Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Overshot~ From the Past to the Present

 Grab a coffee or tea... this one is long!

When I say overshot, what comes to mind?

Is it old Colonial blankets, usually white background with blue, black or red wool pattern and large, large designs?  A corner box with the weaver's initials and a date.They bring to mind an image of early residents of colonial America and also the British Colonies, later to be called Upper and Lower Canada.

They were functional, practical and pretty.  They could also be made entirely in the colonies with materials to hand.  We use cotton for warp today but some early coverlets had a fine grist plied lynsey-woolsley for warp.
I'm not going to delve too deeply into the history of Colonial textiles here today but if this topic really intrigues you, then I recommend this book: The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

It mainly covers  the American colonies, but shows the importance of textile manufacturing to the colonists and the value of their tools and equipment. They were listed in household estate accounts as assets  No new bride could be married without her dowry of spinning wheel, loom, shuttles and such. These tools were passed down from one woman to another, but always listed as belonging to the husband or the master of the house.

It is thought that overshot was brought over from Europe with the early arrivals to the New Land. Settlers brought many ideas and tools with them and adapted them to the new life here.  With a colder climate and long winters, overshot blankets meant you had a thick stable cloth, woven on four shafts, that kept the sleeper warm and also served as a decorative bed covering.

If the topic of these historical coverlets interests you, then I recommend the amazing twenty five year study by Helene Bresse:  The Coverlet Book.   There is a good review of these two large volumes at the link.

I bought my (heavy) two book set some years ago and have enjoyed  reading through and will be for sometime!  The writing is like reading a conversation.  (Helene is also known for her other work: The Weavers Book.     Another classic!)

I have seen some stunning coverlets quietly doing their job in movies: "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. I had to watch it again  and freeze frame the movie to get a good look! It was a natural setting for a colonial coverlet. The coverlet that was wrapped around Dakota Fanning in "War of the Worlds", featuring Tom Cruise was a pleasant surprise!  Are you one of those weavers who's eye scans movie scenes for textiles and gets excited when you spot something handwoven ?  

Lets get back to our weaving  with overshot and some of the basics with the four shaft variety.  I need to point out here that these are simple guidelines and by no means complete. Just a small primer to pique your interest. I will post reading / study material list at the end.  These notes are based on an overshot study I undertook some years ago. 

Most new weavers are introduced to overshot at an early newbie weaver stage and usually start with a draft from Marguerite Davison's classic: A Handweaver's Pattern Book. Its still available to purchase after all these years.   The drafts in this book are for sinking shaft looms such as counterbalance looms. You can flip the tie up for jack looms. If you don't, it means you will be weaving the pattern upside down, which isn't a problem but it would be nice to see the front as you weave. This little detail would make it confusing for new weavers starting on overshot for the first time, in addition to handling two shuttles!

Overshot is a twill derivative using two threads to create a unit block. This means you can have four blocks on four shafts. One thread in each block, is shared by the next block. This one thread in common creates half units in between blocks of either all pattern or all tabby. (This can be expanded through to eight shafts but we'll stick with four shafts for this post) See what I mean by this in the picture below:

Block A is threaded on shafts 1 and 2.
Block B is threaded on shafts 2 and 3
Block C is threaded on shafts 3 and 4
Block D is threaded on shafts 4 and 1

Overshot is actually two pieces of cloth, being woven simultaneously; one is a tabby or plain weave cloth,  the second is the pattern that 'over-shoots' the plain weave. You throw one shuttle for the plain weave and a second shuttle for the pattern weft, beating *very* firmly between each shot. If you were to take away the pattern weft, you would find a perfectly balanced 50/50 plain weave cloth. The pattern weft should compact well but be 'lofty'  to cover and produce blocks of solid colour with no plain weave peeking through. Normally the pattern weft is twice the size of the tabby yarn. Traditionally, cotton for tabby and  with wool for pattern. 

 If the pattern weft is beaten properly into place, the circles are true circles (no ovals), twill lines are a true 45 degrees, and if there are three blocks of the same unit in the threading then it should make a square little box when three repeats of the treadling are complete (which equals 3 shots of tabby and thee shots of pattern weft, so beat well!)

I keep the 'odd' tabbies of treadles one and three to enter from the left hand side, and the 'even' tabbies of treadles two and four from the right hand side. Also I work with both shuttles, tabby and weft, on one side of the warp. If you end up with  divided shuttles then you have a treadling error to find!. The shuttles can be awkward to coordinate at first but you soon develop a rhythm. Be aware that many overshot drafts may say "use tabby" but don't show it in the treadling.  Then there are some that don't mention the tabby at all. They are assuming you know to insert it.

The tie up is a normal twill tie up { 1,2  2,3  3, 4 and 4, 1}    Tabby treadles being  1, 3 and 2,4.  You are working with six treadles.  You can tie up the tabbies on the far left and far right, or side by side at the end of the run. What ever works best for you. I placed broccoli rubber bands on the two tabby treadles so my bare or socked foot could feel which one I was using. One band for tabby A and two bands for tabby B. 

The majority of overshot is woven "as drawn in" which means you repeat the exact threading as your treadling. Old drafts say "tromp as writ" which is the same thing. 

Twill fashion is where you treadle a block over again to produce exact squares. This may be more repeats than is in the threading. You can also follow twill treadlings such as: rosepath ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 4, 3, 2, 1), point twill (1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1) , or broken twill (1, 2, 4, 3).  Its then called overshot treadled as rosepath, or treadled as summer and winter. There are many other ways to vary the treadling and these all make very pretty borders! The following examples are from my first level of the Guild of Canadian Weavers Test. I took portions of the treadling and created these border patterns. They had to have a purpose for being woven. Click to enlarge...

Embroidery floss ~  ladies pillow case border

Embroidery floss ~ flowers for a baby bib

Woven on "opposites" with no tabby ~  border on woman's apron

Chenille border on Christmas runner
Top: tapestry wool ~ border on woven sweater material. Bottom:   embroidery floss ~ border on table runner 
embroidery floss~ border on kitchen towel
Embroidery floss in six shades of blue ~border on kitchen valance curtain

You can also treadle "on opposites" which means you would use treadles 1, 2 versus  treadles 3, 4   or  2,3 versus 4,1.  There are no tabby shots in between. When you try it, what you get looks like this:

front view

back view

This sample is 8/2 cotton with equivalent 8/2 orlec woven in blocks of 'on opposite' treadling and no tabby. There is a border sample above woven on opposites you can go back and look at again.... I'll wait  :)

Then there is overshot woven Italian fashion:

front view

back view

This is where three colours are woven in given changing rotation of blocks, with no tabby again. It is similar to flame point where four or more colours are used in rotation.

There are six traditional pattern styles for traditional overshot:
  • Cross (A, B, C, D, C, B, A  Woven as drawn in, in either ascending/ descending order)
  • Diamond ( Threaded the same as Cross but the block is ascending / descending order: D, C,B, A, B, C, D   Start with center block)
  • Table (any two adjacent blocks, 5 units +/- woven to square, or,  drafted to be on opposites. See Davison pages 161,169, and 179
  • Wheel or Circles (blocks from basic motifs graduate in size from large to small to make circular patterns. See page 168 in Davison's book)
  • Star fashion (A, B, A, B,A   Treadles as threaded to produce an open pattern with diagonals and diagonal blocks more prominent.)
  • Rose fashion (threaded the same as Star but treadled differently. The treadling order is inverted to B, A, B, A, B. You substitute  blocks such as where there is an A, you use B, and where there is a C, you use a D. The results look rounded.)
Star and Rose fashion are mirror opposites!

Star fashion on "King's Flower" threading ~ front of sample. You can see the star pattern,  as well as the circles, diagonal twill line and squares

This is the back view. Note the small half unit blocks shown here. That's those shared threads between units.

Then there is Rose Fashion. See how the pattern is reversed and forms a flower in the center? Yea, its hard to see as I used a boucle yarn. Lesson learned?  Use smooth yarns for pattern weft!

Back view again with half units and you can see the reverse of the roses better here. It also looks like I was beating hard as my circles are now squares!

When designing overshot patterns you can place many identical units together and then continue through to other blocks but the turning point block in your design will have an uneven number of threads. When treadling, the turning blocks are treadled one extra repeat.

In the picture above you can see a sequence of blocks:  A, A, A, B, B, C, D, C, B, B, A, A, A. 
The D block has three threads with 4, 1, 4.

So besides bed coverlets, what else can you make with overshot? I have seen beautiful modern looking table runners, scarves,  overshot style borders on placemats and towels. I saw a beautiful (apparently) plain weave table cloth that had inlaid overshot motifs scattered like stars!  They looked like snowflakes on the royal blue cloth.   

I always thought it would be a neat challenge to weave overshot and have it look totally modern and comfortable in today's home. ( Its on my "to-do" list..) 

Here's my submission for the GCW test, level one. The pattern is called Honeysuckle (also known as Pine Bloom)

I used 10/2 mercerized cotton for my warp and 6/2 wool for my pattern weft for this four shaft tray cloth.

Let your eye wander and see the circles, the 45 degree angles and the squared squares in the centers.

Left is the top view, and on the right the back view with even clearer diagonal lines.

Here's the finishing: hemstitching, then rows of diagonal knotting.

By the way, all the overshot border samples shown previously were all woven on the same Honeysuckle threading. Very versatile weave structure!

So if you have followed me through to this point and are now thinking it might be nice to try some overshot study yourself. Perhaps try inventing some borders for towels? Here are a few books on overshot that are on my library shelf:

  • Weaving Overshot Redesigning the Tradition by Donna Lee Sullivan (ISBN 1-883010-23-3)
  • Creative Overshot by Margaret B. Windeknecht   Shuttle Craft Guild Monograph 31   (ISBN 0-916658-34-1)
  • The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers by Madelyn van der Hoogt, Chapter 4 (ISBN  0-916658-51-1)
  • Key to Weaving by Mary E. Black, 1982 edition
  • The Best of Weaver's ~ Overshot is Hot edited by Madelyn van der Hoogt (ISBN 10 1-933064-11-0

This post should give you much to chew on for a bit....next post will be a tad bit late but I will have lots to share when I do!


Anonymous said...

thanks for showing ..i have woven overshot, but now I perfer other structures..best wishes wiebke

its wonderful explained..

ich fand es wunderbar erklärt mit den Mengenkreisen...danke..

Linda said...

Wow, Susan! What an impressive collection of samples and information you're accumulated.....essential to truly understanding the structure and its many variations. There is a local weaver (David Kline...can't remember the exact town, but on the outskirts of York Pa) whose coverlets and jacquard carpets have been in many movies (Cold Mountain, Lincoln, Amistad to name a few) and many of the US historical landmark homes. It's a fascinating tour and beautiful work happening.

Thank you for your wonderful post...certainly a reference to come back to again and again.

Anonymous said...

Susan, what a nice job you have done explaining how overshot works. Love the samples you show. Someday I hope to get my hands on The Coverlet book settle down with it and a cuppa for a long afternoon of reading.

Cindie said...

Wonderful educational post Susan! You're so great at those.

Louisa said...

Informative post, Susan! Perhaps you should consider teaching weaving classes some day.

I haven't read Helene Bress's book but there's some great coverlets in Dorothy Burnham's "Keep Me Warm One Night", another large tome that I think is unfortunately OOP. The pattern for my overshot coverlet (with handspun pattern weft!) that I made years ago is from this one.

Threadbare Designs said...

What a great post, Susan! You are always so generous with your vast knowledge and awesome photography skills. Maybe you should write a book some day!

Helga Jossen said...

What a wonderful blog post! Thank you!!!

Loree Jackson said...

Oh how funny... I just ordered The Age of Homespun book today from the library! If you have never read it, you might want to try to get a copy of The Weaving Roses of Rhode Island. You should be able to get it through interlibrary loan. It is a really interesting, historical account of this subject and there are drafts included. http://www.weavezine.com/reviews/weaving-roses-rhode-island

Rachel Berry said...

Yep got that book and hope to read it soon. Would love to get the Helene Bress book to add to the collection. Have you seen "Of Coverlets" by Sadye Tune Wilson and Doris Finch Kennedy? It's a huge, heavy book not for bedtime reading but well worth adding to a weavers collection. Lots of lovely pictures of elderly handweavers!
Love the post and the blog.
best wishes,

PattyAnne said...

I am looking at the "Original Miniature Patterns for Hand Weaving" Part 1 by Josephine Estes.

My question is this:

The first pattern I come to is Bower or Roses. Do any books give history of specific drafts?? I sure hope so!

Susan Harvey said...

HI Patti Anne,

Any history of some of these old overshot drafts seems to be lost to time. Drafts were passed onto weavers in a short form code. Some books have looked into the history:

Age of Homespun
Coverlet book set by Helene Bress
Keep me Warm one Night
Of Coverlets
... and many others such as these.

I also heard that someone was writing a book on Weaver Rose who traveled from town to town. He'd set up his loom somewhere and people would bring spun yarns to him to be woven up. When things went quiet, he'd move on. He apparently wrote many of the drafts in use today.

Handweaving.net features old manuscripts from Europe and early America as well if you'd like to really dig!

Hoe this helps!


Carolina FiberArtist said...

Thanks, Susan. I purchased The Coverlet Book and love it! I have a copy of Age of Homespun. I'll look into that as well.
Sure wish there were more personal stories of/from the weavers but then again, perhaps Weaver Rose wove quite a few. I'll have to look him up too.

Carolina FiberArtist said...

Thanks, Susan. I purchased The Coverlet Book and love it! I have a copy of Age of Homespun. I'll look into that as well.
Sure wish there were more personal stories of/from the weavers but then again, perhaps Weaver Rose wove quite a few. I'll have to look him up too.