Ask Nancy: Special Edition Part 1 – Tension

We have a special series of Ask Nancy installments for you! Nancy has been sharing some valuable information on Facebook so we’re sharing it here as well where they will have more permanency and be more searchable to the internet at large.

Ask Nancy

I’m seeing a lot of misinformation out there lately about the suitability of certain yarns, particularly handspun yarns and singles, for use as warp yarns; and I wanted to take the opportunity to address some of these concerns for the benefit of the larger weaving community (mainly neophytes who use Facebook’s Hive Mind as their primary source).

First let me present you with my bona fides; I teach weaving and spinning here at the Woolery in Frankfort, Kentucky, and have for 10 years now. Before that, I taught privately for a number of years. I have attended many conferences and Convergences, and have studied at the feet of some of our brightest lights. I turn out a lot of successful weavers from my classes, and I do know, and do wear, what I am talking about.

So let’s start at the beginning, and address the two biggest causes of warp yarn failures, tension and abrasion; we’ll start with tension.

Take any yarn and subject it to a break-strength test: hold it between your hands and pull until it breaks. Very likely, if it is a commercially spun knitting yarn (let’s pick for example Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport Weight), it will break fairly easily. What’s the real break strength? Tie a small barbell to it, and see what it takes to break it; I’m guessing under 2 pounds (just a ballpark). Please note that I have never done this: I don’t need to and this is just an academic exercise. But the point is, it breaks. Easily. Now, imagine an 10” wide scarf, and a warp sett of 10 EPI, that’s 100 warp threads. And if my warp on my loom is tensioned to about 10 pounds (not unreasonable), then each of those 100 warp ends is only responsible for 1/10 of one pound, just under 2 ounces. Go ahead, tie 2 ounces of weight to that piece of potential warp yarn, and see if it breaks; I’ll wait for you. Hint for those who just want to read: it doesn’t break. Take 100 strands of that yarn and tie weights to it until it breaks; I guarantee that you can’t do it by hand, and it takes a LOT of weight. Is that yarn strong enough to be warp? Yes, it is. The point is, you cannot judge any yarn by breaking one strand between your hands.

For the record, that Brown Sheep yarn is what I use in my beginning 4-shaft weaving classes, and no student has ever broken a single warp end in class. In fact, when it comes time to teach them HOW to repair a broken warp end, I have to cut one with scissors to teach the lesson.

Next up, we will talk about abrasion.

Note: We had some comments on the blog from people trying to sell used equipment. While we encourage the buying/selling of used equipment, our blog is not the place for such transactions. Please use other available resources meant for this purpose such as Ravelry Warped Weavers Marketplace, eBay, or, Craiglist.


7 responses to “Ask Nancy: Special Edition Part 1 – Tension

  1. When I first started weaving, no one told me not to use handspun as warp so I made a scarf using up all the little bits of yarn left over from my first spinning attempts. Some of it was singles and all if it was poorly spun!

    Not one warp broke and the result was a beautiful scarf that holds lots of memories!

    Not using handspun is silly, what did the Egyptians use??

  2. Annie Stratton

    OK, I am already a Nancy fan. Don’t spend much time on FB, so I’m really glad you are in the blog, Nancy. I’m one of those “I wonder what would happen if…” kind of people, and I suspect I’m going to be learning a lot from you.

  3. So very glad to be a part of your blog Nancy. My husband made a triangle loom for me several years ago and I have enjoyed it very much so was confused when the comment was made to not use handspun for warp threads as it is used for both the warp and weft on the triangle loom. So glad you cleared that up. I am excited to learn from your wealth of experience and am looking forward to learning to weave on other looms and other techniques. Thank you for this opportunity.

  4. I’ve not read the blog yet! All I know is if I have a spinning or weaving question, it is NANCY I want/need to talk to. Amazing help over the years. Thank you so very much!

  5. I’m a new weaver and loved your explanation re warp yarn. I need more info how do I go about finding it? (not sure about blogs – how do they work)

  6. Pingback: Ask Nancy: Special Edition Part 2 – Tension | thewooleryguy

  7. Pingback: Ask Nancy: Special Edition Part 3 – Odds & Ends | thewooleryguy

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