There are a lot of different yarns that you can choose from that may meet your sustainability needs. But what is sustainable yarn? Also, if there is a such thing as sustainable yarn – what counts as unsustainable yarn…?
For the record, I understand that sustainability might not be the first thing on your mind when choosing yarn.
There are a lot of aspects of weaving that require certain types of yarn (strong, absorbent, warm, etc.) Those yarn traits are probably the main thing you are looking for. Unfortunately, some of the more traditional yarns aren’t always the best for our planet. They may require pesticides to grow, use a significant amount of water, or be made from non-biodegradable materials.
The good thing is that we are living in a time where we have access to other choices.
We also live in a time where it feels like you have to pick and choose what “type” of sustainability you are looking for.
Sometimes finding the sustainable yarn option might mean choosing between the fiber that is vegan or that one that requires very little processing. It can be hard to not feel a bit overwhelmed when facing these choices.
Knowing your options is a good first step.
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Natural doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable
That would be too easy.
If you are worried about your weaving footprint, then buying natural yarns over synthetic yarns is a really good place to start.
Natural yarns are those that are either cellulose (made from plants) or protein (taken from animals). As opposed to synthetic yarns that are made from petroleum and plastic.
I talk more about types of yarns in my choosing the right warp post HERE.
While synthetic yarns definitely have their time and place (that is a different post!) their link to petroleum and other fossil fuels plus their tendency to “shed” micro-plastics into our water are problematic. To say the least. Specifically, polyester is known to leach plastic into the water and end up in the fish that you eat!
Just because your fibers are grown instead of created, though, doesn’t make them perfect.
It is important to look at how they are grown and their effect on the environment to really understand their impact.
What to look for in sustainable fibers
How it is grown/ cultivated
Different fibers require vastly different environments and resources. While some may grow easily with little water and little need for pesticides, there are others that may take a toll on the soil by depriving it of nutrients. These crops then require more water to grow.
Plant fibers that take less resources are inherently better for the environment, but they are not your only option.
Sustainability usually describes the impact of the plants used to create your yarn. Another thing to look at is the way the protein fibers that you are using are harvested and the way the animals are treated.
Let’s look at silk
Traditional silk is created by farming silkworms specifically for that purpose. These worms are then boiled and the silk is harvested from their cocoons. There is a different method of silk creation called peace silk that does not kill the worms but instead lets them hatch. In this case, the silk isn’t as long as traditionally harvested silk since the cocoon is broken. The resulting fabric doesn’t have the same shine.
The issue with peace silk, though, is that the silkworms have been raised over centuries purely for the purpose of silk production. Ultimately, they only live a few miserable days after hatching. If you are looking for a more humane option than traditional silk, arguably, a silk alternative would be a better choice.
That being said, if you are not worried about that humane treatment of silkworms (no judgment) then just make sure to look at the other sustainability questions when searching for a silk yarn that you will use.
While we all want our yarn and yarn creations to last forever, fiber is inherently ephemeral. This is why we have way less ancient textiles than ancient pottery or metalwork. While they can be preserved to make it last longer, a lot of textiles (notably non-synthetic ones) will break down when exposed to the elements for extended periods of time.
With the exception of woven artwork, this is actually for the best. When your woven towels, blankets, and other textiles are no longer usable it is ideal for them to break down and return to the earth. Otherwise, they end up sticking around indefinitely adding more volume to our overflowing landfills.
Most of your cellulose and protein fibers will be biodegradable. Whereas synthetics either won’t break down or will break down into the micro-plastics mentioned earlier.
What if the fiber is processed and not grown?
While generally most processed yarns are not going to be on the sustainable end of the spectrum, processing doesn’t necessarily make it a bad choice.
When looking at processed yarns it is important to not only think about what the yarn is made from but also how it is made. It is also important to consider the work conditions of those that are making it.
Certain seemingly sustainable yarns are a bit deceptive.
Rayon is one of the biggest examples of this. Due to its shiny nature, it is a good alternative to silk if you are looking for a vegan option. Unfortunately, vegan does not necessarily mean good for the environment.
Rayon initially seems good on paper. It is most often made from bamboo which is known to be one of the most sustainable plants due to its fast-growing nature. That is why it is often marketed as “green”.
While rayon is a cellulose-based fiber, it is essentially lab-created. It is put through a rigorous process to turn cellulose into yarn. During this process, the bamboo is turned into a pulp using potentially dangerous chemicals. Since rayon is made in an open-loop system, these chemicals can leach back into the environment during processing. These same chemicals are also inhaled by the people processing the yarn.
Don’t start to feel lost though! I know it is starting to seem like I am only giving bad news, but there is potentially a better option when looking for more sustainable fibers.
Tencel (brand name for lyocell fiber) is technically a type of rayon because it is a man-made cellulose fiber. Unlike most rayon, though, Tencel is made from sustainable eucalyptus trees in a closed-loop system. This means that the chemicals used to turn eucalyptus into yarn won’t enter back into the environment. The chemicals used are also safer for everyone involved. Overall, it can be a better choice.
Tencel and rayon are also similarly shiny. Rayon could arguably have more luster, but the sustainability of Tencel might outweigh that for you.
Should you buy organic yarn?
Another thing to consider is organic or conventional?
Organic yarn may seem unnecessary if you think about organic purely as a classification for foods that we consume. This is completely understandable!
Since we won’t be consuming cotton or other natural fibers – is it worth it to spend the extra money?
In my opinion? Yes, if you can.
Organic yarns mean that they were grown without the use of pesticides. Textiles won’t be passing on pesticides to our digestive systems, but they have an overall effect on the environment and the wildlife where the fibers are grown. If you take a look at the bigger picture when it comes to organic fibers, they are worth it.
The price of organic yarns (much like organic foods) can be prohibitive for some people, though. So to this, I say: be mindful of what you are using and make the best choices that you can.
Organic vs conventional yarn – cotton
Cotton is one of the most used fibers around the world.
Conventional cotton uses pesticides to deter pests and these pesticides can leach into the surrounding environment and water systems. The pesticides can also linger on the finished cotton and cause skin issues in those with sensitive skin. Overall, conventional cotton is one of the thirstiest plants to produce. It results in 16% of the world’s water usage!
Organic cotton, on the other hand, uses insects that do not harm the cotton to deter the pests that would. It is also grown while utilizing crop rotation which makes the soil healthier and requires a lot less water.
91% less water.
During processing, conventional cotton uses chemicals to clean and dye the cotton and can negatively affect the workers that are processing it. Organic cotton doesn’t have this issue.
Aesthetically, organic cotton is also a more luxurious yarn to weave with! All organic cotton is hand-picked instead of picked by a machine. This makes it so that the longest cotton fibers are preserved resulting in a softer yarn.
Linen and hemp are also a good choice for sustainable yarn, but just like cotton – organic is even better. Conventional linen and hemp are biodegradable and use less water than conventional cotton. Hemp is also naturally resistant to pests so it requires no pesticides to grow.
I wish I could say it was easy to always identify the sustainable choice and/ or the right choice for your weaving. Instead, arming yourself with some knowledge and making sure you are making informed decisions is one of the best things that you can do.
These are some of my favorites that I have in my own studio:
I may be a bit biased when it comes to linen because much like my love for cotton, linen is a staple in my own studio.
That being said, it has a permanent home in my own weaving studio for a reason. Aesthetically, linen’s natural colors and natural shine work perfectly in my tapestries as warp and weft.
So what makes weaving with linen so special? Read on.
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Linen is a natural bast fiber made from the flax plant (the same plant you get flax seeds from.) Bast fiber which also includes hemp, jute, and milkweed are fibers made from the inside of the straw-like stems of these plants. The anatomy of a bast fiber shows a harder outer layer, the phloem (this is the fiber layer), and a core.
Flax plants have two varieties: textile flax and linseed flax. These two types of flax are grown to either produce linen or to harvest the seeds for many other different uses. They have slightly different appearances and are also grown, harvested, and processed in different ways.
As I’m sure you can guess – we will be focusing on the textile flax.
In the field, flax can reach heights between 30” – 47” which means the fibers used to create linen are similarly long. They are also planted close together to encourage vertical growth over horizontal growth. Prior to harvesting, the flax plant grows delicate blue flowers.
Flax naturally comes in different colors depending on its growing situation. Minerals in the soil as well as where it is grown can affect the color of the finished linen, but it may wash out eventually.
Due to the makeup of the fibers, it also contains waxes, pectin, and gums. These things all can wash away over time making your linen yarn whiter and less dense. You also get two different types of fiber from linen processing. Line flax (long, luxurious, and shiny fibers) and tow flax (shorter and weaker fibers).
Flax grows well in moist and warm locations. It is harvested when mature, but not too mature in order to get the best quality fiber. Once the plant matures for a longer period it is no longer a good choice for fiber. Instead, the seeds can be harvested to be used or replanted next year.
To harvest the flax for linen it is always pulled from the ground and never cut. This is because it allows for the longest possible fibers. These stalks are then dried and after drying there are multiple time-intensive ways to extract the phloem from the rest of the plant.
If you are interested in reading more about how to turn flax into linen then I recommend Linen – From Flax Seed To Woven Cloth by Linda Heinrich. This book is a must for anyone interested in learning more about every aspect of flax and linen. It goes over the growing, harvesting, processing, dyeing the linen as well as linen weaving projects.
I also recommend The practical spinner’s guide: Cotton, Flax, Hemp by Stephanie Gaustad. This book is a great introductory book to these three cellulose fibers and is a good option if you want to learn more, but want something a little less in depth.
Beyond tapestry, linen is also often used for lightweight clothing and home goods. The word “linens” has become synonymous with sheets and towels even though traditionally they weren’t always made from linen.
In the next section, you can see why linen works well for all of these things.
Weaving with linen is great for anything that needs to be fast-drying. It is also incredibly absorbent. Linen is actually the most absorbent natural fiber! Towels are a fantastic example of this since you want your towels to absorb moisture but not hold onto it.
One of the most well-known properties of linen is how lightweight it is. If you think about summer-y linen pants then you can probably imagine their breezy nature made possible by the linen.
Linen is also a resilient fiber. If you are looking for something that will wear well then this could be a great option. When exposed to sunlight, linen does not discolor but instead reverts to the natural color of cellulose (white).
Just like cotton, linen is actually stronger when wet. This is another reason why it makes such a good option for towels or the like.
If you are looking for a fiber with the greatest amount of strength then look no further than linen. For reference, linen has historically been used to create rope (alongside hemp and jute.)
You don’t make rope out of fragile materials.
Due to its strength, it makes a fantastic warp for anything, but especially tapestry since it requires such high tension. Also, if you don’t love the look of linen (…why?) then hiding behind your tapestry weft won’t be an issue.
Depending on the weaving you are creating, though, it may not be your ideal choice for warp on a pattern weave since it will be seen. Instead, find the strongest yarn that you can that works with what you are creating.
Unlike cotton that needs mercerization to be shiny, line linen is actually naturally shiny without any treatments. (Learn about mercerized cotton and other yarn treatments HERE). Tow linen, though, is less shiny because it is shorter and requires more twists when spinning than line linen.
Line linen is almost always wet spun which also adds to its shiny appearance. This means that it uses a spinning process that requires warm water to smooth and soften the fibers. Tow linen can be wet spun, but is usually dry spun. Dry spun tow linen is even more absorbent and has a “tooth” to it that can be a benefit for certain types of woven textile or rope.
Memory (stays crimped etc.)
If you have ever owned any linen clothing then you know how hard it can be to get wrinkles out!
Linen fibers have a memory and don’t always like to cooperate when you are trying to force them to do things. If you use linen in your weaving, but then unweave it – it will retain a crimped appearance where it went over and under your other yarn.
This also means that when purchasing it won’t be found in balls but instead only on cones or tubes. These help to tame linen’s wild nature.
Takes time to soften
Right off the cone linen isn’t always luxurious. While it has it in its nature to become a soft and beautiful fiber, until its been washed a few times, it will be stiff.
Not only does the linen naturally have waxes and other substances in the fiber, but oils are often used to more easily spin the flax into linen. All of these things make for a stiff yarn.
Linen can shrink after being washed so always make sure to either wash your linen yarns before weaving or make sure to do a sample and know the amount of shrinkage you have to account for. You can learn more about shrinkage HERE or in my ebook that you can purchase below (it has so much more in it too!)
While linen is pretty resilient nothing is perfect.
Whereas it does very well when wet and when heat is applied, it likewise breaks down in low humidity situations. The linen fibers themselves can start to fray and break if they get too dry. Traditionally linen was woven in humid rooms for this reason. You don’t want your linen to be wet, though, because it is also prone to mildew.
Keep in mind that humidity can be bad for your loom, so be careful if you decide to work this way.
Generally speaking you should be fine in your regular home studio.
Can be costly (compared to cotton)
Linen is not the least expensive option you can choose when weaving, but not a lot compares to its strengths (and it’s strength!)
When compared to cotton, linen tends to be more expensive so if you are making a sample just to see if something works then I recommend sampling with a similarly sized cotton instead. This obviously doesn’t work if you need to test for linen shrinkage – in that case use the linen.
FYI, 8/4 cotton and 8/4 linen are actually different sizes. Learn about yarn sizes HERE.
Whatever the reason you are looking to weave with linen, it is a great material that has so many different uses. If you haven’t tried it yet or you are looking to get started with this versatile, but underappreciated fiber then check out some of my favorite linen yarns.
Cotton: the fabric of our lives… That’s their motto right?
Either way, it is an extremely common but amazingly versatile material used in everything from clothing to currency. When it comes to weaving, it’s actually one of my favorite materials that I use all the time in my own studio!
While most of us probably just buy our cotton yarn from the store (learn about great places to buy yarn online HERE) before it gets close to your loom it first has to be grown.
What do you really know about cotton though? What makes it good for your weaving?
I’ve talked about cotton somewhat in some other blog posts, so you can check out these posts for some more cotton information!
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!
The cotton that we all know and love comes from a sometimes perennial and sometimes annual plant grown all around the world. It depends on the climate where it’s grown. It is a part of the mallow family of plants – where it is distantly related to 4,225 other plants including okra, durian (the stinky fruit), and hibiscus.
Cotton actually starts out as a flower before turning into the plant we all recognize.
After flowering, the cotton plant produces its fruit – otherwise known as the distinct white fluffy pod or “boll”. As the boll matures it opens up to reveal the sections that get turned into yarn. Biologically, these fluffy sections are what cover-up and protect the seed.
There are four main species of cotton that each have unique characteristics.
The 4 main species
Pima or Egyptian Cotton
Upland or Mexican Cotton
luxurious, long fibers
most common, less expensive
rare, used for muslin and gauze
course with a short staple, seeds can be used for medicinal purposes
The two most common cotton species that you will probably come across are upland and pima.
Upland cotton accounts for about 90% of the world’s cotton usage. This means the cotton you have in your stash is probably upland cotton.
Pima cotton is the premium option you might come across in the yarn store. If you’re looking for the softest most luxurious cotton for your weaving then this is the one you want! Most of us have probably heard of Egyptian cotton sheets or similar fabrics. This is the same type of cotton! Pima and Egyptian cotton both come from the same species, but differ in where they are grown.
Gossypium barbadense originated from the Nile River Valley, but when it was brought over to the United States – agriculturalists worked alongside the Pima Tribe of Arizona to perfect the American Pima cotton.
Pros to weaving with cotton
When looking for cotton yarn to weave with there are a lot of options to choose from. Make sure to check out yarn treatments and specialty yarns to learn more about some of the different options you might come across when purchasing yarn to weave with.
Strong (stronger when wet) and 3x as strong as wool of the same diameter
Cotton’s strength is just one aspect that makes it so good for so many things. It is an excellent choice for warp because of this exceptional strength. This makes it less likely to snap while under tension on the loom.
It also makes it ideal for anything that you need to be strong like most functional weavings.
There’s a reason sheets, denim, and towels are usually made from cotton.
Due to the chemical composition of the cotton it is actually stronger when wet. Where some materials like rayon lose strength when wet and other synthetic fibers like acrylics are not affected by moisture at all. If you are creating a weaving that will be used wet (towels) then cotton makes a great choice.
Depending on what you have created, you may never even need to wash your weaving. Most of the time, you’re not going to be washing a tapestry after it’s finished.
If you are creating functional work then this might be an important thing to consider since functional work is more likely to be used and washed. Towels are a great example of a woven textile that you will probably want to dry quickly.
Moths are the bane of most fiber artist’s (and most people’s) existence. They of course have their place in the world – but they don’t have a place in your studio!
Luckily if you’re weaving primarily with cellulose fibers like cotton then they should really be an issue. Moths are attracted to the keratin found in protein fibers (animal fibers) like wool, alpaca, and silk. Since cotton is made from plants and not animal fibers the moths leave it alone!
While it’s still advisable to properly store your yarn and weavings to protect them from other things like dust and dog fur, the cotton should at least be safe from these pests. Check out how to store and protect your weavings in THIS post.
Sustainable and Biodegradable
Before cotton even comes near your loom it first has to be grown! As a crop, cotton is both drought and heat resistant and therefore is easier to grow and uses less water than growing your lawn. We have also gotten to the point where we can use the whole crop – not just the boll – so that nothing goes to waste. This makes cotton a great choice if you are looking for a sustainable fiber.
Unfortunately, there may come a time when your weaving has lived its life. Since it is a cellulose fiber (made from plants) it is compostable and biodegradable. If you’re worried about the lasting impact of your fiber art then choosing biodegradable fibers is a great option. At the very least, your yarn scraps can be disposed of responsibly if you can’t find a way to upcycle them.
Learn more about recycling/ upcycling your yarn scaps in THIS post.
As discussed earlier, cotton comes in different price points depending on the type of cotton that you are using.
Despite that, it still tends to be one of the more economical options you can choose from when it comes to deciding what yarns you want to use in your weaving. Especially if you are looking at using cotton for your tapestry warp.
The very inexpensive option of using 8/4 cotton rug warp is much less expensive than a similarly sized linen yarn. There are advantages to linen over cotton, but if the price is your primary concern then cotton works very well.
This same cotton is my favorite to use for samples due to the price, but I’ve also used it for finished weavings when they called for it. It also comes in many different colors that you can purchase or you can always dye your own since cotton takes dye well.
If you are looking for a yarn that has some stretch to it, then cotton isn’t what you want. Due to the make-up of the cotton fibers (cells that are stacked on top of each other) they have very little elasticity. With cotton you basically get what you see. If you are planning to make garments out of your woven cotton fabric then you may need some extra darts to get it more fitted.
Elasticity isn’t only determined by fiber and in fact, is also largely determined by the way you use it. Take a look at my post about the difference between weaving, knitting, and crochet to learn more about this.
Beyond it’s strength, this characteristic is actually what lends itself so well to being used as warp. (ok, so this part isn’t a con…)
Due to this lack of elasticity, cotton is prone to wrinkling. Again, depending on what you are weaving this may not even be an issue. Luckily, it is also able to withstand significant heat so it is easy to iron or straighten out.
That being said, it is also highly flammable, so just don’t keep the iron in one place for too long…
While it’s not the fiber most prone to wrinkling (this designation belongs to linen which is notorious for holding on to crimps and bends) it is still significant enough to keep it in mind.
If you’re interested in learning more about cellulose fibers then I recommend The Practical Spinner’s Guide – Cotton, Flax, Hemp. It is targeted towards spinners, but as a weaver, I still found it incredibly interesting. This easy to read book talks about the history of how cotton, flax (linen), and hemp are grown and processed. It also includes tips for spinning. If you’re interested in weaving or spinning cellulose fibers then you should check it out!
Cotton is relatively easy to work with and can be used in any manner of weavings. It’s versatile enough to be used for clothing, towels, tapestries, and anything in between. It’s also one of my favorite weaving yarns to use and start new weavers out with.
It happens to the best of us. Weaver sees yarn. Weaver buys yarn. Weaver has no idea what to do with yarn.
We’ve all been there.
In fact, if you’re like me you have quite a stash of yarn that is sitting and waiting to be used! Skeins and cones that I picked up just because I liked the color or as souvenirs. So what happens when you find this amazing yarn, but you don’t have a project in mind? Have you ever thought about letting your yarn determine your weaving project?
Let’s go over how to create a weaving project around your yarn instead of the other way around.
Know Your Yarn
The first thing you need to do is determine what the yarn can be used for. You need to look at the size, fiber content, strength, color, and feel.
I go over finding your perfect warp yarn in THIS post so check that out if you’re wondering about whether your yarn will work as warp. Once you determine that, you can move on.
Generally speaking almost anything can be used as weft, but not every weft is created equal. At least not for every weaving project.
Think about this in relation to the warp you are choosing. Perhaps you are using the same yarn as warp and weft, in either case, think about how your yarns will interact.
Your yarn size plays a really important part of the type of weaving that you are trying to create. Consider what type of weaving works well with the yarn you have. If your yarn is really thick, it might serve you best as a rug weft or couched onto the surface of your tapestry. Really thin yarns aren’t always ideal for tapestries unless you are weaving something intricate – unless you want to be weaving forever.
The yarn’s size can help you figure out what EPI you should use or at least start with for your sampling. Even if you didn’t purchase this yarn online, you can always check out the information for similar sized yarns to see what their recommended warp setts are as a good place to start. Hopefully you have the packaging or information stickers from the yarn you are wanting to use. This will tell you what size yarn you have. If you don’t know the size, then you can estimate an EPI to start with by figuring out the WPI.
I talk more about WPI in my weaving planning e-book! You can learn more about that by clicking on the image below!
Since different materials have different things that they excel at, this is important to keep in mind. If you find yourself with a wool yarn, you probably won’t want to use it to make tea towels since the wool would take a long time to dry.
Some examples of types of fibers that you might want to use for common weaving projects:
Towels (fast drying) – Cotton and linen
Scarves (warm, drapes well) – Wool, Alpaca, Acrylic. A spring or early fall scarf might be made from cotton or cottolin instead because it’s lighter.
Rugs (holds up to heavy traffic) – Wool, Acrylic, Cotton (mostly as warp)
Tapestry – Cotton or linen warp and wool weft (wool dyes better than other yarn types)
That doesn’t mean you are stuck using these materials for these particular projects. For example, most of my tapestries are made with cotton and linen weft because I’m more interested in the material than the range of colors that I can get. So do whatever feels right, but keep in mind what may be the best fit.
How strong does your yarn need to be? If you’re using it as warp then it’s important that your yarn be strong in order to hold up to the tension it will be under. This is even more important if you are using it for your tapestry warp since it requires an even tighter tension than other weaving types.
Even weft will need a certain level of strength especially if you are creating a functional weaving. Yarn that is easy to break isn’t ideal for rugs that are going to see a lot of traffic. They will be more likely to fall apart after some use.
Different fibers are going to have different strengths mostly due to the way they are spun and the properties of the material. For example, linen is a very strong yarn because the flax plant that is used to create it has long fibers. The longer the fibers are, the harder it will be for them to pull a part.
To test your yarn out you can hold it in each hand and pull! Do this a couple times like you can see above. If it breaks easily, it is most suitable for non-functional work or as an accent yarn.
Color doesn’t play a huge role in the type of weaving you can create, but it might play a role in the type of weaving you want to create. You can play around with color combinations between your different yarns to create fun and interesting weaving projects.
Try wrapping your yarns you want to use around a piece of card stock or cardboard for a super quick way to see how good they look together. You can even save this and put it in your yarn notebook or sketchbook for future reference. On that note, make sure to record your new yarn in your notebook so if you like it, you can remember where to get more!
You could also just have all your skeins/ cones next to each other for color reference, but wrapping them let’s you see your colors in the ratio that you will see them in your weaving. Also, it looks nice! (it’s the little things sometimes)
This can be as simple as holding the yarn.
Is it soft or scratchy?
This will help you to determine if your yarn is suitable for functional weavings like scarves and blankets or better off used on your woven wall hangings.
If you want to use it as a scarf then try rubbing it on your face and neck! Since this is where your scarf will be worn it’s important that it’s comfortable. Something to keep in mind is that some yarns will get softer after washing, so you might want to test it out after it’s been washed. Do this by either washing a woven sample or a few strands of the yarn. Some yarns get fuzzier and some get softer after being washed.
Another thing you can do is to squish the yarn between your fingers to get a feel for how tightly spun it is. Yarns that aren’t spun as tight and have more air in them tend to feel softer because they have some give. Looser spun yarns will compress more when you beat down on them and might even drape better.
The best way to test the drape of a yarn is to – you guessed it – create a sample. Drape is determined by the warp and weft material as well as the weave structure. But, a strand or two draped over your hand unwoven is better than nothing if you can’t weave up a sample.
Create a sample
I’m sure you saw this coming…
Samples are an amazing learning tool that you can use as a new or more advanced weaver. I use them all the time!
Doing these samples can help you figure out certain things like if your yarn is going to shrink after washing it. Does it get softer after a few washes? How do your different yarns (if using more than 1) interact?
Create a sample and then put it through the ringer (or washer) and try it out in different scenarios to see if it holds up to what you want it to do.
This will help you to figure out what to do with your yarn because now you have a real life example of what it is or isn’t good for!
Make sure your sample is large enough to actually get some information out of it – at least 2 inches by 2 inches. Or make more than 1. That being said, if you have limited amounts of this yarn then multiple samples may not be the best option. You don’t want to use it all up before you can fully make something! In that case, prioritize what you need to know in order to get weaving.
Once you have all of this information, the only thing left is to find your inspiration and start weaving! If you’re letting your yarn determine your weaving project then it’s very possible that the yarn itself is your inspiration! In that case – just make sure it will work first!
While knitting/crochet and weaving yarn can sometimes be used interchangeably – there are notable differences. I already did a blog post on decoding weaving yarn sizes that you should check out if you are in the market for weaving yarn. That being said, it can be oh so tempting to stroll into your local craft or yarn store and pick up any fresh skein of yarn that catches your eye. Trust me, I often fight this temptation.
Yarn is just so beautiful.
Unfortunately, you can’t always use those yarns for weaving (at least not for warp). Really, the topic of knitting and crochet yarn is a whole new section of the yarn universe.
For the purpose of this post I will refer to yarn as either weaving or knitting yarn, but keep in mind that yarn that works for knitting should also work for crochet. For the record – I am not bias towards knitting over crochet (in fact I’m a much better crocheter than knitter!), but I had to choose one for the sake of readability and knitting won.
Let’s go down the yarn rabbit hole.
One of the most notable differences in the weaving vs knitting yarn discussion is that the sizing is so COMPLETELY different.
The quick and dirty version of weaving yarn sizes is that weaving yarn sizes are categorized by fractions where the top of the fraction is the size and the bottom is the number of plies (think 8/4 cotton). These sizes vary depending on the material.
Knitting yarn on the other hand is categorized by descriptions. They range from 0 (lace) to 7 (super bulky) and within these categories they are further categorized: Chunky, Worsted, Sport, DK (Double Knit), Baby, Sock, Fingering, and Lace.
Yarns are placed in these categories by measuring their WPI or Wraps Per Inch around a ruler. Due to this, generally speaking you can expect any yarn in their respective category to create the same amount of stitches if you use the same hook or needle. This makes using these yarns for knitting or crochet simple.
So what does that mean for weaving?
Unfortunately, unlike weaving yarn, I don’t know of any knitting or crochet yarns that give you a recommended warp sett on the packaging or website. Normally when buying weaving yarn online you can look up the recommended warp sett or EPI that will tell you how many warps per inch you will need for balanced weave.
Don’t worry! There is a way.
I do highly recommend you check out the EPI post linked if you are brand new before moving on to comparing WPI in the next section! When it comes to weaving – EPI is way more important to planning your weaving than WPI. WPI mostly comes into play if you are looking at non-weaving yarns.
Now, just like most knitting yarns don’t automatically tell you the recommended EPI – most weaving yarns don’t automatically tell you the recommended WPI.
Luckily, there is an easy way to figure out a general WPI based on the information that is usually given.
All you have to do is multiply the recommended EPI by 2.
Let’s look at an example:
Weaving EPI x2 = Approximate WPI
My go to favorite sample warp yarn: 8/4 Cotton Rug Warp
Recommended warp sett (EPI) for balanced weave: 12-15 (this number comes from experience, but also from the website I purchased it from)
12 x 2 = 24
15 x 2 = 30
WPI = Approximately 24 – 30
If you then take that info and look at the chartsHERE and HERE – then you can see that 8/4 cotton is similar to a category 1 knitting yarn or fingering/ sock weight.
Weaving yarn tends to be much stronger than knitting and crochet yarn. This is because weaving requires the yarn to be consistently under high tension.
Due to this, you might not always be able to use knitting yarns for your warp.
They will still work well as weft, since anything can be weft.
So how do you know if it will work as warp? Besides reading the post I linked at the beginning!
You have to do the strength test. If you own the yarn then this is really easy. Just take the yarn in both hands and give it a really good tug. If it breaks easily? Weft only. If it takes a lot to break? Possibly ok as warp if you don’t need a lot of tension. Doesn’t break? Perfect.
If you don’t own the yarn then if you are lucky they yarn store employees will know about weaving and be able to help you determine if a specific yarn is strong enough to be under high tension.
Employees not sure? You could always buy it anyway and if it breaks – it will still work for weft.
So if you did happen to stroll into that yarn store and pick up some beautiful yarn – don’t worry! You can still find a way to use it in your weaving!
Knitting yarn also has a tendency to be stretchier than weaving yarn. This is because since it isn’t spun as tightly it has more energy and spring to it. This means that if you decide to use it for warp – once it is no longer under tension, your weaving could change. Each yarn could be different though – so it’s best to try it out first if you want to use it.
When in doubt, though, it is probably best to purchase yarn made for weaving – at least when it comes to your warp.
Is that a word?
When yarn is spun commercially it often is spun with oils. These oils make it easier to spin and keep all the individual fibers neat and smooth.
A lot of weaving yarns maintain these oils even after they are put on the cone and shipped to your studio.
Why would they do that?!?
Smooth yarns that still have their oils on them can be easier to warp your loom with! This is especially true when your EPI is tight. This means all of your warp yarns will be closer together and if you are warping a floor/ table/ or rigid heddle loom then the dents will be smaller. Therefore, it is harder to pass warp through. If they are oiled up – well you get the picture.
That doesn’t mean that the yarn will be oily to the touch though. So don’t feel like you have to go wash your hands immediately after handling it.
It does mean that you will need to consider this when planning your weaving. While the oils make it easier to warp your loom – if you are weaving something that won’t be washed you might want to consider washing the yarn first. If you are weaving functional work then don’t worry – just wash it when it’s all said and done and it will “bloom” and fill out.
Not all weaving yarns are like this – but some are.
Knitting yarns on the other hand, don’t share this oily characteristic. They aren’t inherently as smooth as weaving yarns – but that doesn’t mean that none of them are smooth. Just that there is a greater chance of them being fuzzy.
So what does this all mean? It means that when you are purchasing yarn you have to be aware of what you are buying. It’s always a good idea to ask questions and when in doubt – make a sample!
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!