Friday, October 17, 2014

Weaving with Needles? Yes!

(This post is the first of a series introducing some new needlework techniques. Although the tools, materials, and patterns closely resemble what I have shown in the past, the underlying structure is very different. Except when working Holbein stitch, the back of the work didn't matter a great deal;  now, however, the back of the work -- even when not seen -- will be quite important. The simple techniques shown in this post lay a foundation for exciting future projects that appear much more complex than they actually are.)

samples of canvas for needleweaving
Samples of background fabrics for needleweaving
Needleweaving can be done on any background material that has evenly spaced openings:  nylon net, filet crochet, fishnet, mono canvas, monks' cloth, etc. You can even use rug canvas if it has some flexibility to it. Some of the background threads will show through and become part of the design. If your fabric's mesh openings are considerably larger than the yarn or thread you are using for weaving, you can compensate by weaving two (and sometimes more) strands side by side through each square of mesh. All kinds of novelty yarns and threads can be used together for special effects. The kind of needleweaving we will look at today goes completely through the background fabric. In later posts, we will discuss surface weaving.

Annake's first needleweaving pattern
Annake's first needleweaving pattern (demo only)
I was introduced to needleweaving in first grade in a one-room country school. There were only eight students, so we did all sorts of projects. We little ones each made a needlewoven pillow top, which our energetic teacher then backed and stuffed for us. The older children made table runners. These were gifts for our mothers. I became fascinated by the fact that I could simply count the number of threads my needle passed over and under on each row and make a pretty pattern. That fascination with pattern has lasted me a lifetime and still plays a large part in my work. Here's a picture of that first pattern, done in knitting worsted on rug canvas so you can count the squares and figure out the pattern for yourself. (If I were going to do a project on rug canvas, I would use a much thicker yarn.)

needles for needleweaving

Needleweaving on large-scale background fabrics like fillet mesh or #5 canvas is done with extra-large needles so that several stitches can be completed with one pull of the yarn. I use two weaving needles (see picture above). One is five inches (about 13 centimeters) long and about the diameter of a darning needle. The other is just a bit thicker and twelve inches (about 30.5 centimeters) long. Both needles have eyes large enough to accommodate knitting worsted-weight yarn. If you cannot find weaving needles, use the largest and longest darning, tapestry, or chenille needles that you can find.

materials needed for needleweaving
Materials needed to start needleweaving
Woven fabric has two components: warp, long threads that run the length of the fabric, and weft (usually pronounced “woof”), back-and-forth threads that run at right angles to the warp. I'm going to show you some simple weaving patterns on plastic canvas. The exposed bars of the plastic will correspond to the exposed threads of the canvas fabric. Plastic canvas is not flexible, so I will use a tapestry needle and worsted-weight yarn. These patterns follow the warp “threads”, shown here as running left to right. The stitches begin at the left, where a short fringe of yarn is shown. I have woven the loose ends in at the back of the work on the right. I used 10.5 inch x 13.5 inch (about 27 cm x 35 cm) plastic canvas so that you can see several repeats of each pattern. I suggest you practice the patterns on plastic canvas and file them for future reference. You will need at least three colors of yarn: A, a dark color; B, a medium color: and C, a light color. Cut your yarn pieces a couple of inches longer than the canvas so that you can leave fringe at the ends or run the loose ends under the stitches on the back.

For the first pattern, cut 6 pieces of one color (color A). For Row 1, push your needle down from the top into the first open square and pull the strand through, leaving at least an inch for fringe. Run the needle under 2 threads (plastic bars), over 2, under 2, over 2 all the way to the end. For Row 2, insert the yarn in the same way, pass under 1 thread, over 1, then under 2, over 2 to the end. Rows 3 and 5 are like Row 1; Rows 4 and 6, like Row 2. Weave in all six strands. Notice the strong diagonals, both left-to-right and right-to-left.

First needleweaving sample, one color
First needleweaving sample, one color

By now you think you know all about the pattern and could do it in your sleep. But there is more to learn. Cut three pieces of color A and two of color B. Leave an empty row of canvas square (or more) between pattern stripes. Do Rows 1, 3, and 5 in color A, following the weaving pattern for the odd- and even-numbered rows. Do rows 2 and 4 in color B. Now the diagonals are much less noticeable and your eye begins to pick out small clusters in the stripe.

Second needleweaving sample, two colors
Second needleweaving sample, two colors

Now cut two pieces each of colors A and B and one of color C. Weave Rows 1 and 5 in color A, 2 and 4 in color B, and 3 in color C. This time the eye is drawn strongly to the center line of stitches. Would you get the same effect with A in the center and C on the sides? Try it and see.

Third needleweaving sample, three colors
Third needleweaving sample, three colors
Weave the second pattern in one color, then in a second color next to it, with no empty canvas in between. The pattern is the same for both. Start as before from the top in the first row of squares, work under 2, over 1, under 1, over 6, [*] under 1, over 1, under 1, over 1, under 1, over 6, repeating from [*] to the end. This is Row 1 and Row 5. Next, start the same, then under 1, over 1, under 1, over 2, under 4, over 2, [*] under 1, over1, under 1, over 2, under 4, and repeat across the row. This is Row 2 and Row 4. Start Row 3 from the top, under 1, over 1, under 1, over 1, under 2, [*] over 2, under 2, over 1, under 1, over 1, under 1, over 1, under 2 and repeat to end. Use the same pattern rows for the second color. When the piece is complete, turn it over. You will see another, different, pattern on the reverse side that you can use as well. If I were doing this pattern on needlepoint canvas, I would cover all the open squares with tent stitches in a third color. And, yes, many needleweaving patterns “translate” into needlepoint or even cross-stitch patterns.

A more complex pattern in two colors
A more complex pattern, repeated in two colors

If you want to practice your patterns and make something useful at the same time, make strips of pattern from six inches to ten inches (15.5 to 25.5 cm) long and an inch to an inch and a half (3 to 4 cm) wide. Leave short fringe at each end or make longer fringe and tie it or knot it together to make a tassel. Glue felt to the back of the canvas (but not to the fringe or tassels). Whenever you give someone a book, give them one of these pretty bookmarks. Or make a whole set of bookmarks for a student, a book club member, or any eager reader.

Happy weaving!

Simple needlewoven bookmark in use
A simple needlewoven bookmark, in a daisy pattern

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