric I am planning. This may be thousands of threads that are each many yards long. I wind from multiple cones of yarn onto a warping reel. This allows me to wind the yarn to an even tension while being careful not to tangle it.
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The threads are gathered into bundles that will be dyed together. They are scoured to remove any chemicals. This will allow the dyes to flow freely when I begin the dye process.
I use primary colors to mix a full range of hues - from brilliant to subtle - using Fiber Reactive Dyes. I begin by visualizing the design pattern that I want the colors to form in the final woven piece. I calculate how each group of dyed yarns will interact with every other group to form the pattern as a whole. The dye is then applied directly to the loose yarn.
After the dye has had time to set, I boil the cotton yarn. This heat sets the dye as well as starts the rinse process. The yarn is rinsed repeatedly to make sure it will be colorfast when the fabric is woven.
The yarn is hung on the line to dry. It may be spread out to dry more quickly on a day with low winds. On dry days in the summer this part of the process proceeds quickly...but I also have to dry yarn in the winter. It is interesting to me that yarn will dry on sunny days that are well below the freezing temperature. After freezing, the yarn goes directly from frozen to dry bypassing the wet stage altogether.
The yarn is threaded into the loom one thread at a time by hand through the reed and then again through the heddles. The loom's threading order determines the weave structure of the finished fabric. The yarn that is threaded on to the loom is the Warp. After the threading is finished the Warp is wound with an even tension onto the back of the loom.
In my work the Warp is dyed and the Weft (which are the threads that cross the warp to form the fabric) are usually not dyed. The Weft yarn holds the fabric together but is not a visual focus for the design. The Weft yarn is passed back and forth with the aid of a Shuttle which releases the yarn as needed for the width of the fabric. The weaver beats the Weft yarn into place. This is a series of rhythmic physical motions. At its best there is a wonderful flow of yarn and movement.
After the weaving is completed, the fabric is taken off the loom, stitched to secure the raw edges and machine washed. This shrinks and tightens the material leaving it in its final phase of fabric. It is now ready to be cut and sewn into the finished project.
The fabric that I documented here was designed and woven to be panels in a birdseye maple room divider screen.
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