Whether you are weaving up tapestry or plain weave – you will inevitably need some sort of “vehicle” to transport your weft. Shuttles, bobbins, and butterflies are only 3 of your options – but 3 of the most popular! When should you choose which option? Our debate today is Shuttles vs. bobbins vs. butterflies.
What are they used for?
When should you use one over the other?
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Shuttles generally fall into 2 categories:
Now, there are some variations on each option – and different companies make slightly different designs, but no matter the manufacturer most boat shuttles work the same, and most flat shuttles work the same.
These shuttles are great for when you are using a lot of a smaller sized yarn. They have the ability to hold more yarn then some of other options – but they are limited to thinner yarns that can fit inside the opening.
Most often, you will want to use a boat shuttle if you are weaving plain weave or balanced weave without a lot of discontinuous weft.
Discontinuous weft: 2 or more wefts in the same shed or woven on the same line.
They are one of the clunkier options when it comes to yarn “vehicles” and therefore not great if you will be using a lot of colors. You will want to limit your use to only a couple of shuttles at a time.
Arguably, the best thing that about a boat shuttle is the ease in which it glides through the shed of your weave and makes weaving faster and smoother. Since the bottom of the shuttle is glossy and the bobbin easily turns inside it – you can whip it through the shed with each pick woven.
When using a boat shuttle you will want to use a bobbin (different type) inside of the boat shuttle. While not completely necessary – I recommend a bobbin winder if you are using this type of shuttle so you aren’t winding all of your yarn by hand. THIS is the one that I have.
The bobbin winder and the shuttles themselves make this the most expensive option.
Flat shuttles and stick shuttles are the same thing – it just depends on who you are talking to. These were the first shuttles I used and probably the one I use the most often. They are simple and inexpensive. Between different manufacturers, the biggest difference is just the shape of the ends and whether or not it has a small notch. These minor differences aren’t a big consideration when choosing the shuttles to buy as they all do the exact same thing.
I recommend just buying the least expensive ones you can find in the size that you want. You can find flat shuttles HERE.
Flat shuttles work well for any type of weaving and come in all sizes. I use them often with tapestry when weaving on a low warp loom (a loom where the warp runs parallel with the floor) unless I have a lot of discontinuous weft in a small area – then I prefer using a butterfly.
Since flat shuttles stay flat they are great for when you only have a small shed and you wouldn’t be able to slide a boat shuttle through.
These are used most often on upright tapestry looms (high warp looms) and are designed to hang from the weaving for ease of use. The yarn on these tapestry bobbins wraps around the smallest part – so depending on the size of your bobbin and the size of your yarn they may not hold a lot of yarn. Despite this, they will allow you to use more yarn than if you were just using the yarn straight without anything to hold it. They also feature a pointed end that you can use to beat down the weft as you weave it up instead or in addition to a tapestry beater/ comb.
Bobbins can be really cheap or more expensive depending on the material used to make them. THESE are the bobbins that I have, but they are unfinished and therefore can be a little rough and not as nice to hold. You can try THESE if you are looking for some that are a little nicer/ smoother.
You do also have the option of using the same bobbins from your boat shuttle without the shuttle if you have them and don’t want to use the shuttle.
This could be a great option if you have a lot of colors and you need a lot of yarn. Anytime you can use a tool that allows more yarn at a time it will help to cut down on your weft tails and therefore the amount of finishing you will need to do.
You can use them in much the same way you would the traditional tapestry bobbins, they just won’t have the extra benefit of being able to condense your weft since they don’t come to a point.
This yarn only option is great for when you are weaving tapestry and you have a lot of colors in a small space. Due to the fact that they are under some tension, you can have them hang from the side, underneath, or on top of your weaving (if using an upright loom) so they are great in a lot of scenarios. They are also small so they don’t get in your way like a large shuttle might if you decide to keep them on top of the weaving.
Butterflies are the cheapest option since you don’t have to buy anything except the yarn you are using!
I have a FREE MINI-COURSE devoted to making butterflies and all about them. Check out the linked page or sign up below to take this completely free mini-course!
Once you’ve decided which option is right for you – check out my other post where I teach you how to correctly wind each one to make the most of your tools!
Which do you prefer for your weaving studio? Shuttles, bobbins, or butterflies? Or do you have something else that you like to use? Let me know why in the comments!
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