The Draft: Overshot Threading Then and Now

As weavers it’s not uncommon to come across weaving drafts that are decades or even centuries old. In her article for the November/December 2017 issue of Handwoven, Madelyn van der Hoogt teaches you how to decipher old overshot drafts. Check out the issue to discover more vintage drafts and projects inspired by famous weavers. ~Christina

Overshot is a miracle of design potential on only four shafts. Somewhere, sometime long ago, a weaver looked at 2/2 twill and said: What if I add a tabby weft and repeat each two-thread pair for longer floats? Incredible patterns evolved, shared by colonial weavers with each other on small pieces of precious paper. Luckily, many of these drafts were saved and have become part of our weaving literature. In some of the older sources, the drafting format looks very confusing. Here is a guide to using them.

In the days when paper was hard to come by and writing was done by dipping a quill in ink, drafting formats for weaving were as abbreviated as possible. Overshot patterns are so elaborate that they can’t be communicated by words or short repeats the way simple twills can (point, rosepath, straight, broken, etc.). Complete drafts are necessary. Threading repeats are often long—some with as many as 400 threads. A number of shorthand methods thereby evolved that are similar to our use of profile drafts for other block weaves. But the way overshot works doesn’t allow a strict substitution of threading units for blocks on a profile threading draft.


Overshot Threading

Overshot drafting formats: Figure 1 is from Davison’s A Handweaver’s Source Book, Figure 2 is from Weaver Rose, and Figure 3 is from Wilson and Kennedy’s Of Coverlets.

Figures 1–3 show the most common early drafting methods. (Compare their length with the thread-by-thread version in Figure 5.) In shorthand drafts, each overshot block contains an even number of threads, four per block in these. (Block labels in red are added to Figures 1, 2, and 3 for clarity.) In Figure 1, from Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Source Book, the numbers tell how many times to thread each block; the rows tell which block to thread (A = 1-2, B = 3-2, C = 3-4, and D = 1-4). Note how the blocks always start on an odd shaft to preserve the even/odd sequence across the warp. The first column of numbers on the right (2/2) means to thread Block A (shafts 1-2) two times, then thread Block B (shafts 3-2) two times, etc.

In Figure 2, the method used by Weaver Rose, the lines represent the shafts. The numbers represent the order in which to thread the shafts. Reading from the right: Thread shaft 1, 2, 1, 2 for Block A. Then, moving to Block B, thread 3, 2, 3, 2, etc. In Figure 3, from Of Coverlets, the pair of shafts for each block is given with the number of times to thread it. Reading from the right: Thread 1-2, 2x; 3-2, 2x; 3-4, 2x, 1-4, 2x, etc. Figure 4 shows the actual thread-by thread draft for Figures 1–3. It also shows the way this threading would appear in Keep Me Warm One Night. In the drafts in this book, each block is threaded with an even number of threads and circled.


Overshot Threading

Figure 4: Dorothy and Harold Burnham’s Keep Me Warm One Night. Figure 5: Threading draft derived from Figures 1–4 with blocks circled. Figure 6: Balancing the draft. Figure 7: The balanced draft.

However, in overshot, blocks share shafts. That is, Block A (on shafts 1-2) shares shaft 2 with Block B and shaft 1 with Block D. Block B shares shaft 2 with Block A and shaft 3 with Block C, etc. When, for example, Block B is woven, a pattern-weft float covers the four threads that have been threaded for Block B and the thread on shaft 2 in Block A and the thread on shaft 3 in Block C. The circled blocks in Figure 5 show the warp threads that will actually produce pattern in each block using the drafts in Figures 1–4. Notice that Block B on the right will show a weft float over six threads, but on the left over only four. The same imbalance occurs with Block C; see also the drawdown in Figure 8. In the drafts derived from these shorthand drafts, float lengths over blocks in symmetrical positions always differ from each other by two warp threads.

Unbalanced drafts can be balanced by removing (or adding) pairs of shafts from the circled blocks; see Figures 6–10. In fact, to reduce or enlarge any draft, first circle the blocks so that they overlap to include their shared threads as in Figure 5. Then add or subtract pairs of threads. Notice that Block D has an odd number of threads, which is true of all “turning” blocks. Turning blocks are blocks where threading direction changes (any shift from the ABCD direction to the DCBA direction or vice versa).

The overshot drafts in Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book and in Mary Meigs Atwater’s The Shuttle-Craft Book of American Hand-Weaving have all been balanced; see their drafting formats in Figures 11 and 12.

Overshot Threading

Figure 8: Blocks woven as drawn in (“star fashion”) for the unbalanced draft in Figures 1–5. Figure 9: Blocks woven as drawn in (“star fashion”) for the balanced draft in Figure 7. Figure 10: Blocks woven “rose fashion” for the balanced draft in Figures 7–9. Figure 11: Balanced draft from Davison. Figure 12: Balanced draft from Atwater.



Atwater, Mary Meigs. The Shuttle-Craft Book of American Hand-Weaving. Petaluma, California: Shuttle-Craft Books, 1951.
Burnham, Harold B., and Dorothy K. Burnham. Keep Me Warm One Night: Early Handweaving in Eastern Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972.
Davison, Marguerite Porter. A Handweaver’s Pattern Book. Revised edition. Swarthmore, Pennsylvania: Marguerite Porter Davison, 1977.
__. A Handweaver’s Source Book. Chester, Pennsylvania: John Spencer, Inc., 1953.
Safner, Isadora M. The Weaving Roses of Rhode Island. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave, 1985.
Wilson, Sadye Tune, and Doris Finch Kennedy. Of Coverlets: The Legacies, the Weavers. Nashville, Tennessee: Tunstede, 1983.

Featured Image: The Prim Rose Table Runner by Norma Smayda and Ann Rudman uses an overshot draft from Weaver Rose and translated by Norma Smayda. The project is featured in the November/December 2017 issue of Handwoven

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