Weaving Sett for Atwater-Bronson Lace
I am currently planning a set of Thanksgiving towels in Atwater-Bronson lace in 8/2 cotton. According to the Master Yarn Chart, I should sett 8/2 cotton at 16 ends per inch for lace weaves, but when I look at projects from Handwoven that use 8/2 cotton in that same structure, the weaving sett varies from 16 to 24 epi. I’ve also read that you should sett lace weaves at the same sett as for plain weave, which further confounds things. How should I go about figuring out the weaving sett for these towels?
All Handwoven readers and everyone who visits weavingtoday.com should download the Master Yarn Chart. The photos of yarns are actual size and the information given with them (yd/lb, m/kg, and suggested setts) are extremely useful, with one caveat.
Three numbers are given as the suggested setts (20, 24, 28 for 10/2 pearl cotton, for example). In theory, they mean: 24 ends per inch (epi) is the suggested sett for a balanced plain weave, 28 epi is the suggested “closer” sett as for twill, and 20 epi is the suggested “more open” sett, as for lace weaves. I have looked back through all my weaving literature to try to discover when this particular way of presenting weaving yarns started. I wanted to hazard a guess about how that long-established tradition was likely to have evolved.
I discovered that its origin (at least, as far as I can tell, looking in books and magazines) occurred in the May/June 2001 issue of Handwoven by, er, me. I have no recollection of having dreamed this up, so maybe it occurs somewhere else, but I can’t find it. Previous to that, in issues of Handwoven, the yarns were photographed with the yd/lb and m/kg info without suggested setts.
My plan was to tell you that the reliable number in the weaving sett chart is the middle number, the number for balanced plain weave. That number can be determined for any yarn by wrapping a ruler and counting the number of wraps in one-half inch (one half because the weft interlacing with the yarn in plain weave will take up the same amount of space). The other two numbers simply have to be arbitrary.
Choosing a more open sett to create a lacier fabric (even with lace-weave structures) depends on HOW lacy the desired result might be (as well as on the yarn itself and the finishing process). The “closer as for twill” sett depends on the desired hand of the fabric and on the float lengths in the selected twill (the longer the floats, the closer the sett). I was then going to say that someone probably had to “guess” about those other two numbers, since I guessed during my time of creating the Master Yarn Chart for Handwoven. (But I thought “someone” had been doing that for ages, not just since 2001.)
Now to your question. Some weavers do sett lace weaves more openly than for plain weave, setting 10/2 cotton at 20 ends per inch instead of 24, for example. I think this choice depends on the yarn and the desired final result. If I were weaving curtains in linen, I might want the yarns to be spaced farther apart than a balanced plain weave so that light can show through the fabric. For cotton towels, though, I would want the plain-weave sections to be a solid plain weave. The beauty of Atwater-Bronson lace is in the contrast between the dense plain-weave areas and the open windows of lace.
I do think it is helpful to note all three numbers with the yarn to emphasize that twill weaving setts need to be closer than plain weave and more open fabrics can be created by more open setts. But the middle number is the most reliable, even though desired fabric hand must always be taken into account, often by sampling.
If you start with any of those three numbers, you’ll be close enough so that after weaving a sample, removing it, and finishing it, you can adjust the weaving sett if necessary for your actual pieces.