Penelope Scarves, Coded in Cotton

This in the first weaving that evolved out of reading the story of Penelope, a woman from a long time ago, who was waiting for her husband to return, and passed the time while waiting, weaving during the day and unweaving again through the night.  And I started thinking about what we think about while we are weaving.  And I thought about how many of us weave for loved ones who are not at home with us.  Family and friends who have gone off to serve in the military, or to work overseas, or to a different part of our country.  Children who have gone off to school, or to start their own life in a different city.  Sisters and friends who are no longer close by.  Others that we cannot be with during these Covid times.

We are makers.  We make things with our hands and with our hearts.  My daughter says that when she cooks with love, the food always tastes better.  And it really does.

Then I thought about how we can let our loved ones know how much we care and respect who they are, what they do, and where they go.  And I thought about real messages, secretly coded into the cloth.  I looked around and started seeing bar codes everywhere, on practically everything we buy and use.  Bar codes are a series of light and dark lines, the order of which describe a product.  The bar code is scanned, and the computer interprets the code and identifies the product.  So, I searched the internet and found out the order of the light and dark lines of the bar code that represent the letters of the alphabet.  It really is a form of colour and weave: For instance, A is DDLDLDLLDLDD.

I simplified it a bit so that every letter represents 12 threads in a light and dark pattern.  Then I thought of a person who is going off to travel on a grand adventure, and I coded the message “Go, make memories” into the scarves. 

So, a subtle message embedded into the cloth.  I made the scarves in a lighter and a darker colour of Fox Fibre naturally coloured cotton, light green and coyote, and I separated each letter with a dark brown thread of 2/8 cotton.  Sett at 20 ends per inch.  I wove the first scarf in straight twill, with a border in brown basket weave and twill.

The second scarf on the same warp was woven in plain weave with organic cotton in the colour “Curry”, and naturally coloured “Coyote”

So, certainly not a coded message that can be read with a bar code scanner, but you, the weaver, know that the message is there. What messages do you weave into your cloth?

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2020 in Review, and Welcome 2021

2020 was a year of isolation and introspection.  I spent much more time in and around home, and much less time out in the world.  At first, the isolation was hard, but as time went on our guilds figured out how to meet and have programs, and rhythms began to emerge.  It was good to have meetings again, even if they were virtual, and this pushed me to have something finished each month for show and tell.

In 2020 I wove 70 items on 23 different warps.   Three of my favourites from 2020 are:

Chocolate Mint Tea Towels, inspired by chocolates, and waiting to be hemmed.
Chocolate Mint Scarf on the same warp, a bit of pink accents added in

In Chocolate Mint, I love the big blocks and stripes that come up in just two colours.  I also like how the hand and look of the fabric changes when I moved from weaving with cotton for the towels, to weaving with silk for the scarves.

Overshot Scarf, silk and bamboo weft on cotton ground

Overshot is silk just glows. Changing the background colours added interest and movement as the colours shifted.

Simple linen striped tea towel

Here the simple plain wave structure is combined with symmetrical stripes and soft, absorbent linen.  It feels like a heritage piece.

In 2020 I became more confident as a weaver.  A highlight was being published in, and on the cover of the Sep/Oct 2020 issue of Handwoven magazine.  I have also become more mindful in my weaving and I am learning to be more present and focused in what I do. 

Moving into 2021 I am starting a long-term, multi-part project and building a collection.  Well, if every textile has a story behind it, then it stands to reason that every story has a textile connected to it.  I am gathering stories, myths, fables, legends and fairy tales that have some aspect of weaving or spinning or textiles involved.  I want to examine how the weaving, spinning, or other textile impacts the story and the characters.  I am re-imagining the stories with a textile twist, and then designing a textile inspired by the story.  Then that textile will become part of the collection.  So, you will hear more about this project as the year moves along. 

The first story I am working on is Rumpelstiltskin, and the textile concept is spinning straw into gold.  From a spinner’s perspective, if the “straw” of the story is flax, then the “gold” must be a lustrous linen thread.  The value of textiles throughout history would, at times, overshadow the value of gold.

I have designed a linen table runner “Rumpel’s Runner” to be this story’s textile. This project is currently on my loom, awaiting completion.

Moving into 2021 all three looms are dressed,

The Baby Wolf holds “Rumpel’s Runner”, in fine 40/2 linen in natural flax colour.  It is hard to see the pattern on the loom, but it will become more evident once it is off the loom and washed.  Weaving here requires full care and attention, keeping in mind the springiness of the linen, and a sixty-pick pattern count.  It is hard to see the lace pattern emerging on the loom, and some unpicking happens when I get lost.  I am enjoying the look and feel of the linen.

on the loom, 8-shaft huck circles inside huck lace squares

The Queen is dressed with a simple scarf in naturally coloured cotton, light green and coyote brown, and accents of 2/8 cotton in dark brown.  Easy and restful weaving, I love the feel of the cotton in my hand, and watching the web build up is easy on my eyes.  I understand that the colours of the naturally coloured cottons will deepen and intensify upon washing, so I am looking forward to seeing the difference.

cool cotton scarf
View from the breast beam, naturally coloured cotton scarf with accents of dark brown

You can see a theme emerging here of natural colours in natural materials.  Calm, restful, cool cellulose.

The Ashford table loom hold a carpet warp to weave mug rugs based on the samples in Jane Stafford Online Guild episode 4.9-Weft Faced Twills.  I decided to weave the samples mug rug size to help my materials stretch further.  With only 69 ends and sett at five ends per inch this warp was super fast to get dressed on the loom.  The weaving however is super, super slow.  It took me three full hours to weave one 6-inch-wide, 7-inch-long mug “carpet”.  My daughter suggested that these be called mug carpets instead of mug rugs, because they are very heavy and dense.   Here I get to play with colour and symmetry, and graphic division of space.  A lot of design considerations go into each little carpet.  I expect it will take me a good long while to work through five yards of warp. 

Wishing the best for everyone as we move into the new year. Happy Weaving.

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Basket Weaves in Blue

These tea towels came off the loom just in time for Christmas Gift Giving. 

The towels are a combination of twill and basket weave inspired by JST Online Guild Episode 4.7.

I pulled out all my partial spools of blue 2/8 cotton – pale blue, chambray, cobalt, royal, periwinkle, and marine blue.  These went into the warp in different twill threadings.  Then I used black 2/8 cotton to form the separating stripes, threaded as basket weave.

I wove the towels using different colours and different twill treadling ideas.

One towel was woven using only basket weave treadling.

Changing colours, I used up more partial spools. This one has light purple as weft.

The last one I wove, using the colours and threadings “as-drawn-in”, or “trop as writ”, where the weft colours and twill patterns follow the order of the warp threading.

My warp was six yards long, and 21 inches wide in the reed.  I wove five different towels, approximately 33 inches long each, and a small sample.

These towels were a delight to weave.  My frugal self enjoyed the opportunity to use up odd bits of yarn, and the project provided an ever-changing “loom landscape” with shifting patterns and colour changes.  I was pushed to weave just a few more rows each time I sat down at the loom.

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My December Design and Planning Process:

Each year, through the month of December, I set up my planning calendar for the new year, to determine what I want to accomplish in the upcoming year, with respect to my weaving and spinning goals.  There are so many ideas and projects floating through my mind, but I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish in one year.  Throughout 2020 I have kept an “Ideas List” on my computer, and when I see something, I find interesting or think of something I might like to do, or something I need to do, I put it on my ideas list.  Now in December, I look at the list and make decisions on which ideas will move onto the 2021 project list.  Do I ever finish everything on my annual schedule?  No, but it gives me a direction and a goal post.  When I fall into an overwhelm situation, I can easily decide what to drop. Or, if an opening appears I can go back to my idea list.

Most of the time I begin with the end in mind.  I ask myself a question – at the end of this what do I want to have in my hand?  And of course, what is this?

Sometimes, the this is a simple one-off: 

  • A friend’s birthday is coming up and I want to make a scarf for her
  • I want to gift tea towels to my family members for Christmas
  • I want to make samples to try out a new technique or a new yarn

Sometime, the this is driven by guild requirements or another weaving event.  These pieces usually have a deadline:

  • Our guild is putting on a display to follow our study of Swedish textiles
  • Our study group is studying double weave
  • Our guild has been asked to participate in a show at the museum
  • To create an item of clothing to enter in the ANWG conference fashion show
  • I want to create pieces to sell at our guild’s annual show and sale
  • I want to create samples for a workshop I will teach
  • I want to weave the samples for each lesson of the JST Online weaving guild

Sometimes the this is more complex, more nebulous, more overreaching and will involve a series of coordinated pieces.  These project series could take several months or years to complete, no rush.

  • I want to create a series of pieces to memorialize the life of my mother and grandmother
  • I want to create textiles to represent music, a song, a story, or a movie that resonates with me
  • I want to create a series of shawls that show the evolution of fashion over the centuries
  • A challenge:  If I could invite three people, living or dead, to a dinner party what would I wear? What would they wear? What would the table settings look like?  What would the upholstery on the chairs look like?  What would I serve?
  • I want to work through one of my weaving books, (For example “Weave Classic Crackle and More” by Susan Wilson) and make pieces to reinforce the learning.

Now, I take out my calendar for 2021 and start filling it in.  First go in the hard deadline dates:  Guild meetings, show dates, birthdays, anniversaries, workshops, and conference dates.  Then I look at each of these dates and decide if I need to have anything finished for these dates.  For instance, until this COVID-19 thing is cleared up, for 2021 there are no conferences or shows scheduled yet.  I do have a friend’s Birthday coming up in April.  I have a 50th wedding anniversary for a couple in August, and a vow renewal event for another couple in August as well.  And family tea towels for Christmas are traditional.  I’m not sure exactly what I am making for each of these events, but I know that I will have to do something.  Working back from these deadline dates, I schedule the project to be completely finished one week before the event.  So, for example, working backwards from completion date, and being generous with the time frame, because, you know, things happen, I would schedule the Christmas tea towels as follows:

  • December 18 – Christmas towels completed
  • December 15 – all towels hemmed
  • December 11 – towels off the loom and ends zig-zagged and wash, dry, press
  • Nov 20 – start weaving towels
  • Nov 13 – dress the loom for tea towels
  • Nov 6 – measure warp for towels
  • Oct 23 – gather or order materials for towels
  • Oct 16 – design/plan warp for towels.

December 2020 towels on the Queen.  I have a strip of led lights attached to the underside of the castle.  These have been held on by masking tape for the last year.  I really need to get them attached more permanently.  In the middle of the castle I have attached a clear file pocket that hold the plan for my current project when I need it.

Each of these dates are marked on my planning calendar. I would create this kind of time line for each project that need to be completed by a certain date.

Next, I schedule in the soft deadline dates.  Some of these are pretty open ended, but I schedule them nonetheless.  They fit around the hard deadline projects, and I can usually work on more than one thing at a time.  Each piece will be in a different part of the process. 

For instance, I am following along with the JST Online Guild projects.  The episodes go live every five weeks, so I would look at my calendar and once I know the date the episodes will go live and the topics, I will decide if I am going to do a particular project.  I look for a three-week period between when, for instance, episode (1) goes live, and episode (2) goes live to dedicate to the project.  I want to fit the project in that three-week window, which is doable, because the pattern and material and sett are given, so it goes on the loom, woven, off and finished within the window.  If my calendar is already occupied for that time frame, or I don’t have the right materials, or the loom is otherwise occupied, then I can defer a project to November/December/ early January.  In any case, I want to complete the episodes for this season before the new season begins.  All of the episode projects are scheduled in my calendar.

Study Groups and Self-Directed Learning:   These projects require time for research and design.  Time is blocked off in the calendar for this, and then the actual project activities as described above are scheduled, once the research and design is completed.

Long-term, overarching, complex, multi piece project.  I pick only one overarching topic to work on throughout the year.  This may mean more than one woven piece, but they will all be related to the chosen topic.  These are the pieces that define me as an artist, where my artistic vision and voice are found, that will develop as part of my legacy.  They take time.  I will block off large chunks of time to develop and define the theme.  To brainstorm.  To incubate.  To research.  To sample.  To design.  To produce.  To reflect.  To revise.  Again, and again.  These projects move as fast or as slow as they must.  But by blocking out time devoted to the theme, it keeps the project moving forward.  

Documentation and Reflection:  I block out one afternoon a week to work on documentation and reflection.  I keep a studio log and file for each project to record hours and materials used.  This helps me determine a price if I choose to sell the item, and gives each piece value.  It also helps me know how long it will take to make a similar item.  After each project all the relevant paperwork and samples are gathered together in the file and stored for future reference.  I also fit in time to sit in silence with myself and reflect on what I am doing, how things are going, what went well, what was challenging, what do I want to change, where do I go from here?

Of course, things will happen throughout the year that can change my plans: the birth of a baby, a new family member, the guild could be invited to participate in a show, a conference opens up, a study group changes topic.  Or, on reflection, a finished piece may propel me on a tangent of deeper exploration.  Or, I could really dislike something enough to abandon a course and cut it off the loom and change direction.  But, going into January, I have a plan and a schedule, I know I can meet deadlines, and keep moving towards my goals.

I have three active looms in my studio.  The Queen is the workhorse, 4 shaft, 48 inches wide, 6 treadles.  The tie-up mainly stays in a plain weave  /  2/2 twill format, and The Queen is used for these straightforward weaves.  Loomella is an 8 shaft Baby Wolf, 26 inches wide, 10 treadles.  Used for 4 or 8-shaft projects that fit in 26 inches. 

December 2020 – Loomella holds an 8 shaft huck diamond pattern for table runners

The third loom is an 8 shaft Ashford table loom, 32 inches wide, on a stand.  The Ashford is used for 8 shaft projects that require more than 10 treadles, or have frequent tie-up changes.  Currently it is naked.

I spend 25 to 30 hours per week in my studio, taking care of all of the planned processes and projects described.

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Aprons in Gingham Check

Here we have a couple of simple half-aprons, with gathered skirts, woven in plain weave.  To accommodate loom width, the apron is woven sideways, with top and bottom on the selvedges.  The warp for the bottom side of the apron is solid charcoal gray, and the remainder of the warp has narrow 4 and 4-thread stripes in charcoal and natural coloured cotton.

Here is an image of the layout and cutting diagram.  This then, fits a loom that is more than 28 inches wide.  For an even narrower loom, this could be woven in 23 inches to accommodate the skirt, and the waistband and ties could be woven lengthwise after the skirt.

Once off the loom, the fabric was turned sideways, and the side hems on the skirt were sewn and pressed.  The waist band was cut to 25 inches long and the checked edge of the apron skirt gathered to fit the waist band.  Then the ties were stitched lengthwise to form a tube, turned right side out and attached to the ends of the waistband with right sides together.  The top of the waist band was folded down to cover all the raw edges, and stitched down, and there it is!

The fun of creating a more “neutral” warp is that any colour can be added in the weft.  The weft is woven in narrow 4 and 4-thread repeats resulting in gingham check for the top of the apron, and creating a bottom border in stripes. For one apron I used a turquoise and white 4 and 4 pick pattern to make the gingham check.  In the second apron I used lilac and charcoal for a more muted gingham.  Below is a close-up of the fabric samples.

These aprons remind me of growing up in the 50s and 60s, and my mother, who always wore an apron in the home as she went about her days.  Food preparation from fresh ingredients always took a little longer, and was always served at the table. The apron came off and was hung on the hook beside the refrigerator as we sat down to dinner.  The television was turned off and the phone went unanswered as we ate the meal and talked of our respective days.  The focus was on good food and family ties.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends.

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Dye Day

It has been a strange and slow year.  Staying inside.  A lot.  And still, not really doing a lot.  I have been recovering from a rotator cuff injury in my shoulder and that stopped my weaving ability for a while.  I am now about 85% improved and can weave for short sprints of time.  I’m now up to about 45 to 60 minutes a day, with about 20 to 30 minutes a go. 

On the plus side, that gave me time to reflect and plan, and design, and read and learn.  And I now have a lot of ideas and projects waiting patiently in the wings, and a new energy to get going. 

This scarf I started in August and have recently finished.  The Coquitlam Guild spent a glorious sunny afternoon in August in President Rosie’s big back yard enjoying a socially distanced dye day with indigo.  I wound a random mixed silk warp, using up various small bits and pieces, clearing off bobbins.  Some were fine silk threads, some medium, some mixed with cotton or rayon or linen.  I added just two ends of a beautiful silk chenille, and two ends of a silk boucle for texture.  I only had the opportunity for one dip in the indigo, (I was talking with my friends too much) so a paler indigo colour came out, and all of the different yarns took up the dye in different amounts, so it was a fun experiment.  The best part of the day was being able to sit and visit with friends and catch up on what everyone had been working on. 

The warp went on the loom in a simple straight draw twill.  For weft I used my favourite Jane Stafford 2/20 silk in Stormy Teal, with accents in a pinky purple called Starfish.  Sett 20 epi, and woven 20 ppi.

A silky scarf with great memories attached.

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Sweet, Simple Linen

A sweet short warp to use up some of my smaller bits of linen thread.  Enough for one towel and one scarf.  The colours are mirrored from the centre, with Fibonacci sequencing.  The warp is mixed linens, some Euroflax, some 2/16 and the green is a fine singles.    All of the warp, as far as I can tell is line linen.  Simple, straight draw threading.

One towel with a fine singles tow linen as weft.  A little thick and thin in places as tow linen is.  Simple, calming plain weave.  Soft and absorbent tea towel.

One scarf with silk weft.  Straight draw 2/2 twill.  A few random linen stripes along the way.  It has the softness, luster, and drape of the silk, and a little of the crunchiness of the linen.  Rustically beautiful.

Easy, relaxing weaving for a slow summer’s day.


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Collapse Weaving

These two scarves are pretty much straight out of JST Season 3, Episode 6, Collapsing plain weave.  The only changes I made were to add some colour and weave effects to the silk stripes and squares.  There are 30 ends in each silk stripe.  I divided one stripe in half, 15 threads of orange, followed by 15 ends purple.  The next silk stripe I placed five alternating stripes of six threads in orange and purple, and for the third, alternating two ends by two ends.  In some of the weft squares, I mirrored the warp colour sequencing.  I thought this added some interesting colour stories.

The weaving was easy and fast, except for the stopping to change colours.  Fifteen ends per inch, fifteen picks per inch.  I played with the colours and materials, soft and matte vs slick and shiny. Off the loom they came is in quick succession.  Two scarves and a sample, each slightly different.  One in squares, and one in stripes.  I twisted the fringes and admired the colour combinations.

And then I froze.  All of a sudden, I had a fear of washing.

Not totally surprizing considering my last adventure of accidental over-felting that left me in tears.  Not yet to be talked about in polite society.

Three weeks passed.  The scarves mocked me each time I walked past them draped over the chair in my studio.  They called to me like a siren’s song, “wash me, wash me.”

I held my breath.  I washed the sample.  It turned out OK.  But the scarves were bigger, with more chance of messing up.

Two more weeks, and still the scarves taunted me.  “Chicken” they called.

Finally, the stress of leaving something unfinished became greater than the fear of failure.  I washed, agitated and checked carefully until I got just the right amount of fulling.  Washed and air-dried, the scarves are bouncy and light and, most importantly, done.


In case you haven’t guessed, my weaving mantra is “It’s not finished until it’s finished.  Things undone are things not fun!”


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Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

So, as many of you know, I have been trying to keep up with the lessons in Jane Stafford’s Online Guild.  Now that we are in Season 4, my approach is to watch the videos, take notes, and absorb the information presented.  Then I let it sit for a bit and gather its juices while I wait for availability of looms and materials and inspiration.

I understand the value of sampling, however, I have reached a time in my life and in my weaving, where I don’t want to fill another drawer with samples.  I want my samples to be both beautiful and useful, and out where I can see them.  And here I am at Season 4, Episode 3, Small Threadings Gamp.  Heck, I thought, I can make my samples tea-towel size, then I can see them hanging in my kitchen and use them as needed.

I do remember hearing Jane say not to make the samples in too fine a thread, because it is visually harder to see the details of the thread interaction, but I thought, I’ll be ok.  I put on an eight-yard warp of butter coloured 2/8 cotton, with red dividers, and went for it.  I kind of like the fact the details gets lost from far away, but can be filled in and studied as you hold the cloth close, as you might do when drying dishes.

Boy, are they busy!  The first two towels I wove in dark brown for high contrast.   I love the punctuation of the red basket weave hems.


Two turquoise, a nice contrast.  Notice how the red dividers in the warp look so different from the red dividers in the weft, even though they are exactly the same colour.

Two light brown.  I liked this soft contrast, but I didn’t like the extra long floats I can see in the bottom of the second towel.

All different treadlings.  And the last towel I wove with all three weft colours, as well as the yellow from the warp and the red used in the dividers,  all while trying out different border ideas.  Kind of my favourite.

All fun.  All nice.  Just different than the picture in my mind.  And that’s what makes weaving such an interesting journey.


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Overshot on Plaid

Over the last year or so, I have been working through a series of scarves in Overshot and exploring the variations of this weave structure.  In today’s scarves, I have been influenced by the lessons of Jane Stafford and her Online Guild, which introduced me to the concept of using silk weft on a cotton ground, and the concept of overlay.  Another strong influence was Robyn Spady’s workshop “Extreme Warp Makeover” where we explored using many variations of weft and treadling on a classic weave structure.  Both great teachers.

For these two scarves, woven on an overshot treadling, I considered the traditional Overshot structure where a coloured pattern weft is woven over a solid neutral plain weave ground.

For this study, I thought, what would happen if I start with a plaid as my ground cloth.  This one has a blue square in each corner, intersected with a yellow stripe, and two red squares in the centre, bordered by black stripes.  So, red, yellow, blue and black are the colours in play.  The warp is 2/8 cotton, sett at 18 ends per inch.

For tabby weft I chose Bambu 12 in colours similar to the warp.  Bambu 12 is soft and drapey, very light in weight, and about half the gist of the cotton warp.

For pattern weft, I chose 2/20 silk, which is about the same size as the 2/8 cotton, but stands out as the pattern weft because of the way it picks up and reflects the light.  The pattern design is called Orange Peel.

For the first scarf I chose Black Magic, 2/20 Tussah Silk, and dark green Sitka Spruce, 2/20 Bombyx Silk as the pattern colours.  Some of the pattern motifs are woven in just one colour, others in a combination of both.  I wove the pattern “tromp-as-writ”, star-fashion, with the tabby weft following the warp colour order.  Understated elegance.  In the first photo you can clearly see the blue corner squares, the centre red square and the yellow and black accent colours creating the plaid.

For the second scarf, Robyn Spady’s influence came out to play.  I wove the overshot pattern in a “what if, as if”, manner.  What if I switched colours as I went along?  What if I treadled the pattern as if it were summer and winter, or as if it were twill or monk’s belt, as if it were crackle, as if it had extensions, was treadled in rose fashion, or treadled in inverted order?   Skip the plaid squares, alternate sections of blue tabby and sections of red tabby.  Then add in some transitional stripes to separate the motifs.  Woven from bobbins of bright, colourful 2/20 silks leftover from other projects it became a joyful, jubilant song.

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