To get the cloth you want, the secret is in the sett. Sett is the spacing of the yarn in the rigid-heddle reed. To guesstimate a balanced sett, where you have the same number of warp ends as you will weft picks, conventional wisdom has the weaver wrapping yarn around a ruler for an inch, allowing the yarns to sit next to each other, not invade each other’s space, and be in a semi-relaxed state. Then you count the yarn wraps, divide that n2umber in half, and use this result to guesstimate the yarn’s balanced plain weave sett. From here, you decide which rigid-heddle size available to you, will get you the the results you want.
For example, say your wraps per inch (w.p.i) is 18, then your balanced plain weave sett guesstimate is 9. The most common setts to choose from are 8, 10, and 12 and their metric equivalents. You have a choice to go down to an 8 or up to a 10 to get in the ballpark of a balanced plain weave. When in doubt I tend to round up.
Open, Balanced, and Close Setts
There is a world beyond a balanced plain weave sett, there are “close” setts where you space the yarns a little tighter than a balanced sett or there are “open” setts where you space the yarn a little looser than a balanced sett. You will often hear these call a lace (open), tabby (balanced), or twill (close) sett. To get a better able to visualize these setts Angela Smith (Formerly of Purl & Loop) and I collaborated to create a tool called the sett checker that gives the weaver more information about the yarn before starting to weave. It shows you exactly what a yarn will look like in a sett of 8, 10, and 12 ends per inch (e.p.i) and it allows you to quickly compare one sett with another. This tool also allows you to see the yarn’s character when it is in a particular sett.
In the example above, the middle wrap in a sett of 10 is approximately balanced. You see the same about of positive (yarn) and negative (wood) space. The wrap on the right in a sett of 8 is more open and the wrap on the left in a sett of 12 is more close. By design, you can allow the yarn wrap by the logo to lay in its utterly relaxed state and compare it to the other wraps that are under tension. Based on this information, I can make a more informed decision on which heddle to use.
To use the sett checker, grab a yarn from your stash. Hook the tail of the yarn source in the lower curved notch and allow the tail to drape over the top of the checker.
Wrap your yarn around the checker, filling in all the sett spacing as you go.
Finish by securing the yarn in the upper notch. Cut the yarn from the source. Either let the tails hang free or you can secure the yarn on the back with a short piece of tape. I prefer painter’s tape, because it won’t leave any residue behind. Be sure to allow that first yarn wrap to stay in its natural relaxed state so you can compare it to the yarn wraps which are under a little bit of tension.
You will find this tool invaluable for making smart sett decisions. It is isn’t a complete replacement for sampling, but it gets you much closer to making a good sett choice than a single yarn wrap.