We have just added some lovely linen to the web shop.
Linen can have a reputation for being difficult to work with although lots of weavers use it without any difficulties I was a bit apprehensive about starting my first project with it.
I'm pleased to say that it wasn't anything like as difficult as I had thought it might be and behaved far better than it's reputation suggests.
I warped in small bouts using a sectional beam. I use an AVL warping wheel so transferring each bout to the loom was relatively straightforward and I was able to ensure the tension was even. Firm, even tension is very important. If you are warping on to a plain beam and have a helper available, take advantage and use them! The singles linen in definitely more lively than the plied yarn, so you might prefer to start with plied yarn for your first project. This liveliness also means you ned to take extra care winding bobbins. Wind them firmly and evenly and try not to have areas where there is more build up, I found the yarn could loosen here and then jump off and get caught on the spindle of the shuttle, usually the quickest way to rectify this was to rewind the bobbin, but the best way was to wind the bobbin so it didn't happen!
Firm, perfectly even tension is the single most important factor is setting up your loom to weave with linen. Most of the literature suggests tying on using a strong smooth cord to lash small bouts to the apron rod on the front beam. Once all of the bouts are secured, it is possible to even out the tension by adjusting the cord. If you haven't tried this method of tying on there is an excellent tutorial on the Ashford website. As well as helping with tension, this method wastes less yarn.
It doesn't have to be tensioned so tightly that producing a shed becomes impossible, (the lack elasticity means it needs to be able to move enough to make the shed.) For me it soon became apparent what the optimum tension needed to be each time I advanced and re-tensioned the warp. Too loose and the shuttle took a nose dive to the floor, just right made a lovely wide shed. Advance the warp frequently. I found every inch or so gave the best results. It's good weaving practice to wind on frequently but it's all to easy to get in the zone and find your fell line and beater are nearly at the heddles and your shed has shrunk if you don't! Beat evenly, remember that other than take up linen doesn't shrink much once off the loom so is less forgiving of an uneven beat than other fibres.
Linen is inelastic and not very forgiving you if you poke or catch a warp thread on the way through with a stick shuttle or the nose of a boat shuttle. I found a quick thrum over the warp would return a thread that has had a tiny little bump but a real bash as is possible with a stick shuttle, made the thread baggy and had to be dealt with. I am not a lover of stick shuttles generally but appreciate that boat shuttles and the necessary winder are an additional expense, and that many weavers never use anything else. If you are using stick shuttles be aware of the potential for them catching and be sure to pass them close up next to the beater and wind on regularly to keep the shed at an optimum size.
After fighting with what I thought were just loose threads I finally checked and found a big threading mistake and a twist in the reed threading. Well we all know what thought did don't we? Had I checked the threading first I would have been weaving happy a lot sooner! Once the threading mistake and twist in the reed threading was sorted I just had a few loose threads to deal with. I found that the best way to deal with the really loose ones was to cut them and treat them as a broken thread; splicing in a a new length of yarn weighted at the back. Once the original warp had caught up I could pin it back in and continue weaving. Where there was just a little bit of slack I pulled it forward, wrapped it around a pin with the intention to ease it out to the ends when the cloth is of the loom.
The suppliers weave runners, curtains, towels etc in their factory in Sweden on old jacquard looms. They keep the factory at 72% humidity and lots of the literature suggest finding ways to keep the yarn damp. Vaxbolin suggest keeping a bowl of water under the loom to increase the humidity around the loom. We have 2 young, busy and very 'helpful' whippets, and a bowl of water wasn't going to stay in the bowl for long! This meant I tried out some different ways to humidify the warp in progress. I tried leaving a dampened towel across the back of the loom or spritzing the warp with a plant prayer every time I rolled on. I also tried winding the bobbins with the thread running through a damp cloth. I also tried weaving with everything as it was, i.e no additional humidity and didn't find there was any difference in how things went. However weaving in the winter with the central heating cranked up might need some additional moisture in the atmosphere to help the weaving go well. As linen is stronger when wet dampening the yarn may well be beneficial when weaving with finer counts or if you are having problems with broken threads.
I tried hard not to fuss about my edges. Easier said than done I know but if I made sure that the yarn was just snugged up against the edge and laid in at around 30 degree angle so there was enough yarn for the take so up my edges were straight and tidy. You will need to experiment to find the best angle. Not paying attention did lead to loops at the edge and as I know these wouldn't disappear so I did redo the row as long as I spotted it in time. However if I didn't I have left them as they don't show that much! I had read that if you make a mistake that involves unpicking more than a few rows, the best way to unpick it is to snip the yarn out rather than unweaving. I would concur with this, as well as increasing the chances if messing up your tension, it can abrade the yarn making it fluffy, this won't disappear when the cloth is finished. it. A lot of the literature recommends using a temple or stretcher if you have one. As I couldn't find one the right size I cobbled together a temporary affair using tarp clips and some weights which did help but in future I intend to use (my now found) stretcher. This will help with the draw in and so keep the edges neat and the width consistent.
Coming next finishing the cloth once off the loom, possibly the most important part of the process!