Combing the Shelves for Inspiration

Recently, I was figuring out the numbers for a set of handwoven dish towels. I wanted something quick and easy, so I decided on doing a solid white warp in 8/2 cotton and warping for a 4-shaft Finnish twill (the fancy name for Ms and Ws). White goes with every color, and the threading sequence is easy to remember, so if I could get the warp wound during the week, it would be a snap to get it on the loom on the weekend. Easy! Until I couldn’t find my book of notes where I keep all my information on sett, shrinkage, and ideal widths for projects I weave.

I realize now I could have easily gone online—a quick search on Weaving Today would have given me all the information I needed—but in the moment, I turned to my bookshelf and grabbed my copy of Handwoven’s Design Collection 18: A Treasury of Towels. I figured in a book full of towel designs there had to be at least one 8/2 cotton twill dish towel I could use as a guide.

handwoven dish towels

Monk’s Belt Kitchen Towels by DeeDee Woodbury

I’m sure I must have looked through this book before—I’ve had it practically since I started weaving—but I don’t think I’d ever really paid close attention to the weaves before. Maybe it’s because I’m more experienced than I was 5 years ago when I got my loom, and maybe I was just in the correct frame of mind to appreciate these projects anew, but after a few moments I forgot about my white warp and my Finnish twill towels. How did I never notice that these towels were so beautiful? How had I never woven any of them, or at the very least created designs based on them in some way?
Monk’s Belt Kitchen Towels by Deedee Woodbury

For example, Deedee Woodbury’s amazing Traditional Monk’s Belt Kitchen Towels are unbelievably beautiful in shades of green, violet, and blue. Though this booklet was published in 2002, these towels could easily end up in a copy of Handwoven today. Deedee used 12/2 cottolin in warp which isn’t available any more (so far as I can tell), but a quick search tells me 12/2 cotton is the same weight and will make an easy substitute. I stuck a sticky note on the page and added 12/2 cotton in natural to the top of my “Yarns to Buy” list.

A couple pages later is the M’s and O’s for a Bright Bath Towel by Louise Bradley. While my loom isn’t wide enough to weave the project, the happy jewel tones used in clever ways to emphasize the texture of the M’s and O’s pattern is definitely something I want to play with. I do think the colors are perfect for the bath, though, so I was thinking maybe a set of nice hand towels. Well, until I saw the Sauna Towels in Colorful Crackly by Kathleen Farling in a cool palette warmed up with a rusty red/brown. The crackle lets the colors play with one another making me think of cool blue ocean waves lapping up on a beach. Maybe I’ll just make two sets of hand towels for my

And then there are the lacy towels toward the end of the book—the sorts of towels you’d bring out on holidays and smile with knowing pride as your guests ask, “You really made this?”

Handwoven Dish Towels

Left to right: M’s and O’s for a Bright Bath Towel by Louise Bradley, Sauna Towels in Colorful Crackly by Kathleen Farling, and Heirloom Towels in Linen and Huck Lace by Ruth Morrison

“Oh these?” you’d answer demurely. “I did weave them—you know it really is easy if you know how. And they are just so much stronger and more absorbent than store-bought towels.” And maybe if you were feeling particularly generous, you might later throw on a warp and weave them up a set for their birthday.

Best of all, every towel in the collection can be woven on a 4-shaft loom (with some 2-shaft and 8-shaft variations thrown in as well) which is important for me because, even though it was back in November when I had a lam cable snap, I keep forgetting to put in an order for a new one. So, my 8-shaft loom is now temporarily a 6-shaft one. (Maybe I’ll do that now.) Of course, as much as I love the design possibilities of an 8-shaft loom, I often find
myself preferring 4-shaft patterns.

Now, I’m still going to weave my Finnish twill towels, but I am already plotting and planning thenext batch that will go on my loom. This has definitely been a lesson to me to return to my bookshelf and see what other books I haven’t opened in a while to find what treasures I missed the first time. I encourage you all to do the same! From books of drafts, to old issues of Handwoven, and even new-fangled eBooks, you never know what you’ll rediscover!

Happy Weaving,



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