Weaving hemp and cotton tea towels

I admit it; I’m addicted to weaving tea towels. I also want to weave some wool fabric for making a coat, some silk scarves for gifts and some scrap yarn fabric for making bags, but when I find the time to warp something up, immediately my mind reaches for a tea towel draft and some absorbent yarn.

I did get a scarf or two of scrap yarn woven between tea towel weaves.

This project is a special one; it’s my first try at weaving with hemp (as the yarn…for those who were wondering). I bought a one kilo roll of fine (8/2 weight) hemp yarn, I just can’t seem to resist a good deal on yarns, and decided that it would be perfect for tea towels. Hemp is a bast fibre (meaning it comes from the stalks of a plant and is cellulose based) and is known to be very strong, resilient and absorbent when used in weaving. The yarn itself is very rough and stiff, it feels kind of like string to me, but my reading (and YouTubing) tells me it will become soft over time and use. Flax is very similar to this and linen, the finest, most hard wearing cloth is made from flax.

I decided to try out the Viking weave pattern again, because I really do love it. So first I wound a warp; this is a long, fairly tedious activity that involves winding yarn around a series of pegs to make lengths long enough to weave the items you had in mind. I am not good at maths, but I followed the instructions on the weaving draft to wind the warp 5.2 metres long (which should get me eight tea towels). Once I had the length decided, I wound the first length around the pegs until I had a 5.2m length, then I repeated that 408 times to get the width of cloth I needed (each length is called an end).

Just to make things interesting, I also had to count each end and divide them into bundles that fit into inch increments on the loom; using a length of yarn that crosses over every 24 ends (the pattern says there are 24 ends per inch), that way when it is time to wind the warp onto the loom the bundles could be distributed evenly along the back beam (using a raddle).

Each little red loop has 24 strands in it. That means that when I get to putting it on the loom I can divide each bundle into an inch slot.

When the warp was all wound and tied securely in a lot of places, I spread it out using my home made raddle. A raddle is basically a tool for holding yarn temporarily in the right place while it is put on the loom, I built mine from a photo on a weaving site (it is a very simple tool).

The raddle is the row of silver hooks on the bit of 2X1 pine. Each gap between the hooks on the raddle is an inch long.
The warp spread out on the raddle.
A nice neat warp so far.

Next I need to thread the warp. This involves threading each end through it’s assigned heddle (the wire bits hanging on the frames in the photo below) each heddle has a hole in the middle to allow the thread to pass through. The weaving draft tells me which frame each thread needs to be attached to.

Finished threading through the heddles, now for the reed.
All threaded through the reed and tied onto the apron bar. I used cardboard strips to spread the warp evenly then wove an inch or so with a pale yarn as a border.
I discovered a few loose threads that needed to be weighed down with hooks and sinkers at the back of the loom. These threads hang down in the shed and make mistakes in the weaving.
Then it is time to weave. I love watching the pattern emerge.
The first tea towel almost done.

My plan is to use the same pattern for each tea towel but to use different colours for the weft; all in 8/2 cotton of course.

I know this is a fairly complicated post, full of the jargon of weaving, but it is my attempt to document the process of making things I use in my everyday life, and I love the language associated with weaving, it is so ancient and full of seemingly nonsensical terms. It is really a very simple process that comes naturally to the hands but it is hard to explain in words.

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