Sett Explained, Sort of

Every Tuesday evening you can find me at Elissa’s Creative Warehouse in Needham, Massachusetts. I met Elissa last year at The National NeedleArts Association’s summer conference in Columbus, Ohio and found her to be enthusiastic about introducing weaving to her shop. After a bit of discussion, we decided that the Cricket Loom would be a perfect way for her to start.

One thing led to another, and I found myself teaching an introductory rigid heddle class at Lisa’s shop to a group of lovely gals I am now happy to call friends. Their enthusiasm for weaving is infectious, and we now meet every Tuesday night to continue to develop our skills together. Often we will have new weavers join us, and there is always an amazing show-and-tell and lively conversation. The Cricket is so portable it makes getting together like this a piece of cake.

One of the more frequent topics of conversation is what dent rigid heddle to use with a given weight of yarn. With weaving yarns recommended setts for both tabby and twill weaving are quite easy to find. In particular, I like Halcyon Yarn’s website. Halcyon also sells what’s called “Yarn Store in a Box” (http://halcyonyarn.com/yarn.html). This includes over 50 sample cards that allow you to touch the yarn and see the actual colors in person. I frequently use mine to plan projects. Additionally, many resources list a sett chart for standard weaving yarns, p. 37 of The Weaver’s Companion, for example.

What tends to not be available online is recommended sett information for knitting yarns. I have heard many rigid heddlers saying they initially got into weaving as a way to put a dent in their knitting yarn stash. If you are working with an existing stash of yarn, how do you know what dent rigid heddle, or sett (the number of warp ends per inch), to use when weaving?

twill pillow

While it may seem cut and dried — wraps per inch divided by two equals recommended sett — this is merely a starting point. And here is where I hop up on the sampling soapbox. The best way to determine what sett is appropriate for your particular project is to sample. This month, I did a bit of sampling for you.

When I first started rigid heddle weaving, I was told a general rule of thumb for sett based on yarn weights. Worsted weight yarn for the 8-dent rigid heddle, sport weight yarn for the 10-dent rigid heddle, and lace weight yarn for the 12-dent rigid heddle. This seems to make sense until you actually start working with the yarns. Go to your local yarn shop, grab five different worsted weight yarns, and you’ll see what I mean. My experience is that there is a vast variation in size. In particular I’ve found that lace weight yarns are often more appropriate for the finer sett achieved through multi-heddle weaving.

So where to start? The first thing to consider is what you want your finished piece to look and feel like. If you are looking for a warp-faced or warp-dominant fabric, you will want to sett your piece with a greater number of ends per inch than recommended. If you are looking for a weft-faced or weft-dominant fabric, you will want to sett your piece more loosely. Betty Linn Davenport has a great diagram on p. 31 of Hands On Rigid Heddle Weaving that shows the same warp and weft being used in a variety of setts.

Of course the strength of your beating technique will also impact the outcome of your cloth. When I took my first weaving lesson, one of the other students in the class was an aggressive beater. She turned out beautiful work that was always just a bit more weft-faced than the rest of the class, but wonderful nonetheless.

A balanced weave requires that Goldilocks and the Three Bears just-right approach. A balanced weave means that you have the same number of weft picks to warp threads per inch. So if your project sett is 10 warp ends per inch, a balanced weave is achieved by weaving 10 weft picks per inch.

How particular you are about your sett is a matter of personal preference, with some weavers seeking a high degree of perfection in how they sett their yarn. Sharon Alderman has dedicated Appendix C of her book Mastering Weave Structures to the discussion of calculating sett. If you are looking for a high degree of accuracy, I recommend this as a good read. Regardless of your general approach to weaving, you may find yourself on the perfectionist bandwagon from time to time.

Another thing to consider when calculating your sett is whether you will be weaving plain weave (tabby) or twill. With plain weave, every weft thread will pass over or under each warp thread. With a twill weave, your weft threads will pass over or under more than one warp thread. This gives your warp threads a bit more space to cozy up to their neighbors, and means that to achieve a balanced twill weave, you will need to sett your warp threads a bit more closely together than you would for a balanced plain weave. This is why you will often see weaving yarns with separate recommended setts for tabby and twill.

All of this considered, I sett out (ouch!) to create three storage sleeves for my Cricket rigid heddles, each woven at the sett that matched the given rigid heddle. This provides a good visual of what yarn might be appropriate to use with that particular heddle. This involved sampling at 8, 10 and 12 ends per inch (e.p.i.).

For my fabric sett at 8 e.p.i., I chose Harrisville Highland in #68 Olive for the warp and #70 Bluegrass for the weft. I had woven with this yarn before, and by reviewing previous notes taken in my project notebook, I knew that this would give me a nice balanced weave. I could also tell you from experience that I know others who have woven with this yarn at 10 e.p.i. with a perfectly good end result as well, though there were some issues with breakage, which could possibly have been caused by abrasion in the reed at closer sett. Since I had experience with this yarn at both 8 and 10 e.p.i., I decided that sampling was not necessary. You see how helpful keeping a project notebook can be?

The yarn I chose for my 10 e.p.i. storage sleeve was 3/2 pearl cotton in #134 Cactus for the warp and #84 Gold Dust for the weft. I had woven with this at 10 e.p.i. before, but not at 12 e.p.i. Since the recommended sett for this yarn was 10 – 12 e.p.i., I decided that a sample at 12 e.p.i. was in order.

After weaving the pearl cotton at 12 e.p.i. I decided that I could have gone with either the 12 e.p.i. sett or the 10 e.p.i. sett. The closer sett resulted in a slightly less drapey fabric, so I think for wearables I would go with the 10 e.p.i. sett and for something a bit more utilitarian like a placemat or table runner the 12 e.p.i. sett would be preferable. I decided that I would stick with my plan of weaving this sleeve at 10 e.p.i.

For my 12 e.p.i. storage sleeve I wandered away from weaving yarn to sock yarn, Dream in Color Smooshy, to be exact, in Good Luck Jade. I couldn’t find a single reference to recommended sett online, so certainly a sample was in order. Since I thought I wanted to weave my storage sleeve at 12 e.p.i., I started with a small sample at 10 e.p.i. just to see if my hunch was right. Within inches of weaving I knew that this sett created a fabric that was weft dominant. Since I wanted a more balanced weave, 12 e.p.i. turned out to be just right.

The weaving details are straightforward. I used a 48” long warp for all three samples, the width in reed at 7 ½”. All were woven plain weave, though I did throw in a few bits of pick up to create a little visual interest with the pearl cotton sleeve. I hemstitched both ends of each sleeve, hand washed and machine dried on low heat. The Harrisville shrunk just a tad more than the others, but was still large enough to create a sleeve.

I folded each sample up from the bottom to create an 11” deep pocket (10 ½” deep with the Harrisville). Picking up the weft yarn along the selvedges, I hand stitched up each side to secure. I also opted to keep the fringe. The exterior flap fringe on each sleeve is about an inch or so long, and I trimmed the fringe at the other end down almost to the hemstitching.

So what has all of this shown? First, if you keep good notes, you may not need to sample if you are using the same weave structure and yarn. Second, sampling may tell you that you’d be perfectly happy weaving with a particular yarn at either end of the recommended sett range. And finally, you can save yourself a lot of disappointment without sacrificing much yarn by sampling. I had my Dream in Color Smooshy sample warped and woven in under an hour and still had yarn leftover after weaving the sleeve for my 12-dent Cricket rigid heddle.

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Melissa Ludden Hankens

You can find Melissa designing weaving projects for the Schacht newsletter and teaching at the Creative Warehouse in Needham, Massachusetts. Website - melentine.com Twitter - Melentine (@Melentine) Instagram - melentine on Instagram