You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Fiber Arts’ category.

ImageIt turns out that the problematic gene is Chromosome 18, so Jay sent me the first three pages of the detailed readout for C18, which was 143 bases.  By using 3 ends per base, this would make for a scarf with a nice width.  I noticed that the color coding on the readout was different in one respect from the one I had been using;  orange instead of black for guanine.  Since  the black had been standing out a bit too much, I decided to  make that switch. Here’s the final sample, using orange, blue, green, and red, with black as the weft.  Jay was visiting Seattle just after I finished it, and he enjoyed being able to see and hold the little piece of fabric. With a good result from the final sample, I plunged into winding the warp for the actual scarves.

(click photos to embiggen)


A tool called a warping board is used to measure the threads of a warp and keep them organized before they are put into the loom.


By making a cross of threads going up over a peg in one direction and under the same peg as the thread is wound in the other direction, the exact order of threads is preserved.  This not only helps prevent tangles, but with complex stripes like this warp has, it keeps everything in precise order.


Here’s one section of the warp completed.  It was wide enough that I did it in three sections.


All three sections with the associated parts of the genome readout.


Here’s one warp section with the readout page it is duplicating.

Next step, putting it on the loom!


At this point, all three sections are on the loom and  through the reed and heddles. The warp is being wound onto the warp beam in the back.  I gently comb out any tangles and wind the yarn onto the back beam by using the crank handle you can see on the right.


I decided to hemstitch each end of the scarves – an elegant touch that I felt the project deserved.


Here’s the first scarf finished, and off the loom.  The  ends are twisted into fringe, and this picture shows part of the scarf with the corresponding genome printout, starting at the beginning of Chromosome 18. Interestingly, the sequencing only shows one half of the genetic makeup. C only bonds with G and  A only bonds with T.  On the readout, you’ll often see more than one of the same letter in a row – this doesn’t indicate that, say, A has bonded
with A across the chromosome, but that two base pairs of A and T are next to each other.  The scarf reflects only the half of the data that is represented on the readout. To read the scarf from the beginning of Chromosome 18, align it so that the side with wider green stripes is to the left.

Since Jay was visiting Seattle again a week after I showed him the final sample, I got into high gear to finish the first scarf in time to present it to him in person.


He liked, he really liked it!

With the first scarf off the loom and delivered to Jay, I plunged into weaving the additional five that were warped up. The actual weaving only took about 90 minutes per scarf, plus roughly another 90 minutes to hemstitch both ends. Fringe twisting added another 90 minutes, and it took a bit more time to wash and press them.


Here the scarves are all off the loom and I’m cutting apart the unwoven warp between scarves that gets turned into the fringe. A rotary cutter is the perfect tool for this. You can see the hemstitching that marks the end of one scarf and the beginning of the next.


Miles of twisted fringe!   I would probably still be making twisted fringe had Syne Mitchell not kindly lent me her electric fringe twister.



This project has been a privilege to work on.  The work is intended to be a manifestation of respect, admiration, and love, based on a small part of the genetic code that created a remarkable person, Jay Lake. The recipients of the additional scarves are people who have helped him in his time of need, and I honor their gifts of time, energy, and support to him with my own.

I’ve done another sample on this project. Since I last posted, Jay’s timeline has become significantly shorter. I have some commitments that keep me from plunging into working on this full time, but I do want to get the scarves to Jay in time for him to have some time enjoy them. LoneStarCon 3 will be doing a display about the entire genomic sequencing project and its implications for the future of medicine, and they asked to display one of the scarves, so that deadline (end of August) had originally been my goal. Now, though, any day earlier would a Good Thing.

With that backdrop, here is the next sample.

Jay's genome 3rd sample 1

I’ve decided that simple plain weave shows the color sequences best, and that weft stripes is the way to go. By using the color coding of G – black, C – blue, T – red, and A – green for adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G), this sample spells out GATTACA — which is a really good movie exploring some ideas about the future of gene testing gone awry. This section is sett at 24 epi, which is weaver’s shorthand for 24 threads (ends) per inch, and woven with black weft. Pretty nice.

Jay's genome 3rd sample 2

Same sett, but with white weft. I think this makes the stripes too pale looking.

Jay's genome 3rd sample 3

I decided to try resleying the reed to get 20epi, so here is that, with white then black weft.

Jay's genome 3rd sample 6

And here is 20 epi woven with blue weft. Too blue.

Jay's genome 3rd sample 4

Here are the 24 epi (left) and 20 epi (right) side by side. The 20 epi is too loose. I’m having trouble maintaining a good selvedge on the right side, and it not as sturdy a cloth as the 24 epi.

Jay's genome 3rd sample 5

I do love this plied fringe!

My conclusion from this sample? 24 epi, but keep the beat gentle so it’s a bit more warp faced. Black weft shows the stripes best. And work faster.

My friend Jay Lake has been engaged in a battle royale with colon cancer for the past 5 years. Read all the details via his Live Journal entries — he has been remarkably candid, lucid, and informative about his disease, treatments, side effects, and mental processes for this entire time. But now that new metastases are showing up even while he is on chemo, he is exploring cutting edge science by having his tumor’s genome sequenced. The money for this was raided via a Kickstarter-type campaign that funded the first $20,000 basic need within 5 hours.  part of the deal with the4 fundraiser was “Acts of Whimsy”, fun quick things that were done by friends when certain financial goals of the fundraiser were met, like  the video of Mary Robinette Kowal reading classics out loud in her best phone sex voice, or John Scalzi singing a lost Bob Dylan song.

I had offered to weave something inspired by the genome data, but that didn’t quite fit into the “Acts of Whimsy” framework.  However, Jay was quite taken with the idea, and so the project is moving ahead.  I’ll be documenting the design and weaving process as it goes along.

I’ve long thought that the pictures one sees of gene sequences look like warp or weft stripes. And Jay’s genome sequence gives me the perfect opportunity to try this out.  The plan is to make several scarves, which right off the bat makes a major decision about what sort of textile it will be be: wearable.  Not just wearable, but sturdy enough to wash, comfortable and soft enough to wear next to the skin; with drape and a certain luscious quality.  Ideally, I’d use silk, but it’s just too darned expensive.  Bamboo is a lovely fiber with silk-like drape and shine, but I avoid using it when I can, because the manufacturing process generates a lot of toxic waste.  Tencel, though, is just the thing. Similar to rayon, it also drapy, shiny and delightful to touch, and the manufacturing process is a closed loop, reusing the chemicals needed to break down the cellulose fibers from the trees that they start out as.

Human gene sequences are  composed of the four DNA base molecules:  adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G). . I found a source giving a standard color coding of G – black, C – blue, T – red, and A – green, so bought some Tencel in those colors. With that idea, that one base equal a particular color, you can see that gene sequences can turn into stripes quite easily.  A sequence reading acaagatgcc would gives stripes as follows: green, blue, green, green, black, green, red, black, blue, blue.

With Jay, like the rest of us, having 24 chromosomes, each of them with 51 million to 245 million base pairs, there are obviously far too many base molecules to use, so only a small portion of his genome will be used for the scarf.  We haven’t decided exactly what yet, but it will be tumor rather than the normal Jay part.  Chromosome 12 has been implicated, but the data hasn’t all been crunched and interpreted yet.

Also, I still haven’t decided whether it will be warp stripes or weft stripes.  Warp stripes have the advantage of being faster to weave once they are set up, and lengthwise stripes on a scarf are always a nice look.  Weft stripes would allow for a longer sequence to be represented but would require more attention being  paid during the weaving process.

With those idea simmering in the brain, it was time to do a sample.


Here are the cones of Tencel.  I also got some white, but we all know what white looks like , don’t we?

Jay's genome 05

Here’s the first sample.  And this is why we sample, people, because it is quite a dog’s breakfast. Let’s look at the awful details.

Jay's genome 07

First, the warp. I could say that I started the warp in white because I was thinking about weft stripes, but I wasn’t.  Halfway through, I realized I had meant to do warp stripes and started using colors.  Oh well. Going up from he bottom, I started weaving in white, then red.  You can see that  it’s wavy, drawn-in and rather wretched.  Tension issues with my tiny sample and also I was beating way too  hard.    The weave structure is a straight-draw  8 shaft satin, which you sure can’t see in the white and red sections.  The selvages are hopeless, so at about the beginning of the blue weft, I added floating selvages and started placing the weft gently rather than beating it, and you can see that the weaving is both wider and more relaxed looking.  The structure looks more like a twill and less like plain weave.

Jay's genome 08

Further into the blue section,  the beat is getting gentler yet — you can see the floats of white on the left getting longer as you move up the weaving, and with the black weft at the top it’s looking more satin-like.
Jay's genome 09

The problem with weaving a structure with long horizontal floats is that it’s easier to weave it upside down, so in this case,  instead of lifting 7 harnesses at a time, you are lifting only 1.  The downside is that you are looking at the back of the fabric as you weave, so if you make a treadling error you don’t  see it until you turn the fabric over, and voila! — look at those long vertical  floats toward the bottom of this picture.  Error!

Jay's genome 10

Here is the back of the sample.  You can see the long floats of weft that pretty much completely hide the warp.

When the sample was taken off the loom, it was stiff and boardy. A bath made it soft, supple, and ever so much nicer to touch.  I have severe doubts about using this weave structure for this project, but I’m glad I tried it out.  Next up, 5 shaft satin and plain weave.

When we left our yarn last post, it was getting a nice cherry red overdye on the portion previously painted with  small black sections. Here are a pair of skeins after all the dyeing has been done.

But who wants to deal with a skein of yarn that’s over six yards long? No one, clearly, so it’s off to be reskeined to a more workable skein diameter.

The skein is looped around a chair, then through a C-clamp attached to the counter. The end of the skein is going to the electric skeiner on the left, where’s it’s being wound into a standard 2-yard diameter skein size. When I’m not taking a picture of the process, I’m up near the skeiner pulling the yarn forward and untangling it as necessary. There’s too much friction in the system to be able to sit back and watch the yarn wind off, I have to actively move it along.  It’s a good upper body exercise, rather like hauling up an anchor!


Finished skeins look like this. The small green skeinlette is a matching one for knitting heels and toes that are a solid color, rather than getting clumpy striping due to the change in diameter of the knitting in those areas. This has turned into a pretty popular option, with more than half of the customers choosing to get the solid skeinlettes.

We’ll finish off with a shot of a sample length of the yarn, wound into a small ball.  The final step is knitting this onto my Tube of Eternal Sampling so see how the self-striping pattern actually works. And that’ll be the next post!

I’ve been dyeing some yarn in a watermelon-inspired colorway, and thought I’d take the opportunity to share someof the dyeing process with you. First, let’s look at some watermelon.  I want a self-striping yarn, so naturally it’s  going  to be green, white, and pink stripes. But I also want the seeds, and I want them to be black.

Here are some test samples.  They’ve all been steamed, so the colors are set.  The green gradation is nice, so I’ll use that green formula. For the watermelon seeds, there are two techniques  in process here.  The red and black skeinlette was painted black, then red was added.  The white and black skeinlette will get an overdye in a red dyebath to see which technique gives me the effect I’m hoping for.

 Now we’re looking at the  same red/black skeinlette from above on the left, and the newly overdyed red/black skein on the right.  On left skeinlette, some of  the black dye mixed with the red, shifting the color.  The overdyed skein to the right keeps the red true to itself, so that’s the way to go.

Now to dye a full skein.  Actually, I dye the self-striping yarns two at a time, so here are two skeins laid out in the floor. I’ve wound them off on a warping board, soaked them in water, and laid them out to mark off the lengths that get dyed each color. I use twist ties to indicate where to do the color changes.

This colorway will have three shades of green.  Here’s the darkest green, which is the end of the skein. The skein is on plastic wrap, which gets wrapped around the yarn as I go, to keep the colors from rubbing off on other sections of yarn.

I’ve painted all the green sections, moved past the section that will stay white in the middle, and now am working on painting the black seeds.  The first pair of skeins had way too much black — it spread a lot more than I anticipated — so I’m just painting on very short sections.

Now all the painted parts are done, and it’s ready to steam.

Don’t confuse the yarn steamer with the char sui bao steamer!

After the painted sections are steam set, the end of the skein that will be red and black gets its red overdye.

You can see the black sections — since the black has been already been steam set, it won’t spread out or effect the red dye at all.

Stay tuned for the rest of the process!