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How Do You Know If Your Warp Yarn Will Work For Your Weaving?

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?


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

Strength

Material

Color


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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.


pick the right warp
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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.


pick the right warp
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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.

Why?

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.


pick the right warp
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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. 

Do you have a favorite warp yarn? Let me know!

-Nicole
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