Cheviot for Warp and Weft

This month, we have a guest column from Beth Smith. You can find out what else she’s up to at bethsmithspinning.com.

For a while I’ve had an idea for a great weaving project. Actually, it’s an idea for several great weaving projects. I want to spin and weave fabric for clothing and then embroider the clothing with handspun embroidery thread. So the entire project would be made by my hands. Some would be spun from wool that was processed in a mill and a few would go from raw fleece and be completely processed by me.

This idea has been marinating in my brain for a while. In the meantime I have been teaching spinning, writing lots of articles about wool and writing a book about different types of wool and how to spin them to get the end result you want. (It’s called The Spinner’s Book of Fleece: A Breed-by-Breed Guide to Choosing and Spinning the Perfect Fiber for Every Purpose and will be available in July 2014 in case you are curious). I wasn’t sure I would ever get to do this project and it seemed so big to me.

This past May, Sarah Swett came to teach a workshop and I got a glimpse into how she works. Sarah does a lot of tapestry weaving, large and small, as well as a lot of knitting and needlework. She goes from raw fleece to finished object doing all of the washing, processing and dyeing herself. Here was my role model. She’s doing a similar thing to what I’ve wanted to do.

The book is basically done, the web store is under new ownership and now is the perfect time to begin moving forward with this. In addition, while I was away at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, my new Cherry Mighty Wolf was delivered which really got me chomping at the bit to get weaving.

There will be a LOT of sampling before any actual skirt making takes place and so this article is just about a beginning and the thought process that is happening.

Cheviot ewe and lamb - photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Cheviot ewe and lamb – photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I’ve decided to begin with just a skirt rather than a whole outfit or dress. I also love Cheviot wool and happen to have a pretty nice supply of Cheviot roving to play with. Of course different breeds will come into the picture but Cheviot is my starting place. The goal was to spin a 2 ply yarn that ended up to be about the size of 20/2 weaving yarn which should be about 2560 yards per pound with about 22 wraps per inch.

I spun the yarn on my Matchless using a high speed bobbin and the high speed whorl in double drive. After the yarn was washed, it plumped more than I expected and so I ended up with something somewhat thicker than my goal at just under 2000 yards per pound and 19 wraps per inch. So with this thicker yarn my sett plans changed a bit.

Finished yarn

I ended up sampling at 15, 12 and 10 ends per inch because generally for plain weave your sett should be about half the wraps per inch of the yarn you are using for warp. Since I want this fabric to be durable and not show the shape of my sitting bottom when I stand again, I wanted a fabric with a slightly closer sett but that would maintain some of the elasticity of the wool.

After weaving all three samples which were in the neighborhood of 12 inches square, I washed them in the washing machine in hot water, agitating them for about 5 minutes. This allows some shrinkage to occur and the yarns to mesh well with each other. I then spun out the water and put them in the dryer for around 5 minutes.

Wraps per inch

Wraps per inch

Getting warped

When I took them out they weren’t completely dry, so I pressed them using a linen cloth between the iron and the samples. I won’t be machine washing or drying the clothes but this process works wonders for newly woven cloth. I then let the samples finish drying by laying them flat.

The cloth changed a lot at each step and so I was reminded again how important it is to take samples all the way through the finishing process before making final decisions about anything. They are all softer than they were when they were taken off the loom and a bit more drapey.

I like the fabric that the 15 epi sett made and think it would be a beautiful tailored jacket. The fabric has body and character. The 12 epi fabric is the one I am leaning toward as my favorite for a skirt. It has a bit of drape, a little more softness than the 15 epi sample and feels like it could stand up to a bit of wear. The 10 epi fabric feels lovely in the hand, much softer, but I am concerned that the openness of the fabric might not stand up to the wear I plan to give it. I think it might make a better shawl or wrap. It’s difficult to see in the photos but here it is anyway.

Fabric on the loom

Fabric on the loom

The three setts - click to enlarge

The three setts

There are still some samples to make. These three were all plain weave. I’d like to see what a twill fabric would do. Will it be a better fabric for this project? What if I warp with the 2 ply and weave with singles, how will that change the hand of the fabric? What if I warp with the 2 ply cheviot and weave with a finer yarn of a different breed that is more slippery than the Cheviot such as a soft Wensleydale or Romney?

Right now I don’t think I’ll be sewing a skirt for a while but I will be thinking of ways to organize all of these samples so the work can be made into a reference library for upcoming projects.

I didn’t even get to the embroidery yet! So much to explore with weaving with my handspun.

One final word about the weaving. I took this opportunity to try out my end delivery shuttle. No better time than when playing with sampling! I have never had such beautiful selvedges. This might be my new favorite shuttle.

The sampling isn’t over but there is some cotton weaving in my near future. Christmas is coming and I think mom and sisters need some new towels.

Beth Smith