Drapable Scarves on the Rigid Heddle
I received an email from a knitting student from a long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) asking for some help; she is just starting to weave on a rigid heddle, and she is not happy with her projects. She said that she used 3/2 mercerized cotton for warp and weft on her 12 dent heddle for a scarf and she felt that it was too heavy and not very drapable. She lives in a relatively warm climate, so she had thought a cotton scarf would be perfect for her winters. After she was done, she figured that the 3/2 cotton must have been too thick, so next she used a 10/2 cotton because she knows some weavers who use it for their scarves. She again used her 12 dent heddle. Her results were even worse, she said: she tried to avoid a flimsy, unstable fabric, but the weft packed so much that she ended up with a very stiff fabric. “What went wrong”? she asked, “What should I have done?”
For the first scarf: heavy, dense yarns make heavy, dense fabrics, which are appropriate for some uses. For the second scarf, we match the sett to the yarn, not the other way around. An open warp sett for a thin yarn is how we make weft-faced fabrics, for example heavy and durable rugs, not scarves.
Here are some ideas to answer my students “What should I have done?”
I agree that 3/2 cotton is too heavy for a scarf; I use it successfully to make table runners and place mats. In the way of a comparison, the plain weave scarf my student made, with a finished width of 8” wide and length of 60”, weighs 4.1 oz; a comparable size plain weave scarf woven with 10/2 cotton sett at 20 epi weights 2 oz., sett at 22 epi weighs 2.2 oz. Big difference in weight.
With a rigid heddle, we have to use the sett of the heddle, and 12 is about the upper limit possible because of mechanical reasons. But there are plenty of yarns that can be sett at 12 and give wonderful results. We need yarns that are not heavy or dense: wool, for example, wool and silk blends, or one of the new light weight synthetic yarns.
Here is one of my scarves with sock yarn for warp, 75% superwash merino and 25% nylon, and polyester hair yarn for weft; it weighs less than 3 oz. and it’s fluffy and fun.
Sometimes we are reluctant to use handspun on our shaft looms: we may be afraid that the warp will stretch too much, or that the yarn is not strong enough for the tension needed and it will break; and there is also a lot of loom waste. The rigid heddle is perfect for that handspun: the lesser tension is less likely to cause the warp to stretch or to break, and the loom waste is just enough for fringes on a scarf.
I wove a scarf with my handspun, commercially dyed, 65% superwash merino and 35% silk for warp and weft. The scarf weighs less than 3 oz. and it is warm. This scarf was the topic of the February 2019 blog, but here it is again.
What if I have a thin yarn that I want to use on my rigid heddle? Here is a possible solution:
The warp of this scarf is a ribbon, “Gedifra”, 100% cotton which wraps at 6 wpi; the weft is Jems Luxe Fibers, “Nimbus”, 72% Kid mohair, 28% silk, which wraps at 40 wpi. The close set of 5 epi allows the scarf to show off the variegation of the ribbon; with the thin weft, the scarf is light weight and drapable. The mohair is an added bonus, giving the scarf a halo.
The weft of the scarf below also wraps at 6 wpi; it is hand-dyed silk Sari ribbon by the Wonderland Collection; the warp is 5/2 silk from RedFish Dyeworks; sett at 12, the warp was open enough to show the weft, but the scarf would be heavy and not very flexible if I had used only the ribbon for weft. To avoid that problem, I wove two picks of silk between each pick of ribbon; one pick of silk may have been enough, but I wanted the ribbon to fall on alternate sheds.
The rules for setting a warp are the same whether we weave on a shaft loom or a rigid heddle. I won’t repeat them here, I wrote about them in my July 2019 blog. If you are unsure about what the weight of the project will be, calculate it by using the dimensions of the scarf and the weight per unit length given by the manufacturer, and double it for the weft (make sure to be consistent with units, that is, don’t mix cm with yards).
Keep those scarves light and drapable! Happy Weaving!