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Best Strategies for Weaving Samples

If you ask almost any experienced weaver to share their top weaving tips, they will probably say “sample!” If you ask them what sett you should use for a particular project, they will probably say “sample!” If you ask them how much shrinkage you can expect from a certain yarn, they will…well, you get the picture. It can be frustrating for the new weaver who just wants a simple answer to a simple question, but there is no doubt about it: sampling is a great way to learn, and making it part of your weaving practice can really enhance your enjoyment of the craft.

Selection of handwoven samples

Selection of handwoven samples

Objections to sampling

Let’s get these out of the way first. There are two main obstacles to sampling that weavers sometimes raise. The first is the cost: “Yarn is expensive, I don’t want to waste it on sampling.” Yes, yarn can be expensive – for me that is even more of a reason to weave a sample! I don’t want to risk ruining a whole project when a little sample could have saved me from making a costly mistake. The second is the idea that sampling is somehow self-indulgent: “I’m a practical person and I can’t weave anything that isn’t useful.” I have news for you — investing time and effort in your skill and knowledge as a weaver is useful.

If you build up a portfolio of woven samples then it will be one of the most valuable resources you have for planning future projects. On the other hand, if you really feel obliged to put every piece of fabric you weave into service as a finished object, then there are plenty of options. I have made ex-samples into needlecases, coin purses, covered buttons and more, and I am sure you can think of many more ideas!

Handwoven scarves and buttons covered with sample scraps

The samples I wove before making these scarves became covered buttons

Strategies for weaving samples

So how should you tackle weaving samples? Well, it depends on your particular goal. There are two main approaches which I use.

1. Sampling for a weaving project

You have a particular project that you want to weave. You know what yarn you want to use and have chosen the weave structure. You are ready to start but feel a bit hesitant: will this sett be quite right for this warp? Would I be happier with a darker/lighter/brighter weft color? This uncertainty is easily addressed through sampling. When you plan your warp, add in a little bit of extra length – how much is up to you, but I always make it at least 12 inches. That gives me enough for 6 to 8 inches of weaving and a little bit of waste. This will make a very modest difference to the warp overall, and will be enough for you to try out your plan before you commit to the project itself.

I mentioned that there would be a little bit of waste — this is because I always recommend cutting off your sample and finishing it before you continue. It’s always a good idea to do this, but it is especially important if you are weaving something such as a lace weave where the yarn will shift when you wash the fabric. On the loom it will be very hard to tell whether that sett is going to provide the light lacy cloth you had in mind! You can minimize the waste by lashing your warp onto the front apron rod rather than tying it on.

Once you have washed and pressed your sample, pin it up somewhere so you can see it from a distance, walk around it and look at it from different angles. I use a piece of string tied to my warping board (there’s almost always one lurking there!) and a few curtain clips. It’s not a polished display piece — it’s a work-in-progress.

Alternative wefts for evaluation

Alternative weft colors pegged up for evaluation

Now is the time to be brutally honest with yourself: do you need to change something to get a better result? If so, then won’t you be glad you sampled?

If I can, I will keep the sample (or samples) pinned up while I weave the project as a prompt to remind me what I am aiming for.

2, Sampling to learn weaving skills

The second kind of sampling is when you want to expand your horizons as a weaver and need a place to practice. It may be that you want to explore color interactions or perhaps you plan to learn a new weave structure. I also tend to start with a sampler when I am trying a yarn I have never used before. I want to find out how it will behave in my favorite weave structures and, crucially, what it will be like when the cloth is wet finished.

Double cloth sampler

The picture above shows a sampler I wove to explore double cloth blocks on eight shafts. I spent a long time working on it with a book propped open beside the loom, making notes as I went. It was hard work, but that sampler helped me to fix in my mind the way that the structure worked. You can see that I have put numbered labels along the length of the piece: these correspond to my weaving notes. This little sampler is an invaluable part of my portfolio and it will never be made into anything else!

So as you can see, I am a big fan of sampling for weaving. I wasn’t always one, though. At first I had to be pushed and shoved into weaving samples, but now – confession time – I must admit that it is my favorite part of the process!

How about you? Do you sample gladly? What have you learned through weaving samples?

8 Comments

Laura Fry

Great post Cally. 🙂

Reply
Laura Holzworth Fry

Great post Cally. 🙂

Reply
Dorinda

I’m curious- if planning a warp with two or more colours and how it will weave with a particular weft, what method for sampling would you suggest?
I’m never sure how colours will react in the weave.

Reply
Cally

Hi Dorinda! Sorry for the delay in replying; your comment ended up in my spam folder. I’d suggest that before you go to the loom you make a yarn wrapping with your planned warp and weft together. Just one strand of each yarn, held together and wound round and round a piece of card so that the card is covered with alternating strands of warp and weft (no gaps between the yarn strands, but not squished up either). This is a really good way to get a quick and easy impression of the optical blending that will occur when you interlace those yarns. Then when you are ready to go ahead and make your warp, just add an extra 8 – 12 inches of length so that you can test your proposed weft ‘for real’. I hope that helps, and good luck with your project.

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Karil

Oh! THANK YOU! This is just the information I have been seeking. Last week, I received the RH loom I ordered and today, I ordered the yarn for my first project (a scarf for my daughter and a matching one for my granddaughter. I certainly want to sample (it will be my very first weaving endeavor!). Your method appears to be an excellent means of saving yarn as well as permitting exploration of the very loom that one has chosen to work and play on! I will most certainly share your link with my FB weaving groups.

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Sam

How exactly do you go about cutting the sample off without messing up the tension on your loom? I’ve never sampled before, but now that I’m moving from a rigid heddle to table loom, I thought it might be a good idea…

It just kind of scares me is all- to go through warping and beaming and making sure each heddle is threaded right, just to have something go wrong when taking a sample off the loom.

Reply
Cally

Hi Sam, and congratulations on your new loom! Sampling shouldn’t cause you any difficulties with the setup, and the only thing you will need to do twice is the tying on/lashing on at the front apron rod.

When you have woven your sample, advance the warp so that your sample is wound onto the cloth beam and you have plenty of unwoven warp between the reed and the fabric (or between the rigid heddle and the fabric). I usually cut through the warp so that there is about an inch of fringe attached to the sample and 6-8 inches left dangling through the reed. That is plenty to get hold of and tie into quick slip-knots to stop the warp slipping out of its place.

Once you have unwound the sample from the beam and removed from the apron rod, you can go back to those slip-knots, untie them and reattach the rest of the warp to the apron rod. You will need to check the tension again as you tie it on, but if it was fine the first time it shouldn’t give you any problems the second time. And the more you do it, the quicker you’ll get…

Happy sampling!

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