This post is the fourth in a series introducing you to common weaving structures. We’ve already looked at plain weave, twill, and overshot, but here we’re going to look at a handful of structures I’ll be calling “plain weave and…” Like overshot, these patterns have a tabby ground and a pattern weft, but the threading and tie-up differ from overshot, and each produces a unique effect.
Let’s take a look at our first “plain weave and…” structure.
All of the structures in this article use two shuttles. One shuttle creates the plain weave—or tabby—ground, while the other weaves a pattern weft. As in overshot, the two alternate so that your weaving progresses like this:
Like all weaving projects, you can achieve a lot of variation depending on what materials you use. Traditionally, many of the structures in this article use a pattern weft that’s 2-4 times larger than the plain weave ground—but that’s not a rule; it’s just a suggestion.
The pattern commonly called monk’s belt is one of the most simple and visually compelling weaving structures. Ends are threaded in pairs onto shafts 1-2 or 3-4, and pairs can be repeated as many times as you wish, creating floats of varying lengths. Monk’s belt creates clean floats on a tabby base—your pattern thread is either on the surface or under it, and you don’t see the half-tones you find in overshot. This creates a bold graphic effect, and in antique examples, I’ve often seen monk’s belt used as a border or accent within the main body of the cloth.
Monk's belt floats are tied down when you start weaving the next block, so floats can become quite long if you’re not careful. One thing I like about monk’s belt is that anyone with a rigid heddle loom can weave it by using pick up sticks.
The Rose Colored Glasses Towels by Christine Tsai are an excellent way to try the monk’s belt technique. The plain weave sections have plenty of visual interest through stripes in the warp and weft, with checkered monk’s belt sections every few inches.
Called jamtlandsdrall in Swedish, Mary Meigs Atwater renamed this weaving structure crackle for her English-speaking audience because it reminded her of how glazes crack on pottery. Crackle is built using four twill-like threading blocks that allow for very creative (and sometimes mind-bending) designs. Depending on how you treadle your crackle draft, you can get a handful of different surfaces that range from twill to geometric blocks to complex, flickering, star-like shapes.
An example of crackle weave in action is the Stair Step Rug by Christine Novotny. It reminds me of a super-sized twill, in which each block of crackle represents one individual thread in a regular twill weave.
One of my very first projects was in summer and winter—I was hooked by the short floats and the way that colors combine in this simple two block weave. Each summer and winter block is made up of four ends threaded either 1-3-2-3 or 1-4-2-4. This sequence ties down the pattern weft every 3 ends, making short and secure floats.
I’ve heard a (possibly apocryphal) story that summer and winter earned its name because coverlets woven in this structure tended to have one darker colored side and one lighter. During the summer—when it was easy to do the laundry frequently—you would use it light-side up and then flip it to show the dark side when washing became more challenging in the winter months.
Whether or not this is true, like crackle, there are a couple of different ways you can treadle your summer and winter blocks since there are two different pattern passes you can make for each block. This can result in column or slightly staggered pattern picks, and it can create a very complex and creative effect when you begin adding color.
A great way to try this structure and explore these exciting color effects is by making the Summer and Winter Towels by Gist Yarn's own Sarah Resnick! There’s an almost watercolor-like wash made by mixing three colors of Mallo Cotton Slub in both warp and weft. Don’t be intimidated—it might look very complex, but it is straightforward to weave.
Another close relative of the previous structures is halvdräll, which also features short floats that are tied down every few ends. Halvdräll is a beautiful and simple weave structure popular in Sweden—it is easy to understand and weave, with an elegant surface. Because the pattern floats are tied down regularly, you don’t get any of the long floats common in monk’s belt or overshot. Like summer and winter, there are two blocks that you can create with halvdräll.
A perennial favorite, Arianna Funk’s Halvdräll Towels are an excellent introduction to weaving halvdräll and two-shuttle projects. This simple project was the focus of a weave-along in the spring of 2020, and many exciting color and pattern variations can be found by looking at the #halvdrällweavealong hashtag on Instagram.
This article only scratches the surface of what you can do with a four shaft loom and two (or more!) shuttles. Each of these structures cleverly uses the stability that plain weave provides to create densely patterned surfaces, and by altering tie-ups and treadlings, many different surfaces are possible. Adding color, different textures or materials, and changing the length and shape of the blocks is easy to do while weaving, making these patterns great ways to explore your own creative vision.
Amanda Rataj is an artist and weaver living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has developed her contemporary craft practice through research-based projects, artist residencies, professional exhibitions, and lectures. Subscribe to her studio newsletter or follow her on Instagram to learn about new weaving patterns, exhibitions, projects, and more.