The Tools You Need for Weaving Napkins

This is the third of a five-part series by Elisabeth Hill describing her process of designing a handwoven napkin project for Handwoven November/December 2018. The napkins are finished now and she is reflecting on the tools she used. Be sure to check out her earlier posts on weaving napkins: “huck horror” and “hapkins” (Happy Napkins).


Some wise person once said that one needs to balance the head, heart, and hand in any creative endeavor. Meaning, I imagine, that the analytical part (head) has to be balanced with the creative/emotional part (heart) and all tied together in a beautifully crafted whole (hand). I think this eloquently describes something we all strive for in our weaving, but something I find quite elusive. Too much head and you have an incredibly interesting math idea in the draft that doesn’t come alive at all in the cloth. Too much heart and you have a vervy mess that won’t survive long off the loom, and too much hand and you get something that is (head scratch) as good as store bought.

My approach to this challenge and my approach to my “Hapkin” project has been to get something on the loom as soon as inspiration strikes. To do this, I arm myself with an arsenal that I have assembled over the years to help me get closer to the elusive 3H harmony.

My number one tool is Fiberworks. Fiberworks enables me to draft out an idea (to see if what I think I want is really what I want) and start refining without the huge obstacle of having to erase and regraph every change on graph paper (“millimeter paper!” says my mentor Ute Bargmann).

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A portion of “weapon” number two. Photo Credit: Elisabeth Hill

The number two “weapon” is a fairly enormous yarn stash. My stash allows me to strike when the inspiration is hot, in many cases without having to wait for a yarn delivery. (Living 20 minutes away from WEBS yarn store and 15 minutes away from Vävstuga doesn’t hurt . . . “Doesn’t help!” or “Help,” says my husband.)

The third weapon is a love of loom dressing. Dressing my loom(s) may be my favorite part of the whole enterprise. At this point in the process, everything is potential, nothing has gone wrong and the “perfect” cloth of my imagination is poised to be woven. Part of my love of loom dressing is a hybrid style that I developed using Laura Fry’s Efficient Weaver video, advice from Ute Bargmann, and time working with Becky Ashenden, the famed “loom wrangler.”

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“A place of my own” Photo credit: Elisabeth Hill

My fourth weapon (this is an arsenal!) is “a place of my own”—a studio in my barn where scissors are where I last left them, straight pins, measuring tape, warp sticks and weights are all right at my fingertips when I need them, and my library is at hand to offer me the wisdom I need to solve almost any problem.

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A valuable source of information. Photo credit: Lisa Hill

And finally, as I look over this list, I see that a truly essential part of the endeavor of balancing the head, heart, and hand in weaving is the amazing platform built by my weaving brothers and sisters, i.e., Ingrid and Bob at Fiberworks, Barry and Jane at Schacht, Barbara and Art at WEBS, Ute and Becky, Interweave, and the most amazing collection of weavers and writers who populate my bookshelves and digital world.

There would be no “Hapkins” or even “Nopekins” without my comrades in art behind me.

To be continued . . .

—Elisabeth Hill

Start your own happy projects!

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