Our daughter Britta has been making fermented foods and beverages, including kombucha, sour kraut, fermented hot sauce, and lacto-fermented vegetables. This involves putting ingredients in a jar and letting it sit for weeks. Her current project is “mead”, otherwise known as honey wine.
Mead is the oldest known alcoholic beverage, possibly as old as 20,000 to 40,000 years old. The only two ingredients needed for mead are raw honey and water. The yeast and bacteria found in the honey will consume the sugars which creates the fermentation process. A cloth cover provides a layer of protection against bugs or other particles getting into the mead.
Britta wrote a paragraph with more details about making mead, for those interested: I stir the honey water mixture 1-3 times a day to promote the fermentation and activate the yeast and bacteria. A cloth is used to cover the jar providing a layer of protection against bugs or other particles getting into the mead. The warmer the room is, the faster fermentation happens. My house is on the colder side this winter so this first stage lasts around 1-2 weeks. As the days pass and I stir it more and more, bubbles begin to form and that is how I know the fermentation process is working. Once it is sufficiently bubbly I transfer it to a bottle-necked container and seal it so that no oxygen gets in. If you do not seal off access to oxygen, the bacteria will eventually transform the honey water mixture into vinegar instead of alcohol. This is how apple cider vinegar is made with apple juice. I want wine, so I seal off access to oxygen. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the yeast and bacteria feeding on the sugars, so if sealed shut completely my vessel would eventually explode from the pressure built up by the CO2. There are some devices out there that you can use to keep oxygen out while still letting the CO2 escape the bottle, the simplest being by attaching a balloon over the mouth of the bottle and letting it inflate. This stage can last 1-4 months. Once this stage is over, you can bottle it and let it age as long as you like.
Back to me and weaving: When I asked Britta if there was something I could weave for her, she said she could use some pieces of fabric for jar covers for her fermenting projects. That was perfect for me to experiment with patterns and yarns, as the jar covers would be smaller than my last dish towel project. They would not take very long (famous last words), and I would be able to finish them in time to mail to her in California for Christmas.
The jar covers were the first project I warped on the floor loom at home by myself without any help, using 8/4 100% cotton natural color yarn. Not surprisingly, I made a couple of mistakes.
I haven’t found a good place to use my warping board yet where it is at the right height and will stay in place. I had to tape it on to the kitchen window to keep it from slipping around as I measured out the warp yarn for the jar covers.
When I was warping the loom (threading the warp yarn ends through the reed and heddles) there was a problem at the very beginning of the process when the first group of 20 ends (out of 182 total) got out of order from the bundle. After stressing out for awhile, I figured out that it didn’t really matter what order they were in. I went ahead and threaded them through, and later confirmed with Torri (my weaving mentor in Fergus Falls) that it was going to be OK. Then I noticed I had missed threading one slot near the beginning, so I rethreaded a bunch of ends over one to the correct position. When I got about half way through, I decided to count the remaining threads to make sure it was going to come out right based on the number of ends and the pattern, which needed to be divisible by four. There were two extra warp ends. Oops, I must have wound on two extra by mistake when measuring the yarn with the warping board. When I got to the end of threading the yarns through the reed, I ignored the extra two ends, which I was then able to remove in a later step. The next photo shows the process of threading the yarn ends through the reed at the front.
I made a bigger mistake in the next step of threading the yarn ends through the heddles at the back of the loom and tying them to the apron bar. Even though I read and reread my notes on how to do this, I missed one important step. I must have had information overload. Something did not seem right, but I didn’t figure out what was wrong until I was all finished. At that point I was discouraged, but figured out how to solve the problem. In fixing the mistake I lost an inch or two of the warp length and some time, but neither was a huge problem in the end. The next photo shows the warp yarn ends coming through the heddles and tied on to the back apron bar correctly.
The last part of the warping process was winding the warp yarn around the back beam and tying the other ends of the yarn on to the front apron bar. It is important to keep the tension even during the wrapping part which seems tricky to me, but I accomplished that part with no trouble. The entire warping process took longer than I expected, but I should have known better.
Once I got going on the actual weaving the project went quickly. The 3 1/2 yards of warp yarn was enough for four jar covers, at about 15″ x 15″ on the loom, with the goal of ending up at about 12″ by 12″ after “take up” and shrinkage. In addition to the 15″ length for each cloth, there was enough for fringe, plus normal loom waste at the beginning and end. My plan was to use four different warp yarns with four different weave patterns. Each jar cover would be unique, and in the process I would be learning.
I have a book called “the Handweaver’s Pattern Directory” by Anne Dixon with over 600 patterns that are possible to weave on a four harness loom. I picked out four not too hard patterns that could all be woven using the same basic twill pattern for threading the heddles.
For the first cloth I used red Duet yarn from Gist for the weft. This is a 55% linen / 45% cotton yarn. It is a little thinner than the 8/4 cotton yarn used for the warp. I like this yarn a lot, and I wanted to see how it worked with the slightly thicker warp yarn. I used a pattern called “horizontal herringbone”. I copied the pattern from the book and pasted it in below.
Following is the beginning of the weaving with the red cotton/linen weft yarn using the horizontal herringbone pattern.
I tried to do another pattern from the book for the second towel, using green 8/4 cotton (same as the warp yarn but a different color). After I got a few repeats of the pattern completed it did not look anything like the picture in the book. I consulted with Torri, and she advised a different treadling pattern to use instead. I undid the rows I had woven and started over with Torri’s pattern. You have to squint to see what the pattern is going to look like when the project is complete. It relaxes after removing from the loom, and shrinks in the washing machine and dryer, making it more dense and easier to see the pattern.
I used another pattern from the book for the third cloth, using blue 8/4 cotton. I pasted in the pattern below, which is shown in orange.
The fourth jar cover was plain weave in orange. The following photo shows the end of the third blue cloth using the pattern from the book (shown above in orange in the book…confusing), and the beginning of the forth orange cloth in plain weave (no pattern needed).
The following photo shows all four jar covers after removed from the loom, cut apart and having tails woven in. They are relaxed some since they are no longer under tension, but will shrink in the washing machine and dryer and become more dense.
The next photos show the red and orange cloths, followed by the blue and green cloths, after washing and drying with a load of laundry.
One row appears to be incorrect on the blue cloth. I showed the completed cloths to Torri to discuss my mistakes and challenges, and what I could have done better. It turns out I missed one row in the pattern for the blue towel. There should have been eight rows in the pattern repeat, but I only had 7. After she pointed that out, I could see where my mistake was on the post it note I was using with the treadle pattern.
The backs of the blue and green cloths look quite different from the front, whereas the plain weave and zig zag pattern are the same on both sides. The next photo shows the backs of the blue and green. These two patterns both have weft threads going over one and under three warp yarns, which means that on the back it is over three and under one warp yarn, which makes the front and back look different.
Following is a close up photo of all four cloths together.
Generally speaking, I am pleased with the jar covers. There was some warp yarn left that was not enough for another project, but I did not want to waste it. I tied some loose overhand knots to keep the extra yarn from getting pulled through the reed and heddles for the time being. There is a way to tie new lengths of yarn on, but that will have to wait for now. The next photo shows the loom with the extra warp yarn waiting for another project.
I will not able to do another project on the floor loom until spring. After completing the jar covers I was busy getting ready for the holidays, traveling to the Twin Cities for a few days, and getting ready to leave for Arizona. Thinking back many years ago, when I was working full time and raising a family, somehow I managed to make batches of hand made gifts, staying up late to finish them in time and causing myself stress. I don’t know how I did it.
Following are photos of the cloths in use on jars in Oakland, California, after I mailed them to Britta. The first photo Britta sent me of the green and white cloth has the back showing on the outside, although I guess it does not matter.
The red one with the herringbone pattern and cotton/linen yarn is my favorite, shown over a jar of mead in the making.
Next is a photo showing the bubbles formed in the mead making a honeycomb pattern.
I look forward to making more towels or cloth napkins in the spring using the cotton/linen yarn while experimenting with more patterns.