Part One: The Whys of Sampling

Deb explains the value of sampling at the loom to create the fabric you desire.

Deb Essen Mar 11, 2024 - 4 min read

Part One: The Whys of Sampling Primary Image

This color-and-weave sample was an experiment to see what patterns develop in different threadings across the warp with different color and treadling combinations in the weft. Photo by Deb Essen

As a beginning weaver, I rejected sampling as a waste of yarn, money, and time—but it didn’t take me long to discover that not sampling was even more wasteful! I credit a project I call “the incredible shrinking scarf” as the game changer. I bought just enough of a colorful, textured knitting yarn of mixed fiber content to weave a scarf. It looked awesome on the loom, and I wove until I ran out of yarn. When I took the scarf off the loom, it measured 7½ by 58 inches.

But after wet-finishing, the scarf shrank to 5 by 45 inches. Yikes! I gave it to my eight-year-old niece—who judged it “just right.” Lessons learned: Never assume all yarns behave in the same way; always buy extra yarn; and sample to avoid nasty surprises.

Sampling Schools of Thought

There are two main approaches to sampling.

The first approach is to add extra warp length to your project so you can weave 6 to 10 inches to test sett, beat, colors, and threading. This method worked well for me until I warped an undulating twill scarf at my usual twill sett for the yarn. I quickly discovered that the sett was too open to yield a stable fabric on undulating twill, with its multiple weft picks stacking over the same warp ends. Yes, I could re-sley at a closer sett, but then the scarf would be narrower. And if the new sett still wasn’t correct, I would run out of sampling allowance pretty quickly.


That left me with three options:

  • Increase the sett and either live with the narrower scarf, or add more warp ends for a wider scarf (but pattern repeats can really complicate adding warp ends);

  • Discard the warp (but my frugal genes rebelled at the idea); or

  • Use the entire warp for sampling.

I chose the third option and tried out a variety of setts in both warp and weft, as well as a range of weft colors that were quite fun to experiment with! In the end, I settled on a tighter sett, a looser beat, and a different weft color than I had originally planned—but one that created a wonderful iridescence, as seen in the photo below.

Fire Scarf by Deb Essen. This lovely scarf resulted from a sampling warp that led Deb to use a tighter sett, a looser beat, and a different weft color than initially planned. The iridescence was a wonderful bonus. Photo by Chris Autio

This experience led me to change to the second sampling approach—winding short warps specifically for weaving samples that I then keep as part of my weaving records. I test weave structure, threading, sett, design proportion, shrinkage, and hand of the final fabric, and at the end I have a lovely reference for future projects. The extra warp is an “efficiency enhancement,” and I’m sticking with it.

In the next installment, coming on March 25, 2024, I’ll discuss details of what I explore while sampling.

Adapted from the original article "The Whys and Hows of Sampling" by Deb Essen, from Handwoven January/February 2023.

Deb Essen weaves, teaches, and creates kits for handweavers for her business, dje handwovens, in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Montana.