Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

This is the story of how a little pot of wet yarn became 4.3 yards of exquisite, one-of-a-kind fabric. I’m mostly going to let the (obscene number of) photos do the talking, because to me it’s pretty much sorcery, but this is my friend Allison Volek-Shelton of Shutters and Shuttles working her magic for me. As I wrote in my Fall Amirisu essay: “I don’t raise sheep, or shear them. I’ve never spun my own yarn. And I’m not much of a weaver, either. I’m still at the mercy of others for the materials I make my clothes from. When I knit a sweater or sew a dress, I can be 100% certain that no one was forced to make it for me in unsafe conditions or without being paid a living wage. But what about those materials I’m working with?” So as you may know, my big idea for Slow Fashion October was to have Allison weave a piece of custom cloth for me, from which I will cut and sew a garment.

We got together several weeks ago and decided to build it around a painted warp, a process I’ve seen her do fantastically well for designers Jamie and the Jones. So one day in mid-Sept, I went to her studio to watch the actual painting of the warp, above, and that’s where it all began.

Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

The US-grown and -spun cotton was painted with fiber reactive dyes Allison had mixed up in a few different shades of blue. After it sat a few minutes, she washed out each hank and hung them to dry in the warm Tennessee breeze, then last Friday I went to watch her begin tying it onto the loom.

Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

She had previously been weaving blankets on this loom, and cutting those off left the 1200 ends of natural warp, onto which she would tie the 1200 new ends of my painted warp. One knot at a time. This would take her about 4.5 hours, so I left her to it. On Monday afternoon, I returned for the next step: warping the loom, i.e. passing those ends through the 16 harnesses. Gradually the new warp made its way up around the sectional beam, with Allison painstakingly combing out the ends a little at a time as she went, like trying to comb through a little girl’s hair after a bath.

Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

As she continued to work, I took 600 photos that look like this:

Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

Once she’d reached the other ends, it was time to tie them to the canvas apron (fewer knots this time!) and then finally the weaving could begin. I was already a little in awe of how physical the whole process is, and then she began to weave. All I can say is that is hard work.  I wish I had video.

Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

The next afternoon she called me back to her studio so I could watch as she cut it from the loom — 4.3 yards of splendor, the final yard of which we decided to do in a textured weave. It is so beautiful, and so soft.

Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

Don’t ask me what I plan to do with it. Figuring that out is step 2.


PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Week 2, SMALL — and some of my hardest-working garments

52 thoughts on “Slotober Frock step 1: Yarn becomes fabric

  1. This is just glorious! And how lucky are you! Can’t wait to see what it becomes. Linda

  2. I’m flabbergasted with the beauty, artistry and hard work which produced your most beautiful piece of fabric. Can’t wait to see what it becomes.

  3. just took a saori weaving class, created 10 ft X 16″ of fabric from which I will create a garment of some sort – gained a whole new appreciations for weaving. yes, video would’ve been awesome – but the photos are indeed sublime! BEAUTIFUL!

    • Marci, I’d love to hear more about your experiences with saori weaving. There’s a school near where I live, and I plan to take a lesson in a few weeks.

  4. Wonderful post. Like so many aspects of the fiber arts, the outcome may appear simple and understated, but the thought, effort and complexity of the tasks that led to that result are mind-boggling. The fabric is gorgeous, very much looking forward to seeing what you make with it.

  5. Holy moly that is gorgeoussss! I have a little bit of experience weaving (nothing as big or intricate as that, of course) and I still can’t wrap my head around that that came to be. Absolutely amazing and such a treasure that you get to make a garment out of it! It will be SUCH a special piece! I would love to see a time lapse of this fabric being made!

  6. Superb post, and yes, I agree, wizardry at work here. I cannot wait to see what you make with this. The good news is that when the fabric is this gorgeous, the simpler the better for the shape and sewing. And that last yard of the overlay texture will be lovely to feature.

  7. This post just brought tears to my eyes ~ the talent, patience, and dexterity of what is displayed here is completely inspiring. I weave a little so I know what it takes to warp a loom but this takes the cake!

    • Projectstash, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Patience does not even begin to describe that talent! Personally, I think the STUNNING fabric is to beautiful to cut. Could you not see yourself, standing with sheers in hand next to the cutting table… FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?

  8. It is lovely – really a piece of art! I’m sure you’re a little nervous about cutting into it. As someone who wove a lot in the past, I want to congratulate you on getting all the descriptive terminology correct. Rarely does someone who doesn’t weave manage to do that (not that I would expect anything less than correct from you) and your pictures are beautiful, too.

  9. Too pretty to cut into- as not one square inch could be considered “waste” after watching it’s creation! The garment must be one to last a lifetime. No pressure there…

  10. Oh wow! I said this out loud as I scrolled along to the final photo.

    Absolutely, too good to waste a shred of. I hope that you can find a ‘zero waste’ pattern or method for working with such a treasure.

  11. I can understand why you’ll take your time finding the right project for your fabric. Not only is it gorgeous, but you are keenly aware of the process and labour it took to make it so every cut has to count. Frankly, however, you could make a sack dress, and it’d be amazing.

  12. That stuff is too gorgeous to be believed! I wouldn’t cut it. I’d just hang it on my wall in all its glorious splendor.

  13. I’d have such a hard time cutting into this fabric, like did I choose the right project for it?!?! So pretty.

  14. Oh. Wow. That textured section is especially gorgeous!
    After watching my grandmother and other weavers make garments that are basically unflattering rectangles out of their handwoven fabric, my advice is: cut it, cut it into what you really want it to be, and don’t worry that you’re “wasting” the parts you don’t use. With a fabric this special, you’ll find another use for every possible scrap, and your garment(s?) will be what you want to wear for decades.

  15. Stunningly beautiful! This will be a very special addition toy our wardrobe which you’ll hopefully love and enjoy for many years to come!
    A very dear friend of mine had to unfortunately close the doors to her yarn shop. She has an entire loft of exceptionally beautiful, “high end” yarn at her home as a result, and has spent many happy hours using the yarn to weave into fabric…which she then uses to make her own clothing. Not as all-encompassing as what your friend did for you, but it’s still an amazing process to watch! I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the “set-up” process – which seemed far more complex when I watched it than the actual weaving itself. Please remember to measure 100 times before cutting! Enjoy!

  16. Your fabric is beautiful!!! My husband works for a textile mill and this reminds me of the old days when folks worked in weave mills all over our country, but especially here in South Carolina. We still have hardworking people in America that make fabric and when we all demand to know more and appreciate the efforts of those who make cloth (and become willing to pay the wages of those who do this), we may see a resurgence of quality goods in our country.

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  19. Just wanted to say I found this so encouraging. Something as simple as a hand painted warp on plain weave cotton is so stunning! The last year has had me on a slow but steady journey towards making my own fabric to sew with (learning to weave and more) and this lovely project reinforces my strong desire. And remarkably, makes the whole process feel so much more approachable. Now all I have to do is find the time :)

  20. As many others have said….it is extraordinary. Wishing you much joy with this project. Can’t wait to watch it become something.
    F x

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