Skillbragd projects 2018

By Lisa Torvik

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Karin Maahs wove some small pattern elements in a contrasting color.

After enjoying our project in 2017 which focused on the Swedish art weave, “dukagång”, there was consensus to embark on a new group project in 2018 studying an overshot technique known as “skillbragd” [pron. “shill’ brahgd”] in Norway and as “Smålandsväv” [pron. “smoh’ lahnds vave”] in Sweden.  Regional variations in Norway go by other names, too.  Essentially, all forms secure long pattern weft floats with a single or double shot of tabby.

There are a few different ways to set up a loom for this technique, but most assume a loom with sufficient depth front to back to accommodate several harnesses separated in two groups, and the ability to adjust harnesses up and down independently of each other.  Historically, this technique would have been set up with counterbalance.  After review of a lot of different sources, and some experimentation, we found that setting up the ground on countermarch and the pattern harnesses using elastic bands worked the best.  Even so, most found it necessary to use a pick up stick to create a good pattern shed, though the plain weave sheds were pretty good.  Most of us used stick shuttles for the pattern yarn and some for the ground weft also.  Keeping the warp damp aided in getting a better shed and strengthening the warp under high tension.

The ground is threaded on two or four shafts, and the pattern is usually on 4 or 6 shafts, but a larger number of pattern harnesses is possible if the loom can accommodate them.  The warp is first threaded in regular heddles on the ground harnesses for plain weave.  Then contiguous groups of warp threads, often four at a time, are threaded through pattern harnesses in front, using long-eyed heddles or by threading the group of warp threads under the eye of regular heddles.  A single square in the drafts we used corresponds to one group of four threads in a pattern heddle. 

The two groups of harnesses should be separated by a few inches.  The sinking-shed pattern is created by treadling the pattern harnesses, one or more at a time, and following each pattern shot with a plain weave shot.  A side fringe of loops can be created by catching the pattern weft around a finger.  The ground weft is usually threaded so 2 or 4 warp threads create a selvedge that is not threaded through a pattern heddle.  This selvedge locks in the loops or hides the pattern weft turns on the backside of the weaving if no loops are desired. 

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Loops at the edges. The two outer pieces are showing the “right” side, with the narrow selvedges.

We set up two warps in succession, both with Bockens 16/2 unbleached linen yarn.  Weft was the choice of the weaver.  The second was narrower than the first, but on the second warp, a smaller number of weavers wanted to weave longer pieces.  In all, fourteen weavers completed nearly 30 pieces of varying lengths between the two projects.  Most used wool weft, but some pieces were finished with all linen weft or perle cotton. (Draft for the first warp in pdf; draft for the second warp in pdf)

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Lisa Torvik used used linen weft to make skillbragd flowers.

I would like to acknowledge the weavers and, of them, the many that helped set up the two projects:  Phyllis Waggoner, Robbie LaFleur and Lisa Anne Bauch worked with me to set up – and set up again when THAT didn’t work – the first warp. 

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Robbie LaFleur turning the crank; Lisa Torvik supervising and rolling on the warp, and Lisa Anne Bauch braced with the taut warp.

Robbie helped me monitor and aid those unfamiliar with the technique.  Melba Granlund, Lisa Anne and I set up the second warp, though we agreed four is best!  Thanks to Donna Hanson for instruction and tips on restoring the loom for the next group/class since I was not familiar with the vertical countermarch setup on the Glimåkra loom and technicalities of texsolv.  I’m more old school!  And last but certainly not least thanks to Jan Hayman for insights on aspects of newer linen yarns and assistance sweeping up the “chaff” we created. Help came from afar, too, with an “emergency” phone call while warping to Robbie’s colleague Shawn Cassiman in Michigan and a detailed letter from Ruth Ida Tvenge of the Øystre Slidre Husflidslag in Norway.

Thanks all!