How to Make Things: How to Weave Ribbon with Megan Melman

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Woven Ribbon

Friends, I'm excited to do some interviews with people who are good at making things, asking about different things they made and trying to learn how they did it. 

For the first one, I'm sticking close to home. Megan Melman works for Hazel Village. By day, she does monograms, packs web orders, and keeps our inventory system under control which is a daunting task. But when she's not working, she has been taking weaving lessons. She generously made a woven ribbon to decorate some extra-special doll dresses. Read on to learn how she did it.

So how did you weave this ribbon for the animals' dresses?

First I used a big board with pegs to measure out the warp yarn. (Note: the warp threads are the long threads that go from top to bottom in a piece of weaving.)

How did you know how many warp yarns to do?

You need to know how thick the yarns are and how wide you want the project to be. Then you calculate the sett. It's a formula that tells you how dense the fabric is going to be, and how many warp threads you will need.

So the sett is like the thread count?

Yes.

So once you had all the warp threads measured out, what did you do?

First you tie it onto the back rod of the loom, then the threads all get threaded through the heddles. (That's a part of the loom connected to pedals on the floor. Each group of heddles lifts up a different group of thread when you step on that pedal.) Depending on how you thread the heddles, the pattern will show up differently on the cloth. The way I did it is called point threading. Then you use a little hook to thread each piece of yarn through the reed. That process is called sleying. (The reed is a part of the loom that looks kind of like a comb, and it combs each horizontal weft thread into place once you're actually weaving. Also, I like all the special words for things in weaving!)

At the end, you put all the tension onto the warp threads and tie it onto the front of the loom. You use lark's head knots, which are a special kind of knot where if the tension gets weird, you can go back and adjust it. Then you turn a ratcheting beam on the front of the loom to wind the threads tightly onto the front.

Then it's time to start weaving, but first you have to close up the gaps between the warp threads. You weave the first few rows with chunkier yarn which helps close up the gaps. Then you can start weaving with real yarn. I used green yarn so a pattern of green and white diamonds would form.

The pattern of diamonds is just out of a book but if you're more advanced, you can make up your own pattern. (Personally I am very impressed with something woven with a pattern out of a book!) Each pedal on the ground lifts up a different group of heddles and the threads going through those heddles. The diamond pattern had 16 steps and for each step I stepped on a different combination of pedals and made a different row of the pattern. It took me about one and a half hours to do the warp, then the actual weaving was like 9 or 10 hours. Before I did this project, I forgot that it would take almost the same amount of time to weave a narrow thing as a wide thing. Because either way for every weft thread, you have to change the pedals, put the thread across the loom, make sure the thread is not too tight or too loose, and beat the thread in place with the reed.

When I'm done weaving, I put a few rows of waste thread so the weaving doesn't unravel. Then I cut the fabric right off the loom. It's a much simpler process than putting it on.

Weaving Ribbon

Were there any parts you messed up and had to re-do?

The pattern is pretty involved and it's hard with weaving to see the mistake right away. So a few times, I had to cut my thread and unravel a little and fix the pattern.

What's your favorite part of the process?

I like threading the heddles and the reed the most because I like really tedious repetitive things! It takes a long time but it's really satisfying when you're done. Also I think it's nice to know that every detail matters in that part; if I did any of the steps wrong it would have thrown off the entire project.

What are you most proud of in this piece of work?

I worked really hard on this one to try to improve how neat the selvedges were, and I'm pretty proud of how they turned out. (The selvedges are the side edges of the woven thing. If any weft thread is too loose or too tight, the selvedge will look messy.)

What would you improve if you were re-doing it?

At the beginning I was beating the yarns down very tightly, and I never would have finished because each yarn made less progress. So I started beating the yarns down more loosely so the fabric was a little looser. Next time I would try to be more consistent with every pass so the pattern turned out more consistently. (Because we are cutting this ribbon into many short pieces for animal dresses, this inconsistency doesn't matter so much, and every dress is first-rate in its own way.)

Weaving Ribbon

When did you start weaving?

Just a few months ago. First I took intro to weaving and now I'm going to take advanced tapestry weaving.

What made you start?

I always thought weaving was really cool and I finally had an opportunity to try it.

How did you learn this skill? Did you have teachers? Did you read books or learn about it online?

My classes are at the Textile Arts Center. And I just bought two books. The one book is where I got the pattern. The Hand Weaver's Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon. It's really great because it shows you the right side and the back side of the fabric. A lot of books don't do that. It's very informative. There aren't any specific websites I'm using right now.

Is there any skill or subject you know or you wish you knew to help you do this work?

Maybe knitting? The idea of having to follow a pattern really explicitly, and also the difficulty of fixing any errors, is similar to weaving. So I think it helped me that I already knew how to knit. But you don't have to know how to knit to learn how to weave.

Thank you, Megan! All the creatures of Hazel Village love the ribbon that you made for the Hazelnut-exclusive Weaver's Smock Dress for Dolls.

Weaver's Smock Dress for Dolls

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