Tips for Beating the Weft
I am having a lot of trouble knowing how to beat in the weft the right amount. My pieces don’t always look like the photos (if I’m weaving from project directions in a kit or in Handwoven magazine), and I’m never sure what “firm” beat or “gentle” beat really means. If I weave more than one piece on the same warp, the first one usually looks too loose and the last one usually looks too tight even though I was trying to beat them all the same. Do you have any advice for me?
Many variables are involved in beating in the weft to get the desired number of picks per inch for a given project.
You can achieve the right beat with most looms, except for relatively wide rugs requiring a very dense weft sett. For these, you need a loom that can provide high warp tension with a heavy beater. But for narrow or lighter rugs and most other pieces, here are some tips to consider.
1. First, take careful note of the desired picks per inch. Many weaves are “balanced,” meaning the number of picks per inch should equal the number of ends per inch (lace weaves, most twills, plain weave). Whenever possible, put on a longer warp length than the project requires so that you have a yard or so for sampling.
(I actually always put on more than twice as much warp as required so that I can sample and weave twice as many pieces as intended. You will come up with ideas during the first project that can lead to something new and better for the second one.)
2. Practice weaving that number of picks per inch. For balanced weaves, that usually means either a gentle or moderate beat. MEASURE! Weave five inches and check the picks per inch with a measuring tape. Weave another five inches and keep doing that until you can consistently beat the right number.
When I’m doing this, I try to describe to myself what I’m doing to get it right, observing how it feels when the beater hits the cloth, what my arm is doing, etc., so I can keep reminding myself to do that.
3. For very open weaves, beating sometimes means “placing” the weft rather than letting the beater hit the cloth. Observe the pressure it takes to put the weft in the right spot. Notice how much space there is between warp threads and keep that same space between weft threads.
4. For weaves that need a firm beat (weft faced weaves or those with supplementary pattern wefts), the beater needs to hit the cloth with force. Force is a function of the weight of the beater and the speed with which it moves. If warp threads rub against the beater as it moves through the cloth, their friction will slow it down.
For weaves that need a firm beat, therefore, a temple is a great aid, spreading the warp threads so that they are completely parallel to each other and do not rub against the beater as it moves.
5. For patterns intended to be “woven to square” (motifs as tall as they are wide), practice weaving the motifs until you can accurately achieve the right height. This can mean adding or subtracting pattern picks from blocks within the motifs as well as changing the strength of your beat.
6. Don’t tell yourself that it will probably be OK after it’s off the loom and washed. It should be OK on the loom.
Most important: Don’t start weaving the final item until you are able to achieve the beat you want for at least a few inches.
If you have a weaving question please email Madelyn! Pictured above: Summer Lace Placemats and Mug Rugs by Suzie Liles Handwoven May/June 2017. View related & recent “Ask Madelyn” posts! Updated 8/10/17.