Stash-Busting Handspun Scrap Yarns on The Rigid Heddle Loom
Want a sure-fire way to use up those precious scraps of handspun yarn, without investing dozens of hours into pattern scrolling? Get yourself a rigid heddle loom and a variable-dent reed.
The reasons are many, including the fact that weaving takes way less yardage than you may think, and that the variable dent allows for combining multiple weights of yarn in one warp. You can get as creative as you want, combining various handspun scraps together, or alternating them with commercial scraps in a repeating or freestyle sequence. If you’re more of a “wing it” rigid heddle weaver like me, go free-form style.
In fact, the more years I spend with my simple rigid heddle loom (mine is a Schacht 15” Cricket), the more I believe that there is simply no better way to make my handspun yarns shine. I can warp my loom in less than an hour and be weaving on it the same day. Projects are finished in hours or days… not weeks and months. I generally keep my cloth intact as scarves, but you can always sew the ends together into a cowl, or you can make cloth specifically for sewing into garments, bags, and small accessories.
Why the rigid heddle loom works so well with handspun
The main reason is right in the name “rigid heddle.” It is made up of plastic, alternating holes and slots, through which you sley your warp threads. A strong rigid) frame, often made of wood, keeps these dents in place. Yarn tension is equally shared across the heddle itself, not in the individual sliding heddles one sees on a shaft loom. The work of weaving a plain weave, or tabby, fabric is accomplished by lifting the rigid heddle up or down, for your “up” or “down” sheds.
This design also makes the rigid heddle loom immensely forgiving in terms of tensioning, so you can use stretchier yarns (hello, handspun!) with excellent results. You can combine various breeds of wool, fibre blends, and even yarn gauges in the same project. Overall, tensioning is easily adjusted as you weave, and the rigid heddle loom requires less of it than a shaft loom does. If any threads do break, they are easy to fix, since handspun tends to be grabby and isn’t likely to slide away.
Weaving dynamics and personal tendency
Interlacement, or the alternating “over, under” of plain weave, displays the nuances of handspun—especially a 2-ply—in ways like no other craft I’ve seen. Plus, we all go through periods of colour and colour-combination preferences, whether we’re professional dyers or die-hard buyers, meaning that you’ve got scraps in all kinds of textural and/or colour groupings just waiting to be warped and woven.
Best practices in grouping handspun scraps for rigid heddle weaving (new weaver edition)
- Don’t go overboard on colour. Instead, group by like colours or similar hues or tones. Adding a complementary colour to the group can anchor the look. When in doubt, choose scraps spun up from fibre dyed by a favourite dyer. (Those “odds and ends” and fibre scraps bundles sold by many indie dyers work especially well here.)
- Now check the tensile strength of these yarns by tensioning several inches of each between your hands, making sure the yarn doesn’t break. Split them into warp and weft piles. “Shinies” like silks, bamboo, and longer staples do make especially strong and drapey cloth, but you can also get away with using yarns that are fuzzier and softer than those used with shaft looms. Any yarn that fails the above test may still be used as weft. Avoid using yarn that’s already compromised with any kind of knot or fraying in your warp, and skip using soft art yarns as warp, too. Warp yarns undergo a great deal of friction against the plastic heddle as you advance it and beat the weft, and these particular yarns tend to break down.
- Accept imperfection. Warp threads will break, and you will invariably skip a slot or a hole when sleying the reed. Somehow, the magic of handspun and interlacement will still provide you with a beautiful finished cloth. You may even find yourself designing your next warp with purposely skipped slots or holes and/or doubled ones, too!
The read on reeds
If a variable-dent reed isn’t on your horizon, that’s A-okay. Instead, choose a reed in a size that’s large enough to allow your default range of spinning to advance through it without too much friction. Your range of gauge/WPI combinations won’t be as vast, but you can still play with differing fibres and ply structures.
The possibilities are endless, so go raid your handspun scraps and get ready to fall in love with rigid heddle weaving!* Odds are strong that you’ve already got enough yarn in the stash for at least a scarf or two, and we want to see them in the SweetGeorgia Yarns forums!