A project that I have been working on for a long time is finally finished – the Frida Chanel bag. The bag is woven on a backstrap loom from outercoat yarn spun on a suspended spindle. Frida and Chanel are the two ewes that gave me the wool.
The Frida Chanel bag project has gone slowly but steadily through winter, spring and summer. It has lived through office meetings, sheep festivals and the corona crisis. So many experiences fit in the resulting field belt bag. In this post I walk you through the process from fluff to stuff.
The wool in the yarn comes from the outercoat from two fleece championships contestants – one Åsen/Härjedal crossbred lamb and one Klövsjö ewe. They are both perfect warp candidates with long, strong and shiny outercoat fibers.
I got Chanel on the 2017 Swedish spinning championships. She got a gold medal and rightfully so. It wasn’t for sale, though. The shepherdess didn’t want to part with it. She isn’t a spinner herself, though, and she realized that no spinning mill would do the colour variations justice. I talked to her and she decided to sell it to me.
I divided the fleece into colour piles and spun each of the lovely colours separately. After some trial and error I landed in separating undercoat from outercoat and spin the fiber types separately. This way I was able to make both wool and colours justice.
If found Frida’s fleece at the 2019 Swedish fleece championships. She didn’t win any medals, but she was still so beautiful and I really needed to take her home with me. She has the most incredible shine!
With Chanel’s outercoat I ended up with five colours of brown, from solid chocolate, through dark and light coffee swirls to a frappuccino.
I have been spinning Chanel’s combed outercoat tops on a suspended spindle on coffee breaks and meetings at work. Through the soft feeling of the fibers I have been able to filter the coffee break chatter and focus on the content of the office meetings.
I treated Frida’s fleece the same way I had treated Chanel’s – I separated outercoat from undercoat and spun them separately. When I got to spin Frida’s combed top it was already March and the government urged everybody who could to work from home, so I have spun Frida’s outercoat yarn at digital meetings and coffee breaks from my home.
I decided to dye the Frida outercoat yarn in two shades of blue. I used the same dye base as the yarn for my weaving bag, but for some reason it turned out green instead. They are still lovely colours and I did get the difference in shade I was after.
When all the yarns were finished I had a wonderful weaving yarn treasure to play with. I wanted the stripes to be in different widths and I wanted to pair dark colours with light. In the end I decided on using two gradients – one brown and one green (if you can call two colours a gradient) – going in different directions. I added a section with horizontal stripes in the middle. I messed up with the calculations here, though. The horizontal stripes should have been twice as wide but my head obviously wasn’t with me all the way in the warping.
Being able to build my weave and my loom is such a wonderful feeling of empowerment. I made that pattern from my own yarn. I set up that loom (that is mostly my own carving) to fit my yarns.
A sticky business
Weaving with this. yarn has been a very sticky business. The warp threads have been tremendously clingy and in the beginning I was wondering if I would ever see this weave finished. But the beauty of weaving with your handspun yarns is that it simply has to work out. I need to find ways to make it work. I have invested too much love in this project for it to go down the drain.
To come around the clinging warp threads I tried different sizing methods. My friend Cecilia made herself my guinea pig and tried brushing the warp with gelatine, which worked to some extent for her test warp. I brushed mine with flax seed infusion and later hair spray to make the warp threads stiffer and more protected against the frequent abrasion of a warp-faced weave.
I think the sizing helped to some extent, but the warp was still very sticky. After a while I decided to develop a more mechanical solution – instead of opening up the shed as one movement I declung the warp section by section for each new shed. This way it took me about five minutes to weave two rows and it wasn’t that mindful process that continuous weaving is. But it worked. And once I had accepted the fact that this was the way I was going to weave this project I did find some sort of mindfulness in that too.
In the lime-tree alley
When I worked with the weaving bag and Dan’s camera strap I set up my loom under a spare lime-tree in the lime-tree alley that leads to our house. It is perfectly backstrap loom sized and has a nice view of the park. It has been lovely to weave in this spot and see the spring unfold into summer. My weaves have grown with the grass and the leaves. These past few weeks with this weave the grass has been waist-high and the branches heavy with fully developed leaves.
The last part of June was really hot – around 30 degrees Celsius. My crankiness limit is at 25 degrees so it was way too hot for me. But standing under that lime-tree weaving was such a perfect activity in the heat. I got the shade I needed and some wind. And when the sun broke through the leves I could just move a few steps around the tree to get into the shadow again.
Come to think of it, the colours of the weave reflects the colours of the lime-tree. The browns are the trunk, the dark green the leaves and the light green the sweet flowers. This weave was meant to be woven together with a lime-tree!
A field belt
Sometimes I obsess about things. One of my latest obsessions is the sewing patterns from Merchant & Mills. They have lovely clothes patterns and some bags. I was particularly attached to the Field belt bag. I had finally decided to buy the kit and put it in my shopping cart when it dawned on me: I wasn’t going to buy the kit – I was going to weave the fabric myself! I’m not sure when in the process I got this idea, but probably around March when I started spinning Frida’s outercoat.
Sewing and assembling
The pattern I used for the Frida Chanel bag is simple. A lined pouch with a folded top. A belt goes through a channel at the back for wearing the belt around your hips.
I had to make some adjustments for my handwoven fabric, but mostly the sewing was quite straightforward. I didn’t use a seam allowance for the side seams. Instead I sewed the selvedges together with a figure-8 stitch. That way I lost no width on the sides. And the figure-8 seam is really pretty.
The rivets were tricky, though. I didn’t want to punch the rivets through the woven fabric. I was afraid the warp threads would sneak their way out of the weave. Again I consulted my friend Cecilia. She suggested reinforcing the weave with wood glue (fancy that!) and put extra leather on each side of the weave for the rivets to hold on to. I did this, and managed to push the rivets between the warp threads so that none of them broke.
Another obsession this spring has been vintage fabrics. I use them to line things. When you open a bag or a spindle case I think it is only fair that you find a scrumtious and decadent lining, don’t you? I chose a flowery upholstery fabric that gave me that tingling feeling I was looking for. I added a nifty bellows pocket in the lining for easy access to important things.
Frida Chanel bag
So, this week I finally finished the bag. I love the freedom of wearing it around my waist and the safe feeling of wool at my hip. When I wear it I have the company of the sweet wool providers Frida and Chanel. The shine of the fabric is luscious.
A working period of five months is over. The bag may be small but it contains two sheep, three seasons, a pandemic, work, pleasure and trees. That is a lot to carry for a small bag. But it was made with love and somehow fits it all.
I just started a six week vacation. I will post, but shorter pieces. There will be a lot of crafting during my vacation that I can write about in the fall!
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