How to Fingerweave Something
How to Fingerweave Something
Fingerweaving was the original method used to weave ceintures fléchées, or Assomption sashes, but you could use it to make scarves, belts, bookmarks, bracelets, guitar straps ... anything you want! These instructions are for the basic technique only, but once you've mastered this, there are more advanced techniques that can be incorporated, such as colour patterning, mirror imaging, beads, or even adding or tying off threads in order to change the shape of the finished product.
(If you're interested in the history of the sashes themselves, there's a good article here, although it doesn't really do justice to how incredibly practical and useful—and sometimes lifesaving—they were.)
Tools & Materials
Yarn. Fingers. A stick (or two). Some scrap pieces of string. And a coat rack, hook on the wall, or something else to hang the piece from while you're working. No loom required!
Tips on choosing your yarn:
You can use pretty much any type of yarn you want, depending on the look you're going for, but some types are better than others. For a small, simple project, you don't have to worry too much about it, but for a larger project or one with a colour pattern, here are some recommendations.
Good: smooth, plied, sport weight or thicker, tightly spun, wool.
Not so good: highly textured (eg. boucle, eyelash, mohair), singles, very fine, loosely spun, slippery (like silk or rayon). This doesn't mean you can't use these, just that it makes it a little bit more difficult.
I like to use wool, or a mostly wool blend, since it sticks to itself a little bit as you work and helps keep the strands in place. For my current sash in progress, I'm using Brown Sheep Nature Spun DK and ran it through the spinning wheel to tighten the twist. This step isn't necessary, but for a long project like a sash, it helps improve durability. I've also used Estelle Cascade 220 and Sandnes Garn Peer Gynt.
For sticks, you can use knitting needles, chopsticks, rulers, or anything else that's straight and sturdy. It should be a few inches longer than the width of your project.
If you're doing a big project like a sash, there are easier ways to do this, but for a smaller project (a couple feet or shorter, and about 40 threads or fewer) this is how I get started.
Cut your lengths of yarn. You'll need an even number of each colour, and they need to be 1.5 times the intended length of your project. For example, if you're making a 3' scarf, you need strands that are 4' 6". I purposefully make them a little bit longer, just to make the threads easier to handle when you get to the end.
Figuring out how many strands (threads) you need is a bit more guess-and-test. You need to know how many threads make up one inch (or centimeter) of width in a finished weaving, and that's going to change depending on the thickness of the yarn you're using. For a large project, try making a sample piece first, using the same yarn, with only one or two dozen strands. Take the number of strands you used, divide it by the width of your finished sample piece (in inches or centimeters), and then multiply by how wide you want your finished project to be. For example, if you used 20 threads and your sample piece is 2" wide, and you want your finished project to be 17" wide: 20/2 = 10, 10x17 = 170, so you'll need 170 strands. If you come out with an odd number, add one. You may also need to round off the number if you want to make evenly sized colour blocks—if your math comes out to 47, but you want five even colour blocks, round up to 50. You could also round down to 45, but then you have to keep in mind your colour blocks are going to be an odd number of threads each. Odd-numbered colour blocks work fine in some colour patterns but not others.
For a smaller project, or if the finished width doesn't matter too much to you, you can just guess and go. I recommend starting with a small project or a sample piece to get the technique and tension down before tackling anything too huge.
Separate your threads into groups of about 10, and tie each group together at one end with a (loose!) knot. If you want a long fringe on the end of your project, leave some extra length before the knot. Lay out your groups of threads side by side (in the order you want, if you're using multiple colours). Split each group of threads in half, and lay half the threads pointing upward and half downward. Take your stick and lay it across all your lower threads.
Bring the upper threads down, over the stick, and lay them between the lower threads. Starting on your right side, you should have a lower strand, then an upper, lower, upper, alternating all the way across.
Now pick up all your lower threads, one by one, between the uppers. All of your (formerly) upper threads should now be on the table (or if you're like me and your table is not photogenic, then the sofa), and all the ones that used to be lower should now be in your hand.
Place the second stick across the threads on the table, and lay the ones in your hand down between them, again alternating, but this time the thread on the far right should be from above the stick.
Again pick up the threads that just passed under the stick, one by one, and leave the other ones on the table. You should have the same number of threads in your hand as there are on the table, and the threads crossing back and forth should be holding the sticks in place.
To keep these two groups of threads separate, you can tie a scrap piece of string around the front group until you're ready to work on it.
If you wanted to, you could weave the entire project using this method, laying your weft across instead of sticks. But for larger projects or any with colour patterning, the technique in the following steps is a lot easier.
Tie each end of a scrap piece of string around your sticks so that you can hang it on a coat rack or a hook on the wall at a height that is comfortable to work on (usually somewhere a little below shoulder height), and you're ready to weave!
Before You Start ...
Have a look at the order your threads are in. This is the order they should stay in—they may get a little crossed over each other in your left hand, and that's okay, as long as they move into your right hand in the correct order. The key here is to remember that everything alternates—front/back/front/back, over/under/over/under, one thread at a time. If you ever see a thread that goes over two threads without going under one in between, or two threads next to each other without being separated by one going the opposite direction, then it's an indicator that something is out of place. Also, if two threads cross over each other and neither one is the weft thread (see Step 6), then something needs to be fixed.
It's also important to remember that these two groups of threads need to stay separate. If you need to pause for a while to go do something else, tie a piece of string around one of the groups, so that when you come back you don't need to sort them all out again.
Holding the Threads
Take the first two fingers of your left hand, and put them between the two groups of threads. These fingers will stay here until the row is done. Hold the front group with your thumb and the back group with your ring and pinkie fingers. As you move threads into your right hand, you will have two separate groups on the right side also. The index finger of your right hand will stay between these two groups to keep them separate. Make sure these fingers stay put!
Another view—this is where the groups of threads will be placed. Threads will move one by one from LF to RB (blue arrow), and from LB to RF (purple arrow).
Start a Row - Select the Weft
The weft thread is the one that goes across all the other threads and keeps them in place, preventing the weaving from falling apart. Every row will have one weft. For this setup, the thread you're looking for is the one on the far right, and it will come from the group of threads at the back.
Take this thread and tuck it between the first two fingers on your left hand so that it crosses between your two groups of threads. Tuck it as far back as you can so that it stays out of the way. This thread will stay here until the row is complete—don't let it escape!
Using your right index and middle fingers, grab the next thread in line. This one will come from the front group in your left hand, the LF. Keep this thread between your right index and middle fingers; it's now part of group RB. Once the threads switch over to your right hand, they will stay put until the row is done.
Take the Next Thread
With your right index finger and thumb, take the next thread in line from your left hand. This one will come from the back, group LB. Keep it between your index finger and thumb; it's now part of group RF.
You now have the beginnings of two new groups of threads in your right hand—the thread that was in the front group should now be in the back, and the thread that was in the back group should now be in front.
With right index and middle, take the next thread from the front (LF) group.
Next Next Thread
With your right index and thumb, take the next thread from the back (LB) group.
Continue Across the Row
Repeat Steps 9 and 10 until the only thread you have remaining in your left hand is the weft, which should still be stuck between the first two fingers.
Returning the Weft
The last thread you took should have just been moved from the LF group into the RB group. Since that one went to the back, the weft is now going to come to the front and become part of the front group, RF.
Tighten the row by pulling the two groups in opposite directions and then gently tugging on the former weft. You may need to pull a little bit on individual threads until they look even, particularly the last few on the left.
And you're done a row!
Return all the threads to your left hand, with the first two fingers between the two groups, and repeat Steps 6 through 12 for each row, starting with selecting your weft. Every row will be woven the same way, with the weft coming from the back group.
After a couple rows, you will notice the threads start to angle toward the right—this is because you're slowly moving threads, one at a time, from the right side of the piece to the left as wefts. This is the biggest difference between loom weaving and fingerweaving, and this angling of threads is the best way to tell, when you're looking at a finished piece, whether it was fingerwoven or done on a loom.
Something to Watch For
All of your threads that aren't being wefts at the moment (these ones are called the warp threads) should remain parallel to each other through the entire piece, except when it's their turn to become weft. They'll probably cross over each other while they're being held in your hands, so when you're looking for the next thread to take, check to make sure you've got the right one, and uncross them if you have to.
Something Else to Watch For
Unlike on a loom, the threads aren't under constant tension, so sometimes you might have to adjust tension as you go along. You might see one thread sticking out and making a little blip in the woven fabric. If you follow the thread down and just give it a little tug on the bottom, you can make it lie flat with the others. This can happen on the back of the fabric too, where you may not notice it, so flip the piece over every few rows and have a look.
Also, if your piece tends to curve to the right, this isn't easy to fix afterward, but it can be prevented by tugging very gently on the last few threads on the left after you complete each row (in the picture on the right, the last two or three blue threads on the left).
Getting the tension right so that the piece looks smooth and even can take some practice, which is why it's a good idea to start with a small project or sample piece before trying something big.
Once the piece is the length you want, you can finally let the two groups of threads come together. Braid and then knot your strands to create a fringe, or just knot them together in groups. Untie your knots that are holding the sticks in, and untangle those ends. Pull your sticks out, and then you can fringe this end too.
Sometimes ironing, steaming, or wet-blocking can help to improve the finished look.
Photograph, show off, and you're done!
I have a video that I wanted to add, but apparently I fail at technology. I even found a couple of Comment/How-tos on how to add a video to an Comment/How-to, and I still couldn't make it work. If I can figure it out, I will edit to add the video later.
This is my first Comment/How-to, so any feedback is appreciated. Thanks for reading!
Acknowledgments, Credits, and Bibliography