Get Warped : - First Fall 2016

Get Warped

Feature: Get Warped. Free weaving tutorial using linen yarn by rigid-heddle loom expert Liz Gipson

Get Warped

Get Warped: Linens

As a yarn collector you are drawn to the lovely sheen and unique drape of linen and its close cousin, hemp, but you aren't always sure what to do with it. A clue is written right into the name. “Linens” is a term used to describe household goods intended for daily use. Weaving is the perfect medium for making square or rectangular flat things and most household objects — towels, placemats, runners, tablecloths, curtains—are square or flat.

What is Linen?

The bast fibers of the flax plant are the base of linen yarn. These fibers are what give the plant's delicate stem its strength and stability. They grow between the skin and core of flax plant's stem. With extremely long staples, measuring anywhere from 5 to 18 inches/12.5-45.5cm, linen wears well, has a unique drape, and a crisp hand. Highly absorbent and cool to the touch, bast fibers are a favorite for summer wear, and their durability and luster make them prized for long-lived linens.

Processing Primer

As with all fiber, how it is processed determines the quality of the yarn. This process is used with a wide number of bast fibers such as hemp, ramie, kudzu, nettle, and jute.

To separate the bast fibers from the rest of the plant material, flax goes though the retting process. Flax straw is placed in a wet environment conducive to bacteria growth. The bacteria eat away the pith core of the plant, leaving the fiber cells behind.

Historically linen fiber was dew-retted, by laying it out in a dewy field. This is less resource intensive than water retting, although the process is much more difficult to control. If you have ever picked up an inexpensive ball of linen or hemp twine and noticed a musky smell, it is most likely dew retted. The smell is removed through washing and airing out your linens. Water retting is easier to control and creates a more refined product that decreases the possibility of an odor left behind.

After the fiber is retted, the plant material is dried and crushed to separate the long silky fibers from the rest of the plant material. The fiber is then aligned with hackles that look like wool combs, but with more rows of teeth. This separates out the short fibers and leaves long, well-aligned fibers in a preparation aptly named "line". This is the preparation that most quality linen and hemp yarn manufacturers work with. The yarn is spun while damp, called wet spinning, to keep the fibers pliable and aligned.

A few of my linen swatch doodles from left to right: two heddle patterns in Newport Linen from Halcyon Yarn; a mixed warp of Savanna, a silk linen blend, from Queensland Collection and Organic Cottolin from Louet North America in lace and inlay; a favorite swatch I use as a coaster in Block Island blend, a hemp, cotton, modal slub yarn from Halcyon Yarn. See Every Surface in the House Coasters below for instructions on how to weave this pattern.

Weaving with Linen

Linen's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Its extremely long fiber length and stable nature create a yarn that has almost no elasticity that is prone to wrinkling — with no rebound, creases stay where they are. Its lack of rebound can offer weavers certain challenges.

These tips aren't much different from the advice I give when weaving other fibers, however with linen, not paying attention to these details will show up more in your cloth.

Linen likes tight, even tension. Because it has no rebound, you have less room for error than with other fibers. However linen also tends to tangle less, so it can be easier to wind on.

Take care when warping that you treat the warp as a whole and don't rake the fibers while winding on. Let the rigid heddle do the work to organize the yarns as they wind onto the beam. Tension the yarn as a whole by stopping every few turns, then stand at the front of the loom and take the entire warp in your hand and firmly pull on the warp to take up any slack on the back beam.

This is the one fiber where I recommend using warping sticks instead of paper. Warping sticks are laid between the warp layers as you wind onto the back beam. Unlike paper, they don't give way under the yarn, which can lead to soft spots. This is absolutely not a problem for most other fibers.

Keep an extra eye on the selvedges as crowding can cause them to break. To prevent crowding, keep a consistent weft angle appropriate for your width of fabric. Advance the fabric often, about every 2 inches/5cm, to keep the weaving in the area where the shed angle is low. Weighting the selvedges is also a good idea. I recently wrote a blog post on selvedge management that illustrates many of these points.


Organic Cottolin from Louet North America napkins. Cottolin is a blend of cotton and linen, in this case 60 percent cotton and 40 percent linen. The linen gives the fabric a crisper look and feel than cotton alone.

Tension Issues

Don't despair if you develop soft spots in your warp or individual threads become loose. Weight them using an S-hook and add additional weight if necessary. There is no shame in having a dozen hooks hanging off the back of your warp!

When the heddle is in the up position, keep an eye on the bottom part of the shed. The yarns in the slots have a tendency to go slack in this position with all yarns, but it shows up a lot more in linen. This can be particularly problematic if you are weaving structures other than plain weave. You can't see the skips as easily on the face of the cloth. I keep a mirror handy to peek under the loom frequently or you can flip the loom over every once in a while to keep an eye on the back.

Linen fabric fresh off the loom, called “loom state”, can look awful, but it will completely transform in the wash.

Pure linen likes a rough finish, and it can be machine washed on the regular cycle with laundry detergent. The fiber benefits from extra agitation so you can add in other washables such a terrycloth towel or even tennis shoes. Skip the extra agitation if you are using a blend. Machine dry and remove while still damp. Pressing with a hot iron will bring out the shine.

If you are new to linen, start with a small project first, such as the coaster project below, and work your way up to larger project. Blends offer you the benefits of linen with the added properties of the other fibers that may be more forgiving.

In the last column, we tackled warp floats. In this project, we are going to cover weaving weft floats.


Linens don't have to be superfine. This worsted weight allhemp6LUX from Hemp for Knitting works up well in open lace patterns such as this sweet little table runner that you can weave in a day. This yarn has taken an appropriate beating before it is skeined so that you feel the buttery softness of bast fibers while working with it instead of having to wait until after finishing.

Pattern: Hybrid Bias Button Cowl


Every Surface In the House Coasters

beauty shot


It's no secret that I'm into sampling, if you weave long enough you will be, too—just like I promise you will come to love warping.

My samples don't just sit around in a box, I use them every day as coasters, runners, designated remote stations, and under potted plants, lamps, pottery pieces—anywhere that needs a little color and is a spot I might set something down.

This linen swatch has been sitting on top of my stereo speaker for the past few months. I wrote it up here as a coaster set; put on a short warp and weave up a swatch for every room in the house.

spacer photos: Liz Gipson




Width: 4.25 inches/11cm
4 inches/10cm with a 0.5 inch/1cm fringe


Sport-weight linen, 1,300 yd/lb (22 wpi); shown in Louet North America Euroflax (100% linen); 270 yd/3.5 oz skein; color:
spacer Warp: Champagne
spacer Weft: Champagne, Soft Violet

spacer rigid-heddle loom with at least a 6-inch/15cm weaving width
spacer size 12 rigid heddle
spacer pick-up stick
spacer 3 shuttles

Project specifications
spacer Warp: 44 yd/40m Champagne
spacer Weft: 14 yd/13m Soft Violet, 20 yd/18m Champagne
spacer Warp Ends: 43
spacer Warp Length: 45 inches/114.5cm (allows 18 inches/45.5cm for loom waste and take up)

spacer Width In Rigid Heddle: 4.25 inches/11cm
spacer Sett: 12
spacer PPI (Picks Per Inch or the number of wefts in an inch): 18


21 sts/32 rows = 4 inches/10cm in stockinette stitch



Warp the loom following the project specs. Center the warp in the rigid heddle for 4 ¼ inches. For the direct warping method, thread 4 ¼ inches/11cm worth of slots. Wind the warp on the back beam adding packing paper or, preferably, warping sticks between the layers. Move one thread in each slot to a hole to its right. Be sure that you start and end in a slot for the pattern to work. Tie the warp on the front apron rod and adjust for even tension. (See column on warping for a refresher.)

Place the pick up stick
When using a pick-up stick you only want to pick up threads that are in the slots. These threads move freely, making them easy to manipulate. The threads in the holes are restricted. If you pick them up, you will be unable to get a clean shed.

To make sure you only pick up the slot ends, place the rigid heddle in the down position so that the slot threads are up. For this pattern pick up the slot ends behind the rigid heddle as follows: [1 up, 1 down] 15 times, for a total of 15 ends picked up. It may help to slide a contrasting piece of paper in the down shed in the back of the loom so that you can more easily see the threads, particularly on a white warp.


As with most pick-up patterns, this pattern is reversible, whatever is happening on the face of the cloth, the opposite will be happening on the back.

Wind one shuttle with a smooth scrap yarn, one shuttle with Champagne, and one shuttle with Soft Violet.

Start by weaving about 1 inch/2.5cm of scrap yarn to spread the warp evenly. End on a down shed, so that the project starts on an up shed.

Using the Champagne weft, open an up shed and insert your first pick, leaving a tail about 4 times the width of your project. Weave 3 more picks ending on a down shed.

Weaving Weft Floats

There are three heddle placements in this pattern:

Up: weave a pick—one pass of the weft— with the heddle in the up position.

Down: weave a pick in the down position.

Pick-up stick (see below): place the heddle in neutral, then tip the pick-up stick on its side to lift the picked-up threads above the warp.


One pattern repeat is worked over 6 picks as follows:

  1. pick-up stick
  2. pick-up stick
  3. pick-up stick
  4. down
  5. up
  6. down

To weave three pick-up stick passes in a row, open a pick-up stick shed—heddle in neutral, tip pick-up stick on its edge—and weave one pick of Soft Violet leaving a short tail.

Press this weft into place.

Open the pick-up shed again and being sure you catch the selvedge with your shuttle weave a second pick in the same shed and press into place.

Repeat this one more time; open the pick-up shed again, catch the selvedge with your shuttle and weave a third pick in the same shed and press into place.

In theory you don't have to press the yarn into place each time, but it makes for a tidier selvedge if you do so.

I find it a pain to put the neutral every time, depending on your style of loom you can let the heddle hang in front of the heddle block and tip the pick-up stick on its edge and you should still be able to get a clean shed.

Change to the Champagne weft and weave down, up, down to complete one pattern repeat.

Once you have woven one pattern repeat, go back and work a row of hemstitching over 2 warp ends and 2 weft picks using the tail of the Champagne weft. Since it is an odd number you will work one grouping over 2 wefts and 1 warp, I like to do this a few groups in from the end so it isn't as noticeable. See The Final Touch from Winter 2015 Knitty, for how to work hemstitching.

Managing two shuttles: Carry the Violet weft along the selvedge as you weave, treating it as you would the selvedge. If the selvedge is down, pass the working weft over the nonworking weft. If the selvedge end is up, pass the working weft under the nonworking weft. Likewise when you change to the Champagne you will want to do this same.

Continue weaving for a total of 10 pattern repeats. End with an additional up shed and hemstitch as you did at the beginning. Leave 2 inches/5cm between coasters and start another, weaving it as you did the first.

This is a great pattern to experiment with color. You don't have to limit yourself to just two colors!


Remove the cloth from the loom and cut the coasters apart. Since I'm not concerned with softening this fabric, a bit of stiffness is a good thing in a coaster, I soaked them in warm water with a tablespoon of no-wash soap, such as Soak. This helps the yarn relax and settle into one another. Lay flat to try. Trim the fringe using a self-healing mat and a rotary cutter.

Block and weave in ends. Line up the bias edges so the cowl forms a loop, then sew the buttons on to match the buttonholes on the other end.



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 videos – 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.

Pattern & images © 2016 Liz Gipson. Contact Liz