Knitty: little purls of wisdom

spacerI've used every style of loom there is, but once I met the rigid-heddle loom I found my muse. She's accessible, portable, versatile, and so easy to set up that she allows me to iterate through my ideas quickly making it more likely that I will remember my head smacks and be less likely to repeat them.

This column is for knitters (and other fiberists) who weave or want to; knitters who will appreciate the speed at which you can crank out cloth, use up your stash, and teach your yarn to do new things. The gross motor movements of weaving are a nice break from the intimacy of knitting without sacrificing the feeling of handwork.

To the loom, knitters, to the loom!

How to Make Great Cloth
When you start learning something new, you need to jump in and do it — lots of it. After you have some experience with basic processes, you quickly want to be able to predict the results of your efforts with more accuracy.

The Scientific Method
I spend a lot of time with scientists (I'm married to one), and I've come to embrace the scientific method as solid basis for approaching design. My first lightbulb moment about this happened while chatting with Stefanie Japel who is a trained scientist and a knitter. Breaking down the steps in the design process as scientist would has helped me get better results and to have more patience with the process.

scientific method

Thanks to ManageToInnovate for this image


Googling "Scientific Method" led me to the flowchart above on Wikipedia. I tracked down the original creator, Dr. Theodore Garland Jr., Professor of Biology at at University of California, Riverside. He gave me permission to share it with you. I found the full slideshow fascinating.

How this method applies to design
Any project starts by making observations. You do that all the time. For instance, you see an incredible sunset and think of a yarn colorway or you spot an interesting weave structure in a commercial textile. Then you ask yourself questions such as how can I make that? What steps would I take? This forms the basis of your hypothesis, such as, "I think this yarn at this sett in this structure will make that thing". You develop testable predictions by gathering yarn and tools and perhaps do a little research on ways other people have gone about making something similar. You test those predictions by sampling/swatching.

Once you have your sampling information in hand, you analyze it to see if your hypothesis is supported. The hypothesis is either rejected or accepted. Perhaps do further testing and modifying where necessary.

You prove your hypothesis by completing a project or perhaps you make another project until you feel you have the result you are looking for or you may abandon this path and start on a new one.

An important last step in this process is that you share the results with others by publishing, posting, blogging, or entering a show. This allows us to build upon each other's work — crediting our sources as we go, as I did with the flowchart and my conversation with Stefanie.

There is no end game. This is an iterative processes on which we build a body of knowledge that allows us to gain deeper and deeper understanding in our field of interest. If you stick with it, you begin to create work that furthers our field.

The folks that do this are the people that we recognize as designers. Creativity is not necessarily something given to some and held back from others; it is a muscle that can be worked.

At first we all resist sampling as a waste of time and yarn. In the end, it will save you time, yarn, and it gets you better results. Sampling is also important when substituting yarn in a pattern — even yarns that seem very similar can behave differently in finished cloth.

I've come to embrace my sampling time as the most liberating of the design process. If you haven't read the Get Warped column in Knitty's 2015 First Fall on Yarn Selection, do that before starting to sample.

Here are some sampling tips that I shared in the latest Yarnworker newsletter (sign up here):

  • Put on a very short warp. I use a 1yd warp length about 8'' wide. This uses about 200 yards of yarn for a sett of 12, less if the sett is lower.
  • Try lots of different color combination, including ones that that you don't favor or are convinced won't work.
  • Make a mistake in the color order or threading? Leave it. The results just might surprise you.
  • Finish each end differently. Leave enough fringe to try out new knotting techniques.
  • Take good notes before you wash your sample.
  • Wash your sample more vigorously than you think the yarn can handle. This is the opportunity to see what the yarn can take.
  • Write notes about what you learned. I use the little hangtags in the photo and put pre-washing specs on one side and notes on the other.
  • Display your samples for inspiration
  • If you don't have enough yarn for a full sample, put on extra warp and do some sampling before you start your project.

In the the 2015 First Fall Get Warped column, I shared a the instructions for a simple little table scarf. I followed the scientific method to get to this final sharable result.

Variegated yarns can be tricky. Sometimes the results are muddy or the optics get weird. I tested my chosen yarn three ways. The first (bottom left) used variegated as warp and weft. The second and third used variegated with coordinating solid. I tested a few solid colors before I settled on this orange. I chose the sample at bottom right for my project. For a table scarf I wanted the eye to be drawn along the length of the cloth. 



Because I had three samples, I also could test various finishing techniques and ways of wet finishing. All these samples are sett at 8 ends per inch for a balance plain weave and have been washed.

Any one of these would have made a perfectly fine piece of cloth. I chose Sample 3 because I like the long painterly brush-stroke. My sett checked out ok, and although I tried various hemstitches, the fancy knotting worked best.

Open Source Sampling
Sharing openly in the scientific and technology community allows others to come up with better and more sophisticated hypothesis. The same is true in the yarn community. The more we share our yarn experiments the better yarn users we all become. I started a Swatch Club in the Yarnworker Ravelry group where you can share your samples as you work to design your perfect woven project or modify an existing one to your needs."

Here another project that takes advantage of variegated sock yarn. This is a yarn almost every knitter has in their stash and sometimes struggle to make it do what they want it to do in woven cloth.

pink needle
beauty shotblank

by Liz Gipson


Sock yarn is such a draw for weavers. It is available in high-yardage put-ups and comes in gorgeous variegated and self-striping colorways. Most sock yarns are made with either superwash wool or nylon for added wear. These yarns are designed to stretch, but keep their shape in the wash. They don't full or shrink. This poses some challenges for weavers.

Woven cloth changes a lot when it is removed from the tension of the loom and even more when it is wet finished. You have to wrap your head around the fact that sock yarn will rebound a lot when taken off the loom and not at all when it is washed.




spacer model: Liz Good
spacer photos: Liz Gipson


approx. 8.25 inches
55.25 inches (including 5-inch fringe)



spacer Warp: fingering-weight sock yarn, 2,000 yd/lb (21-26 wpi depending on tension); shown in Tarte by Miss Babs in Volcanic Eruption colorway (75% superwash Merino/15% nylon/10% Tencel);  500 yd / 4.3 oz (457m / 122g); 1 skein.
spacer Weft: lace-weight wool/silk blend, 4,267 yds/lb (32 wpi); shown in Isadora by Miss Babs in Roasted Pumpkin colorway (70% Merino, 30% Tussah silk); 800 yd /3 oz (732m / 85g) 1 skein.

spacer rigid-heddle Loom with at least a 10" weaving width, 12-dent rigid heddle
spacer 2 stick shuttles
spacer yarn needle

Project specifications
spacer Warp: 290 yds fingering-weight sock yarn
spacer Weft: 238 yds lace-weight yarn
spacer Warp Ends: 120
spacer Warp Length: 87''

spacer Width In Reed: 10 inches
spacer Sett: 12
spacer PPI (Picks Per Inch or the number of wefts in an inch): 12


[Knitty's list of standard abbreviations and techniques can be found here.]

Deciding Your Sett
Determining your sett based on wraps per inch (wpi) can be deceiving. Sock yarn has so much elasticity that depending on your tension, your wpi can vary greatly. In general I recommend using the closest sett available to you, which is most likely going to be a size 12 or 12.5 rigid heddle. You can double the yarns in the slots and holes effectively turning a size 8 rigid heddle into a size 16. Weave with a very fine laceweight yarn that doesn’t contain superwash or nylon and weave with a very loose open beat.

You are aiming for a warp dominant cloth — more visible warp than weft in the final cloth. Yarn wants to bend in the direction where the majority of the yarn is oriented. If you have more warp than weft in the cloth, it will drape in that direction.

(See Yarnworker's Terms if you need to freshen up on the language of the loom).

In the photo below, you can see how much the yarn changes on and off the loom. The fabric on the loom is translucent while the fabric off the loom is not. Color will shift the look of your variegated yarn a lot. The pumpkin color shifted the purples to rust, giving the sunset on mesas effect I was looking for. I experimented with other colors before I settled on this one.

Warp the loom following the project specs. Center the warp in the rigid heddle for 10". For the direct warping method, thread 10'' worth of slots. (Warping loom video refresher here.) Wind the warp on the back beam adding packing paper between the layers. Move one thread in each slot to a hole to its left. Tie the warp on the front apron rod and adjust for even tension.

Wind one shuttle with the project weft and one with a smooth scrap yarn.

Start by weaving about 1'' of scrap yarn to spread the warp evenly. It doesn't matter if you start in an up or down shed.

Using your project weft, open the next shed and insert your first pick, leaving a short tail of about 6". Change sheds, tuck the tail in the new shed and then bring it out between two warp ends.
Lay in the next pick at about a 45 degree angle and beat.

Continuing weaving, maintaining the weft angle as you go. This allows the weft enough room to travel over and under the warp ends and keep your fabric from pulling in at the edges. If you have loops at the edges your weft angle is too steep.

Beat the yarn gently as you weave to maintain a consistent number of picks per inch.

Wind 2 shuttles, one with a smooth scrap yarn, and the other with your weft yarn.

To give yourself a good foundation and to spread the warp, start by weaving a piece about 1.5 inches long with scrap yarn. It doesn't matter if you start in an up or down shed.

Using your project weft, open the next shed and insert your first pick leaving a tail of about 6 inches. Change sheds, tuck the tail in the new shed and then bring it out between two warp ends. Lay in the next pick at about a 60 degree angle and beat (see top photo at right).

Continuing weaving, as you do maintain your weft angle. This will allow the weft enough room to travel over and under the warp ends and keep your fabric from pulling in at the edges. If you have loops at the edges, called selvedges, your weft angle is too steep,

Beat the yarn gently as you weave to maintain a consistent number of wefts per inch. (See middle photo.) Your goal is to get the same number of warp and weft ends in an inch of weaving. Don't over think this, though. The goal is to get a few projects under your belt, not perfection!

While the scarf is still on the loom, cut the weft leaving about an 8" tail. Thread this tail through the large-eyed tapestry needle. Needle weave it in front of the last pick.

Remove the scarf from the loom by cutting the warp behind the rigid heddle and untying the warp from the front apron rods.

Using small embroidery scissors and working carefully, cut the scrap yarn in half. Remove half of the scarp and tie the warp in bundles of four warp ends using an overhand knot.

Using a 1/8 cup of mild detergent, machine wash on gentle cycle in warm water. Trim fringe to desired length.


designernamespacer Liz Gipson is a lover of yarn and that from which it comes — namely the mills and fiber-bearing critters and plants. She is the author of the newly revised Weaving Made Easy and has two DVDs Slots and Holes: Three Ways to Warp a Rigid-Heddle Loom and Life After Warping: Weaving Well on your Rigid-Heddle Loom

She recently lanched Yarnworker, a source for indepentantly published patterns and know-how for the rigid-heddle loom.

Find her on Ravelry as TheCashmereKid (she has goats) or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.