Many of us may have just had flashbacks to macramé jewelry, belts, and hanging plant holders. I know I went through a lot of macramé cord and jute in the 1970’s! The technique is experiencing a comeback as friendship bracelets have become very popular within the younger population. However, this is a very old technique. Native Americans (North, Central and South Americans) used finger weaving to create many items for their home and clothing. French-Canadians were very accomplished weavers. Many of the Fur Traders wore colorful and distinct sashes. These were known as "ceinture flechee" or arrow sash. You can see how it got its name from the sash patterns in this photo.
Weaving can be done on a loom. A loom can be pretty simple, like a couple of sticks at the ends of the threads, or very elaborate with heddles which are raised and lowered to form the pattern. A loom is like a stitching frame in that one of its purposes is to keep the threads organized and under tension. The long threads that are attached to the loom are called warp. The weft are those threads that go back and forth across the warp to do the weaving. I had a hard time remembering which is what. I saw that "weft" starts with "we" as does "weave". So the weft is what does the weaving back and forth. As you read this newsletter, I will be spending the week at Sjölunden, Swedish Language Camp for adults, through Concordia Language Villages. I hope to be able to spend some time in the vävstuga (weaving studio) this week. In April, I was able to do a little weaving on the inkle loom, which is a very portable loom.
However, I will be teaching a fun little class on finger weaving at camp. This is an off-loom weaving technique. Off-loom weaving doesn’t need any fancy equipment. Basically you need something to attach your threads to, like a c-clamp on a table, a hook or a door knob. There aren’t defined warp and weft threads because during the process a thread will be used both ways. As simple as it is, you can create hundreds of colorful designs and patterns. The width can vary from 8 threads across to 72 or more!
Very few items are required to get started! The threads can be almost anything imaginable. Pearl cotton thread is a good material to start with. I am using Size 3 DMC Pearl Cotton for my examples. Yarn can be used also, but you want to be sure it doesn’t have too much stretch to it. You can use yarn with texture, but your weave will not be smooth. This might be a fiber to experiment with once you get familiar with the technique.
You will need several sticks that help you get started. These can be dowel rods, clean Popsicle sticks, or chop sticks. I am using jeweled pencils (6631) for my demonstration. You will also need some type of tape like masking or painter’s tape. The tape needs to be able to come off the surface without pulling up the paint or leaving a mark.
The easiest way to show this technique is to create a bookmark that you can give a friend illustrated through a series of photographs.
Supplies – You will need 2 skeins of Pearl Cotton Size 3 in whatever colors you wish. I chose #307 and #322 – Swedish colors. If you open up the skein and clip it at the knot, you will get strips approximately 36" long. You will need two of each color.
STEP 1 Fold the threads in half and lay them down side by side.
STEP 2 Tie a knot in the end. Make the loop large enough to tie off for a bracelet or as fringe for a bookmark. Tape the knot to a flat surface.
STEP 3 Sort the two colors so all of one color is on the top and the other color is on the bottom. Insert one of your sticks between them.
STEP 4 Now fan the colors out so you have them alternating as shown in this photo.
STEP 5 Pick up your bottom color, keeping the threads alternating in color. Bring that color to the top and place another stick between the two colors. Tape down your sticks on each end.
STEP 6 Pick up the bottom color in your left hand . Take the rightmost blue thread that is still on the table. Pick it up and bring it between the two colors to the left. Give it a little tug to make it snug. Lay those threads down.
STEP 7 Carefully pick up the threads that are now on the bottom, keeping the colors alternating. Hold them up and out of the way. Take the rightmost yellow thread on the table and bring it through to the left side. Place all the threads down.
Repeat Steps 6 and 7, alternating your colors, until you are satisfied with the length of the woven piece.
If you are used to weaving with a loom, you may worry that your design is not straight across. It will be on a slant, and that is correct. The smaller your thread and the tighter you pull it will make the slant a little more flat.
When you are satisfied with the length of your bookmark, tie off the ends. Trim the ends to create fringe.
Check out Carol James new book Fingerweaving Untangled (1796) to learn how hold your threads in your hands to increase your speed. Her book has excellent instructions with photographs and drawings. There are patterns for designs such as Flame, Diamond, and Arrowhead. One of the best features of her book is how to spot and correct mistakes. Whether you are just learning or have some experience, you will be delighted with this book!
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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