Something Old, Something New

I love it when a puzzle comes together. Case in point: a convergence of a traditional weave structure, a mathematical concept, and customer requirements, resulting in a unique set of kitchen towels.

I enjoy perusing old textile books, especially those from Scandinavia. A lot of what I find is elegant, yet often quite utilitarian; quiet statements of exquisite craftsmanship. This approach to the craft really resonates with me.

I ran across this particular weave structure in a book of traditional Finnish textiles, Handweaving Patterns from Finland by Helvi Pyysalo and Viivi Merisalo. It was presented as a natural linen towel, with large square blocks with alternating vertical and horizontal ribs, a subtle checkerboard effect.

Sample of traditional pattern, woven in cotton

I’ve had the idea bouncing around the back of my mind of using such a block (checkerboard) design in conjunction with an assortment of analogous colors, in order to get a lot of different shadings within the grid. I also had a new order for some towels, and the color scheme was to be a collection of blues and greens to coordinate with a newly remodeled kitchen. Rotating the colors across the blocks did indeed soften the grid-like structure somewhat, but I wanted even more movement in the pattern.

By varying the width of the blocks gradually from narrow to wide, repeating across the width, I was able to get the effect I was seeking. Math-o-philes like me might recognize the Fibonacci sequence, 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21... (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz!). This sequence is useful in many areas of mathematics, but when used simply as the widths of stripes it yields a pleasing design.

After working out the color and size rotations, I saw that it still needed a little punch, so I added a few bits of red, lime green and yellow for accents. I wove some of these towels with a regular small to large block progression, and some in a random pattern arrangement, and I haven’t decided which I like better. How about you? For me, I suppose it would depend on my mood. I would like to think whoever created that original Finnish linen towel would be pleased with my new version.

Finnish rib weave towels in Fibonacci blocks