Some of you are no doubt thinking, “Well, all this dyeing is marvelous, but what about Amazing Grace, the jacquard loom? Has she been totally neglected, all these months?”
Well, yes. And no. I’ve been working with Grace on and off, but have been suffering a frustrating series of setbacks. And threading was horribly uncomfortable. So I got discouraged and stopped threading for six or seven weeks.
Then a weaving friend suggested that, rather than continuing to procrastinate, I should sit down and apply my mind to the problem. When I did, I realized there were three basic problems.
First, threading was physically painful. The contortions needed to push aside the heddles, pick out threads, and pull them through the teeny-tiny heddle eyes were not only uncomfortable but were actually causing shoulder pain and possible injury.
Second, threading was complicated and error-prone. I’m threading up at 120 ends per inch, which means the physical configuration of the loom is eight 220-thread modules stacked one behind the other. Eight modules stacked one behind the other gives a depth of about eighteen inches, which is just about the length of my arms. So threading all eight modules at once is really not an option. Instead, on advice from some much more experienced TC-2 weavers, I’m threading the back four modules first, leaving extra threads in between each set of threaded heddles, so I can thread the extra threads through the front four modules later, to complete the threading. This complicates the threading, resulting in a lot of mistakes. Every time I made a mistake, I’d have to undo a dozen or so of the threads I’d so painfully completed.
Third, I felt like I was making no progress. I had separated out an inch’s worth of heddles for my latest batch, and it had literally taken me three weeks to work my way through that inch’s worth of heddles. So not only was threading painful and frustrating, I wasn’t making any visible progress, either.
Is it any surprise that I was putting it off?
Once I started actively thinking about the problem, though, it turned out to be relatively simple to solve. I spent about half an hour experimenting with the ergonomics. I moved the threads a little closer to the back of the heddles – only four inches, but it was the difference between painfully outstretched arms and comfortably bent elbows. I used a towel as padding so I could half-kneel on the front of the loom, a much more comfortable working position. And I used fingerless wrist-warmers to protect my arms from the metal heddles. (My skin is sensitive to nickel compounds, so rubbing my arms against the metal heddles for hours at a time was giving me an oozing rash.)
After fixing the ergonomic problems, I went to work on simplifying the threading process and installing process safeguards to reduce the number of threading errors. I walked mentally through every step, identified where I was making the most mistakes, and wrote down ways to check for those mistakes before moving on to the next step. I also fixed my lighting problems. It was very difficult to get a light focused exactly where I needed it, and my threads are teeny-tiny (about 2/3 the size of sewing thread), so I bought a headlamp that would direct a bright light wherever I was looking. Now I could actually see what I was doing!
Finally, I decided to break the work into much smaller pieces. My one-inch sections were way too big; it took several days to finish a single section, during which I felt I was making no progress at all. So instead, I broke the work down into 1/4 inch sections, each of which I could complete in about half an hour. Yes, each section was tiny, but I could have the satisfaction of sitting down and completing a section in a single working session. Visible progress! Very encouraging.
As a result of all these changes, I’ve been making rapid inroads into the threading. In the first three months I was threading, I got this much done:
And here I am, just three days later:
I have literally accomplished as much in the past three days as I did in the previous three months!
Which demonstrates something I’ve always believed: if you’re procrastinating, it’s because there’s an underlying problem you need to solve. The thing is, procrastination is sneaky – it encourages you not to look at the problem, but to keep shunting it continuously aside. Fortunately, I have friends who can smack me on the head and remind me that problems should not be left to fester. Procrastination, begone!
Now that I’m threading up at a rapid clip, I’ve had some really interesting ideas for new work, using some of the samples I’ve dyed. More on that in an upcoming blog post!