Ask Madelyn: Turned Twills Defined

I’ve recently come across the term “turned twill” and cannot figure out what it means. Is this a specific technique or pattern?


Hi Norma!

It is the bane of weavers that no linguist (at least so far as we know) has totally researched the origins of our weaving words. We need an Oxford English Dictionary for weavers! And because no academic senate has ever met to determine what we are allowed to call things, we have an especially confusing hodgepodge of names and descriptors. Many of our names have no obvious relationship to what they are naming (or if they once did, we have lost the connection). Summer and winter, for example, got its name (we think) because woven historically with the usual dark (blue) pattern weft, one side of the fabric is mostly dark and the other side mostly light, hence a “summer” side and a “winter” side. Our names seem descriptive (like summer and winter and crackle and overshot), but you would only understand the connection if you knew a lot about the weave structure (and then you can really only guess how it got its name). Even where there is a written history of its origin, the name is not necessarily any better, as with Atwater-Bronson lace.

“Turned” twill is a block weave in which the pattern interlacement is 1/3 twill and the background interlacement 3/1 twill or vice versa. It should be called “twill blocks.” It got called turned twill (just guessing here) because if you rotated a group of threads weaving 1/3 twill 90 degrees, they’d be weaving 3/1 twill. Or, if you “turned” over a 1/3 twill, you’d have a 3/1 twill on the back.

So turned twill is a weave structure rather than a technique or pattern. “Pattern” is another word that confuses more than it identifies. Marguerite Davison’s book is called A Handweaver’s Pattern Book. It is full of drafts, each representing a particular threading and treadling that produce a design in a specific weave structure. Weavers used to think of drafts as “patterns,” in that you might get a “pattern” from another weaver and weave it as given. We no longer think of a draft as a pattern but more as an example of a design one might weave in a specific weave structure, such as overshot or twill. This means that we can create our own ways to thread the same structure for other designs rather than following someone else’s “pattern.”

To weave turned twill, you would start with a profile (block) draft (profile is another one of those names we have that doesn’t describe what it means). You could weave the same profile draft in another block weave. With block weaves you choose a weave structure and a design; the two choices are independent of each other. You need four shafts for every additional block of turned twill, so with eight shafts you can weave any two-block design. Check out some of the articles listed under “turned twill” in the Handwoven Index.


Posted December 16, 2015. Updated April 30, 2018.

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