by Kathy Roulston

Some time ago I contemplated beginning a “polychrome crackle” project published in Handwoven. Yet, even after having purchased the yarn, I could never quite muster enough confidence to get started– mainly because every time I looked at the draft I was not quite sure what to do. As a fairly new weaver, I could not make out how the draft was organized and I doubted that I’d be very successful. I borrowed Susan Wilson’s (2011) book, Weave Classic Crackle & More from the guild library, but alas, my expertise and knowledge was still not sufficient to explore crackle. (Left and top, polychrome crackle)

Thus it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to meet Susan Wilson in person when she gave a workshop on Polychrome Crackle on September 22-25th 2018 at the Spruill Center. I signed up as soon as registration opened. This was my first weaving workshop, so I was a bit nervous that I could keep up. Yet, Susan was unfailingly kind to participants, suggesting that we did not need to worry about “keeping up”, and providing reassuring words when I committed errors along the way.

For those who were able to attend Susan’s presentation at the general meeting on Friday night prior to the workshop, she set a sizzling pace, taking members and guests through the history of crackle, and defining terms. She showed us the amazing variety of effects that can be generated using two or more colors and a crackle draft and shared many wonderful samples in different colors and fibers of how crackle might be used. Susan is truly an expert on crackle!

Crackle is a draft that comes from Sweden which was popularized by Mary Atwater in the 1920s in the Shuttlecraft Guild newsletters. Atwater called this draft “crackle” because it reminded her of the crackle in pottery glazes. Crackle remained popular until the 1960s, when interest dropped off. Prior to Susan’s 2011 book, the only other book on the topic was that authored by Mary Snyder in 1961. Lucy Brusic has also published a book on crackle in 2012, entitled A crackle weave companion: Exploring four-shaft crackle.

What is crackle?

Susan explained that crackle is a twill derivative – a block weave in which the design is created by an arrangement of rectangles that are contrasting in some way. These include pattern and background blocks, which can be whatever width and height one chooses. In crackle, there are no floats longer than three ends, which results in a sturdy and functional fabric.

Susan’s weekend workshop began with a lecture, as she explained exactly how a crackle draft is structured with a repeated threading sequence or “threading key”. Susan took workshop participants through a variety of ways to weave crackle to generate a sampler. Workshop participants used a wide range of colors, generating fabric that exhibited tremendous variation. Who knew that the four threading sequence that Susan had shared with us could produce so many different looks? (Right, crackle with twill treadling)

For me, the best part of the workshop was to come on Sunday afternoon when Susan shared how to design traditional polychrome crackle using a profile draft. Susan’s explanation of profile drafting was clear and easy to follow for newcomers. Following Susan’s design process using graph paper and colored pencils literally felt like learning a marvelous secret. Susan’s design process is published in Handwoven (1994, Vol. XV (4), pp. 44-46). You can check this out in the Guild library.

By the conclusion of the workshop, I had developed a solid understanding of how crackle is structured, and how I might use a profile draft to develop a design to use with the different treadlings that we practiced.

At home, I designed my own profile draft for a set of placements. After experimenting with different color combinations (see below), I then tried a twill treading with a linen/rayon yarn (see below). I definitely have a long way to go to improve my technical skills and use of color as a design element, and it took me a lot longer than I would have liked to complete these. But overall I was pleased with this first effort.

There literally seems to be no end to what is possible with crackle. Attending Susan Wilson’s workhop helped me gain confidence to develop my own design, rather than using the pattern that I had first seen in Handwoven. Susan also talked about using crackle on 8 shafts to a smaller number of workshop participants on her final day in Atlanta. I wasn’t able to attend this workshop – but have plenty to experiment with before I try crackle with 8 shafts.

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