Saturday, June 4, 2016

A tale of five towels


Remember the kit I bought at MDSW this year? It was supposed to make four towels on two warps. After a rocky start on the first warp (in which I had trouble visualizing the “double ends” and only warped half as much as I was supposed to), I started weaving. IMG_0389

This pattern is “basket weave,” which is like plain weave but with doubled thread. The designer said to work the first 20 picks with a single strand instead of double, to make it easier to turn under and hem later. She did NOT specify to work the hemstitch at each end, but I did that because I like it. Here is what the very end of a towel looks like:IMG_0388

The pattern told me how many picks to work of each color and that was easy enough to follow. I finished the first towel, wove a little bit of waste yarn, and then started the second towel. It soon became clear that I was running out of warp FAST. Hmmm. I might have lost a little warp length fixing my initial mistake, but only a few inches at most (which isn’t much over 2.5 yards). When I pulled the cloth off the loom, it seemed that something was pretty wrong. Towel #1 was super long (31” x 14.25”) and Towel #2 was puny (18.25” x 14.25”). They also seemed quite loose. Washing is supposed to tighten up the fabric and finish it, but I wasn’t sure how much this loose web would tighten. I washed it on hot with maximum agitation, and dried it on hot. That’s when I realized that my waste yarn was not superwash wool! IMG_0390

But no worries. I cut out that waste yarn and finished the hems, which were oddly deep – a little over 1”:IMG_0424

I consulted with Julie about all this. She found it odd that the designer did not indicate the PPI (picks per inch) for the fabric. This is kind of like gauge in knitting – it tells you how many passes of the weft yarn you should have per inch. I know I have the same sett (EPI – ends per inch) as the designer because I have 120 doubled warp ends on an 8-dent reed, but I have no idea how tightly she packed her weft after each pass. I assumed I should weave to get a balanced weave, which has the same PPI and EPI. See where the stripes with four warp threads intersect with the stripes with four weft threads? Those should make a square – and they do!IMG_0425

So I was left feeling that I hadn’t really done anything wrong, but the pattern was deficient. Grrrr.

After washing, Towel 1 shrunk down to 28.75” x 13”, and Towel 2 shrunk to 17.5” x 13”. Towel 1 looks like a runner for a small table (which is how I may use it), and Towel 2 looks more like a placemat:IMG_0493

Then I pulled out a pencil and calculator and decided how to attack Towels 3 and 4. My plan:

  • Target size for finished towels: 21.5” x 13”, which meant that my unwashed length would be 23.5” (thanks, math!)
  • Work only 12 picks of single thread for the hem ends (rather than 20)
  • Be intentional about packing tightly
  • Add more weft stripes (because why only have 5 weft stripes when you have 8 warp stripes in 8 different colors?)
  • Warp 3 yards instead of 2.5, just to be on the safe side

So how did it work out?IMG_0495

Here is Towel 3. I’m not sure why it’s not perfectly rectangular. I chose to work the weft stripes in the same order as the warp stripes (which I made as rainbow-y as possible this time). You can see the green-green intersection in the bottom left, and the yellow-yellow intersection in the top right. This sort of order pleases me. The finished towel is 20” x 13”, a little shorter than I wanted. I actually mismeasured something along the way and my unfinished length was only 22”. My mistake.IMG_0496

Towel 4 is very similar… but I didn’t mismeasure, and I worked the weft stripes a little differently. The finished size is 21.25” x 13”.


And wait, what’s this?! I got a Towel 5 out of this warp. I worked stripes regularly, because I didn’t know when the warp would end and I would have to stop. I didn’t love the idea of a white center area that wasn’t centered, so this doesn’t have a white center area. But I had plenty of warp, so this towel is the exact same size as #4.

I like the hem depth much better, too (and notice the hem on the bottom towel in the second picture is much neater than the top one):IMG_0443


A few more things to keep in mind for next time:

  • I had trouble clamping my loom onto the tables available to me, so I went ahead and bought a Cricket stand. I haven’t used it yet (you have to take apart the loom to put it on, so I could not pop the loom onto the stand in the middle of a project), but it’s ready to go for next time.
  • I need to cut a new piece of craft paper to place between layers of warp. I had a very hard time jimmying two pieces, trying to reach the very edge of the loom, and sometimes I missed. I think this caused the warp threads on one edge to be tighter than the others, which contributed to my trapezoidal towel shape.
  • I like the hemstich / handstitched hem and will continue to do that. The pattern designer did NOT call for the hemstitch, but I’m glad I did it.
  • I will check patterns carefully for PPI info.
  • I might weave a sample to get a better idea of shrinkage in the finished product (just like working a gauge swatch for knitting)


One good thing about the kit is that it contained plenty of yarn. I got 5 towels instead of 4, and I still have this much left!IMG_0504

I don’t really know how much it is, because I didn’t weigh the cones before beginning, and I don’t know how much the cardboard cones weigh without any yarn on them.

The rainbow yarn is 5/2 mercerized cotton, which is a little on the thick side. When I ordered the loom stand, I threw some more yarn into the basket. This is 8/2 unmercerized cotton (I also got the color card, for future reference):IMG_0505

If you’re curious about the difference between 5/2 and 8/2, here is what it looks like:IMG_0506

I have the pattern for Yarnworker’s Color-and-Weave Towels, which calls for 8/2. That’s what I plan to use this new yarn for. But that project will probably wait until after my summer travels. I don’t love the idea of leaving a job half done before walking away for weeks, and I don’t think I can finish it in the time I have. But there will be more towels!


  1. I have a new respect for kitchen towels ... and your weaving skills! They are beautiful, and I'm glad math gave you some much-needed information, but clearly the devil is in the lack of pattern details. I do love those 4x4 intersections!

  2. Beautiful weaving in spite of poor pattern instructions! I am glad you are not letting that little fact deter you from more weaving. Really, I love the colors (no matter the size), they are so bright and cheery!

    I am also so excited for you and your trip!

  3. These towels are beautiful -- I love all the colors. And I love your documentation of the thought processes and how you plan and what results. I have to admit the language of weaving isn't foreign to me as the language of spinning! I had to laugh at the way your wast yarn gathered up.

    These are so bright and cheery!