Learning by Doing: Shaft Switching

IMG_6354I am constantly aware of my great good fortune to live in Minneapolis, close to the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.  Although the Scandinavian Weavers Study Group is my primary focus, I am so lucky to benefit from other groups’ shared-warp projects, too.  The weavers are generous with their time and knowledge. The study groups are a wonderful benefit of membership in the Guild. Group warp projects are so fun–you can dip into a technique you might never get around to trying on your own loom.

Recently a student in a private tapestry lesson confessed, “I feel like I have to learn things three times before it sticks.” So true! That was my experience with the shaft-switching technique, a group project of the Rag Rug study Group. Judy Larson was the brains behind planning the project on a Glimakra loom at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. She weaves very wide rugs in the technique at her studio in Roberts, Wisconsin, and TWICE I was privileged to receive a tutorial while visiting. Yet–only the vaguest of notions remained, until I actually wove this piece.


I am still no expert! This article from Interweave Press will give you a good idea of shaft switching.  Here.

I was at the Guild on a day that Jan Nelson was struggling with her piece–lucky me. Because of her experience, I was much more confident and adept when my turn came.  Only change one bead at a time, she counseled, and make sure the rubber bands are in place so the beads won’t leap off. It’s a very slow technique, so don’t pick a pattern that requires changing the “shafts” by moving beads ALL THE TIME. Right then I thought of a pattern that would have some long lines, so during my first crack at this structure I could concentrate on the technique and weaving nicely, instead of just changing beads.

9553916B-AE8D-4F0F-8856-B11CA7FC44F7Still, it was humbling. I worked diligently, but had bad selvedges. Sometimes color of the bottom layer would peek out; I found that using a large tapestry needle to push the right layer to the top was useful. Still, when the underside was revealed, it suffered from lots of uncovered warp threads.

I used a lovely piece of blue-dyed fabric for the majority of my blue layer, but added some weft in similar blues, somewhat randomly, because I feared I wouldn’t have enough of my best blue.  The blue balls of weft looked so similar, but had much more contrast in the finished piece.  (This is not the first time I’ve learned this lesson.)

I also did a bad job of hem planning, so I chose to use fabric strips at each end. After sewing the first strip with close, tiny stitches, I realized it wasn’t as wide as it should have been. Oh well.  In the end, for all the bad weaving choices and execution, it looks super on the dining room table.

The first few pieces came off the loom and were discussed at the last Rag Rug Study Group meeting.  I’ve appended the notes from the discussion (thanks, Donna Gravesen), to give you an idea of how valuable this group learning process is.


1. Judy wove two items before heading off on her Alaska adventure. A large single diamond on one, and a small checkerboard transitioning to a medium, then a large checkerboard.
2. Jan – green and blue print staggered steps – multi step zig zag
Frustrations with beads etc., but learned a lot – a problem solving exercise – but gave her a great graphic rug.
3. Nancy – nine diamonds, floral on a pink background. Designed on graph paper. Angle of this picture doesn’t do it justice.  It’s just striking.
4. Donna H – yellow squared “infinity” on blue background – with eyes in center of symbol. Designed on the fly.  Key learning was the need for a clear contrast in the two fabrics to get clean cuts. Her first fabric choice had a color in the print that was too close to her other fabric – even though good contrast overall, the bit of close color produced a fuzzy line.
Realized that the selvedges were dented closer than the body. So, she took off already woven rugs and resleyed the edges.  Then she made two placemats, Mondrian stained glass – pink print with navy borders.  Floating selvedge the color of the blue green warp.
5. Robbie. Browns and blues checkerboard and vertical stripes. She used hand dyed sheets in various colors of blue in random horizontal stripes for background. These stripes were much subtler in person. Robbie had observed Jan’s challenges with frequent changing of the beads, so she created a very striking design that required minimal changes. In fact looking at the rug again this morning – I think it could be done without shaft switching at all!
Robbie had challenges getting the fabrics to cover the white and beige interior threads. She “picked at” it while weaving to try to make it cover well on the front, but dissatisfied with the back. Robbie – I didn’t think of it during meeting, but both Donna and I used 10# of weight on the beater – a 5# ankle weight on each beater upright.
6. Donna G. – spirals. Striped sheet and solid sheet.  Bias 7/8”. I should have used a temple!  Very pleased with the results of my split floating selvedge method. We had double warp end for floating selvedges on each side. My modification: when throwing the bottom fabric split those ends, and only go between them going in, go out under both. For the top stayed with usual “over both going in, under both going out”. To make it easier to split, and make sure I was consistent about the one left on top, I used shoestrings attached to crosspiece to lift one of them up on each side. This means that the lifted one will show more – so it should be a color consistent with rest of warp. I used graph paper for my design – but should have used rectangular graph paper not square!  My designs are taller than graphed.


I may use this technique in the future, maybe for wool rugs.  If you search Pinterest for “shaft switching rug,” you may feel as inspired as I do.

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