Weaving with a Handspun Warp

A month or so ago, one of my weaving students, a spinner, gave me a zip-top bag with 8 smallish balls of handspun yarn. They are a mix of wools from different fleeces, bits of silk and rabbit hair and all are plied yarns showing off a variety of natural-colored neutrals, from pale gray to dark brown, with bits of blue, purple and teal showing up here and there. I wanted to weave them into a scarf, but I did not want them in the weft. I wanted to see the beautiful lengthwise stripes of the different colors in the warp. But wait, are we allowed to use handspun in the warp?

I don’t spin, but wish I did. I know only a little bit about spinning – for example, the difference between s-twist and z-twist, and how weaving yarns are spun more tightly to accommodate the tension of the loom. Handspun, being more loosely twisted and stretchy, seems destined for weft applications only. Yet I frequently read of spinners breaking the rules and using their handspun in the warp. If they dare try it, why not I?

The yarn in question is probably what would be considered “bulky” weight, not something I typically use. I decided I could not use it on my rigid heddle loom since I do not have a 5-dent reed. The 7.5-dent reed I have would seriously abrade and damage the beautiful handspun. I decided to weave the scarf on my Baby Wolf floor loom, using a 6-dent reed, which posed no risk to the yarn. The tricky bit was the metal heddles on the shafts. They really are a little too small to allow the yarn to smoothly advance. There was going to be some pulling to coax the yarn through them.

There was enough yarn to make a 2.75-yard long warp of 42 ends, for a 7-inch wide project at 6 ends per inch. That left 8 yarn remnants from .75 yard to 1.5 yards long, which I wound into little yarn butterflies. I warped the loom, noting the excessive elasticity of the yarn and hoped for the best. Keeping decent tension was difficult, to say the least. To show off the beautiful warp stripes to best advantage, I made a weft yarn of 3 strands of 10/2 Tencel and bamboo rayon, all in different shades of brown. The scarf wove up quickly in plain weave and whenever I needed to advance the woven cloth onto the front beam, I grasped the warp yarns with both hands, pulling gently and evenly to get it all through the heddles at the same rate.

I was able to weave fairly close to the end of the warp, minimizing waste and making for quite a long scarf; the woven part is fully two yards long! I wet-finished and trimmed the fringe, leaving one end longer than the other. A barely warm iron smoothed everything into place and now I can’t stop admiring it. Having always been attracted to bright colors, I surprise myself with how much joy I get from looking at grays and browns! And the texture is unexpectedly thick, soft and warm – perfect for a cold winter day.

The remnants amounted to only a few yards of handspun, which I decided to combine with a white and brown thick and thin wool yarn in the weft of another project. I chose a tweedy dark brown silk noil for warp and put another 7-inch wide project on my loom, this one set at 12 ends per inch. I wove blocks of all the different yarns varying in width from 1 inch to 2.5 inches with the white wool. After finishing, it is only 64 inches long excluding fringe, and it’s way too scratchy to be comfortably worn around a neck. It will make a fine little runner or dresser scarf.


2 thoughts on “Weaving with a Handspun Warp

    1. Thank you, Arlene. The yarn passed the snap test, but was the ultimate knit/crochet yarn – very thick and super stretchy. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. I am pleased with the results of my experiment!

      Liked by 1 person

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