I am writing this from the kitchen of my new home. My husband and I purchased what can only be called a labor of love back in January. It’s a mid-18th century saltbox that has been haphazardly renovated over the years, most recently a half century ago, and greatly needed someone to bring a bit of life back into its old walls. We have spent evenings and weekends making slow progress toward this goal, and have finally moved in. We still have a long way to go until it looks like the house we envision, but for now we’re happy living within the walls of this work-in-progress.
Of course this leads me to weaving. The house has inspired an interest in the history of weaving and weavers in Colonial America. Over the holidays I treated myself to a copy of The Coverlet Book Early American Handwoven Coverlets by Helene Bress. There is a wonderful review of this book on WeaveZine that you can read here (http://weavezine.com/reviews/coverlet-book). I plan to delve a bit more into overshot in the coming months, a weave structure that has always intrigued me, but rarely found its way onto or my loom. I wrote about my very first overshot experience here (https://www.schachtspindle.com/blog/2008/04/confessions-of-novice-weaver-final-week.html). My floats were longer than the “rules” might like, but as you know, I tend to think, “rules shmools”.
Period textiles aside, I have been dreaming of weaving curtains for every window in the house, or at least most of them. I’ll weave new table linens and hand towels and rugs and runners. Our home will be a showcase of weaving! An extravaganza of weaving! Weaving here, weaving there, weaving, weaving everywhere! But where to begin?
I decided to start with the bathroom. This was the first room we tackled as part of our renovation project, and naturally a place where one appreciates a bit of privacy (especially when one’s neighbor lives about 30 feet away). Off to peruse the stash!
I had acquired a large cone of cottolin; the label called the color pecan and was exactly the sort of natural color I was looking to use. The color is lovely, but I’m not sure it is entirely accurate choice of a color name, which seems to be a bit less brown than an actual pecan.
I think that cottolin is a wonderful material to use in weaving. It has a bit of the aesthetic qualities of linen along with the somewhat more forgiving nature of cotton all rolled into one. If you are interested in weaving with linen, but want an interim step to warm you up, cottolin is an excellent choice. This particular cottolin, from Phoenix Dye Works, has a thick and thin quality about it that I like. It gives the finished fabric a slightly more rustic look that fits perfectly with our square little home.
This project, which I wove on my 20” Flip rigid heddle loom using two 8-dent rigid heddles, was woven in three sittings: one to warp and two to weave. I was amazed at how quickly it all came together, even with the slightly finer sett. Don’t let the size of a project intimidate you. Curtains might seem like a big undertaking, but in reality can be a quick and easy project.
On a side note, my friend Tracey gave me a great suggestion. When she finishes up a weaving project, she makes a note in her project notebook (you are keeping a project notebook, right?) of what she would do differently if she were to weave the same project again. I thought this was a brilliant idea. How often are you mostly satisfied, but not 100% satisfied with what you have woven? Or maybe you have a flash of inspiration mid-project. Don’t let those ideas disappear. After finishing this project, I have decided to take out the machine stitching I used to create the hems and re-stitch them by hand for a more invisible and handmade finish. Thanks Tracey!
When making curtains, the first thing you should do is measure your windows. From there you need to decide if you want a single panel or a pair of panels, how you want them to look when hanging, and how much of the window you want to cover.
Here is my example. My bathroom window measures 24” wide x 48” high. I am planning to hang a blind to cover the entire window overnight, but wanted a bit of privacy during the day without blocking out all of the wonderful sunlight we get in the afternoon. I decided that a pair of panels covering two-thirds of the window would be a good solution.
Since I wanted my finished curtain to measure 36” long, I added 5” total for hems at the top and bottom (I wanted ample room for a curtain rod), 4” for take-up, 3” for shrinkage and 17” for loom waste. Since my plan was to make two panels, I doubled the sum of the finished length plus hems, take-up and shrinkage, then added my loom waste to come up with a warp length of 113”.
I wanted a finished width of 17” per panel so that I would have nice full curtains. I added 3” for shrinkage and draw-in, which meant warping my 20” Flip rigid heddle loom its full width.
Using two heddles is fairly straightforward. Jane Patrick has written excellent instructions that can be found in the Schacht Winter 2007 Newsletter. With a sett of 16 epi multiplied by my weaving width of 20”, I needed a total of 320 ends, times my warp length of 113” = just over 1,000 yards of yarn for my warp.
For the weft, a balanced weave of 16 ppi times the 20” weaving width (22” per pick) = 352” of weft yarn needed per inch woven. Since I was weaving two 48” panels, the total amount of weft yarn needed was about 940 yards.
To add one small layer of complexity to the project, I decided that I wanted a subtle pick-up pattern to run across the bottom of each curtain. To ensure that the patterning was woven in the same place on each panel, I cut two measuring strings of 48” each. I wove a header using some bulky scrap yarn so that I was starting out with a nice fell line. Then I switched to the cottolin. I wove 4” in plain weave, pinning the first measuring string along the selvedge at the start of my weaving (not including the header). When weaving plain weave with two rigid heddles, simply hold them together and weave as though they were one unit.
The pick-up pattern I used created small weft floats:
Pick-up stick: 2 up, 2 down (remember to put your rigid heddle in the down position when inserting the pick-up stick so that you are only picking up threads in the slots.)
2. Pick-up stick (otherwise known as PU)
In this case, when the pattern calls for PU, your rigid heddles should be in the neutral position, and you create a shed using only the pick-up stick.
I wove this pattern for a total of four repeats, and then continued along with my plain weave, pinning the measuring string along the selvedge as I went.
When I hit the end of the first measuring string, I wove two picks with a piece of odd colored scrap yarn to indicate my mid-point. I wove 4” in plain weave, pinned the second measuring string down, wove four repeats of the pick-up pattern, and then continued along in plain weave until I got to the end of my second measuring string. At this point the fabric was ready to be removed from the loom, zigzag stitched along the cut edges and washed.
I machine washed my fabric on the delicate cycle in warm water and air dried it. A good steam pressing was next, and this included pressing the hems so that I would have an easier time stitching them into place. I zigzagged the hems, but as I noted earlier, I’ll be picking this stitching out and replacing it with a simple hand stitch so that the hems are concealed. Be sure when you are pressing your hems, that the pick-up patterns line up on each panel. At least in my ideal world, they should hang evenly next to each other.
With my first pair of curtains finished, I am ready to move onto the next room. I may use a bit of Spanish lace this time. I love how you can weave across your warp and then back again to create a sort of oak leaf type design. What will you weave?