by Sara Lamb
Several years ago, a friend and I agreed to exchange handspun shawls: hers for me would be knit, mine for her would be woven. This past summer, my friend presented me with my shawl:
Now, it was my turn. I asked her what she wanted and she said: Rustic. Earthy. Wooly. These three words guided the spinning and weaving for this shawl.
I thought for several months about how to translate those words into colors and textures for a suitable shawl. In that time, I came up with many versions of “earth”, using greens and browns, natural colors of sheep’s wool, colors from natural dyes: earthy yellows and greens. My friend is a yarn dyer, and attends wool festivals to sell her yarns. She walks the hills and moors of Yorkshire, where she lives, and takes her two rambunctious dogs for long walks. I wanted the shawl to be warm and cozy, a wrap for camping, walking the hills with the dogs, and for cold days standing in the yarn stall.
It was driving through the Southwest in late autumn that provided the final color inspiration: green juniper against rich rust-colored soils, geologic striations in the distant mesas, a dusting of snow, and the golden sunlight that suffused it all. I cannot capture the richness of the landscape in a photo, but I can and did use my photos to remind me of the colors I wished to spin and weave:
I ran a mixed warp of various 2 ply wool yarns, mostly Romney and Cotswold wools. Some of the base yarns were grey wool, and some were white, some were overdyed and some were left the natural color of the sheep’s wool. There was also at least one small warp of a yarn made up of two different colors plied together. I concentrated on the idea of glowing sunlight, in rusts and golds. I added a green, my friend’s favorite color, and some greys and white for the striations and snow on the mesas:
There are 300 ends total, sett at 12 ends per inch, for a width on the loom of 25”. I wanted the shawl to be at least 80” long finished, and I knew I needed to sample a few wefts before I began the project, so I ran a warp of 3.5 yards long. I use the beginning of each warp to sample wefts and weave structures, if there is a choice, and to get into the rhythm of weaving the fabric. The first few inches of any warp are likely to be ragged weaving until the yarns adjust, the fabric settles on a width, and the rhythm of the weaving is going smoothly. I save these samples for my weaving record book.
I knew I wanted the fabric to glow with the late afternoon late Autumn sunlight gold, so the first weft I chose was a 2 ply gold Romney blend:
Yikes! Ugh. I did not like this. It reminded me of upholstery from a couch in the seventies; it would not do. The second choice was a finer wool yarn, in rust:
You can see the difference the two wefts made: the gold is a bigger yarn, and kept the width of the shawl better, but the rust, which is finer and pulls in more in the finishing, preserves the color idea better, and is still wide enough for a nice wool shawl. The glint of sunlight I wanted to emphasize is preserved in the two color yarn: a mix of bright orange and dark brown, the orange pops out in pointillist dots when using the rust colored weft.
I knew that a wooly rustic shawl did not need fancy twisted fringes, so in keeping with the theme, I started and ended the shawl with a row of hemstitching:
I leave a long tail when I first start the weaving, and after a few rows I thread the tail on a needle and hemstitch across the width of the fabric. At the end of the weaving I repeat the hemstitching with a long tail of the weft, which makes for a nice finished edge once the shawl is washed:
The weaving went quickly: plain weave, using a single shuttle, and soon the shawl was ready to be washed and fulled. I knew there would be some shrinkage, but a shawl is forgiving, and can be almost any size, so I tossed the whole thing into the washer, with very hot water, for a good soak. After an hour or so, I agitated for ten minutes, spun out the excess water, fluffed the wool fabric in the dryer for ten minutes, and laid the shawl out flat to dry.
It came out warm and wooly, earthy, glowing rust and gold, just as the Autumn in the Southwest I had experienced.
Photos © Sara Lamb.