Beth Smith and Jillian Moreno live about 30 minutes from each other and spend a lot of spinning time together, trading ideas and cheering each other on. Recently, the two have found weaving sneaking into their thoughts more and more. “Wouldn’t it be fun,” they said, “to do a project where we spin our yarn and weave it and see what happens?” “Yes!” they said, “that sounds like an awesome plan.” We thought so, too. Through the end of the year, they will post on the Schacht Spindle blog, telling you about their journey weaving with handspun on a rigid heddle loom.
This week we're talking about sampling our fiber to get the yarn we want for our project.
When this rigid heddle weaving project came along I decided to make it an extension of the floor loom project—I thought it might be fun to make two skirts out of the same yarn on two different looms and compare the resulting fabrics. I had already started spinning Columbia wool from Imperial Stock Ranch. Since the prepared fiber was roving I was spinning it with a supported long draw. Since I was going to spin a LOT of this yarn, I made a sample card (the usual thing I do when I spin many, many bobbins of a yarn).
On the sample card I write all of the details about making that yarn: spinning wheel used, whorl, drafting method, and any other information that will help me reproduce the yarn over a long period of time. In addition, I wrap some singles around the card so that I can compare from time to time while I'm spinning. I also add plybacks: a 2-ply sample and a 3-ply sample. Although I know I want a 2-ply yarn for this project, I like to add a 3-ply sample in case I ever want to match this 3-ply for a future project. The card becomes part of my record library when I've finished the project. The plyback samples give me a starting point when I begin the plying process. I can compare the angle of twist and increase or decrease it depending on what I want the yarn to do.
For this project I’m going to try to match my plyback. I don't feel that I need to add more twist to the ply to strengthen the yarn for weaving. I'm confident that it'll hold up for weaving (another goal of this project is to show that most handspun yarn is not as delicate as some people are convinced it is).
I had already spun and plied 3,000 yards of 2-ply yarn, yielding about 18 wraps per inch. Here are my calculations for the warp:
- Pattern length: 30" x 6 gores [ed: skirt panels] = 180"
- Plus 30" for sampling and loom waste = 210" or 5.83 yards. I rounded up to 6 yards to be safe.
- Ends per inch: 20 x 15" warp width = 300 ends.
- 300 ends x 6 yards = 1800 yards. (Wow!!)
I'm going to try for a balanced weave, so I'll need approximately the same amount for weft. I'm going to round up a little to 2000 yards to cover any unforeseen needs. So, for both warp and weft I'll need 3800 yards for this project, to which I'm going round up a little bit more for a total of 4000 yards. (You do not want to run out of yarn in the middle of weaving!) When determining and rounding up my yardage, I keep in mind that I usually experience about 10% shrinkage when spinning a fine wool.
Columbia is a soft, bouncy wool, which I chose because I wanted a cohesive fabric that would easily come together in the finishing. I also was a little afraid of working with a slippery fiber since this is the first time I am cutting my handspun, handwoven fabric. (I want to be sure, for this first step into a new land, that I'll be successful, at least in the cutting part.) The fiber has some neps in it and those neps combined with the spinning technique make for a somewhat inconsistent yarn. This inconsistency will also be interesting in the fabric. Will it disappear? Will it make some interesting texture to the fabric? I don't know. There is a ton to learn from this project, for sure.
I am also reading up on how to warp a two heddles on a rigid heddle loom. I have Jane Patrick’s The Weaver’s Idea Book for expert direction, as well as Hands on Rigid Heddle Weaving by Betty Davenport, which has been around forever! In the meantime, I have more spinning ahead of me.
I'm still getting ready to weave; I did a bunch of research, picked fiber, and spun a sample yarn.
I love doing research, but I rarely read a book cover-to-cover when working on something new. I pick a topic and read about that one thing, then I hop around until I feel like I have enough bases covered to start and just go. I like my crafts very flexible and ish-y. I will never be a quilter.
I picked two books to help me through this project. One is the recently-revised Weaving Made Easy: 17 Projects Using a Rigid Heddle Loom by Liz Gipson. Did you know she writes a rigid heddle weaving column for Knitty now? The other is a brand new book by Syne Mitchell from Storey Publishing, Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom: Discover the Full Potential of the Rigid-Heddle Loom, for Beginners and Beyond. (I was just at Storey doing the photo shoot for my spinning book and I was able to get an early copy.)
Both books are great for beginners and walked me through the basics of figuring out how much yarn I’ll need for my project. I've learned from every fiber craft I've ever done that the real answer is, “More.” I do the math I'm supposed to do for yarn amounts then always add more. I figured out that a finished object of 12" wide x 60" long, with an extra 10% slapped on for take up and drawn in, plus 12" for loom waste, gets me a warp and weft of less than 300 yards each. (I said I like ish-y, I mean ish-y). My warp is 261 yards and weft is 224 yards.
After a bit of reading and thinking I decided on a balanced plain weave, with a worsted-ish 2-ply. I'm really intrigued by weaving with singles, but I'll save that for project number two. I think I want an infinity scarf. I’m not feeling the fiddle and fringe of a regular scarf, plus I really like the stacked looked when an infinity scarf is doubled around my neck.
While I was perusing weaving books, I also looked at three by Jane Patrick: The Weaver's Idea Book: Creative Cloth on a Rigid Heddle Loom, Woven Scarves: 26 Inspired Designs for the Rigid Heddle Loom with Stephanie Flynn Sokolov, and Simple Woven Garments: 20+ Projects to Weave & Wear with Sara Goldenberg. These are my aspirational books. Right now it’s about plain weave and just getting the mechanics right.
I have the what and the how much, now it’s time for the fiber. I hopped down to my basement stash, the deep stash, and pretty much exploded it. Dumped the bins and bags looking for the fiber that caught my attention. I came up with three braids of BFL top from Woolgatherings.
Pretty aren't they? These have been marinating in my stash for at least three years. I thought I'd use one for warp and one for weft, but I had to do a little color dance after I spun my sample yarn as the red sample yarn came out fab. My 2-ply is about 10 wpi, perfectly worsted weight, and 672 yards per pound. That would be 168 yards from a 4 oz braid - not enough fiber to use one color for the warp or weft.
I may try to spin my yarn with a little more loft and maybe a little less ply twist to stretch the fiber for a little more yardage, but I doubt I'll get all of my warp yardage out of 4 oz. I'll spin all three colors, thread the loom with the red for warp as far as it goes, and then fill in with the other color that moves me that day. I’ll do the same with the weft, though maybe I'll use all three colors in the weft. I'm excited to see how the colors play off of each other, really excited.
It might just be the start of a weaving and color rabbit hole and that’s fine with me.