I have been working with reindeer leather for the past year or so, hand stitching and making small bags, purses and pouches. My interest in reindeer leather began when I decided I wanted to weave and work with materials from my Saami heritage. My grandmother used to make reindeer leather shoes, bags and other items that she sold to the Sami community in Northern Norway. Many of these types of items were embellished with hand woven colourful bands or pewter thread embroidery. After doing some research in online museum archives, I discovered that fish skins were also tanned and used to make bags and other items.
I first learned about fish tanning during one of the textile and dye workshops that I attended in Finland. I thought I would do a bit more research on the various ways to tan a fish and make it into useable leather.
Wear protective rubber gloves at all times when handling fish. This will protect you from any bacteria that may be on the fish, and will also prevent the fish from getting bacteria that can affect the tanning process.
The basic procedure for tanning fish leather is to remove the skin from the fish. This is easier to do if the fish has been frozen.
Using a spoon, scrape off the fish scales.
Turn the fish skin over and gently scrape off the fat and as much of the membrane as you can. With some types of fish, this can be quite easy to do and sometimes more difficult.
Rinse in clean water.
Soak in the tanning solution for 12-24 hours – sometimes longer depending on the tanning method you are using.
Soften the tanned skin by rubbing egg yolks and oil. This replaces some of the proteins and fish fats that were removed during the tanning process.
Let the oiled skin dry.
Then massage, rub, stretch and work the skin until it is soft and flexible. This can take several hours to do.
There are many methods and recipes for tanning fish skin. Here are a few, though I haven’t had a chance to try all of them yet.
Urine is often used to tan fish leather. The ammonia from the urine helps to break down the fats and fibrous cells of the fish skin. Urine Tanned Fish Leather
Vadmal (Wadmal) is a woven wool cloth that has been felted. Felting the fabric after weaving, thickens the cloth and makes it wind and water resistant as well as warm. Vadmal is generally woven in a tabby or a twill weave on warp weighted or floor looms.
In order to felt the fabric, there are two methods that can be used. The wet fabric can be pounded in a hammer mill for several hours in order to flatten and thicken the fabric. The hammering process creates a fabric that looks more like “real cloth” and produces a stable fabric with very little nap and the wool keeps its shine. The wool fabric can also be pounded and stamped by placing the fabric in a large bucket filled with water and stamping with your feet.
Vadmal can also be felted using a wet felting method. The woolen cloth can be felted by hand by rolling or using a washboard and also by washing the fabric in the washing machine until the fabric stops shrinking. This process can take up to 10 machine washes. The wool fabric can shrink up to 60% in size. Wet felting creates a cloth that is fuzzier in appearance than one that has been pounded.
Vadmal cloth has been used for clothing since the Viking Age. Vadmal was so popular that the woven and felted cloth was used and traded as legal tender in many Scandinavian countries. Vadmal was a major export in Iceland and the length, width, thread count of the fabrics were set by law.
Vadmal fabric is still used today in most of the Saami traditional clothing, hats, mittens, bags and other items. The vadmal clothing is often decorated with pewter thread embroidery.
A Raanu rug was traditionally a flat weave weft faced handwoven wall hanging that was sometimes also used as a bed covering. The warp is made of cotton rug yarn or sometimes linen yarn, and the weft is woven of multicoloured fine wool yarns, often a single ply. The weave structure is a repp weave and the weft is beaten down firmly so that the warp yarns are fully covered.
The earliest Raanu date back to the 1600’s. The Saami wove Raanu (Rátnu, Rádno, Grene) and used them as wall coverings in their tents and sod huts. The designs of the Raanu depicted the colours of the landscape scenes around them and brought some colour into their homes during the dark and long winter nights. Raanu were also woven in many parts of Finland. In the 1960-70’s Raanu again became popular and were displayed on the walls of many Finnish and Scandinavian homes.
I thought that I would weave a Raanu based on one of my favourite places in the UK, West Wittering Beach. The photo is by Robert Lane.
I am weaving this Raanu with yarns that I have dyed with natural dyes. The dyes I have used are:
Indigo, Logwood, Madder Root, Brazilwood, Alkanet Root, Indian Barberry, Flame of the Forest
Warp Yarn: Cotton Rug Warp 12/9 1900 m/kg
Weft Yarn: Sport Weight Wool 2600 m/kg
Sett: No. 30 Reed (approx 6 epi)
Width in Reed: 60 cm
PPI: 30 ppi
Weave Structure: Repp Weave
The weft yarns must be beaten firmly. Throw the shuttle. Beat. Change shed. Beat again before throwing the next weft.
My studio is filled with weaving looms of many sizes ranging from large floor looms, to 4 shaft table looms, band looms and inkle looms. If you are a weaver, you will have noticed that during weaving, dust bunnies collect under the loom. In the past, I haven’t been too concerned about this except to pull out my vacuum cleaner and clean it up.
However, a few months ago I caught that flu bug that has been making its rounds, with one of the symptoms being an annoying cough that doesn’t seem to go away. After about a week, the cough seemed to clear up, but another week later, it came back. Many of my neighbours had it, and also friends in Canada said it was making the rounds there as well. So I wasn’t too concerned about the cough, and thought it was just more of the same thing. I did notice that my cough seemed to be worse about a month ago when I wove a lengthy linen warp. The loom dust under my loom was very fine, much more so than when weaving with wool yarns.
Over the recent months, I have also made a transition to dyeing wool and cotton yarns using natural dyes, rather than the vinegar/acid based dyes that I have used previously. Many of the natural dyes come in fine ground powder form, often using wood chips such as birch bark, logwood, brazilwood, madder root. The fine powder is placed into the dyepot, the pre-mordanted yarn is steeped in the dyebath for a few hours and then removed. The yarn is rinsed out in the sink and hung up to dry. After drying, there is still a lot of fine wood chip dye residue left on the yarn. I rewind the skeins into yarn balls or reskein. During this process, much of the natural dye residue falls off. I vacuum the fine dust from the floor.
A few days ago, I started to weave a Sami style band on my table loom. I was using a combination of wool and natural unbleached cotton yarns. I dyed the yarns using natural dyes.
After I wove for a bit, I noticed that some loom dust was collecting on the table, under the loom. I vacuumed this up in the evening before I left the studio. The next morning I returned to weaving this band. After about 2 hours, I had another terrible coughing fit. And again, I noticed an accumulation of loom dust under the table loom.
And I start to wonder, how much of this fine dye dust or loom dust am I breathing in? Can this be a cause of my almost chronic cough?
At that point I took some allergy medication and went out for a walk in the fresh air. My breathing seemed to clear up and I had a full nights restful sleep. The following day, I was away and didn’t go into the studio. I have felt much better the past few days with very little coughing.
I spend a few hours on trusty Google to research about the environmental hazards of the craft and textile work that I do.
I have since ordered an air purifier (Vax ACAMV101 Pure Air 300 Air Purifier) and dust ventilation masks.
I looked for an air purifier that has high CADR ratings hoping that it will be effective in clearing much of the harmful dust from the air.
I am now waiting for the air purifier and dust masks to be delivered before I continue working in the studio.
This air purifier really does work. I leave it running on the Auto setting during the day. When I wind a skein of yarn from the swift into a ball, the green light changes to Red and the fan comes on at full speed. And when I am at my loom weaving a rug, the air purifier also goes into action with lights glowing red, and fan speeding up. After a weaving session, I now set the fan speed to high for about an hour, so it can continue to clear the air for my next return to the studio.
As natural dyers we are aware that many mordants used in natural dyes can be dangerous to your health. For example, Rhubarb leaves are used as a mordant but are high in oxalic acid that is corrosive, and can cause acid burns, ulcers, and is hazardous by skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion. Sodium hydrosulphite or sodium diothinate which is often used when creating an indigo vat, can be explosive when added too quickly to the vat. When heated or allowed to stand in basic solution, sodium hydrosulfite decomposes to form highly toxic sulfur dioxide gas. For those who use acid dyes, vinegar or acetic acid fumes can cause damage to the lining of the nose, throat and lungs.
Some natural dyes themselves also contain toxic chemicals. For example, Logwood contains hematein or hematoxlyn can be poisonous if inhaled, absorbed through the skin or ingested. Madder root contains alizarin and purpurin that have been associated with kidney damage in animal experiments.
Wood chips and wood dust such as birch bark, logwood and other tree barks are also used as natural dyes but can also pose dangers to your health. Breathing in wood dust can cause allergic reactions, asthma as well as nose and lung cancer.
I also tend to have a high sensitivity to moulds, so I try to avoid working with natural dye fermentation types of dyes. The indigo vats that I have seem to be ok, but I notice that as soon as the natural dye pots start to ferment (usually after a few days) they make me ill. So I dispose of them immediately. As lovely as some of the natural fermented colours can be, in my opinion, it’s not worth the health risk to myself.
Although I work on a small scale and not in a large industrial setting, textile hazards are still something to think about. Be careful when handling any type of dyestuff or mordant, even if it is ‘natural’. Wear appropriate protective gear, gloves, facemasks, clothing and ensure that your studio has good ventilation.
I have designed some new tablet weaving cards that are made of durable plastic, because I didn’t like to use the matt board ones. I found that they tended to wear out rather quickly.
I designed these cards to be made of plastic so that they would be able to withstand the friction that is placed on the tablets during weaving. The edges are smooth and the cards turn easily.
The plastic tablets are not mass produced, but are made locally by skilled craftsmen.
The tablets come in a set of 4 colours: Red, Yellow, Blue and Green
One face of the card has a logo, the other side is blank. The multiple colours allow you to use different colours if you are turning groups of cards in different directions. The cards are not numbered, but you can easily write numbers or letters on them with a permanent marker to help you keep track while weaving. Be sure to let the ink dry before using the tablets.
The Paivatar Yarns cards are slightly smaller than the standard tablet weaving cards that are on the market (60 mm square) Because the cards are thin and slightly smaller in size than other tablet weaving cards, I find it easy to hold several in my hand – and I have fairly small hands. The thinner size is also better when working with fine yarns as it allows the warp yarns to be sett closer together, much as in weaving with a fine dent reed.
Paivatar Tablet Weaving Cards
The holes in the cards are also slightly smaller than the standard cards. This helps to keep the warp threads in alignment while weaving, as there is less play in the warp.
If you are interesting in purchasing a set please visit my Etsy Shop.
In this age of cyber hacking and concerns about security, I have decided to move all of this website to a secure server – Https not http. Although no personal financial information is collected at this site and I provide information only, you can’t be too careful. This has been done now. You will see that the top address bar now takes you to https://www.allfiberarts.com
However, there is still much work to be done at my end, to convert all of the pages to the https SSL protocol. This involves mostly changing all of the images and links within the site, so they don’t still pass information from the older http site. While this migration is taking place, you may still see some warning signals on your browser. Please don’t be alarmed by this, as it will take me several weeks to find and replace the offending links on several hundred pages.
I have had to remove the link to the old Delphi Forum, as this was an unsecure link.
Some of my older content will have to be removed as some pages may be too difficult to update.
Please note, that I do run advertising on this website, (such as: Google, Amazon, EBay, Interweave Press) as it offsets my costs of keeping this website alive. The ad networks will have cookies associated with the ads. These cookies allow the ad networks to determine which ads may be relevant to you, so that they can serve appropriate ads to your browser. I try not to allow annoying popup or full page ads – as I can’t stand them either.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.
Further to my previous article about weaving pickup on a band loom, there is a quicker method that you can use. Previously, I had woven the pickup by individually picking up each pattern thread by hand. This method works but it is slow and is prone to errors, as it takes a lot of concentration to correctly pick up the pattern thread by thread.
The threading of the loom is done in the same way as I previously described. The ground warp is threaded through the 2 sets of heddles. The thicker pattern thread is not, so that it floats freely in the centre between the 2 ground warp threads.
The pattern threads can be set up for easy pickup by adding ties to the warp behind the heddles. Each warp thread that is to be picked up on a row has a corresponding pickup tie. All of the threads that are to be picked up on that row are then grouped together and numbered, so that it makes it easy to pull up on the threads as you weave. This is much like tying up the pedals on a jack or countermarche loom, or setting up the pattern sequence on a drawloom.
When setting up the loom it is necessary to analyze the pattern draft to determine the pattern sequence that is repeated. Each pattern pickup row is then raised in order of the pattern.
In order to tie the pickup threads, the pattern must be analyzed to determine how the pattern repeats.
For example in this simple 7 pattern thread design, there are 6 rows of pattern changes before the design repeats. So to set up this design, you will need to tie 6 sets of pattern thread groups.
The first one row picks up Pattern thread No. 1 and No. 7 – so tie thread loops around those 2 threads – and tape them together and Label as No. 1. To help me distinguish which row is what, I also use a different coloured pickup thread for each row.
The second row picks up Pattern threads No. 1, 2, 6 and 7 – so tie loops around those 4 threads – and tape them together and label as No. 2.
And so on until you have set up the 6 Pattern groups.
In this pattern, the pickup threads are the same, but the weaving sequence reverses going from 1 to 6, and back to 1.
I work from the side of the loom, so that I can easily reach both the front of the warp and the back, behind the heddles.
I use a small net shuttle to hold my yarn, so that my right hand is free to pickup the pattern groups. The small netting shuttle also acts as the beater for the weft. The shuttle is light weight so that when it drops, which it often does, it doesn’t put a lot of strain on the band, and the weft yarn doesn’t unravel and go all over the floor.
To weave the pickup, press on one of the foot pedals to raise the shaft.
All of the pattern threads should be floating in the centre, between the open shed.
With my right hand, I pull up on the first pattern group, No. 1. This raises only those pattern warp threads. Pass the shuttle through, under the raised pattern threads and the top ground threads.
Change the shed and beat.
Because you are weaving with a very tight sett on a narrow band, the warp has been pushed together very closely, the pattern threads tend to stick a bit. This needs to be cleared before you pick up the next pattern row. So make sure that all of the pattern threads are now again sitting in the middle of the warp, between the raised and lowered ground shafts.
(I have one set of pattern threads tied from the bottom, so that I can easily pull all of the pattern threads down when they get stuck.)
After you have cleared the shed, with your right hand, pick up the next pattern group and pass the shuttle through the raised pattern and ground threads.
As I work my way through picking up the pattern groups, I move them to the back of the loom, and then to the front again as I reverse direction. This helps me keep track of where I am, should I get interrupted.
To warp my new Glimakra band loom, I use a method that is similar to the way that I warp my large floor looms, front-to-back. The total length of the band loom is about a meter, a comfortable distance to reach both the back and the front beams of the loom, if you sit on the side, facing the heddles. This will feel a bit awkward at first, if you are used to working from the front beam of a floor loom. But everything is accessible, the front beam, the heddles, the back beam and the pedals. I do find the loom a bit high so that my shoulders get sore while working on it. Sitting on a higher chair such as a dining room chair, or the weaving bench helps to alleviate this problem.
I wind the warp on a warping board. When making narrow striped bands, you do need to change colours frequently, but it isn’t difficult to tie the previous end to the warping peg, and tie on a new colour.
In this simple band, I am using 40 ends of different colours. The draft shows which shaft to thread the yarn through alternating between the 2 shafts, Shaft 1 (Front heddle) Shaft 2 (Back heddle)
I have used 8/2 cotton for this band, but you can use any weight of yarn that you wish.
Turquoise Blue 20 Ends
Yellow 8 Ends
Red 8 Ends
Purple 4 Ends
Total 40 Ends
Warp Length: 3.5 Meters (including loom waste)
After winding the warp onto the warping board, I insert the lease sticks into the cross, and remove the warp from the warping board.
I use masking tape, to temporarily attach the warp onto the front beam of the band loom.
While sitting on the side of the loom, directly in front of the heddles, I move all of the heddles close to the front. Again, I use a small piece of masking tape on the last heddle, to prevent them from falling off the pegs while I am warping. I start to thread the heddles, working from the back of the loom to the front.
I select the warp ends from the lease sticks and thread each end through the next heddle, alternating between the Front and Back heddles according to the draft. The lease sticks keep the warp in threading order as I warp.
I find it easier to use my fingers to thread the texsolv heddles, rather than using a threading hook.
When all of the warp ends have been threaded, I tie them to the back beam.
I use 2 texsolv heddles to attach the rods to the back beam, rather than using the texsolv cord that was provided with the loom. I find the texsolv cord to be a bit too heavy.
I now remove the lease sticks – they aren’t really needed anymore as the warp threads are all in perfect order. I find it easier to wind on a smooth warp without the sticks.
Again, sitting at the side of the loom, directly in front of the heddles, I hold the warp threads with my left hand, and slowly wind the warp onto the back beam, winding the warp with my right hand. Occasionally I have to stop, and gently comb out any loose ends, and continue winding.
As I am winding the warp onto the back beam, I insert one of the warp sticks with each revolution. This helps to keep the warp tensioning even as you are winding on.
Once the warp has all been wound onto the back beam, I adjust the warp tension and tie the ends to the front beam.
As there is no reed on a band loom to help keep an even sett, weaving on a band loom is a bit more free form than weaving on a conventional table or floor loom. I find that it always takes a few inches of weaving, to determine the correct weaving tension in order to get straight edges.