As most of you know, I’m a fan of the swatch. I make them for four specific reasons: to test out my ideas, try yarn substitutions, check my sett, and experiment with color. To make this process easier, I worked with Purl & Loop to develop the Swatch Maker Looms and subsequently wrote A Weaver’s Guide to Swatching.
Swatching plain weave is relatively easy for any weaver to wrap their head around, but what about swatching other structures? Following are a few tips on how to go about it. This post is pretty far down the weaving geek road and the information is going to be the most useful for those who have done some swatching on frame looms already and have a rudimentary understanding of weave structures.
Learn to Read Fabric
If you are working from a written pattern, look closely at the project fabric and see if you can identify a repeat. The repeat is fundamental building block of the pattern. In this fabric, I’ve marked one pattern repeat.
You can look to the pattern instructions for clues. For instance, this fabric is a pick-up structure that is found in many rigid-heddle patterns. It creates short weft floats every fourth pick. The instructions will tell you to pick up every other warp end and to weave down, up, pick-up stick, up. (To learn more about how to read a pick-up pattern, check out this blog post. If you need reminders about basic vocabulary terms, click here.)
The float is the easiest element to identify in the cloth. The instruction “pick-up stick” is where the float happens. On either side of the float the instructions
have you weave an “up”, so I know that the picks above and below the floats are an “up” pick. That means the first pick in the sequence must be the “down”.
When using a frame loom to swatch, you have to play around a bit to assign the over/under and under/over positions the “up” and the “down”, since you don’t have the heddle positions to guide you.
Start by weaving a few picks of plain weave. I prefer to use a double-pointed knitting needle as a shed stick to hold one of the plain weave positions and a pick-up stick to pick up the other and place the yarns. See warped loom below for this set up. (I go over all of this in my swatching book.)
After weaving a few picks of plain weave, pick up a float row. To do this, look closely at the fabric and you will note that the float travels over three warp ends and under one. I usually start the float row with one over/under/over to put a little bit of plain weave at the edges and then start picking up my float pattern. Pick up the float row and notice what is happening with the warp end in the middle of the float. I’ve marked this area with an arrow.
We know that the pick just below the float is an “up” row. So I can train myself to read the fabric and note that to pick-up this pattern correctly, I need to be sure that the end in the center of the float is going under the pick on either side of the float. (This is what will cause the warp float on the back of the fabric. Many pick-up patterns are reversible.)
If this interlacement isn’t happening, then I know the pick before the float is actually a down shed and I need to weave another plain weave pick before I weave my floats. I’ll take out the float row, weave another pick of plain weave and then re-pick up the float row so that it is positioned accordingly. Then I’ll note which shed is on the knitting needle and which shed I have to pick up with the pick-up stick and then can assign them the up and down accordingly to keep track as I weave. Whatever position is the down will also be the position where I work my floats.
Pick-up stick patterns look much different on the loom than when they are finished. After the fabric is washed, the yarns will collapse into the area where the floats are and create the pattern that looks more like what you see in the final fabric.
Learn to Read Drafts
Learning to read drafts written for floor loom weavers can also be another tool for swatching structures. As we explored in the Twill Be Done Weave-Along, you can use drafts as pick-up patterns, this time picking them up in front of the heddle.
If you are curious about learning more about reading a draft, check out this YouTube video about the relationships between shafts, drafts, and the rigid-heddle loom and page 74 of Handwoven Home.
The Weaver’s Idea Book by Jane Patrick is also an excellent source for pattern drafts with accompanying fabric photos that you can use as a guide to start working your swatching skills. If you want to make projects from this book, start by testing your sett and yarn choices with a swatch first.
Learning to read your fabric will help you out in so many ways, and swatching your ideas will let you flex that muscle on a small scale.