Not So Rigid Weaver

Musings on weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom and beyond

When should you sample for your rigid heddle loom projects?

In weaving, sampling is making one or more test pieces before the main project, to help you decide on sett, colors, weave structures, and how to wet finish the project. You might also sample without a specific project in mind when learning a new technique, or to experiment with a new yarn. This is similar to the idea of swatching in knitting or crochet.

Sampling can range from a few inches at the beginning of a project that can be cut off to test weft colors, sett, and wet finishing while practicing your technique, to elaborate experimentation with multiple small warps to test multiple aspects of the design to get just the right fabric. You can sample multiple colors and/or textures at once by making a gamp - stripes in warp and weft of different options, making a grid of squares about 2-3” in size. You can also make a small swatch using something like a frame loom or cardboard loom, like Yarnworker’s Swatch Maker Looms.

I’ve read some places things like “you should always sample”. I think this really is up to the weaver and the particular project. Some projects are at a greater risk of being a spectacular failure (also known as a ‘learning experience!), while some are fairly safe, and compared to weaving on a floor loom, rigid heddle projects are usually smaller and much less of a commitment of yarn - your whole rigid heddle project might be about the amount of warp a floor loom weaver uses as a sample!

Some people feel like making a sample is wasting materials and effort. But in some cases, experimenting with a small amount of materials is better than having a larger warp go to waste because of something you could have learned with a small sample. Of course some projects are much more at risk of that than others!

When you should probably sample #

You should sample when you want to be really sure that the project turns out just right, or, when you’re more uncertain of some aspect of the design or how much it will shrink.

  • You’re unsure of the sett
  • You’re unsure if a yarn is suitable for warp
  • You’re unsure of color choices, or you want to try out a few options
  • You’re unsure of how you aggressively you want to wet finish the fabric
  • You’re using a special yarn - handspun, expensive, or discontinued. It can be better to invest a small amount of this yarn in a sample than having the whole project not turn out!
  • It’s important that the finished item is a particular size
  • You’re experimenting with an effect like differential shrinkage
  • You’re doing a new to you weave structure where you want some practice to reduce errors in the main project

When you can probably skip sampling #

Not every project is pushing the boundaries, or has to be exactly a specific size! Sometimes you aren’t going to learn much from sampling, and sometimes you’re ok with the idea of your project being the sample if it doesn’t turn out. You probably don’t need to sample, even if some of the above are true, if:

  • The project itself is small - a sample wouldn’t use much less yarn
  • You’re ok with the project being a learning experience if it doesn’t work out
  • You’re more flexible with the outcome - for example, if it’s not right for a scarf, maybe it will make a good table runner or tote bag.

Alternatives to Sampling #

Another option, if you don’t like the idea of ‘wasting’ yarn on a sample, is to think of a similar smaller project that you can do first. For example, coasters or hot pads make a great sample for placemats - it’s especially nice that you can do several different items with different weft choices on the same warp. A scarf might make a sample before a shawl. I’m currently making some sample pieces that I will turn into a small pouch, for my phone if it turns out!

You can also experiment when you end up with a little bit of extra warp at the end of a project. I love using this to play with different weft yarns and textures, and these sample bits also make great fabric to practice my sewing skills with - it’s nice to have some similar fabric to warm up on!

Sampling can be fun! #

It can be fun to let loose on a bit of warp that doesn’t have to ‘be’ anything though! You can experiment with a few inches of different wefts, patterns, etc. without worrying that the whole piece looks coherent, and it can be a great learning experience to see how things like different textures and yarns affect draw in and shrinkage.

Check out Not So Rigid Designer, my online weaving software for rigid heddle loom weavers!