Thursday, August 22, 2013

Weft yarn recommendations for tapestry

The tapestry technique book that I recommend to all my students is Kathe Todd-Hooker's Tapestry 101. Kathe is a brilliant woman and knows her way around tapestry. The book is packed with information. I was rather amused to hear from one of these students that in this book which I recommend frequently, Kathe specifically does not recommend the weft yarn that I have used in all my tapestries for a decade. On page 28 she talks about yarns NOT to use for weft and the two she lists are Nehalem/Willamette yarns and Harrisville yarns. I have no familiarity with the first yarn, but I have used Harrisville yarns in Shetland, Highland, and a singles yarn they spin for me since I started weaving tapestry in 2005.

After visiting the mill and having some students use the Harrisville yarns that come on cones, I do understand her comment in the book (p 28). She says
Harrisville yarns look great on the ball or cone, but the colours grey out when beaten into the tapestry and when combined in the weft bundle. This is probably because they are spun in the grease and are very tweedy looking.
Harrisville yarns are spun from dyed fleece. See my lengthy post on my recent visit to the Harrisville spinning mill HERE for photos and more information. The yarn comes to the mill in 500 pound bales of pre-dyed fleece like this:
They mix the different colors to get their yarn and, as Kathe suggests, they do indeed look very heathered. I like this textured look in tapestry and it is partially why I dye my own yarn as hand-dyed yarns tend to be slightly uneven in color. The Harrisville yarns are not uneven, but the mixing of colors in the carding process does create a yarn that does not look like a solid color.

In this instance, you have to remember your color theory and consider what happens with yarn and color which is very different than paint and color. These yarns are made by mixing pre-dyed fleece. The varied effect in the yarn from doing this is very engaging, but it does affect the vibrancy of the color. If you look at the color cards at the end of the post, you can see that the colors are all somewhat muted. When you mix these already-muted colors of yarn with other already-muted colors of yarn, depending on the hues and values involved, you really can create a very subdued palette. Consider what you want to achieve and choose your yarn accordingly.

I buy Harrisville yarns in white and dye them myself. But at my recent workshop, I was able to try out some of their colors. What struck me was the difference in the feel of the yarn. The fleece has been cleaned when it arrives at the mill and in the picking process (see video HERE), some oil is added back into the yarn to help with the spinning. The yarn is never washed again. So what you get on the cones still contains a fair amount of oil. The yarn is much flatter and doesn't really resemble the fluffy, beautiful yarn that I use (which does, after all, come from the same mill). If I was going to use their colors, I would skein the yarn and wash it before I put it in a tapestry. This would restore the loft and it would also mean that your finished tapestry didn't have that oil in it which may be an attractant to bugs. Harrisville Designs actually recommends washing your piece after weaving to restore the yarn's loft. Of course they are assuming you are weaving cloth and not tapestry. You would never wash a tapestry in the washing machine or even bathtub, right?

Another option is to buy the yarn in the 3.5 ounce skeins that are sold as knitting yarn. This yarn has been washed and has much more loft right out of the box. I often buy this skeined yarn in white and dye it myself, but I find that I still need to scour it one more time before dyeing or the dye doesn't take evenly.

Harrisville yarns come in 64 colors. The color range is not designed for tapestry and doesn't have much in the way of color gradation. But the colors they do have wove up beautifully. No they are not bright jewel-tone colors, but they are lovely. For example, this student sample was woven completely with Harrisville yarns straight from the cone.
Here are photographs of the Harrisville color card. You can order a card from them. They weave all the yarn samples by hand so they do charge for these cards. But they are beautiful and durable and worth the cost if you are going to be weaving with their yarn.


Happy weaving!

21 comments:

  1. Rebecca back when I first start weaving tapestries-makes me sound old-in the 80's The harris ville yarns always felt greasy.When beaten in they would grey out the colours. It wasn't until the yarns were washed that they would expand and become very lofty-again changing colours.
    The wilamette nehalem yarns were not colourfast. The minute they became damp they would bleed and bleed badly. The darks almost the minute exposed to any sunlight would become a really ugly greyed lavendar.

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  2. My comments were based on my experiences as a weaver. I asked harrisville about this in the 90's and they told me it was because of their spinning process. They are the ones that told me what the problem was when I described what was hapening. They would heather-?grey out when woven in a bundle.
    Perhaps they have changed the process. I wasn't the only tapestry weaver to have problems with the harrisville yarns heathering or greying.
    Unfortunately i ahve sold the 3 tapestries that greyed out so badly.
    On the nehalem Wilamette yarns I still have samples of what happened to the yarns.

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    1. I agree with you Kathe. The yarns are still somewhat greasy and not lofty at all until washed. When I compare the yarn that I have dyed with the yarn that comes on the cones, it feels very different. And of course I dye my own colors. When you say that the colors greyed out, do you mean because they were sort of dull to start with or did the yarn actually change color? I doubt they have changed the process quite frankly! Maybe one day I'd love for them to carry a line of tapestry yarn, but it'll never happen because it would have to be dyed after spinning. So I dye it myself.

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  3. Thanks for this conversation! It's really helpful (or will be once I finally can get my yarn out of storage).
    Mary

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  4. Rebecca- I think that you have found a really elegant solution to what I consider a problem with the Harrisville yarns. I think that your dyeing probably changes the look and texture of the yarns in the dyeing process. I hated the feel of the grease on my fingers as I wove the yarns. I am not a dyer and don't want to be. I only use what I can buy in a cone or hank. I can be really picky. An example of my pickiness would be I don't care for ymmymm yarns because they feel over twisted when I weave with them and it changes the loft of the yarns that are available for the light to intereflect from.

    Loft or fuzz or lack of fuzz in a yarn can really change the way the tapestry reacts to light and the colour. Greasy feeling yarns have little or no fuzz because it sticks down to the shaft of the yarn changing and greying colour.

    I only discovered that the Harrisville would change to a lofiier thread by accident when washed. Dyeing takes away from my weaving time and I have sort of moved on away from using wool in my tapestries. Unless I am teaching and then I use the Norwegian elv yarns that I/ FFP imports or paternayan because it's easy to source. The elv yarns happens to be a worsted yarn and feels very silky in the finished tapestries and I can use 6 strands in my weft bundle for better melanges and chenes. The interrefection because of it's silkiness is very different from just about any other yarn I have used. Since I don't dye I find most yarn sources don't have enough colours or colour runs for my personal style of weaving and will mix different types of yarns and yarn companies.
    Back to your question-- I
    I think that two things were going on. First the yarns were greasy and felt greasy. When they were mixed together and packed they became denser and darker.AND, of course heathered yarns are always darker when woven(My opinion) They looked and felt odd compared to things such as the Shannock and paternayan wools I liked. I am still worried that those yarns might have attracted dirt over the years.

    I am in the process of writing a book on colour and optical blending of wefts with Pat Spark who is a felter. In working with Pat and we have been reallty studying optical blending, how it works, and writing about it. Since she starts with a fleece and never works with yarns I have realized many more things about how yarn works when woven into tapestry.

    The other thing is that the specks of colour in heathered yarns are too small and change the inter-reflection of the yarns when packed down. We were in the process at the time of trying to figure out why the optical blends of felt have a tendency to become grey faster then tapestry yarns when mixed into optical blends such as chene's and melanges.
    At the time was using a a combination of paternayan and harrisville to get the chenes and melanges I wanted. Paternayan is very lofty compared to Harrisvilles greaser yarn and the nature of the Harrisville heathered yarns was to pack down more solidly leaving fewer little bits of colour to create the optical blends-thus both physically and optically greying the colours of the Harrisville yarns when woven.
    I have decided I need to write a blog about this that I will post in a day or two that will explain what I am writing about better and in better detail.

    Thanks for getting me to start putting my new ideas into words. I am really enjoying the conversation.
    .
    .

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    1. Kathe, thank you so much for this discussion! I can't wait to see your new book. I have to completely agree with everything you say here. I also don't like the grease in the yarn and wouldn't use it if I didn't dye it myself which gets rid of all of it during various dyeing processes starting with scouring.

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  5. To Rebecca and Kathe - thanks very much for this information and discussion. I also don't dye yarn myself so look for something with a range of colours. The only Harrisville I used was hand dyed and purchased from James Koehler so it would have been washed. I was quite dismayed to see the Harrisville colour range and decided not to purchase them. I like the Paternayan colour range but it sure is fuzzy compared to some other yarns. Kathe - I look forward to your new book. I have your others.

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    1. Hi Trish, I use Harrisville because of James. I learned the dyeing from someone else (a student of his), but then did a lot of his dyeing when I was his apprentice. I really like the Harrisville yarns when I dye them myself. I didn't have a lot of experience with them otherwise until I had a student bring some pre-dyed yarn with him to my studio and then went to teach at Harrisville Designs. I am probably not up to being a yarn supplier considering how much work physically and time-wise dyeing in small quantities is, though I'd certainly love to create a huge range of tapestry yarn colors with yarn that was sourced in the USA.

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  6. Thanks for this very interesting discussion! Rebecca, I noticed the comment about Harrisville yarns in Kathe's book, as well, and wondered if your dyeing process changed the nature of the yarn in some way. It amazes me how much the process of spinning and dyeing can impact the nature of the yarn as much as the fiber, itself. Right now I'm using some of the Harrisville yarn that you dyed side-by-side with Harrisville yarn dyed by them and the yarns couldn't look more different. The difference in loft is especially pronounced. The Harrisville-dyed yarn lays very flat and smooth compared to the lovely loft and texture of the Harrisville yarn that you dyed.

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    1. Hi Gina!
      I think if you skein and scour (just put it in VERY hot water with a little pH neutral dish soap or Orvis paste) the Harrisville yarns, you'll find that they become lofty again as the grease is taken out.

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  7. I tried to comment using my iPad mini, but it never seemed to load...so here goes again. I have used Harrisville singles for years, they stopped making the singles a long time ago but I have a stash. One thing about Harrisville is that all their yarns are spun WOOLEN, rather than worsted (like most tapestry yarn). This is one reason they don't reflect very much and look a little more "dead," perhaps. However, it's also the reason I love their black wool because it makes the blackest black with no light reflecting off it.

    Of course if you have a yarn that is already a blend of different colors, and then you blend more than one blended color together, you get what you always get if too may colors are mixed together (yarn or paint): muddy colors. Some of my stash of singles are blended but others are not. I have a gorgeous bright green, bright red etc. but when I have used the blended colors, I have often mixed them with one strand of Paternayan and been very happy with the outcome.

    I originally bought the singles to use for weft in wool scarves, and they certainly fluff up when washed, but I don't think I'd want them fluffy for my tapestries. I've never noticed an oily feel to the yarn, but who knows, maybe now I will!! Actually, in the small tapestry that I posted (on facebook) photos of me unweaving and reweaving earlier this week, the border is one strand of the Harrisville singles in a soft blended green. Maybe I'll post on my blog with other examples of it in other tapestries.

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  8. Nehalem / Willamette yarns were made by the Oregon Worsted Co. The mill has been out of business for some time. I think their retail production was mostly in knitting wools, with a sideline in weaving yarns, heyday 1930's through 60's. Five years ago I got hold a cone of one one of their weaving yarns by chance and I loved it so much, now I snag them whenever I can. I had meant to use some of them for mini-rolakan tapestries. So now I'm really curious! Does Kathy Todd-Hooker explain why they are bad for tapestry?

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    1. See Kathe's first comment above. She says the Willamette yarns were not colorfast.

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    2. Oops, thanks for pointing that out. Also . . . yikes!

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  9. The willamette is still out there as weavers age and sale their stashes or change vocations. I run into it all of the time when I teach. Students want to use what they have. It looks like such great stuff to weave with. It has a wonderful surface. Blends in bundles well with other yarns. But, get it wet and the reds bleed terribly bad. Just doesn't play nicely. I saw a coverlet woven by Jerie Lucas that had been woven in the traditional red that looked like my sons underwear used to look when they were learning to to laundry- not a good thing.She had just taken it off the loom and was doing whatever coverlet weavers do when a piece comes off of the loom. This yarn was used in the 80's early 90's by a lot of coverlet weavers and just sort of slid into usage in tapestries because it was easy to come by when there were so few sources of good tapestry yarn. Turquoise yellow and black seem to light fade the worst to very unattractive colours within a very short period of light exposure. Last summer I had a commission/repair and unwove and rewove part of a tapestry(not mine)that had the Wilamette nehalem yarns faded over time. I removed several small areas of black and rewove that had turned a really awlful shade. I used a needle to reweave using shannock wools from mystash.

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    1. I used my first cone (a moss green) as scarf weft with some handpainted wool/silk yarn, so I assumed all the dye loss when I finished it was just from the handpainted yarn! I'm so glad I found this out. I can't imagine the heartbreak with a whole coverlet or tapestry.

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  10. I've never tried this with tapestry, but Appleton's colors are phenomenal and are available in small amounts. Has anyone ever used them? From the manufacturer's website: "Appleton wools has been made in England for over 150 years by Appleton Bros. Ltd. Their wools were used by the famous 19th century textile designer William Morris. Appleton's have 421 colours, all of which are available in tapestry wool (4 ply) and crewel wool (2 ply).. Each hank of tapestry wool is approximately 60 yards and weighs approximately 25 grams. There are 6 skeins to a hank."

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    1. Jacqueline, I think that Janet Austin has used Appleton yarns and I know other people have and really like them. I bought some about a year ago and hated them because of the color. But as I think back on it, what I bought was on sale and was likely their yuckiest colors. It sounds like they have a good selection of colors and I think they weave well for tapestry.

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    2. I'm glad to hear that some people have used them with success. I bought the color charts and was high on the joy of looking at all those wonderful colors for a month! BTW thank you so much for your wonderful blog, Rebecca - tons of inspiration and helpful information.

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  11. I realize this is an old post, but was researching yarn, particularly with an eye to blending color (without dyeing my own - I do have the set up/equipment, raw materials etc but not necessarily the energy) for smooth transitions. I was looking at 2p 5 color gradation tapestry yarn from Weaving Southwest. I have not actually seen this yarn yet. Does anyone actually unply yarns for blending? I'm thinking 4 plies used as one, (8 epi) which gives 4 more levels in the gradations between colors. It's a chunk of change to buy yarns to test this, so I am hoping you - or anyone reading can post their thoughts. TIA.

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    1. Hi Cate,
      I think you are in my Warp and Weft class online, right? This is the right question to ask there. I give a lot of information about yarns and there are specific instructions for how to unply yarns to recombine in a video in the course. That video is also on my YouTube channel. If you can't find the information in the course, just ask!

      The Weaving Southwest yarn is WAY too fat to use 4 plies (or two strands) at 8 epi. It barely works with one strand. It is a very stiff yarn, a little fatter than the Harrisville Highland I often use.
      If you want to use multiple strands which is a great idea for color blending, I recommend looking at the other options on the Weft Yarn Choices sheet in the course. These are exactly the sorts of questions the course is built for, so please ask there!
      Rebecca

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