Archive for December 12th, 2009

Chenille progress

The story so far:

This post showed my first sampler using silk chenille as a warp, with a variety of wefts, sets and plain and twill weaves.

The next post outlined The Plan – woven shibori, plain weave chenille and monks belt pattern threads that will be used to gather the cloth during dyeing.

Progress to date: the cloth is woven and is in the dyepot as I type, becoming (I hope) a rich chocolate brown.

This project has been something of a lifeline to me the last couple of weeks. I’ve been worrying over things I can’t control, and whenever it all started feeling too much I’d distract myself by reading and speculating about chenille. (One major stress source resolved well during the week, so hopefully balance is returning).

A quick summary from internet research and my own musing, focused in particular on silk chenille yarn. BE WARNED!! Any or all of the following could be wrong, or not appropriate to whatever you are doing. This is my learning-in-progress, with no actual experience or depth of knowledge – as many questions as answers.

Still here?? “Chenille” is from the french for caterpillar – think fuzzy worm. It seems to be used for a few different-but-related things.

Twice-woven rugs – an initial weaving that is cut up between warp ends to produce shaggy long thin pieces that are used as weft in a second weaving. See Something New in Rugs, Atwater, Mary M. Weaver, Vol. 6 No. 4 (October-November 1941) available here.

Layers of fabric stitched and cut in channels to produce a shaggy look. Sample instructions here.

Confusion on the next one. When I was a child I had a “chenille bedspread”. I remember a plain woven fabric with a pattern of rows of tufts coming through the fabric. It wasn’t a separate yarn couched on top. Looking at photos on the web I’m wondering if it was actually candlewicking. Either way, it’s a red herring to my actual interest and final category…

Chenille yarn, showing separated pile and bare core yarns

Chenille yarn – short lengths of pile yarn held between two twisted core yarns. It’s the structure of the yarn which gives the name and the characteristic fuzzy worm appearance – and the troublesome twist. It can be made from all sorts of fibres. Rayon seems far and away the most common in handweaving but there’s also cotton, plus I’ve found references to linen, soy, acrylic, tencel and the one I’m working with, silk.

As well as the fibre content, chenille yarns can vary in length of pile, amount of twist, size of component yarns (core and pile), density of pile and I don’t know what else.

Twist, balance and worms. In spinning fibres are twisted together which provides strength, however the twisted yarn wants to unwind – there is yarn torque.  This is normally resolved by plying two yarns together, neutralising the twist forces and producing a balanced yarn. Try it – get a length of yarn or fibre and twist it tightly in one direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise).  Bring the two ends together, and the middle will want to twist up together.

Mostly we weave with balanced yarns that (we hope) sit nicely where we put them. Some forms of collapse weave deliberately use overtwisted yarns to cause movement and texture when the cloth is wet finished. With chenille the overtwist is used to hold in  the pile. If the overtwisted yarn isn’t held firmly in place little bits of it will want to twist up together. It can cause little “worms” bobbling up in the fabric, which could be regarded as unslightly. Anne Field covers it in her book collapse weave – Creating Three-Dimensional Cloth. With chenille, there’s an additional structural problem – release the twist, release the pile.

We need to keep the chenille and its twist firmly under control. Sett should be closer than you expect – consider the core yarns, not so much the fluffy pile. No long floats. One difficulty is that worms can appear over time – so how can I know piece A is successful before I start on piece B? Maybe carry it around lots and generally abuse it, to simulate a year’s wear in a week or two?

I’ve read in a couple of places that pile direction is significant. I don’t understand that. It seems to me that as we wind the warp it goes up then down, and as we weave the picks they go first left then right. So I guess I’ve missed something.

Cutting fabric has also been mentioned as a problem. Could this be all those new yarn ends, no longer firmly contained? Perhaps something like intense stay stitching would help.

For fringes, firm braiding or twisting with a knot seem the most common. Use of fray check has been suggested – I don’t know if that would cause a distracting hardness. In my current experiment I didn’t want a fringe, so I’ve machine stitched across each end multiple times. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I’ve  read that rayon chenille stretches a lot, especially when wet. Would that be related to the fibre (so not a concern for my silk), or the high twist which stretches out under weight (eg of the water)? I found when tying on to the front beam that the chenille stretched and in one case snapped. Maybe that’s related. I did find a comment on the strength-to-bulk relationship, but no detail.

When working with the warp, since ends were determined to twist and I didn’t have enough hands for everything, things seemed to go better when I made groups of ends twist together in a bulky, gentle way, instead of individual craziness.

Joins. An industrial reference suggests either a core knot (strip back the pile of the ends, tie a double square knot) or a splice (overlap ends and wrap). In my current piece I had an extended overlap and beat especially hard – will see over time how well that holds.

Next step is to finish and evaluate the current experiment, but I’m considering later possibilities:

  • Some combination of the chenille with the ixchel cashmere/merino (used here in my collapse weave scarf). I’m thinking the ixchel (felts/fulls incredibly) would stabilise the chenille and prevent any movement or worms. It could get a bit heavy though if there’s a collapse effect.
  • Surface design anchors – lots of decorative machine stitching, or maybe couching fancy threads or fabric strips. Again the idea would be to restrict movement of the chenille.
  • Diversified plain weave, which would keep the chenille tied down. (Link to my sampler here). It would be interesting to use a cellulose fibre (maybe rayon or cotton) with the silk chenille, then dye the finished cloth. Only the silk would take up the dye (using acid dyes).
  • Worms are mainly a problem in something used. Maybe a wall hanging could exploit them visually.


As I said at the beginning, don’t simply accept what I’ve written – I’m at the beginning of the learning curve. Other places to try:

Su Butler – definitely at the top, top, top end of the learning curve. (I have her book-on-CD on order).
YarnsPlus top ten tips
Weavezine – do a search, but this particular link describes something very similar to what I’m trying (only I read it after I started, so couldn’t incorporate any learning).
Weavolution has a rayon chenille group. (You have to join up first)
Weavetech – I searched back through the archive and found some interesting stuff. (another thing to join)
Information from CIMA – gets kind of technical. I skimmed.

A Study of the Basic Parameters Describing the Structure of Chenille Yarns by Erhan Kenan Çeven and Özcan Özdemir.   Again way technical, but I liked the pictures on the first page! There are lots of other technical papers out there – I tripped over a few CSIRO things – but they’re focused on industrial considerations and hugely over my head.

Comments always welcome – especially for all the bits I’ve got wrong 😉



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December 2009

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