Weaving Words for the Web-Weary - Peter Collingwood


It is not often that a completely new yarn appears. But this is what has happened in Japan. A large company which draws wire, mainly to be used as reinforcement in radial car tyres, has a department which develops new products. This has, in the last year, produced a yarn from exceedingly fine micro-filaments of stainless steel. Their first yarn, about the size of a 2/ply carpet wool, has 6,800 such filaments!

It is as flexible as, and in fact looks like, silk. But the moment you touch it you feel its weight. It has about 350 yards to the pound, which at the moment costs around $110! It has a natural light grey colour but I was shown some wonderful dark browns and blues which had been obtained by some chemical treatment. This colouring, which is assumed to be completely permanent, is only in an experimental stage and more colours will be developed. I am using three of these in a large 3-D hanging (17 x 25 feet) I am making for a new Cultural Centre in Kiryu, Japan. So far I have only made two small samples in my macrogauze technique; the near piece in photo being of the 3-D type, the far flat.

Junichi Arai, who obtained this commission for me, is the first weaver to have tried out the yarn and has woven lengths using it as warp and weft. Its possible commercial uses include inclusion in bullet-proof jackets. It a case of 'Here is a new yarn, see what uses you can find for it'. I can see it making great jewellery if used in tablet weaving.

The makers of this yarn do not want to sell it through dealers, but to sell direct to textile workers.

PS As Junichi Arai and I were leaving the factory where it is made we were shown a much finer yarn, their very latest product, of which only a few metres are in existence. Mr Arai swooped on this with almost audible whoops of pleasure. It is a really beautiful slender slinky thread which immediately suggests uses.

Macrogauze for Kiryu

In the macrogauze technique, I use one-inch wide rigid heddles, which have 18 dents. Each of these carries its own small 18 end mini- warp. This is made on a vertical warping mill and then wound directly onto a bobbin. The latter has a weight attached. There are many of these rigid heddles plus warp plus bobbins, set side by side in a special loom. This has a batten that goes up and down (to give the two plain weave sheds) and a top that hinges up.

Because each is a separate little weaving system, I can easily move the heddles about, crossing mini-warp over mini-warp, turning the heddles upside down, and playing other seemingly impossible tricks. The Japanese hanging used a very simple method of weaving a flat piece which is later made 3-D by inserting rods.

When about 150 pounds of yarn arrived, I started making warps and immediately hit snags. The yarn has a real will of its own..All it obeys is the law of gravity. All it wants to do is to fall downwards. So I had to put strips of Velcro on the uprights of the mill to prevent this. And if I wound a cone too large the outer layers just slithered off to the floor. If I placed two cones too close together, the yarns ballooned out as they unwound more than usual and would catch each other and tie themselves into instant knots. It behaved like a very fine self-willed chain! Despite its apparaent softness, it is tough. Three strands I was told would bear the weight of a man. It soon cut through the heavy leather gardening gloves I wore during the cone winding.

On the loom I found it hard to equalise tension because a loose thread would just slip through my fingers.

The first real problem came when I advanced the initial few inches of weaving. The whole piece shifted to the left as it dragged over the breast beam. After much experiment I decided this was because the plied yarn, being so solid, was acing like a lot of screws and producing this very unwelcome movement. The solution was to put a revolving bar at the breast beam and knee bar so that there was no dragging involved when I turned on. This worked well.

Because of the size of the hanging I have to work standing in a bent forward position. So to save my back I built a padded forehead rest above the weaving area; by leaning against this and also against another rest at waist level, I could work in some comfort. Tho' the yarn made me cough and sneeze, it is now made with a coating which traps the offending micro-filaments and completely avoids this.

In the normal macrogauzes made of linen I fix the few picks of weft with a paper glue (like Elmer's). With steel yarn I needed something much stronger and while waiting for the yarn to arrive had experimented with superglue of various viscosities. I also used a special activator so that the glue set at once where needed and did not wick into unwanted areas.

A normal throwing shuttle is not much good as the heavy yarn over-runs and catches round the bobbin's spindle; a long stick shuttle worked well.

Once the first of the 9 strips was woven Jason helped me hang it from the gallery at the end of the workshop, but there was only enough height to show half of it. It weighed over 20 pounds and was a brute to handle, to roll and to unroll. The saving grace is that the yarn is so completely unstretchable that if an odd thread is caught and snagged it does not lengthen.

That strip took nearly two weeks to weave due to the above and other difficulties I encountered. But eventually I found I could make the warps, thread the heddles and weave a strip in just over 4 days. Two people connected with the Cultural Centre in Kiryu visited me about two weeks ago and we decided exactly how the strips would be fixed to the wall. They wanted the warp knotted at the ends. The overhand knots refused to stay in place until I gave each a drop of the superglue before I tightened it.

When all 9 strips are made I will take them to a local theatre, fix them to one of the scenery-raising bars, and then carefully cut the rods which make it 3-D. These are all slightly different in length to compensate for any inaccuracy in my weaving measurements. Each will have a number stamped on it so when I go to Kiryu in May to help in the hanging I can be sure that each goes back into its correct place.

Sometimes I wonder why people keep telling me how restful and relaxing weaving is!

April 20, 1997 - Latest News

After much sweat and tears, the nine panels of the hanging are completed and have just been sent, all 220 pounds of them, to Kiryu, Japan. I go there on 27th April and hope to get it fixed up a few days later. The building opens on May 11th, 1997 and I may then get some official photos. This will be the first time I see it all assembled as it proved impossible to assemble it in a local theatre as I had originally planned. Their scene-lifting machinery could not cope with the weight!

Read about the installation and see the photos!

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