A Weaving Project for Handwoven: Rising Shed, Sinking Feeling

I asked Elisabeth Hill to weave a project for Handwoven November/December 2018 and to write 5 posts about the experience of doing so. Unexpectedly, her first attempt at the project didn’t work out as she wished. I think most of us can relate to having what seems like a great weaving project fall apart on the loom. Here is her first post about that experience.


Rising Shed, Sinking Feeling

One of the best things about being a weaver is that when one gets that intermittent feeling of acquisitive desire, commonly solved (a little depressingly) with retail therapy, one can easily and happily turn it into a weaving project instead. For the last year or so I have been carrying on a fairly innocent flirtation with cloth napkins. I would look at them online, and when doing errands, I would nonchalantly examine table linens at restaurants and friends’ houses. As my passion grew, so did my determination to get a set on my loom.

I started with 2 sources of inspiration. One was a recent delivery of 13(!) colors of 10/2 naturally-colored cotton, and the second was a huck lace sampler in fine linen that I wove while enrolled in the Hill Institute weaving program . I added an obsession I have with circles, dots, and curves in weaving and began to imagine a whimsical set of huck polka-dot napkins using one color of color-grown cotton in the warp and a different color for each pair of napkins in the weft. I proceeded to draft and calculate.

weaving project

My huck lace sampler

To make a longish story shortish, I wound a warp long enough for 8 napkins plus a sample, I cut my sample napkin (woven using a weft color very similar to my warp) off the loom, washed, pressed, and liked it. So I proceeded to weave the other 8 napkins moving from weft colors very close to my warp color to weft colors that contrasted more and more. (Here a sinking feeling began.) I watched my beat—having experienced the huck hazard of more resistance in the plain weave areas than in the pattern areas. I improvised a temple (not owning one in the correct width ) to help with my beat and keep the selvedge threads from abrading too much. I made a measuring ribbon with inner hem, hem and napkin body marked, and I wove 8 napkins, all the same size, beat evenly, with nice selvedges. (The sinking feeling gets stronger.) I serged, washed, and pressed the napkins, and oh boy! They were ugly – dull and sad instead of happy and whimsical.

weaving project

My improvised temple.

weaving project

Using ribbon and a sharpie to ensure that all of my napkins were the same length.

weaving project

All the elements for the perfect set of napkins didn’t create the perfect set of napkins.

Huck, polka dots, lovely cotton fiber, attention to detail, whimsy—How did it go so wrong? As I look critically, I have a few ideas, but what I want to relate here is that whether you have woven a lot or a little, whether something goes wrong technically or aesthetically, “getting it wrong” is part of the process. Sometimes defining what you like is a process of determining what it is you don’t like. So I have a set of napkins that turned out to be a “dud.” I’m not discouraged; In fact, I’m already rolling the dice again re-imagining my dream date . . . in cottolin. . .

—Elisabeth Hill

Featured Image: Naturally colored cotton bounty. Photo Credit: All photos by Elisabeth Hill

Check out these resources for your own huck or napkin projects!


  1. Sidney F at 12:36 pm December 29, 2017

    Oh, Elisabeth, I sure wish my duds were as gorgeous and perfect as yours! I love bold colors, especially bunches of them, a veritable cacophony pleases me no end. But who on this planet doesn’t view perfectly handwoven, elegant and traditional napkins [with sophistication and a teensy bit of whimsy] as a totally fantastic acquisition? If you don’t care for them I bet you could gift them to a favorite family member who would see they get passed down for generations.

  2. Joan M at 9:55 am January 2, 2018

    Oh Elisabeth I know just how you feel. I got the same where are the curvy deflected huck threads when I wove a project like yours with just the tabby and “Huck Lace”. Then I relooked at samples like the curtain in your window and saw that the curves happen where one has woven a classic huck texture either warp or weft faced, and huck lace by itself just doesn’t give the wavy lines. Hope you find a treadling which gives you what you want.

  3. Diane L at 4:06 pm January 26, 2018

    I’m with Sidney and Mary on this one. I love those napkins! The two in the closer-match color weft are my least favorites, but only by comparison to the other 6 (because I like the greater contrast). You can make napkins for me anytime!

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