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Novelty Yarns for Weaving

  • 9 min read
Assortment of Novelty Yarns. Photograph: Samantha Gehrmann
Assortment of Novelty Yarns. Photograph: Samantha Gehrmann

What are Novelty Yarns?

Novelty yarns, also known as fancy yarns, encompass a diverse category of yarns that deviate from the traditional smooth and uniform texture. These unique yarns add distinctive elements to woven fabrics, enhancing the visual and tactile appeal of the final product. Various types of novelty yarns are characterized by specific features such as irregular thickness, added embellishments, or unique fibre combinations. From handspun to metallic yarns, each variant serves a distinct purpose in weaving, contributing to the overall creativity and texture of the finished textile. In this article, we delve into different categories of novelty yarns and uncover their characteristics and applications in the art of weaving.

Types of Novelty Yarns (Fancy Yarns)

Let's talk about the different types of novelty weaving yarns that can add a touch of personality and flair to your woven creations, transforming ordinary projects into extraordinary works of art.

Maurice Brassard Cotton Boucle Weaving Yarn - 227g
Maurice Brassard Cotton Boucle Weaving Yarn

Handspun Yarns

Handspun yarns offer a unique and personalized touch. The spinning process allows for variations in thickness, texture, and colour, creating yarns that reflect the spinner's style and creativity. Handspun yarns often showcase the natural qualities of the fibres used, including variations in fibre diameter and occasional irregularities. These yarns are favoured by crafters seeking a connection to traditional and handmade techniques. They are widely used in weaving, knitting, and crocheting to add a distinctive and artisanal element to projects.

Chunky Yarns

Chunky yarns are a distinct subset of novelty yarns characterised by their bulky and thick texture. This type of yarn may be a large version of traditional yarns or may deviate from the conventional uniform appearance. Chunky yarns contribute a sense of depth and coziness to woven fabrics, making them well-suited for projects like scarves and blankets. The thickness of these yarns adds a tactile element to the finished product. This makes it particularly appealing for those who enjoy the warmth and substance of chunky textures. Weavers often use chunky yarns to introduce a bold and expressive dimension to their creations, making them stand out with a distinctive visual impact.

Textured Yarns

Textured yarns deviate from traditional yarns' smooth and even appearance, introducing various surface features to create visual and tactile interest. These yarns can encompass various textures, including twists, loops, bumps, and curls. Texturing techniques such as slubbing, bouclé, or core-spun spinning are commonly employed to achieve these effects. Textured yarns add depth and dimension to woven fabrics that smooth yarns cannot achieve. This makes them a popular choice for those seeking to create visually dynamic and unique textiles. These yarns allow experimentation with different textures, enhancing the overall aesthetic and feel of the finished product.

Art Yarns

Art yarns represent a creative and unconventional category of novelty yarns that go beyond the standard features of traditional yarns. Crafted with artistic expression in mind, art yarns are characterised by their unique textures and irregular thickness and often incorporate a mix of fibres. These yarns may include embellishments like beads, sequins, or snippets of fabric, further enhancing their whimsical and eclectic nature. Art yarns are typically handspun by skilled artisans, allowing for a high degree of customization and individuality in each strand. Widely used in textile arts, including weaving, knitting, and crochet, art yarns add a distinctive and personalized touch to finished projects. This makes them popular for those seeking to infuse their creations with creativity and originality.

Slub Yarns

Slub yarns are a type of textured yarn characterized by intentionally thickened areas or irregularities along the strand. These thicker sections, known as slubs, create a distinctive and uneven texture in the yarn. Slubbing is typically achieved during the spinning process by deliberately introducing variations in thickness, resulting in intermittent lumps or bumps along the yarn. This unique texture adds special effects to woven fabrics, giving them a rustic or artisanal quality. Slub yarn is often used to create textiles with a textured and organic appearance, contributing to a visually dynamic and tactile final product. Weavers and textile artists appreciate slub yarns for the depth and character they bring to a variety of projects.

Ribbon Yarn

Ribbon yarns are a type of novelty yarn characterized by their flat and ribbon-like structure. Instead of the traditional cylindrical shape, these yarns have wide, flat strands resembling ribbons. Ribbon yarns can be made from various materials, including silk, nylon, or other synthetic fibres. The flat nature of ribbon yarns lends a unique texture to woven fabrics, creating a distinct visual appeal. They are especially suitable for decorative elements in textiles like scarves, trims, or even entire garments. Ribbon yarns offer a versatile and creative option for weavers experimenting with different textures.

Boucle Yarns

Bouclé yarns are a distinctive type of textured yarn characterized by their looped or curled fibres. The name "bouclé" is derived from the French word for "curl," and these yarns feature loops or curls along their length, creating a textured and bumpy appearance. The loops can be tight or loose, and they add visual interest and dimension to woven fabrics. Bouclé yarns are often used to create fabrics with a soft and textured feel, making them popular for garments like sweaters and household items like cushions.

Elastic Yarns

Elastic yarns, as the name suggests, are specialised yarns designed to possess stretch and resilience. Typically made by blending man-made fibres like elastane or spandex fibres with other materials such as cotton, wool, or synthetic fibres. These stretch yarns provide significant elasticity to woven fabrics. Elastic yarns are commonly used in the production of stretchy textiles, such as sportswear and undergarments, where flexibility and comfort are essential. The addition of elastic fibres allows fabric to retain its shape while providing a snug fit and freedom of movement. This feature makes elastic yarns a practical choice for projects requiring comfort and resilience in the final textile.

Metallic Yarns

Metallic yarns are specialty yarns that incorporate metallic fibres or threads into their composition. This ads distinctive shimmer, lustre, and fancy effects to woven fabrics. These metallic elements can be made from materials such as aluminium, polyester, or nylon coated with metallic finishes like gold. Metallic yarns are often used as an embellishment to create decorative elements in textiles. They can be incorporated into weaving projects to produce fabrics with a subtle or bold metallic sheen.

Yarns for Structure

Yarns for structure are specifically chosen for their ability to provide strength, stability, and durability to woven fabrics. In addition to traditional natural and synthetic fibres, these yarns often incorporate metallic elements, often stainless steel, to enhance structural integrity. The inclusion of metal adds rigidity and support to the fabric. This makes it ideal for weaving that requires resilience and shape retention. Fabrics woven with yarns containing metal components find applications in technical textiles, industrial uses, and even in specialized clothing that require enhanced strength. Some weavers even use these yarns to create woven sculptures or homewares such as lampshades. Incorporating metal into these yarns contributes to their versatility and makes them suitable for projects demanding structural stability and unique material properties.

How to Use Novelty Yarns on a Rigid Heddle Loom

Using novelty yarns for warp on a rigid heddle loom involves some adaptations to accommodate the unique textures and thicknesses of these yarns. One effective method is to utilize a variable dent heddle or a heddle specifically designed for chunky yarns. These heddles have wider gaps between the slots or holes, allowing for the passage of thicker yarns. When using a variable dent heddle, carefully thread novelty weaving yarns through appropriate dents based on their thickness. You don’t want the yarn to fit too snugly as it will abrade during the weaving process if too snug.

Ashford RHL with triple kit yarns (Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd)
Photographer: Ashford Handicrafts Ltd

To further facilitate weaving with novelty yarns, consider wrapping thick rubber bands around the top bar of the heddle. These rubber bands create additional space, preventing the yarns from getting too compressed during weaving. Simply space out the rubber bands evenly along the top bar, adjusting placement based on the thickness of the novelty yarns. This technique helps maintain an even tension and allows the yarns to pass through the heddle more smoothly.

Additionally, you can incorporate extra retainer rings on the loom to maintain space for the novelty yarns. These function similarly to the rubber bands mentioned above. Experimenting with different combinations of retainer rings, rubber bands, and variable dent heddles provides a range of options for accommodating various yarns.

Above all, weaving with novelty yarns on a rigid heddle loom is an opportunity for experimentation and creativity. Encourage the weaver to explore the unique textures and visual effects these yarns can bring to their woven projects. With a bit of trial and error, they can discover innovative ways to incorporate novelty yarns into their weaving repertoire.

How to Use Novelty Yarns As Warp or for Supplemental Warp Yarns

Weaving with bulky handspun yarn. Photograph: Samantha Gehrmann
Weaving with bulky handspun yarn. Photograph: Samantha Gehrmann

To use novelty yarns warp yarns, follow these steps, incorporating a variable dent heddle or a heddle/reed suitable for chunky yarns

  1. Select a Variable Dent Heddle or Chunky Yarn Heddle/reed: Choose a variable dent heddle with sections of differently spaced dents or a heddle explicitly designed for chunky yarns. The variable dent heddle allows you to customize the spacing based on the thickness of the novelty yarns.
  2. Thread the Novelty Yarns: Carefully thread the novelty yarns. If using a floor/table loom you may need to DIY a heddle using a shower or binder ring for the “eye” for very bulky or textured yarn to pass through.
  3. Create Sections with Different Spacings: If using a variable dent heddle use the feature strategically to create sections with different spacings. For example, group sections together with wider gaps to accommodate thicker novelty yarns and alternate with sections for standard warp yarns. This technique allows for a more organized arrangement and enhances the overall aesthetic of the woven fabric.
  4. Use Rubber Bands for Space Maintenance: Wrap rubber bands around the heddle to maintain consistent spacing for the novelty yarns. Place rubber bands along the heddle's top bar at regular intervals, adjusting them to correspond with the sections designated for the thicker yarns. The rubber bands help keep the spaces open, preventing the warp yarns from crowding or tangling during weaving.
  5. Tension and Weave: Set up the loom with the supplemental novelty yarns in the warp or tension separately. To tension speerately suspend threads and weight off the back of the loom or utilise a second warp beam if available. Ensure even tension across all threads. As you weave, pay attention to the rubber bands, making adjustments to keep the spaces open for the novelty yarns. Weaving with supplemental warp yarns allows you to experiment with textures and colours.

By incorporating a variable dent heddle and using rubber bands strategically, you can successfully weave with novelty yarns as supplemental warp, adding a creative and textured element to your woven projects.

How to Use Novelty Yarns as Supplemental Weft Yarns

Using novelty yarns as supplemental weft yarns offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce texture and visual effects in fabrics. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  1. Select Conventional Yarns as Foundation: Begin by setting up your loom with conventional yarns as the main foundation for the warp and weft. Choose a sturdy and complementary yarn that will provide a solid base for the weaving.
  2. Choose Novelty Yarns for Supplemental Weft: Select your novelty yarns for the supplemental weft. These can be yarns with unique textures, colours, or fibres that will add a distinct character to your woven piece.
  3. Weave with Novelty Yarns: As you weave, intermittently introduce the novelty yarns into the weft. Combine them with the conventional yarns, alternating between the two to create a balanced and visually appealing design. Experiment with different patterns, textures, and colour placements to achieve the desired effect.
  4. Create Wearable Weavings: Consider combining conventional and novelty weaving yarns for wearable weavings such as scarves and shawls. The interplay of textures and colours will make these pieces unique, adding a personalized touch to your wardrobe.
  5. Incorporate Rya Knots for Fringe: To enhance the texture and emphasize the novelty yarns, consider incorporating Rya knots at the ends of your weaving to create fringe. Select sections of the warp, gather groups of warp threads and tie with novelty yarns to create tufts or knots. This adds a playful and tactile element to your weaving, making the fabric appearance more visually dynamic.
  6. Secure and Finish: Once you are satisfied with the weaving, secure the loose ends and finish the piece according to your preferred method. This may involve cutting the fabric from the loom, securing the fringe, and potentially adding additional embellishments or finishing touches.

Using novelty yarns as supplemental weft yarns allows you to infuse creativity and personality into your woven projects. Whether you're creating a wearable accessory or a decorative tapestry, the combination of conventional and novelty yarns offers endless possibilities for unique and eye-catching designs.

Where to buy Novelty Yarns

Novelty yarns can be sourced directly from hand spinners, maker's sites, or yarn shops. Here at Thread Collective, we offer a wide range of novelty yarns, including Boucle, textured yarns, and structural yarns. You might even like to consider spinning your own novelty yarns for weaving. If you only need small amounts, consider spindle spinning, or for larger amounts, consider investing in your own spinning wheel. If you have a creative vision in mind but aren't sure what kind of yarn is appropriate, please get in touch so we can lend our assistance and expertise.

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