If you’re a knitter looking to get into weaving, you might think you need to buy yarn specifically made for weaving. There are a lot of benefits to doing that: It’s much easier to warp from a cone than from a hank, for example, and with many more yards of yarn on the average cone than in the average skein, you can warp the whole loom without tying on a new length of yarn. But with the volume and variety of knitting yarns on the market (and the volume and variety of yarns located in many knitters’ stashes), there’s no reason not to make almost any yarn work for weaving.
Knitting yarns will fall into two categories: yarns suitable for the warp and yarns suitable for the weft. While just about any yarn can be used for the weft, there are some pretty specific requirements for what yarn would make a good warp.
Choosing a warp yarn
The first, and possibly the most important factor, is strength.
A warp yarn needs to be strong enough to hold up under the tension of the loom. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to test. Take your desired warp yarn in both hands and give it a sharp tug. If it breaks, it’s probably not strong enough for a warp.
If you can pull fairly hard and it still won’t break, it’ll probably hold up just fine. Most commercially available multi-ply wool yarns do OK as warp, as do most varieties of cottons, silks and linens. Most single-ply yarns are simply not strong enough.
The next indicator of warp suitability is how grabby a yarn is.
For most plant fibers, this isn’t a problem, but trying to find a shed in a sticky mohair blend is usually more trouble than it’s worth. This is also pretty easy to test. Take a length of yarn and fold it in half. Give the strands a roll between your palms, then try to pull them apart. If they separate easily, it’ll probably work for the warp. If they want to hold onto each other or if they start to felt together from just that cursory roll, it probably won’t work. Because the warp threads pass by closely to each other every time you change the shed, if they stick together too much, it will be difficult to pass the shuttle through.
Further considerations for weaving with knitting yarns are largely those that come up when using yarn specifically for weaving as well.
There’s the weight or grist of the yarn, particularly as relative to reed size. Worsted weight yarn, for example, is not ideal for use in a 10 dpi reed. If the yarn is too thick for the holes, the constant rubbing as you move the heddle will weaken the yarn, and you’re more likely to have a warp thread break (which is never any fun).
There’s also the amount of yarn to consider. Knitting yarns are sold in smaller lots. If you have a lot of yarn to work with, calculating the exact yardage of warp you’ll need is a lot less necessary. If you want to make a scarf out of one skein of hand-painted sock yarn, doing the math to figure out how long and wide you can make the warp will save you a lot of time in the long run. Of course, you can always just wing it, but you’ll have to be prepared for stripes or a smaller-than-anticipated finished object.
Photo via Craftsy member shoeboxcat
Choosing a weft yarn
The weft is where all those yarns that weren't right for the warp get to shine. Something soft that comes apart if you look at it funny? Perfect for the weft, where that softness can shine. Something so hairy and sticky that you can’t get the shuttle in? Excellent for the weft, where that grabbiness can be a plus to hold everything in place.
This is the perfect application for all those novelty yarns you bought to make quick scarves with but wouldn't touch with a 10-foot knitting needle. Ladder yarns add a nice burst of color and shine and boucle yarns weave up soft and squishy, with none of the hunting for the next stitch that comes with knitting or crocheting them. Almost any yarn can be used for the weft.
Preparing knitting yarns for weaving
You can prepare yarn for weaving in much the same way you’d prepare them for knitting. Warping a loom involves pulling yarn out at a much faster rate than just knitting, so a center-pull cake is perfect for this. The flat bottom of a cake allows it to stay where you put it. A hand wound ball, on the other hand, has a tendency to jump and roll all over the room. If you don’t have a ball winder, you can still prevent the ball from rolling everywhere. Just place the ball in a box or drawer, closing or sealing it enough so there’s only room for a strand of yarn and the ball won’t pop out at you.
Yarn that is already packaged in center-pull skeins can be used as-is like it were a cake. As you pull yarn out of the middle of the skein, it will flatten and generally stay where it’s put.
By following these simple guidelines and testing yarn for strength and stickiness, you will have no problem using knitting yarns for weaving. Make that stash work for you!