I have been looking for a hand woven huipil to buy since I’ve arrived in Oaxaca de Juarez in December 2014.  I finally found one! 

black cotton three panel huipil with coyuche and purpura pansa brocade

I found it at the Festval of Artisans that the state organized just above the Santo Domingo Church for Holy Week. 

I do have my criteria:

  • Back strap woven
  • Good craftsmanship 
  • Three panels
  • A colorway that I would wear
  • A size that I feel comfortable in. 

The size has been the stumbling block. Most are made for Señoritas, I need twice as wide to feel comfortable.  I did a turn of the whole festival and came back to an Amuzgo booth. She had many beautiful, well woven huipiles. Mostly on a natural or off- white ground, which looks lovely with their black hair but I don’t much like with my all white hair, too monochromatic.   She did have a pale pink one that looked a little greyed and a Mexican Rose one with black brocade. I love Mexican Rose but the craftsmanship  of this one wasn’t top quality, particularly in the construction. She had an elegant black on black  huipil, sized for a small señorita. 😟

She hung up a very beautiful  huipil in a cinnamon brown with natural colored brocade.   It was very fine brocade and the colors were spectacular, the brocade almost looked golden. Very elegant and special. When she got it down so I could see it closer I recognized the color as that from nanche, a tree that has an edible fruit and the bark can be used for dyeing. Unfortunately the nanche color had already stained parts of the natural colored threads that were used for brocade and construction. Yes, it was natural dye but it was not well dyed. 

Reluctantly I left that booth and went to a booth that had some lovely small utility cloths with brocade style I associate with San Juan Colorado, but wasn’t from San Juan. There were several styles of brocade in the booth, which I think was a coop. Some pieces had women’s names on them, which I thought was the maker’s name. She began showing me huipiles too and some were lovely but small. She finally showed me a “large” three panel black huipil with brocade in coyuche, that is always hand spun, and purpura pansa, the seashell violet. Excellent workmanship.  Price I could afford. Perfect except it was too small. She thought it was big enough, but I insisted that it was only as wide as the top I had on and the top had slits from the waist down. The black huipil was ankle length and I had to convince her that it was going to catch on my hips so I wouldn’t wear it.  As I was ready to walk away she said she had a very large one.  I said let me see it, she had to root around a bit to find it and when I saw it it was perfect. Big enough, well made, black ground with Leno and coyuche and purpura pansa brocade.  It is now mine!


detail with purpura pansa dyed yarn used for brocade and construction

The ground cloth is 16/2 black cotton in plain weave and leno. The cloth is light weight and drapes well. Not hot because of the open work, leno. Each panel has a few warps of purpura at each side selvage. The panels are joined by hand with a faggoting stitch in the same purpura.  The neck edge is carefully made and decorated with the same purpura dyed yarn. 

The purpura dyed yarn is commercially spun yarn that is taken to the seaside. The wet yarn is held in the hand and the sea snails are pried from the rocks and their excretions rubbed on the yarn. The snails are returned to their rock. The secretions slowly change color, in the sun and air , until the yarn is a pale red- violet color. 
The coyuche is a brown cotton that grows here. It is short staple and thus hand spun.  Both colors are from prehispanic times. 

The brocade technique is discontinuous inlay. This inlay is done with the weft turns on the top making tiny scalloped edges around each motif. 

  • detail of the brocade with coyuche and purpura

This brocade style has a neat backside that is only slightly different from the front. 


here is the fourth selvage carachteristic of back strap weaving and the neat backside of the brocade

 Blessing on the weaver that made my cherished huipil!


Rebozo weaver

16 March 2016

Yesterday the Museo Textil de Oaxaca had a midday celebration to honor a 90 year old rebozo weaver from near Mexico City, Evaristo Borboa.  


Señor Evaristo was weaving in the interior courtyard of the museum, a beautiful space with natural light and many pillars. 

He weaves jaspe or ikat rebozos in cotton. 

  He weaves standing. As you can see the warp is wider than he is, 28-30″ would be my guess.   It must take a lot of upper body strength to open the sheds and standing allows him more leverage.  

These rebozos are large, 28-30″ wide by  90+ ” long by our standards but because they are light and drapey they are just the right size to wrap yourself  up. 

The resist dyed design is in the warp and to show it off the cloth is warp- faced.  The warp threads are ultra- fine mercerized cotton; the final cloth feels and drapes like silk. I can’t even guess at how many threads there are in this warp. Each one has been dyed and placed in order to create the design. 
Here you can see both the woven cloth and the unwoven warp.   If you have trouble finding the fell line look for the bottom edge of the sword or machete. Farther from the fell line the pattern on the warp is less visible, all you see are tiny spots.  This is just plain weave folks, but there is nothing plain about this. 

 If you are observant you can see that his loom is set up to weave four selvages. The final rebozos all have long elonorate fringes. 

My conclusion is that the fringe is added after weaving. This maybe the reason that other ikat rebozos have incongruent colors in the fringe. 

Here is a video of Señor Evaristo weaving.   Interesting to me is how he uses his sword to open the heddled shed.   I first noticed the hump in the warp threads when he took out the sword to open the heddled shed, then I watched it form. 

Señor Evaristo has been weaving for 83 years. That is longer than most of us have been talking, weaving must be as second nature for him as talking is for us. 

Done dyeing, packing

6 December 2015

I haven’t runout of things to try but I have runout of time.
I dyed many skeins with cochineal this year.

samples skiens dyed with cochineal

samples skiens dyed with cochineal

My goal was to understand how cochineal on cotton behaved and to get a stable color.  A pretty bright color.  Dull dirty colors are plentiful  and not worthy of cochineal, but I got those first

before I got to the clear bright fuschias on cotton.

It seemed to me that what I had learned dying the recalcitrant cotton would also improve my work with wool.  Wool is easy to dye with cochineal but still sensitive to hard water and pH.  I was right and I got a beautiful red on the wool, best ever.

beautiful color on wool alpaca yarn

beautiful color on wool alpaca yarn

So now I am packing, I leave for Oaxaca again on Thursday for a long stay.  I’m going to teach at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca in Jan. a course on dyeing cotton with cochineal. So packing teaching materials too.

Next post from Oaxaca!

More Huave Style weaving

18 October 2015

This was a short warp, 3 yds. but I’m getting a lot of practice on it.    Someone asked where I got my patterns.

I didn’t manage to bring any Huave textiles home with me but I did handle some  while I was there.  Because I have been working on brocade for the past two years I recognized the cloth, not the huipiles, are continuous inlay/overlay the same as  the Thunderbolt Towels I made before I went to Oaxaca.  The only difference is that the Huave cloths are warp dominate.  Once I had a sett for the warp dominate cloth, 8/2 cotton at 20epi,  I searched for photographs for the patterns.

Huave geometric cloth, Photo: Karen Elwell

Huave geometric cloth, Photo: Karen Elwell

My first Huave Style cloth with geometric design

My first Huave Style cloth with geometric design


Pillow tops with Huave insert

Pillow tops with Huave insert

My second Huave Style design

Second Huave Style design













The newest design is inspired by some photographs in the book, Mexican Textiles

Huave textile top left:fretted zigzags alternate with star motifs.

Huave textile top left:fretted zigzags alternate with star motifs.

My zigzag with star motifs still on the loom

My zigzag with star motifs still on the loom























I still have warp left on the loom.  The most common Huave cloths are ones have animalitos in rows across the cloth.  I personally prefer geometric designs but I must try the animalitos such as these:

Huave cloth with creatures of the sea Photo: Karen Elwell

Huave cloth with creatures of the sea Photo: Karen Elwell


The Huave live near the sea and this charming cloth has crabs, fish, shrimp, seahorses and a mermaid and merman.  For my first try I’ll stick with rows of figures more along these lines:

Huave cloth. San Diego Museum of Man. The brown brocading weft is natural brown cotton, coyuche.

Huave cloth. San Diego Museum of Man. The brown brocading weft is natural brown cotton, coyuche.

Second Huave Style design

Second Huave Style design

I started another continuous brocade piece on the same warp that I used for the yellow piece.

First Huave Style cloth with geometric design

First Huave Style cloth with geometric design

This time in addition to a new design and brocade color I added a stretcher to keep the width of the cloth constant.  The biggest problem I had with the first piece I made with this technique, is that the cloth got narrower as I wove.

The commercial stretcher that I have are too big for this 14″ wide cloth so I used one made to fit this cloth.  It is simply a piece of hollow bamboo cut to size and two little nails.  I learned this from my backstrap weaving teacher, Doña Euforsina, last winter in Oaxaca.  I grow lots of bamboo but it is not straight and has bumps where the leaves emerge. So after some cutting and sanding and I had a tube that I thought would work.

The stretcher goes on the back of the fabric, thus not obscuring the pattern.  You place the bamboo under the web and insert the nail through the selvage into the hollow of the bamboo tube.  Do one side then the other, the second side takes a little tugging but you want the web taut.

Bamboo stretcher in place on the underside of the web

Bamboo stretcher in place on the underside of the web


the hollow bamboo and two nail for stretcher

the hollow bamboo and two nail for stretcher

Here are the pieces used to stretch the web, a piece of bamboo and two nails.

The other picture shows how the nail in the selvage holds the bamboo in place.

Nail attaching the web to bamboo stretcher

Nail attaching the web to bamboo stretcher


I finished this piece and after some separators started on another  and I pleased to see that as the cloth rolls on the cloth beam it is all exactly the same width.

A solution without buying a thing!

I finished my first attempt at weaving a heavily brocaded Huave (or Ikoots) style cloth that I discussed in my last post, https://entwinements.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/testing-for-hauve-style-weaving/.  I am pleased with this technique.

Huave style brocade, yellow

This is the finished cloth, after mending, washing, a little steam from the iron and trimming.  It is 13″ wide by 17.75″ long without the fringe.  This is about the size of most of this style cloths that I saw, they were labeled as tortilla cloths, or smaller ones as table napkins.

The design was inspired by photograph of a piece of cloth seen at the end of the last post.  I handled some of Huave weavings in Oaxaca but didn’t manage to photograph or buy any.

Working on this piece reminds me of bas relief carvings.   The brocading weft is mostly on the surface and then the few ground warp ends that  tie down the supplementary weft make a lower surface.  The effect is more pronounced than most quilting   I see today.

The hand of the cloth is nice for placemats or table runner or embellished parts of clothing. More substantial than just the 8/2 plain weave, lies flat  but is not stiff or heavy. The obverse is smooth and finished.

The Technical Details

This is a brocade ; continuous supplementary weft in inlay /overlay interlacement, the same technique used in I have been using with 8/2 cotton doubled,(https://entwinements.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/south-of-the-border-thunderbolt-towels/), the only difference is that each end in the warp now works individually, not as a pair.  Might seem like a small change but the effect is quite different.

The warp is 8/2 cotton pale mint green.  It is sett at 20 epi.  To get 20 epi on the rigid heddle loom I had to use two 10 dent heddles.  I didn’t have two 10 dent Leclerc heddles for the Bergere loom I was using so I used a narrower Ashford 10 dent heddle for the second one .  I lined up the two heddles and could see light through all the eyes so I thought it would work. I threadedUsing Leclerc and Ashford heddles them and then tied them together with zip cable ties because they move as a unit. Threaded the full width of the narrower heddle, and I do not have a second castle on this loom.  What I didn’t check was the size of the eyes, they are not the same size so the shed was not as clear as when I use two leclerc heddles.  So I added a dowel under the slot threads and pushed it to the back beam and  opened the shed and beat with a sword.

The ground weft is the same as the warp, mint 8/2 cotton, and the brocading weft is yellow doubled embroidery floss.  I started this piece with a full large skein of embroidery floss I brought back from Oaxaca this year. Our little skeins of floss are 5g this one was 30g and it is divided into 5 subskeins. So I knew I had to make the whole piece with this one skein of yarn, the Oaxacan floss is not mercerized and ours is, so no chance of matching it here.

I was using two strands of floss for the pattern warp, this effect needs a thick pattern weft. So I wound the shuttle using 2 of the subskeins and wove until they ran out.   I looked at my woven pattern and calculated that I could get 3 diamonds lengthwise using the 3 subskeins I had left. I wanted to finish with the same motifs that I used in the beginning.  I finished and I came out with just 1 1/2 picks of embroidery floss left!

 The epi is 20 and the ppi is around 10, so this is a warp dominate cloth, all the better to hide the inlay potion of the brocading weft.  This is the big difference from using 8/2 doubled in one 10 dent heddle.  Using a doubled 8/2 though out, epi is really 10 (true there are 20 threads but the interlacements is as if there are 10) and ppi is also 10 for a balanced plain weave cloth.

Top: interlacement with doubled warp and weft. Bottom: normal interlacements with the same number of warp threads.

The inlaid brocading weft is much more visible in the balance cloth than in the warp dominate cloth.   The effect in the warp dominate cloth is more magical, the brocading weft appears and then nearly disappears. In the balanced cloth  you are aware that the brocading weft is there all the time, just sometimes it stands in front and other times it back.
All in all these are the same threads,8/2 cotton for warp and weft and the same brocading weft, two full strands of embroidery floss  and the same structure.  The only difference is whether the warp threads weave  individually or doubled.  Yet the difference in appearance is dramatic.  Here is a side by side comparison:
IMG_3967 (1)

8/2 cotton used normally at 20 epi in two 10 dent heddles Results: warp dominate weave

IMG_3973 (1)

8/2 cotton doubled in warp and weft in 10 dent heddle: results in a balanced weave

 The 20epi also gives more detail, more pixel per inch if you will, and shorter floats.  The yellow design woven in the orange cloth would result in floats 1.4″ long, way too long and there would only be two diamonds across the same width of cloth.
When I did my samples before I found that I had to beat hard with the thick brocading weft to get it to look right.  I could not beat hard enough with the heddle so I used a sword.  It felt like I could have woven it on a backstrap loom more comfortably; it took a lot of jerry-rigs to make this work on the RH loom.

Once off the loom I turned it over and I could see a fault line where I missed a ground tabby pick.


At the top you can see the fault line but at the bottom is has been mended.

I knew I had missed one because the shuttle was on the wrong side.  But I mended it and all is well.  You can also see how tidy the back of the cloth is.

Before weaving I did a graph of a section of the design, only two diamonds wide and about 3/4 of one diamond tall.  Just enough to see the spacing .  I then calculate that I would get 4+ repeats across the web.  So I decided how I wanted it centered and worked out from there having two partial motifs, one on each side.   I did get better at handling the edges with the partial repeats as I wove.  Some things you just have to do to get it right.
The other problem I had weaving this is that the cloth narrowed, the last part is at least a 1/4″ narrower than the start.  That was a surprise, so the next time I’ll use a stretcher , like I do on a backstrap loom, to keep the width constant.
I’m usually wiser the second time I do something, how about you?
In response to a comment I’m posting an additional diagram here:

To fit the same number of warp ends in the same space , the weft straightens and the cloth becomes warp-dominate.

To fit the same number of warp ends in the same space , the weft straightens and the cloth becomes warp-dominate.

 See comments for further explanation.

I’m testing the loom set up, threads and other variables for Huave( also called Ikoots) style weaving.  This is an indigenous group in Oaxaca that live in the Istmo region to the south of the city and at sea level near the coast.  I have only seen their textiles in Oaxaca city, and the huipiles look very similar to the Zapotec huipiles that my teacher makes.  I’m the bigger one in the pic.

We both wear huipils, she made hers, it is beloved and authentic Zapotec.

We both wear huipils, she made hers, it is beloved and authentic Zapotec.


Here is a detail of one of the common motifs she taught me.  This is my first Zapotec style weaving done on a back strap loom.  Technically it is discontinuous inlay.

The Huave huipiles are very similar in technique, all cotton, inlay  and share some of the same motifs.

Part of a Huave huipil

Part of a Huave huipil

Huave huipil

Huave huipil on display at MTO.

At the bottom you can see a similar motif.  The other horizontal bands are very original, obviously beach scenes with coconut palms, pelicans, turtles, etc.  Another distinctive features of the Huave huipils is a center stripe.  At first I thought they were 4 panels but no, the stripe in the center does not hide a seam and at the bottom both front and back it comes out of the cloth to become a tassel. So I think it is a supplementary warp. The neck opening is also a woven-in split, occurring with in this stripe.   The Zapotec huipil is woven whole and the neck opening is cut and stitched.  This huipil does have a very low contrast inlay design that does not show in the poor quality photo but you can see the stripe become a tassel at the bottom.

Both style of huipiles are fairly sheer plain weave cotton woven on backstrap loom, embellished with heavier opaque stripes and discontinuous inlay.

Huave cloth, geometric and figurative -2-

Huave cloth. Photo by Karen Elwell

The Huave also make textiles that are not sheer and made as cloths to keep tortillas warm (bread cloth?), napkins, table decoration etc.  These interesting textiles have a continuous brocade weft, that is the supplementary weft goes from selvage to selvage.  When the brocading weft is not on top, making the design, it is buried in the regular shed and only slightly visible.  If you compare the plain weave at the end with the background of the butterflies  you can see the difference.

Brocade P I.5

My continuous brocade, inlay/overlay, woven on RH loom.

I have made things with this very technique, continuous inlay/overlay that look quite different, the brocade weft being much more visible in the back ground.   This is plain weave done on a rigid heddle loom.  The Huave work looks to be more warp dominate  and thus hide the pattern weft in the inlay areas. Could also be the proportion between the size of the warp and weft yarns.


Huave backstrap loom weaving a round cloth. Technique: continuous brocade, inlay/overlay. All cotton.

Here you can see the Huave work on the loom and the pattern weft looks fat, made up of three strands of singles.  And the weft looks fine.

Notice that the tie-downs in the overlay help to  define the riders on the back of the horses.

So how can I get this effect? What size yarn for the warp? sett? what to use for pattern weft?  I have been doing inlay/overlay on rigid heddle looms (RH) with 8/2 cotton doubled in a 10 dent heddle. I was flipping through a recently acquired book, Tejido Huave and Beyond by Erica de Ruiter,  and she suggests 8/2 cotton sett at 20 epi.  So that’s what I’m trying. You can get 20 epi on a RH loom by using two 10 dent heddles .


Here is my set-up: I had a Leclerc Bergere loom empty with a 10 dent heddle and found another 10 dent heddle from a narrower Ashford loom.  I held the two heddles up to the light and the eyes seemed to line up.  So this is mint green 8/2 cotton warp sett at 20 epi.   Since both heddles move together, I don’t need a second castle, I used cable zip ties to fasten them together and they move as one unit.  The sheds don’t open as cleanly as when I use 2 Leclerc heddles( the eyes aren’t the same size) so I put a dowel under the warps in the slots and pushed it to the back beam.  I can use it to help clear the shed. The dowel does have a security tie on it since it travelled to a workshop and back.

Then to see what pattern weft would work, from my previous work with inlay/overlay I know that two strands of embroidery floss will cover the surface of the 8/2 cotton  in the overlay areas.   I tried a soft beige and white and then the yellow and the yellow worked. I’m quite pleased with how little of the pattern weft is visible in the inlay areas.

The challenge of making this pattern work is the beat.  For the bottom of the diamonds I wasn’t beating hard enough and the diamond is elongated.  I got out my sword from my back strap loom and started beating hard with that. Even so I have to brace the little table I have the loom clamped to, with my legs and tummy and beat after I change the shed.   But you can see the top part of the diamonds is more compact.  I expect it to contract even more when off the loom and washed.

So now I’m ready for a project.  Maybe something like this.

Huave geometric cloth

Beautiful Huave cloth with geometric design. Photo: Karen Elwell

All these cotton yarns have been dyed with cochineal.

All these cotton yarns have been dyed with cochineal.

Dyeing cochineal on cotton can be a challenge.  Cochineal on wool or silk is so easy.  It is all in the steps before the dyeing that determine the quality of the color ; scouring and mordanting.

Twenty years ago I dyed some cotton with cochineal and the samples are in the box, still dark and strong colors.  But then we did a scour, alum, tannin, alum mordanting—- that is four hot baths before you get to the dyeing. Today we generally use  two baths, a hot scour and a warm mordant and that is a big improvement.  Others have been working on mordanting cotton problem,  but cochineal has special challenges; it doesn’t like hard water and it is sensitive to pH.

So I have been working on what is the best way to mordant specifically for cochineal.  I have very hard water here, dilute limestone you could call it,   so even if I use distilled water for the dye bath, do I have to use distilled water for mordant and scour baths also?

The study mentioned above suggests that a tannin treatment can be used  make the colors darker and make them more light resistant. Cochineal has good light fastness but I wanted darker colors.  Here is my first study of tannin treatment, after scouring but before mordanting:

The scoured substrate was first treated with a tannin from pomegranate, then mordanted with aluminium acetate and then dyed with cochineal. From the left; substrate, tannin alone, then 4 with cochineal also.

The scoured substrate was first treated with a tannin from pomegranate, then mordanted with aluminium acetate and then dyed with cochineal.
From the left; substrate, tannin alone, then 4 with cochineal also.

The natural colored substrate is on the left, next is the the scoured substrate that has been treated with tannin from pomegranate, it actual color is mustard yellow.  I was expecting a much paler yellow beige color.  Could be that the pomegranate powder I have has deteriorated with age?  I need to try some fresh pomegranate tannin, but don’t have any at the moment. But I had already treated a bunch of skeins with this old pomegranate so I decided to continue to see what I could learn. The next 4 sample go from brown to dark red.  This little study has 10 baths involved.  When I try to  save time by treating a bunch of skeins at the same time and something goes wrong, such as the tannin is old, then a bunch of skeins have been ruined.   After I get some fresh tannin I’ll need to redo these samples. I have gone through 59 skeins so far  and may have more questions than when I started.  I think I will be dyeing all summer.

The point being that I have not been weaving much but dyeing a LOT.  I still have lots of work to do.  First I have to wind small sample skeins from the yarn I brought back from Oaxaca, a rather tedious task. Luckily I have a friend that will keep me company and chat while I wind them  and all I remember is the pleasant company.

Thunderbolt Towels made on a rigid heddle loom

Thunderbolt Towels made on a rigid heddle loom

I am mesmerized looking at Mesoamerican brocaded textiles such as huipiles or quechquemitls. These glorious cloths are usually woven on backstrap looms by masterful weavers. They weave traditional clothing; sometimes it is a riot of color or other times the height of subdued sophistication such as sheer white gauze with opaque white brocade. These weavers may have started weaving about the age start we to read, which gives them years and years of experience.

I have designed a brocade that can be made on a rigid heddle loom by a weaver who can weave a balanced plain weave. The master weavers working on backstrap loom use fine threads and closer setts than we typically use on rigid heddle looms. This design is adapted for a balanced plain weave with sett achievable with one common rigid heddle, a 10 dent to be exact. I made a sample on another warp, then refined it for this project. I still used finer threads to keep the hand of the cloth supple.

Inlay/overlay design on a beige with white stripes background. When the navy pattern thread is inserted into the shed you see dots of navy creating half-tone areas. When the pattern weft floats on top of the ground cloth you have solid navy areas.

Inlay/overlay design on a beige with white stripes background. When the navy pattern thread is inserted into the shed you see dots of navy creating half-tone areas. When the pattern weft floats on top of the ground cloth you have solid navy areas. Woven with 8/2 cotton at 10 epi.

I worked with 16/2 cotton but you can also use 8/2 cotton. Using four 16/2 strands instead of two 8/2 strands produces a thinner more pliant cloth because the strands lay side by side. This could be called a basket weave but I am calling it a plain weave where each end is composed of multiple strands. You have a choice of making the towels with  un-mercerized cotton 8/2 doubled or 16/2  quadrupled. The quadrupled 16/2 gives a thiner more supple cloth but is a bit more challenging to work with. If this is your first time working with multi-stranded ends, stick with the 8/2 cotton.

Inlay is the simplest of the innumerable brocade techniques especially if the supplementary weft goes from selvage to selvage just like the ground weft. For inlay the ground weft is followed by a pattern weft in the same shed. Since you keep the shed open to insert the supplementary weft you can easily tell which shed is next. Inlay alone produces a dotted line; you see the color of the brocading weft as it goes over every other warp. Just inlay , selvage to selvage, does not have a lot of design possibilities. To extend the design potential inlay can be combined with floats over the surface of the ground cloth, this is called called overlay. In inlay/overlay designs have dotted or half-tone areas and the floats or solid colored areas . The limit of the length of the floats is determined by the function of the cloth. The design challenge is to have a strong visual impact of the overlay area without having the floats too long for the intended use of the cloth.

Since the brocading thread is either in the shed on on top of it the back side of the fabric is smooth and has no floats. You can see an echo of the pattern on the back, when the brocading weft floats over on the front. So the front side has dots and solid areas, the back has dots and no dot areas, both are finished and presentable for uses where you see both sides of the cloth such as towels or scarves.

Front side of brocaded design showing both inlay and overlay.

Front side of brocaded design showing both inlay and overlay.

Back side of the pattern.

Back side of the pattern.

The sections where the brocading weft floats over the ground, the overlay, are selected by the weaver with a pick-up stick. After throwing the ground weft the shed is kept open and a pick up stick is inserted in the same shed pulling down some warps that are in the raised position. The pick-up of one warp end makes a big visual impact producing a float 3 ends long. Because you pull down warp ends from the raised shed with the pick-up stick, maybe this technique should be called pick-down instead of pick-up.

These designs can be graphed on appropriate paper and the location of the ends to be picked out of the shed can be counted out. This might be effective if all you want to do is one project but if you want to develop speed, mastery in brocading one can learn to work visually, as the Meso- American master weavers do. Once you have established the pattern by counting you can look at the previous row and know that this pick-up is the end say to the right of the one below. This eliminates the fastidious counting and keeps one from propagating a counting error across the whole row. When one does the pick-up visually you might be off in one motif and yet all the other motifs in that row are correct. One isolated thread out of place is barely noticeable, a whole row shifted one end to the right is visually jarring. An all pick-up patterns have errors; there are little isolate errors that one must hunt for and there are disruptive errors that interfere with the perception of the overall pattern. Of course, it takes time and experience to see which thread is beside the one in the previous row, I started weaving just triangles to train my eye.

This project of continuous (pattern weft goes from selvage to selvage) inlay/overlay on a few towels woven on a rigid heddle loom is designed to be simple to execute yet be visually impactful; suitable for a first attempt at pick-up brocade. The ground cloth is a balanced plain weave, sett at 10 epi, and the design has the same pattern of floats in every row , they just shift one thread to the right or left. The warp has stripes, these act much like heavier lines on graph paper keeping you from getting lost in a sea of sameness when you are counting ends. It also lends it self to improvisation , you can decide as you weave where and how many times to reverse the direction.

The most challenging aspect of this project may be thread handling. It can be woven with double 8/2 cotton or quadrupled 16/2 cotton. I worked with the 16/2 quadrupled but have done many projects with 8/2 doubled. The 16/2 cotton produces a thinner more supple cloth, both have 10 ends per inch, in one case one end is two 8/2 threads and in the other it is four 2/16 threads.


Weave structure: balanced plain weave with a supplementary weft band


Loom: rigid heddle

Weaving width:16”

Rigid heddle: 10 dents per inch

Shuttles:one for the ground weft, boat or stick, and for the supplementary weft several smaller stick shuttles

Pick-up sticks: two at least 18” long and wide enough to form a shed for your shuttle, 1.5-2” is usually wide enough

Measuring: a cloth or paper tape about 36” long that you can write on

Hemming: hand sewing supplies,sewing machine and 1/4” seam tape OR a serger


From Maurice Brassard Fils Inc. They have the same colors available in both sizes.

8/2 cotton comes on ½ lb. tubes of 1680 yd., 16/2 cotton comes on ½ lb. tubes of 3360 yd.

  • Orange, Orange foncé #1315

  • Grey, Gris foncé #271

  • Green, Vert nil #1934

For 8/2 cotton towel warp you will need

  • Grey, 830 yards

  • Orange, 110 yards

  • Green, 100 yards

Weft will use 850 yards of grey.

Total yardage of grey for warp and weft: 1680 or one ½ lb. tube.


For 16/2 cotton towel warp you will need

  • Grey, 1650 yards

  • Orange, 210 yards

  • Green, 190 yards

Weft will use 1700 yards of grey.

Total yardage of grey for warp and weft: 3360 or one ½ lb. tube

Supplementary weft from your local yarn shop: DMC six strand embroidery floss, 8.7 yd. skeins.

The Brocading weft is thick, made of two strands of the embroidery floss.

Towel with orange brocade: 3 skeins bright orange #947

Towel with green brocade: 3 skeins bright green # 166

Towel with graded colored brocade: 1 skeins each of red #666, orange #971, gold #972 and yellow #725.


Warp length: 116” = 20”loom waste and 3 towels at 32” each

Warp width: 158 ends or 15.8” at the rigid heddle

NOTE THAT EACH END IS MULTIPLE STRANDS, either two 8/2 or four 16/2.

The warp has stripes; 8 ends of grey then 2 of a bright color, ending with 8 grey. The two narrow stripes alternate colors, orange then green. You will have 15 narrow colored stripes, 8 orange and 7 green, and 16 wide grey stripes.

Warp color sequence:

(8 ends grey, 2 orange, 8 grey, 2 green) repeat 7 times total then end 8 grey, 2 orange, 8 grey.

Wind your ground shuttle with multiple strands also, same number as your warp. Ground picks per inch on loom: 9.

Each woven towel on the loom was 14.25′ wide and 29” long, off loom 14.24” wide by 28” long before hemming. The hemmed and machine washed towel is 13.5” wide and 24” long.


You will be working with multiple strands as an end, two strands of 8/2 cotton equals one end or four strands of 16/2 cotton equals one end. I will describe the process for 8/2 cotton and put in changes for the 16/2. The most important thing about working with multiple strand is to pull them from the same kind of package, and by package I mean cone, tube, spool or bobbin. If you wind your weft shuttle from one cone and one bobbin they will be at different tensions and give you trouble as you weave, where if you pull from two cones or two bobbins the tension will be similar and you will not have as many problems. This may mean a little more yarn handling than usual, winding extra bobbins or spools, but it will reduce the aggravation of working with multi-stranded ends.

To direct warp your rigid heddle loom set it up as normal with the peg placed for a 116” warp length. Place the yarn packages at the back of the loom. You will only need one of 8/2 cotton package for this doubled warp because you can pull a loop, which is composed of two strands through each slot AND each hole. Note the difference here from normal direct warping when you pull loops only through the slots. You will walk twice as far but no further threading will be required. If you are working with 16/2 cotton you will need two identical packages, for all three colors, behind the loom and you will pull a double loop through every hole and slot. Do 8 ends grey, then 2 orange, 8 grey, 2 green, repeat this sequence 7 times total, ending 8 grey, 2 orange and 8 grey. You will have 15 narrow colored stripes, 8 orange and 7 green, and 16 wide grey stripes. Wind onto the warp beam, paying close attention to the selvage warps which tend to drift off the warp bundle. Tie on and spread your warp and you are ready to weave.

This is the stripe pattern you are creating, 8 ends grey, 2 bright color.

This is the stripe pattern you are creating, 8 ends grey, 2 bright color.

Measuring tape for towels with hems and pattern.

Measuring tape for towels with hems and pattern.Prepare a measuring tape for a towel by marking a starting line a few inches up from the end of the tape, then make a line 2” above for the end of the hem, then 3.5” from that line for the start of the brocade design. The distance from the end of one hem to the start of the next is 25” and then 2” more for the last hem. You can pin this to the web on the loom as you weave to know where to weave the hems and the brocade design. I use the same measuring tape for all three towels so that they are the same size with the design in the same place.

Prepare a measuring tape for a towel by marking a starting line a few inches up from the end of the tape, then make a line 2” above for the end of the hem, then 3.5” from that line for the start of the brocade design. The distance from the end of one hem to the start of the next is 25” and then 2” more for the last hem. You can pin this to the web on the loom as you weave to know where to weave the hems and the brocade design. I use the same measuring tape for all three towels so that they are the same size with the design in the same place.

Weave the hems, the first 2” and last 2”, with a thinner weft than you use in the body of the towel to reduce the bulk of the hem. The hem is two and some places 3 layers of cloth and I don’t like it when it looks padded. So for the 8/2 hem weft I use a single strand of the grey and for 16/2 a double strand. I weave for 2” with the thinner weft then change to the heavier weft for the body of the towel. As you weave the body of the towel before the design, count the picks per inch. You should be getting around 9 ppi for a balanced plain weave. You want your beat to be steady before you get to the brocade band where you will be adding more weft into the shed. Ideally you should beat to have 9 ground ppi in the brocade area also.

The standard operating procedure for this brocade:

  1. open shed

  2. throw ground weft and beat

  3. keep same shed open

  4. pick out design by removing (place them under the pick-up stick) ends from the threads that are up

  5. turn pick-up stick on its side to make a pattern shed

  6. throw the supplementary colored weft in the pattern shed

  7. beat the pattern weft on top of the ground weft

  8. change sheds and repeat from 2.

This is is for a continuous (the supplementary weft goes from selvage to selvage), inlay/ overlay brocade. The pick-up ( pick-down is a better description) is done on an open shed meaning that only half of all warps are eligible for pick-up each time.

Here is a graph of the brocade design: it is based on 10epi and 9ppi and your design should come out very close in size to the actual graph.

Graph for South of the Border Thunderbolts. Ends with black horizontal bars are removed from the raised shed by placing them under the pick-up stick. Ends in white are left raised.

Graph for South of the Border Thunderbolts. Ends with black horizontal bars are removed from the raised shed by placing them under the pick-up stick. Ends in white are left raised.


Because we are working on an open shed, each row of the graph shows only the ends in the shed that are raised, so only half the warp ends show in each row of the graph. You can think of the white rectangles as the ends that are raised and the black lines as the ends that are down. In each row we only manipulate the raised ends. Each row in the graph has the rectangular blocks offset because the ends in the two sheds are offset; an end in the slot shed sets beside, not exactly above, an end in the hole shed. So this brick graph paper has 5 ends per inch in each row and 9 rows per inch for the picks. ( You can down load this type of paper from the internet from a graph paper generator on the web.) When you are doing your pick-up on an open shed, and it is not possible to get straight vertical line because of the offset position of the threads in the two sheds, you get a wiggly line instead of a straight one. But you can get very nice diagonal lines by moving over one end each row.

Removing one end from the raised shed will result in a float over 3 ends; this may not be obvious at first glance but the two end beside the one that you push down are already down, as they are part of the down shed. Try it and you will understand better. So removing 2 adjacent ends produces a five end float and 3 ends removed, a 7 end float. Now a 7 end float in a 10 epi cloth is 0.7” long, as long as I think we want to go with the floats on these towel. So the longest float in this design is where 3 ends are removed from the raised shed.

Weave a one color brocade bands first. Prepare your brocade weft shuttle by winding it with double strand of embroidery floss, by double stand I mean two 6-stranded threads; you need this large amount of floss to cover the ground. If you have only one skein, find both ends and wind double from both ends with your hand in the center of the skein to prevent tangling. The first row of the brocade pattern will determine the placement of the entire pattern. This first row needs to be counted and checked, counted again and checked. The basic pattern overlay areas ( the part that says repeat 4 times total in the graph) is, from right to left , leave 8, remove 1 end, leave 1, remove 2 ends, leave 2, remove 3. This pattern is repeated 4 times in the center of the warp, the right side starts with a partial pattern and the left side finishes with a partial pattern .

To begin open a shed and throw the ground weft beat , keep the SAME shed open (this can be the hardest step) insert the pick-up stick into the shed from the right side, at this point all the raised ends are on top of the pick-up stick, now with the point of the stick leave the first 2 ends of the right selvage up, then put 3 ends under the stick, skip 8, put 1 ends under the stick then skip 1, pick 2 down, skip 2, pick 3 down– this completes the partial pattern on the right and the first full repeat. Do 3 more full repeats and the left partial following the graph. Be carful not to separate the strands in each end with the pick-up stick, this is a new hazard caused by working with multiple strands for each end. Now bring the pick-up stick down to the fell line and check the gaps you have created in the shed. The gaps will be the floats in the brocade weft.

Checking the pick up on the stick before throwing the shuttle.  Pattern show is pick one down, leave 8, repeat.

Checking the pick up on the stick before throwing the shuttle. Pattern shown is pick one down, leave 8, repeat.

Check again, see their position relative to the stripes is good. When you are convinced that the pick-up is correct then throw the colored weft, beat and change sheds. Throw the ground weft in the new shed, now pause and look carefully for any mistakes in the last pick-up. The best time to see errors in the pick-up is now after you have changed sheds and placed the next ground weft. When you are convinced that it is correct you can proceed to the next pick-up row. This row is the same pattern of floats as the first row, just moved one thread to the left and now should be much quicker to pick-up because you have visual landmarks. This 29 row pattern moves to the left through row 7 then moves to the right through row 25 then it moves to the left again. Watch carefully that you move only one end each time and that you get all the strands of each end.

The colored threads of the brocade may look sparse as you are weaving but off the loom the ground warp will shorten and bring them closer together and un-plied floss will spread out, this is what embroidery floss is designed to do, and cover the ground, when it is washed and pressed.

Overlay looks sparse on the loom but will be fine when finished.

Overlay looks sparse on the loom but will be fine when finished.


the same towel after washing and pressing.

the same towel after washing and pressing.

Catching the brocade weft at the selvages requires extra attention, if a row of brocade ends in a float there is nothing to automatically catch the brocading weft at the selvage but you can use the ground weft to lock it in place as shown in the photograph below.

Using the ground weft to catch the brocading weft at the selvage.

Using the ground weft to catch the brocading weft at the selvage.

 To secure the cut end of the brocading weft turn it back into the same shed after catching it on a selvage thread. After you finish the pattern,  weave the plain body of the towel following your prepared measuring tape, changing to the thinner weft for the hem. At the end of the hem weave two picks of scrap yarn to mark the end of one towel and the start of the next.

To do the Thunderbolts in the graded colorway, wind 4 shuttles with a doubled strand embroidery floss with each of the 4 colors; red #66, orange #971, gold #972 and yellow #725. The pattern has 29 rows or picks; do 4 in red, 4 in orange, 4 in gold, 5 in yellow, 4 gold, 4 orange and 4 red. Be sure to tuck in all the ends back in the same shed as you weave.

If you are have trouble with your pick-up and nothing seems to make sense or be in the right place, check to see if you are in the right shed, that is the same one that has the last tabby ground weft. The most common error is to change sheds after beating in the ground weft, it is a habit and it takes concentration to override this normally useful habit. So if you are doing the pick-up and you can’t figure out which is the end beside the one below, or if it just looks wonky, check your shed. When you get the right shed open the pick-up will go more smoothly.

You will make mistakes in your pick-up, and the real question is when will you catch them; the sooner you catch them the easier they are to fix. Ideally you will catch them when you check the pick-up on the stick. Look at the gaps, how do the look compared to the floats in the row below. If you see an error, it is easy to fix using the second pick-up stick. The idea here is to keep all the correct pick-up on the first stick by transferring it to the second stick up to the mistake then pick-up the correct ends with the second stick, and then transfer the rest of the correct pick-up to the second stick. The goal in not to make the whole pick-up again, just fix the mistake.

For example, if I have removed 4 ends from the raised shed instead of 3 at the end of the first full pattern repeat, I would keep the first pick-up stick in place, slide the second in the pattern shed up, from the right, up to the error, now slide the first stick out to the left just enough to let the mistaken ends fall off , use the tip of the second stick to pick-up the correct ends and then push the second stick into the rest of the pattern shed made by the first stick. Once the second stick has the correct ends for the pattern shed you can remove the first stick. Having two pick-up sticks saves you from having to make the whole pick-up over.

Once you change sheds and throw the next ground weft and beat, errors in the previous row can jump out at you. It is still fairly easy to correct at this stage. Take out the ground weft and open the shed that has the error. To take out the brocade weft you must re-establish the erroneous pattern shed. This is fairly easy if you use the brocade weft itself; grab both ends of the weft- the loop from one selvage and the long tail from the other side- in one hand underneath the warp and pull down, then use the other hand to insert a pick-up stick in this shed. Turn the stick on its side and take out that weft.

Mistakes found later are a pain. You have to decide if they are grave enough to warrant the energy and frustration to unweave that much. So go slow and check often; errors found on the pick-up stick are painless to correct, ones found before you do the next pick-up are fairly easy, so keep checking.

These towel are designed with hems. Once off the loom remove the waste yarn and cut the towels apart. Now the ends of the warp must be secured; you can serge the cut edges or you can machine sew the edges to 1/4” seam tape of an appropriate color. I quickly hand baste the edge to the tape then machine stitch it. Watch that you don’t stretch out the edges. Once the edges are secure , turn the edge up and baste in place; make sure the width of the edge is the same as the width of the body of the hem. Steam press to flatten. Then you can machine edge stitch this in place , the extra machine stitching re-secures the warp ends but it also shows on the back side of the towels so some prefer not to machine stitch, your choice. Then fold up the hem to the pick where you started with the heavier weft. You can pin baste this in place making sure that the green and orange stripes line up. Steam press. Then hand sew the hem in place with matching sewing thread, take big bites with the needle into the hem, go below the serged or taped edge, to avoid putting stress on the ends of the warps. Take little bites into the body of the towel so that it doesn’t show on the right side. Also do not pull the sewing thread too tight, it will form dimples on the right side. Check the right side after the first few stitches to see if it looks good, you can still adjust your tension. A nice hem comes straight down from the towel; it is not wider than or narrower than the towel itself and only slightly thicker because of the thinner weft in the hem area.

The hemmed towel can now be washed in the machine and dried as you would dry it in normal use. Steam press for a final finish.

Here is a similar design I found in a shop in Oaxaca, Mexico this year.

A similar brocade motif on a Oaxacan textile 1/15. Here each motif has its own pattern thread and there are spaces between motifs without patterning (discontinuous pattern weft).

A similar brocade motif on a Oaxacan textile 1/15. Here each motif has its own pattern thread and there are spaces between motifs without patterning (discontinuous pattern weft).  The little loops formed where each brocading weft turns are a new feature.



Technique: Shuttle Craft Guild Monograph Twenty-two 1967, BROCADE by Harriet Tidball

LATIN AMERICAN BROCADES; Explorations in Supplementary Weft Techniques with Special weaving Instructions for Rigid Heddle Frame Loom, Backstrap and Floor Loom by Suzanne Baizerman & Karen Searle,1976


29 April 2015

I have scraps from many hand woven projects.  The reason I have scraps left over is because I sew many of my projects, I don’t like to plan short  I prefer to have some cloth left over instead of running short, and I put on extra warp to experiment, also called sampling.  Having just mounted a solo show of weaving I have lots of hand woven scraps at this moment and I have decided to  turn  some them into  little bags to hold treasures.

Most cultures have these little bags made to hold special, rare objects–a lock of hair, a rare medicinal plant, a crystal– but they go by many names: amulet pouch, medicine bag…

Here is one piece that I have left from a quechquemitl that is in the show.16661984124_65e1a0064c_o  It is 8/2 cotton  sett at 50 epi to make a warp faced cloth.  The pin stripes  are 5/2 hand dyed pearl cotton making a wee bit of ikat.  The color on the pearl cotton goes from strong red to pink, the pink is similar in value to to the beige  and nearly disappears– an almost magical effect.  This is from the beginning of the warp, normally where you weave in scarp yarn to spread the warp.  Warp faced cloth doesn’t need to be spread but I did weave the first bit with some fine linen weft that was on a bobbin, you can see the cloth looks less ridged for the first bit, just above the knots. Then I switched to the 8/2 cotton which I used for the weft.  This has been machine washed and pressed.

I cut off 1/3 of the width, I used the serger with wooly nylon in the loopers, to cut and secure the edge.

I lined the little bag with a piece of sheer crisp silk, just basted it in place before I began any construction or embellishment.  The seam to make it into a tube, with the stripes going length-wise is a butted seam at center back.  I cover both the serged edge and the selvage that it meets with a single crochet in using the beige 8/2 cotton. Using a sharp crochet hook to penetrate the cloth is a help but it is slow going, the crochet hooks catches threads in the cloth too.   I then added a row of single crochet in the red pearl cotton.  The silk lining was caught in the crochet and is thus attached to the bag.

Next I did the embellishment on the front of the bag.  The face is carved in a nut shell and reminds me of the faces of tree spirits.  I couched down thrumbs  from the cloth and added Mother of Pearl and glass beads.

Once the embellishment was done I laced up the back seam , using the red pearl cotton and baseball stitch. Then crochet a around the top to make the bag taper in.

The bottom  is closed by twisting together the fringe from the front and back of the bag. There are 50 end per inch in the cloth so two layers are 100 epi– a LOT of ends to tie together. You can see how big the knots are in the picture above, if I double the number of threads the knots will be even bigger. I want to compact the fringe so that it is about the width of the cloth , it is ok if it flares out farther down.  So I chose to make twisted fringe because it compacts the threads. I twisted beige threads with beige threads and red ones with red.

17077124247_afea59ea38_oNow the bottom of the bag is closed.  I made some twisted rope to close the top.

Here is a before and after picture:


I had some scraps of this cloth with out fringe too.  I transformed them into little pouches


These turned out more like wallets; nice size to hold credit cards.

Scraps can be turned into small pouches using what ever skills you have: crochet, sewing, knitting, beading, embroidery. Scrapes are good.