Picking a draft that looks good when weaving with stash yarns can be a challenge. When you’re using multiple yarn colors in the warp, or in the weft, how do you choose and arrange colors to make your draft show?

Here’s how to do it.

Light/dark contrast is what makes your woven pattern show clearly

First, understand that value contrast – light/dark contrast – is what determines whether your woven pattern will show clearly. (That’s because the part of the brain that perceives pattern operates primarily in black and white.)

If there is strong value contrast between your warp and weft yarns, then your woven pattern will show clearly. If there isn’t, then it won’t, so even if your yarns are very different hues, the pattern will look dull and blurry.

(Value is the colorist’s term for the lightness or darkness of a color, by the way – I’ll use “value” a lot in this post because it’s faster than saying “light/dark” all the time.)

In this blue and orange swatch, the yarns used are very different in hue (blue and orange are near-opposites on the color wheel), but the pattern is still blurry and hard to see. That’s because both colors are about the same value (darkness) – if you look at it in black and white (next photo), the swatch looks almost flat gray.

swatch woven with orange and blue yarns. The pattern looks blurry and indistinct.
swatch woven with orange and blue yarns
Black and white photo of the same swatch. The swatch is almost flat gray.
Black and white version of the same swatch photo

So to have your pattern show, you’ll want a dark warp and a light weft, or vice versa. I explain a lot more about the how and why of this in this blog post.

How to make your draft pattern show when using multiple yarns

What if you’re using multiple colors, for example, if you’re using up odds and ends from your stash?

Because value contrast determines whether a pattern will be seen clearly, if you want to make your draft clearly visible throughout the piece, you need to make sure there’s good value contrast between warp and weft throughout. That means your warp yarns need to be dark and your weft yarns light in color, or vice versa. They can be any hue you like – pale blue, pale yellow, light pink – but if they are all light colors in warp and all dark colors in weft (or vice versa), your pattern will show.

One easy way to tell whether you’ve got enough contrast for the pattern to show is to take a black-and-white picture of your warp and weft yarns using a digital camera or a smartphone with the camera filter set to black and white. (Because black and white filters vary, I recommend using the BlackCam app with the “Classic” filter on Android phones; on the iPhone, use the “Mono” filter with the native Camera app.) 

If there’s clear contrast between the collection of warp yarns and the collection of weft yarns in black and white, then your pattern will show. 

For example, if you were to use the top three yarns in this photo as warp and the bottom three yarns as weft in a piece, your pattern would show clearly throughout, because the top three yarns are light and the bottom three yarns are all dark. Here’s what they look like in color:

yellow, peach, and pale aqua skeins on top. Dark golden brown, red-brown, and dark navy blue skeins on bottom.

And here’s how they look in black and white:

The same skeins in black and white. The top three skeins are nearly the same shade of light gray. THe bottom three skeins are dark to very dark gray.

Because there is strong light/dark contrast between warp and weft, and the warp and weft yarns are fairly constant in value, even a complex pattern will show fairly clearly.

Here’s a lovely draft with a complex pattern, shown in black and white:

A complex eight-shaft draft

And here is the same draft, shown in random thread-by-thread stripes of the yarn colors from the photo:

The same complex eight-shaft draft using the colors from the sample yarns shown in the earlier photo

Even though six different colors are used, the pattern in the draft shows clearly because the warp colors are light and the weft colors are dark, producing good contrast in the woven pattern.

It’s important to use all light colors in the warp, and all dark colors in the weft (or the reverse: all dark in the warp, and all light in the weft), though, as mixing it up can rapidly lead to chaos.

For example, if you simply swapped one dark yarn for one light yarn in warp and weft, the draft pattern would disappear completely. Look at this!

Three warp yarns on top: dark golden brown, light yellow, and dark reddish brown. 

Three weft yarns on bottom: pale peach, deep navy, light aqua.
Warp yarn on top, weft yarn on bottom. Nothing up my sleeve…

Here’s the exact same draft, with the exact same yarns. The only difference is that the colors have been switched, and both warp and weft now have a broad range of values. Hey presto – the pattern has disappeared!

I’ll explain what happened to obliterate the pattern, and some ways to bring it back, in my next blog post. For now, just keep in mind that light/dark contrast in warp and weft are the key to making your pattern show, even when using multiple colors.

Happy weaving!

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  1. Thanks. I have too many color choices in my stash for most sizes of weaving yarn. I have the fewest colors of 3/2 yarn and the ones I have are safe or they seem to fight each other. I also have some painted warp and I have no idea how to pick the best draft to show them off.

    1. Hi Pat! I’ll definitely be addressing how to pick colors in the weave-along (and if not there, in the course) – the painted warp I’ll address in some later blog posts/in a painted warp course…

  2. Would a textured variegated yarn work as one of the warps? The other 3 are solid color. What would that do to the pattern?

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