Wool tartan sample #1

rweait's picture

This is a sample, fresh off the loom, of some wool. This is my first effort at a tartan in wool as my previous tartans have used cotton and linen yarn. I'll describe the errors I made in familiarizing myself with this yarn.


The yarn is a new product line that was just added at my favourite local weaving supplier, Camilla Valley Farm Weavers' Supply. Their tartan wool is stocked in 23 colours, on 4 ounce / 113g tubes. I had been anxiously anticipating the arrival of this new product, and wanted to take a quick run at the learning curve. The three things that I wanted to do were:

  • learn how to use thin yarn
  • learn how to use thin wool
  • find a sett to match my weaving

Warp plan

The wool recommends 36-40 e.p.i. for twill, and given my previous results I went with 36 e.p.i.

I wanted to get started, so the plan was simple. Warp up three yards for a scarf. I selected Lamont Dress tartan, as I had the colours and a full sett would be about 7 inches wide on the loom. I padded the sett up to 254 ends, by repeating the black / green tram lines.

Winding the warp

The warp wound easily, with no substantial differences from winding cotton or cottolin. The wool was a little more "staticky" than cotton but not so "staticky" as silk. The wool is not as smooth as Mercerized cotton. I felt the texture of the yarn but didn't find it abrasive. There was a suggestion of lanolin in winding the warp. I didn't find my hands awash or anything, just a hint of sort-of moisture.

Winding onto the warp beam

The wool was well behaved as I loaded it into the raddle. I used 6-8-6-8... spacing in the raddle and had no problems.

i was prepared for the wool to be as "catchy" when winding onto the warp beam as some unmercerized cotton I used recently. I was pleasantly surprised. The wool wound very smoothly and required little attention to keep the warp winding.

First lesson - little attention

So, requiring "little attention" is still more than "no attention at all". Next time, I'll be sure to pay some more attention.

I was so taken with the ease of winding the wool on to the beam that I really dug into it. Some of you might guess that letting a 600 pound Gorilla near your loom, unattended, is a bad idea. Well, I know that now. In what seemed like no time at all, I had half of the warp wound. And then three threads snapped in rapid succession. Twang, twang, twangggg! The threads snapped pretty definitively, with the loose ends recoiling several inches. The surrounding threads took a beating as well and there was no clear indication of where I should put the threads, if I chose to repair them.

The cause of the broken threads was a tangled knot that got past the raddle without me noticing. Several threads were still tied up in that tangle as well. Repair seemed unlikely and starting over didn't appeal. I cut the warp at that spot, and made do with a little over one yard, rather than the three I'd planned.

Threading and sleying

The heddles threaded as expected. There were no obvious drawbacks to using wool of this gauge. I selected a 6 dent reed for the 36 e.p.i. warp. So six ends were sleyed for each dent in the reed. The wool sleyed easily with no obvious issues.

Tieup and tensioning

Since I had shortened the warp, I was careful to tie on with little excess. I chose to tie up with two dents per knot, so 12 threads per knot. That seemed to work well.


I wove a few picks of junk yarn to even the tension.

Second lesson: Eww. What's up with the selvedges?

The selvedges were weird. Soft. Looping away from the fell. I tried a few more picks of waste yarn. No better.

I tried a few picks of the wool, just for giggles. No better.

I tried adding floating selvedges on each side and that was much better. So, I guess six ends per dent is a bit too sloppy in this case. I might try three ends per dent in a twelve dent reed next time. Maybe not. Keep reading.

Third lesson: Game, sett, match

I wasn't able to make 36 e.p.i. work. Using an "ordinary" beat, and later a "strong" beat, the squares of the tartan design stayed too long, along the weft axis. The elongation appears to be uniform in all three colours. The white yarn appears to be the thickest of the three, but the sample suggests that any size difference is minimal. Probably just an optical illusion. I'll try again with a lower sett (and a longer warp.) Perhaps I'll start with 32 e.p.i. next time.

Fourth lesson: Mind the warp

squiggly diagonal lines where the tension changed

The was an odd increase in the tension of some white threads in the middle of the warp. That was caused by another knot in the warp. This time it was close enough to the heddles to increase the tension on the knotted threads, when their shafts were lifted.

Okay, so check the warp for knots when advancing the cloth beam. Good to know.


I really like the result of the wool tartan sample. Yes, it's full of "character". Yes, the plan changed on the fly. I think this sample has me better prepared for the next one. I'll take another go at a scarf and see if I can get the sett just right.

And I'll probably mess around with some different finishes as well.


  • On loom: 7" wide
  • Off loom: 6.5" wide, 14.5" long excluding fringe
  • Hand wash, hot. Press. 6" wide, 13.5" long excluding fringe
  • Finished width: TBD