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!
Is your stash out of control? Between a cross-country move and consolidating all of my yarn - knitting, weaving, millspun, and handspun...things were getting a little messy over here.
I'd seen a lot of positive reviews of Marie Greene's new book, The Joy of Yarn: Your Stash Solution for Curating, Organizing, and Using Your Yarn. As the force behind Olive Knits, Greene certainly has a lot of yarn to contend with on a day-to-day basis.
I was curious to see what she had to say, so I used a bunch of those "digital credits" Amazon has been handing out, and bought a Kindle copy for a whopping $2.36. Honestly, I'm glad I didn't spring for a physical copy of the book - it's a little bit Marie Kondo, and a little bit The Home Edit, plus it reminded me of a smattering of other organizing books I've read over the years, like Decluttering at the Speed of Life.
Essentially, Greene asks you to identify all your yarn stash hiding spaces. You'll figure out how much square footage they take up, and how much of your rent or mortgage is paying for yarn storage. Then you'll decide how much space you can afford/want your stash to use, and pare down your stash from there.
Greene offers several different ways to organize your remaining stash: by color, weight, or project. She encourages readers to get away from those big plastic bins, and to organize by color. Next, you'll inventory your yarn by making a spreadsheet noting essential details like fiber, color, and yardage. You'll use that information to decide which yarns stay, and which yarns go, and she guides you through ideas for rehoming yarn you're ready to let go of.
Greene has ideas for keeping your stash tidy over time, protecting it from pests, working with frogged yarn, and what to do with works in progress. Lastly, Greene offers 10 patterns that are designed to help you work with stash yarn, especially those odds and ends that build up over time. If you've never used different types of yarn together, or are flummoxed by what to do with yarn scraps, this is a really great resource to start with!
The Joy of Yarn is a beautifully edited and photographed book, and it certainly challenges the reader to do some real work to truly get their stash under control. My favorite suggestion was to use magazine file boxes as yarn storage. This helps to utilize vertical space on my shelves while keeping those unruly hanks from spilling out all over the place.
One pitfall of the book was that it seemed to encourage you to go out and buy a whole new storage system, instead of using what you have. The result is something that’s Instagram-ready, but that ultimately adds to more waste and more expenses.
I also felt like the book offered snapshots of different systems rather than showing any one whole storage system. If that's something you're looking for, then I'd highly recommend Love Your Creative Space: A Visual Guide to Creating an Inspiring & Organized Studio Without Breaking the Bank.
In the The Joy of Yarn, Greene recommends people organize their stash by color. The advantage of that system is that it's pretty, but I think it really only works for knitters and crocheters. Why? Because of the looped structure of knit and crochet stitches, the consequences of mixing different weight yarns or different fibers are fairly low.
With weaving, it's still possible to mix weights and fibers, but it needs to be done carefully - otherwise differential shrinkage can occur with surprising (and sometimes disastrous) results!
Instead, I organize my yarn by fiber, then weight, then color, since that's how I tend to look for yarn in my stash.
I'm a big fan of IKEA for stash shelving. My current stash is organized in IKEA IVAR shelves, which offer lots of flexibility and customization.
I shared a bunch of suggestions in my last post about selecting warp yarns. Mostly, it boils down to your warp needing to be strong & durable enough to make it through the weaving process without breaking.
Still, lots of myths seem to have sprung up around what kind of yarn can't be used for warp, and that's today's topic.
Until the Industrial Revolution, ALL yarn was handspun, so it drives me a little bit nuts when people say you can't weave with handspun.
Still, weaving with handspun is a big investment of time, energy, and money, so this video goes into depth on ways you can make sure you're spinning a yarn that's going to make a successful warp. One of the key ways is to spin a consistent yarn, and you can certainly use the Spinner's Multitool to help you do that. Another great resource is the book Spin to Weave by Sarah Lamb.
Weaving with singles is another persistent "no-no" that I've heard. This one has a little bit more to it, because singles don't have quite as much strength as plied yarns.
But take a look a your denim jeans, your dress shirts, your sheets - chances are, most of the commercially woven items in your life are made with single-ply yarns!
As a spinner, I find weaving with singles especially attractive. Singles spun for warp do need to be strong and consistent (another job for that multitool!), but you don't need to spin nearly as much yardage. While I'm certainly willing to ply to get the yarn I want, plying is an extra step, and my least favorite one at that.
Why not take advantage of this and warp with singles? This video talks about some other considerations you'll want to make, like sizing your yarn, keeping an even tension while warping, and warping back-to-front to reduce abrasion on your loom.
I hope these videos encourage you to push the boundaries on what you're willing to try as warp yarn!
Choosing warp yarn is one of the most important parts of a weaving project! Here are my tips on what to look for in a good warp yarn.
We’ve been told time and time again that it’s essential to sample our weaving structures, colors, and yarns before we spend time and money weaving something. But have you ever felt like you spent all your time making samples & never got around to actually weaving the thing you set out to make? I sure do!
Recently, I was really on the fence about which weft yarn I wanted to use for a doubleweave throw. I'd already warped the loom, and just assumed I knew what color weft I would use. But when I sampled it, it was all wrong. That launched the project into a standstill. Should I order more yarn? Did I have enough of something on hand that would work?
Should I have sampled more extensively before I warped a doubleweave blanket? You betcha, but the warp used almost all the yarn I had from those colors, and many of them were discontinued or mystery yarns. With over $200 already sunk into the warp, I didn't want to just weave with any yarn to end up with a blanket I didn't like.
If You're Using Stash Yarn, Be Sure to Estimate Your Yardage
First, you need to calculate your weft requirements. I share how to do that here.
Next, estimate how much yarn you have on hand. I share how to do that here. (For this project, I used the McMorran yarn balance to estimate my yardage.)
This narrowed down my options to two weft colors - magenta and a colorgrown beige cotton.
1. Visualize with Your Weaving Software
Often, I've used my weaving software just as a way to plan out the structure. But most weaving software allows you to play with colors, and this is a great starting point!
Be sure to select the colors that are closest to the ones you actually plan to use! Sometimes this is enough to help me choose my colors.
If it's not, though, I save each potential color as a .jpg file to use in the next step.
2. Use an Online Visualizer
I use the "mockups" feature in Canva, PlaceIt also has a lot of textile options. To use these, simply drag and drop your .jpg file of your drawdown onto the image, and it will add shapes and shadows to help you imagine what it will look like as a three-dimensional object.
I found these incredibly helpful in thinking about which weft to choose. The magenta weft (on the left) is bright and modern, while the beige weft (on the right) reminds me of a vintage hand-knotted rug.
3. Use a Zoom Loom with Scrap Yarn to See Warp/Weft Interactions
A zoom loom uses only 8 yards of yarn, and is a great way to see how colors combine in weaving. For this project, I used leftovers of warp from the warping process to audition my weft colors. Then I was able to place the samples on the sofa (where the finished blanket will go) and think about which one would work better.
Other Visualization Tricks
You Still Need to Sample!
While I did jump through a bunch of hurdles to avoid extensive sampling, it's still an important part of the weaving process.
Sampling is essential if you’re experimenting with a new yarn, structure, or technique. It’s especially important to wet-finish your samples so you know how big to make your piece on the loom. And if you have a lot of “what-if” questions, lots of samples with small variations are definitely the way to go!
My sett choices for this project were based on other projects with similar yarns and weave structures. In essence, other projects served as the samples for this one.
So, How Did the Blanket Turn Out?
It's still in progress! Because of the number of treadles involved, I can only weave about 6 inches before needing to take a break and do some yoga. More to come soon!
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