Woven Table Linen in Diamond Twill

-Woven Table Linen in Diamond Twill
This textile was woven in a broken diamond twill to recreate a towel or small table linen
such as one sees in pictures of servers and feasts. The weave and braided fringes are
based on fragments found at Coppergate, York.
100% Linen yarn, size 10/1
Woven on a 4 harness countermarche loom
Sizing made from boiling flax seeds
Figure 1: Detail from Facta
et dicta memorabilia by
Valerius Maximus, HS 94,
French, 1420-50.
Staatsbibliothek zu BerlinPreussischer Kulturbesitz.
To reproduce Coppergate 1404 with mesh borders as in Coppergate 1327 (See Walton 345-359).
Coppergate 1404 is a 2/2 diamond twill (broken), with reverses
every 13 ends in one direction (assumed to be warp) and
every 10 ends the other (assumed to be weft). Both warp and
weft were Z-spun singles. Fragment is carbonized fiber; likely
flax or another bast fiber. Dated to 13-14th century.
Coppergate 1327 is a group of several fragments of braided
diamond mesh with tabby borders. Braids from the left are
passed through braids from the right to create the mesh. Open
diamonds vary from 5x5mm to 20x20mm but most are close to
10x10mm. Fibers are Z-spun. Fragment is carbonized fiber;
likely flax. Dated to c.930-975.
Figure 2: Weave structure of Coppergate 1404 (Walton 354)
The warp was sett at 30 epi (12 epcm). This sett was chosen because I wanted the resulting fabric to shrink to 15-18
epcm by 13 and I was anticipating a 20% shrinkage rate.
Woven with two shuttles used alternately to promote stronger selvedges. This technique is documented in the wool
broken diamond twill 1382 from Coppergate finds (Walton, 320)
The fragments of braided textile found in Coppergate were attached to tabby fabrics, but their
complete original form is not known. One theory is that they were originally the ends of tabbywoven fabric, later cut off and hemmed (Walton 358), and I chose to try this application. See
Figure 4 on the last page for an illustration of the Coppergate mesh.
The braiding process is unfortunately much more stressful to my hands, neck and back than I
had anticipated and therefore I was unable to complete the mesh for both ends of the weaving
before the Northern Lights competition. Fortunately, the unbraided fringes actually make for an
interesting finish as well!
Figure 3: Selvedge of
Coppergate 1382 (Walton
Planning the Project:
I actually started this project wanting to do a honeycomb weave from the Coppergate book, but gave up on that idea after
I determined that I would need 5 shafts to weave it using a countermarche loom, or I would need to re-fit my loom with
large-eyed heddles to simulate a warp-weighted loom setup (or a theoretical treadle-less precursor of the horizontal
loom). I would still like to do that as a future project, but could see that the difficulties inherent in using my loom that way
would make the project take much longer. So I went back to the Coppergate book in search of a weave that would still be
appropriate for a towel or table linen.
I settled on the broken diamond twill because I know that diamond twills were very common in table linens for several
centuries and in most European countries. For instance, the famous Italian Perugian towels from the 15 th century were
mostly executed in diamond twill with highly decorated borders. Twill weave makes a more substantial fabric than a fabric
woven from the same size thread in tabby; this would increase absorbency. Twill also drapes much better than tabby,
making it desirable for table linens that hang over the edge of the table. Many illustrations of table linens also indicate
diamond shapes, which makes it very believable that diamond twill would have been favored over plain or herringbone
I also wanted long, decorative fringes on the ends of the towel, similar to those seen in the feast picture above. I know that
linen fringes have a nasty habit of tangling and shredding after repeated washings, so a braided fringe seemed to make
more sense for durability’s sake than a plain, twisted, or knotted fringe. The evaluation of the Coppergate braided
fragments was that they could have been the main part of the item, with the tabby bands at the edges added for stability
OR they could have been the decoration on the ends of tabby fabric. For this project I assumed the second case.
The Coppergate twill I used as a model for the weave did not specify the yarn size, but it did specify that the fabric was
15-18x13 ends per centimeter. I assumed that shrinkage would affect this number, so I subtracted 20% and decided I
should weave to 12 ends per centimeter. Since my reeds are American I needed to convert to inches. 12 epcm = 30 ends
per inch, which meant I could triple-sley in a 10-dent reed.
I had three cones of linen in my stash to choose from: two cones of 16/1 and a cone of 10/1. When I did a wraps-per-inch
test on them, the 10/1 seemed like it would work well with a sett of about 30 ends per inch for a twill weave. It was also
the smoothest yarn and closest in appearance to my spindle-spun linen, which I hope to weave for my next project.
I estimated that I would like my final towel to be about 16” wide by 24” long with 10” fringes at both ends. I added 20% to
allow for shrinkage. I also added 20 inches to the warp for waste and made a warp of 608 ends, 72 inches long.
Warping and Weaving:
I wound the warp onto the back beam and threaded back to front. I miscounted at first and had to re-thread almost a
quarter of the heddles, but after I established a physical and mental pattern for keeping track of my threads and heddles,
the threading went without incident. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover NO threading errors when I finally started
weaving! I knew that my selvedges would take the most stress while weaving, so I double-threaded the last 4 heddles on
each end and sleyed the edges more densely than the main fabric.
After weaving some rows of tabby to even out any odd tensions in the warp, and a sample bit of twill, I reserved a section
of warp for fringes by adding weaving sticks for about 10”. I then started weaving the main fabric. As I wove I used a spray
bottle to dampen the fell area with water.
The weaving went very well at first, and then I started encountering breakage on the selvedges. This was due to my
having allowed the weaving width to be narrower than the width of the warps in the reed. I decided to continue mending
the warps as they broke rather than increase the fabric width because I didn’t want ugly selvedges with one end of the
towel noticeably narrower than the other.
The next problem I encountered was that one end of the cord I used to lash the warp to the back beam came untied. This
caused the left side of the warp to get gradually looser until the right side was packing noticeably tighter than the left.
Once I stood up and saw what had happened I re-tied it. I unwove a section, but broke a lot of selvedge warps in the
process and decided that it would be better to continue and hope some of the tension would even out in the wash.
Unfortunately, the warps were also becoming too fuzzy. The fuzz pulled apart neighboring warps and was gathering in the
reed. That was the point at which I decided to size the warp. I boiled flax seeds in a bag (4-5 tbsp in about 6 cups of
water) until the water became viscous and let it cool. I then applied the dressing to the warp with a terry cloth. I also
sprayed the warps periodically with more flax dressing as I continued weaving.
When I had woven as far as my loom would allow, I cut off the ends of the warp, needle-wove the repaired warps into the
fabric and braided the fringes.
Since this fabric was meant to be durable and washed relatively often, I finished it in the washing machine on hot for a
fairly long cycle to encourage shrinking. I never dry linens in the dryer, so after washing I hard pressed the cloth while still
damp. I have not yet decided whether I want to leave the color natural or bleach the cloth.
Lessons Learned:
Pay close attention to ergonomics when threading
Start weaving at the width threaded in the reed – a lot of breakage could have been eliminated
Plan for a lot more sampling/waste
When in doubt, size the warp
Baines, Patricia. Linen: Hand Spinning and Weaving. B. T. Batsford, Ltd: London, 1989. ISBN 0-934026-52-1
Bonneville, Francois de, The Book of Fine Linen. Flammarion, Paris: 1994. ISBN 2-08013-557-0
Crowfoot, Elisabeth; Pritchard, Frances; and Staniland, Kay. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-1450. Medieval Finds
from Excavations in London 4. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London: 1992. ISBN 0-11-290445-9
Walton, Penelope. Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate. The Archaeology of York: Volume
17, The Small Finds. Published for the York Archaeological Trust by the Council for British Archaeology,
1989. ISBN 0-906780-79-9
Wild, S. P., Textile Manufacture in the Northern Roman Provinces. Cambridge University Press, 1970. ISBN
Figure 4: Mesh from Coppergate1327 (Walton351)
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