Consider This: Choosing Lace Yarns

Want to weave pick-up lace on the rigid-heddle loom? Make sure you pick the right yarn for the job.

Christina Garton Jun 14, 2022 - 5 min read

Consider This: Choosing Lace Yarns Primary Image

À La Carte Napkins by Sarah C. Bixler from the Fall 2022 issue of Easy Weaving with Little Looms. All 4 napkins were woven on the same warp and all 4 are different. Photo credit: Matt Graves

When we talk about choosing yarns for projects, we often start by saying “think about how the project will be used and choose the yarn that fits.” So, a scarf you want to keep you warm on a snowy day might be best made from cozy wool while a thirsty cotton would be a good choice for dish towels. Another consideration you need to make, though, is what sort of structure or technique you’re using, especially if you’re planning to weave lace.

Lace by its very nature is an open weave with long floats in the lacy areas. One of the benefits of weaving lace on the rigid-heddle loom is that through strategic pick-up you can have areas of lace just about anywhere on your cloth and can change and move where the lace appears as you weave. In the À La Carte Napkins by Sarah C. Bixler from her new video, Huck Lace on the Rigid-Heddle Loom (and also featured in the upcoming Fall 2022 issue of Easy Weaving with Little Looms), Sarah warps her loom once and weaves 4 lace napkins, all different, simply by changing the pick-up pattern.

Jodi Ybarra’s Winter Wave Towel project from Little Looms 2019Jodi Ybarra’s Winter Wave Towel project features one plain-weave towel and one towel with pick-up lace. Photo credit: George Boe

What does this have to do with yarn? Well, if you’re weaving lace on a rigid-heddle loom, your choice of yarn will affect your weaving experience as well as the aesthetics of your final product. The classic choices for lace are all plant fibers: cotton, linen, hemp, and blends that combine some or all of these 3. These specific plant fibers are so popular because they exist in a sort of middle territory of texture when it comes to yarns. They are not slippery like silk or rayons such as Tencel or bamboo and they aren’t sticky like some wools. They’re easy to pick up and manipulate.

Also, one of the primary traditional uses for woven lace is for table linens, and while wool is absorbent, I don’t know that cashmere napkins sound all that appealing. The only caveat about using these fibers on your rigid-heddle loom would be to leave linen in the weft as it can be extremely difficult to tension in the warp. Hemp can also be fiddly, but is easier to work with than linen.

Veerya-1080Shilpa Nagarkar’s Veerya Scarf is another beautiful example of pick-up lace, this time using Tencel. Photo credit: Matt Graves

I am not saying, of course, that you cannot use silk or wool for lace; in fact, you can weave beautiful, lacy pieces with these fibers. You only need to consider the characteristics of these fibers before you start weaving so you’re prepared for any challenges. Now, there are a few yarns I would say to avoid when weaving laces unless you sample first and know for sure the aesthetic you get is what you want. Wool yarns that easily full probably aren’t the best choice because the shrinkage after wet-finishing will close the lacey openings. Yarns with furry or hairy textures, such as mohair, or highly textured yarns will obscure or distort the lace. Personally, I’d go for yarns with minimal differentiation in texture because the main feature of any lace piece is the lace, and you want it to stand out front and center.

If you’re interested in weaving lace, but don’t know where to start when it comes to pick-up patterns, we’ve got your covered. Sarah C. Bixler’s previously mentioned video, Huck Lace on the Rigid-Heddle Loom, is an excellent resource for anyone who needs to watch somebody else demonstrate a weaving technique before they understand it. If you have back issues of Easy Weaving with Little Looms, or a subscription with access to our digital archive, there are plenty of excellent projects to choose from: Sharlet Elms’ Sunset Scarf from the Summer 2021 issue, Shilpa Nagarkar’s Veerya Scarf from the 2021 Holiday issue, and the Winter Waves Towels from Summer 2019 are all very different projects that feature pick-up lace.

Happy Weaving!