I did it! (I sound just like the Littlest Grandbeastie, Rosebud, there. Heh!) I finally and with Great Perseverance have finished:
The Surprisingly Difficult Waffle Weave Tea Towels
Date Begun: June 22, 2014
Date Completed: July 29, 2014
Project idea: from “All-Purpose Waffle-Weave Towels” by Marilyn Murphy, from Handwoven’s Design Collection 18: A Treasury of Towels.
Warp Yarn: New World Textiles 16/2 hemp/cotton, 55% hemp/45% cotton, natural (off-white).
Stripe Yarn 1: Blue Blazes (hemp/recycled blue jeans cotton) from New World Textiles, light denim blue, handspun on the brass tahkli and plied on Louet Victoria wheel, approximately 2/8.
Stripe Yarn 2: Organic cotton from Sally Fox, New Green (natural green), handspun on the brass tahkli and plied on Louet S-90 (?), a little finer than 2/16 cotton. Simmered in soda ash solution to bring out and stabilise the colour.
Warp length: 4 yds (4 towels @ 30” each plus loom waste)
Warp width: 20”, 601 ends sett at 30 epi (2 per dent in 15 dent reed) plus floating selvedges
Weft: same as warp. 2 towels woven with plain hemp/cotton and 2 with stripes at each end.
Finishing: Towels were cut apart, hems pressed, machine stitched with the same cotton sewing thread as used for the hem weaving. Finally machine washed and dried, both hot.
Comments: The original pattern used New World Textiles 10/2 organic cotton sett at 24 epi. My yarns were finer so I sett them closer. That was a good call, at least for the natural hemp/cotton.
I had GREAT difficulty with this project! I had to separately weight the jeans/hemp yarns, spritz frequently with water and slather everything with flax-seed sizing (aka snot!) to make them behave. Still ends broke constantly! (Mostly the jeans/hemp on shafts 1 and 4 which didn’t interlace as much as the other ends.) Lots of repairs to make. The last towel was 2.5" short but didn't want to chance trying to weave further. The shed was getting very small because of the heavy weights hanging off the warp bar. I even had to make string slings up to the loom frame to support the bar near the end.
After cutting off the loom it took 2 long sessions to finish repairing all the broken ends. However, the final results are quite lovely! They feel soft but crisp at the same time and are very absorbent. The finished towels ended up 14.5” wide by 23” long (except the last one which was only 20.5” long) – a nice hand size. You can’t even tell that the tension was wonky and there are many repairs in there! The hems are not too rippled and are in scale with the rest of the towels. I guess it was worth having nearly INFINITE patience with these things! I think I deserve a medal for sticking with it despite everything that went wrong.
I currently have the littler towel hanging in the bathroom and one of the others hanging on the oven door handle. In use already! Surprisingly, now I want to weave another project! Hopefully a much quicker and easier one. I even have it all picked out and ready to start. Kind of like getting back up on the horse that threw you, right? More on that soon.
Meanwhile, I want to tell you about 2 of the new books that I got. They are kind of related, both of them being about natural dyeing. First up, we have the latest by Jenny Dean:
This is quite a small book but it’s packed with really interesting information on the dye plants that have been used in Europe, in particular Great Britain, for hundreds of years with great success. Jenny is a really good writer and has a way of making the complex subject of natural dyes accessible for nearly anyone. Most importantly she combines the necessary information with encouragement to do your own experimentation. I find it the perfect middle ground between the rote “follow this exact recipe” and the airy-fairy “try anything and see” approaches. I’ve learned a lot from all of her books and this one is no different. The text is pretty dense so reading it carefully is most rewarding.
Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the repetition of much dyeing information that is already available in her earlier books. Though I suppose it’s really helpful to have it all in one volume especially if this was your only source of information. Jenny explains everything you need to know succinctly but thoroughly. Included this time is info on contact dyeing (sometimes called eco-printing) and on using lichens and fungi. The fibre of choice for the dye samples in this book is wool, including dyeing over natural shades of grey and brown wool. The abbreviations used in the photo captions were somewhat annoying until I finally found the key in the text on p.48.
I haven’t quite finished reading every word yet, but I’ve already discovered a couple of dye plants from my garden that I haven’t tried including buddleia and willow. And I’m quite excited about the 1-2-3 vat (aka the lime/fructose method developed by Michel Garcia) as used with woad (powdered extract). I have yet to experiment with this. Ah, so many plants – so little time!
The second book I got is this one:
The author here is a garden writer as well as a hobby farmer who includes fibre animals with her plants. Chris lives in Placerville, California, so she has a more North American viewpoint including woad as a noxious weed! However she has done her dyeing homework. The result is a gentle and easy to understand introduction and even though Chris insists she’s not scientific, there’s definitely enough clear info to be useful. This book will help even a beginner dyer get good results from plants that you can grow in your own yard and Chris happily gives reasons to play with the more fugitive colours, such as for dyeing eggs or play-dough. There are also instructions for watercolour dye paints, play silks and eco-dyed scarves as well as the usual fibres and yarns.
This little hardback book is a lovely production with lots of enticing photos and an interesting layout. It could benefit from a more comprehensive index rather than just the plant names though. Otherwise I thought it was pretty comprehensive as a way to get started with natural dyes and, as I already do, to grow them in your own dye garden. I enjoyed Chris’s personable friendly style.
Both Jenny Dean and Chris McLaughlin are careful to discuss environmental and safety issues in their books. This is a quite different approach to the “olden days” when natural dyers were flinging around the more toxic mordants and using the less nasty ones in much higher proportions than necessary. My Guild has even gone so far as to put a disclaimer sticker in all the older dye books in our library as a warning that the amounts and types of mordants are not now considered environmentally safe. We live and learn, right? Assuming we survive our original follies!
I have several more books and videos to review. More soon! Right now I’ve got dinner to get. Hungry…
Oh, oh, congratulations on the woven towels!!! I can't believe you did all that. Amazing! Absolutely Amazing. And you're ready for more of the same process. And dyeing, all that mysterious stuff. You must be a what was called a witch, right?
great towels - now the problems are behind you. like giving birth, ready for the next one.
Ha-ha!! Not really, pao darling. People have been weaving cloth for thousands of years. It's neither witchcraft nor rocket science. Not usually so difficult as this was though!
Also thanks, Jean dear. Not like giving birth either! I had one big one and one little one and they both are lovely adults with spouses and kids of their own now. Don't really think my towels can do that, can they? LOL!!
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