Twills on 8 shafts: Blocks

In my last post we looked at twills on 4 shafts, and here we are leaping forward to eight in a single bound. What about five, six and seven? Well, twills can be woven on any number of shafts from three upwards, but the 4-shaft twill is so powerful that a large part of our weaving culture – including even the way our looms are designed – is built on this foundation of four. If you have an 8-shaft loom, then several options are open to you for developing your twill repertoire. In this post I am going to start by considering twill blocks.

Twill blocks

Because 2 x 4 = 8, a weaver with an 8-shaft loom can weave two separate blocks of 4-shaft twill.

What do I mean by separate blocks? In this context I mean that you can divide your shafts into two groups. We usually consider shafts 1-4 to be one group and shafts 5-8 to be the other. You can then choose to thread some parts of your warp on shafts 1-4 and other parts of your warp on shafts 5-8. Because these groups of shafts are quite distinct (i.e. there is no overlapping), you have the power to control each group independently of the other. This means that you can weave two different 4-shaft twill patterns at the same time.

Here is an example.

In this draft I have used a straight draw throughout, but the first and last parts of my warp are threaded in a straight draw on shafts 1-4 while the middle part is threaded in a straight draw on shafts 5-8. I have chosen to weave a warp-faced twill in the centre stripe, lifting three shafts at a time from that group, while the outer edges are woven with a weft-faced twill. I am only lifting one shaft at a time from that group.

The tie-up shows that I only need four lifts to complete the twill progression. This is because I am weaving the basic 4-shaft twills: I just happen to be weaving two of them!

Variations on a theme

I can make things a little more complicated by mixing threadings, e.g.

Another option is to alter the lifts so that I vary which areas are warp-faced and which are weft-faced. In the following example, I have 8 different lift combinations in the tie-up and am using the treadles in two groups of four. This is a similar pattern to the way the shafts are used in the threading and together they give a checkerboard of twill squares.

Of course I can put both of these variations together!

Shaded Twills

One of my favourite things to do with twill is to shade the liftplan from a warp-faced through a balanced to a weft-faced fabric. And with two blocks it is possible to shade each block independently, which gives a wonderful effect of movement.

However, the number of distinct combinations required can be expensive in terms of treadles. The draft above uses 12 treadles, which is the smallest number I have been able to get away with. If you are working on a treadle loom then be sure to ‘count your chickens’ before you start so that you know what you can achieve with a single tie-up. Of course, if you are happy to change the tie-up as you go then be my guest!

In general, if you find that your appetite for treadles exceeds what you have available, then the challenge is to find other ways to introduce the excitement you are looking for into your designs. Is the number and variety of blocks really the secret to design happiness, or can you be wily with colour, for example, to give the impression of greater complexity?

What else?

Twill blocks are a wonderfully versatile design tool and the possibilities can keep you occupied for many warps. There are alternative approaches to twill, though, for the 8-shaft weaver and I will look at these in subsequent posts.

First posted on © Cally Booker