Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weaving a Beret without tears

In the last couple of years I have been weaving berets, well thats how they start out. When they are finished its another matter and I have been slapped by the weaving police for not showing the plain weave base. Its based on a pattern thats been doing the rounds here in Australia for a while that involves a one-time cardboard loom, and once the beret had been woven, the loom has to be cut off and the beret extracted.  Results arre mixed and depend very much on how strong the cardboard is. I was sure there had to be a way to make a permanent reusable loom that gave far more dependable results.
If you believe a tapestry beret should not be mixed media, please stop reading now. If you want to have fun weaving, then be my guest and read on.

I originally experimented with a loom made from an embroidery ring glued together, and with nails hammered into it. That was very fiddly as I could only do one side at a time and I had to join the top to the bottom, and deal with a lot of surplus warp threads. this did distort the shape somewhat. This is the first one made that way:

Its woven using many different kinds of woven, crocheted, embroidered and invented stitches I could think of, and embellished with every kind of bead I could lay my hands on.

This was the next beret:

Called Turtle Lagoon, it won a highly commended (equivalent to a 2nd place) in the water section of the Alice Springs Beanie festival in 2011. Underneath that lot is a standard weft faced tapestry beret and it weighed well over 1 Kg! I really went overboard embellishing the coral reef it was based on.

Thanks to an Argentine weaver I met on Weavolution (my apologies, I cannot remember her name, but I am so grateful for this information!), I was given a couple of photos showing a re-usable loom.
This first photo is of a child sized loom that was a give-away with a breakfast cereal in Argentina. Note how the loom is warped by winding the yarn around rather as you do on a daisy or flower loom, only this goes over the rim and winds around the pin before going back to cross the back and wind around the opposite pin:

The Argentine weaver made her own loom, and its 12 inches across. I think she used something like masonite or plyboard:

There are 75 pins or nails around it, roughly between 2 and 3  inches in from the edge. Its warped exactly the same way as a daisy loom. Having an odd number of nails is very important as it allows you to weave over and under in a circular manner and automatically change sheds. You are not limited to plain weave. I have seen berets woven using twill. There are no set rules.

My take on the loom, because no company actually makes one, is a 12 inch wooden bread board for strength (and so I didn't have to cut a 12 inch circle). To make the pegs to wind the warp around, I glued a very cheap 9 inch embroidery hoop together, then hammered 75 nails into it and attached it to one side. To remove the beret, one leaves a slit in it so that everything comes off the loom very easily, and having the odd number of nails allows for changing sheds without problems:

As you can see, its starts about 1.5 inches in, allowing for plenty of ease in removing the piece when finished.

This is the underneath, which also shows the construction, inelegant as it is:

You can also see that my weaving materials are not limited to yarn. I love sari silk and always incorporate ribbons and twisted ribbon yarns into what I am doing. I also weave in small sections making odd shapes as I go. There is never a definite plan, and I don't worry if the colours clash, or the yarn sizes are totally different. There are enough weaving styles to choose from that something will work and fill any gaps. This is free-form mixed media weaving, and has no rules.

Then came the Cactus Flower, the first one on my new loom:

This was woven using rya knots with plain weave in between the rows. I had some sari ribbon bits with warp threads hanging from them so they dangled beautifully, and I threaded beads onto the end of some of the rya. Because the loom is solid, mine is one inch thick, I can really pack the weft yarns together with my fingers so the fabric is quite solid and not sleazy, the main problem with the cardboard loom. I hide the centre point where all the warp yarns cross, either by embellishing it once I have finished, or I crochet a little button to cover it. I make no effort to hide the ends of the weft threads, because I use them as embellishment as well, but you may prefer to weave them back in.

There is no right or wrong way to make a beret. Once you have finished weaving, its easy to lift the beret off the loom, sew the seam up, and then add a brim. You can make one out of stretch ribbing fabric, use an inkle band to make your own, use fabric, its up to you. The ones on these berets are knitted in 2 x 2 ribbing:

This beret also won a highly commended at this years Alice Springs Beanie Festival, for a Friendship Beanie made in collaboration with another person.

The "wig" is made from sari silk fringe, embellished with lucetted braids and sari silk ribbons, and the flowers were created from silk flowers that were remade to remove the plastic. The Hibiscus centres were re-purposed hair ties, and I added a dozen tiny dolls clutching little red puffy hearts. Great fun to make! All the colours should have clashed, but it's glorious in real life and like the Turtle Lagoon, its in a private collection.

I hope this has given you a few ideas of what you can create with a little imagination. My berets are not really made to be worn, though they would not go amiss at the Melbourne Cup and I make them for the sheer pleasure of feeling the fabrics and yarns in my fingers as I work. I use up a lot of scraps of precious handspun as I go. Its soothing and relaxing, and a great antidote to the pressures of modern life!


Boud said...

I LOVE this! weaving after my own heart, including creating the loom. I've seen the cardboard one time loom in the Weaving Without a Loom book, but haven't tried it yet. Yours look so exciting, though -- art berets! thanks so much for showing us.

Caroline Alexander said...

My pleasure! So much fun should be shared around, and once you know how the beret comes off the loom, the sky is the limit!

Wendy Whipple said...

My gosh - my brain is spinning. I'm not a weaver, I can barely crochet, and my sewing is basic, but color and texture and mixed media make my heart sing like nothing else, and those berets (my favorite hat to make and wear) are fantastic! I am clearly going to have to see if I can find a way to make this work for me. Wow. Just... wow.

Caroline Alexander said...

hi Wendy, you can do almost any kind of freeform stitch you want for these berets. To hold the fabric together, the basic weaving stitch is over 1 thread, under the next thread, then the next row you go under 1 thread then over, so that the yarns interlace, any cardboard weaving website will give you the basics, and more inspiration! After that, as long as you can get the material you are using to weave with through the warp threads, the ones that go down the hat, not around and around, you can use strips of fabric, sari ribbon (my favourite) handspun, left overs, bits of lace, whatever you can lay your hands on! And you can add embroidery techniques and needlelace as you go. There are NO RULES to this, except it need to hold together. Have fun!