Check on Stripes

weaving yarns

The world’s most basic yarns.

I’ve had these yarns for probably twenty years.  I must have woven up all the pretty colors, and somehow all I have left are cottons and linens in the basic primary colors – perfect for dish towels.  I like to use stripes and checks to bring a unified look to odds and ends of yarn, and I also wanted to try a threading I hadn’t done before.

In looking through my “Someday” notebooks, I found this sample from a 1994 newsletter, from Contemporary Handweavers of Texas.  (They are still going strong, but I couldn’t find a newsletter archive online.)  Deborah Tedder wrote a long and lovely article about the structure’s source and possibilities, and four other members helped her weave samples to send to everyone.

weaving draft

This is a Monk’s belt threading.

This sample has such beautiful drape and sheen – I couldn’t believe something so beautiful could be made from plain old unmercerized cotton!  I also liked the possibilities of color interaction.  And since there are two wefts, pattern and plain weave, I thought it would help me use up yarn more quickly.

I didn’t have enough unmercerized cotton, so I used mercerized 10/2 for the warp, in stripes of cream and black, to give a variety of looks with the different colors of wefts.

Once I had the warp on the loom, I tried out different wefts.  I soon realized that I was not getting the lovely close wefts of the CHT sample, where the pattern yarn floated over groups of four warps and completely covered them.  I hoped that machine washing afterward would cause the yarns to shrink and bloom, and emphasize the contrast between blocks.

The weft floats don't cover completely, as they did in the sample.

The weft floats don’t cover completely, as they did in the sample.

sample after washing

After washing, it looks better.  I think the color difference was caused by the flash, not by washing.

I also realized that weaving with two shuttles was slowing me down quite a bit, so I tried using just one weft for both the pattern and tabby shots, and I liked that variation too.

black and white sample

This sample shows the same yarn for both pattern and tabby weft.

after wash sample

After washing and drying, the sample looks just a little softer.

I have always had trouble sticking to a weaving plan for more than a few inches – on this project, I made myself stick to one type of weft yarn per towel (although in blocks of three different colors) for three towels. On the remaining yardage, I just played with all kinds of combinations – cottolin, 5/2 mercerized cotton, sewing thread – whatever looked interesting, even though I knew it would give me all kinds of take-up problems and uneven selvages.  I put on the radio, and every time the song changed, I changed a color, a texture, or the pattern block, for a random effect.

yards of towels

Seeing it all at once reminds me of those 60s op art pieces.  Or old TV test patterns.

After machine washing and drying, I don’t really like the cotton flake I used in two towels – it looks like it has snagged and pilled.  But it will be absorbent and that’s what I like about handwoven dish towels – they seem so much more absorbent than anything I can buy at the store.

cotton flake towel

Towel with cotton flake weft.

My favorite weft turned out to be 10/2 mercerized cotton – it doesn’t look as smooth as the CHT sample with unmercerized cotton, but it does have a crisp look.  They all feel really good – more flexible and drape-y than many of my handwovens.

checked towel

This one is my favorite. I should have stuck with this weave variation.  I never stick with my original plan, and afterward I always wish I had!

stack of towels

There is something so satisfying about a stack of handwoven dish towels.  If I ever get around to hemming them, they will be even better!

When I was planning this project, I thought I would use up all this yarn!  I don’t know what has happened to my estimation skills, because I barely made a dent in the supply.  I look forward to turning more odds and ends into useful items!