The most common way of working on a sprang warp is to stretch it in a frame. The other option is a suspended warp that is warped between two beams, one of which is suspended from the ceiling and the other one near the floor so that either the weight of the lower beam or the feet of the weaver press down and thus stretch the warp. Both of these are known to have been used in Europe when sprang was commonly used for clothing items and such.
A third option is free-end sprang or sprang unsprung, i.e. normal open-end braiding but with the structure of basic sprang (i.e. interlinked instead of interwoven). I haven’t tried it as I have no clue of its historical origins, I can’t tell if the resulting fabric is different to what you get with a sprang warp that’s worked stretched. I don’t have it, either, but if this sounds something you’d like, get Carol James’ book Sprang Unsprung ( ISBN 978-0-9784695-2-8), now that it is fresh and easily available – who knows how long that lasts, when we are talking about a more “obscure” craft…
If you spend some time searching and looking, you will find real sprang frames on sale, but not necessarily in your neck of the woods or at a price you are willing to pay just to try out a new technique. I have found during my experiments that many types of embroidery and tapestry frames can be adapted to work as sprang frames especially when you just want to learn a new craft.
There are three important things to think of:
- The warp gets shorter, e.g. tighter when your weaving proceeds. This means that you will have to come up with a warping system with quite a bit of give in at least one of the ends, or you will find that weaving gets impossible before you are even close to finishing (and consequently, your pieces will be short).
- Because both ends are woven simultaneously, you need to have access to the whole warp all the time. With a circular warp one can start with a warp that’s almost the double of the length of the inside of your frame, but that’s it then. A suspended warp allows a bit more length than easily available frames, but even there you have to be able reach the top on every new round. Ergo, the size of your frame/warping system limits the size of your product. (cf floor-weighted upright looms)
- Mostly you want to get the warp off the frame without cutting into the end loops. Sprang is warped with continuous warp, i.e. there’re only two ends to finish off, the start and the end. If you are making e.g. a Viking hairnet/cap, the loops in one end are used to form the hairnet into a baggy shape – and the same would apply for example to a mobile phone pouch or carry bag. Besides, if you have to cut the loops to get the finished piece off the frame, you run a real risk of the fabric fraying/unraveling from the cut end while as long as you keep the loops whole, you only need to worry about the middle.
My sprang frame experiments
What one really needs to do sprang is a square or rectangular frame, round sticks that fit in the frame and 5-7 sticks for weaving (3 will do in a pinch). Elastic weaving easier, but you can get by with couple of strings just as well, to fasten and adjust the end beam position. So I’ve kept my eyes open for different types of solutions and have experimented with some – and more are to come!
Warp beams and weaving sticks
For warp beams I’ve used standard round wood lengths, some of which I bought at a hardware store, some I got at a hobby store and some I ordered from an online hobby store. All of these are sold as about 1 meter lengths and I’ve used a small handsaw to cut them down to size (hence some not-so-straight ends). The diameters vary from 8-12 mm, this measurement is not so critical, as long as the stick is thick enough not to bend, but not too much thicker than the frame itself. The larger the warp beams, the bigger your end loops will be, although the looseness can be spread over the whole fabric after it’s been taken off the frame.
On the moment I have bamboo barbecue skewers as weaving/holding sticks on all warps. One could use normal or double-pointed knitting needles, but it turned out that I’ve upgraded my knitting needles to such nice smooth quality that they slip out of the warp all the time. The bamboo skewers are reasonably ok, although some of them splinter a bit. Sometimes they also break, but mostly the half-length is enough anyway and there are 100 of them in a package, so losing one is no big deal.
While looking for something else at Hobby Point, a craft store in central Helsinki, I stumbled on a cheap tapestry frame package, for weaving small tapestries (e.g. at school). The same place also sells materials for dolls houses etc, so I got a length of round stick to go with the frame.
After I started working on my first sample I found that this type of frame works well otherwise, but sometimes the joints pop out and that of course explodes the whole thing. As I want to be able to take apart the frame when I don’t need it, I stabilized the corners with string and that seems to work fine.
The small size, just 23 cm square, doesn’t really allow for weaving anything bigger, but on the other hand this is a very portable format and will serve fine for teaching.
Somewhat later I found in a craft store a children’s weaving frame for 8 euros. This one is a lot sturdier and works “out of the box”, but on the other hand it cannot be taken apart. However, it works pretty well as a sample frame and I found out that I can warp it by using the slots and then transferring one end of the warp onto a stick (so I can adjust warp tension).
Embroidery bar frame
The so called bar frames are made up of four pieces with mortised joints. In embroidery use the fabric is tacked on to the frame and the tacking keeps the fabric tight and holds the frame in shape. However, when I started to use two spare pairs of bars as sprang frame, I found that it got easily twisted out of shape. I think this happens because the sprang warp only helps hold the tension between the two ends, but the sides had too much space for movement.
As bar frames are both cheap and light-weight and come in many sizes that are just right for sprang, I started to think about ways of preventing distortion of the frame. I decided that the frames I already had in use could become permanently fixed as I have a handy hook to store them on so I don’t have to take them apart to put them away. Thus I went to the local hardware store and found two types of corner supports. Both sorts work, but to me it is easier to get true angles with the wide L-shaped ones. Also, they just go on top of the frame and if that side is kept up, the surface underneath is safe, while the bent ones are just a teeny tiny bit too wide for these frames and can scratch e.g. the table (or my legs!) they lean on.
I’m debating whether I should try padding the corners with small pieces of felt (glued on) or by covering them or the whole frame with ribbon. I need to do something at least for the one where the support is on the outside, but the other one isn’t that aesthetic, either, so it could use a bit of touch-up as well.
Painter’s wedged frame
On the craft section at Clas Ohlson, a place that sells all kinds of tools and storage solutions and a little bit of hardware, I found a package for a wedged frame (fi. kiilakehys or kiilapuut, swe kilram) for about 6 euros (it is size F10, judging by the length and price) . The proper use for these is to stretch the canvas to be painted on a wedged frame, I think the wedges are used to fasten it on the inside of the frame.
This, too, comes in an oblong package of four pieces of wood with mortised joints (and some wedges). It turned out to be tight enough that once I had carefully matched the corners and pressed the pieces in to create the rectangle, nothing else was needed, so I didn’t bother with the wedges. Add two round sticks and a warp and I think I have a Viking hairnet here.
This is my best warping solution this far. For the first the wedged frame is sturdy, but lightweight, and just the right size that I can comfortably work on it by resting one end on the table and the other one on my lap. For the second I took the advice given in one of my sprang books and used standard elastic bands to fasten the top end of the warp, which makes it nicer to work with. For the third this is my first try with this yarn, loosely plied two-ply Pirkka (i.e. the thicker Pirkka-lanka, Paksu-Pirkka, tex 285 x 2) and it is easier to work with than the cheap sock yarns and other remnant wools I’ve used for the practice warps.
Other frame solutions I’ve been thinking about
I’m planning to misuse one of my rectangular embroidery frames sized about 4″ x 9″, i.e. about 10 x 23 cm. I’ll turn it 90 degrees and add three sticks so I can make a circular warp. That should enable me to make a narrowish band/ribbon about 35 cm long, to be used as a hair tie. I just need to saw the sticks to correct length first. Obviously I also have to shorten the pick sticks as the bamboo skewers are about 30 cm long, but they can just be snapped. Or then I’ll dig out my really short 10 cm double-pointed knitting needles and use them, I’ll have to see what works best. If the warp is really narrow, even cocktail sticks may do…
Frame solutions by others
Unfortunately I don’t have the space (nor hanging opportunity) to make a suspended warp, but it does give more space for the sprang fabric, although one will still need to reach to both bottom and top, so in the beginning doing the sprang in these will be like pass in a gym…