Thursday, February 26, 2009


Posted by Peg in South Carolina

A friend recently emailed me the following question:

I'm intrigued that you're using handspun for warp.  Did you overtwist it or something to make it strong?  I don't think any of my handspun would hold up under warp tension.

Reading the question made me realize that I had nor dealt with this issue in a blog post, and needed to.

The answer is, no, I do not overtwist the yarn.  I simply spin a singles yarn to a size that I think I will like when it is plied as a balanced yarn.  I spin it with the amount of twist I need to put in that will give me what looks like a nice yarn when I test it by plying a bit of freshly spun yarn.  I spin it.  Then I ply it, skein it, soak it in hot soapy water, rinse and let it drain. The result, if I have done it right, is a balanced 2-ply yarn.

Spinning worsted style would result in a very smooth and very strong yarn.  But I do not want this kind of yarn for the scarves and shawls I like to weave with my handspun. So I spin semi-woolen style. This gives me a soft, but not too soft, yarn that holds up well in warping and weaving.  

Someone who is worried about a yarn holding up under warp tension can hold a piece of yarn with hands maybe a foot or so apart.  Then yank quickly and hard on the yarn.  If it doesn’t break, the yarn will do very well for warp.  It is often a good idea to check commercial yarn the same way.  One never knows!

Also, when I wind the yarn onto the back beam, I use only half the amount of weight that I would use for silk or cotton.  And when I weave, I use a fair amount of tension, but not the amount of tension I would use for silk or cotton.  For silk or cotton I ratchet up the tension very very high, almost to the point that I could weave tapestry. 

Weaving with such high tension, by the way, can be problematic for a jack loom.  On a jack loom a shed is produced by raising shafts, the remaining shafts moving neither up or down but staying at rest at the bottom.  There is a lot of tension on those raised shafts.  On a counter-balance or a counter-marche loom, shafts are raised AND lowered so that the tension is more evenly distributed.  This system is also much easier on the loom itself.  This is why jack looms are not recommended for tapestry or rugs. Both require extremely high tension to pack in the weft as tightly as it needs to be packed in.

This counter-marche system would also make it easier to weave my fine silks warped at high epi’s.  The warp ends would be pulled up and down equally and so would be less likely to stick to each other and cause bad sheds and skipped warp ends.  To compensate, I have learned to weave these threads with the fell closer to the beater than I usually do.

My loom is designed so that I can make adjustments to individual treadles so I can get any given group of shafts on a particular treadle to rise as much or as little as I want (within reason, of course!). This ability to adjust the treadles brings my loom a little way towards a counter-marche loom.   And it also has rear-hinged treadles which makes lifting the shafts easier.  But it is still at heart a jack loom.

But back to handspun.  Some people use a sizing on their handspun chains before putting them on the loom.  Paula Simmons, in her book, Spinning and Weaving with Wool, has an excellent description of how to do this and includes a recipe for it that she uses.  She thinks it is a good idea because of the possibility of weak spots in the yarn.  My answer to that would be that warp yarn, hand spun or commercial, can and does break.  If the handspun does break does break treat it as a commercial yarn.  Weave in with a new weighted end until you reach the spot that you can re-attach the regular warp end to the fabric.  Not a big deal!  So far (knock on wood!) none of my handspun warps have broken.  But I always have plenty extra for replacement ends.

Something worth noting.  I have not talked at all about yarn thickness, twists per inch.  So far as the spinning of the singles goes, I make my decision totally on what a particularly fiber looks like when it is spun.  And since I spin with an electric spinner, and spin very fast with it, there is no way I can do anything akin to counting treadles.   I spin totally by look and feel.  When I first started spinning, I though that kind of spinning was impossible.  I did not know it was possible until I purchased my electric spinner and discovered how much, over the years of spinning, had been built into my muscles and sense of touch and feel.

Plying is a different story.   My electric spinner is very cheap and I can spin on it in only one direction.  So I ply on my trusty Ashford Traveler.   And here I get anal-retentive again for I figure out how much yarn to let in with each treadle and then spin with that formula.

Related Post: 
Jack and Countermarch Looms
Where is My Fell?
Spinning Weaving Yarn with an Electric Spinner  (scroll down the page)
Warping with Handspun

Handspun Warp Question” was written by Margaret Carpenter for Talking about Weaving and was originally posted on February 26, 2009. ©2009 Margaret Carpenter aka Peg in South Carolina


Susan B. said...

As a newbie spinner, I was wondering this same question! I would like some day to use my handspun as warp but for now I will be happy to use as weft.
As always, a very complete and clear answer!

Connie Rose said...

Hi Peg,
As you know, I've used handspun for warp for years. And I've never had a problem with it. Even very finely spun yarns are never a problem. I never size the warp. I don't spin the yarn any differently for weaving than for anything else.
FYI, I've had problems knitting with handspun wools -- they always pill regardless of how worsted the yarn is spun. But weaving my handspuns has been easy, much to my surprise and delight.
All the best to you.

Peg in South Carolina said...

Susan B, thank you for your comment. I hope that your spinning gives you much pleasure, and using it as weft is just fine.
Yes, Connie, I do know and appreciate your commenting so others can learn that others do this. Yarn for knitting is normally 3-ply. I wonder if this would make a difference in the pilling? But soft sweaters commercially made also pill--the softer the more pilling.