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Swatch and Learn

I released my first self-published book, A Weaver’s Guide to Swatching, back in January. Some of you know the back story: The previous year I had reached out to Angela at Purl & Loop to see if she could devise a tool that would help me swatch while working on Handwoven Home. To date, there were no looms on the market that came in all three setts I worked with most—8, 10, and 12. Angela and I put our heads together and came up with the Swatch Maker Looms in two different styles—the Swatch Maker and the Swatch Maker 3-in-1. I wrote the swatching book so the information could be applied to almost any frame loom, focusing on technique, the swatching process, and tips for designing your own woven fabric.

When designing cloth for publication, there is a matrix of decisions around yarn, sett, structure, and finishing that have a number of constraints. You need to select among available yarns. These yarns need to work up in the setts available to you. A yarn that weave well at a sett of 9, might not in a sett of 8 or 10. Additionally, the yarn needs to wear well for its intended use. Most of the yummy yarns available today were designed for knitters and crocheters, and although most any yarn can be used for a scarf or a wall hanging, when you branch out into wearables and interiors, the yarns need to hold up under very specific conditions.

I find myself on the fence all the time about which sett to use: 8 or 10? 10 or 12? In the past, I would warp and weave a small sample in each sett my rigid-heddle loom, wash and finish, decide on which sett I like best, then based on that information I would warp up again and experiment with color.

Using the Swatch Maker 3-in-1

Since the swatching book was published, I’ve had a few folks ask me what process I use with the Swatch Maker 3-in-1. In the book I give tips about warping, but I don’t go into specifics about how I use this particular loom to sample.

When using the Swatch Maker 3-in-1, I warp narrow strips of each sett and test all three at once. I’m not getting all the information that a larger sample would give me, but I’m getting enough to make a more informed decision to move onto the next step. Based on this information, I may weave a second sett of swatches trying out different wefts (shown here), or I may warp up narrow warps in all the same sett and try different weft combinations.

The different setts and yarns cause the fabric to grow at different rates, so I weave each strip one at a time. I use the same techniques described in A Weaver’s Guide to Swatching to speed up the work—using a shuttle, pick-up stick, shed stick, and weaving comb.The work goes where I go, increasing my productivity.

Each little strip is finished differently to help me decide how I want to treat the fringe. I’ll also whip up three swatches in my final selection and wash them differently. With this information in hand, I can head to the larger loom with much more confidence about my choice of yarn, sett, color, and finishing. You will get more accurate information if weave a bigger swatch, which you can also do on either style of Swatch Maker Looms.

Sometimes, I’ll take the extra step to weave a larger sample on my rigid-heddle loom with the information I’ve gleaned from my smaller swatches, to test it in a larger format. Some of the projects in Handwoven Home are quite large, and I’d really like to know I’m on solid footing before I weave the actual project.

Using the Swatch Maker Loom

As with almost all looms, a tools greatest strength is often its greatest weakness. To get a tool that has all three setts, we had to use holes that are threaded with a needle for the finer setts. It is slower to thread the holes than the slots, so Purl & Loop modified an existing loom to create a set of smaller swatching looms with the finer setts.

Everyday Swatching

You may or may not need such nuanced information. Swatching will, however, help you in two core areas of your everyday weaving life—yarn substitution and color work. This is why we developed two styles of looms. One that provides you with comparative information, and one that allows you to quickly and easily get fast information.

Here is a real world example from Emily Travis, who set out to weave the Hands-Free Cowl pattern from my “Get Warped” column in Knitty using yarns from her stash:

“How to fail faster per Liz’s book: In my first sample, I only wove one-and-a-half repeats of the pattern and the blue yarn is already a nightmare—sticky, and the fluff gets dragged as the shuttle passes, then catches and sticks in the next shed. It might not be so bad on the rigid-heddle loom with a proper shed where I could beat it properly, but based on this sample, I’m very glad I didn’t use this yarn for a full warp! After further sampling, Zauberball was the winner. Here is the final product completed and well-received by my gran.”

Emily did a superb job testing out yarn from her stash to get the results she wanted. Weaving small helps us get the cloth we dream of with less fuss and more fun.

If you want to give swatching a try, check out the special edition Yarnworker 8.0 Swatch Maker loom.

Heddles up!









4 thoughts on “Swatch and Learn”

  1. Ordered mine today after I saw your post. I have a rigid loom in order that comes with an 8dpi so this tool will be great.

  2. I live in the UK and am so pleased I have managed to find a place that stock it here – I am getting it today and I think this is brilliant idea.
    I do have a zoom loom thinking I could do swatching on that before using my RHL but this makes much more sense with the EPI’s. Thank you so much

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