MELBA WOODRUM'S FANCY TOWELING
by Gail Hodges
Photos by James Heck, Gina Jennings and Carl Davis. Color by Allen Gage
Each time I visit with my grandmother, Melba Woodrum, I marvel at her many talents, each of which reveals a small portion of her personality. My favorite of her needlework is huck weaving or Swedish embroidery. "I learned how by just watching friends and neighbors," she said. "I just picked it up. A friend and I spent one winter seeing how many different colors of toweling we could get and how many we could make. I think by the time the winter was over, we had about fifty towels each."
Huck weaving is an interesting combination of embroidery, weaving and darning. This very versatile needlework can be worked on hand towels, placemats, aprons, dresser scarfs, pillow tops and anything imaginable that you can use huck toweling for.
Huck weaving is a very economical craft as you need only three basic inexpensive materials--huck toweling, thread and a needle.
Huck weaving is worked across a special cotton fabric, huck toweling. The toweling is woven in a special way so that the back side, on which you work, has slightly raised pairs of threads at regular intervals arranged in rows in a checkerboard fashion. These threads add to the fabric's very durable quality making the toweling very easy to wash and iron. The toweling may be purchased in only the one width of sixteen inches, but it is available in a wide array of colors. When choosing the colors, you might consider your eyes, for it is more difficult to see the raised threads on dark colors. Huck toweling may be purchased from any major needlework supply house.
The most convenient needle to use in huck weaving is a tapestry needle, which comes in several sizes, the smallest size being the easiest to Work with. This needle has a blunt tip, providing for easier pick up of the stitches. Tapestry needles may also be purchased at most fabric or craft stores. Any ordinary needle can be used, but the sharp point slows down the work, for it doesn't slip through the raised threads as readily.
In huck weaving most any decorative thread could be used. My grandmother prefers either pearl cotton or embroidery floss. When deciding which thread to use, consider what effect you want to achieve. Pearl cotton gives a thicker, richer look, whereas embroidery floss gives a separated, perhaps more delicate effect. The thread comes in a wide variety of colors, enabling you to create many color patterns.
Melba Woodrum uses huck weaving designs and different colors of material and thread to create a variety of hand towels. Here she shows one of her fifty beautiful towels to BITTERSWEET staff member, Gail Hodges. All designs included in this story were made by Melba Woodrum.
When beginning huck weaving, as in any sewing or embroidery work, cut the thread as long as you can work without tangling to avoid unnecessary re-threading the needle. About thirty-two inches long is a good standard, being twice the width of the material and enough to Finnish at least one row.
If you are right-handed, on most designs you will begin on the right selvage of the toweling and work to the left edge. But for more complicated designs, it is sometimes necessary to begin in the center of the toweling and work out from there.
Before beginning the weaving, you will need to decide how much space you will need for the hems--whether you want to put in a small hem or just fray the ends. Leave enough space for the hem and measure to where you want to begin the design. To follow the instructions given in this article begin on a row nearest the hem and work toward the opposite end of the toweling. The row you begin working on will be number one and the rest will continue in numerical order.
There is one basic stitch used in huck weaving. To begin this stitch you must first anchor the thread. To anchor count over five pairs of threads from the right selvage and then slide your needle under each of the pairs back toward the selvage. (Photo 1) When you are back at the right edge, turn back the opposite direction, skip the first pair of threads and go back under the same threads in that row. The thread is now anchored. (Photo 2) The purpose for anchoring the thread is to avoid having knots or anything showing on the opposite side.
To make the basic stitch continue across the entire row, sliding the needle under the pairs of raised threads as you proceed. (Photo 3) When you reach the left edge of the toweling at the selvage, anchor again and cut the thread closely to avoid any loose ends. Anchor at the beginning and end of every row if you change colors. However, if you are using the same color of thread on the next row, move on to the next row and continue without cutting the thread. If you should run out of thread in the middle of the row, just anchor and begin again. To avoid having so many threads in one place, you can continue until you run out of thread. Then begin a new thread four or five threads back. Cut ends close to toweling. (Photo 4)
Photos 1 and 2--How to anchor the first stitch. Pick up five threads and return through the same threads again.
Photo 3--The basic stitch, shown here, is the simplest of all designs.
Use caution when pulling the thread through so you will not pull too hard, puckering the material. If this or any other mistake should occur, unthread the needle and pull out the stitches.
Photo 4--Picking up in the middle of the row is easy when you follow this photo.
Photo 5--Close-up of design #1. The details of the photo allow you to copy the design.
You can achieve many different effects using just the basic stitch and different colors of threads by making patterns of stitching, but most women want more elaborate designs. Following are directions for three designs and one special stitch which explain some of the variations. There are also several close-up photographs of huck weaving my grandmother has done. After mastering these simpler designs you can probably figure out how to do most of them from the photographs.
DESIGN # 1
This very attractive design is very easy for those just beginning huck weaving. (Photo 5) Begin near the hem with the first half of the design which consists of six rows of weaving across the toweling.
The first row of the design is the basic stitch.
In the second row do the basic stitch until you have picked up nine pairs of threads to begin the row. Then go to the third row and pick up the pair of raised threads in direct line with the stitch in row one. Return to the second row and continue by making nine stitches before moving to row three for another peak. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the row. This row varies from the first in that it is beginning to form a design with peaks.
In the next three rows when doing the basic stitch, you will make one less stitch than on the previous row before you make the peak. Also to make each peak from here on you must skip a row. For instance, on row three make eight stitches, and then skip to the fifth row to pick up the peak. Each stitch on the peak will be directly above the last peak. On row four make seven stitches and skip to the seventh row for the peak. On row five, make six stitches and skip to row nine for the peak.
Begin row six by picking up five pairs of raised threads. Next, begin a diagonal design by advancing up one row at a time and picking up one pair of raised threads. You will advance five rows. Then begin a diagonal back down the peak by dropping a row at a time until you have picked up five pairs of threads. You are now back on row six. Do the basic stitch for four stitches, begin another diagonal and repeat the pattern across the row.
This completes the first half of the design. To begin the second half of the design turn the toweling around so the diagonals just completed point down, and then count thirteen rows from the point of the diagonal to find where to begin the second half. Then repeat all above steps beginning with the basic stitch of row one.
In order to vary the design you may change the color of threads on the rows. For instance, rows one and six could be a different color as a sort of border, or each row could use a slightly lighter hue of the same color.
DESIGN # 2
This design is slightly more advanced than design # 1 in that you will be forming a more complicated design using squares. (Photo 6)
The first row in this design is the basic stitch. In row two you will begin the design of squares. Step one--Begin the design with two basic stitches going to the left. Step 2--Then go to row four, reverse the direction of the needle so that it is pointing right, and pick up the first pair of threads in this row directly above the stitch in row two. (Photos 7 & 8) Step 3--Return to row two, pointing the needle to the left again, and pick up the same pair of threads as in step one. (Photo 9) Pick up the next pair of threads and repeat steps 2 and 3 all across the row. This will form a design looking like loops.
On row four make the basic stitch across the loops. Pick up the same threads as the top of the loops. This will give a boxed effect. (Photo 10)
Row five is the simple basic stitch all the way across. The directions to here explain how to make the border.
Begin the next variation of this design on row seven. Make six basic stitches and move up to row thirteen and make two stitches. Then return to row seven, make six stitches and repeat until you reach the selvage. (Photo 11) On row eight make five stitches and move to row fourteen and make three stitches. Return to row eight and continue across the row.
Continue repeating and following the design patterns for rows nine, ten and eleven, subtracting one from the basic stitches to begin before you skip up seven rows, and adding one across the top until you reach six. This design uses seventeen rows.
You have now completed the first half of the design. To complete the second half, turn the toweling around, count off eighteen rows and repeat all directions beginning with the basic stitch and the border of squares.
Now that you have two totally different designs, you will be able to make new designs by adding the stitches in different combinations. But so you will have a wider range of designs, here is a more difficult one.
Photo 6--Completed pattern.
Photo 7--Step one.
Photo 8--Step two.
Photo 9--Step three.
Photo 10--The basic stitch to create a boxed effect.
Photo 11--The next variation of the pattern.
Design #3 Photos 12-15 and 16-21 on pages 34-35 show step by step directions for design #3. Follow the steps for design #3 and discover its simplicity. When completed this pattern produces an intricate design.
DESIGN # 3
This design produces a much more intricate design when completed (Photo 20).
For this design begin in the center of the toweling. From the center pick up four pairs of raised threads with the needle pointing toward the left edge, and then reverse the direction of the needle so that it is pointing right. Return back to the center, picking up the very same threads, leaving a 1/8 to 1/4 inch loop on the end.
Then continue the basic stitch, making four stitches to the right. Reverse the direction of the needle so that it is pointing left and return to the center, picking up the same threads, leaving a loop on this end as you did on the other. (Photo 12) You are now back at the center and have completed the first step of the design which is the basis for the whole design. We will refer to this as the foundation row.
Now, drop down six rows and pick up two pairs of raised threads. (Photo 13) Then go directly back up to the row just under the foundation row and make four stitches going to the left. (Photo 14) Without taking any stitches, go directly up to the row above the foundation row. You will do this by forming a loop just larger than the first one on the foundation row as you go around the corner to go back to the right. Use caution not to pull the thread too tightly on all loops so they will lie down smoothly without puckering. These loose weaving threads give the design a rich tapestry appearance. Go to the right picking up four stitches. You are now back at the center. (Photo 15)
At the center go up five rows and make two stitches above the foundation row. This is half the pattern. Continue going to the right around the foundation row and back under it to the center. (Photo 16) Then continue going around the pattern until you have circled the foundation a total of three times.
When the left and right sides of the design have four loops, begin the first variation. Instead of turning the corner to make the next loop as you did before, you make only a half loop to row one--the foundation row. Turn the needle so that it is pointing left and make four more stitches. Reverse the direction of the needle, pointing right and return through the same threads leaving a loop. (Photo 17) Skip up four rows to form the second half of the loop you interrupted and continue picking up threads around the design to the right loop. You will do the same variation steps on the right loop ends also. Now, continue completely around the pattern until you have completed three more circles.
The second variation to the design occurs at the center on the top and bottom. When you have completed circling the foundation row six times and are making seven stitches on each top and bottom blunt ends, begin variation two. On the next time around, make only four stitches and drop straight down five rows and pick up two pairs of threads. Then go directly back to the previous row and continue on with the design. Repeat variation two on the opposite end also. (Photo 18)
Continue around the design making variation one after every four loops, (Photo 19) and variation two every sev--enth row. (Photo 21) Repeat the two variations of the design until you reach the desired size of the design you want or the edge of the toweling, finishing with a looped end on each edge. (Photo 20)
Photos 16-18--Step by step instructions of design #3.
Photo 19--Close-up of final variation of pattern on right side of design.
Photo 20--The completed pattern beginning in the center and reaching the edges of the towel. This design, which can be enlarged or reduced depending on the size of the area to be filled, would make a beautiful pillow cover or wall hanging.
Photo 21--Close-up of final variation of pattern at top.
The different designs in huck weaving are made by combining various stitches together. This next stitch is quite easy, but gives a different effect from the others. This stitch will produce a twist.
Make two stitches and then drop down, or go up, skipping one complete row to the raised threads directly below or above. Enter these threads from the same direction as you left the previous row. That is, if you are going left, when you drop down, pick up the raised threads still continuing left.
There is no limit to the number of patterns, designs and even pictures that can be woven onto huck toweling. Mastering these few instructions will give you a good start on most of the techniques you will need to know. From here on, let your imagination and ingenuity create many more designs. Perhaps you can top my grandmother's fifty towels.
Photo 22--In another design a variation can change a pattern to form a a totally different design. Notice that by just changing the direction of the needle, you can make a twist.
Huck weaving allows you to use your imagination in design and color to form creative and attractive patterns. Variation adds beauty to each design.