Linen is a material that has a reputation for being difficult to weave with. It’s not very elastic, and while strong, it’s prone to abrasion.
There are tons of examples of linen yarns being used throughout history. And evidence from the archaeological record indicates that linen and other bast fibers are some of the first fibers that we wove with way back when weaving was first invented.
If linen is so historically significant, why does it have such a difficult reputation among modern weavers?
Most weavers’ frustrations with linen comes down to two things: its lack of elasticity, which leads to inconsistent tension, and how prone it is to breakage due to abrasion. Managing these factors are really key in weaving with linen successfully.
There's one more factor that comes into play: the loom itself. Most modern American weavers use jack-style looms, but these looms put more strain on a linen warp than counterbalance and countermarche looms.
Even if you have your loom working against you, it's still possible to weave with linen! Every linen warp I’ve ever made has been on a jack-style loom - but you might want to consider some of these extra tips and tricks:
1. Start with a Short Warp
Starting with a shorter warp can be a great way to work with any new yarn.
With linen, a short warp can build your confidence, but it can also minimize any inconsistencies in tension. Because inconsistencies in tension tend to build over time, a short warp prevents this problem.
If you do run into major issues and have to scrap the project, a shorter warp will also mean that you’ve wasted less yarn (and money)!
2. Wind Your Warp Evenly
Winding an even warp is always important. When warp yarns have a little more give, you have a little more room for error, but because linen is so inelastic, how you warp matters.
As you’re measuring out your warp, you want to do it with precise and even tension. Note that you don’t want to warp TIGHTLY, as this can damage your warping board.
But you do want to place each thread precisely next to its neighbor. This ensures that each warp end is EXACTLY the same length.
If you’re not placing the threads precisely, they’re going in diagonal lines instead of straight lines, and it’s harder to keep the distances precise. Some warp ends will be longer, and some shorter, and this will lead to headaches later on.
How big of an issue is this? On my 14-yard warping board, if a warp end is going exactly straight from one peg to the next, the distance between the two pegs is exactly 36 inches. But if the warp end starts at the back of one peg and goes to the front of the next, in a diagonal, it's 36.5 inches. This kind of inconsistency will only build over a long warp - an extra half inch for every yard on a 14-yard warp would be 7 inches!
3. Size Your Warp
The next thing you can do is to size your warp. There are many different ways you can size your warp - on the loom, off the loom, before you wind your warp, or afterwards.
The common denominator is that sizing is essentially a glue that later washes out, and it coats down any hairy ends that might make your yarn more prone to abrasion. It also acts as an extra layer of protection against abrasion.
Sizing isn’t considered an essential step, but in cultures where linen weaving is still done regularly, sizing linen warps is a normal part of the weaving process. If you feel a little bit daunted by weaving with linen, I’d strongly recommend that you consider sizing your warp for just a little bit more peace of mind.
4. Warp Back to Front
Warping back to front is a great strategy for weaving with linen because it will help to minimize abrasion. The yarn only passes through the reed and heddles once, instead of twice, so you significantly reduce the risk of abrading the warp yarns to the point of breakage.
5. Manage Humidity
Linen is more sensitive to humidity than other yarns. That makes sense because it’s literally the phloem that used to carry moisture from the roots to the rest of the plant.
When linen is in a humid environment, it relaxes and is at its most elastic. It’s still not very much, but it’s a good thing to know!
At an industrial level, linen is usually woven at 70-80% relative humidity to reduce breakage. Hand weavers have all sorts of tricks to add humidity to linen warps to “make them behave.”
Peggy Osterkamp suggests that in addition to making sure she winds her warp on with an even tension, she mists her linen warps after tying on but before weaving the header. The moisture lets the linen relax, the header takes up some of the inconsistency, and then she finds the warp tends to have a pretty even tension.
I would caution you against getting your warp TOO wet, especially if you’re using metal heddles and a metal reed, which are pretty common these days. Traditionally, reeds were made of wood and heddles were made of string, so moisture wasn’t such a big deal. Now that most weavers tend to use metal reeds, if you use too much moisture trying to tame a linen warp, you’ll risk a rusty reed, ESPECIALLY if you’re using an older carbon steel reed.
6. Advance Your Warp Often
As you weave, you’re abrading your warp with your beater. By advancing your warp often, in small increments, you’ll space this out more evenly.
7. Weight Naughty Warps
If you do end up with the occasional loose warp thread, you can add weight with an S-hook.
8. Use a Temple
On any warp, you’ll get the most abrasion at the selvedges, especially if you have some draw-in.
Using a temple is a great way to control draw-in, giving you two benefits: a more consistent width for your fabric, and less abrasion at the selvedge.
9. Use an Even Beat
Using an even beat with linen is important. It tends to show an uneven beat more than other fibers, even after wet-finishing. Advancing your warp often will help with this.
10. Wind Bobbins with Even Tension
Because linen is such a stiff material when it’s new, it has a reputation for “jumping” off bobbins. This can lead to inconsistent amounts of yarn feeding off the bobbin, which makes weaving consistently difficult.
The first method for working with this is just to wind your bobbins with an even tension. That’s a good standard practice overall, but it’s just that much more important when you’re working with linen.
11. Consider Wetting Your Weft
Some people like to take this a step further, and actually wet their weft threads before weaving.
The idea is that the wet fibers will bend more easily around the selvedges.
If you’re going to do this, be sure to use plastic bobbins, like the ones Schacht makes, and don’t leave your bobbins soaking TOO long. Even though linen has antibacterial and antifungal properties, it IS a natural fiber that will decompose. You probably don’t want bobbins full of moldy or musty yarn!
12. Relax the Tension on Your Warp
As you’re weaving, you want to have an even tension, but not too much.
The temptation is to crank your warp to the tightest tension possible to get a super clean shed, but when you do that with linen, it will be more prone to breaking because it lacks elasticity.
Try letting your warp be just a *TINY* bit looser than you might want, and see how it does.
13. ...And Be Sure to Relax at the End of the Day!
When you finish weaving for the day, be sure to release a little bit of tension. This is a best practice in general, but it’s particularly important with linen warps.
ESPECIALLY if you’ve been adding humidity to your warp in some way, as the warp dries out, it will shrink slightly. And linen is strong - so strong, that across a wide warp, it could bend or even break your warp beam if it becomes too tight!
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies