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

14 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

      • Charlotte says:

        I am sitting here at home, sipping my first cup of coffee. Hence, I don’t have my notes available to answer your question. But, I usually try a weft and weave a few rows of blocks to make certain I can square the block. If the yarn is too thick for the weft, but I’m crazy about it…I’ll weave 1/2 blocks for the cloth. I’ll treadle 1, 2, 3 and change to the next pattern row: 4, 5, 6. Does this make sense?

  • 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 Unlimited

This seems unreal, like pulling an item right out of my imagination and touching it with my hands. It is exhilarating to watch a concept sketch develop into a tangible rag rug on the loom. Even though I enjoy designing at the loom, I relish the challenge of preparing a design in advance. In order to make a workable sketch I must study, think, and explore. It’s in this process that I realize the design options are limitless for rosepath rag rugs. This compels me to keep pressing in to learn and explore even more.

Beginning a new rag rug.
Hem, woven with narrow strips, follows the gold warp thread header. First wide border of the rug uses an assortment of green fabric strips.

The concept sketch is a scaled-down map of the rosepath rag rug. Each square on the gridded paper represents 6 centimeters. The sketch shows me which fabrics to use where, and specifies the placement of each design element—borders, plain weave, rosepath diamonds, dashes and dots of specific colors, etc. I add notes to the page as I weave, like specific treadling sequences and measurements, so that I can mirror them on the second half of the rug.

Concept sketch by the loom is my roadmap for weaving the details.
Concept sketch sits at the windowsill by my loom. I use it as a roadmap for weaving the details.
Weaving rag rugs with a temple. Always!!
Stretched-out temple is a necessity when I weave rag rugs. The wooden Glimåkra temple is my favorite because I can place it near the fell without risk of damaging the beater. This makes it possible to move the temple frequently, adding to weaving consistency.
Designing a rosepath rag rug.
Deep purple “dots” at the center of the rosepath diamonds serve as accents among these colors for a Texas hill country home.

Nothing can measure the greatness of the Lord. His greatness is truly limitless. Greatness is compelling. We step closer to search the unsearchable, and know the unknowable. God reveals himself, sketch after sketch, until we finally realize that we need all eternity to fully know him.

Rosepath rag rug - My favorite thing to weave!
Satisfaction of watching a concept sketch become a tangible rag rug.

May your concepts become tangible.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

12 Comments

  • Charlotte says:

    Ooooooooh honey girl! I do adore your newest creation!!!! The red certainly “pops”!

  • Rachel Lohman says:

    Beautiful! Out of curiosity, how wide is your Glimakra? And how wide will your rug be when finished? And do you have two rugs on the loom and do you separate them with wooden slats? Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Rachel, Thank you!

      This loom is a 100cm (39″) Glimakra Ideal. The width of the warp in the reed is 90.3cm (35.5″). I expect to lose around 12% in width from take-up, so I’m planning for a finished width of about 79cm (31″). Yes, I do have two rugs on the loom right now, and will have at least one more before cutting off. And yes, I do separate them with warping slats. I put a minimum of 8″ between rugs so that I will have enough length to tie the ends into knots for finishing. Great questions!!

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Nannette says:

    Yeah!! Ditto what Charlotte and Rachel said!!!

    You took the warp in a direction I did not realize. So much to learn.

    Thank you.
    Nannette

  • Linda Adamson says:

    Lovely rugs. What are the Blake bands keeping the cover on the loom bench in Place? More fabric strips or large elastic bands?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Linda, The black bands are bungee cords, to my embarrassment. I put them on as a temporary “make-do” solution to see how I would like having this rug piece on my bench. And so they stay. I like the rug cover for my bench, but haven’t taken the time to make it more permanent.

      Thanks,
      Karen

  • Robin Chandler says:

    Do you have a weighted beater?
    I didn’t like the recommendation to drill holes and add weighted bars, so I put ankle weights on both ends of my beater for rugs, seems to help.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Robin, I do not have a weighted beater. I tried adding some walking weights on both ends a few years ago, but I couldn’t tell that it made a difference for me. The overslung beater is such an advantage on these looms. I can lean back (like Jason Collingwood teaches) and let the momentum of the beater do a pretty good job. People in my house think I get a pretty powerful beat on my looms. 🙂

      Happy Rug Weaving,
      Karen

  • Karen says:

    It’s going to be AMAZING!

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All the Looms

The plan to keep every loom dressed is easy when there is only one loom. Now that I have four floor looms, it’s a tough plan to follow. The drawloomcheck. The Glimåkra Standard, dressed in Tuna wool—check. The two smaller looms are threaded, and just need tying on and tying up. So, I’m well on my way! The end of the first warp on the drawloom is in view, however. That means the drawloom will soon be back in the queue. And so it goes.

Winding a warp for rosepath rag rugs. 12/6 cotton. Spring colors.
Winding a warp for rosepath rag rugs. 12/6 cotton. Spring colors.
Warp for cottolin towels.
Warp for cottolin towels is threaded on the little hand-built loom.
Opphämta on the drawloom.
Opphämta on the drawloom. Pattern weft is 6/1 Fårö wool. The right side of the fabric is seen underneath, as it comes around the breast beam.
Threading heddles on the Glimåkra Ideal.
Threading heddles on the Glimåkra Ideal.
Blue and Almond Tuna wool warp.
Blue and Almond Tuna wool warp is tied on in 1″ sections.

I like to stay a step ahead of my looms. I’m ready to wind a new warp as soon as I finish cutting off. It’s the cycle of weaving. But I have trouble staying ahead.

Tying up treadles on the Glimakra countermarch.
Twelve shafts. Twelve upper lamms. Twelve lower lamms. Twelve treadles. This is an amazing system.
Warp is tied on. Ready for rag rugs!
Warp is tied on. Ready to add the leveling string.
Loom is dressed for small wool double weave blanket.
Loom is dressed. Treadle cords are adjusted. Ready for weaving!
End of warp on the drawloom.
End of warp comes near the pattern heddles. This is my first drawloom warp, so I’m waiting to see how far I can weave until I lose a good shed. So far, so good.
My first drawloom warp.
Closing chapter of my first drawloom warp. I’ll keep “turning pages” until the shed disappears.

We have good plans for our lives. But often, it’s tough to follow those plans. Too many things happen at once, and we don’t know how to stay ahead of it all. The thing to remember is that our plans stem from our inner commitments. When we commit our ways to the Lord, trusting him, he leads us through our days. Trust turns plans into achievements. And those are the plans worth pursuing.

May your best plans succeed.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

17 Comments

  • Robin says:

    I love your posts. You are such an inspiration. And it is so evident you went to vavstuga, using the techniques she taught. Going there for the basics class was a little retirement gift to myself last year.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Robin, Going to Vavstuga Basics was one of my best moves. I learned things from Becky Ashenden that I use every day. I’m glad you’ve had the Vavstuga experience, too!

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Beth says:

    Robin is right, you are an inspiration! Your work is impeccable and motivating. I have only two looms and can’t seem to get them going at the same time.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Beth, The truth about multiple looms is that you can only weave on one loom at a time.

      Now that all the looms are threaded I may focus on one loom at a time and weave it off. …unless I get distracted by another loom and decide to weave a little on it…

      Thank you for your kind words,
      Karen

  • Nannette says:

    Good morning Karen,

    About this time last year I warped up my homemade loom at the top of my skill set in rosepatth, then life got in the way. Last week I started a 6 week class at the Fiberwood studio near by. Chosen pattern is rosepath, to get my skills where they need to be (and girls night out with a friend).

    Such joy to know you have also chosen rosepath to show on your blog.

    God does provide to the ready student.

    Nannette

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nannette, I’m happy to hear you are interested in rosepath. Rosepath rag rugs are at the top of my list of favorite things to weave. It’s been way too long since I’ve had them on the loom.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Maria says:

    I just finished my first “ throw” . It was 46 wide in the reed. I had a terrible time keeping the edges and the floater broke a few times. Not my best weaving to say the least. How wide do you do your blankets and do you have any tips for weaving wide pieces? I would love to try the Tuna wool- what epi do you use for it?
    Thanks Karen!
    Maria Navarra

    • Karen says:

      Hi Maria, I know what you mean about facing challenges with a wide weave. I don’t use floating selvedges, so I can’t answer to that. I do use a temple. I find the temple helps me get consistent selvedges with wider widths. The weaving width of my biggest loom is 47″, and I have woven nearly that full width. Getting just the right tension on the warp is necessary, so that it’s just tight enough. If it’s a bit too loose, my shuttle wants to fall through.

      Here’s a page from Vavstuga’s website with a “recipe” for a Tuna wool blanket. I would go with that for a first time Tuna wool throw. It makes a terrific throw. http://store.vavstuga.com/product/yarn-borg-woo-tuna.html

      The one I have on the loom right now is double weave, and the sett is pretty dense, so it takes some patience and practice to make the wool open up with a decent shed.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Karen says:

    The last time I got both of my looms warped at the same time I took a photo….so I could prove I did it and so I could remember it….ha. Thank you for your encouragemment and inspiration, including a journey of faith.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Karen, Don’t forget it has taken me about 3 months to finally get all the looms (almost) dressed. Haha. There’s never a chance to get bored around here.

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Annie says:

    Good morning, Karen. Thank you for the inspiration regarding best laid plans.

    And the inspiration for weaving. I purchased a Megado recently and I am struggling with the follow through and putting it into use. Life does try to side track. However, I need to remember to hang onto the plan and trust in God.

    Hopefully, I will get to the Hill Country one day to visit.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Annie, We would be delighted to have you come for a visit!

      There are many things in life more important than dressing looms. I’m sure those are the things you are attending to.

      I have found that I can make it a practice to go to the drawloom every morning after breakfast, even if for a short time. And, it surprises me how those minutes add up over time and now I’m almost at the end of the warp. I think, How did that happen?

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Liz says:

    I am so blown away with how prolific you are with weaving! It takes me all day to dress my little Schacht! I am inspired watching your work! Thank You!!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Liz, It’s all one step at a time, little by little, day after day. It adds up. I think you’re doing quite well to dress your loom in a day!

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Charlotte Reid says:

    Is it possible to do opphamta designs on a standard four harness loom (drawdown)? I’ve been trying to figure this out after being in Sweden and visiting some weavers. I have obtained what looks like two shed blades for my floor looms ( they came with the used looms). C. Reid

    • Karen says:

      Hi Charlotte, What an interesting visit to Sweden you must have had! It is most certainly possible to do opphamta designs on a regular four-shaft loom. One book with a good description, including pictures, of the process is “Damask and Opphämta,” by Lillemor Johansson. I was able to find a copy through a used book seller. You could also check with your local handweavers guild to see if they have a copy you could borrow.

      Besides a pick-up stick and weaving sword, you will need long-eye heddles. And for repeating patterns, some sticks with holes in the ends and some regular heddles to use as half-heddle sticks.

      I think you are going to have a wonderful time with this beautiful weaving technique!
      Happy weaving,
      Karen

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Weaving Plans on Paper

I doubt myself when I start weaving something. But it’s a good time to question everything. The first twenty centimeters are designated for sampling. Is this the right sett? How is the weft density? What treadling order will I use? Which weft color(s) works best?

Trying out some treadling patterns.

Trying out some treadling patterns for this cotton throw. Undulating twill is planned.

It helps to see it on the loom. I plan on paper, and get excited when I see a ready warp on the warp beam. But nothing is settled until I’ve passed the sampling tests. The plan on paper is what I think I want. And then, unanticipated adjustments and changes are necessary at the loom. In the end, I expect the actual weaving to be better than my original plan.

Sampling before weaving a cotton throw.

More sampling of treadling patterns.

Testing weft colors for undulating twill cotton throw.

Testing weft colors.

When we think we must have what we planned, we give up a better way. We lose our way when we insist on having our way. Jesus came to us as an infant (the Christmas message), leaving his rightful heavenly position. To follow Jesus is to deny myself like he did. Some of the testing means telling myself no. In return, I gain the life I could not see on my paper plan.

May you give up some of your favorite plans.

With Advent thoughts,
Karen

14 Comments

  • Joyce Lowder says:

    Beautifully said, Karen! Too often, I don’t want to deny myself, but when I follow Him, I am at peace, as I know He wishes, all the time. So there is much joy in giving up my plans. Thanks for sharing and reminding me. Thankfully, we have Him to follow, every day! His love is not measured by our standards, and it is everlasting! Merry Christmas to you and yours! 🙂

  • Anneloes says:

    Beautiful! Both the sample, as well as your message of encouragement. I hope to get better at letting go of my ‘paper plans’ in life.

  • Beautiful work, may God’s blessing be upon you this Christmas

  • Ruth says:

    Life is what happens while we are making plans is a favorite saying of a dear friend. Your reflections on paper plans and letting go to follow Christ’s example coincide with that statement and remind me to follow Christ’s path and not my own. Blessings to you and yours as we follow the light of Christ during the coming year.

    • Karen says:

      Ruth, Your friend’s saying rings true with me. How much better to willingly let go of how we thought things should be, than to hold tightly to our ‘paper plans’ and miss the joys of living life to the fullest. What a relief that we have Christ to follow!

      Blessings to you,
      Karen

  • Beautiful weaving. Beautiful thoughts.

    Merry Christmas from the great white north.

    Nannette

  • Alison says:

    Thank yo Karen for sharing. I would have liked to have seen what your paper plans look like also, as they are part of the process. Your message is just what I needed.

    Alison

    • Karen says:

      Hi Alison, I don’t think I have done a post on project planning. I’ll have to do that! My paper plans hold the calculations, yarns, draft, and other details. I always have that piece of paper close at hand as I dress the loom and weave.

      I’m glad to hear that you gained something from today’s words.

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Linda says:

    Your reflections are such a blessing.
    Thank you and may God continue to bless you.

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Band Loom Time!

Before I can hem these new towels, I need to make some hanging tabs. Band loom time! Making a warp for the band loom is one way to use up some of the weft on quills that didn’t quite get emptied when weaving the towels. Of the four colors in the towels, I am using aqua, poppy, and orchid for the hanging tabs. The bright marigold, my favorite of the four colors, may bring too much attention to itself, so I’m leaving it out. A hanging tab must be a stable and firm loop that becomes a pleasing part of the towel.

Planning to weave hanging tabs for handwoven towels. Karen Isenhower

Towels, before wet finishing, are spread out with the thread colors on top. I am trying to determine which colors will work together in woven hanging tabs for all four towels.

Glimakra band loom. Hanging tabs for handwoven towels.

Eleven ends are just enough for weaving a narrow band. (The two ends in the center are doubled in the heddle and counted as one.)

Glimakra band loom, making hanging tabs for handwoven towels.

Simple symmetrical design with aqua, poppy, and orchid colors. To use as hanging tabs for towels, the band is cut into short pieces, about ten centimeters (four inches) each. Each cut tab is then sewn into the hem of a towel.

Established. Stable (root word of e-stabl-ish) and firm. That’s how important our faith is as we walk through life. Everything hangs from it. So it must be woven carefully and stitched in securely, a pleasing part of who we are. Stable and firm in faith as we live for the Lord—that’s a beautiful way to live.

May your finishing details be pleasing.

With you,
Karen

4 Comments

  • Laura says:

    Your towels are beautiful. Love the little bobbin you are using. Do you mind telling me where you got that from? Love all your posts.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Laura, Thank you! My husband carved the little band loom shuttle for me. You probably know that you can use a short cardboard quill for band weaving, but I will email the specs of the little shuttle to you in case you or someone you know wants to carve one.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Thank you for sharing the design and craft process for finishing the beautiful towels. So true is the need for a firm foundation in life. Nannette

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