Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Day at Vavstuga

Vavstuga is a Swedish-style weaving school about 2.5 hours away from my house.

Short version of this post: A friend and I visited Vavstuga and learned a few things. Read on if you dare....this gets long.

Last winter, a weaving friend and I planned to take a day-trip for one of the "Vavstuga Days". We got snowed out last year, but this year we were in luck!

Several times a year, all 12 looms at Vavstuga are set up with different warps. Weavers, experienced or brand new, can come and weave for half a day or more.

Our plan was to wake up super early, drive down, and weave for the whole day. We figured that we'd be able to complete whatever project we were working on if we allowed a full day. We made a reservation - which was a good thing. The entire week was booked by the time the week started.

Look at just some of the weft yarns for use in the studio!!

When we arrived, the looms were waiting, all dressed and ready to go. Each loom had a different Christmas item. (Other times of year, Vavstuga Days doesn't have a holiday theme.)

Choosing among 12 Projects

Each student chose a project to work on from a selection of towels, runners, napkins, placemats, a tablecloth, and possibly other items.

When I learned to weave, I was in a similar group setting and my project for the week was something I hated. I find it hard to get excited about weaving if I'm not working on something I love - I was fortunate at Vavstuga to be able to work on warps that I loved.

Becky did a quick demo of her method for winding a quill. (I'm a convert to that method now. I like it better than what I'd been doing before. To me, it seems like the yarn comes off the quill more evenly and smoothly.)

My Morning Project

For the morning session (from 9 - 1), I selected this linen warp-faced runner in 16/2. There were samples next to the loom of the runner with different wefts. I used 16/2 as my weft also.

It was my first time weaving with linen. I was pleased that it wasn't especially tricky. I paid attention to my selvedges and made sure to pull the linen tight. Otherwise it tended to leave a loop at the edge since linen is so stiff.

Both of my projects that day were warp-faced. The instructions were to beat with the shed still open, then beat again with the next shed open - so use a double beat for each weft pick.

You can see that there are steady loom feet on these looms. Some looms still moved while they were in use. Mine didn't, so I'm not sure if it was the loom or the weaver that caused looms to walk. The feet help protect the hardwood floor, but they're not perfect. The floor can still get scratched. (I've been curious about these feet in case I move my Toika to my living room some day.)

On this loom, we kept one foot on each treadle to keep the heddles taut - otherwise things could get caught and sheer off whole groups of warp threads. I think that's because this warp-faced project was very densely sett. I was fortunate not to break any warp threads during the day.

Loom Fit

This loom was one of the only countermarche looms on the floor. It had the very nice feature of being open on the side, so if anyone needed to adjust the lamms or treadles, they could walk into the loom from the side. (I have to crawl over a beam and under a different beam to get into my Toika.)

This was my first time working with an overhead beater. I found it hard to get used to.

This loom also did not fit me very well. My legs were too long (crammed against the knee beam) and my arms were too short (tired shoulders from reaching out too far for the beater).

I'm lucky that I've never experienced weaving on a loom that didn't fit before. Now I realize why everyone always tells you to try a loom before you buy it. This loom probably could have been adjusted to fit me better, but I'm not sure about the distances from the breast beam to the beater and the knee beam - they don't seem adjustable and they were what gave me problems.

Better Technique = Better Selvedges

One thing I learned during the morning is that improving my technique at the loom improved my selvedges. Specifically, Becky gave me pointers on throwing the shuttle and reminded me several times to keep my hand in the center of the beater. (At home, I swear my hand is always on the center of the beater - but I wonder if it's just that when I think about it - it is, and if I'm not thinking, sometimes it isn't.) When I focused on weaving as instructed, my selvedges were noticeably improved. I even got some of my first selvedge compliments when I showed the finished product to my weaving group - and they are first rate weavers!

This warp was extremely tight. I could pull as hard as I wanted on the weft without any draw in. At first, the warp was so tight I could barely release the brake to advance the warp.

Another warp waiting for a weaver. We had a full house for both sessions.


I worked on the runner until I felt like it would fit my kitchen or dining room tables. By then, I was pretty stiff from the loom, so I was ready for a lunch break.

We took a short walk to a sandwich shop and brought food back to the Vavstuga dorm. There's a communal kitchen, with handwoven towels and napkins. We ate in the kitchen with its view of the river.

It would have been fine to bring lunch also. The day we visited, there were several students staying overnight, several students with a friend or two along, folks on their own and students who were only there for half a day. It wasn't a big group lunch scene because some people were weaving up until the very end of the morning session. (9 am - 1 pm)

Afternoon Rep Weave

For the afternoon, I worked on this rep warp. This loom was much more comfortable for me.

I've never woven rep before and didn't really know how to do the selvedges.

For warp rep, you alternate a thick yarn and a thin yarn. Vavstuga sells 3 types of string yarn: Mini, Midi, and Maxi. They come in a variety of colors and are groups of cotton threads, not really plied together.

I had to pay attention to which shuttle I was throwing and how the shuttles interacted at the selvedges. In addition, to get a smooth edge I needed to twist the string yarn at the selvedge.

This was slow weaving, but I wove enough to make a runner or a tote bag. I can't explain how I managed the shuttles, but I'm pretty sure I could do it again. Resting a shuttle on the cloth or on the breast beam was key to keeping track of everything.

Best Thing I Learned

For me, the very best thing about my trip to Vavstuga is a little surprising. At Vavstuga, one of my classmates told me to go ahead and advance the warp while sitting at the loom instead of walking around behind it. The looms have brakes similar to the brake on my Toika. I was hesitant, but I tried it and it worked fine.

Since I've been back home, I've been advancing the warp on my Toika the same way all week. It's worked absolutely fine. So what, you're thinking??? To me, this is big news, good news!!

Before I bought my loom, all the weavers in my weaving group told me the one thing not to do was buy a loom with a ratchet and pawl brake. But when I looked into Toikas, I just fell in love with my loom. And it has the dreaded ratchet and pawl brake.

Even the previous owner said she'd walk around to the back of the loom to advance the warp. So I've felt like that was a compromise I made when I bought my loom and I was OK with it. Not delighted, but willing to make the trade-off.

The great news out of Vavstuga is that at least on normal warps, I don't have to walk around behind the loom to advance the warp. I can stay seated and just move things forward. I'll be more cautious when I have a super tight warp just in case, but it doesn't seem like peoples' tales of horror of the whole warp beam unwinding out of control will happen as easily as I was warned it would. (Hopefully writing this doesn't somehow jinx me and doom me to warp beams unwinding catastrophically!)

Weaving Wide

For the first half of the afternoon, a speedy weaver next to me wove a tablecloth on this loom. (She was speedier than me, but not superhuman. I think most weavers could finish the tablecloth for a round or square table in a half-day session. Definitely in a full day session.)

I tried the treadles on this loom since it was set up for something so wide - smooth and easy to lift! That's one of the big advantages of countermarche or counterbalance looms over jack looms.

Jack looms require much more strength to live the shafts, both because the shafts and their metal heddles are heavy, and because of the physics of the loom.

I'd read that countermarche looms were easier to treadle, but this was my first chance to actually sit at a countermarche loom set up to weave something wide. (Big sigh of relief since buying my countermarche loom and re-finishing it took a lot of time in this past year!)

Before I purchased my countermarche, I tried a friend's jack loom set up to weave a 36" blanket and my hip hurt within 5 minutes. I am very hopeful that I won't have problems like that with my Toika countermarche.

Shuttle used for the tablecloth

I can just go ahead and add this shuttle to my Christmas list!! When I weave wide, I'll need bigger shuttles than the small Glimakras that I have at home. (Please note that I didn't make a tablecloth! I just loved sitting next to some one who did!)

One small part of the yarn shop

The shop also carries tools, books, and parts for Glimakra looms. It looks like a lot of the Glimakra parts would be compatible with my Toika, but I'd have to go in person to be absolutely sure - bringing Toika parts with me to compare.

Believe it or not, I was so tired, I couldn't shop. I guess that's a drawback of doing a day trip.

Plus, I usually weave for at most 3 hours in a day. I probably wove for about 4 or 5 hours out of our day at Vavstuga - and my shoulders were pretty tired by the end.

Wrap Up

Because I'm a frugal Yankee, I'm going to give you price details. My total for the day was $69.30. The black, red and green linen runner from the morning was $7.14 for materials (all linen I believe). The cotton rep runner was $25.14. The prices are calculated by weight, and the rep is of course much thicker and heavier than the linen. The remainder was the fee for weaving for the day.

I felt like that pricing was really reasonable. I'm including these details partly because I was curious ahead of time if I should find out about the relative costs of different projects.

I was pretty project focused during my day at Vavstuga. There are other ways to enjoy it also - enjoy the setting, enjoy the company of other weavers, learn from the many tools and books and samples available for study, ask questions about anything you're interested in or focus more on the looms and learn about them.

I was happy that we chose a whole day, instead of a half day session. That way we each got the chance to make 2 projects, and if we had selected something that can take a long time (like placemats) we'd have been able to finish in the full day. A half day would have been good too - since we wouldn't have been quite as tired, and we'd have had time to explore some of the other places of interest to weavers in the area.

I'll be back tomorrow with pictures of my runners at home as this post is getting quite long already. Sorry about that....I just want to record my impressions and the things I learned so I can remember them!!

PS: I can't believe I wrote this whole post and neglected to say great things about the Swedish cookie and cake spread in the afternoon. Overlooking the river, sitting at a table dressed in handwoven holiday linens, having a tea/coffee/cookie break was fantastic!! I'm not one to forget about cookies!

Related posts:
Runners I Wove at Vavstuga


Carrie said...

What a neat experience! Thanks so much for sharing the details. It's such a neat idea to have the project warps ready, especially at a time so near the holidays.

ladyoftheloom said...

OMG I am so jealous. But I know that I would not have the stamina for a whole day!

I am very tall, 6 feet. So I have trouble with the size of looms.

Anonymous said...

Wefts, beating on sheds, treadles and heddles, selvedges and warps! I admire the dedication you have to your craft, Sue, even if a lot of it is Swedish to me.

My contribution to Carols' knitting is tracking down teeny tiny needles that slip between the couch cushions, tracking town tiny beads and stitch markers that inevitable match the upholstery or rug that seemingly can bounce forever, and making sure that the the yarn she starts the 2nd sock with will stripe correctly to match the 1st sock (yes, they must match perfectly).

I did understand the part about the sandwich shop.

Merry Christmas to you and all your readers!


Sharon said...

So much information - my mind is reeling. I'm coming back tomorrow to re-read. Thanks!!!!!

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

Wow -- I just called my mother and read her your entire posting. She's not great on the computer, so when I visit over Christmas, I'll show her your blog. She's really interested in the video link your provided for winding a quill. I see a trip to Vavstuga in the future. Maybe I'll become a weaver too. My mom may have questions for you about your experiences -- so I may drop you an e-mail over the holidays.(And yes, we could be the unfinished project twins! -- it's nice knowing I'm not alone out there).

Life Looms Large said...

The scary thing for me about this post is that it didn't seem that long to me when I was writing it.

But it definitely blurs the line between information I want to share because I think all my readers should know about it, and information I want to blog about so I'll remember it!!

The good news is that my posts for the next 4 days probably have fewer words all together than this single post. Sorry if it's overwhelming!!!

I definitely recommend Vavstuga if you just want to try weaving. Becky was showing some kids how to weave in the afternoon, and in the morning session I'm pretty sure one person had never woven a bit. I think there are Vavstuga Days again in the spring. (And there are classes most of the time.)


Life Looms Large said...

Jolly - or anyone else with questions - feel free to send an email or post a comment. I definitely try to answer all questions....and I love to encourage more people to take up weaving!!


Theresa said...

What a fantastic holiday treat for you and your friend.
It all looks like so much fun. I would have had a hard time picking too.
So, can you go into more detail on the winding part?
I didn't find the post long at all, just really really fun!

Sara said...

I read the entire post - and I am going to re-read it again and again...

Maybe i can go there next year!

It had to be the most wonderful time and so exciting to be there to weave and learn!

Gunilla said...

Great post I have read it all and enyoyed too.

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year.


Jenny said...

Your details are so much appreciated from a new weaver. You comment on simple things that I want to know that more experienced weavers probably take for granted. Thank you! You live in such a great place with so many weaving opportunities, beautiful scenery, history and travel. Keep blogging!

Delighted Hands said...

What an amazing day! Love your chronicle of the vavstaga-eager to see your results.

Dave Daniels said...

Thank you for such a wonderful and detailed post, and the photos. My friend Kathie has been asking me to go, and I can't wait now.

Unknown said...

i've always wanted to take a class at vavstuga so i appreciated your post and all your photos. thank you for that! your projects are lovely.
Which loom seemed to fit you the best?

wishing you a merry christmas and happy new year!


Lynn Majidimehr said...

That sounds like such a fun day! Thanks for sharing your trip with us, it's nice to see a place that would be nice to visit.

Deanna said...

Oh what fun it is to weave on a smorgasbord of loooms. Plus cookies.
:-) Loved the post - it didn't seem long to me, either!

Anonymous said...

Sue, I just loved reading about your Vavstuga experience! I'm glad you gave such a detailed account because I felt like I was there too in weaving wonderland with all those looms and yarns and weavers...


charlotte said...

This sounds like a great day! I really would liket o have a loom whhere I can advance the warp without getting up, I'm sure this saves a lot of time.
I wish you lovely Christmas days!

bspinner said...

What a wonderful way to spend a day!!!! I am so jealous but am sure I could never sit at a loom for even a half day.

I'm looking forward to see the photos of your finsihed projects!

Trapunto said...

Thanks for writing about this and thanks for the pictures. Sometimes I go to the Vävstuga site and just look around at the books and yarns to entertain myself, even when I'm not planning on making an order. What a wonderful way to spend a day! I would love to see Vavstuga workspace and shop in person. They seem to have planned and streamlined their event really well. I'm glad you got to go home with finished weaving and some new knowledge about your loom. Those runners look great. Sounds good, to weave rep without having to thread it!

Leisurely Lesley said...

I've been saving this post to read for when I had time to read it properly. It confirmed what I already knew - I have a long way to go with weaving, but I am enjoying the journey. There is so much to absorb. Thanks for the information.

rona said...


Good to see your post on Vavstuga days. My friends and I were there on the last day and I wove the same black and green runner that you did. I'm a relatively new weaver so my fabric was much shorter than yours! It is now destined to become a computer sleeve. In the afternoon, I worked on the red napkins that were just to the right of the first loom.

It was a wonderful day, and at such a reasonable price. Can't wait to go again in the spring! I only wish I lived closer and could go more often. We trekked up from New Haven, CT. Well worth the trip! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I wish I lived closer - I'd love to partake in an event of this kind. Also what a wonderful selection of yarns. This just may have to be a fieldtrip!

Anonymous said...

Hi, just a little late to reading this post, but I have a few thoughts to offer. First, the first loom you worked on may have been the Ideal, which is a smaller Glimakra than the usual Standard. But you are exactly right--do try out in person any loom you contemplate buying. Second, travelling just a little bit more south to Northampton, MA, will bring you to WEBS, and they are a dealer for Toika, should you need parts as you mentioned. Third, there are rubber feet available for the Glimakra, which work great on hardwood or other floors, or use some of that rubber drawer liner. --Sue in MA

Life Looms Large said...

Thanks for all that great info Sue!!! I really appreciate it!