One of the best aspects of being a weaver is working with cool fibers. By “cool” I mean, cotton, linen, hemp, and other cellulose fibers. During the hot summer months, we need not have a pile of wool on our laps or run it through our fingers. Warp your loom with some lovely cellulose and weave yourself a set of towels during your summer vacation. Here are my best tips for tackling the towel.
Choose Your Fiber Wisely
It is tempting to grab that inexpensive bulky cotton off the big box store shelf, but be warned that not all cottons are alike—some are great and some will fade and shred. To test the yarn, take a little bit in your hands and scratch your thumbnail back and forth across the yarn and see what happens. If little fibers easily start sluffing off, this is what is going to happen with repeated washings. Easily is the operative word, all short-stapled fibers, such as cotton, will sluff a little bit, but they shouldn’t do so excessively. Please be respectful of your yarn seller, a good shop owner should be able to direct you toward the best yarns to use for your project. Cotton likes to be spun fine, tight, and smooth. The most hardwearing bulky cottons are ones made of multiple plies of fine, tight, and smooth singles.
For more info on the different kinds of cotton available to weavers, check out one of my most popular blog posts on the different types of cotton. Linen is also an awesome choice for heirloom quality towels, but it can be tricky. My most recent Get Warped column in Knitty is packed with tips on weaving with linen.
Use a Guide
It is a big bummer to weave off a set of towels only to have them end up in different sizes. To weave multiple objects of the same size, use a paper guide. To make a guide, cut a narrow piece of paper the length of your project. I save the strips of paper left from trimming kraft paper to size for packing my warp. Pin the guide to your work as you weave, starting and ending according to the guide.
Make Friends with Long Warps
I love putting on a long warps and weaving off multiple towels, making each one slightly different from the next. If you are using the direct method, you can use a warping board or other peg system to consolidate a long warp so that it isn’t strung across the room. Please note, I’m not exactly using good form in this photo. It is best to line up your warping board with the middle of your loom so your warp isn’t coming to the loom at such a steep angle. This will foreshorten your warp on one side. I find it is easier to use the indirect method for long warps, but it might not be easier for you.
I also recommend that you use a loom wider than your project. It is tempting to use up every inch of width your loom offers you, but give yourself and your warp some breathing room. When you add packing paper or sticks, you need to leave room for your hands and fingers to work on either side of the warp. No matter how careful you are, if you are working right up to the edge of your loom and you have a long warp, you are going to introduce tension problems.
If you are using fine threads and long warps, tension problems may happen anyway. It’s not a sign that you are a bad warper, it just comes with the territory. I keep S-hooks handy to weight pesky threads that become loose while weaving. To weigh the naughty warp end, slip an s-hook over the yarn and let it hang off the back side of the loom.
Cut It Out
If my mistake is more than a few rows back, I cut them out instead of weaving back. This saves time and wear and tear on my warp. I keep a pair of sharp embroidery scissors and a tapestry needle handy for this reason. With your loom under tension, carefully snip the weft down the middle of the warp. With the weft loops at the selvedges loose with the needle or your fingernails instead of your fingers to keep from pulling on your selvedges too much. Once you have a loop worked free of the edge, then you can pull the weft out with your fingers.
Fringe in towels is almost always a bad idea, it gets ratty over time. Some of that ratty is boho chic, but unless you are using extremely fine high-quality yarn, it is mostly boho bad news.
I love hand hemming hanwovens. I spent all this lovely time with my towels and this gives me the opportunity to spend a little more. I’m often found at knit-ins with my hemming in my lap. I find the look of a hand-sewn hems more appealing than machine sewn, but I perhaps stare at my towels more than most. If you are handy with a sewing machine you can also machine sew, you hems easily. You may need to fiddle with your stitch length and tension to accommodate the bulkier fabrics.
If you are looking for a towel pattern, check out Yarnworker’s two towel patterns or Cotton Clouds towel patterns as part of their kit club—you can also buy them separately. The Dealer’s Choice towels on the cover of the revised edition of Weaving Made Easy also work up quickly and offer a lot of experimentation with color.