How to plan and weave your scarf

Highland Summer lace scarf

Planning a summer lace scarf: Part 4

So far in this series we’ve looked at ideas for design inspiration and the principles for working with block designs. But how do we actually get this scarf on the loom and weave it? There are a few practical points to think about which are topic of this final instalment.

Fibre

We may typically think of linen or cotton as the appropriate material for summer lace. These are lovely options, but by no means the only ones. My Highland Summer scarves are woven in a blend of merino and silk, and either of these fibres would make a fabulous solo performance as well.

I could carry on listing different fibres – I’ve used alpaca for lace many times, for instance – but the point is really to say that you don’t need an approved list of suitable fibres. If you like a particular fibre, why not try using it for lace?

There are some practical implications of your yarn choice, particularly with respect to sett and beat, and I will look at these below. Overall, the main consideration to bear in mind is that a light, lacy feel will not be achieved with a chunky yarn. Your perceptions of light and lacy are your own, of course, but my personal preference would be to look for a yarn that yields 8000 or more metres per kilo (2/16 Nm or finer).

Planning and scale

As I may have said a few times already… design is not a linear process. One of the challenges with weave design is that everything depends on everything else. Your loom is the place where your purpose, yarn, structure, and colour choices meet, so which of these do you tackle first?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. You start wherever you are able to start, but – as I described in detail in part two – you need to be open to negotiating with your own ideas. In this section, I’ll consider the negotiation between yarn and design in the context of scale.

How big is a scarf anyway?

Whatever we set out to weave, we usually have an idea of how big that thing should be. If not, then we need to do some thinking and get ourselves just such an idea.

In my head a scarf is a textile which is considerably longer than it is wide. The finished width would usually be 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm) but I’ll still call it a scarf if it lies in the 7 – 14” territory (18 – 35 cm). If it gets much wider than that, it is heading into the ‘over-sized’ or even the wrap zone. The finished length could be anything over 60 inches (150 cm).

You may have completely different ideas about what constitutes a scarf, and that is absolutely fine. The point is not to reach a universal consensus, but to conjure up for yourself a clear and specific vision of the thing you are aiming for.

As before, squared paper is your friend. We can quickly get a sense of what different sizes and proportions look like by making a few little scale drawings.

Sketches of scarf proportions on squared paper, where each square represents 2 x 2 inches. The first rectangle is 5 x 30 squares (labelled 10 x 60 inches); the second is 5 x 36 squares (labelled 10 x 72 inches; the third is 4 x 33 squares (labelled 8 x 66 inches)
Sketches of scarf proportions on squared paper, where each square represents 2 x 2 inches of the finished scarf

Hold that thought, while we turn back to yarn.

Yarn and sett

You may already have a yarn in mind, in which case you are just a short step away from having a sett in mind.

Lace is often woven with an open sett, wider than plain weave. If you look at a resource such as Handwoven magazine’s Master Yarn Chart you will see three different setts given for each yarn: the smallest of these three numbers is the sett for lace. However, some weavers favour using the plain weave sett and letting the skips take take care of the lace-making.

All the yarn I use for scarves contains a certain amount of wool or other animal fibre such as alpaca. This means it is a little ‘grabbier’ than some yarns, and an open sett for lace works well for me. It gives me the open, lacy look I want without becoming sleazy. If you are weaving your lace scarf in something more slippery, such as Tencel or silk, than it makes sense to set it closer to plain weave.

There is no substitute for sampling. If you commit to sample, then you just need a place to start. Choose a plain weave sett, a lace sett, or something in between. You can adjust in response to what you find as you weave.

But that’s still to come. The first step is just to look at that starting number, and at your sketch, and get an idea of how many ends there would be in a lace scarf. To make my Highland summer scarves I used two strands of 2/64 merino silk wound together for each warp end. Having ‘made up’ a non-standard yarn, I wove some samples to discover what sett would achieve the vision of lace I carried in my head. I ended up with 196 ends set at 20 epi to achieve just under 10 inches width in the reed.

The negotiation

We now have a three-way negotiation to conduct: between our yarn, our block design and the size of our finished scarf. It doesn’t matter which one of these is our starting point, but if any one of them is a ‘given’ – I’m using this yarn and nobody can stop me! – then that’s clearly the place to begin.