Weaving with Hand Spun Singles

4 June 2014

I love the look of cloth made from hand spun singles.


It is a very special look even  plain weave cloth has a bit of texture, a bit like dupioni silk.  But even more like khadi, the hand spun, hand woven cloth that was part of India’s liberation movement.  Single looking yarn that you buy from mills does not behave the same, probably because it is not really a single.  It is part of what drove me back into spinning.

Anyhow I am working on a piece that is hand spun merino singles and I am pleased with how it looks  so far.  But weaving it requires more mindfulness than most tabby weaving.

I started with a pin loom sample earlier this year:

merino sample


My estimate from this sample is that it is 10 epi by 10 ppi.   I got 2 pounds of pin drafted merino and spun it up in a medium twist, thick and thin singles.  After I skeined it up off the bobbins, I decided I did not want to wash it just yet.  Washing it in the skein would bloom and soften the yarn making it harder to weave.  I would prefer to have the water bloom the yarn and meld the warp and weft together after I have woven it.  But I would like to tame the twist a bit.  So I steamed the skeins.  As the steam penetrated the strand you could see the twist calm in front of your eyes.  It was hard to get the steam to all the stands in the skein equally and I wished I had steamed them while they were spread out on the niddy-noddy. Next time.

2# hand spun merino

2 pounds of hand spun merino singles.

Ready to warp! I chose to use a Rigid Heddle Loom and direct warping because it is easy for me to keep the warp under continuous tension.  The moment these singles are slack they kink up and tangle.  So with an estimate of the total yardage I calculate the length and width of the warp; 20 ” wide, 14 feet long—933 yards for the warp.

I made the mistake of taking the loom and yarn to a public space to warp and with many participants  and distractions the warp was a mess.  So I unwarped it when I got home; a rather tedious process because the singles need to be under tension to keep it from forming one big tangled wad.  That done I at least knew that the yarn was strong enough to be warped and unwarped.  I briefly debated using the virgin yarn to warp the loom but no, I didn’t think that there was quite enough since I always calculate the weft to be less than the warp.

Alone in my studio, with all my tools at hand, the warping went flawlessly.

warping hand spun


Here in this picture  the warp has been removed from the warping peg and attached to my inanimate helper, a cement block in a canvas bag.  This helper never tires and never lets go .  The winding on of the warp also went very smoothly and the warp beam looks good; tight and cylindric.

well wound warp







The weaving started well.   The warp is strong and there haven’t been breaks that cause problems, warping, unwarping or weaving.

begin weaving hs merino











Spinner worry about singles being strong enough for warp, not usually a problem.  The problem with this yarn are the thicker, lower twist areas tend to fuzz up.  This can cause two problems :

  1. the fuzz keeps the shed from opening cleanly
  2. the fuzz builds up in a wad behind/in front of the holes in the heddle and impedes the movement of the heddle.

I have decided to weave with a sword shuttle and use it to beat with instead of beating with the rigid heddle.  It is my impression that the holes, not the slots, of the RH wear on the softly spun area of the warp and bring up the fuzz.

sword shuttle











The sword  works like a stick shuttle but one edge is tapered to a knife edge for beating.  The weft then lies only on the other edge.

Since I have been using the sword to beat  no wads of fuzz have formed around the holes solving that problem.  Getting the sheds to open cleanly requires attention to many small details: tension even and fairly high, keep the fell line as far from the heddle as possible and be very mindful when inserting the sword  that each warp is in its proper position.

The process then is open the shed, carefully insert the sword, making sure no warps are out of place ( caught in fuzz) and beat the last pick in place .  Then remove the shuttle leaving behind a pick loosely in the shed.  Change sheds, and repeat.

The weaving is now going smoothly and I’ve used up a quarter of the weft. Using the sword is no slower than using a stick shuttle.



8 Responses to “Weaving with Hand Spun Singles”

  1. Donna Banta Says:

    Looks like fun!😄


  2. Hi Karren: Just searched to ask how brocade and supp. weft differ and came upon your pdf class announcement. I first wove in 1972 in YSO as a student teacher in an alternative school just off campus. Seeing your address brought back fond feelings. Happy weaving. Kate


  3. Looking good. Have you a plan for the finished cloth?


  4. Carrol Says:

    Hi Karren,
    I am a Rigid Heddle Weaver and use the direct method for warping I am very interested in your following statement … the warp has been removed from the warping peg and attached to my inanimate helper, a cement block in a canvas bag. Could you explain this method of using a cement block in a canvas bag in more detail after removing the warp from the warping peg, always looking for an easier way in warping. Thank you.


    • The cement block in a tote bag is simply a weight that I attach to the warp to tension it. I drag it across the floor. It never lets go. The constant tension is very important with the hand spun because it kinks up when you release the tension and can tangle. You can see it at the end of the warp in the 3rd pic from the top. You can see the beautifully wound beam that I got in the next picture.

      I have never been a fan of crank and yank and it would be a kinky mess with this hand spun. Others use weights to tension their warps, Kati Meek (Build Your Own Trapeze)uses vertical space and hangs weights on the end. I have more horizontal space than vertical and just drag it, less equipment too. But we all adapt to our own circumstances.


  5. I have made a quechquemitl form this cloth and have almost enough to make a second one. Looking for a way to make up the difference. No pics because the piece is for an exhibition.


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