Three handwoven tea towels

Big reveal: woven tea towels!

I’m excited to finally be able to reveal what I’ve been working away on over the last few months: a set of woven tea towels for my Mum’s birthday!

These turned out so well. 🙂 Not much like the original sample concept I tried back in January … but since then I managed to borrow a table top 4-shaft loom which made these little beauties possible.

Four shaft loom on my craft table
A four shaft loom, threaded with a white cottolin warp.

I wound the warp in plain white cottolin (a blend of linen and cotton):

Winding the warp using a warping board
Winding the warp on a table, using a warping board.

These long threads go onto the loom, winding onto the back beam:

Winding onto the back beam
Winding the warp onto the back beam, using a raddle to spread the threads at the correct width

I made the raddle myself out of a bit of spare timber, and some nails. It’s a bit shonky, but it did the trick!

Once the warp is wound on, each of those threads needs to be individually threaded through the heddles (the white vertical strings). When I pull the levers, different sets of heddles go up, making different patterns on the surface of the cloth.

Weaving the header
Starting to weave a header, using wool to spread to the warp threads evenly

Once the heddles are done, it’s time to sley the reed (cue husband giggling insanely — he think all these weaving terms are just made up!). That means pulling each thread through the metal slots, and tying up in groups to the front beam. In the photo above, I’ve started to weave using a bit of spare wool, and you can see that the first threads are starting to spread out evenly across the width of the cloth.

As for the tea towels themselves, first I wove a sample in green, cut it off the loom and wet finished it:

This worked really well, so I then moved on to the colours I wanted for my Mum. Each of the patterns is based on a “Birds Eye” threading, which is a type of twill. It’s easy to make a lot of different diagonal and diamond shapes by varying which of the four shafts I lift up every time I pass the weft thread.

I wet finished these in the washing machine so that the threads would shrink together and lock into place. Then I rolled them with a rolling pin (yes, really!) to soften the fibres and give them a bit of shine.

Mangling the towel with a rolling pin.
Mangling the towel with a rolling pin is supposed to soften the fibres and give shine.

I found that with each of my tea towels I had to cut them off the loom and adjust the tension of the warp before weaving the next towel. Here is an example of where the tension started to get a little uneven across the width of the towel:

Uneven tension in the warp threads
Evidence of uneven tension in the warp threads?

See how the thicker pattern section looks a little puckered? It flattened out after shrinking down, but I think that meant I didn’t get the warp evenly tensioned when I wound it onto the back beam.

The last tea towel I felt much more in my comfort zone, so I tried out an unbalanced twill pattern or two:

Striped coloured towel with twill patterns
Each stripe is a different twill pattern and colour combination, separated by white plain weave.

Two of the pattern strips look different on the front to how they look on the back. Can you spot them? Clue: they are blue!

I really love how these turned out. They feel lovely in the hand (although my Mum is going to frame them!). I wonder what I shall do with the leftover bit of warp? For now the loom is idle, as I look after sick kiddies and catch up on some work.

I knew I would enjoy weaving: and I’m hooked!

10 thoughts on “Big reveal: woven tea towels!

  1. Hi Jess,
    I got to see these beautiful towels yesterday. They are even more stunning in real life than they appear here. They are truly works of art, and such a beautiful gift from your heart and your hands to your mum. She cannot stop raving about them and I don’t blame her.

    1. Hi Ali,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to drop by and pass on such wonderful feedback! I’m so glad you like the tea towels. 🙂

      It’s wonderful to be able to make some special every now and then for the people that we love!

      Cheers,
      Jess

    1. Hi Jill! I think the tea towels were woven using a birds-eye twill tie-up. I used a photocopy from a friend, which I’ve since mislaid, but I recall this was a beginner pattern from a book. 🙂

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