Sara Lamb explains how learning to weave knotted pile transformed her thrums into art.
I learned to weave knotted cut pile from Orlo “Duke” Duker (profiled in Handwoven January/February 1992. My first piece on the loom, under his guidance, was made using yarns he gave me. Knotted pile being a slow process, I had plenty of time while I wove that sample to plan my second project.
Enterprises that Require New Yarns
Having been a cloth weaver for 25 years, I had amassed considerable yarns to weave cloth. None of them was suitable for this new technique. Knowing that having a collection of yarns enhances my ability to design and weave more interesting fabrics, I applied that thinking to knotted pile. I acquired many skeins of suitable yarns, in this case silk, and dyed them the colors I expected to need on my project. I wove a small bag with two faces of knotted pile and one face (under the front flap) of soumak with the silk yarns I dyed.
But, too late smart, I noticed I had lots and lots of all the colors left over. Each bag face had just over 3,600 knots, and there were 2 knotted-pile bag faces. 7,200 knots had seemed like it would need a lot of yarn, but each knot needs only about an inch of yarn at most; with trimming, we’ll say 2" of yarn. That’s 14,400" of yarn needed, or 400 yards total. And that 400-yard total comprises several colors.
Counting knots, I find that one color needed less than 100", or about 3 yards. Another color needed only about 6 yards, meaning I could get by with very little of each color! That pile of thrums leftover from weaving silk fabrics that was always “too good to throw away” was suddenly taking on a whole new meaning.
Thrums in a New Light
I compared the grist of the yarns I was using for knotted pile and found that 3 strands of silk from cloth weaving was equivalent to 1 strand of the heavier silk for pile knots. All I had to do was bundle 3 strands. Added bonus: this gave me far more latitude in blending colors!
The next few pieces used thrums for knots. I made a few mistakes. I did one bag with thrums from a handspun Shetland/silk garment from the book Handspun Treasures from Rare Wools, and that yarn felted into a more solid mass on the surface of the pile weaving; so did yarn from another garment. In the end, I decided to use only silk thrums, which would not felt in the finished piece. And I had plenty of those left over from weaving my handspun, handwoven garments. Now I combine silk thrums to get the right color and grist for any design I plan.
There is one drawback to knotted pile, however: each knot is tied, then trimmed. I drop the trimmings into a bag so the floor does not become littered. Those little piles of trimmings add up, though, many of them less than an inch long—little heaps of ½" and ¼" silk trimmings. Duke used to save his trimmings and eventually used them to stuff a pillow. Can I actually throw these heaps away, knowing they “could be useful”? (Sometimes they go on to another life as accents in a friend's silk paper.)
How to Weave Knotted Pile
Pile knots are wrapped around two adjacent warp ends. Many instructions will direct you to cut a length of yarn, form a loop, and tuck both tails through, but the traditional method I use wastes less yarn and is much quicker once your hands are practiced at the motion. The knots are not structural; they are supplemental wefts held in place by subsequent rows of plain weave.
- Insert the cut end of the yarn between the warp pair
- Take it around to the left behind the left warp
- Bring it over both warps above the inserted end
- Take it around to the left behind the right warp
- Pull the end back through the warp, between the warp pair
- Trim both legs of the knot
For more uses for thrums, see “Use Your Thrums and Weftovers: Dryer Balls.”
Resources: Lamb, Sara. “Weaving Knotted Pile for Beginners.” Handwoven November/December 2001. Lamb, Sara. Woven Treasures. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave, 2009.