My varafeldur adventure took seven months, with a long summer hiatus for other projects and travel. It began with a plan to demonstrate warp-weighted loom weaving with Melba Granlund at the Shepherd’s Harvest festival last spring. I leapt right in, unaware that family commitments a week before the festival meant I couldn’t attend. Melba ran the whole show. Hundreds of people were interested and amazed, and the unamazing result was that Melba hardly wove anything that weekend because she talked nonstop to visitors. I still feel guilty!
You can read about the beginning of my adventure in these posts: “Finally, a Varafeldur, 2017;” “Varafeldur, Part 2” (warping); “Varafeldur, Part 3“; and “Varafeldur, Part 4: One Step Forward, One Step Back” (about a disastrous heddle experience).
October: Back to the loom, or you have to love the fleece you use
I love the curly fleece of my friend Nancy Ellison’s sheep, and Nancy had given me some a while back. I first experimented with that and love the standing-up, soft, curly aspect of the fleece.
Andrea Myklebust of Black Cat Farmstead donated a beautiful fleece to weave a varafeldur, with long, straight, dark locks. It had marvelous color variation. My original plan was to use both types of locks in one piece, but when I added the straight locks, they just didn’t speak to me in the same way as the curly ones. This is the only photo I have of this part of the process, after I was starting to take out the fleece experiments.
I decided that I only wanted to work with the curly fleece, and I returned to Nancy’s farm, where she gave me a big bag of fleece from which to choose my locks. I spent several hours (some while watching “The Sopranos,” which I had never seen) picking through the fleece for curly locks. Here is before and after. The amazing thing was that I sorted through the whole big bag, took out enough locks to complete the weaving, and the bag seemed to be just as big in the end!
Tying in the fleece pile
I used the Icelandic knot, of the type used in Icelandic varafeldur, when inserting pieces of fleece.
The fleece is looped around one open warp thread and placed under two more, usually. Sometimes the fleece lock was shorter and I went under only two threads, and occasionally around only one thread, for a short but too-pretty-to-waste lock.
Oh, my weaving was not perfect
Even though the warp threads are spaced evenly at the top, and threaded through loops at the bottom of the loom to keep them that way, it is difficult to keep the spacing even–at least for me, and I know others have struggled with that, too. Even though I bubbled and paid attention as I wove, I still had sections where the warps bunched up, and other areas where they spaced themselves farther apart. You can see it in this photo.
I worked diligently to try work apart the tight areas as I wove, but without much success. I forgot about one trick–tying a string from each side of the piece to the side beams to hold the weaving as wide as possible, a form of stretcher bar. But it didn’t really pull in over time; the problem was more the uneven spacing. On the other hand, it wasn’t such a problem for this piece, as the background weave isn’t visible with the fleece pile on top. And I was able to push up the any unevenness along the row after each shot, as I wove.
But if I had been weaving a fine woolen cloth, it would have been disastrous, and I would have worked much harder to solve the problem. Perhaps it was caused by uneven weights in some sections.
In the end, the piece is a homage to Nancy’s sheep, if they had polka dots. Here’s my final decision about the piece. For hanging, should I leave the braided fringe or tuck it up?