Chunky Wool Weaving with Tops

This post was crafted and written by Emily from Happy Wattle Handweaving.

My idea was to try making a woven version of the chunky arm-knitted or jumbo crochet ‘weighted blankets’ (like this) that seem to do the rounds on social media every now and then as a crafty trend. They are usually made with unspun wool tops or roving – and often cause consternation (or even derision) among spinners groups when shared online. It is certainly possible to make these blankets from un-spun tops, but those with many years of fibre craft experience are generally very sceptical of how well such a blanket would last – how quickly would it pill or fall apart, how would you keep it clean? etc. Another consideration is these blankets do require a LOT of tops/roving to make (although arguably, making something that size and weight with regular yarn also uses a lot of supplies). The Woolery in the US made this short video about their experiments with knitting roving where they discuss these exact issues.

I wanted to see if I could weave something with the same sort of chunky aesthetic, but a little bit more sturdiness – by using regular yarn in the warp that might give it an advantage over a blanket that was knitted or crotched only from tops/roving. My hypothesis was that if I fulled the finished weaving enough it might help make it more cohesive, even if that lost a bit of the loft and softness as it shrank. I was also hoping that by using such a chunky weft, it would make the weaving go faster – not always something I care about, but it would be cool to be able to knock out a big fluffy blanket quickly.

For now I just wanted to make a small sample piece. I dug out some random bits of Corriedale wool tops from my spinning stash and went searching for a good warp yarn. I decided to use Bendigo Woollen Mills ‘Bloom‘ 8ply for the warp, as I wanted something that would a) look pretty and b) full/felt to the weft when wet finished.

I warped up the full width of my 40cm rigid heddle loom using the 7.5dpi heddle. For speed (and as this was just a sample) the length was determined by a convenient bench top in my kitchen – approximately 90cm. I’ve had a lot of practice warping this loom with 8ply / DK weight wool so this part was pretty quick ~ 10 mins. Because of the slow change in the variegated colours of the Bloom wool, it ended up with quite a cool striped effect in the warp. I love variegated yarns.

In-progress photo of warping a rigid heddle loom, showing the heddle in the background and the warp spread out toward the camera. The warp yarn is multi-coloured and makes stripes in combinations of blue, green, and yellow.

Once warped and sleyed and tied on (~30 mins), my next concern was how I was going to manage the weft… Usually I prefer to weave with a boat shuttle but this obviously called for another type of shuttle, or even another method altogether… a ski shuttle or rug shuttle might have worked well but I don’t have any, so I just selected a stick shuttle that was a little bit longer than the width of the project. I quickly found that I needed to use short sections of tops to reduce the bulk around the shuttle or it wouldn’t slide through the shed. I also split the tops in half along the length to make it smaller, as it was just too chunky otherwise and hard to beat into place. Even at half the size it was tricky to keep each pick packed down, as the warp was quite stretchy and the Corriedale so puffy and springy, however I think that actually worked out ok for how the finished cloth feels.

Once I got the hang of managing the weft and shuttle, the weaving did go very, very quickly (~45 mins). I had to advance the warp quite often! My weft colours were a bit random – I don’t usually spin with Corriedale so I was happy to experiment with it but that also meant I didn’t have a huge range of colours, I was using up old scraps and samples I’d been given. When I could no longer fit any more weft in, I cut the weaving off the loom. It probably took longer to knot all the warp ends than it did to do the actual weaving. I missed an important step here in that I did not take a measurement of the cloth before wet finishing as I was too eager to see how it turned out.

I filled the sink with very hot water and wool detergent and swished and squished everything together. I pulled it out and dunked it back in a few times though I didn’t want to be too rough as I wasn’t sure how strong it would be, but I did want to ensure that the warp and weft would fuzz together. As I lifted the sample out of the final rinse water, I had a moment of dread – there were such big gaps between each weft pick! The tops looked to have shrunk much more in the wash than the yarn had and it was all loose and gappy. I gently laid it out to dry on a rack and went back inside to ponder whether this was all a bad idea and a waste of materials…

But… I had forgotten just how much wet tops will puff and bloom up again as they dry! The tops in the weft had shrunk but not as badly as it first appeared – in fact, I was surprised by how the finished cloth felt. It’s still very chunky, but even though it looks a bit like a rag rug it is not stiff like a rag rug, it has a reasonably soft and bendy feel to it. The bounce and springiness of the Corriedale tops and the stretchiness of the bloom yarn seem to work quite nicely together. The warp has bunched together in some places, so perhaps that means my sett was a little too loose? I might try a 10dpi reed next time. The finished length (not including fringe) is 59cm, the width varies from 36cm to 40cm (due to the uneven bulgy loops of tops, it was hard to pull them tight and even) and it weighs 240g. I don’t yet know how well this will hold up to use over time, and I’m not 100% sure what I will use this little sample for – it might work nicely as a chair pad for my folding chair when I do weaving demonstrations!

finished weaving sample - a bathmat sized rectangle of chunky cloth. The weft is in stripes of dark navy, olive green, light blue, yellow, turquoise and line green. The selvedges are very bulgy and uneven.

I do think that a blanket made like this would be very warm and cosy, and it would be a wonderfully quick way to make a blanket. Probably it would be better used on a bed than as a throw or knee rug, so that it won’t need to be quite as supple. That would take advantage of the chunkiness to possibly work as a weighted blanket. It also shouldn’t get as much abrasion that way and hopefully wouldn’t need cleaning as often – I’d guess that the tops will still shrink a lot while wet and the weave would be more delicate in that state, so it will need careful hand-washing if it does get dirty.

Overall I was happy with how this turned out and I think I’ll try making a larger version. I’d probably make it with a single colour of tops for the weft and stick with a variegated yarn for the warp. If using my Ashford rigid heddle it’d need to be warped and woven as several strips of separate cloth – if I tried to do one long strip the bulk of the cloth would quickly build up on the front beam and start to affect the shed. Otherwise, I might try making a blanket like this on my new floor loom – it has a much wider weaving width, and has a separate cloth beam below the front beam, so the bulk would be less of an issue and I could make one long warp and cut & (hand)sew it after washing.

Timing Summary:
Warping time ~10mins
Threading time ~30mins
Weaving Time ~45mins
Wet Finishing ~20mins
Not counting the time spent searching through stash to find supplies…

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