Let’s Talk Color: Weft Yarn Color Changes for Rigid Heddle

Changing weft colors always has the potential to leave you with awkward-looking selvedges or bulk, especially when using a rigid-heddle loom without floating selvedges to help keep ends in check! In this post, Whitney explains the techniques she uses when changing color on a rigid heddle, complete with pictures. ~Andrea

Let’s talk color changes.

I’ve made it to the color-and-weave section of The Weaver’s Idea Book, but I have one little “issue.” My selvedges don’t look very nice and the book doesn’t offer much on changing weft yarn color in your weaving. So, I have gone on a journey to figure it out myself. My first stop had to be the “Ask Madelyn” section of Weaving Today. Madelyn pretty much knows everything about weaving.

Her response to this sort of question:

“There is no perfect solution or standardized method that works for every situation (you have to do whatever works best with your weft yarns and the order in which you are using them). If you are sewing with the fabric and will be cutting away the selvedges, it is best to let weft tails just hang at the selvedges (which I’m sure you’d realize). My choice otherwise is this: If there is one basic color that is used very often (or even two or three colors used often), I’d carry them up the selvedges but encircle them with the active weft so they don’t form loops. For colors that are used less often and farther apart, I’d take the tails around a floating selvedge and back into the same shed for both new and old wefts, doing this on opposite sides at each weft change if I were really particular. For fabrics that are relatively fine, such as most tartans, excessive buildup at the edges is usually not a problem.”

(Read the full question/answer here)

I read it and thought, “Yeah, that’s simple! Thanks Madelyn, now my weaving will be perfect.”

Um, no.

It is true that if you are going to be sewing with the fabric that you don’t have to carry the weft yarn up the selvedge and you can let it hang. But I don’t sew, so most likely none of my fabric will be sewn into anything at the present. That leads to the next part of her answer.

How to Change Weft Yarn Color on a Rigid Heddle

How to encircle the active weft yarn for a smooth weft color change on a rigid heddle loom.
To encircle the active weft, pull both it and the inactive weft out.

First, the encircling of the active weft: this one I can do. If you have two or more colors and are doing a color change ever few rows this is a great technique. With the active color (in my example it’s white), make a loop around the other color(s) (green) so that, when you pull the weft tight and beat, your active color is underneath the other color(s) and not creating any crazy loops at the selvedge. Whether you have to go over or under the inactive colors will vary depending on what side you are weaving on, but the key is to make sure it encircles those colors.

How to loop the active weft yarn around the inactive weft to smoothly cover the color change.
Then, loop the active weft around the inactive weft.

Now, what if one color of weft yarn (we will call it A) is only used sporadically, which can be the case for striped fabric, what should you do? You can cut the color a couple inches and weave it in as Madelyn suggests, except in rigid heddle weaving you don’t have a floating selvedge to wrap around which makes weaving in the next open shed tricky if the end doesn’t wrap around the last warp thread. I usually just wrap it around the last one if it doesn’t already and move on. If you don’t like the look that creates you will have to come up with a different solution.

Create smooth selvedges when changing weft yarn color with this technique for rigid heddle.
Whether you go over or under the active loop of weft depends on which side of your selvedge you’re on.

I also found a little trick that worked, but left some of the color A on my edges. While I was weaving my large section of color before using A again I loosely hung A over the heddle on the edge of my weaving so that it wouldn’t get in the way too much. Then when I came to that edge I would encircle A using the same techniques for encircling listed above. This made it so that when I needed A again it was right where it needed to be. Again, this does leave some color at the edge, but if you don’t mind the effect you might want to give it a try.

I should put a disclaimer that I have no idea if this technique is conventional or “right” BUT if it works do it! Seriously, when it comes to weaving, or any craft for that matter, if you can make something work for you do it. As long as the outcome is what you want and the fabric doesn’t fall apart once you get it off the loom, how you got there isn’t as important. Don’t be afraid to try new things even if others aren’t doing it. You may fail, but that’s the best way to learn.

So, now the question for my readers, have you found a solution for weft yarn color changes that works well for you? Conventional or not, I want to hear them, because I’m sure I will learn some new techniques and have to refine the old!

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One thought on “Let’s Talk Color: Weft Yarn Color Changes for Rigid Heddle

  1. Whitney, I’m currently weaving a scarf on my RHL that has two alternating colors in the warp–lime green and turquoise (took me a bit to figure out warping that one so all the warp threads were nice and firm) then a variegated (yellow shading to lime shading to turquoise shading to forest green) for the weft–with a lime fun fur added every fifth pick. I’m doing what I think is called overshot with the fun fur, so the wispy “fur” pieces are mostly on top (although a few wisps appear on the back–it’s cute!) on top of that fifth pick of variegated weft. I discovered I needed to have the fun fur only be caught by every other warp thread on the shed, so, since I don’t have a lease (?) stick, I’m using a piece of cereal box cut to a ruler shape to select the warp threads to lift to make the extra shed for the fun fur. Then I use my sleying hook to get the wisps out of the shed before beating it. Fun stuff! Anyway, to carry the fun fur up the sides (which side it’s carried up changes every fifth row–at least I’m uniformly ununiform!), I’m making sure it gets caught in the weft loop every time the loop is on the side where it’s being carried. That keeps me from having any big loops on the selvedge, at least. So far, the wisps are helping to camouflage any lumpiness on the selvedges. Can’t wait to finish it and see what it looks like off the loom (it’s taking me a lot longer than usual, because of the fun fur–but why stop when you’re having fun?). I’m also still not happy with weaving in the ends when adding more weft, but by carrying the starting end up to the next pick, instead of the “adding in” pick (being sure to wrap that end as it gets carried up), I’m happier. I don’t have quite as much bulk, at least with the yarns I’m using on this project, where I end one yarn and start the next. Doesn’t seem to look as lumpy….