Beginnings in hand spinning

A textile design student learns hand spinning.


In June, me and my classmates got to learn hand spinning at Joshibi. But no, not your usual 1-day workshop—instead, a 4 week course with a full-size weaving project, for which we would ourselves indeed spin about 1/3 of all the yarn… Not an easy task, for sure!


First, it was all about the basics: dyeing samples of about 25 colours, some colour theory, and exercises in mixing a desired shade from different basic colours.

After some practice in 1-ply, 2-ply, diamond and knot yarns, we spun a sample selection of yarns in the colourway of our choice, and decided on the final colours. As it would have been eternally long to spin ALL the yarn needed for the project, we had the option of spinning either 50% of the warp or 50% of the weft—my pick was to spin 50% of the warp.

Documenting the colours and techniques used in sample yarns
Finished colourway sample

What followed was calculating how much of each colour I would need for the finished work, and more wool dyeing, according to what we would use. Then, mixing the colours and carding the wool with a machine, spinning it all into 1-ply yarn, and then into 2-ply, as a lot of my 2-ply yarns were in fact a mix of 2 different 1-ply yarns. And still, dyeing the rest of the warp (4 different colours), and all of the weft (only one colour, as to keep things simple for once…!). Quite the feat in terms of time and patience, but the result was well worth it!

From 1-ply…
… to 2-ply!

The weaving technique used in this assignment was called 2-faced weaving, which is NOT double weave, though! I was confused too, at first.. I also have no idea if this is the correct term in English—in Japanese it was taught to me as 二面織, which translates to two faced weave, or alternatively 昼夜織り, which means day/night weave. Basically, the idea is that once woven, both sides of the fabric will be either weft or warp-dominated: in my case, the design was warp-dominated, which means that the weft ends up being barely visible, while the warp gives the fabric its colour and carries the pattern. The technique only needs a 4-shaft loom, with 4 pedals—you could only use 3 pedals, but this would only make vertical stripes as a pattern, or no pattern at all (just two differently colored sides), depending on the threading.


The pattern is achieved by a threading the loom in a specific sequence for the colours. While the threading stays the same throughout (1-4-2-3, for example), the colours are threaded in alternating “front” and “back” colours one by one; if there is a pattern change, the colours simply change place for that sequence. Unlike in double cloth, both colours will be visible on both sides: a light color at the front of the fabric will have 1-yarn floats of the dark back colour visible and vice versa, but in the end the opposite colours are hardly noticeable. Changes in pedaling switch the front and back colours up, and enables making a pattern.

Front (light) and back (dark) in the same shot

One major benefit of the warp-dominated design was that it was really fast to weave, especially at a relatively low weft density. Lastly, a round of fulling (on a super hot summer day in the dyeing studio, which does not have A/C…) And the project was finished, whew!

Fulling – wet finishing the finished work

The result is a 80cm x 150cm fabric, which I might make into a huge, comfy flat pillow once I’m back in Finland. I’m also really excited about having learnt this two-faced weaving technique, since although threading the loom took a little longer than usual, the result is really interesting and I’m already thinking of different variations that are possible! And while I did enjoy making my own yarn, when working on this scale I may pick industrial yarn over handmade yarn next time… I do have some leftover handspun yarn though, so I’ll probably make a small project out of those!


For more photos of this project, check out the project page!

© 2019 Elisa Penttilä

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