Several of our weaving members are experimenting with creating chenille. With guidance from Olga, a weaver of great skill and experience, they have been working on the looms upstairs, weaving, cutting and weaving again in a process that looks rather odd to the rest of us.
First they warped their looms with medium-weight cotton, leaving big gaps between groups of threads.
Then they wove, their bobbins filled with several strands, again cotton.
At this stage we wondered if they were making peculiar blankets or curtains.
Then the strips were cut apart! This is quite a long, careful job.
Now there are lengths of wonderfully soft fringy cotton that can be woven into a fluffy mat!
A new warp is put on the loom and the cut lengths are woven across it. Apparently beating the weft takes a lot of energy.
With patience, the result is a cosy mat.
So that’s how you make chenille. You weave it, then cut it up, and then weave it again.
Actually that’s the old way of making it. The process was discovered in France in the 1700s. In the 1830s it was introduced to Scotland, and soon a simpler, more automated process was devised. Commercial chenille yarns now (like the ones you may have bought and knitted) are made by inserting short lengths of the pile yarns directly into the plying – there is no pre-weaving. So our weavers are recreating history.
And where does the name chenille come from? It means “caterpillar” in French! Remember those “woolly bear” caterpillars children used to play with? One of my daughters used to collect them in her school lunchbox. Presumably the original chenille reminded people of fuzzy caterpillars. If you don’t want to see a nice big picture of a caterpillar, don’t click on the photo below.