Tried and True: Designing Handwoven Towels

How do you come up with a design for standout hand towels? Sometimes it’s nice to start with someone else’s ideas. There is a gorgeous wool throw, designed by Anna Svenstedt, in Favorite Scandinavian Projects To Weave: 45 Stylish Designs for the Modern Home, by Tina Ignell. This Colorful Throw—Reverse Twill makes a perfect template for designing eye-catching hand towels.

New handwoven towels.
Warp chains with seven colors of 22/2 cottolin for standout hand towels.

Decisions:

  • Colors – a set of seven colors, to be used in warp and weft
  • Fiber – 22/2 cottolin for warp and weft
  • Reed and sett50/10 metric reed, 10 ends per centimeter (~ 12-dent reed, 24 ends per inch)
  • Finished size of towel – 39.5 cm x 63 cm (15.5” x 24.5”)
  • Number of towels – 2 pairs of towels = 4 total
  • Spacing of warp stripes – add two more narrow stripes at each selvedge to balance the pattern

These decisions enable me to prepare a project plan, make calculations, and write a new weaving draft.

New handwoven towels.
Testing, testing…

When the loom is dressed, the design process continues as I begin weaving a sample section. This is where I decide what weft colors to use, the spacing of weft stripes, and specific treadling patterns. I add these notes to my project sheet, which I keep at the loom as my weaving roadmap.

Measuring for weft stripes.
I place my measuring twill tape along the reed to mark the spacing of the warp stripes. I will use that same spacing for weft stripes to make plaid towels.
Testing colors and patterns.
Sample weaving to try out colors, stripe spacing, and treadling patterns. And, simply to practice this broken reverse twill treadling, which requires concentration.
First towel starts after the red cutting line.
First towel starts after the red cutting line.

These hand towels are a preview. If they turn out as hoped, I may have to make some bath towels to match.

May your designs stand out.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

12 Comments

  • Charlotte says:

    You will love the cottolin for your bath towels. I’ve used cottolin for warp and linen for weft. That works well. But, the balance of cottolin for warp and weft makes a wonderful bath towel.

    Your hand towels will be a treasure!!! The colors are smashing!!!!!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Charlotte, I like the idea of using linen for weft with a cottolin warp. You would get the softness of the cotton in the cottolin and the extra absorbency of the linen. I may consider that for the bath towels. What size linen do you recommend for that?

      I’m already thinking these may be my favorite hand towels.

      Thanks!
      Karen

  • Anonymous says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Gorgeous colors. Eight shaft?

  • Joanna says:

    I wish you more joy with your plaid than I have had with mine. It’s been stalled on the loom forever. What was your inspiration for the color choices? I keep looking for echoes of your beautiful Texas Hill Country.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Joanna, I know it is disappointing when something on the loom is less than what we’d hoped. What if you just finished your towels off with a single weft color, having only the warp stripes? Would that work? At least you could get them off the loom sooner.

      I have a set palette of colors for our home in Sherwin-Williams paint chips. I spread those paint chips out when deciding on thread colors for weaving that will be used in our home. I have yarn samples of all the main yarn/thread that I use (Yarn in a Jar from Vavstuga is fantastic for this) so I can spread the yarn colors out, too, and find pleasing arrangements.

      I hope you find a way to put joy back into your towel weaving.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Kevin says:

    Really beautiful! I love the colors and the pattern!

  • Barb says:

    Love the idea of using the warp stripe pattern as the spacing for the weft colors! It is an idea i will sample on the striped cotton towels on my loom. Thanks so much for sharing, I always find inspiration in your weaving journey.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Barb, Copying the warp stripe spacing is an easy way to bring a cohesive look to the towels. Good for you to sample the idea for yourself.

      I sure appreciate your kind encouragement.
      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Nannette says:

    Beautiful weave.Love your color choices.

    Thank you. Much needed as I sit next to totes being filled with decades of craft supplies to be moved to the retirement home and the empty boxes to be filled for the anticipated rummage sale. The Reed Pleater will have to be sold. Can I let go of the silk screening supplies from my college days?

    In the next 9 months there is much to do to make the transition.

    Between you and Curmugeom66 my creative soul is renewed. (His last VLOG was snow blowing his yard just south of Green Bay.) That said, he has posted quite a few VLOGs using cottalin.

    Thank you for keeping me in the loop with your wonderful projects..

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nannette, I understand. I, too, had to let go of many prized saved things when we prepared for our retirement move. Happily, I have no regret of letting go, and I have not missed any of it. The move became my chance to start fresh. That doesn’t make your challenge any easier, but I hope you will be encouraged. You have a bright future to look forward to.

      All the best,
      Karen

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Rosepath Whispers

This fifth rag rug on the warp has the same classic rosepath design as the others. This rug, however, has rosepath as a whispered hint instead of the usual bold statement. Colorful beauty? Yes. Yet, it’s quiet. Restful.

*Rosepath Whispers* rag rug.
Hints of rosepath pattern.
Rosepath Whispers rag rug.
Design plan sits nearby for reference as I weave.

The rosepath pattern is fully present, but soft-spoken. In the pattern areas, there is only slight contrast between the pattern weft and ground weave weft. The print fabric that is used for some of the pattern weft leaves spots of color, which also helps to blend the pattern into the background. The hint of a pattern makes you take a second look to see what is really there.

Winnie the Pooh is going into this rag rug.
Winnie the Pooh fabric is used for some of the ground weave weft.
Texture from rosepath pattern.
Texture of the raised rosepath pattern is clearly seen from the edge.

A restful person is like that, making us want to take a second look to see what’s behind that demeanor. Rest is a form of trust. Trusting God’s grace means believing that God will give us what we need. And that brings rest, the kind that is on the inside. Deep inside, where the pattern of grace is fully present, our being is transformed. And whatever is on the inside will show on the outside. Colorful beauty? Yes; and quiet, too. Restful.

May you be restful on the inside.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

12 Comments

  • Wanda Bennett says:

    This is beautiful!

  • Nannette says:

    Good Morning Karen. I just wove a rag rug using a print for the background of a simple rosepath. The pattern is in colors of the tabby. A subtle pattern is a beautiful thing. Your word: Whisper…

    Thank you for sharing.

    Nannette

  • Linda says:

    Very interesting!

  • Joanna says:

    Restful is such an underrated quality. Thanks for the reminder. I think I like this rug the most.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Joanna, In our busy world, it’s refreshing to find rest, and live in a restful state. This rug may be my favorite on this warp. I’m looking forward to seeing it rolled out on the floor.

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Kathryn says:

    This is so beautiful! What a fun project. How do you get that part of the pattern to raise up like that?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kathryn, You are right—this is a very fun project. The rosepath pattern stands out because the pattern rows (with longer floats) are sandwiched between tabby (plain weave) rows. This is one of the reasons I enjoy weaving rosepath patterns—the pattern seems to be elevated above the background.

      Thank you,
      Karen

  • Anonymous says:

    thank you so much for your lovely website and for sharing your talent and beautiful work and your stick-toitveness through the years of weaving. Your work is inspirational as well as your encouragement and words of wisdom and encouragement. Sometimes we reach and find something that we need to hear or see when we are in a downtime and trying to come to life impacting decisions and feeling a lost. That was my experience today, but the words on your site were a reminder that God is in the picture and hope is always there. Thanks again, Nancy

    • Karen says:

      Dear Nancy, You are saying important things–God is in the picture. Yes, he certainly is. Hope is always there–Yes, always!

      It’s always my prayer, Nancy, that the words I write would meet the need of someone who reads them. It seems that God is answering prayers from both of us.

      Hugs,
      Karen

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Siblings Tapestry and Process Video

Drum roll please… And now, I present to you: Siblings

Siblings Tapestry by Karen Isenhower

The Siblings tapestry is a woven expression of personal meaning. The tapestry tells a story of a singular incident, almost hidden in the excitement of the occasion. Lucia grasps Ari’s wrist as they approach Sugar Pie, the bunny. In that moment I see something worth keeping—precious sibling love.

Please enjoy this short video of the process of weaving and finishing the Siblings tapestry.

May you know the security of true love.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

32 Comments

  • Susie Redman says:

    Good morning- I did enjoy your video and seeing the finished piece. Ive only ever used a small frame for tapestry weaving but I think that Ill try using my floor loom. Thank you for the inspiration

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susie, I enjoy using a small tapestry frame, too. And using a big loom like this for tapestry is energizing, because your whole body is in motion as you weave. I hope you try it.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Wanda Bennett says:

    This is beautiful! Great job!

  • Susan San Martin says:

    It is in inspiring to watch your tapestry project from start to finish. You make it look easy, but I’m not fooled! I’m awe-struck!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susan, On one hand, I would say it is not easy; and on the other hand, I would say that once I get going I’m just following the cartoon and I feel like I’m coloring in a coloring book, which is not hard.

      Thank you for your compliment!

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Bethany says:

    As a beginning tapestry explorer, I am stunned and so very much in awe of the talent, time and the raw beauty of sentiment that went into this glorious piece of fine art! Congratulations and I am delighted that the artwork is hanging, finished in your home studio. Be very proud and may this be a treasure for generatuions. God bless!
    Bethany in Kingston, ON

  • Geri Rickard says:

    Well, that was certainly worth the wait! It’s marvelous!

  • Kevin Baumann says:

    Such talent! You’ve created a beautiful work of art! Thank you for sharing with us!

  • Nannette says:

    Beautiful. Mary Cassat and Georgia O’Keefe in a textile format.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Nannette

  • Betsy says:

    Just beautiful, Karen!

  • Linda Adamson says:

    This is lovely in design, workmanship and message. Thanks for sharing.

  • Joanna says:

    Oh wow! Just . . . Wow!

  • D'Anne says:

    A special memory made by your hands,Karen! It’s beautiful!

  • Marcia says:

    I recently had the privilege of seeing an exhibition by Helena Hernmark who has a world reputation for her amazing and huge tapestries, many woven for corporate offices on commission. She moved part of her studio to a local art museum and was “Artist in Residence” for several months. From a distance, her pieces are photographic and she weaves on large Glimakra looms (Helena is a transplanted Swede). Do look her up…she is inspiring. In December I got to visit her real studio in my town when she received my copy of Vav Magazine by mistake, probably the highlight of my year!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Marcia, I have a book of Helena Hernmarck’s work, and I study the photos in it for ideas and inspiration. I knew about her artist in residence at the Connecticut museum, but I didn’t find a way to make it there. I’m so glad you had the opportunity! How fortunate for you that your magazine was sent to the wrong address. Oh, visiting her studio must have been a real treat!

      I’m grateful that you thought of letting me know about Helena Hernmarck!

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Aleta says:

    I was taught at my Grandmother’s side how to embroider and I developed a love
    of making pictures with needle and thread. I can’t draw a straight line or make a round circle with a pencil, but I love the cross stitch and how a picture slowly takes shape with the slow transition of color.
    I visited a museum recently with some fun loving friends and we saw some lovely pieces of hand made art, but there was nothing in that museum that spoke to me of a labor of love and passion like the “Siblings” tapestry.
    Last year I started to teach myself how to weave and twine, with the help of new friends in the guild I joined, but WOW. I see I have a very long way to go and learn. Thank you for sharing your prize with us. God Bless You.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Aleta, I admire your ability to create pictures with needle and thread. That ability will carry over as you explore tapestry weaving. Get all the books and resources you can to learn and practice the basics of tapestry weaving. And then, maybe you will be fortunate like I was to take a workshop or class from Joanne Hall, or another world-class tapestry weaver. I, too, have a very long way to go and learn. But that’s the joy of this weaving world—there’s always more to learn.

      God bless you and lead you, too,
      Karen

  • lanora says:

    Karen, thank you for inspiring us and
    letting us be a part of your adventure… It turned out beautiful! Tapestry is now on my list of ‘To Do’ items for sure!

  • louise says:

    Amazing piece! I love it! The texture is wonderful in it..It looks like you skipped places in order to achieve the texture. Could you coment on that?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Louise, Thank you for such kind words! This is threaded in rosepath, a particular four-shaft twill threading. I use a rosepath treadling pattern in between plain weave rows. So, part of the texture you see comes about naturally through the floats (skipped threads) in the rosepath.
      Thanks for asking about it.

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Linda Cornell says:

    So beautiful and precious!

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Tapestry Promise

You will see the front of the Siblings tapestry. I promise. When I cut a tapestry from the loom the weaving is finished. But the tapestry is not complete until the finishing is finished. And I have substantial handwork yet to do before this tapestry is ready for display.

Cutting off a new tapestry!
Cutting off the tapestry.
Back of the Siblings tapestry.
View of the back of the tapestry. Non-distinct imagery.

I am securing the ends in a woven edging. Then, I will trim weft tails, stitch things down around the perimeter, and put on a backing. Additional hand-stitching work will stabilize the whole piece. When you see the Siblings tapestry again, you will see it in full view on the wall right behind my loom.

Woven edging on the new tapestry.
Warp ends are woven together along the edge, and will end with a short braid.
Tapestry just off the loom. Finishing process.
Edge will be folded under and stitched down before the backing is added.

Hope is built on promise. Do not forget God’s promise. Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. And, Jesus expresses the promise to His followers, I will be with you always. We see the tapestry of life from the human side, the unfinished side. Hope, paired with patience, takes us through the uncertain future. We have assurance of the Lord’s grace, His meticulous handwork, bringing His work to completion. In the meantime, we give Him our burdens and He gives us rest. As promised.

May your hope be strong.

With you,
Karen

16 Comments

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Process Review: From Drawloom to Garment

I warped the drawloom with gray 6/2 Tuna wool several months ago with the goal to make fabric for a reversible vest. The beautiful drawloom fabric turned into dreamy garment-worthy fabric after washing! (See Process Review: Drawloom Jewels)

Weaving garment fabric on the drawloom.

And then I hit two huge hurdles.

Hurdle 1. Fit.

In order to cut into handwoven drawloom fabric, I need assurance that the end result will fit me. My sewing assistant helped me refine a commercial pattern.

My sewing assistant, Miss Fit.
Meet my sewing assistant, Miss Fit.

After umpteen muslins and two or three mock-ups, I finally got the fit I was after. Confidence to cut!

Hurdle 2. Garment Construction Uncertainties.

Do some detail studies, my dear friend Elisabeth said to me. Her advice got me over the insecurity hurdle. A detail study is making a small sample to test a hypothesis or answer a question. I made a list of everything I wanted to know about constructing a vest from this type of handwoven wool fabric. And then, using some of the extra fabric from the sampling at the beginning of the warp, I did a detail study for each point on the list. Twelve detail studies in all.

(If you are interested in seeing my complete list of 12 detail studies for this project, click HERE to send me an email and ask for my “Detail studies”.)

Here are a few examples of my findings:

  1. Zigzag before or after cutting? // Zigzag before cutting, stitch width 3, stitch length 2 1/2
  2. Lapped seams? 3/8”, 1/2”, 5/8”? // Yes, lapped seams, overlap 1/2”, stitch basted line to guide placement
  3. Neck and armhole curves – staystitch with hand running stitches or machine stitching? 1 row or 2? // Hand running stitches, 2 rows
Detail studies for handwoven garment construction.
Detail study testing lapped seams.

From the results of the detail studies I was able to compile a step-by-step garment construction plan. Confidence to sew!

Follow my process pictures of the garment construction to see the results:

Cutting lines marked with basting stitches.
Cutting lines marked with basting stitches.
Cutting lines marked with basting stitches.
Tracing paper is used for the pattern, which allows me to clearly see the placement of the pattern on the fabric.
How to stitch basted cutting lines.
Making an X with the basting thread at the corners. This helps clarify exactly where to stitch and cut. (One of Elisabeth’s helpful tips.)
Preparing handwoven cloth for garment sewing.
Buttonhole twist thread is used for the basted lines. It makes an easy guide for the sewing machine needle to follow. The zigzag stitches are just inside the line.
Sewing a handwoven garment.
Basting stitch on the front side piece is a guide for positioning the lapped seam.
Sewing a vest from handwoven drawloom fabric.
Handwoven vest. Ready for handwork details.
Ready for hand work.
Hand-stitching work by the fireplace.
Two rows of running stitches around the armholes and neck opening.
Blanket stitch on handwoven garment.
Blanket stitch is used to embellish and strengthen the armholes, neck, front edges, and lower edge of the vest.
Blanket Stitch
Completed vest from drawloom fabric.
Completed vest from drawloom fabric.
Reversible handwoven vest.
Reverse side.
Handwoven reversible vest. Drawloom Woven.

May you find ways to leap over your hurdles.

Love,
Karen

35 Comments

  • Geri Rickard says:

    Oh My! It turned out so well, though there was never any doubt in my mind! You must be so proud! I love how it looks on you. You are so inspiring!

  • Tena says:

    This is so stunning! As a beginner weaver, I hope to aspire to constructing woven garments someday!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tena, Constructing woven garments is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I’m glad to see you’re on the same quest!

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Marianne says:

    I’ve been peeking at your website for years and have always found it so inspiring! Your creativity seems to be boundless! Your vest turned out beautifully! Thanks for so generously sharing your process in making your projects. I have found so many tips and helpful instruction from you about weaving and also life!

    • Karen says:

      Marianne, Thank you for your heart-warming comment. It is my delight that someone like you comes along on this journey with me!

      Thank you, thank you,
      Karen

  • Bev Romans says:

    An absolutely beautiful result, Karen! And you have taken such care in each step along the way.

    Blessings to you!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Bev! It’s taking time to mind the details that brings about good results, as you know very well in your beautiful quilting projects.

      Blessings to you, too!
      Karen

  • Betsy says:

    It’s gorgeous, Karen! I am in awe of your patience, as well as your weaving and sewing skills.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Betsy, It’s this gorgeous loom of yours that made it possible. I have the pleasure of sitting at the drawloom and making things from it. Yes, it did take an extra degree of patience to push this project to completion.

      Thank you, friend,
      Karen

  • Joanne Hall says:

    I really need to get my Tuna yarn drawloom fabric made into a vest. Thanks for showing us yours. I started to think that I needed to make it a pullover to avoid all the hand stitching in the front. Hmmm. I am still thinking.
    Joanne

    • Karen says:

      Hi Joanne, I’m eager to see what you do with your beautiful Tuna yarn drawloom fabric! The hand stitching was very pleasant to do. I enjoyed it. I’d sure like to see a picture of your vest when you complete it.

      Happy thinking,
      Karen

  • LJ Arndt says:

    Awesome. Love the pattern and colors.
    Question. Was the back done in 1 piece or 2, if 2 could it have been one piece or to fit properly did it have to have a center seam?

    • Karen says:

      Hi LJ, Thank you!

      Great question. I intended the back to be one piece, and the sides to each be a single piece. But I was able to get a better fit by putting in a back seam, and making a seam down the sides. This was part of my fit dilemma. I wove the fabric with those single pieces in mind, but the outcome of the mock-ups was just too boxy for my petite frame. Someone with more fitting experience may be able to make the single back piece work.

      Thanks for asking,
      Karen

  • Annie says:

    I can’t decide which side I like best! Both look great on you, Karen.

    I am going to download your steps because I hope to get the courage to try sewing with my handwoven fabric someday soon. As I am just a beginning level sewer, I was surprised at all the consideration needed; such as the width of seams, length of stitches, etc.. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Oh, and I recently purchased the book you recommended to me, Karen. The Big Book of Weaving by Laila Lundell. My plan is to do as you recommended and follow through from the beginning.

    Looking forward to your future posts.

  • Shari says:

    You are truly amazing and so capable! How timely to talk about embracing your hurdles! Can’t imagine KI would have hurdles! You and your vest look lovely! There is a woman sheep farmer, weaver environmentalist in CA who has raised the sheep and wove the fiber into yardage and sold the yardage on a limited basis. I bought a small amount and have been thinking about what to make with it. It’s a beautiful white, unused fabric! Your experience and blog posting here will be immensely useful for my sewing project. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Shari, Me and hurdles? oh yes, more than you’ll ever know!

      Your undyed wool yardage sounds lovely! I know you’ll make it into something memorable. I’d love to see pictures when you’re done.

      Thanks for all your kind words,
      Karen

  • Shari says:

    The above posting has a typo. The yardage is natural, undyed yardage. I think the weave structure is twill.

  • D'Anne says:

    Beautiful work, Karen! I wish you were here to model it for us at WOW. We miss you!

  • Mary Still says:

    Wow! Beautiful!

  • Allison Grove says:

    Gorgeous fabric! Thanks for sharing your process and how you worked through it.

  • Nancy Martin says:

    Dear Karen, what a find to have found you in cyber space! So enjoy your website and your talents and your sharing and blogs etc. Wow, your work is an inspiration and the vest is beautiful. What a wonderful experience it must be to have totally created this wearable garment from simple thread to weaving to designing and cutting and sewing. Amazing!! God bless you and so glad I “tuned” in. Best regards, Nancy

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nancy, You have touched my heart. You so perfectly captured my sentiments! – It is extremely satisfying to start with thread and design actual fabric, and end up with a wearable garment. It feels like a dream come true.

      God bless you,
      Karen

  • Kristin Girod says:

    Your vest is beautiful and looks so lovely on you! Thank you for your generosity in sharing your project experience with us. Your blog is a treasure!

  • Lovely work, it’s nice to see someone doing woven garments rather than tea towels or scarves; much as I love those things I started weaving in order to make my own fabric for sewing.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Rachelle, How fascinating that you started weaving so you could make garment fabric. It’s something I’ve been interested in for quite a while, too. It’s tricky to get all those skills to work together, but it’s fun to keep learning.

      Thanks for chiming in!
      Karen

  • Nannette says:

    Karen,
    You are such a detail person.
    BEAUTIFUL vest!!!!
    Perfect to go over a sequined gown or jeans.
    I hope you wear it often.

    Nanette

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nannette, You’re right, I do enjoy paying attention to detail.

      I don’t have a sequined gown, so mostly it will go with jeans or a simple skirt.

      Thank you so much!
      Karen

  • Ladella Williams says:

    Very interesting to see this view. I recognize many of the responders names. In awe as I only weave on an 8 shaft Bergman. I have woven on others drawlooms though! So am familiar with the process. At least four projects or more. I can enumerate many including one that is in one magazine.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ladella, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Drawlooms are very interesting looms to weave on. There are projects in some Väv Magazine issues that I would like to try.

      All the best,
      Karen

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