Weaving Wire: Disco Bag
"What are you doing, making window screens?" My visiting friend was eyeing my little Emilia rigid-heddle loom. I was weaving 22-gauge copper wire I had picked up at the hardware store.
Years ago, I saw a lampshade made of woven copper wire in a shop on Brady Street in San Francisco. As a weaver, I was intrigued. How could you weave with wire? So when I saw Giovanna Imperia's gorgeous display this spring at a weaving conference, I knew I had to give it a try. I bought some 30-yard rolls of 34-, 32- and 30-gauge colored wire, in shades of violet, purple, olive green, chartreuse, lemon yellow and natural brass. I had recently bought an Emilia rigid-heddle loom and decided to use it for this project. A rigid-heddle loom is quick and easy to warp—with very little loom waste—so it seemed a good choice.
It was easier than I thought. I started with the finer wires, in 34 and 32 gauges (higher numbers indicate a finer wire). To my surprise it warped as easily as a stiff yarn. I weave a lot of linen on my floor loom, so I'm used to dealing with a material that doesn't stretch. (I don’t have to tell you that wire doesn’t stretch, do I?) I warped the Emilia with the 34-gauge olive green and chartreuse wire using the direct-peg method of warping a rigid heddle loom.
I had small quantities of wire, so to test the waters, so I wound a warp only 2 feet long and used a 10-dent heddle. Wire is springy and tends to sproing away from you. Keeping it under tension while warping is a must. I have several 12-oz weights that came with my knitting machine. I used them to tension the warp when I wasn't holding it in my hand. Weaving went fairly easily, using the 32-gauge violet wire as weft.
I wove until I ran out of weft, and cut it off the loom.
To my delight the cloth was iridescent! Very transparent and strangely soft. It seemed too open and loose a weave to do anything with, though. So I warped another short warp with 30-gauge wire using a 12-dent heddle, this time with a lemon yellow and a natural brass in the warp, and a purple weft. It was much stiffer, felt much more substantial and was also iridescent. Both samples benefited from having a piece of fabric behind them. They're beautiful, but very open and transparent. There was something compelling about the piece woven from the finer gauge wire. Not to mention the chartreuse and violet color combination! I ordered more wire.
Meanwhile I took a trip to the hardware store. I decided to try the 22-gauge copper, and also some galvanized steel and magnet wire, both 32 gauge, the latter being a bright orange wire used for winding electrical coils. Since I'd been weaving with the finer gauges I was curious what thicker wire was like and warped the Emilia with the 22-gauge copper.
I stuck with the 12 dent heddle, but only warped about an inch wide. The resulting ribbon was, as you'd expect, much stiffer than the more fabric-like piece made from the finer gauge wires. It made a great armband.
I could also see incorporating beads and making napkin rings (to go around handwoven napkins, of course). I could see lots of possibilities for weaving wire.
Project Details for Disco Bag
I settled on making a 6x6-inch disco bag in the chartreuse and violet, 32-gauge wire. The wire fabric is sparkly and iridescent and just wanted to become a disco bag. Besides, I have weakness for little bags.
- Rigid heddle loom or any loom that can weave plain weave, I used a Glimåkra Emilia
- Separating material to protect the wire and the wire fabric as it is wound on. I used thin wooden warp sticks, cut down to the Emilia's size.
- A boat shuttle (I wind weft for a boat shuttle Swedish style, using paper. As long as you wind the wire on without adding twist or crimp to the wire, there's no problem at all.) A stick shuttle would work as well.
- Sewing thread and a hand-sewing needle or sewing machine.
32-gauge 'Artistic Wire' from Giovanna Imperia: 30 yards in Golden Olive, 30 yards in Chartreuse.
Wind a warp of 80 ends, 27 inches long. (See Warping, for tips and information about warping wire.)
32-gauge 'Artistic Wire' from Giovanna Imperia: 30 yards in Violet.
- Lining fabric. I used blue silk dupioni.
- Leather lacing. Available at craft stores such as Hobby Lobby
12 ends per inch
Width in Reed: 6.7 inches
Finished width of Project: 6 inches
Finished length of Project: 14 inches (before folding and sewing)
Fringe Length: 5 inches
Loom Waste: 7 inches
Takeup: minimal, about 5%
Draw-in: almost none
The wire needs to come off the spool in a straight line or it will kink and become unmanagable. So I created a homemade spool rack: I put the spools on a stick, placed the stick horizontally in a milk crate (poking the ends of the stick through holes in the crate to hold it aloft), and then threaded the wires through holes in the side of the crate. (If you're a spinner, it looked much like a home-made lazy kate used for plying yarn.)
To set up for warping, I put the milk-crate spool rack on the floor behind my loom and clamped the warping peg in front of my loom, about 27 inches from the back rod.
I tied the ends of the two green wires together using an overhand knot, and looped the wire around the back rod, centering the knot behind the rod. I warped using the direct-peg method, but only threaded though every other slot, since I was holding 2 wires together as one while winding the warp, and thus each slot recieved one loop of olive wire (2 threads) and one loop of chartruese (2 threads) for 4 threads total. Warp 80 ends, which should leave you with only a foot or so extra wire.
Carefully take the wires off the peg, and hang a weight from them, then wind onto the back beam, under consistent tension.
My loom has 3 cords between the back rod and the warp beam, I removed the center cord so that it wouldn’t create a bump in the warp. I used warping sticks to protect the warp from the back rod and to separate the layers, but you could also use heavy paper, or even craft sticks.
Keep a weight on the end of the warp during threading to prevent the wire from tangling and kinking.
To thread the heddle, cut each set of 4 ends in a slot, pull 3 of them out of the slot and thread them through the hole, slot and hole adjacent to it. I placed the Golden Olive and the Chartreuse colors randomly in the slots and holes. As each section is threaded, twist them together with the previous section and then re-weight them. Preventing tangles and kinks is the key to weaving with wire. Threading is easy, since you don't have to use a hook, the wire is stiff enough to thread by itself. I found it easiest to thread from the back.
When tying on at the front, I found I got better tension if I set the heddle in the down position, since the wires in the slots don't move when you weave. I tied the warp into bundles of a 1/2 inch or so (about 6 ends) with an overhand knot, and then lashed these bundles onto the front rod using a strong cord.
It was easy to wind the wire onto a bobbin, and I used a Swedish boat shuttle with a very small exit hole. A stick shuttle would work as well.
|Begin with 5 inches of spacer (this will later become a braided edging), I used the thin wooden warp sticks. Then weave several picks of crochet cotton or a similar strong thread as a header to spread the warp, and to hold the weft in after you take it off the loom.|
The weft has a tendency to spring away from you as you weave. I found that by "scooping" the heddle I could control that: I beat on an open shed, changed sheds at the fell line (where the cloth is forming), and then brought the heddle back to the heddle holders.
Check the edges of the cloth as you bring the heddle towards the fell to be sure that you're not pulling in the selvedges too much. Wire has no give, so there is almost no draw in. As you advance the warp, keep an eye on the cloth beam.
When the wire fabric approaches the front tie-on bar, you'll need to protect the fabric from the bar and the knots. Otherwise as the woven wire fabric wraps around the cloth beam, it will get distorted and, unlike a more flexible fabric, won't spring back when you take it of the loom. I used the same thin wooden sticks that I'd used as a warp separator when winding on. Make sure that whatever you use is thick enough that the knots don't poke though and leave a dent. Weave about 14 inches of wire fabric and cut it off at the back bar.
I protect the cut warp ends from unraveling by braiding them into a basic French braid. Do the side with longest ends first to protect them from unraveling. Start with 3 ends in each section and pick up another 2 every time you cross a section over another as shown below.
Half way across, braid for about 3/4 inch without picking up more ends. This will form a little loop for the finished purse's latch to fit into.
When you've braided all the way across, keep braiding for a few more inches, and then twist the ends together to hold them. Cut the ends of the header at the other side, pull out the header, and cut off the knots. Halfway across this side, again braid about 3/4 inch without picking up more ends, to form the other side of your latch. The braid on this side won’t extend as far as the first one.
Assembling the Bag
Fold the piece in half so it forms a square, with the longer braid towards the front. You'll have about a 2-inch flap at the top. Take a short piece of the weft wire and use it to lace up both sides. You can use a tapestry needle, or you may find the wire stiff enough that you don't need one.
Cut a lining 6 inches wide and 24 inches long, fold it in half and sew up the ends. Then bring the two short ends together inside the lining.
Put your lining inside the wire part of the bag, and sew down the top edges and tack the corners down.
|Make a loop from the longer braid, and attach the leather cord using a bowline knot. Sew the cord down on the other side with a loose weft end.|
Create a latch as shown below.
Inga Marie Carmel enjoys trying to convince her looms that wire and straw are really yarn. She lives and weaves in an old Victorian house in Austin, Texas—with the occasional summer weaving excursion to Sätergläntan in Sweden. She’s a recovering Landscape Architect with a BA from UC Berkeley. She can be found as ingamarie on Weavolution where she also moderates the Wire, Sticks and Straw group, and sporadically at her blog Fenix Fiberwerks.