Let’s talk yarn!

The official Weaving & Spinning Week was only the first week of October, but that seemed extremely limiting. So, I have decided to extend it through the entire month! For this week, I want to chat about yarn – which would be the common denominator with folks paying attention to Spinning & Weaving Week. (I’m not sure if the “Spinning” is supposed to go first or the “Weaving”. So, I’ve just been flip-flopping them randomly to cover my bases.)

Yarn. It’s a massive category and I have no doubt that I’ve chatted you up about it before this! For the sake of this celebratory month, I thought I would narrow it down to some of my favorites. Without further adieu, I present to you my go-to fiber, the heavy-hitter, a constant companion – cotton! I LOVE me some cotton, let me tell you! While it isn’t very glamorous or glitzy, it’s the base for nearly everything I create. It’s reliable, responsible, and understated. If parts of the country were represented by fibers, I would say the Midwest would probably be cotton – or maybe wool for our friends farther north. (Hmm… I like this idea! There might be a blog post in the future. Maybe with a map… stay tuned…)

Cotton Yarn
Cotton yarn from Great Northern Weaving

Everyone has their own unique goals when doing a weaving project. Here are typically mine –

  • Yarn must be sturdy – particularly for the warp (yarns under tension in the loom). There are few things more annoying than broken threads.
  • Yarn must come in a million colors. Well, maybe not a million – but A LOT!
  • Yarn must play well with others. Not all fibers are team players.
  • Yarn must be okay with either the starring role or supporting position, depending on the project.
  • Yarn must be washable. Because I’ve ventured into homegoods recently, it is important to have towels you can throw into a machine to launder.

Early on, I discovered cotton was perfect for this list of criteria and I never looked back! I usually use carpet warp from Great Northern Weaving in Kalamazoo, MI. It comes in a 1/2 lb tube in a huge variety of colors. Depending on the project, I set it at 8 or 12 yarns per inch. And for 98% of my projects, that is the warp! It makes for easy planning because I have one less thing to decide. Cotton warp – done!

As for what goes into the shuttle, if I’m creating something that needs to be washable, I’ll use cotton as the weft, too. Or when I do a demonstration, it is simply easier to wind cotton on a bunch of bobbins and I’m ready to go. But, if I’m at home, working on the floor loom, I like to pull out the kitchen sink! Every yarn that I’ve ever purchased or inherited comes out to litter the floor around the loom. Then, I’ll use whatever colors or textures I like for the project and don’t worry about the mix of fibers. I throw them all into my rag shuttle and we have lift-off!

Variety of yarns
Variety of yarns huddled around the floor loom.

(Here’s my controversial disclaimer – I don’t technically “finish” all my fabrics. *Gasp!* Per old school weaving rules, all fabrics must go through some sort of rinsing/drying after it has been woven, but before it is presented to the world. I don’t always do that. If I’m creating fabric for a handbag, I might include 10 different fibers in the fabric. Because they will all act differently in water & heat, I don’t mess with it. It goes straight from the loom, to the seamstress.

Now, because handbags aren’t usually washed, it doesn’t keep me up at night. I do, however, attempt to be smart about other items people will definitely wash. All of my towels and nearly all of my table runners are washable. Before they are sold, I wash/dry them in the machines like my end customer will – just to be sure there aren’t any surprises. Some of the other items? Not so much. So, if you run into the weaving police, I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention it to them. Thanks ever so much. You’re good people. Now, back to the yarns!)

A variety of yarn on the shelf
A variety of yarn on the shelf

After cotton, I would say that wool solidly occupies second place. Matter of fact, I participated in a group overshot project once upon a time with the Duneland Weaver’s Guild and chose to use mercerized cotton for my squares. When all was said and done, I really preferred the look and feel of the wool that some of the other weavers used. (Can you sense the yarn envy I had going here? Ah, hindsight…)

Wool is simply yummy. I love the heathery look to the fibers and I don’t mind the scratchy texture. Although these days, wool isn’t necessarily itchy anymore, which makes it that much more enticing to work with! It can cost significantly more than cotton, which isn’t a deal-breaker, but is something to consider. My second weaving project EVER was a wool blanket. And it is gorgeous! I love it! However, this is a $120 blanket – not including the cost of the class or my time! Weavers need a lot of yarn for a project and if you are also a business person, the cost does become a factor.

Wool Blanket
Wool Blanket

After that? Well, I would say that I love all the other yarns that fall into my lap! I try to take advantage of the member yarn sales at the Duneland Weaver’s Guild meetings. And certainly I make it well known that I am game for whatever if friends/family/random strangers are pairing down their craft supplies! Once upon a time, I simply happened to take a phone call at the local art center where I work part time and a woman asked if anyone wanted to purchase her stash, since she wasn’t weaving anymore. Boy, I jumped all over that!! That was a good day, my friends!

Because my work is mostly a mix of colors and textures, I’m drawn to a little of everything! How about you? What’s your poison? Maybe some silk, a bit of bamboo, a hint of alpaca – the options are endless! As is my ability to talk about yarns! I would love to hear about your favorites! Then, we can compare yarn notes! (I don’t know that that is actually a thing, but I’m all in favor of spearheading it!) Happy weaving, everyone!!

Bolts of handwoven fabric
Bolts of handwoven fabric

 

4 thoughts on “Let’s talk yarn!

  1. I love cotton, too, and use it the most, by far. I like making towels and runners and napkins and placemats, and cotton is king for most of these. And I like Tencel for scarves.

    1. I haven’t worked much with tencel – is it available in different sizes like cotton? Washable? Thanks for the comment!!!

      1. I don’t think I’ve seen tencel any heavier that 8/2. It’s washable, by hand. Laura Fry, in Magic in the Water, says “Wet finish TencelĀ® with warm water, a light soap or detergent solution, agitation and a hard press. This results
        in a cloth with a lovely sheen and very good drape.”

  2. Thanks Kerry! I know there are a few weavers in our guild that are all about it! But I have yet to play with it myself. I appreciate the information!!

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