Saturday, June 2, 2012

Warp Sett--a few options and opinions

UPDATE with some changes in sources noted at the bottom of the post.

A question was asked about warp and weft.  I'll address warp in this post.  My answers here are based on what I've been taught, on my own experiences and preferences based on those lessons.   My studies have been with several teachers, especially with Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei, and their combined years of experience in tapestry making count in the decades and they are both experts.  That said, I recognize that other people will, of course, have their own opinions and suggestions. 

First, let's take a look at Archie Brennan's excellent article called "The Space Between the Warps" that's posted at the American Tapestry Alliance website.

The article describes a way to determine a classic ratio of a selected warp to weft.  Brennan suggests that one can find a starting point for the number of ends per inch for any warp by wrapping the warp in a centimeter space, placing the warp wraps closely together, and then using that number of wraps as the number of ends per inch.

He also discusses why one might want to vary that sett... opening up the warp spacing more or making it even closer together.  For instance, the number of wefts that might be included in a weft bundle might be one of the factors in the choice of sett.  In the two examples below, there's a sett of 8 epi with a 12/12 cotton seine twine as warp.  In the top example, 3 strands of weft of Vevgarn are being used; in the bottom example, same warp sett and size, there are 5 strands of 20/2 worsted wool being used.  Using a smaller wool (the 20/2), more color blending options were available in each weft.  

8 epi, 12/12 cotton seine warp, three strands of 2-ply wool combined for weft

8 epi, 12/12 cotton seine warp, five strands of 18/2 worsted wool weft
One of the things that you'll find when choosing warp sett is that the smaller and closer together the warps, the more detailed the image may be.  The scale of the warp/weft relationship is smaller.  So if you're wanting more detail in your design, smaller warp and closer sett might be the way you should go.  In the edge detail of the two samples below, the difference in coarseness of the weave is pretty evident.  The left piece has a sett of 8 epi of 12/9 seine twine, and the right piece has 6 epi of 12/18 seine twine.  Left is finer in effect, right is bulkier.

Here's the difference in effect of warp sett with pick and pick:

6 epi

10 epi

Some tapestry artists like to work at a scale very much smaller than those shown above.  Kathe Todd-Hooker, for instance, does absolutely amazing work.  This is a detail of one of her tapestries that I own.  Best I can determine, it's about 24 epi.  You can read more about Kathe's work at her blog.  Kathe's written several tapestry books that I recommend.  Tapestry 101 is one that is quite thorough; she sells her books, as well as tapestry supplies and yarns at Between & Etc.

Detail of Kathe Todd-Hooker tapestry
Now... a few thought about warp.  One of the critical features of a warp is that is should be strong and hold up to the tight tension needed for tapestry making.  

I've found that some things that seem very strong in that they're almost impossible to break by pulling them (like cotton carpet warp and also 3/2 mercerized cotton) don't hold up well for use in tapestry warp.  You might be saying, "But I use the cotton carpet warp for rag rugs and it holds up just fine!" Yes, it will do just fine in that application.  And it will work out OK for smaller tapestries, ones that you'll be warping and weaving pretty quickly.  Same for the 3/2 mercerized cotton.  But for larger tapestries and ones that you'll probably have on a loom for months, those types of warps might give some problems... like breaking.  And the stereotype, "Ask me how I know..." comment applies here.  

I know because I've used both and had warps breaking.  In one instance, I was using 3/2 mercerized cotton for a 45" wide warp, sett at 8 epi.  After three breakages, one so bad that I had to totally restart the tapestry, I determined that if I got through with that piece I'd never, ever use 3/2 mercerized as tapestry warp again.  And, twenty-something years later... I haven't!  

So... what do I use?  Most of my tapestries are done in cotton seine twine.  I usually select from three options for my own work:  12/6 for 10 to 12 epi; 12/12 or 12/15 for 8 epi; and 12/18 for 6 epi. 

The size of each of those is different, with 12/6 being the smallest and 12/18 the largest, as the sett indicates.  Cotton seine twine has the advantage of having flexibility and so the weaver can have some bit of discrepancy in the warp tension and the warp has a bit of forgiveness to cover that.  It's also firmly twisted and a bit smoother to put one's hands in and out of when weaving.  The cotton seine twine is available in several sizes, both smaller and larger than what I use.  Here's a selection from my collection:

 Left to right:  30/6 Finnish; 12/6; 12/9; 12/12; 12/15; and 12/18

The 12/6 is available in colors, as well as the natural shown above.  I sometimes used the colored seine twine if I'm going to have the edge showing and if I don't want the natural color at the edge.  I frequently use an edge finish that leaves the warp peeking at the ends of the tapestry.  It's called half-Damascus and is shown in the Peter Collingwood book under weft protectors.  I'm partial to these colors so these are what I have on hand:

I also use linen warp, and the size I use most of the time is 10/3 linen.  I usually sett this at 8 epi but it could also be used at closer and wider spaceings, depending on the weft chosen. Linen is a beautiful color and I love to see it at the edge of some of the tapestries I do.  The hand of the cloth is also quite different with linen and I enjoy that, as well.  Linen doesn't have the flexibility of cotton so when warping with it, it's important to be consistent and even with the tension.  There are several sizes of linen warp, as well.  I'd suggest ordering a sample card from a supplier to see the differences, if you're interested.

10/3 linen warp
Wool warp is something I've only used a few times.  Wool as warp has a long tradition in tapestry making and I'm glad I'm learning to use it.  I bought a large spool at a Convergence from Mora Valley Spinning Mill and have enjoyed working with it in the couple of tapestries I've used it in.  One of the things I learned in the first tapestry, however, is that the wrapping of the warp in the centimeter, as Archie's method describes, doesn't give as accurate a sett suggestion.  In fact, I needed to sett it a bit closer than what the wrap per centimeter indicates.  This particular 2-ply Churro warp is best at 8 epi (I'd first used it at 6 epi and that was just a bit too open).
Churro wool warp from Tapetes de Lana

The Churro wool warp was used in this tapestry.

Now... lots more can and should be said about warp for tapestry... this only scratches the surface.  And, as I said, this is from my perspective and based on what I've been taught and what I've experienced.

One more thing I want to mention, though, is that sometimes the examples shown in various books of how to do techniques have a small size warp that's widely spaced.  Possibly that's done for the methods/techniques shown as easier to photograph that way.  I think that beginners see that warp/weft relationship and think that's the way it ought to be.  But, in making tapestry if the sett is too open, the resulting tapestry cloth is sleazy (weft moves around too much).

And finally, here's a selected list of sources for warp as well as weft yarn.  I collect sample cards from the sources I feel will have yarns that I'll want to use for my own work.   When I teach, I also recommend these sources as good options since I've used them enough to feel I know the products.  There are many other yarns available and I say, seek them out and order samples if they have them. 

I'll add and amend this list occasionally.  I have no affiliation with any of these companies and individuals for personal profit and gain.

  • Tynt Kunstvevgarn (and heavier weight Spelsau Norwegian yarns), weft
Each 25 gram ball  (~65 meters / ball) = $4.50 (price quoted Feb. 2017)

Madeleine Darling-Tung
135 Main Street East
Kingsville, Ontario
N9Y 1A5  Canada

  • Frid Vevgarn weft, and warp thread
Vevgarn is 50% Norwegian Spelsau and 50% luster-wool
Warps: 12/12 and 12/6 cotton seine twine, and 10/3 linen

Sidsel Moreb
Norsk Fjord Fiber

  • Alv (Elf) worsted wool, weft and also warp thread
Alv is imported from Norway
Warps: several sizes of seine twine and also cotton buttonhole twist for close setts

Kathe Todd-Hooker
Between & Etc.
604 First Ave. East
Albany, Oregon 97321-2744

  • Mora worsted 2-ply and Faro singles, weft; many warp selections, including seine twine and linen

Glimakra USA
Note: They currently ask that you use their website to find and support local yarn stores for their products, or to find online retailers.  However, Glimakra USA will still make small retail sales if items aren’t available elsewhere.


  1. This is a really helpful post. Could you talk about the hem. What kind of yarn to use, should it be as "heavy" or as thick as the weft, what size should it be (1 inch more or less?), colors to use and anything else pertinent. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Sue. End finishes are quite important for tapestry, aren't they? I have a couple of ways that I use for my own tapestries. I'll see if I can get a couple of other folks to add their thoughts about this and we'll make a post very soon about hems, etc. Thanks again for taking a look and for asking this question.


  3. Thanks Tommye for that very comprehensive answer! I usually use 12/9 seine twine for 10 epi, but you suggest using the 12/6? Does this make the tapestry stiffer, or more flexible?

  4. 12/9 at 10 epi works fine, Michelle, as you've found for your tapestry work. The hand would be a bit stiffer, depending on the weft, at that sett. I've used 12/9 at 10 before, and also the 12/6 at 12 epi. Like Archie says in his article, there's room and reason for variation.

    1. Ah, thanks! I think I might give the 12/6 a try in the future ;)

  5. By the way, there's recently been excellent discussion on the Tapestry List (Kathe Todd-Hooker's Yahoo group) about warp type and possibilities for very, very fine sett... like 22 to 30 epi. I haven't done anything finer than about 12 epi so my own opinions are from that size and up to larger (like 6 epi). Kathe addresses small sett in her book, Tapestry 101. If anyone is interested in working with close setts, I'd say go to Kathe's book as one reference. Always, too, there's the value of sampling, sampling, sampling!

    1. Yep, that's an excellent book - I've used it a lot!

  6. As a rank beginner, this has been incredibly helpful. You have been so clear in your explanation and the photos are just great. Thanks so much for this. Would you recommend a beginner tapestry loom? Metal? One that I could figure out?!

  7. Im interested in using 6 strand DMC embroidery floss for a small project. So far I've used only wool. I would like to use 3 to 5 strands together for blending and effect, but most likely 3 strands. Do you have any advice for use with this product? What warp sett would you use for either 3 or 5 strands together? Thank you in advance for any insight.

  8. Janean,
    I've used embroidery floss at 5 strands in a sett of 10 epi, using 12/6 cotton seine twine. You might experiment a bit to see what you feel works best for you. I've split and blended the floss, for instance, taking out one or more from the strands and putting together with strands from another color

  9. I am also new to tapestry weaving, but would like to try my hand at a larger project. I used wool for my learning projects because it was handy, but the instructor, Leslie Voiyers, suggested I use cotton instead. I enjoyed reading this blog, it has helped me make some decisions. I'm itching to get started.