When creating warp-faced pieces, which is what I generally do on my backstrap loom, not every kind of thread or yarn will do. The warp threads are sett very close together and the continual opening and changing of sheds has neighboring warps scraping against each other. Soft or fluffy thread will eventually fluff and pill or even shred. Hairy yarn will be sticky…the hairs on neighboring warp threads will cling to each other making the sheds difficult to open cleanly. The yarn may even break frequently. Handspun wool needs to be prepared in a certain way to be manageable in warp-faced weaving. Rough handling of the string heddles will cause even the most suitable yarn and thread to shred, pill or stick.
This is why I tend to recommend mercerized cotton for those who are starting out in backstrap weaving. Be aware that a thread that seems difficult to manage for you when you are beginning may end up being your favorite as your skills improve. Everyone tends to wrench the heddles about in the beginning especially if you haven’t had the benefit of a face-to- face demonstration. The moves involved in opening the sheds in backstrap weaving take time to learn and master. The weaver uses a combination of moves which involve using the body to apply and relax tension on the loom in order to open the sheds smoothly and cleanly. As your ability to do this improves, you will find that you will have more options when it comes to choosing yarn. You won’t have to strictly stick to only the safest and friendliest thread that is mercerized or tightly twisted.
You will gradually learn to adapt your technique to the kind of yarn or thread you are using and will discover that when weaving narrow bands, you can happily use some kinds of wool (paticualrly those that have higher twist) straight from the skein without having to respin it. But this takes time…be patient with yourself.
In the meantime, if you are new to this, take some time to look for suitable thread. Don’t be tempted to just dive straight in with just any old thing from your stash. One or two skeins or balls of suitable cotton will give you many opportunities to warp, set up, practice operating the loom and watch your skills improve.
Here are some of the mercerized cottons sold in the US and which have proved to be very suitable for making warp-faced pieces on my backstrap loom.
Aunt Lydia thread by Coats is a size 10 crochet cotton. It wraps about 35 times to the inch which will give non US weavers a better idea of its size. I use this for bookmarks and keyfobs. It also comes in size #3.
Patons Grace is a number 3 cotton which wraps 24 times to the inch. I use this for bags, placemats and table runners. This size teamed with double strands of embroidery floss is good for supplementary weft pieces. This thread has a lot of sheen.
Coats Royale size 3 (24wpi) is similar to Patons Grace but with less sheen.
Nazli Gelin Garden cotton thread (35wpi)…firm and smooth and comes in beautiful strong colors. I bought this from a yarn store in North Carolina but it is available online too.
Plymouth Yarn Fantasy Naturale is a cabled mercerized cotton (12wpi). This weight is great for making a backstrap or for getting the hang of a new technique. I bought it at The Mannings. It is the same weight as Peaches and Creme and Sugar and Cream. However I don’t recommend using these cottons that have been designed for making dish cloths as they are too soft for warp faced weaving.
A member of the Backstrap Weaving Group at Ravelry has recommended Tahki Cotton Classic. You can see it at Webs. Cathyz made this backstrap with it:
Omega Sinfonia is a current favorite of mine. It is mercerized, very smooth, super easy to work with…also priced well! It is a little heavier than #3 crochet cotton and is cabled (6 ply). Creative Yarn Source has a good range of colors.You can usually find three or four colors in Hobby Lobby.
I have used UKI perle cotton in various sizes….huge range of colors. Some places such as the Mannings, sell mini cones. It is softer than the crochet cottons and will fluff up if handled roughly. Therefore, this might not be a good choice for a first attempt but I recommend using it later when you have the hang of things.
FOR THOSE OF YOU IN THE UK….
I have a link to the Hand Weavers Studio site which has information about 22wpi (similar to number 3 US crochet cotton) and 32wpi (similar to number 10 US crochet cotton) cotton threads. I am told that they are pricey but they sell thread in convenient small quantities. This link was provided by Toby in the Weavolution backstrap group.
Barry in the Ravelry backstrap group gave methe link to Purplelinda Crafts which has a great range. I can’t guarantee that these are mercerized…best to check with them.
Dot provided details about this UK supplier who has mercerized cotton thread…
|William Hall and Co.
|We stock over 1500 repeatable yarns, many used for braid and tassel making. Plain and mercerised cottons, linens, cotton/linens, wools, viscose rayons, chenilles and fancy yarns in a large range of fast dyed colours. Send for details of our shade cards collections. Call us on 0161 437 3295.|
Toby at Weavolution provided this info for those in the UK…
I’ve been searching for chunkier yarns to weave with. Most of the smooth/mercerized yarns I’ve found are very fine, which is great for detail on bands, but I’m trying to experiment with a range of yarns at the moment, to see which ones I enjoy working with the most.
Just thought I’d share this with my fellow backstrap weavers, the Patons Smoothie DK yarn is great for use on a backstrap loom! The range of colours seems excellent and its smoothness means it doesn’t stick. The finished product feels a lot like the thicker mercerized cottons, despite being 100% acrylic.
Here in the UK it sells for about £2.50 per 100g in Hobbycraft, and it’s widely available on ebay. It measures in at 14wpi (6wpc). I think it would make a great yarn for beginners who find it more difficult to manipulate very fine yarns and who need something that won’t get sticky! Also good for BIG projects I imagine! :)
Knitting wool can be used for backstrap weaving but must be respun first so that it is strong and smooth enough to stand up to the abrasion of the heddles and will resist pilling as the yarns rub against each other. The yarn should be spun firmly enough so that it kinks back on itself as seen in the picture below.
EDIT to add…lately I have been having more and more success using wool straight off the skein. I have been surprised at the results from wool that at first looked totally unsuitable. I won’t respin wool anymore. I don’t like the kinkiness and am getting braver about just jumping in and trying it out as it comes off the skein. Again, I stress…good shed opening skills are essential!
If you spin your own yarn, the same info about overtwist generally applies (although my friend Janet combs wool top and spins worsted without overwist, plies and uses the yarn on her backstrap loom with beautiful results).
I am not very knowledgeable about spinning wool and all the terminology that goes with it. I spin it, I ply it, I weave with it on my backstrap loom, it works. Maybe I have just been lucky so far. That’s about all I can tell you!
So, I got this small ball of plied handspun wool from the experts in Chincheros Peru. I hope that it might give you some idea of the high twist…
I always ply the yarn as that is what the weavers here do and have never tried to use singles. Below is a piece I made from my handspun llama fiber.
Coming soon….I have just finished a trip to Australia and plan to post some info on suitable thread that I found there.