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Weaving with Overtwisted Singles

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I like to push weaving boundaries. Currently, I am spinning fine singles and using them to weave highly textured collapse fabrics. It forces me to adapt my techniques and equipments to handle these overtwisted, energized yarns.

It's all about keeping the yarn under tension.


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Winding the Warp

Control begins with the skein of yarn. I use a squirrel-cage swift because it tensions the yarn evenly. You can also use an umbrella swift, but you'll need to watch carefully to ensure that the yarn unwinds at a smooth, constant rate.

If the yarns are on a spinning-wheel bobbin, I put the bobbin on a lazy kate and control the unwinding by tying a brake string loosely around the bobbin.

Whatever your yarn source, the goal is to prevent the yarn from getting ahead of you and unspooling.

winding the warp

You can use either a warping board or a warping reel to wind warps from energized singles. The important thing is to hold the yarn source in a tensioning hand (my left hand in the photo above) while the other hand winds the warp and makes the cross. In this manner, any tension problems are corrected by the tensioning hand before the yarn reaches the warping frame.

Using energized singles means you need to warp singly: one thread per cross. This is not an instance where you can save warping time by winding two threads together. The yarns have so much energy that they would twist around each other during beaming.

After I finish winding the warp, I tie a choke tie on the warp at every half yard. I secure the cross on all arms and around the middle. With energized singles, the more choke ties the better.

When I take the warp off the warping frame, I keep it under tension by winding the warp onto a heavy cardboard tube. Chaining the warp would allow the yarn to relax and snarl around itself.


Warping the Loom

Singles yarns are more delicate that plied yarns, so I always warp them back-to-front. This exposes the yarns to the least amount of abrasion from the heddles and reed.

I replace the cross ties with lease sticks that are smooth and tapered. You want to use good lease sticks so the warp can slide smoothly over them. I leave these stick in place throughout the beaming and weaving process for added control. The sticks must be wide enough for the warp can expand to its full width. For example, you might use 32-inch-long lease sticks to weave a warp 25 inches wide.

I place the tube holding my warp in front of the loom, and weigh down the warp with heavy books or magazines.

tensioning warp while winding on

Then I tie the lease sticks to the loom using ties that allow the lease sticks to slide between the top of my loom and the breast beam.These ties act as my second pair of hands and keeps me from losing control of the lease sticks during warping.

tying up lease sticks

For warping fine yarns, I use a raddle with quarter-inch separators. While working, I weight each group of warps after I put it in the raddle to keep it from tangling. Rubber bands keep the warp ends from popping out of the raddle. After the warp is spread , I remove the weights and catch the warp-end loops on a dowel which I then lash to the back apron rod of my loom.

This is one reason why warping back-to-front is essential with energized yarns. If you cut the ends (as you do in front-to-back warping) and tie on to the back apron rod, you would introduce length differences in the warp that you would have to pull through the entire warp length to even up when you tied on to the front. This works if your warp is something stable like 5/2 pearl cotton, but would result in a tangled nightmare for energized singles.

I move to the front of my loom and pull on the warp ends to smooth the warp from the raddle to the weighted warp bundle (illustrated above with magazines.)

The warp should be straight and clear at this point. I check it by turning the lease stick closest to the front beam on its side and checking for any snarls.

I use my hands and a tapered stick to separate any ends that are twisted, and then flatten the first lease stick and turn the second stick to check the other side of the cross in the same way.

Once all ends are clear, I gently pull the lease sticks toward the front beam and adjust the weight holding down the un-beamed warp. Then I crank five-to-six inches of warp onto the back beam until the lease sticks reach the raddle.

Winding the warp onto the back beam smoothly is crucial for weaving energized singles; time spent checking and fixing any snarled threads is well worth the effort.

If I hear or feel any break in the yarn, I locate and repair it immediately. It is much easier to tie a small knot in the warp during beaming than to have a thread hanging loose to tangle the rest of the warp.

When the warp length is wound on the back beam, I remove the raddle, draw the lease sticks to the back of the loom and tie them so the cross is level with the heddle eyes for threading. Weighting the cut ends will make them easier to pick out of the cross and prevent tangles.

Threading proceeds as normal. I put on the exactly the necessary amount of heddles on each shafts so there are no extra heddles rubbing on the selvedge warps during weaving. I usually tie the treadles up at this time as well, or at least be sure I can treadle plain weave, as it helps check my work as I go.

I sley the reed, checking each pattern repeat threading as I go, looking for crossed threads or mistakes in the pattern.

I tie the warp onto the front rod in half-inch sections, starting at the center and then moving out, alternating on the left and right sides. Before I tie the half-inch bundles, I treadle plain weave and clear the warp yarns from twist. It is easier to tie straight yarns and it make it easier to spread the warp later.


After the threading is complete, I flatten the lease sticks and push them towards the back beam of the loom. They will stay between the back beam and the castle during weaving, helping keep the energized threads from twisting upon each other.



I want the weft yarn to flow freely from the shuttle, so I am careful to wind the shuttle bobbins under even tension. In the image below, I put the my spinning-wheel bobbin on a dowel and used my thumb to control the yarn tension while winding the shuttle bobbins.

I control yarn tension during weaving by looping the weft yarn around my finger before throwing the shuttle. (You could also tension the weft by using an end-feed shuttle.)


When advancing the warp, I advance at a consistent place in the pattern repeat, weaving no more than four to five inches before advancing again. I find it gentler on my yarns to release the front brake before releasing the back brake.

With the warp advanced, but not completely tensioned, I go to the back of the loom and turn the lease stick closest to the back beam to open a shed.

clearing cross from the back when winding the warp

I carefully clear and separate the warp ends across the width of the loom to the back beam. I flatten that stick and turn the other lease stick to clear the cross threads, just as I did during the beaming process. I tighten the warp to appropriate tension and slide the lease sticks toward the back beam.


Fixing Broken Warp Threads

When weaving with energized singles, you cannot repair a broken warp in the traditional way. A singles yarn, dangling off the back of the loom with a weight on it, will untwist and disintegrate. Instead, I knot in a new length of yarn where the break occurred (threading it through the reed and heddle if necessary) and pin it to the surface of the cloth.

A touch of glue secures and smooths the knot.

Because of the fineness of the yarn, the knots do not create a problem in the heddles and the high texture of this type of weaving hides the knots in the finished fabric.


With all the variables involved in weaving with energized yarns, you should definitely weave samples before committing your yarn to a given sett.

To create a highly-textured collapse fabric, the sett needs to be loose enough for the yarns to move during wet-finishing. How loose, is hard to guess without experimenting.

I sample by winding the warp a bit longer than I think I'll need. Then I weave eight-to-twelve inches with different beats, cut the piece off the loom and go through the finishing process to check that the cloth becomes what I want it to be.

If it is not, you can stop and rethread a project at this point. I have often changed the sett or threading after evaluating a sample. As time-consuming as that might seem, it's better than weaving something you don't like.

Weaving with energized singles is magical. I begin with a concept for a fabric; I generate cloth...and it tells me what it is going to be after it is wet-finished. I wait and see.

detail of finished cloth


Project Notes

In this project, I wavered as to whether or not the floats would lead to an unstable fabric. To collapse dramatically, however, there needs to be space for the yarn to move. Sometimes you just have to go for drama. I look forward to creating a drapable garment from this "art cloth."



The warp and weft are 100% cotton. Both yarns were used as singles throughout the project.

The varigated cotton was Custom Colors carded cotton. I spun it into singles at 30 wraps per inch.

The brown cotton was spun by Guatemalan spinners at 65 wraps per inch.

In both the warp and weft, I doubled the brown cotton without plying, to moderate the difference in size between the two yarns and to add strength without restricting the energy in the yarn.

Note: Even though the brown cotton was threaded and sleyed doubled, I wound it in the warp singly, and wound it onto bobbins singly (notice the use of a two\bobbin shuttle in the above) to keep the energized yarn manageable.


Weave Structure

Plain weave alternating with areas of unwoven floats.

Download the weave draft in WIF format weavedraft1



Lana SchneiderLana loves to see where weaving can take her, she credits this curiosity to the class at Tri-Community Adult Education in California that began her pursuit of all things fiber. She received HGA's Certificate of Excellence in Hand-Spinning in 1993. Lana lives with three cherished, hairy, dogs and her less-hirsuit, but also cherished, husband in Lacey, WA.