Holiday Notes


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In the past, when I worked in an office and wove on the side, all weaving stopped about the middle of November. After our local guild’s holiday show, I had to turn my attention towards preparing for the holidays.

Empty loom

Empty loom

We never knew how many would come to our Thanksgiving table, but I always enjoyed fixing the various dishes my Mom made and adding a few of my own. Gathering, shopping, baking, simmering all kept me out of the studio.

Christmas carries many of the accumulated traditions from my childhood with special holiday cookies, breads, and candies. All that in addition to school programs, gift-making, cleaning, and decorating. There just wasn’t time to do much at the loom.

Times have changed. Kids have grown. The office job is history. Now my studio is my “office” and I get to weave late into the season!

Harvest and Sea colorways

Harvest and Sea colorways

Last week I wound warp for an idea presented to me last month—aprons with pockets. I’ve woven them before, but my latest designs didn’t have the pockets. I also noticed while inventorying yarn that I have a lot of gorgeous 10/2 mercerized cotton. Put the two together and the ideas began to sprout. I have enough yarn for two warps, one that looks like grape harvest to me, and another that is more of a Caribbean feel. These colors will warm the January winds!

Harvest Apron Warp

Harvest Apron Warp

I don’t know if I’ll have time to finish these before Christmas but there’s no deadline. In between batches of cookies and writing cards, I sit at the loom and throw the shuttle. It is such a welcome, peaceful way to ponder the season.

Follow the aprons’ progress on my Facebook page,

Design Through the Back Door


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Through the Back Door

Recently someone asked me to design an apron for his business. After some back and forth, I had a clearer idea of what he wanted and started thinking. I pored over graphed motifs from Medieval textiles, paging through for something to start with. Then I worked on adapting the figures to what the customer wanted and what my equipment can weave. All this designing before a thread is woven.

Design is a loaded word.

Design is a verb, “to conceive, to contrive, to invent…to have as a goal or purpose.”

Design is also a noun, “a decorative or artistic work…a visual composition or pattern.”

A design can be a conspiratorial plot or a figure on a business card or a pattern for a dress. Design encompasses every art and craft form, every building plan, every graphic representation. There are whole college programs built around design–none of which I’ve taken.

Planning in the works

Planning in the works

To be honest, design can be intimidating. That’s why I approach it through the back door.

The back door is the service door. It’s the one used to bring in the groceries. It’s the door from the garden, the lawn chair, the grill. It’s the door the dog uses.

Pulling inspiration from the library

Pulling inspiration from the library

The back-door path to design uses what is available and builds on that. It reads whatever books are on the shelf, takes whatever classes or workshops come up, researches techniques that might come in handy.

Then when a challenge comes up, all the bits and pieces of design inspiration quietly come in through that back door, sit down at the kitchen table, and whisper that concept into reality. Design through the back door.

How do you approach your design challenges?

Putting Inspiration to Work


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Last spring, during my week-long drawloom class at Vävstuga in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, the lovely, vibrant, intricate hangings on every wall made my heart sing.  Reds, blues, golds, 8-pointed stars, crosses, and diamonds everywhere I looked.

The hangings echoed the richly decorative weaving of Sweden. Some were in linen, some in wool. Some incorporated Monks Belt, some Smålandsväv, but many were woven in opphämta, a weave in which the heavier pattern floats over or under the plain weave ground fabric.  The motifs are old and found in many crafts besides weaving.

All the way home, the patterns and colors played at the edge of my thoughts. How could I apply the techniques I’d learned to my own weaving? How could I adapt those traditional motifs to the equipment I have, the yarns on my shelf? That is, after all, why we go to classes and workshops—to learn new techniques.

Finally, this summer I wound warp for four hangings without any clear plan on specific designs.  I just wanted to try my hand at wall hangings like those I’d seen. The first hanging features blues and a few bands of rose.  As the patterns grew, it spoke “winter” to me – blue, icy patterns on snow, rose colored sunsets.



After that, the other three seasons just fell into place.  “Spring” with bright yellow and red flowers and light spring greens, “Summer” with darker green vines and bluebirds, “Autumn” with acorns and oak leaves.














The warp is 8/2 bleached cotton—I didn’t know if I was ready for the careful warping linen requires – next time.  The ground weft is linen. For weft, I used what I have on hand—some linen, some cottolin, some mercerized cotton. I used 17 pattern units on the drawloom threaded in a point which results in symmetrical motifs.



Of course, as I twisted fringe and assembled the hangings, I already knew things I’ll do differently next time.  There’s always a next time. That’s inspiration being put to work.

Loose Ends, Part 2


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This week has been all about loose ends again, but metaphorically this time.

Our guild’s annual Holiday Exhibition and Sale is coming up in a couple weeks and I have just one more week to finish up those last pieces I signed up to bring: finishing the last of those opphamta hanging cloths – one for each season;

Soaking "Summer"

Soaking “Summer”

fringing and washing said hanging cloths;

Twisting fringe on "Autumn"

Twisting fringe on “Autumn”

sewing on the tags specific for this sale.

Tagging pieces for our local guild's Holiday Exhibition

Tagging pieces for our local guild’s Holiday Exhibition

I move pieces around from one venue to another to keep things fresh and interesting. These have to be retagged and noted in the inventory.

Sometimes I put something in the sale that I’ve had around for a while and now its time may be right, its color trending now more than when I made it. You never know when someone will come in looking for just that color or just that piece.

All these loose ends will eventually get tied down. One by one, I check them off my list, pack the pieces in a box, and hope for the best.

One more loose end I tied up recently was my plan to set up a Facebook page. I know I am late to the game on that one, but two weeks ago I finally launched the JeanWeaves page. There I can post quickly what is coming off the loom, what is available in my Etsy shop, and share other fiber arts links as I find them, while continuing to blog here.

So check out JeanWilliams.JeanWeaves on Facebook. And if you like what you find, follow the page for future updates.

As I’m working on all these loose ends, I contemplate—what’s next on the loom? What direction to I want to head in now? Stay tuned!

Loose Ends


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Kitchen Towel Stripes and Denim

Fold-over hem

Every piece has loose ends. The fabric is woven, the threads cut, but all those warp threads have to be fastened off somehow.

The purpose often dictates how a piece is finished. Most of what I weave needs a durable finish. I don’t want my handwovens to fray away in the wash. Towels, placemats, napkins, anything that will be washed frequently calls for a folded hem.

Black and Burgundy Wool Scarf

Twisted Fringe

I can also twist the fringe. Picture handwoven scarves, shawls,and even blankets, and most often they are finished with fringe. Twisting the fringe controls it. Some yarns have so much life, they just want to tango (or is that “tangle”?) as soon as they are cut from the loom. One of my weaving friends adds beads to give her fringes a little glitz.

And then there is hemstitching. Hemstitching is a decorative finish done on the loom. It binds the warps so when you cut the piece off the loom, it is essentially finished with the exception of washing the piece. The ends can be left to form a fringe or worked with twists, loops, or knots.

When I choose to hemstitch a piece, I leave enough warp at the beginning and end for a fringe. Using weft from the shuttle, I stitch up and over, up and over, across the warp. The first part of the stitch catches the warp.

The second part is worked around the tail of the first stitch to tie the bundle.

Each stitch binds two, three, four or more warps in a bundle.

I use a very simple hemstitch, but there are some wonderfully creative techniques to dress up the hem. Virginia M. West details many hemstitching variations as well as fringes, knots, and added bands in her book Finishing Touches for the Handweaver (1988: Loveland, CO Interweave Press). I know it’s an older book, but so worth it if you can find a copy.

What is your favorite way to tie up loose ends?

Meditations and Quiet Time


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We all have different ways to find our quiet spot: that quiet place in our minds and hearts where we regroup from day to day pressures and those bigger stressors that challenge the community as a whole.

My mother reached for her yo-yos. She quilted and created many lovely bed coverings for her children and grandchildren, but in her later years, she always had her basket of yo-yos. She hand-stitched these small scraps of fabric into circles with the plan to put them together into a larger hanging. Along the way, she made smaller pieces on special themes.

Halloween Yo Yos

Halloween Yo Yos

One of my sisters retreats into her counted cross stitch. Her high-stress career in business management left her drained and with little time to herself. To unwind, she stitched design after design, intricately blending colors in nostalgic and seasonal scenes. It was all in the process.

Cross Stitch Towel

Cross Stitch Towel

I find solace at the loom. The rhythmic swing of the beater and passing the shuttle back and forth, watching the fabric grow with each throw, easing any tensions cluttering my mind.

Depending on the time of the year, making time for weaving can be a challenge. Each season has its own activities, some always a priority, others done because they have to be.

Summer seems to be the best time to visit our children and grandchildren living in different parts of the country. We love to see and hug them all, working around their schedules and ours to make sure we get to see them. Summer is also a time for home maintenance and fix-ups not possible in the winter months. And the summer garden always needs more attention that I usually afford it. Still, in October, my tomatoes continue to bear!

I can tell when I’ve been away from the loom for too long though. The small sense of urgency and tension whispers in the back of my mind until it becomes a priority of its own—I’ve got to get something on the loom!

Autumn in process

Autumn in process

And so it was last month. I methodically measured the warp, quietly threaded the heddles, carefully wound the threads onto the loom. That’s where I found my happy spot. The quiet swing of the beater. Passing the shuttle back and forth, watching the fabric grown with each throw.

Where is your quiet spot?

Great Cover-Ups


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In the dictionary, to cover is to place something upon, over, or in front of, so as to protect, shut in, or conceal; to hide or screen from view or knowledge, often used with “up”.

There are fashion cover-ups, like the items one wears over a swimsuit at the pool or beach.

There are sun screens to protect us from sunburns.

First hanging cloth fresh off the loom

First hanging cloth fresh off the loom

And of course, there are scandals and cover-ups meant to conceal truth. But that’s not where I’m going. Lately, I’ve been intrigued by textile cover-ups.

We have long used home textiles to hide what we want to protect or don’t want seen. A tablecloth can protect a good table or cover a scarred table and dress it up for the holidays. Sofa covers protect the good upholstery from pets and wear, and also hide the evidence of said pets and wear. Curtains cover our windows for privacy. Bread towels cover the newly baked loaf for cooling.

The Scandinavians have a couple historical textile traditions that I’ve been enjoying. One are the “hanging cloths.” Prior to the 19th century, in the day of flue-less fireplaces, the walls and ceilings would get sooty. On special occasions, hanging cloths covered up those dirty walls and ceilings, giving the room a fresh look.

According to Lillemor Johansson in Damask and Opphämta, these were white linen or cotton with colored patterns bands. The patterns were woven in opphämta or monks belt on a plain weave ground. In some communities, the patterns were all blue. In other places, the cloth could be red, blue, or a combination of colors. Braided fringes often decorated the ends.

Another historical Scandinavian tradition is the show towel. Towel bars must have had two bars, one closer to the wall than the other, but I’m just guessing on that. The idea was to hang a pretty towel in front to cover the utilitarian towel hung in the back. Family was presumably taught to only use the back towel.

We still have examples of “show towels” in our homes. My mother had special guest towels that only came out when company was coming. And woe to the child who inadvertently used one after coming in from play!

I like the decorative borders and finishes of these old textiles. I don’t have a flue-less fireplace—or any other kind for that matter—but I like the idea of woven wall hangings to dress up a room. Changing them out for the season can give a room a facelift without a major remodel.

Right now, I have a white 8/2 cotton warp on the drawloom for some of those opphämta hanging cloths. The first one is finished and I’m considering patterns and colors for the next one. It is both challenging and satisfying to design at the loom, choosing which border to balance the last, how to use the colors I have on hand to their best advantage. And it’s fun to see the pattern develop with each row.

These are my favorite kinds of cover-ups. What are yours?

The Tortoise and the Hare



Cotton Lace Kitchen Towel

Cotton Lace Kitchen Towel

“How long does it take to weave that?”

Well, that depends. Is it a sports car kind of project or a minivan on the loom? Is it a thoroughbred or a draft horse, a short story or an epic, a tortoise or a hare?

What makes one project a “hare” and another a “tortoise”?

“Hare” projects are fast weaves. They are easy to follow, easy to thread, easy to treadle, quick to the finish line.

The weave structure has a lot to do with it. Tabby, or plain weave, is just over under, over under. It can be threaded on just two shafts: one, two, one, two. I only have to go back and forth in the treadling: right, left, right, left. A four-shaft twill can also be a hare weave: one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.

Fast and slow yarns

Fast and slow yarns

Materials can make a project slow or fast. Thick warps and wefts take up more, thread in less time, and weave up quickly. Smooth yarns stick less in the warp and in the weft. All the lovely texture of a mohair or a bouclé can really slow down the weaving if used in the warp.

One-shuttle weaves are faster than two-shuttle weaves. If I want to make a fabric more interesting and still keep it fast, I put more color in the warp and just use one shuttle for the weft.

And this one is a bit counter-intuitive, but longer warps can actually be faster to weave. Why? Because I can set it up once and weave several projects on the same set-up. Even if it takes longer to measure, I can weave longer before threading again.

Tying a second warp onto a previous one saves time as well. It’s easier to tie the knots than to rethread.

These are all characteristics of “hare” projects.

So what make a project a “tortoise”?

Well, any time I use a non-repeating threading, or one with a long repeat instead of a short one, that will take more time to thread. I have to stop frequently to check for errors and follow the draft carefully. The same with the treadling, I have to focus on what I’m doing.

Fine threads equal more threads per inch,  take longer to thread and weave up.

Any time I add more colors in the weft, I add more time for the weave. Accents have to be planned out, bobbins must be wound, ends must be tucked in. Think of all the color changes in a well-woven tartan. It takes time.

Snowflake Damask Runner

Snowflake Damask Runner

Any complex weave is, by definition, going to take more time than a simple weave. In this case, complex can be defined as using more than one weave structure, hand-manipulating the threads as in leno lace, or using a multi-harness loom technique like damask or opphämta.

There are some weaves that defy these generalizations. Tapestry, for example, is a plain weave, which is normally quick to weave, but because it is hand-manipulated, it is slow, very slow. And oh so worth it!

Just being slow or fast does not make one weave better than the other. It’s just a characteristic of the fabric to consider when you are planning a project or purchasing a handwoven. When I need some hostess gifts, I want a fast weave. I just choose a simple threading and a one-shuttle weave. When I weave something for an exhibit, it has to be unique and specific to the exhibit theme. That will take longer, both in designing and execution.

Summer is often a time for “hare” weaves. I’m in and out a lot, there’s garden work to do, family to visit. Weaving fits in between and I can’t afford to lose my place in a long, complex design. And it’s fun to see fast results.

During the winter months, I work on more complex pieces. There is more time to design, to thread, to work with the projects to get the most from the warp.

Here in mid-Missouri, we are smack dab in the middle of summer and baby blankets just came off the loom before a recent trip. Back home again, I finished the hemming and will now work on finishing the dragon placemats. After that, who knows? Perhaps another “hare” project.

Or maybe I’ll buck my own definitions and start another “tortoise” during the summer months.

Tortoise or hare—what is your favorite kind of project?

Containing the Excitement


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Two weeks ago The Shipment came. In three long, heavy boxes: loom extension; shaft draw system to upgrade from the old one; combination single unit set-up. It was like Christmas in June. I think my husband was just as excited as I was. Let the fun begin!

The view from the back

The view from the back

The pieces of the extension were finished but the other wooden pieces needed to be oiled and finished before I could put them together. And I’m a bit slow to comprehend things, so I read and reread the sheets that came in the boxes. One box only had a parts list—I was on my own to figure out how to assemble it. Another had more instructions, but no identification of the parts, so I had to figure out what some of the pieces were. The third box not only had instructions, but they were numbered to correspond to a drawing and little baggies of bolts and nuts. Hurray! I also had an idea from the Vävstuga video, Dress Your Swedish Drawloom, about how to proceed.

Hanging the treadles

Hanging the treadles

Piece by piece, it started to come together. By the end of last week, I had most of the attachments assembled and installed. Some had to wait till I had a warp on the loom.

As I was learning more about drawlooms this spring, my husband joked that he wanted some dragon placemats. That seemed like a good project to start with.

I found a fun graphed dragon in Here Be Wyverns by Nancy Spies (©2002 Arelate Studio, Jarrettsville, Maryland) and adapted a border from 826 Textila Bärder by Britta Johanson (©2009 Korssstygnsbolaget) Designing the border posed its own challenges. It took some work to balance the design to fit an 18” placemat.

The dragon taking shape

The dragon taking shape

I chose to weave a 6-thread irregular satin with an 8/2 cotton warp. This allows me to be able to see what I’m doing and make any adjustments more easily.

Because my existing countermarche is too long to fit within the new drawloom frame, I set this warp up on a counter-balance beam.  This, too, is a first. With the 6-shaft satin on this counter-balance tie-up, shaft 1 is tied to shaft 6, 2 to 5, and 3 to 4. So when I pull up shaft 1, shaft 6 goes down; the same with all the others.

I tested the shed by weaving a couple inches and measured a few random units to get a feel for how well the graphed design would fit in my planned weaving length. All set, the mat began, first with the hem, then the border, and on to the tail.

The view from underneath

The view from underneath

The wings took shape, followed by the head complete with “flames”. Finally the border and ending hems. The mat ended up a bit longer than I intended, but the cotton will shrink in the finishing.

First mat finished

First mat finished

This has been a satisfying first project. Now I have to decide what project to follow.

Always Learning, Always Growing


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“What does this loom do that your other loom doesn’t?”

That’s the question my sister asked me when I told her last year that I was thinking about getting another big loom. It’s a reasonable question. A loom is a big expense. It takes up a lot of space. There’s only one of me and I can only weave on one loom at a time. So why get another one?

There’s no short answer, really. Weaving is just making threads go up or down to produce fabric. This can be done with your fingers, on frames, with back straps, even pieces of cardboard with slits cut in it. How many of us, as kids, wove those ubiquitous little pot holders with knit loopers on metal frames?

Looms are tools. Weavers use them to create the fabric that is in their heads. The real question is what do we want to weave? That determines the loom.

Schacht Baby Wolf jack loom

Schacht Baby Wolf jack loom

Most weavers learn on jack looms. When you step on a treadle, the shafts connected to it are jacked up, the others stay down. That’s how the shed is made. Each treadle controls any number of shafts, making design possible. My first loom was a four-shaft Harrisville jack loom, 22” weaving width, a good starter loom.

Counterbalance Union rug loom

Counterbalance Union rug loom

Many old rug looms and barn looms are counterbalance looms. Each shaft is tied to an opposing shaft so that when the treadle tied to the first shaft is depressed, that shaft goes down and the opposing shaft goes up. My grandmother’s old Union loom was a 2-shaft counterbalance loom.

Many Swedish looms are either counterbalance or countermarche. On countermarche looms, when a treadle is depressed, every shaft goes either up or down. Every shaft is tied to every treadle. This opens the shed in both directions, up and down, and is easier on the warp threads. It’s also easier to treadle designs with lots of heddles on individual shafts.

Countermarche tie-ups, every treadle on every shaft.

Countermarche tie-ups, every treadle on every shaft.

All these looms produce beautiful fabric: simple plain weave, twill, lace, overshot, blocks, units, diagonals, layers. The weaver is only limited by the number of shafts on the loom. Without going into a treatise on weaving theory (for which I am definitely unqualified!), I can say from experience that each type of loom has its design possibilities and limitations.*

When I bought my first big loom, my intention was to get the one loom that would do whatever I wanted to weave forever and ever, amen. But how was I to know what directions my weaving would take at this early point?

Besides my little Harrisville, I had woven on Glimäkra countermarche looms at a week-long class and really liked how sturdy they are, the overhead beater, the treadling action. During that week, I also wove samples on both a single-unit drawloom and a shaft drawloom. Drawlooms add a whole world of possibilities to weaving.

A drawloom has a set of shafts separate from the ground shafts. The shaft drawloom produces repeating designs across the warp. These can be symmetrical or mirrored, tiled or single figures. The single unit drawloom lets you lift individual units to produce asymmetrical non-repeating designs. After some careful thought, I chose a Glimäkra countermarche loom with a 20-shaft drawloom attachment to grow into.

But a couple years ago, I thought a second big loom would be very useful. The drawloom setup is different than the regular set-up and every time I needed to switch from one to the other, it took a day to change heddles and rebalance the loom. It would be more efficient if I could have one loom as my regular loom and one loom set always as a drawloom.

That was the short answer to my sister’s question—efficiency and productivity.

And now I am getting closer to that goal of a dedicated multi-shaft loom and a dedicated drawloom. This week I ought to take delivery on a combination shaft and single-unit drawloom. This set-up fits onto my second loom and will allow me to continue weaving the damask designs I’ve been doing, as well as adding single unit motifs. I’m thinking of flowers, birds, dragons, even words.

I can hardly wait to see what this new set-up will do. Always learning, always growing.

* For a thorough look at weaving theory, check out these books:

  • Madelyn van der Hoogt’s The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers (1993, Shuttlecraft Books).
  • Sara von Tresckow’s When a Single Harness Simply Isn’t Enough (2014, The Woolgatherers, Ltd.) describes in detail the workings of drawlooms.
  • The Book of Looms by Eric Broudy (1979, University Press of New England) presents a good history of looms of all kinds from around the world.