Welcome to the November Ask Me Anything blog post!
I thought this would be a good way to share a little bit of what goes into running a solo weaving studio from the North East of Scotland. You can ask me anything from the world of textiles, from questions about colour and inspiration to the slightly less fun but just as important business side too! You can submit questions for next month's blog on the first of each month through my Instagram Stories or by posting in the comments below.
Achieving the correct tension on the loom can be problematic for me, especially when I go from linen to a more stretchy type such as wool. Suggestions?
There's so many different methods of warp winding out there and there's not really a wrong way so long as it works in the end but I can describe a couple of the different methods I usually use to keep the warp tension even.
To begin with, if I'm using two different yarn qualities in the same warp (such as wool and linen) I would always use a double beam on the loom. Wool will be more stretchy than linen so no matter how hard you try, you'll eventually end up with an inconsistent tension. By putting the wool ends on one beam and the linen ends on another you can avoid this problem!
If I'm using the same yarn throughout the warp a single beam will work fine. For a warp that's up to around six meters long I use a small table top warping mill and wind the warp ends on in sections before winding the sections onto the loom one at a time. This works best for looms which have sectional beams but can work on plain beams too if you're careful. I tend keep the tension as tight as possible when I'm winding warps onto the warping mill then onto the loom as I find it easier to keep everything more consistent.
For longer warps I use a tension box system that tensions the warp for you as the warp is being wound on. This method is much slower than using a warping mill but you definitely get a more consistent warp tension even on very long warps so it's worth the extra preparation time in the end!
A good trick to keep an even tension on the edges of a warp that's wound onto a plain beam is to have a roll of paper wider than the warp going onto the beam at the same time as the yarn. It separates each rotation of the warp and stops the edges from moving around.
How do you find the right pricing for your products?
This is a question I get asked quite often! I use a pretty straight forward method, based on the time taken to make each piece and the cost of the materials used to get a base price. Other hidden costs of running a bricks and mortar studio have to be factored in as well, such as rent, bills, insurance, website costs etc. (There's a much longer list than you'd expect!) I also look at where I'd like my work to sit in the market and where it will be retailed. Galleries and other retailers tend to take quite a large percentage so that has to be factored into the final price too.
It can be tricky to get a good balance, I want to price work so that it will sell but also have to remember to value my time and the skill it takes to produce.
How do you manage to produce so much as a small business?
I'm lucky enough to have reached a stage where Arra Textiles is my full time job so have plenty of time to spend on developing designs and weaving. I use an AVL A-Series compu-dobby for almost all of my designs which is purpose built for producing longer lengths of cloth. I've always been quite a fast weaver anyway and having a loom with a fly shuttle has only helped!
The loom is quite complicated to set up so I usually try to plan longer lengths of fabric where the time taken to set up can be divided between multiple pieces, keeping the overall costs down when it comes to selling them.
What inspires you the most?
I think that colour found in nature inspires me the most. There's so many variations of my favourite shades (looking at you blue!) and colour palettes are everywhere! I use photography to capture moments for my design boards and refer to them throughout the design process.
When you weave double cloth how do you plan your warp?
I always start with a colour plan for double cloth warps and use a computer program called WeavePoint to plan out the technical details.. I'm dyslexic so using the graph paper and crosses method has always been a complete nightmare for me! By using a software program I can zoom in to see exactly what I'm doing and as an added bonus, I can see how the finished fabric will look before I start weaving. My recent double cloth designs have all had four yarn shades repeated throughout the warp in complimentary shades.
What did you do for a living before weaving and how did you make the transition?
Weaving is actually my first career! I took a couple of years out when I finished school to travel and work in New Zealand then France (where I taught archery) before going to study Design for Textiles at universities in Scotland and Finland. Once I graduated I moved home to Aberdeenshire to set up Arra Textiles. For the first year or so I worked part time in the mornings but was able make the business my full time job a couple of years ago.
Going from working part time for a reliable wage to relying fully on Arra Textiles for an income was quite a big transition. There was a lot of budgeting and sales forecasting involved but I worked out a good system eventually!
What were the first products you started selling in your store?
The first proper products I made to sell were a collection of merino wool cowl scarves, similar to the ones that are available through the online shop at the moment but in different proportions. They were longer and narrower than the current cowls but worked well as a double cowl scarf!
I always keep one piece from each collection I create so that I can improve designs and look back at how far everything's come.
Tips on yarn for a soft but durable warp yarn - for scarves, cushions etc?
The quality of yarn makes such a huge difference to the final piece so it's definitely worth taking the time to find a yarn type that's suitable for purpose. With warp yarns held under such high tension I tend to use 2ply yarns so that I have less snapped ends to fix!
Supersoft wool is always a good choice for cushions, it's soft but durable enough to cope with multiple washes. For scarves I would always go with a yarn that doesn't irritate skin so yarns like merino wool, cashmere or organic cotton are all good options.
What kind of yarn do you use for your warps? They're so beautiful and delicate!
Thank you! It really depends on what the end use of the fabric will be but the majority of my recent warps have been a fine, cotton/merino wool blend yarn. The cotton gives the yarn a beautiful sheen whilst the merino keeps it really soft and cosy.
I like to use a lot of colour in my designs and try to keep the shades I choose for warps in a close colour gradient which helps blend the design through the fabric.