What to do With Weak Wools

Handwoven MagazineAsk Madelyn


Hi Madelyn, 

I was given numerous cones of wool, 20/2 to 40/2 in weight, from a weaving outfit that closed its doors. When I tried to wind a warp using them, they would frequently break. Even if I am winding a bobbin, the yarn breaks before getting very far. Other weavers have told me that the yarns may be too old, or possibly critters have gotten to them. Is it reasonable to use them for weft only, or should I just toss them? If I use them for weft, what should I use for warp with them? What kinds of fabrics should I make?



Hi Betty!


Those wools are very fine (5,600 for 20/2 and 11,200 yd/lb for 40/2). Their normal use would be to weave very fine wool fabrics—such as tartans (especially the 40/2). It would be fine to use them as weft. You could use commercially available 20/2 wool in the warp, and with your 20/2 as weft (or doubled 40/2), weave tartan-like fine-wool fabrics. Another option, though, would be to ply them. If you have a spinner-friend or spin yourself, you could bundle three or four 20/2 strands and even more 40/2 strands to produce a yarn about the size of a 2/8 wool or thicker. You could then use it for scarves, shawls, throws in balanced plain weaves or twills. I’d experiment to make sure they are strong enough to use as warp (hold a length of a foot or longer in your hands and pull apart. They should not pull apart easily. If they do, you can still use them as weft with a commercial 8/3 or similar wool. You could ply even more of them together to achieve the weight of a rug wool for weft-faced fabrics. Unless you see active critters at work in these yarns, I wouldn’t throw any of them away.


If you do double either of the yarns to use as weft without plying them, I would advise using a double-bobbin shuttle rather than winding two yarns together on one bobbin. If you do that, they never unwind equally, forcing you to adjust the selvedges continually. 


If you are not a spinner, take some of the most tantalizing colors to your guild and propose a joint venture. The spinner will ply the yarns and you’ll weave pieces for both of you.



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