Top Ten Tips for Designing Your Own Weaving

One of the best moments of my weaving life was when I designed and successfully wove my first “from scratch” project. I had woven projects from kits as well as from issues of Handwoven. I still weave projects designed by others, but there’s still something incredibly special about starting with a draft or a couple skeins of yarn and figuring out the rest on my own. While there are probably many of you who are happily designing, I know there are plenty of weavers out there who want to jump from following recipes to making their own, so here are my tips and suggestions to help you get started designing your own amazing creations.

1.     1. Get your hands on as many books of drafts as you can. Once I know generally what I want to weave, I thumb through my draft books to figure out what design I want. Carol Strickler’s The Weaver’s Book of 8-Shaft Patterns is my favorite, and I also highly suggest Ann Dixon’s The Handweaver’s Pattern Directory. Look for other books at yard sales, thrift shops, used book stores, and guild sales. (Rigid heddle weavers don’t have as many options, but Jane Patrick’s The Weaver’s Idea Book is an excellent design resource.)

2.      2. When picking your draft think about whether the fabric as woven will work for its intended purpose and think about floats. I usually put my drafts—especially if they’re 8-shaft—into my weaving software to create a drawdown and really look at how the threads interact. If I have some worrisome floats I will often adjust the treadling/threading to fix any problems. (Weaving software is a great way to explore different treadling variations before you weave. It’s not necessary to successful design, but it certainly helps!)

3.      3. Download and/or print out a copy of the Master Yarn Chart from Weaving Today. If you’re designing from the yarn up, this handy-dandy chart is incredibly useful for helping you determine sett for your project and chosen structure. Oh, and did I mention that it’s completely free?

4.    4. If you’re using more than one or two colors of yarn, make a yarn wrap. I have some thick poster board around which I wrap the different color weft yarns I’m considering. I’ll wrap them in different combinations and in different ratios to see what seems to work best. It takes a little extra work, but it’s really helped me to become a better designer and to understand more how different colors interact. (If you want to go deeper down the color-theory rabbit hole you can, there are LOTS of great resources to help you with that.)  

Yarn wraps let you see how colors will react when placed side-by-side in different ratios.

5     5. Know the proper size ranges for regularly woven objects. One of my very first self-designed scarves ended up being much too short for most adult humans. Since that experience, I keep The Weaver’s Companion in my library and consult it whenever I design a new textile. Among all the other great information in the book, it lists the typical sizes for a variety of projects. I don’t always follow these measurements precisely, but they give me a good place to start.

6.      6. Take LOTS of notes. I have a graph paper notebook where I record all my measurements and observations and a plastic file folder where I keep my labelled yarn and weaving samples. I often turn to my notebook first when I start designing a new project. Always measure on the loom, off the loom, and after finishing so you can calculate take-up, draw-in, and shrinkage. Future You will appreciate knowing these numbers when planning a similar project.

7.      7. Check your numbers multiple times. Almost every designing mistake I’ve made happened because I didn’t double check my math or didn’t make sure I had enough yarn before I started weaving. Go over all your calculations carefully and unless you have an abundance of yarn, do the math to make sure you have enough before you start. Keep empty cones on hand with their weights written on them and invest in a kitchen scale so you can weigh full cones and accurately calculate yardage using yards per pound.


Christina's rainbow sample is a great reference
when choosing colors.

8. Try to always put on enough yarn for sampling. This way if you start weaving and the sett or cloth otherwise looks off—but you’re not certain if it will be fixed during wet-finishing—you can cut off a sample, tie the warp back on, and wet-finish the sample. Once the sample is finished you’ll know if you need to adjust the sett. If you start weaving and your piece looks perfect as-is, use the extra warp as an excuse to experiment with different colors, fibers, and treadling. One of my favorite resources is a rainbow sample I wove using scraps of yarn from my bag of bobbins. Not only is it pretty, it shows how different colors look when woven in the same structure on the same warp.  

9.      9. Keep a physical or photographic record of every piece you weave. Whenever possible weave and keep a sample for every project you weave, and if it’s not possible take and print out photos for your notebook. Both samples and photos of completed projects are not just useful for your future design work, but if you want to someday weave to sell for friends they make a nice portfolio of work for people to look through.

10.   10. Put thought into your finishing. It’s really easy to simply do simple rolled hems for towels and knotted fringe for scarves and shawls, and there’s nothing wrong with these techniques, but expanding your repertoire of finishing techniques will help take your handwovens to the next level. Learn how to do lacey hemstitching by hand or consider twizzling your fringe. It is really amazing how much of a difference a little adjustment like this can make on a finished piece.

No matter what have fun and go at your own pace. Start by designing in the structures and fibers you already feel comfortable with weaving and work from there. I began with 4-shaft twill kitchen towels (which are still my absolute favorite things in the whole wide world to weave) and have since designed other textiles in other fibers from fine scarves to 8-shaft twill kitchen towels. Keep weaving and enjoy yourself—who knows, maybe we’ll see you in a future issue of Handwoven!

Happy Weaving!

PS: And if you buy any of the recommended products by Sunday, June 7 they're 40% off with the Friends and Family Sale!




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