Tapestry Yarn

I often am asked what yarn to use for tapestry?  The simple answer is:  anything that is beautiful.  Your tapestry is only going to be as beautiful as the yarns you use to make it.  Ugly acrylic yarn from your discount store is going to look just as ugly in the skein as it is in a tapestry.  So let’s start off with the don’t:  don’t use ugly yarn.  DO use yarn that is rich in color, has an inner glow and makes you happy.

You don’t have to use just wool.  You can use anything you want and combine these yarns any way you want.  Wool is the easiest to weave with because it is so elastic.  Silk, cotton and linen will make your life a little more difficult because they don’t have any give.  Problems with pulled in selvedges will happen more frequently with these yarns.

Don’t forget the concept of weft blending:  taking two or more yarns that can either be of the same fiber or different fibers and using them bundled together.  This can product lovely shading effects.  For example:  using a strand of silk or rayon combined with wool.  The silk or rayon reflects light and the wool absorbs it making for an interesting effect.

But let’s get technical for a moment and I will explain what really makes a great tapestry yarn.  The answer is long, glowing fibers from certain breeds of sheep that have been combed (not carded) in preparation for spinning.  Combing fibers aligns them whereas carding fibers gets them more tangled up. Yarns made from combed fibers served two purposes:  they were used as warp because of their strength and they were used for outerwear, blankets, saddle blankets, rugs, etc because of their durability.  Carded fibers are loftier and are used for sweaters, socks and other wearables that would be closer to your skin.  For example, merino, which is a very fine, short fiber is great for sweaters but would be lousy for tapestry.

Who are these sheep that provide great fleeces for spinning tapestry yarn?  Here are some of my favorities:

 Cotswold: ancient breed of sheep wearing along, coarse fleece with lots of gorgeous curls.  Was called “the poor man’s mohair” because it is like mohair but cheaper.  My neighbor bred these guys and I acquired quite a stash of Cotswold fleece I am still trying to wade through.
When you think of Navajo Churro you think of Navajo blankets  because that’s what you’ll find their fleece in.  Churros have two layers of fleece.  The outer fibers are used for weaving tapestry. 

 Ahhhhh!  Bluefaced Leicester produce long wool and are called bluefaced because that simply means white hair on black skin.  Hey, you learned something!  
Leicester Longwool.  I know, you want to take them home.  But don’t.  Raising sheep will take up all the time you should be spending weaving tapestry.  It’s a lot cheaper just to buy the fleece.  The fleece from these sheep find their way into a lot of Australian and New Zealand yarn.

I love this stuff.  I have never actually spun it, but at one point I bought a lot of it from a store in England.  It’s all white and very fine.  Soaks up dye almost as if it’s silk.  Love the stuff.  I still have quite a stash left.  Maybe I’ll dye a bunch of it up and turn it into kits for you.
Romney fleeces are long, lustrous and really great to spin.  It would take me about a year to spin the above fleece!
Now for the problem:  In the US it’s really hard to find yarn made from these fleeces.  We tend to make blended yarns that come from random sheep.  The rare time you hear about the sheep that went into a yarn is, you guessed it . . . drum roll . . . merino.  That’s the big thing these days.  Anyone sick of the term smartwool yet?  Sure, it’s great stuff, but I’ve known for years that wool is better than plastic bottles for keeping you warm.  I digress.  Suffice it to say, it’s really hard to find yarn in this country that is made from any of the above.  That is why I took up spinning. Check out some of my hand spun tapestry yarns: http://www.mirrixlooms.com/yarnyarnkits.html
But if you aren’t planning to do that, I have found a few sources for yarn made from specific fleeces that you can use for tapestry.  It’s not easy to find such yarns and they are mostly made in countries such as Norway, Sweden, New Zealand.  Go figure!  You can also use yarn intended for needlepoint.  I’ll let you do the research on where to find that.

The following is a compilation of tapestry yarn sources.  I am stealing most descriptions directly from websites where these yarns are available.

From Fine Fiber Press:   http://members.peak.org/~spark/FineFiberPressTapestryYarns.htm

ALV (Elf) Tapestry Yarn

This Norwegian tapestry yarn is a 2-ply worsted yarn made from 100% combed long fiber wool.  It works beautifully for woven tapestry.  Kathe uses four strands together, with a sett of 10 warps per inch. There are 700 meters in 100 grams (Approx. 765 yards / 3.5 ounces or 218.5 yards per ounce).  NOTE: We sell it only in units of one or more ounces!!

The cost $4.00 per ounce plus cone price of 25 cents. If you provide the paper cone, we will take off the 25 cents. Inquire about cone size. Our winding machine will only use a larger style cone such as those used for standard weaving yarns, not the smaller ones that usually came with the Australian tapestry yarns.

Here is a view of the colors.  However, computer monitors vary greatly so we suggest that you order a yarn card and base your color choices on that card instead of your monitor. The color card costs $3.00.  NOTE: The color card is actually made from this company’s 3-ply yarn which is a larger size than the 2-ply one we sell.  The colors are the same however. They include a sample of the 2-ply yarn in the lower right hand corner of the color card.  The title of the sample says: ALV Kval. prove which means ELF sample.

These are the colors!

From Weaving Southwest:  http://www.weavingsouthwest.com/shop/product/104

Hand-dyed Tapestry Yarn

100% virgin wool
4 oz. skeins
approx. 162 yards.
We have designed this custom spun yarn to be similar to some of the Scandinavian 2-ply yarns. We have chosen 22 colors for this tapestry yarn and dyed 5 shades of each color, each available in up to 4 pound dyelots. Its luster gives a nice sheen to the finished weaving. We use this with our 3-ply worsted warp at 6 ends per inch (excellent for rugs also) or can be used with a much finer warp at 8 epi.
Sample cards are available with 5 shades each of 20 colors.
We just finished dyeing a whole new run of Tapestry Yarn. These colors slightly are different than what they use to be. We have sample cards available of the colors we currently have. We will have all our new colors, plus a few new colors available within about six months. Call us if you have any questions.  $13.00 a skein.

Brown Sheep Yarn Lamb’s Pride and Top of the Lamb:  available in lots of places and is used in our ipod kits


Although intended for knitting, this yarn comes in  a lot of gorgeous colors and works very well for tapestry.  It’s available in pure wool (Top of the Lamb) and in a 85% wool/15% mohair blend (Lamb’s pride).  It comes in solid colors and painted colors.  Below is an example of a few of their colors.  Who knows what fleece goes into this yarn.  What is “wool.?”

Borgs Yarn from Sweden:  http://www.vavstuga.com/store/wool.shtml

Claudia’s notes:  I first discovered this yarn at The Handweaver’s Guild of America’s Convergence.  There was a sale bin full of it.  I bought enough to fill my suitcase.  I was in heaven.  It used to be available at Unicorn Books and Crafts, but no longer. This is a worsted weight yarn you would use at a 6, 7 or 8 warp sett. My research found the above link.

Mattgarn wool yarn ($ per 100 gram skein)
manufacturer size dyed color card
Borgs 25/1 9.50 [view colors]
25/1 Mattgarn yarn from Borgs is a heavy single-ply wool yarn for weft-faced rugs. It comes in 100 g skeins of 125 meters (3.5 oz / 135 yards).

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