How do you choose the right yarns?
Choosing the right yarn is crucial. Each yarn has distinct properties that you may or may not want to take advantage of.
But how do you choose which yarn is suitable for which project?
And which yarns are suitable for historical weaving? And which yarns absolutely not?
This is where we will delve deeper today.
I don't want to call myself an expert by any means; there are people who have been weaving much longer than me. But what I have learnt over the past few years I would like to share with you.
The first thing to pay attention to for yarn you will be tabletweaving with is that it doesn't fluff or stretch too much.
A yarn that fluffs too much is a tragedy. It will stick together, it will give your band a very messy look and eventually it can break down quickly. For these reasons, I always advise against weaving with pure acrylic yarn.
Acrylic yarn also has quite a bit of stretch to it, making weaving extra difficult.
Go for a yarn that can be under (high) tension. This is because you need the tension to achieve the desired result of tabletweaving. Of course, this is also a matter of preference; I myself like to weave at a higher tension. But I know plenty of weavers who like low tension better. There are a few exceptions where it is better to weave at lower tension; and that is in brocading and missed-hole weaving. I will come back to this later in the "different techniques" section.
Briefly, I can recommend from easy to harder: cotton - linen - wool/silk.
Cotton is the easiest and user-friendly to start with. Linen can be a bit more of a challenge because of its rough texture. Wool and silk I would recommend only if you have mastered the basics of weaving a bit. Wool because of the risk of linting and "sticking" the threads together, and silk because of its smooth and almost slippery texture. Below, I will explain further what the advantages-and disadvantages-of certain yarns are and how historically faithful they are to weaving with.
Wool comes in many varieties, thicknesses and types. Go for a wool that, as mentioned earlier, does not fluff too much. A wool with a high twist is the best. Merino wool can be wonderful for weaving. Then use 100% merino wool yarn or a blend with a small percentage of acrylic in it. Then keep in mind that there may be a small stretch in your yarn. Machine-spun wool is quite strong and gives a nice even appearance. In terms of thickness to weave with, of course, it completely depends on the result you want to achieve. If you want a robust band with the turns clearly visible in the weave, pick a coarser yarn. If you want to make a fine band where the repeats are less visible, pick a thinner, finer yarn. In principle, this applies to every kind of yarn.
To weave as historically correct as possible, I recommend hand-spun wool (preferably also hand-dyed with natural materials) without any synthetic additives like acrylic or cotton. I myself have achieved the most beautiful results in recent years with hand-spun wool. Because it is not machine-spun, you never have exactly the same thickness and colour in the thread. Personally, I really like this and once you find a good "supplier" of hand-spun and hand dyed wool, you can go for years. It is also great fun to experiment with dyeing your wool naturally yourself. For this, see my adventures under the "wool dyeing" section in the menu bar.
Dyed wool in an indigo colour by Iris Jansen-Voskamp.
Linen is a strong material with little to no stretch that lends itself well to some sturdier outcomes. Linen comes from the flax plant. Flax was widely obtained in the Netherlands and surrounding countries such as Germany, Belgium and France in the Middle Ages. The blue fields of flax plants therefore made the Netherlands known as "weavers of linen", among others. Due to the roughness of linen and its fibrous structure, you get a very nice result. Beware of too dry climates or humidity. Linen works best with higher humidity. If it gets too dry, the linen will tear very quickly and release a lot of dust. So it is always advised to weave with linen when there is a high humidity. - Insert rainy day tabletweaving here -
Linen was widely used, especially in the early Middle Ages. Linen was used as weft thread or warp thread. Often combined with silk or gold thread. Tapes have also been found in graves in Scandinavia (Birka, Kaupang, Oseberg) where linen thread was combined with wool or silk. Due to its fibrous structure, linen decays quickly and not as many finds of linen map weaving bands are known as of silk tabletweaving bands, for example.
Linen yarn 40/3 in brown and red.
Its smooth texture makes silk very pretty for tabletweaving. It will not easily snag behind the cards or fluff up like wool is known for. Just make sure the edges of the holes of the tablets are well sanded and smooth. Once silk has one weak point, it will quickly fray and break. Good quality tablets are therefore important. I will discuss this further in the chapter "tablets and shuttles". There are many types of silk known. I personally like mulberry silk because of its smooth texture and soft sheen. Also, it is relatively easy to come by in many colours. In natural, you can also dye it yourself!
In ancient times, China was already considered the main centre of silk farming. Via the Silk Road (this name did not appear until the 19th century, by the way) it arrived in Europe around the 6th century. Italy was the main supplier of silk to the rest of Europe in the High Middle Ages (1000 to 1250). In the 11th century, the first centre to breed silk by means of the silkworm established itself in the Italian town of Catanzaro.
In the late Middle Ages (1250 to 1500) in Paris, Germany and England there were the so called Silk Guilds with master(s) who taught silk weaving to their apprentices. These masters and apprentices were (almost) all women. The women stayed in the master's shop or house, learning the art of silk weaving.
Silk was also something of a status symbol in the Middle Ages. Most tabletweaving bands made in the Middle Ages were made of silk (or mixed with linen). These could be dyed in the most beautiful colours. Often silk tabletweaving bands were made using the brocading technique. Among other things, silk brocaded tabletweaving bands were widely used to decorate chasubles (a sleeveless garment worn by priests), mitres and other religious relics.
Left uncoloured mulberry silk Nm20/2 and coloured Mulberry silk Nm60/2 in ochre and red.
Cotton yarn is the best to start with if you want to learn tabletweaving. Thanks to the strong threads that do not fray or fluff, you can obtain beautiful tabletweaving bands. Also, cotton is not expensive at all (alteast, here in The Netherlands). Go for a thinner cotton thread for the best results. I have learned tabletweaving with cotton yarn from Scheepjes - Sweet Treat. The Sweet Treat thread is mercerised (treated with chemicals) for extra strength and shine.
There are many different beliefs when people started weaving with cotton in history. What is abundantly clear is that people did not start weaving with 100% pure cotton until the 18th century, when cotton production from France (and before that South America and Southern Europe) started to play a more important role in the Netherlands. Before that, cotton was at best used as a mixture with other materials. However, cotton was already in full use in Egypt, Africa and South America from the 2nd century BC. Later, in the 13th century, cotton production and trade slowly spread to more northern countries as Italy and Spain.
Fustian (also called bombazine) is one such blend of cotton (weft) and linen (warp) which was imported from Italy to France, Germany and the Netherlands in the 13th century. Fustian weaving was enormously well manned from the 12th to the 14th century, especially in Italy. Later, fustein production dropped due to crisis and after a dip, fustian fabrics became more popular again in the late 15th century.
Scheepjes - Sweet Treat katoengaren 50 gram, 140 meter.
There are of course plenty of other yarns like hemp or blends of yarns together. I have no experience in these myself and will not discuss them. It is best to try out for yourself what you like to weave. If you want to go for historic ties, don't go skimping on good yarn. Silk is obviously quite pricey but can't really be missing from your historical tabletweaving bands collection. If you want to go for non-historic tabletweaving bands, you can basically use any yarn that doesn't stretch or fluff too much. Even polyester or nylon are options.
Also, look mainly at what the purpose of your tabletweaving band is going to be. For a bracelet, you obviously need a strong thread, but it doesn't have to be as strong as for a dog collar, for example. You can also make a belt for your waist from nice wool or cotton. And if you want to make smaller jewellery such as earrings or necklaces from your tabletweaving band, silk is a wonderful choice of material. The choice is yours! Experiment and don't let your imagination stop you.