Sunday, August 25, 2013

Frugal Crafting: Weaving

This was written a few years ago for a now defunct little magazine called "Homewords."

I have been thinking of how crafting has grown naturally out of our needs, as our mothers and grandmothers found ways to create solutions for the problems they had before mass production made those things cheap and easily accessible.
Today, most of us have the option to buy items already made that fill our needs but crafting still satisfies a basic desire to create. Even more satisfaction comes when we can create something useful and beautiful from materials that would otherwise be ignored or thrown out.

Weaving is one of those crafts that uses these kinds of material. Now, before we get started, let me say that I am NOT a weaver! There may be those out there who are, and we would certainly appreciate any information you'd be willing to give.
Weaving at its most basic, is fun and productive. Almost anyone can weave a mat of sorts without a pattern, simply by understanding what weaving is, an 'under/over' 'in-and-out' process.
You might want to practice with paper first, but soon you will want to try cloth or natural materials. Buying those materials can be very expensive, though, and take the joy out of crafting.

"Bulrush is a very light material and there are approximately 60 rushes in one half pound.  Price per half pound is $9.00."
Willow, starting at about seven dollars a much is a pound of willow, anyway? Can I get a whole place mat out of 60 rushes? Is 9 dollars a place mat too much to pay?? Will a pound of willow make a clothes basket?

To get around these kind of questions, look first at what you can find naturally. For instance, wheat weavers use a special, hard to grow wheat that bends easily when wet, and holds its shape when dry, but any kind of wheat or wheat-like plant will substitute when you are learning this craft.

Any kind of long stemmed grass, or slender pliable branch will substitute for bulrush and willow, respectively. If you are experimenting (isn't all crafting without a pattern experimenting?) almost any material will give you an idea of what happens when you do this or that.

One year we had quite a bit of a slender, very tall grass that grew along the ditches in abundance. Its always been there, but this particular year, its abundance caught my attention, and I cut some of it and put it to dry in bundles. When it dried, it became brittle, so I soaked it overnight, and the next day I began to braid a strip, winding into a coil as I went. It was easy to work with, and surprisingly sturdy.

As you poke around looking for things to use, remember that plants act differently when dry than when green. Allow for shrinkage as well as loss of pliability.

If you'd like to try to make a circular mat, first gather several bundles of any long grass like blades, the longer the better. You can use it green, but you might want to put some away to dry and work with later.

To begin, cross six blades at the center, and, using another one, fasten them together. This is much easier said than done, so be patient and wind the grass around several times in different ways. Once this is completed, you should have what looks like a wagon wheel without the other words, spokes. Using a seventh blade, attach it at the center by pushing it into the grass knot you created. You'll need an uneven number of spokes to weave on.

Begin weaving your blades from the center out, being careful to keep the strands close together. When you come near the end of one blade, insert a new one between it and the next 'spoke', and weave with both a few times, until the ends are hidden.

As you work, the area between spokes will become too wide, so at more or less even intervals, insert another one simply by pushing a blade into the mat a few rounds deep. Don't trim the ends exactly until you are through.

A project like this will take some time with narrow blades, so think about it as you look and gather. You might want to look for the widest blades you can find.

Another weaving product is cloth, and I'm sure you've all seen the potholder looms that come with jersey loops. A loom of this type is simple to make from a flat piece of board or an old picture frame. Whichever you use, it needs to be the same size as the piece you want to create. Simply line up small tacks along each edge, then begin by tying yarn or string on one corner tack, and looping it back and forth from one side to the other, around each tack. When you are finished in one direction, go the other direction. Weave under one strand and over the next, pushing each strand firmly against the last one.

Of course, this can be adjusted many different ways. One idea is to make a loom large enough for a floor mat, using nails instead of tacks, and cloth strips instead of yarn. At the other extreme, use a small soft wood board and gently tack in straight pins, then use thread to create a fine piece of cloth, which could be used for a small needlepoint picture, or a special pocket or collar.

The applications of weaving are endless, it seems. No matter what your tastes, you can find something to weave, and make something special out of nothing at all, as our mothers and grandmothers did.

Image courtesy