Souvenirs from Washington
On our way to the Maryhill Museum of Art, we had time to meander and stop at little towns and scenic overlooks.
In the historic district of Ellensburg, we had a delicious breakfast, and then decided to browse some of the local antique shops. The first two we tried had notices on the doors that they were closed, because their owners were involved in the local haunted house and were working late into the night there.
So we crossed the street into a third shop, and it was nice, but nothing really talked to me. I was actually going to walk out of there with just one $5 book on costume design. Then my husband pointed to a tall bookshelf full of folded textiles and said, “Did you see these?”
“Yeah,” I said, “There’s nothing there for me.”
“Okay,” he said, “But I get points for showing them to you, right?”
I walked back over, just to be polite… and at the very bottom of the bookcase, under some nondescript table cloth, I saw a handwoven coverlet.
Of course it didn’t have a price tag on it. I hate that, I always feel like the shop owner is going to size me up and see what I can pay. But it was worth asking about.
I took it to the front, and while the owner and I were discussing the price, I saw a nice little Ocean Waves quilt too. So I walked over and grabbed it while continuing to bargain. I am so glad I can multi-task like that.
And both pieces came home with me. (Travel Tip: if you can, travel with someone who is going to a conference and has give-away literature and grab bag items in his luggage on the way out, and a relatively empty suitcase on the way home.)
Here is the overshot coverlet (and you can click on the images to see a larger version):
What caught my eye about this one is that it was woven in two narrow panels and then stitched together, which points to it being an older piece. Handweavers often wove in 36-inch widths, because that is about as wide as a person can reach comfortably.
On this piece the join was easy to spot, because the panels were not lined up perfectly when they were stitched together.
Okay, this next part is for detailed-oriented weavers: But on these particular panels, no matter how you stitch them together, you are going to get an odd effect in the middle. This draft is not symmetrical, nor even divided up the way you would expect. In the main part of the weaving, you have one table of 16 large divided squares (let’s call them “windows”), and one table of 144 small squares (let’s call them “tiles”). On the selvages, you would think those motifs would be divided in half, so the finished panels could be stitched neatly side by side, disguising the join.
So I would expect to see two columns of “windows” on one selvage, and six columns of “tiles” on the other. But this piece has has only one column of “windows” and nine columns of “tiles.” If you put the two “window” selvages together in the middle, you are going to have only two columns of windows instead of the big block of four by four that you have in the main body of the weaving, and that’s going to be noticeably skinny. You can see it in the existing join. Even if the stitcher had aligned those “windows,” you would still notice that that block is skinnier than the others. And if you turned it and put the “tile” selvages together in the middle, you are either going to have to overlap the selvages, or you are going to have an extra-wide block of those tiles. Just an interesting characteristic of this piece.
Non-weavers, please rejoin us here. 🙂 These groups of squares are called tables, and let’s look at the back to see how the design reverses.
I believe the warp and tabby weft are linen, instead of cotton or wool, which would also point to an older date of creation. The blue and red pattern threads are a lustrous wool singles yarn.
What really caught my eye the most on this coverlet was those little areas of red.
That little bit of red involves a lot of extra weaving effort. Overshot is already labor intensive; it is a two-shuttle weave, which takes more time to weave than a plain weave (for example, a toweling fabric). In plain weave, one shuttle goes from right to left, and then back from left to right — you learn to toss it quickly from hand to hand, and you get quite a rhythm going. But in overshot, you have to use two shuttles, and have them chase each other across the loom. So first you throw a shuttle with the thick pattern thread, right to left, then set that down and throw a different shuttle with the white tabby thread, right to left. Then set down the tabby shuttle and return the pattern shuttle, left to right, then the tabby shuttle again, left to right. All that setting down and picking up of shuttles more than doubles your work time over weaving with just one shuttle.
On this coverlet, somebody decided it was worth it to bring in a third shuttle, and weave just four picks of red, to set off the 20-pick squares of blue to perfection. Every color change causes that much more delay as the weaver juggles the shuttles. It is not undertaken lightly. But what a glorious design choice!
Unfortunately in some places these red threads were asked to float over a long section of the ground cloth, without anything to protect them, and they ended up wearing away and breaking off. But this does serve as a good example of how the wool pattern floats are only decorative; the ground cloth holds together without them.
Checking in all the usual resources*, I was not able to find this exact pattern, but it would not be hard to draft. If anyone knows the name of the pattern, I would love to hear it!
Okay, on to the quilt.
This quilt has some damage in the center but I think it will look lovely hanging on the wall. Here is a nice history of the Ocean Waves pattern, by Sandra Starley.
So, fashion dolls, coverlet, and quilt! A very successful trip!
∗Books with overshot patterns: Shuttlecraft Book of American Hand-weaving and Recipe Book by Mary Meigs Atwater; A Handweaver’s Source Book and A Handweaver’s Pattern Book by Marguerite Porter Davison,