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 less likely to repeat them.

This column is for knitters (and other fiberists) 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!

Yarn Selection for the Rigid-heddle Loom: The Secret Is In the Sett

beauty shot

Many of the yarns you already have can be used on the rigid-heddle loom. You can weave with virtually anything -- yarn, twigs, ribbon, wire, raffia, tule -- whatever tickles your fancy. The yarns that you use to set up the loom, the warp, is subject to more stress and takes a little more consideration.

In weaving, tension is put on the yarns collectively not on each individual yarn, so while we have to evaluate the yarn individually, we also have to understand how pressure is exerted on it within the framework of the loom. The plastic heddles that make up the rigid-heddle itself are gentler on yarn compared to other heddle types. The relatively short length of warp held taunt between the beams allows you to use less tension than on larger loom where you have to exert much more tension on the warp to prevent sagging in the middle. With this in mind your yarn doesn't have to hold up to industrial standards, it just has to pass the simple pinch and pull test.

Pinch and Pull Test
Take a generous length of yarn, say 40-50 inches, and wrap one end of it around your index and middle finger then pinch it between your thumb and index finger. Leaving about a 12-16 inch section of yarn between your hands secure the other end as you did the first. Apply steady, firm pressure as if to pull the yarn apart. If the yarn easily drifts apart or breaks easily, it isn't a good choice as a warp yarn. Check out this short video where I demonstrate this test on a variety of yarns you probably have on hand.

beauty shot

Yarns that are tightly plied and smooth are traditionally thought of as good warp yarns. Tender, loosely plied or softly spun yarns tend to fray or stick to one another. Fuzzy yarns such as mohair and some novelties may stick to one another. If you want to use these yarns, mix them with smoother yarns in the warp or allow enough space between the warp yarns to keep them from interfering from one another. Because they are sticky you can weave lovely gauzy fabrics that will still have integrity, such as in the Layered Cravat from Weaving Made Easy (shown at right).

Another consideration is how the yarn will act in the fringe. Yarns of more than two plies will often puff out in the wash; some fancy novelty yarns fray. Take the yarn you tested for warp and wash it vigorously in warm water with a little soap. Pay attention to how the ends behave and this will give you a good idea of what happen in the fringe.

Superwash and Acrylic
Cloth comes to life when wet-finished. During washing, yarns expand and settle, a process called blooming. Superwash and acrylic-based yarns are designed to be stable and so they don't bloom much. This is not a problem with the loopy construction of knitting and crochet, but it can be more problematic in woven fabric. As you start your weaving journey, consider mixing them with other yarns that will bloom such as a nice wool or wool-blend -- using one type for warp and the other for weft or vice versa.

Coned Yarns
Knitters often ask what is the deal with coned yarns and those funny numbers such as 8/2 or 5/2? Traditionally yarns for weaving were put up on cones because it was easier to wind a warp from the cone. They often, but not always, had more twist.

Those funny numbers are an archaic system that expressed the size, number of plies, and yards per pound of any given yarn. It isn't necessary that you understand this system to use this yarn. (If you are really curious, here is a video from The Woolery that explains it.) Understanding how to determine the sett of a yarn is all you need to know.

We come to a much bigger question: what size yarns should I use for what project? Rigid-heddles come in standard sizes: 5, 8, 10, and 12. These numbers correspond to the number of slots and holes within every inch of the rigid-heddle. (You will also see 7.5 and 12.5. These are essentially metric equivalents of size 8 and 12.)

These numbers determine the weaver's gauge called sett. The larger the number, the finer the sett or the number of ends per inch in the warp. Just like with knitting and crochet if you use the wrong needle or hook and don't get gauge, your project will be off-kilter. A general rule of thumb for what yarn to use with each number is as follows:

5 = Bulky
8 = Worsted
10 = Sport
12 = Fine

beauty shot

Determining Sett
Most sett decisions are based on a Balanced Plain Weave (BPW) sett. A balanced plain weave fabric has the same number of warp and weft ends per inch.

To determine a BPW sett, wrap the yarn around a ruler under very light tension. You want to mimic what the yarn will act like when relaxed and not under the tension of the loom. Count the number of wraps and then divide this number by two. If in doubt, wrap two inches and then take an average of the two. By taking half the yarns away, you allow room for the weft to interlace with the warp.

For instance, if you have a yarn that wraps around the ruler 14 times in an inch, your BPW sett is 7 (see photo above). Choosing a size 8 rigid-heddle is probably a good place to start.

beauty shot

When determining sett, you want to take into consideration this bloom factor, as mentioned in the Superwash section, and leave enough room for the yarn to do its thing.

But this measurement tells you nothing about the character of the yarn. Two yarns can have the same sett and be radically different. One may be a tightly spun worsted yarn and the other an airy woolen yarn, but they will technically have the same BPW sett. You have to use your judgment about the nature of the yarn and how you will use.

Knitters often confuse Wraps Per Inch (WPI) with sett. You use WPI to calculate sett, but they are not one and the same. For those that want to get super geeky I wrote a blog post about how these two things relate to yards per pound.

If you are ready to tackle your first project, I'm going to give you my no-fail Vanilla Cake Table Scarf recipe as a good first project. (If you have a little more experience, I'll give you a fun decorative fringe to gussy up your next project.)

pink needle
beauty shotblank

by Liz Gipson


spacer photos: Liz Gipson  


approx. 6.75 inches
24.5 inches (including 4-inch fringe)



spacer Worsted-weight yarn that has a wraps-per-inch somewhere between 14–18 and blooms well (not superwash or nylon). Shown in Seeding by Classic Elite (100% organic cotton) in Lei colorway (#4566) for warp; and Creative Linen by Rowan (50% cotton/50% linen) in Tamarind (#3643) for weft.

spacer rigid-heddle Loom with at least an 8" weaving width
spacer 8-dent rigid heddle
spacer 2 stick shuttles
spacer large-eyed yarn needle
spacer small embroidery scissors
spacer smooth scrap yarn

Project specifications
spacer Warp: 75yd in color of your choosing
spacer Weft: 60yd in color of your choosing
spacer Warp Ends: 56
spacer Warp Length: 48"

spacer Width In Reed: 7 inches
spacer Sett: 8
spacer PPI (Picks Per Inch or the number of wefts in an inch): 8


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

If you are unhappy with the drape of your fabric, it is probably because you are packing the weft yarns too tight and not leaving enough space between your yarns. They need room to bloom!

A table runner/scarf is a good first project because you aren't looking for drape so if you overbeat it, it won't affect the final result. It is a perfect, quick gift project that will burn through your stash.

Warp the loom following the project specifications above. (This is the same sized warp shown in the Knitty warping video.) If you need help with understanding basic loom function, warping, and weaving techniques refer to your loom manual or get your hands on a copy of the newly revised Weaving Made Easy.

Center the warp in the rigid heddle for 7 inches. Using the direct warping method, thread 7 inches worth of slots. 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 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!

Remove Cloth from Loom
While the scarf is still on the loom, cut the weft leaving about a 12-inch tail. Thread this tail through the large-eyed yarn needle. Needleweave 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.


Lattice Fringe
Using small embroidery scissors and working carefully, cut the scrap yarn in half. Remove half of the scrap and tie the warp in bundles of four warp ends using an overhand knot. Note: the first and last bundle will have five yarns in it. Leave the knots fairly loose at first so that you can go back and adjust if necessary.

Work from whichever direction is comfortable for you. In this scenario I'm working from left to right. Like many things yarn, this is easier to do than comprehend.

Split the first three bundles in half.

Starting with the first bundle, lay the right half of this bundle under the right half of the second bundle and over the left half of third bundle

When doing so make sure that third bundle's right half goes over the right half of the second bundle.

Tie a knot at place where the first bundle's left half meets the left half of the second bundle.

Tie the next knot where the left half of the first bundle meets the right half of the third bundle.

tech spacer

Continue working in this manner across the fringe. Tighten and adjust knots to align with one another as necessary.

Using an 1/8 cup of mild detergent or fabric softener -- some yarns don't need to be scoured, but they can do with a touch of softening -- handwash in hot water giving a good hard swish so that the yarns will bloom and fill in the open spaces. Trim the fringe to desired length.

This basic form can be used to create an endless variety of projects -- lengthen the warp and you have a scarf, widen and lengthen the warp and you have a shawl. In this column, we have the first steps in cloth design -- yarn selection and sett. In the next installment, we will talk about color and working with unalanced weaves.

In the meantime, join me on any of the Yarnworker social media sites (see links below) and show off your cloth!


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.