Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Anatomy of a Hand Towel

Its been just over two years now since I walked into my first Midnight Shuttles Guild meeting on a "dark and stormy" November night.  Being completely new to town, I had no idea where I was going; the wind was howling and the rain was coming in sideways and I was trying to find a little blue house down by the seashore.  Its called Sybil's cottage as that is where famous artist Sybil Andrews had lived.  I blew in a few minutes late and have felt at home there ever since.   A warm and caring group of people...

I have shown them some of my weaving as show and tell at meetings and one member asked if it was possible for me to do a small program on finishing details and techniques.  Reasonable enough request but it would mean having a variety of finished samples on hand, and some in mid progress to show them. Since I do all my work on floor looms, and finish things to completion (no WIP's), how could I demonstrate this in as a small program?   My work is done on finished items and then usually sold and gone. I have posted blog posts here that show different techniques I've used but that's meant for the solitary browser, who at best, may share the link with a friend or two.

Then I got the idea of setting something up on a table loom to demonstrate and show them..... then it evolved into a group project where the loom is passed around.  So the birth of the guest towel project was hatched.  🐣

I got ahold of the guild's 8 shaft Dorothy table loom and found it needed a good cleaning and tune up.  I cleaned it with Murphy's oil soap and some diligent scrubbing and took some corrosion off the metal bits.  All the lashing cords came off and were washed and rethreaded back on. 

I noticed it had some bits missing and some rather elderly and sparse wires heddles. Not enough for my project ( and there were no heddles at all on shafts five to eight!).  I was given approval to purchase some new inserted eye heddles from Leclerc and one member's husband kindly made some beautiful oak lease sticks. The old girl was looking rather grand now!

I had planned a four shaft Swedish lace project, found in The Handweaver's Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon (page 191),  to do a small hand towel each, using 10/2 cottons, and featuring hemstitching details.   So I wound a six yard warp, sett 24 epi and Hubby helped me beam it.

Here's the loom being threaded. Its a bit of a reach to even the front four shafts!  (There are holes predrilled in the sides so I suspect this could be added to to make it a twelve shaft. It would explain the reach.)

The new heddles just slip along nicely.....and being Swedish lace, its a heavier count for heddles on shafts one and two.

As you can see here in this close up below, the inserted eye is nicely open and smooth for any yarn type with out fear of snags or pinching. Being stainless steel, there's no corrosion to deal with either.

The new oak lease sticks are doing a fine job!

Finally, I trussed up the beater bar assembly to stand upright and sleyed the 12 dent reed.  

Ready to lace on. I'm being economical with the warp as there are 11-12 participants. I might even need to do a second warp if some want to weave more than one.

I had used my Fiberworks program to work out the project width and number of lace repeats. At 12.88 inches in the reed, its using a great deal of the loom's width.  I had  planned a rough outline of how the towel will be proportioned, but only weaving one up will tell you the final result.  Below are two pictures showing hem allowance of six inches done and the motif border is complete and hemstitching is under way.

I found this diagram on line which shows the steps nicely too.
Then I changed from the cream  10/2 cotton (same as the warp) and used a slightly deeper beige called Shell and wove the main part of the towel doing eleven repeats of blocks A and B and ended with a final A to balance.
Block A:  (do 3 times)
1, 3
1, 3
1, 3
2, 4

Block B: (do once)
2, 4
2, 4
2, 4
1, 3

This progressed along nicely and with a final block A and 8-9 pics of plain weave, it measured roughly 13- 13 1/2 inches and I switched to the cream 10/2 and wove an inch of plain weave.   Then using my colour change as my 'bottom line', I did a row of Italian hemstitching (or box hemstitching as I have also heard it called).  The entire box is in the cream section. You can also find diagrams showing this in  Finishing Touches for the Handweaver by Virginia West (page 24) .  This book should be in every weaver's library.

step one: choose the size of the box, here its 3 x 3 threads.
Step 2: bottom right hand corner to to left hand corner and make the 'floor of the house'
Step 3: Go from top right corner to bottom left corner to make the 'roof of the house'
Step 4: Go from top right corner to three threads left into new territory, and make the 'wall of the house'
...and repeat. 😊
I resumed weaving the five inch hem on the towel, and also added some fine scrap yarn to hold my edges and cut out off the loom! Why five inches and not six as the front was done? I like the look of a slightly smaller back hem and it places all the emphasis on the front where you did all that pretty stitching! The Italian hemstitching on the back hem gives it a neat treatment and emphasizes the colour change.  I machine straight stitched the edge of the cream hems to secure them and washed by hand.  While still damp, I gave it a good steam pressing with my Singer press.

The hems were folded into thirds, pressed and then hand sewn  as shown here.  Voila! the towel is complete.

Now: what would I do differently?   The over all length of the towel is just a tad bit too long for the narrow width so perhaps reduce the lace repeats to ten instead of eleven?  I feel it would have a better proportion.

I also struggled with getting a good tension on the loom and so my edges are not to my usual standard.... but as I have heard said many a time, that's a Dorothy loom for you.   I cranked it up as best I could but still end up laying the weft in pic by pic which meant it took a long time to weave.

Also it was difficult to get a good tap with the beater if you advanced that bit too far (spongy feel), so there really is a 'sweet spot' of only two inches with the table loom. You would advance the warp and then fight to get the tension right all over again.

 I considered using a small temple to help reduce draw in but reckoned my students may not have one to hand so best to work without it.  The end result of this is the lace portion draws in further than the hems.  I decided this is a teachable moment to discuss drawn in.  It produces a full sized towel sample of Swedish lace and its unique little windowpane look, and features  hemstitching techniques  and (for many) using finer threads than they normally do.  Lots of new things all wrapped into one project!

.... but give me a floor loom any day!

So here are some beauty shots....

My notes to travel with the loom are almost set and I will be in touch with a student shortly to take the loom.   I think this loom may be circulating for awhile given everyone's schedules!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Tartan Talk

I have spent the past few days finishing the Dress Stewart towels.  It was rather exciting when I placed the entire eight yard length into the washing machine to soak for a spell.   I wandered by after ten or fifteen minutes and checked.....and the water was this dark murky pink muck!   The dyes were coming out and I had to do something fast!

My synthrapol is in a box somewhere in the garage.... but as luck would have it, a friend had gifted me a couple of boxes of the Shout Colour Catchers.   I had already used a couple of sheets but this was an emergency and so I dumped the rest of the box in.   I think it was six or eight sheets. I didn't count them (or take a picture after....darn!)

The cloth came out white where it should be white and the colour catchers were totally a dark pinky grey colour.  They worked and saved the day! After the towel warp was machine dried, it took me some time to carefully snip off all the little weft tails.   I actually took it to my guild meeting for show and tell as a bolt of material.  It weighed a kilo (or 2.2 pounds) and made a nice satisfying roll.

I cut the towels apart using the serger. The cut line was every thirty one inches at the end of a colour repeat which made it much easier!  I turned a small rolled hem and hand sewed the hems.
Yes, I know it would be faster to machine them but I'm not a fan of the 'stitch ditch line' as it distracts from the tartan lines.   I can't always be sure that they will be used as intended and they might end up as a runner.

While I sewing them, I found myself thinking of my first tartan experience as a child.  I had a pair of Stewart tartan  trousers and while I liked the pattern, they made my legs itch from the wool. Mum would dress me up in them anyway....

They were the full red version of the Stewart. Me in 1958, in the UK.

I also had tartan pinafore dresses, though I don't recall the colours of this one.  I think it was mainly green. A young me with Father Christmas, 1958.

So I can hear you asking, are you Scottish?  Not a bit! I'm a true Sassenach. My forays into our family genealogy have revealed southern English, with a dash of Welsh back to my 6 x great grandfather, William Vincent. 

.....but I digress....

It seems everyone wore tartans or plaids in England and I feel that Queen Victoria and the Royal Family helped to make it popular.  She wore tartans quite regularly and made it fashionable (along with the all white wedding dress).  (If you have been watching PBS's Victoria recently, the Queen's son Bertie wore a kilt and sash in Dress Stewart in the grand finale.)

Better historians than I can give you the story of the Scottish Highlanders and their sad history, but suffice to say that after the Battle of Culloden  April 16th, 1746, Highlanders were banned, upon pain of death, to wear clan colours and regalia. 

Anti-clothing measures were taken against the highland dress by an Act of Parliament in 1746. The result was that the wearing of tartan was banned except as a uniform for officers and soldiers in the British Army and later landed men and their sons.[69]

But I'm happy to say that tartans are back and more popular than ever!  Fierce Highland pride and  television shows such as Outlander have contributed immensely.   Diana Gabaldon's series of books have come to life on the screen.  I swear she has almost single handedly revved up a love of all things Scottish, and especially men in kilts!

I wasn't immune from the new found popularity of the show and wove up a plaid using colours from my stash, in a plaid arrangement I called "Highland Heather"  five years ago:

I have also woven up tartan Mackenzie #2:

 So what is the difference between a plaid and a tartan?  People us the terms interchangeably  but is this correct?   Wikipedia says:

Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland. Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns. Tartan is often called plaid in the United States, but in Scotland, a plaid is a tartan cloth slung over the shoulder as a kilt accessory, or a plain ordinary blanket such as one would have on a bed.

I personally view tartans as distinct, recognized and registered patterns by the Scottish Tartan Authority and plaids is a pleasing arrangement of colours and stripes much like my Highland Heather towels.   I may well be wrong on this but it feels okay to me!

So who can have a tartan?  Well, anyone really! There are official registered tartans for every province or state, or country in the world.  

Books by Iain Zaczek are amazing resources. Don't let the last name fool you! (ISBN # 1 894102 43 6   and  ISBN # 1 552671 79 8)
Companies, non Scottish families, governments and institutions such as universities and schools have tartans.  Its not just for royalty and marching bands any longer.

Do you have Scottish ancestry?   You can find your clan or sept in books like these:

There are weaving sett guides and history in this book by Maria Constantino (ISBN # 1 895464 20 X)
Gordon Teall & Philip Smith jr have authored a classic district guide, complete with setts and histories (ISBN # 0 85683 085 2)
What about weaving tartans or plaids yourself?   Are there rules?  Well, the short answer is 'yes'.  A true tartan is always a balanced 2/2 twill.  This simply where the threads go over two and under two and can be woven on a four shaft loom. The tricky part is the word 'balanced'.   The sett must be just right so that the twill diagonal line when measured (off tension) is a 45 degree angle.   

So to be truly finicky, to get 24 epi and 24 ppi for example, you must sley the reed at something like 22-23 and beat so you get 22-23 picks in so when its off tension and wet finished and pressed  it becomes the magic 24 either way.  You have to know your chosen yarns very well and how they react under tension, keep your beat even,  and anticipate what they will do when wet finished and pressed.  That means sampling and more sampling....  ( I speak from experience as I wove a balanced twill for the Guild of Canadian Weaver tests)

Well, doesn't that sound like fun?   😳

Unless you run a textile / weaving mill, such as Lochcarron of Scotland where such standards prevail, most weavers do their best to get just a smidge under the 45 degree line on the loom, knowing it will balance out after a wash and press. Close enough!    So for my recent towels I used 8/2 cotton sett at 24 epi.  I got a decent twill line and quite frankly, I haven't checked it after washing and drying. They look nice as they are.

So why choose Dress Stewart for my project? Well, I have always liked the Stewart tartan but it came down to what colours I had on hand in my stash.  I had some red on hand but not enough if I wove the full Royal Stewart with its wide bands of all red in between the multi coloured sections.

Stewart Dress tartan draft
I found my draft at   #13825 where they have an entire collection of 277 tartans and also some 452 plaids created by members.  I have since discovered that if you add  two threads of red mid way in the 72 ends of white, it becomes the Victoria(n) Stewart.   No doubt what  little Prince of Wales Bertie was wearing in the PBS television production Victoria, but I couldn't see that clearly.

There are three categories of colours used by weavers to guide their choices:

  • Modern colours: 19th century aniline dyes replaced older natural dyes. They are bolder and have rich depth of shade.
  • Ancient: this doesn't not denote the actual age of the tartan but indicates that natural dyes (from various sources) were used and have a softer more natural tint.
  • Muted (or also known as reproduction) colours:  introduced in 1946, based on old bits of textiles found at the battle site of Culloden. They were tartans dyed using natural dyes, but then muted by their exposure to peat. There is a further softening of the colours, especially greens and browns. Used for hunting tartans and plaids as they would blend into the hillsides.   {sort of like old Scottish camoflage !}
There are many resources on line but I have three books on hand that are focused on hand weavers and reproducing tartans. I'm sure there are many more out there, plus resources on line if you do a search.

This small book by James D. Scarlett is the tartan weaving chief guide! 
In days past, the weavers knew the sett, and colours by heart and kept sticks showing the colour and warping order of a given tartan.  You would only need to show a pared down portion and the last colour was the pivot and they all reversed from there to complete the repeat. 

The Tartan Weavers's Guide by James D. Scarlett  ( ISBN # 0 85683 078 X) was particularly helpful in learning the colour sequencing and understanding the pivot colour.  

While there was three groupings of colours to chose from, they did standardize the  abbreviations for the actual colour words:

A: light blue (azure)
B: blue
C: rose (crimson)
D: dark + colour used
G: green
K: black
L: light + colour used
Lil: lilac
Lv: lavender
Ma: magenta
Mn: maroon
N: grey (neutral)
P: purple
R: scarlet (red)
T: brown (tan)
W: white
Y: yellow

Then from the Lyon Court came these additional symbols:

Az:  azure, sky blue
Gu: Gules / Scarlet
Vt: vert / grass green
Br: brown
Bk: black
Wh: white 
Purp: purpure / purple
Bu: a duller blue
Red: a duller red
C: crimson
Gr: a duller green
Y: yellow

Let's use my draft of Stewart Dress: W 72, B 8, Bk 12,  Y 2, Bk 2, W 2, Bk 2, Gr 16, R 8, Bk 2, R 4,  W 2  

If you study this warp colour bar from the Stewart Dress draft and follow along reading right to left, you will see how they only needed half the order (for symmetrical tartans). Click to enlarge.

Many know of Mary E. Black and her book Key to Weaving  and New Key to Weaving (depending on the publication date). There is a brief chapter on weaving tartans and plaids, of which she was especially fond.   Mary Black was one of the founders of the Guild of Canadian Weavers and was their very first Masterweaver and her thesis was on Tartan Weaving. There is a small booklet produced by Lily Yarns by Ms Black. No publication year is given but I estimate it to be circa 1950's. Its a real little gem! 

GCW Founder & Masterweaver, Mary E. Black (no publication date other than  10M-1-59  Printed in the USA, which I assumes means Oct.1st 1959, by Lily Mills Co. of Shelby NC
Roll the clock forward to 2018 and I found this delightful new weaving guide :

ISBN # 9781723818028  or the Amazon here
Linda covers a lot of material on weaving tartans for current times, including designing your own, and the practicalities of setting up the warp for weaving and setts.   There is even a section on  twill variations to move beyond a 2/2 twill  (gasp! 😳).  She shows how to use a chart and spread sheet to plan a successful tartan project.

Speaking of successful projects..... how did mine turn out?

Well, I cut  them every 31 inches apart as it ended nicely with the end of the colour repeat.

I turned a small hem and pressed, then hand sewed the edges using a running blind stitch.   I planned these as kitchen towels but they may end up as a runner in someone's home or?   Does hand sewing hold up to machine washing and drying? Yes it does as all my kitchen towels are hand sewn and are in and out of the wash constantly.

 The edges look okay.... just a touch of crowding. Not too shabby given that I didn't use a temple!

I got six towels measuring 20.5 inches by 29 inches in length plus a bonus table square (no sample this time). The bonus square is winging its way to Australia as a gift as I write.  Seems that some of  the Stewart Clan made for the far flung corners of the world!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Marching Along...

I had every intention of doing another post for the month of February, but I simply ran out of month. In my defence, its a short month and I was robbed by two to three days!   😁

So what's been going on here in the studio?

Well, a slow weave slowed things down.... with lots of colour changes.  No speedy one shuttle throw here!   I have two twelve inch Schacht shuttles so I had to switch out pirns on a regular basis, which is a pain.  As much as I love the shuttles, I can't justify buying more right now so I could simply grab one and go.

Stewart Dress Tartan

 I carried what colours I could up the sides for short runs but it still meant lots of  'stops and starts'.

I took it off the loom yesterday.... all eight yards of it!  So I have yet to secure the raw edges and then it will go into the wash,  closely followed by a quick steam pressing.  It will then be cut apart and hemmed into towels.    My husband wants to wear it wrapped around like a kilt but it would be more like a mini skirt, which would necessitate some 'bloomers' underneath.

Its here in all it glory.    8/2 cotton, sett 24 epi

Here's the draft for this classic and a big thank you to  for this and many other wonderful drafts. A great resource.

I had a prepared warp ready to go and I'll give you a sneak peek...... but that's all for now.  😊 The inspiration came from commercial for travel to the Caribbean. 

I also have another project on the go as well for my local weavers guild, "The Midnight Shuttles".  I have their eight shaft Leclerc table loom here and it was just given  a complete cleaning and tune up, plus I have added newly purchased inserted eye heddles.  That was a two day job as it also meant counting out heddles, which had me cross-eyed!

There's five and a half yards of 10/2 cotton wound on for a Swedish lace guest towel project, with twelve participants including me.   

Nice new heddles! They made an interesting change to my usual texsolv on my looms.  There's also a brand new pair of oak lease sticks made by a fellow weaver's husband.  The new twelve dent reed is one the guild bought off of me, left over from my last table loom.  So the old girl is all gussied up now!

Threading is under way here.  There's quite a reach into this loom from the front. As usual, the loom is too high if you sit on a normal chair, so you have to stand.   Its why any table looms I've had in the past all had to have their corresponding stands, so you don't have to!

All ready to lace on and get started.  I have two ways of weaving the draft, so I'm going to weave one  of each to have on hand, so the other weavers can see and decide which one they would like to try.  Besides working with a finer thread, its also learning about Swedish lace,  and also to practise hemstitching techniques on the loom. 

I have to formalize my project notes up so they are easy to follow and have the two towels as full sized samples in sleeves.  The loom will make the rounds of the weavers' homes and knowing people's busy lives, this will take time to get all done. I might even need a second warp beamed as I suspect some people might like to weave both towels.

So as you can see, things are marching along here on several fronts and keeping me busy.   We still have some patchy snow in the yard,  but the mourning doves, juncos and robins are already back and checking out nesting spots.  I've also seen flights of geese up at high elevations flying northwards. Plus these guys (below) survived the snow and bitter cold.    They popped up three weeks ago and survived a few dumps of snow on top of the flowers plus some bitter cold frosty nights to boot.  

So, winter got you down?   Be a crocus!