Buying yarn can be a little overwhelming at times, especially if you are buying online. It helps to know about some of the different treatments and types of yarn that you might come across. Some of these are superficial, but most have real benefits that you might want to consider for your next weaving project!
When you are purchasing cotton yarn, you may come across cones that are labeled as “mercerized”, “pearl”, or “perle”.
While pearl and perle are just different names for the same type of yarn, they both refer to the mercerization process that the cotton yarn goes through. They are descriptive names, because you can tell them a part from other cotton yarns by the shine that they have.
It’s not all superficial though.
Mercerization is a process that was first discovered in the 1800s and is achieved through submerging the fibers in sodium hydroxide for a few minutes at a time. They are then rinsed to neutralize the acid.
This treatment does a few things to change the fibers. Most notably it helps the yarn take in dye better. This means you can use less dye than if it wasn’t mercerized. The fiber also becomes stronger after treatment.
One possible con of this technique is that it makes the yarn a little stiffer than it’s matte counterparts so it won’t drape quite as well – in case that’s what you are looking for. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it for scarves, but don’t expect it to hang like linen.
This treatment relates to wool and most often – knitting wool yarns.
Wool is a protein fiber much like human hair. This means that at a microscopic level it has scales that can latch onto each other during the felting process.
Simply, felting occurs when heat and agitation are applied to wool. The heat opens up the scales and the agitation makes them stick together. Felting can also occur with a special barbed needle that manually attaches the fibers together.
Superwash yarn goes through a process to “descale” the yarn which allows the yarn to be washed without felting. If the fiber is smooth then the attachment cannot occur.
This washable attribute is achieved through either an acid wash (similar to mercerized cotton) or by applying a protective coating to the yarn.
It also allows for higher absorption of dye and makes it an overall smoother – albeit stretchier – yarn to work with.
The biggest benefit of this yarn treatment is seen if it used for functional work that is meant to be washed. Scarves, sweaters, and blankets could all benefit from superwash yarn.
Wetspun yarn is attributed to linen and the way that is is turned into yarn.
First, it’s important to understand what linen actually is. Linen comes from the flax plant and goes through a long rigorous process to become a strong and absorbent fiber that has incredible longevity.
During processing the flax fibers are separated into “tow” and “line” . The tow fibers are the short fibers of the flax plant that are used to make rough linen yarns and rope. The line fibers are longer and finer. They are used to make higher quality threads, yarns, and fabrics.
The line fibers are spun wet to further their smooth characteristics. Not only is wetspun linen smoother – but it’s also stronger. This makes it an ideal yarn to use for your warp.
This yarn is characterized by the small loops or curls that create a textured surface. They are created by spinning with different tensions on the different plies of yarn. When plying yarn, 2 or more “singles” or non-plied yarns are twisted together to create a stronger yarn.
Bouclé texture comes about when 1 single with less tension curls up around the tighter single.
The word bouclé can refer to both the yarn and the fabric made from it.
This type of yarn would be best used as weft as it probably won’t be strong enough for warp. You can always try it out though, if you really want to use it as the foundation for your weaving.
These yarns have intentional areas that are thicker than the rest of the yarn. This creates an interesting texture throughout the weaving. Previously, these larger areas were seen as imperfections, but now they are created on purpose for their texture.
Slub yarns also tend to be soft and absorbent so they work well when included in towels and blankets. The thinner areas of this yarn make it not as strong as evenly spun yarn. Therefore, it is not recommended to use slub yarn as warp.
The name chenille comes from the french word for caterpillar – which is a great way to describe this yarn.
Chenille was first manufactured in the 70’s and is notable for it’s soft fuzzy texture. This type of yarn can be made from all different types of fibers – cotton, acrylic, and more. The yarn is made from a pile yarn and a core yarn that are twisted together. It can be either flat or tubular.
Unlike the silk that you are probably used to that is made with long silk fibers, silk noil is made from the shorter fibers. This creates a textured yarn and fabric that resembles cotton, but with the drape of silk. Due to the shorter fibers used it is not as strong as traditional silk, but it is still durable.
Silk noil is an easy to dye yarn that is less expensive than it’s shinier and smoother counterpart.
Roving isn’t really so much a type of yarn as it’s actually the precursor to yarn. It is the fluffy un-spun fiber that is eventually turned into the yarn that you know and love. Roving is usually wool, but it can also be other protein fibers or cellulose fibers as well. You can buy almost any fiber as roving to either spin into your own yarn or to incorporate as is into your Fiber Art. It is usually sold in long and narrow bundles in a variety of different colors.
Wool roving is also used when you are felting – both needle and wet felting.
That being said, roving has become very popular to use as a weft “yarn” especially when using techniques like soumak. It creates a soft – cloud like texture that is hard to mistake for anything else.
These are just some of the types of yarn that you might encounter when purchasing yarn!
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to read the descriptions you can find on the website if you are trying to figure out the yarn’s characteristics.
Are there any other types of yarns or yarn treatments that you are wondering about? Let me know!
Where to find the best places to purchase weaving yarn and other materials has been one of the most asked questions in every class and workshop that I have taught. Ideally, everyone would have a local yarn store (LYS as it is affectionately known) in their area, but some of us are not lucky enough to have a LYS in our area that sells weaving yarn.
Instead, we can browse the many great online yarn stores and order from all over the country and the world!
When I was at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) for undergrad in the Craft department, I was pretty spoiled when it came to materials.
Cabinets full of a wide range of different fibers in lots of colors.
I miss the yarn cabinet.
Even one yarn I fear I may never be able to find again.
Like most art students, after graduation I was stuck with the arduous task of starting up my own studio. This meant, primarily, purchasing materials.
I was at a loss.
The type of yarn that is best for weaving unfortunately was not what you could find in any regular craft store.
So I get it.
I understand that ordering yarn online is not always ideal.
We want to feel the yarn!
That being said, sometimes that is the choice you have.
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Tip: Look out for yarn sample cards that you can purchase if you’re not in a hurry for something specific. They are a great way for you to be able to feel the yarn and see the available colors in person.
Thank you internet!
Luckily, most online yarn stores know that it is not a perfect situation – so they offer a lot of useful information in regards to their yarns. Most of them also offer weaving tools and supplies as well. You can order yarn for your stash, plus looms, shuttles, beaters, pick-up sticks etc.!
So here are some of my favorite online yarn stores and I have included their brick and mortar locations in case they also happen to be your LYS (lucky you!) These are all stores where you can find yarns suitable for weaving- unlike the novelty yarns found at most craft stores.
Although, novelty yarns can make for interesting weft.
859 East Main Street, Suite 1A. Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
The Woolery is one of my favorite online yarn stores! Full disclosure: I am an affiliate, but only because I like them so much! I always check them first when I am looking to order new yarn or supplies.
Every time that I have ordered from them, they have always been efficient and I have never had any issues. The Woolery is always quick to answer questions and I love that they have a chat feature (they ask that you please weave a message) on their website to talk to someone even quicker!
They have a fantastic selection of yarns in many different colors that are categorized by yarn type making it easy to find what you are looking for. You can search through pages of cellulose, protein, synthetic, and other weaving yarns. Make sure to look at the info they offer on the yarns they sell. You can find useful stats including ypp, recommended warp sett, and more!
They also offer a wide range of looms (floor, rigid heddle, and frame) as well as weaving tools, and other fiber art tools. The majority of their equipment is new, but sometimes you can navigate to their used equipment page to find some deals!
The Woolery has also recently debuted a new area on their website devoted to earth friendly products so that you can find sustainable materials and even fair trade baskets all in one place!
If you also like to dabble (or get full into) other fiber arts then make sure to check out their different categories devoted knitting/crochet, felting, spinning, dyeing, and more.
Yarn Barn of Kansas is my second go to yarn store. They are probably one of the first that I ever ordered from and I have never had any issues with them.
Shipping is quick and I appreciate their great customer service as well as how easy their website is to maneuver. They include a lot of great information about all their yarns in case you have any questions about their use. One thing that Yarn Barn does that I really like is they often include potential uses for each yarn (great for towels etc.) This can help you to determine if it will drape well or if it will hold up to heavy use.
Yarn Barn separates their yarn first by type of Fiber Art and then by type of fiber. You know you are viewing only weaving yarns when you go through that category on their site. *Note that just because it is a weaving yarn, that does not mean it is necessarily suitable for warp.
Knitters, crocheters, dyers, and spinners – do not worry! Yarn Barn has stuff for you too!
There have been 2 times that I ordered something from them that would take a few days longer to come than expected – and they actually called me to let me know and give me the chance to change my order if needed.
I have neither visited or ordered from Webs before, but they are one of the larger online options.
Webs has a very large selection of different weaving yarns (and other fiber tools), but some of their yarns tend to be just a little more expensive than the other stores.
That being said, they may have something that the others do not – so they are definitely worth a look! Just like Yarn Barn they are organized by type of fiber art and they include a lot of useful information such as recommended warp sett and type of project.
I have heard good things about Webs, so I would love to know your experience with them!
I have never purchased from Earth Guild online, but I have purchased some cotton from them in store.
They are located about an hour from Penland School of Craft if you decide to make a day trip when you are there for a workshop. The staff was knowledgeable and they have a lot of products to choose from.
Their website is not as user friendly as The Woolery or Yarn barn due to the way they have it organized. They also have less to choose from when it comes to yarn, but they do carry Dragon Tale cotton yarn which I am quite fond of.
While their website design is not ideal, you may still want to give them a chance if you are looking for something specific.
Some other options for buying yarn online that are worth checking out:
Etsy (order handspun and hand-dyed yarns from independent artists!)
Let’s imagine a scenario. You are planning a project and you need to buy new yarn (yay!) As you start browsing through your favorite yarn website – you see a lot of different yarns that look like they could be great for your project. Great except that yarn sizes range from 40/2 to 8/4.
Looking at the weaving yarn sizes can feel like you are reading a secret code. What do those numbers actually mean?
Before we move on it is important to note that sizing can vary between different types of yarn. 8/4 cotton and 8/4 linen won’t actually be the same size.
That would make too much sense.
The short of it is that the first number in your fraction is the gauge of the yarn. Just like wire – the larger the number = the thinner the yarn. This is the same no matter the material make up of the yarn (cotton, linen, wool, etc.)
If you’re like me, though, then you might have some questions.
For example: where does that number come from? It all has to do with how many yards per pound (ypp) your yarn is. (We’ll calculate ypp later)
The standards for yarn sizes were decided a long time ago when yarn was first being produced. Cotton, for example, is based off of a size 1 yarn being 840 ypp¹. This gives you an approximate amount of yardage you can expect on your cone or tube. This number is really helpful when planning your weaving.
In contrast to cotton – linen size 1 is 300 ypp¹. This is why an 8/4 cotton and 8/4 linen aren’t actually the same size. 8/4 linen actually ends up being a thicker yarn. Keep this in mind if you are using cotton for samples and linen for your final product.
Unfortunately, there is no direct translation. If you want to figure out similar yarn sizes in a different material than look at the ypp and find one that is equal or close to the yarn you are looking to replace. This information can usually be found where you purchased your yarn – especially if you purchased it online.
The second number of your yarn size fraction is simply the number of plies your yarn has.
When fiber is first spun it is called a single. Singles are rarely used in weaving because they aren’t as strong and they tend to have a lot of “energy”. This means they don’t always behave the way you want them to. Sometimes they don’t compress as well or weave as straight. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it – but it will be harder.
A plied yarn has 2 or more single yarns twisted together. Generally speaking more plies = greater strength. This is why these yarns are more likely to be used for high traffic weavings like rugs.
Most yarns sold for weaving have 2 or 4 plies, but you can sometimes find thicker yarns with more.
This all means that, for example, 8/2 cotton has 2 sets of size 8 yarn twisted together. Likewise 8/4 cotton has 4 sets of size 8 yarn twisted together.
And so on.
It’s also good to note that this sizing isn’t standard worldwide. If you are purchasing yarn from another country then keep in mind that in some countries the size and number of plies might be reversed.
In this case, 2/8 cotton purchased internationally might just be the same as 8/2 cotton purchased in the U.S.
You can now take these numbers and do a little bit of math.
Let’s take 8/2 cotton for example:
First, you will want to take the ypp numbers for a single (840 ypp) and multiply it by the first number of your yarn size.
This would mean that size 8 cotton can be described as having approximately 6,720 yards per pound.
You’re not done yet though.
There’s a second half to that equation. You have to divide it by the number of plies.
The entire equation looks like this:
840 x 8 = 6,720
6,720/2 = 3,360
8/2 cotton has 3,360 ypp.
Let’s put that into action.
Say you have a standard 8/4 cotton with a ypp of 1,680 (840×8/4). If you are looking for a similar sized linen for your project then you would want an 8/2 linen or 1200 ypp (300×8/2). While they aren’t exactly the same, they should be close enough to weave up the similarly. That being said, samples are always your friend.
Ok, so I’m going to be super honest with you right now. The math we just did? Yeah, that might not be super important to know when you are planning your project. I didn’t know that a pound of cotton size 1 is equal to 840 yards for years into my weaving career and I never had any big issues.
It’s cool to know though for us yarn nerds.
Luckily for all of us, when ordering online most yarn stores tell you the recommended sett range for that warp and the approximate yardage per cone/ tube/ skein. The yardage plays a role when planning the project so you know that you are purchasing the right amount of yarn for your specific project.
That being said – if that information isn’t provided or you can’t find it then you now have the equations to figure it out yourself!
A note on recommended sett: keep in mind that the recommended range is usually for a balanced plain weave so you might have to adjust accordingly. This is where samples once again become an incredibly important part of your studio practice.
So I guess the moral of today’s post is to always read the yarn description and that there is a lot more to know about yarn and yarn sizes than you probably ever imagined.
¹Held, Shirley E. Weaving: a Handbook of the Fiber Arts. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from having my own studio practice is that good organization can save you.
Now that might seem a bit dramatic – but really it is one of those things that I figured out the hard way.
Even if organization doesn’t come naturally to you (guilty) sometimes you just need to buckle down so you can get through it, because in the long run you will be thankful you did.
In case the title didn’t tip you off: today we’re talking about using a yarn notebook.
It may not be the most exciting part of your studio practice, but it might just be the most helpful.
If I didn’t force myself to keep track of my yarn – I’d run out of something and have no idea what size it was or where to buy more. This obviously could be detrimental if you are mid-project. It can also be a good way to keep your studio stocked with the yarn you use the most. The notebook is an easy and inexpensive way to get your studio together. Pretty much everything you need can be purchased in the office supply section of any store.
This page may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links then I will receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you! Please read our DISCLAIMER for more info. Thanks for the support!
I’m sure there are many different options for keeping track of your yarn, but I find the most effective way to be in a 3 – ring binder.
I began using these binders for art handouts and notes throughout my time at VCU. They were actually required for the class – but I found them so helpful in the long run that I required them of my students as well while I taught there.
These binders still to this day are a great resource for a lot of my fiber related information and notes. You could even use yours to hold other information beyond your yarn stash. Think about storing samples and their respective information or receipts from yarn and tool purchases in case you can deduct them come tax time. Really you can use this to keep track of anything pertinent to your own studio.
So here’s how I’ve set mine up:
Card stock is a really great option to use for your notebook because it’s heavy enough to hold up to all your yarn samples but thin enough not to be bulky.
I have set up each page as a different type of fiber – but you could divide your pages between retailer, warp sett, or size. Then each each fiber page is split up into the five categories that are most important to me, but you should do what makes the most sense to you.
Possible Categories To Include:
Price per lbs/ cone/ tube
Number of Cones You Have On Hand
If you dye your own yarn then it is really important to take good notes. This will help to avoid inconsistencies between dye lots. It’s always a good idea to dye all the yarn you need for each project at one time, but sometimes you need to recreate it. I don’t know about you, but my memory isn’t that good.
You might even want a separate notebook dedicated to this if you dye a lot of yarn.
Think of your dye notebook as a not so tasty recipe book.
Your notebook could also really help you out if you plan on selling your work. Having a well organized account of how much you paid for your materials can be a lifesaver when pricing out a piece that is already made or one that is being commissioned. On that note, a kitchen scale can really help you out to weigh your cones before and after the piece is finished. Doing this helps to get a more accurate account of how much yarn you used and therefore how much to charge for materials.
Don’t let the set up deter you. Setting up your yarn notebook shouldn’t take too much time unless you have a ton of yarn. If that’s the case, I recommend the notebook even more to help keep you straight. Honestly, the hardest part is just remembering to update the notebook when you buy new yarn.
When you need to pick the right warp for your next project it isn’t as easy as just grabbing the first cone you can. It takes the right kind of yarn to be able to withstand the tension that the warp will be under. That’s not the only consideration though.
So how do you pick the right warp and what should you be looking for?
This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through these links then I will receive a small commission that helps keep the blog going – at no extra cost to you! Please read our DISCLAIMER for more info. Thanks for the support!
First, let’s take a second to go over the difference between warp and weft.
Your warp yarn is the foundation for your weaving. It is literally what you build upon – like the foundation of a house. The warp sits vertically in your frame or on your floor loom.
Your weft yarn is the part of the weaving that turns it into a fabric. It interacts with the warp and sits horizontally. Remember: Weft Goes Left. If we are sticking with our construction metaphor – it’s the walls.
Weft can be ANYTHING!
I mean that.
You can weave with yarn, fabric, grass, hair, etc. If it’s long enough then you can use it as weft.
Yes, I said hair.
When you need to pick the right warp on the other hand there are a few considerations you need to well… consider.
Size Matters Yarn Size Matters
Well, it does.
The size of your yarn can help determine the EPI of your weaving. If you’re not sure about the importance of EPI – then make sure to check out THIS post.
A thicker yarn will have a different EPI than a thinner yarn for the same kind of weaving. When it comes down to it – it’s all about the interaction between warp and weft. Thin and thick yarns interact, compress, and behave differently.
Some very common yarns to use for your tapestry warp are either 8/4 cotton, or 8/2 linen. With these size yarns you are able to weave a standard 6 EPI for tapestry with a lot of different weft yarns.
This is a great place to start. Just never forget to sample!
But… Let’s imagine just 2 out of the endless possibilities you could try:
You could choose a really thin yarn and set your warp up for tapestry to create a very intricate image. Think of image building in tapestry like pixels. The higher the EPI – the more pixels you have to work with.
Choose a really thick warp yarn to create wide warp channels. The warp channel within a weaving is created by the high compression of weft over the warp in tapestry. This is largely determined by the size of your warp. You could double your warp or use a thicker warp to create larger channels for a different look.
Strength Under Pressure
If you take a piece of yarn that you want to use for your warp and put it under tension, it should take some strength for it to snap. Now I’ve never done it – but I would imagine that you can’t just go into a yarn store and start snapping yarn to test it’s strength.
I am not recommending you do this.
If you already own the yarn though then snap away!
If your warp snaps after just a simple pull from you then either you will have to be very careful about the tension you put it under while weaving or be prepared to fix a lot of broken warps.
No one wants that.
Depending on how easily it breaks – it is possible to use it as warp for a more balanced weave that doesn’t require high tension. Play around with it and as always: SAMPLE FIRST!
So what if you do find yourself in a yarn store and you need to pick the right warp? After you resist the urge to break the yarn in your search for warp then you can look at the material to help you determine if it will work for you.
Material – Plant, Animal, or Oil
Yarn material can be put into three general categories: cellulose, protein, and synthetic. Cellulose yarn is made from plants, protein from animal hair or fur, and synthetic yarns are man made from things like petroleum.
Some materials are just better for warp than others. For example, cotton and linen are generally stronger than alpaca. This has to do with the length of the fibers that are used to make up the yarn. The longer they are, the harder it is for them to come apart. That doesn’t mean you can’t use alpaca for warp – you just have to be more careful and you probably wouldn’t use it for tapestry.
Why would you want to use it for tapestry anyway? You would be hiding that beautiful alpaca yarn under your weft yarns!
Please don’t do it!
Cotton and linen are the preferred warp choices for tapestry.
They’re really strong and tapestries are under a higher tension than their pattern woven counterparts. They are also usually smooth and allow for the weft to glide over them effortlessly. This smooth texture helps to ensure the weft flows over the warp instead of being caught on it.
On the other hand, using a warp with a little bit of “tooth” to it like a wool or alpaca will help to keep your weft in place for a more balanced weave. Keeping your weft in place helps to maintain your ideal warp to weft ratio.
Another consideration is that cotton tends to be softer and linen more stiff (at least until you wash it a few times). Keep that in mind when choosing as well. How do you want your weaving to drape?
Do you want it to drape?
Protein fibers tend to drape better than cellulose (but not always). Also, un-mercerized yarns drape better than their mercerized counterparts.
Mercerization is a treatment applied to some cellulose yarns to help them take dye better. It also makes them shrink less and gives them a shiny appearance.
Color – To dye or not to dye?
Color may or may not play a role in the warp you choose. A weft-faced weaving (tapestry) by definition is weft-faced. The warp is completely covered up by the weft.
There is a matter of the warp ends to deal with, but there are ways to finish a weaving where you can’t see the warp at all. Depending on your ideal finishing techniques you may want to consider a dyed warp. If you plan to finish your weaving with the warp completely hidden – then you can use the same warp for every weaving regardless of color.
On the other hand, a balanced or a pattern weave will show the warp. In this case the color is very important for the overall look of the weaving. You can either choose a warp color that is the same or similar to the weft so it blends into the overall weaving or an opposing color to make it really stand out.
It all depends on your goals.
When it comes to the color of your yarn you have the option to either purchase pre-dyed yarn or dye it yourself. Either way, it is important to know how much yarn you are going to need if a consistent color is your goal since color can vary between different dye lots. If you purchase a dyed yarn one day and the SAME yarn a week later – it may look different.
Same goes for dying your own. You’re only human and so many things can affect the resulting color of your dyed yarn that it is best to dye it all at once.
This is where planning comes into play.
If you have an unstable foundation – the rest of the house could fall. That’s why starting off with the right warp for your weaving is so important.