WeaveZine: an online magazine for handweavers—Archives

Getting Creative with your Weaving

Main Image

I first learned to weave by following directions. Magazines and books presented gorgeous projects that were fun to replicate...for a while.

Then I fell in love with color and that started me creating my own designs.

Creativity is made of several elements. It occurs when you let go of some of the rules (and the recipes) and go exploring.


Play with Color

This article sponsored by:[[ad|nids=616]]

Try this experiment:

  1. Go to your yarn stash and pick one color.
  2. Wrap it around a ruler or a rectangle of cardboard. (Photo-gray mat board works well.)
  3. Pick another color and wrap it next to the first color.
  4. Add a third color.

Do you like it? Love it? Hate it?

wrapsExperiment until you have found three colors you think look good together.

Next try varying the width and proportions of your wrappings. Do you like wide stripes of each color? Or does it look better if you add just a tiny stripe of that wild hot pink?

Experiment. Try combinations you don't think you'll like. Play with color and proportion until you find something that excites you.


Find Inspiration in the World Around You

Sources of inspiration are everywhere: painting, photographs, the natural world. Look around or striking colors, textures and designs.

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I photographed a large hooded flower that was creamy white with uniform cross hatching in the center of the flower! One day it is going to find its way into a weaving. 

Here’s another experiment:

  • Take out your photos from trips and look at the images. What colors and textures appeal to you? What in the photo could you translate into a handwoven pattern?

For example, When I looked through my photos I found a picture of stacked railcars at a train terminal . When I saw the railcars, they reminded me of blocks of color that could be incorporated into a rep weave.

When you are out in your neighborhood or on vacation train your eye to observe. Carry a small notebook and/or digital camera and record what you see.


Play with texture and spaces

When you sley the reed, skip some spaces. In other dents, cram together several threads. Play with how sett affects the fabric.

Another thing to try: as you are weaving, cut out a piece of cardboard and insert it every so often into the shed to create voids of unwoven warp threads in your weaving.

Note: When adding spaces to your weaving, keep the function of your final textile in mind. For example, voids and long floats work better in a wall hanging than in everyday clothing.


Share Your Ideas

Exchange ideas with other weavers. This kind of interaction is invaluable, as different people see the world in different ways. Another weaver may just have the answer to a design problem that is stumping you, and vice-versa.

Note: If you create a project based on another weaver's idea, it's courteous to ask their permission first and give credit where it is due.


Start with a Problem

Often, simply stating aloud what you are trying to accomplish will get your creative juices flowing. The brain is a wondrous puzzle-solving machine; so having a clearly defined problem gives it a starting place. The problem might be a specific type of textile, such as the scarf example below. Or it might be a design limitation of your equipment or your stash.

For example: How can I make an elegant stole to wear at Aunt Maggie's wedding, given that I have only hot pink 10/2 cotton yarn, a 15-inch-wide rigid-heddle loom, and normal household supplies?

(Granted, some problems may not lend themselves to an easy solution, but you can see from the above how defining the problem gets you thinking.)


Case Study: A Scarf for College

My college age son came home for a winter holiday visit shivering! He looked longingly at my loom asking if I would weave him a wool scarf to ward off the cold in his new college city. He surveyed my yarn stash, found two colors he liked—burgundy and navy—and the project was launched.

Next, we pulled out all the wools and wool blends related to those two colors from my stash, ignoring the thickness of the yarn for the moment. We experimented by wrapping cardboard strips with different combinations. After the third try, the wrap included three colors in varying widths. The combination needed an accent color to liven the pallete, so I added a blue-green yarn.


However, once the warp was wound, threaded through the heddles and sleyed though the reed, I realized the warp was too light in value. It needed less of the off-white yarn and more of something else. The solution presented itself in a heathery-navy wool—a buried leftover in my stash—which paired well with the gray and burgundy mohair. I pulled twenty-four strands of the off-white yarn, leaving only a few of the light threads in the warp for contrast.  Then I used film cases to tension the twenty-four new strands of blue-gray which I added to the warp.

Because the yarns I'd chosen were bulky and hairy, I chose a relatively loose sett of 8 epi, woven in plain weave. The warp was woven off in no time, alternating navy mohair with navy alpaca. The green peeks through, the off-white shows off the burgundy and heather blue! Best of all, my son loves his scarf!

finished scarf


Consider the Lessons

Think about what you learned. In the example above, I challenged myself with colors I don’t usually use, I wove with someone else in mind, and allowed the colors and the texture—in this case the bulkiness of the yarns to lead me.


Be Flexible and Have Fun!

Which brings us to another marker of creative effort, be flexible, and resilient and above all have fun!

If the first thing you try doesn't work, you can change the project mid-stream. For example, in the project above I took out lighter warp yarns and replaced them with navy. Design and planning doesn't end when you've warped the loom. You can still vary the sett, change the width of a project, add warps, take warps out, change the weft yarn, even rethread and change the weave structure!

Get comfortable with playing, and exploring. Creative sources surround us, and offer us wonderful sources of our woven inspirations.


Other Sources to Inspire Creativity


Karen StrombergKaren Stromberg is a studio-trained hand weaver and has been weaving since 1985.  She works as a consultant to non-profit organizations, helping people realize their dreams of doing good in the world.