Simple is never simple. Our Jane Stafford On-Line Guild Study Group decided to do a year-end towel exchange to apply what we have learned in our own way over the past three years. I had several personal goals in mind, namely: to explore the 2-ply Lithuanian linen we carry in the shop, to weave a pattern I love (goose eye twill) and, of course, to produce towels for our exchange. Little did I know how these simple towels would challenge me.
The assignment called for a towel roughly 20” wide. To balance my pattern, my plan called for 415 ends, a width of 20.75” in the reed at a sett of 20 epi. I planned for four towels and one sample.
My (abbreviated) draft looked like this:
I based my sett on earlier woven samples to arrive at a sett of 20 for a nice drapey towel (perhaps my sett samples were mislabeled?). My first sample was a gauzy fail, but I did try different yarns in the weft (from top to bottom): 8/4 Brassard cotton, the three different linen warp colors used as weft, a 6/1 Borgs tow linen, and 8/2 Brassard cotton. From this sample I decided to shoot for 24 epi and work a second sample (no photo because I have misplaced it). What it taught me was that 24 is the right sett. 8/4 weft is too heavy, the linen is stiff, and the 8/2 has a nice hand that immediately matches the intended purpose of the fabric. Based on what we learned in Jane Stafford’s on-line guild, I did not rebeam the warp. I tensioned normally, because, in theory, that little difference in width shouldn’t matter if even tension was maintained throughout the warp, which it would be.
With the sett determined, I had to figure out why I was having so much problem with my selvedges. The simple fixes weren’t working:
- Wider weaver’s angle.
- Advance more frequently.
- Sley the floating selvedge by itself
- Use a heaver thread for the floating selvedge (three-ply versus two-ply).
- Change the direction of throwing the shuttle.
My next thought was about a paper written by Alice Schlein called The Selvedge Dilemma (Alice shared it on WeaveTech a number of years ago). She discussed working with the twist of the yarn to correct selvedge breakage. For my “S” plied yarn, I threw over the floating selvedges on each when passing the shuttle from left to right and under the FS on each side on the return (a circular pattern, rather than the traditional figure-eight). Changing to this method of throwing the shuttle did make things better, but it did not eliminate the problem.
At the same time, I was having a problem with the linen breaking at the spinning joins. I remembered from a class with Nancy Hoskins, that dampening the linen by laying a damp cloth on the web behind the castle may help. After all, linen is stronger when wet. That helped tremendously. I should note that the humidity the past week in Michigan has been in the 20s. Very, very low. I continued with the damped linen tea towel throughout the entire warp, periodically adjusting it as it repositioned itself from the movement of the warp and I had no more breakage.
I was getting ½” draw in on each side. My warp was still beamed for 20. In addition to selvedge issues, I wasn’t getting clear lower sheds, even after the apron rod went over the front beam. I attributed this to the jack loom. The unevenness of the lower shed caused the shuttle to dive and sometimes to bump threads and bounce back. I was continually digging my hands into the warp to push the shuttle through. There was no way I could weave four towels under these conditions and maintain my sanity and the integrity of the warp.
Following the “suck it up buttercup” school of weaving, I cut off the second sample, pulled the warp forward and secured the dangling floating selvedges to the back apron rod, secured two pairs of miscounted warp threads, and effectively removed any messiness at the back of the loom. I then weighted each of the three warp sections using 2.5 pound weights laid on the floor and rebeamed using the reed as a raddle.
After tensioning for the third time, everything looked much nicer, even the lower shed. However, it was still looser than the upper and caused problems. The last thing left to do to fix my selvedges problem was add a temple. That did the trick. The warp became an enjoyable weave.
The next challenge was to remember the very simple pattern while weaving in public during regular shop hours. I always need to weave a bit to find the rhythm/pattern that makes sense to me. It was another “suck it up” moment when I realized I couldn’t eyeball the pattern if I wanted to get the results I intended. I would have to count. But, hey, it was only to 15. Then I found that my mind wandered or I would get distracted and forget if I was going up or down the twill and I would break the pattern. I solved that by putting a marker on the warp selvedge on the side the twill started on. It only took a hot second to place it and it saved my bacon several times. If I was weaving in solitary, that probably wouldn’t have been necessary, but it did help me and was worth the extra step.
Finishing was simply a machine wash, hand hem and press. I’m pleased with the end result and like the quiet, classic colors and weave.
- 20% humidity and linen don’t mix well without intervention.
- In the future I will weave linen on one of our countermarche looms. I proved it can be done on a jack, but I think it will be easier with equal warp tension and since I have the luxury of a selection of looms, I might as well take advantage.
- Count more carefully at the warping board. This is the second warp in recent memory where miscounting in the measuring contributed to problems at the loom.
- Mixing cotton with linen creates a lovely fabric with benefits of each fiber.
- Cotton shrinks more than linen. I should have planned for that when using the golden mean to calculate towel length. The cotton weft shrank a full 1” more than the linen weft, making my towels disproportionately long.
- I will continue using Alice’s selvedge solution to honor yarn twist.
- I still love weaving!
- Warp – 2 ply linen, approx. 4,075 ypp (bleached white, natural, light blue)
- Weft – 8/2 Brassard Cotton (denim)
- 24 epi, sleyed 2 per dent in 12 dent reed
- Color plan: division of space in thirds. Outside thirds alternated one natural with one light blue, center third is bleached white.
- Weaving notes: woven using a temple.
- Loom dimensions: 17.25 in the reed and woven to the Golden Mean @ 26.5”.
- Washed dimensions (excludes hems): 15 x 24.75 Note: width was 16 when linen was used as the weft.