Yarn choice for Andean backstrap weaving

This month a group of more than 50 of us are taking part in Abby Franquemont’s first online Andean backstrap weaving class through Franquemont University, her online teaching platform. She has been teaching this style of weaving since she was a child, for more than 40 years, but has only recently figured out a way to translate showing this very hands-on skill via online classes while maintaining cultural context.

The biggest initial hurdle was supplying the warps. Having a properly wound warp of the correct material is essential to your success in this sort of weaving, and when taught in Peru beginners learn to operate their looms and weave basic patterns long before they learn to wind their own warps. Being taught in the traditional method, we had to do this too. So, for these classes to succeed, we all needed to have our warps wound by an experienced weaver. The Young Weavers Group at Away Riqcharicheq in Chinchero took on this mammoth task for us, and wound 300 beginner warps, which were shipped in bulk to the US, UK, and EU to then be sent on to their final homes.

We are now at the stage of the of learning where we can operate our looms, we can weave one or two basic patterns, can tie our illawas, and are ready to learn how to wind our own warps. As I am one of Abby’s adjunct professors, I got to start this course a little early so I’m far enough ahead of my classmates to be able to answer questions as they arise. This is good for my learning too, as part of learning to weave in this style is learning to teach those who aren’t as advanced as you; children teach younger children, there are no formal classroom lessons with adult teachers.

One of the questions that has come up repeatedly is ‘what is the best yarn to make my warps from?’ The answer is simple, and doesn’t change. Khaitu. Andean weaving yarn handspun with the characteristics needed, which pretty much boil down to twist. A lot of twist. High singles twist, and incredibly unbelievably (to a western spinner) high ply twist, far past the point of twist stasis. The question that follows is normally ‘what if I can’t spin my own yarn, what yarn can I buy that will do the job?’. The answer is none. They are all shit. There are no commercially available yarns that have enough twist to work. However, all is not lost. While you can’t go out and buy yarn and immediately wind a warp, there are yarns that you can buy and add extra twist to on a spindle, wheel, or e-spinner, which will make adequate warps. Not good warps, but adequate.

I’ve been doing some experimenting so you don’t have to. Here are my results so far. First come the yarns with no added twist, as they were bought. Now I knew these wouldn’t work before I tried them, I trust Abby, but one of the most oft-uttered phrases in her classes are ‘what happened when you tried?’. Well, I tried so you don’t have to.

Knitpicks palette.

This was far stretchier and more elastic than the handspun yarn I’ve been using thus far, and it was surprisingly hard to wind the warp maintaining even tension and keeping the knots lined up. After winding, I set up to tie my illawa, and could already see and feel the yarn beginning to fuzz and shed.

As I started weaving, each pick became harder as there was more buildup of lint on the illawa, between the khallwa, and pretty much all over the part of the warp I was using, making getting a clean shed a challenge, and meaning I had to strum the warp and pick bits off that were getting in the way. With every beat I was pushing excess fluff into the pattern, obscuring it and making it look messy.

I gave up after this much as clearing the shed each time was getting to be too much work.

Rating: Terrible, 1/10. At least it didn’t break.

Sock yarn

This was from my stash of sock yarn leftovers, so is from a variety of brands. I believe it was all 20-25% nylon with the rest being wool, some merino, some not, spun with a moderately high twist for commercial knitting yarn.

While winding the warp this yarn was also noticeably more elastic that I was used to, although not as bad as the knitpicks.

I managed to get the illawa tied and the first few picks woven without any issue, although it was already apparent that the threads settled into each other in the way the proper yarn doesn’t, making the patterns less distinct.

After a few more picks, the yarn was beginning to fuzz and shed, and lint was building up around the illawa and khallwa. The tension also felt strange, as the different yarns I used had different levels of stretch.

I managed a couple more pattern repeats than with the palette, but couldn’t have made a full band as there was just too much fuzz buildup, and the pattern didn’t even look that good.

Rating: 2/10

Yeoman Yarns Brittany 2 ply cotton.

This is the yarn I weave my teatowels out of, it comes in cones of 400g/3380m, and is a good budget price yarn for floor loom weaving. I’m sure results would be similar with most cotton weaving yarns.

Warping with this was difficult in the opposite way to the wool yarns; it had far less stretch than I was used to, so getting the knots lined up was hard in a different way. It’s also considerably finer than the wools, so would take a lot longer to weave a whole band from it.

While tying the illawa and getting started weaving, there was no fuzzing or shedding noticeable. However it didn’t feel right. The lack of elasticity meant that the small body movements I do to adjust my tension didn’t work in the same way as with wool, and it just wasn’t enjoyable to use.

I did manage a whole pattern repeat before stopping and thinking I would work on it another time, which I might, but I really didn’t like weaving with it, and I’m not convinced it’ll be strong enough to withstand weaving a whole band without a break.

Rating: 3/10 No shedding or grabby threads to worry about, fairly good pattern definition, but just really not enjoyable to work with.

Now we move on to yarns with added twist. How much twist to add? Well, that is something you’ll need to decide for yourself. The less twist you add, the closer the yarns will be to the ones above, with lint and fluff sticking your threads together and making it hard to weave and your patterns not show up as well. The more you add, the harder it is to wrangle the yarn during warping, and the more the finished band biases.

Rowan Scottish Tweed 4 Ply

Once I’d added some twist, it was increasingly apparent that this is an incredibly unevenly spun yarn, with lots of slubby bits. The twist was collecting in the thinner areas making me concerned they would break, and not enough twist was getting to the thicker areas. I didn’t even bother trying to add this to a warp as it would have ended in tears.

Rating: 0/10 Useless.

JaggerSpun Heather 3/8, Knitpicks Palette, Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight

When twist is added, these yarns work out close enough to the same thickness that they work together, so I used them in the same warp so I could get the colours I wanted. They all have similar enough characteristics that grouping them together seems fair.

With a moderate amount of added twist the yarns are easy enough to manage during warping, and can manage a metre long band without fuzzing that stops the threads moving as they should, although there is a little buildup on the illawa by the end of the band. However the pattern definition isn’t great.

With higher added twist the yarns really want to twist back on themselves, so warping is a little more of a challenge, and the final band is fairly twisty, but the pattern is more distinct.

Rating: 6/10 Adequate

Harrisville Designs 2-ply Shetland

This is the yarn that fellow adjunct professor Cat uses for her beginner warps. It is similar to the yarns I tested above. I didn’t test warping with it as Cat sent me ready-wound warps, but on the weaving front it’s very similar, no problems with a clear shed but a little fuzz on the illawa by the end of the warp, and fairly good pattern definition.

Rating: 7/10


After trying the commercial yarns above and realising they weren’t as good as they could be, I began thinking ‘I wonder if I can buy a yarn that is a little finer, and has more singles twist, and…’ then realised that this is why I spin! When I want a yarn with certain characteristics, I make that yarn.

I made this video to show how I spin this sort of yarn on an espinner. I use a Daedalus Falcon, which is the fastest e-spinner on the market. If I didn’t have this, I’d rather do it on a spindle (ideally an Andean pushka, as unsurprisingly, the tools designed to make this sort of yarn do it best!) as using any other wheel would be very slow.

My first attempt at handspun didn’t have enough twist. It was easy to warp with, and was still high twist enough to not cause problems with the weaving, but the band hung limp and the pattern didn’t pop, although I am aware my colour choices didn’t help on this front.

My second attempt had higher levels of twist, and the pattern showed better, but it still doesn’t have the very high twist angle of the andean yarns.

Finally I cracked it! These yarns were plied at a blistering 4200rpm, and I still couldn’t feed the yarn as fast as I’d have liked and needed to wait for twist to build. It’s totally worth it though, the patterns show up wonderfully and the yarn is a joy to weave with.

Rating: 8/10 – 10/10 Just being handspun doesn’t automatically make it perfect, but once you get the twist levels right, you’ll never want to weave with anything else.

A year of weaving

A year ago, I ordered my Saori loom and decided to try and learn to weave properly. I decided it was about time I had a look back at what I’ve played with over the last year.

These first two scarves were done on the Ashford knitter’s loom while waiting for the Saori loom to arrive. Two skeins of Wollmeise and a little handspun. One sett at 10 epi, the other at 12.5



Then the Saori loom arrived, woohoo! I immediately threaded the pre-wound warp that came with it, and wove and sewed this:


As soon as that was off the loom, I put the 4 harness kit on, and immediately put another warp on for a twill gamp and some tea towels, and started weaving. I did a little on it in March and April, and then it sat. And sat. I don’t really know why I didn’t work on it, I was busy with other things and of course dealing with health stuff, but that’s not really the reason, I guess I just didn’t feel motivated. Whatever the reason, I didn’t touch the loom again until November, when I took off the twill gamp:


And a couple of teatowels:


Once that was finished with, my motivation returned, and I tried out waffle weave on a set of facecloths:


Then tried some twill with a fine warp and heavy weft to make these teatowels and an apron. I really like the fabric this makes, and it weaves up so fast. (oh, and there’s a waffle weave cloth there that was the end of the warp, it uses the same threading as for the twill, just a different tie up)



Then I decided to try something a little harder. A scarf in a fine yarn with a more complicated draft, which I made a little harder by adding borders and short top and bottom sections. While at the time it seemed to be slow going, it was still hundreds of times faster than knitting a scarf in fine yarn:


Next up was another more complicated draft, my first attempt at overshot. I did enough to make a couple of project bags:


I then went for something simpler and faster, a scarf from sock yarn scraps


Working with sock yarn made me want to use some of my lovely Wollmeise stash, so I then wove this very simple wrap using WM as the warp, and a laceweight wool as the weft:


Finally, I decided I wanted to make a towel for my hair. Having hip-length hair means I need to use a bath sheet sized towel to dry it, but regular terrycloth towels are so bulky and heavy they fall off at the slightest movement, and hurt my neck. So I decided to weave something much thinner. However the loom is only 60cm wide, so I needed to learn how to do doubleweave. It wasn’t actually that hard to figure out, and I made a towel that works perfectly. The fabric at the fold line is a little dense, but you can’t really tell from a distance:


Oh, and it seemed a shame to waste the end of that warp, so I wove a warp faced teatowel:


Phew! that is 2016 in weaving. For 2017 I already have planned a couple of long yardage projects for making clothing, and I want to try crackle and some more overshot.

First Saori piece

My WX60 arrived! I ordered it from The Saori Shed in Diss, which fortunately for me is only 20 minutes down the road. It’s in a really nice building and is a fun place to visit and try out Saori weaving for a couple of hours…which is what I did the summer before last, and why I decided to get one of these looms! Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling well when it arrived, but my mum is awesome and went to pick it up for me.

Out of the box it looked like this:


Putting the other bits on wasn’t hard, the instructions were pretty clear. I can’t actually remember everything I did, but I think it was just putting in the back warp roller, the harnesses and reed, the shelf, and the bobbin winder. I just needed a screwdriver for the shelf, and a hammer for the bobbin winder. Nice and simple. And because it came ready warped, it wasn’t long at all before it was ready to go!

And yes, my helpful helper also likes helping with weaving:


The warp that came with it was 6 metres x 150 threads of black cotton. This is 30cm wide on the loom. I figured with that much fabric I should be able to make a garment, so I picked a bunch of coordinating colours and got to weaving.


The initial plan was the grey non superwash coned yarn, and some teal leftover sock yarn. Then I decided it needed a bit of magenta, so found some sock yarn in that shade, and also shoved in some bits of merino fibre I had in teals blues and purple. There’s also a teeny bit of leftover handspun in grey and teal in there.

The final fabric off the loom was 5.15 metres long. And very hard to photograph on a windy day.



After wet finishing, the fabric was about 26 x 475cm. I say ‘about’ because my selvedges weren’t especially neat, so the width varied a little, and the length was very hard to measure cos it was so long!

After a lot of sketching and calculating, I figured out the easiest way to make it into a top. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough fabric for a hood, but I still love it.


And because someone asked how I made the pattern, here’s the basic info:

Each piece was zig zagged on both sides of the cut line before being cut, all sewn seams were somewhere between the width of my sewing machine foot and the 10mm guide, depending on how neat my selvedges were. Seams were ironed open between each stage of sewing.

I cut 4 pieces 40cm long, which I then sewed together into a tube for the body.

The remaining length was folded almost in half, with one side a couple of cm longer than the other, and cut. This gave me 2 pieces approximately the same as my arm span.

The longer piece was again cut in half.

The raw edges of this last cut were folded under and stitched to finish the front neck opening.

These two pieces were then joined to the body tube making sure the V was centered. The back strip was joined in the same way, making sure it was all lined up. The top sleeve seam was sewed, leaving a gap 5” either side of the centre for the neck hole. Finally the underarm seams were sewn.

Then I went round and folded under and sewed all remaining raw edges…the collar, the sleeves, and the bottom hem, and folded in and sewed the corners of the top front slit to give the neckline a shape I liked.

It took me about 3 weeks to weave the fabric, and less than 3 hours to sew it. I’m not 100% sure I like the big baggy sleeves, I may well taper them if I find the extra fabric gets in the way, but that’s an easy change to make.

And pretty much as soon as that was off the loom, I was planning the next thing. I did this!


Yup, my loom now has 4 harnesses. Adding the extra 2 harnesses was a lot simpler than I expected, but I needed help, partly because there was a screw that was too tight that I couldn’t undo, and partly because it’s a lot easier to hammer a cap onto the end of a rod with someone else holding the far end of the rod to stop it shifting rather than having to do it all myself. Still, it didn’t take long to do.

Then I figured out the easiest way to wind a warp while sitting down:


368 ends, and while I did need to take breaks cos my arm got tired, it’s way less tiring than direct warping the rigid heddle on top of the table. Although of course, now I have to actually thread all that onto the loom.

Preparing for loom arrival!

So provided nothing horrible happens between here and Japan, my loom should be here within the next couple of weeks. I sorted all my ravelry stash and added the colour tags so I can easily sort by colour to remember what yarns I have in various colour families. While doing so, I realised that I don’t have very much cotton at all, pretty much only a load of dishcloth cotton, which is wonderful and makes awesome squishy teatowels, but is fairly limiting as it’s rather fat. So I hunted around the internet for some cheaper cottons for practicing 4 shaft patterns with. I ended up buying this surprise mixed box from yeoman yarns. 4 kilos of cotton for £30 including delivery!

They allow you to have some input in what you get, so I said it was for weaving so I’d prefer mostly finer weights, and that I like natural colours and bright jewel colours, please no pastels.

This is what the postman brought me!


It is all unlabelled, so I have no idea what it is, and many of the items are mill ends or otherwise unrepeatable, so it’s not a great thing to buy if you want to know exactly what you’re getting and be able to order more, but for learning purposes without spending a lot of money, it’s perfect, and I’m really impressed with the great value for money.

In closer detail:
random small cones given as freebie

bright red. very fine. 2 ply, approx 44 wpi, 2 cones, 282g each including cone

raspberry, purple, green, and beige. 2 ply yarn cabled (2 x 2ply) approx 515g including cone, 30wpi

natural, about fingering weight, 22 wpi, 3 ply, 595g including cone

turquoise, 4 ply, 18 wpi 553 g including cone

natural, singles, thin with thicker slubs, 515g including cone, 30wpi

I also got bored of reading and thinking about weaving, so decided to actually DO some. I got my rigid heddle out with a couple of skeins of wollmeise (campari orange and herzblut), a ball of my very first handspun in coordinating colours for texture, and made these two scarves:


Fingers crossed the saori loom gets here soon, and that it’s not too hard to assemble, then I’ll be doing all sorts of twills and other fun things soon!