Ask Madelyn: More on Yarn Substitutions

I am a beginning weaver (actually, a beginning-again weaver) and need help with yarn substitutions. I am using a pattern from Handwoven, November/December 1996, “Man’s Scarf in Silk and Cotton”, pp. 68, 85. [This project also appears in the Handwoven eBook Best of Handwoven: Scarves on Four Shafts.] It calls for 12/2 silk at 2,790 yd/lb. I don’t want to spend the money on silk at this stage so found in my research that Tencel is a good substitute. I can only find 8/2 and 20/2 Tencel and neither are the same weight as the silk. I am torn between going with a thinner or thicker yarn. There also may be a better yarn to use than Tencel.

Thank you for your help,

Hi Ruth!

Yarn substitutions depend on many factors—the size (yd/lb), tightness of spin, and fiber content of the yarns, the weave structure being used, and the desired hand of the finished fabric. For this scarf, you need a weft that is relatively the same thickness as the warp yarn so that the twill design will show. And since it’s a scarf, the hand should be soft (which depends on both the yarns and the closeness of the warp and weft setts).

The warp in this scarf is 5/2 pearl cotton. You could use 5/2 pearl cotton for the weft, but the resulting hand will be more firm than with a silk weft. The 12/2 silk used for this scarf is also finer than 5/2 cotton, adding to the soft hand. An interesting aspect to this project is that the warp is sett at 25 ends per inch, but the weft sett is only 13 picks per inch, making the fabric warp dominant and increasing its supple softness.

8/2 Tencel at 3,360 yd/lb is close enough in thickness to the silk (2,790 yd/lb) to use at the same setts (20/2 Tencel at 8,400 yd/lb would be too fine and the twill design would be lost). I’d be interested to see a bit more rust in this scarf, however. I don’t think it would affect the soft hand if you increased the picks per inch to 15 with the slightly finer Tencel. Sampling will help you decide what works best. You could also change the warp sett to 22 or 24 (to see more rust against the black) and experiment with a closer weft sett.

Yarn Substitutions

Man’s Scarf in Silk and Cotton by Janice Jones, Handwoven November/December 1996. (This project also appears in the Handwoven eBook Best of Handwoven: Scarves on Four Shafts.)

Whenever you are making yarn substitutions (or actually whenever you weave anything), I always advise putting on a longer warp than the project requires (I usually do more than twice as much so that there is enough warp for sampling and for more than one item).


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