Something Old, Something New

Sample of traditional pattern, woven in cotton

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.

Oh, The Possibilities!

Sample treadlings (photo is rotated, warp runs left to right)

One of the best things about weaving is that the possibilities are virtually unlimited, and it would take many lifetimes to explore them all. Even weavers who have been working at this craft for decades will tell you that they have barely scratched the surface. Curoisity compelled me to actually do the math, and I found that even a 4 shaft twill could yield a number of combinations that quickly exceeds the scientific notation capacity of my calculator. Not all of them are worth weaving, but still, that's a big number. Then there are all the colors and fibers to add into the mix, so you get the idea - lots of possibilities.

Square One

There is, of course, no one right way to approach creating a new design. There are several elements to consider, any one of which can be square one: the look, or visual impact, which is primarily expressed through color and structure; the feel, which comes from fiber and texture; the intended purpose, such as decorative, durable or wearable.

I sometimes start with a weave structure that interests me, such as shadow weave, twill, lace, etc. I’ll puzzle with placement of the structural elements, or blocks, and then play with the color arrangement, to find the best way to show off the structure. Other times I begin with the useful requirements of the cloth, such as sturdy upholstery or light, flowing summer shawl, and then find the fibers and structure that suit that purpose well.

For this project, however, it all started with the colors.


I love the water, always have, and these water-colored yarns in silk and wool just jumped into my arms. I looked at them for a while on the cones, then cut off some lengths, draped and twisted them around each other to see how they interacted. I thought of waterfalls tumbling into a tropical pool. That’s what triggered the structure: undulating twill that cascades down over the fabric. The luxurious fibers are perfect for a scarf that is light, yet warm – the waterfall scarf.