Eternity Napkins: Magic-Step Pattern Woven on a Rigid Heddle Loom

March 12, 2012

Oh how I hate to take pictures.  These napkins have been done for ages now.  Well, they’ve been done for more than a month, which is a lot less than the eternity I spent weaving them.

Eternity Napkins

Completed February 2, 2012, woven on Spear’s rigid heddle loom.

Pattern: Erika de Ruiter’s “Magic-Step” shaded color-and-weave-effect basket-weave blocks from May 2008 WeaveZine.  I threaded seven blocks (37 tr each) plus balancer (1 tr) plus altered borders (20 tr each) and wove seven blocks for each of two napkins, plus some extra cloth in plain warp stripes.

Warp and Weft: mixture of Spectrum golden willow-bud green and Uki unbleached white 8/2 unmercerized cottons.

Warp Length: 2 yards and a couple of inches.

Ends: 300 plus 2 weighted floating selvedges.

Sett: single-, double-, and triple-sleyed in 9.25 epi heddle for a little more than 17.5 total epi.

ppi: about 16

Width in reed: 17 1/8”

Weaving width: 15 1/2”

Width off loom 15 3/4-16”

Finished width: 14 1/4”

Length on loom: forgot to tally

Length off loom: 57” total, 20” each napkin including 1 3/4” hem allowances, 17” extra cloth.

Finished length: 51 1/2”

Loom waste: 9” rear, 4” front

Finishing: Hot hand wash with long soak, hot machine wash and tumble dry, hot iron, hand hemmed.

Finished dimensions: each hemmed napkin is about 14.25” wide by 15.5” long.


Unless you are a glutton for punishment there’s no good reason to weave this pattern on a rigid heddle loom.  Using two shuttles and weaving at 16+ picks per inch is bad enough, but the main problem is the need for floating selvedges.  On a rigid heddle loom, selvedges can’t float.  The best you can do is thread them in the slots of your heddle (not the holes) so they have a little freedom of movement, then you must remember to twine your shuttle over or under them at the start and finish of each pass regardless of whether your selvedge threads happen to be on the top or bottom of the shed.  Doing this on top of trying to keep track of whether you must weave one, two, or three picks of each color in the same shed–a constantly changing series within each pattern block–makes a lot to keep in mind.  Also worth noting is the constant stress on the selvedge threads.  The twining stretches them out, which makes it necessary to suspend them over the back of the loom with weights rather than beam them with the rest of the warp.

I made a lot of mistakes that had to be fixed off the loom. With basket weave it’s really hard to see when you catch a stray warp thread, and the low tension of rigid heddle weaving makes it really easy to do.

At 17.5 epi these napkins tracked and and were a more open weave than I’d hoped.  The sett should certainly have been closer–maybe 20 epi for 8/2 cotton–but I think there would be an inclination to track no matter how close the warp, because that is how the variable basket-weave wants to behave.  I noticed that the towels in the WeaveZine photo looked like they’d had the bejeezus ironed out of them–maybe that’s why.  Neither of these particular cotton yarns shrank or fulled as much as I’d hoped, but somehow the off-white Uki 8/2 was slightly harder and thinner than than the 8/2 Spectrum even though it was not as heavily twisted, and the Spectrum fluffed up and dominated it a bit after the napkins were washed.  Cottolin might be a better option for a crisp rendition of the pattern, which has a lot of interesting possibilities.


8 Responses to “Eternity Napkins: Magic-Step Pattern Woven on a Rigid Heddle Loom”

  1. Louisa Says:

    Those are really nice! Though like you I’d rather weave something like that on a “real” loom. Hope you enjoy using them for much longer than it took to weave them!

    • trapunto Says:

      Thank you! Yes, I was just thinking this would be a good cloth to weave on my “real” table loom as soon as I get the heddle sticks finished, since it has only 4 shafts and only 500 heddles until I tie some more. This pattern needs only two shafts, and I get to double the threads in the heddles! Maybe some color play with cottolin or linen

  2. The trouble with a woven napkin like that is that Its so lovely, I’d feel guilty wiping my lips on it. Like I was grabbing the hem of my neighbors wedding dress. The gradient is beautiful,

    • trapunto Says:

      What a nice thing to say! I was like that for a little while with the first set of napkins I made, but I soon got used to it. As long as they aren’t white–and I don’t think I’d ever make white napkins–handwoven table linens come out of the wash looking a lot cleaner than normal ones. For some reason the springy texture of handweaving is really good at disguising old ghosts of turmeric or tomato or grease.

  3. Erica de ruiter,malden,The Netherlands Says:

    Enchanted to see that ‘my’ magic step towels are picked up and actually woven. not yet familiar with the new IPAd I could not find tne name of this weaver .
    Erica de Ruiter

  4. Gillian Says:

    Thank you very much for your detailed project notes and information on the Spears ridgid heddle loom. I have just purchased one on EBay and hope to get weaving soon.

    • trapunto Says:

      Congratulations on your loom, Gillian! Spear’s is a little-known champ. I love it that there are still so many of them floating around for modest prices so people can get hold of them and get weaving right away. I’ve thought of buying myself a second rigid heddle loom, but for every advantage of one of the fancier kinds, I can see a corresponding disadvantage, so I haven’t bothered. Nothing else offers the same kind of easy assembly and disassembly, light oak frame, simple method of attaching the warp to the warp beam, or that easy-to-thred wire heddle.

  5. Deborah Putnam Says:

    …a REAL loom? …hmmmm….ouch! As a RH weaver, that comment certainly stings a bit.

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