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Leaf, Cabbage and Rose

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This project started with a friend’s  birthday wish for a classy bag to carry her art supplies.

I wanted to create something unique that would use items already in my stash and—where I had to buy new— would support local shops in my small home town. Since the two independently owned craft stores in my town sell quilting supplies, it was clear fabric would play a large part...

I remembered a bag-and-exchangeable-cover pattern I'd ordered off the Internet. By sewing a bag and then weaving a cover for it, I could make my friend new covers from time-to-time, and have her holiday and birthday gifts covered for the next several years! The weaving technique I chose to use for the bag cover: the multi-layered inlay variation of Theo Moorman technique. 

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Moorman inlay is like painting with yarn at the same time as you weave a background-cloth canvas underneath. It can be woven on a four-shaft loom, and is essentially two layers of plain weave. It's easy enough for first-time weavers to be successful, but offers enough design challenges to fascinate experienced weavers.

Theo Moorman, a British weaver, lived from 1907-1990. From the mid 1950’s until her death, she explored the play of light and color with fiber by weaving abstract designs inspired by nature. Theo developed her inlay technique as a way to weave her pictorial images on a floor loom.

Joyce Harter, my mentor and co-author created a multi-layered variation of the Moorman technique. Joyce HarterShe was weaving a vest and using fabric instead of yarn for the pattern inlay. She cut the fabric in narrow strips, carefully maintaining the order of the strips from cutting table to the loom, and inlayed them. The bird design printed on the fabric didn’t show up after being inlayed, however, so Joyce added a second layer of yarn inlay on top of the fabric strips, in the shape of flying birds. A number of warps later, we coined the term "multi-layered inlay."  This technique creates a thick and sturdy fabric.

Now when I walk into a quilting store, I look for weaving materials...fabric I can cut up and use like yarn!

Project Details

If you are new to the Moorman technique, I suggest you start with simply inlaying fabric strips (ie: omit the second layer of yarn inlay), as I've done in the "Cabbage and Rose" bag cover.  If you have woven inlay or tapestry before, try the complete technique as illustrated in the "Batik Leaf" bag cover. 

If you're not a sewer, don’t let that stop you. Collaborate! Put on a warp long enough for two bag covers, then find a sewing or quilting friend to barter with. You weave the bag covers and provide all the fabric, they sew the bag and bag cover.  You'll both end up with a handcrafted bag!


  • A four-shaft loom with a 13-inch or wider weaving width.
  • Two stick shuttles, one boat shuttle
  • Several netting shuttles
  • Self-healing mat and rotary cutter.
  • Transparent quilting ruler
  • Permanent fine-tip marker or tailor's chalk
  • "The Smart Handbag Pattern #601" by Eliza Jane Smart

Netting shuttle


For this project I recommend that you put on 2-1/2 yards of warp for two bag covers. You will learn so much weaving the first one, you will want to hone your skills on the second.


You can save time by winding the ground and tie-down warp together if you separate the three strands with your fingers or a warping paddle as you wind the warp.

ground warp and weftBackground warp: 5/2 pearl cotton, or the equivalent. (208 warp ends, wound 2-1/2 yards long.)

You can use a variety of yarns and colors in the background warp and weft, because they do not show in the finished fabric. I used light green cotton floss.  Webs often carries this mill-end yarn in huge skeins. This six-strand floss is smooth and just a bit thicker than 5/2 mercerized cotton.

Tie-down warp: size-30 machine quilting thread. (You can substitute: 20/2 cotton, 16/2 cotton, 20/2 Tencel—any fine, strong, smooth thread.) (104 tie-down warp ends, wound 2-1/2 yards long.)

pattern inlay threadThe tie down warp does show. Because I put on enough warp to weave two projects, the tie-down warp needed to match both fabrics.

For these two projects, I chose "Yellow Ombre" variegated 30-weight Pixelles Trilobal Polyester decorative thread by Signature.  It comes on 2000-yard cones in fourteen different colors, and is very strong. I freely combine cotton, polyester, rayon, silk, wool, etc. in my weaving.  If you prefer to use only natural fibers, a 30-weight, Egyptian-cotton, machine-quilting thread works quite well.


Background weft: 5/2 perle cotton or equivalent. (I used the same six-strand floss as the ground warp.)

Pattern Inlay Weft Yarn (optional, used in "Batik Leaf" bag cover): Yarn slightly thicker than the ground weft. I often use multiple strands of yarn wound together as one: freely combining rayon, silk, wool, tencel, soy silk, thin ribbon-like yarns, novelty knitting yarns, and/or handspun.

When choosing pattern-inlay yarn to use on top of the fabric, I use a quilter's tool called a Ruby Beholder® to check the value (ie: light and darkness) of the yarn against the fabric. You need a value contrast between the fabric color and the yarn so the inlay will show up against the background.

It doesn't take much yarn to inlay a design; the leaf used six yards or less of three different yarns, a red mohair, and orange rayon, and a crimson unknown!      

choosing a pattern inlay yarn

Fabric-strip weft:
1 to 1-1/4  yard of cotton quilting fabric, per bag cover. (It takes between three and four inches of uncut fabric to create one inch of woven inlayed fabric.) Preshrink the fabric by washing it in hot water, dry, and press.

FabricLook for fabrics that have large prints. The Kaffe Fassett “Cabbage & Rose” jumped out at this veggie and flower gardener.

Big is coming back and a number of fabric companies are currently producing large-print designs. Large-scale fabric designs are great with this technique because you will be able to see some of the design after the fabric strips are woven.


batik fabricMy favorite fabrics to use for multi-layer inlay are batik fabrics. The color and design are saturated on both sides of the fabric and the colors are always rich. I especially gravitate towards the batik fabrics if I’m going to do yarn inlay on top of the fabric. The fabric I used in "Batik Leaf" is Hoffman E230.


24 ends per inch, sleyed two ends together in a 12-dent reed. This creates 16 ground warps and 8 tie-down warps per inch, as every third warp is a tie-down thread (shown in red in the weave draft below).

Weave Structure

Theo Moorman Inlay.

The basic Moorman technique is a variation of plain weave. Theo’s innovation was to differentiate the weight of the warp threads: a heavy warp is threaded on the front shafts (1 and 2), and a fine warp is threaded on the back shafts (3 and 4). Woven together in plain weave (1-3 opposing 2-4), the entire warp produces a firm ground fabric. When a fine tie-down shed (shaft 3 or 4) is raised independently, pattern yarns and/or fabric strips can be inlayed on top of the ground cloth, and subsequently anchored by the tie-down warp. 

Multi-layer inlay uses the Theo Moorman weave structure. The difference is that the cloth inlay layer goes all the way across the weaving (instead of creating a design as in traditonal Moorman inlay) and multi-layer Inlay adds a third inlay layer of yarn on top of the selvedge-to-selvedge fabric-strip inlay.

Download the Theo Moorman Inlay Draft in WIF Format: download weave draft


Sleying the Reed

In order to evenly distribute the tie-down warps, it pays to take a bit of care with how you sley the warp.


Start with the right selvedge, sleying (1-2) together in one dent, then continue sleying 2 warps per dent in the following sequence: 

  • 1 each of ground and tie-down  (4-1)
  • 1 each of ground and tie-down  (2-3)
  • 2 ground (1-2)


Designing the Yarn-Pattern Inlay (optional)

Study the fabric for inspiration of what design element you may want to inlay with yarn on top of the fabric.  The batik leaf print was obvious, some kind of leaf.


Draw the design element(s) to full scale.  If you are not comfortable drawing, use a scanner, a copy machine or tracing paper to help. Keep the design simple.

making the cartoon

Prepare a cartoon from featherweight interfacing with the design motif(s) you will inlay with yarn over the fabric strips. A cartoon will assure your desired placement.

[Editor's Note: For more information about using a cartoon with inlay, see the topic "A Special Technique for Table-Loom Weaving" in "Diaphanous Leaves."]

weaving with a pattern


using a rotary cutterPreparing the Fabric Strips

Prepare the fabric strips.  Use a self-healing mat, gridded see-through ruler, and rotary cutter with a sharp blade.  I can't emphasize enough that the blade of the rotary cutter must be sharp! A great source for mail order blades is L.P. Sharp. They even take your used blades back for exchange, re-sharpen them, and re-sell for a reduced price. 

Cut the fabric two inches wider than the width of the inlayed area of your weaving. My inlay area was 11-1/4 inches so I cut the fabric 13 inches wide on the cross grain for the Batik Leaf fabric to ensure I had enough length to inlay the 12-3/4 inches in length for the bag front without having to cut another width and match the design repeat of the printed fabric. I also cut the Cabbage and Rose fabric on the cross grain. You can also cut the fabric on the straight grain. cutting fabric strips

Cut the strips 1/4-inch wide, always rolling the rotary cutter away from you. Don't cut all the way to the far edge; leave 1/2 inch of the fabric's selvedge uncut.   At the uncut fabric edge, draw a line with arrows pointing the direction the fabric is laying with a felt tip marker or a chalk marker. The arrows point to the last strip in the unit. I cut six-inches of fabric into strips at a time.



marking the fabric strips


Weaving Sequence

  1. As you weave at the loom, cut one strip of fabric free at a time.
  2. Raise the pattern-inlay shed (shaft 3) and with an empty wooden stick shuttle, scoot the strip across the warp into place, with fabric right side up. I put fine grit sand paper on the bottom of these shuttles to hold the strip in place as I’m scooting.

    step b

  3. Place the ends of the strip between two warp yarns on both sides of the warp, leaving one-inch tails hanging down underneath the weaving. I needed 11-1/4 inches of pattern area and at least a 1/2-inch seam allowance when sewing the bag, so I inlayed fabric strips 11-1/4 inches wide. Align the edges of the fabric strip evenly on both sides of selvedges. Then push the ends of the fabric strips down to the underside of the warp with the point of a netting shuttle. This leaves the area of the seam allowances free from fabric inlay. 

    step c

    Be sure to always push the fabric ends down between the same two warp yarns. 

    Note: On the "Cabbage and Rose" fabric, I was careful to keep the right side of the fabric facing up because it had more saturated color and pattern, than the reverse.

  4. Change to the opposite tie down shed, (shaft 4.) Slowly place—don’t beat—the fabric at the fell line, with the opposite shed open.

    step d

  5. Optional yarn inlay: If you are adding pattern-inlay yarn on top of the fabric (as in the "Batik Leaf" bag cover), go back to the tie-down shed (shaft 3) to place design yarns over the background fabric strip following the cartoon for the design element you wish to portray in this inlay technique. Design yarns are carried on netting shuttles. Gently lift the pattern inlay yarn so it sits on top of the inlay fabric strip.
  6. Now open the ground shed (shafts 1-3) and throw the ground weft from selvedge to selvedge. I like to put my ground weft on a boat shuttle. A stick shuttle also works.  Open the opposite ground shed (shafts 2-4) and beat firmly.
  7. Repeat the steps (a) through (f), this time using shaft 4 to inlay the fabric, and shafts 2-4 to throw the ground weft. Alternating using the weaving sequence raising shafts 3, then 1-3, and 2, then 2-4.  Watch your design appear row by row.


To summarize:

  • Cut one strip of fabric off the unit at a time, so it is inlayed in the same order that it was cut.
  • Inlay fabric strips and then yarn (if you are adding a yarn motif) with shaft 3 or 4 raised.
  • Throw ground weft with shafts 1-3 or 2-4 raised.
  • Always beat with the opposite shed open.


Weaving the Bag Cover Back and Front

I wove one inch of plain weave, 12-3/4 inches of inlayed area, then another inch of plain weave for the bag cover's front. The bag cover's back is woven the same way.

Weaving the Bag Cover Bottom 

I wove one inch of plain weave, 5 inches of inlayed area, and then another inch of plain weave. Since the bag sits on the bottom and won’t be seen, I simply cut 1/4-inch strips of the quilt fabric, glued them randomly together (any glue stick will work), and used them as a continuous inlay yarn. The fabric strips are not cut or ends pushed to the underside at each selvage as is done with the bag cover's front and back.

bag back and bottom


Cut apart the weaving into the three sections: front, back, and bottom. Serge the raw ends of the woven fabric. If you don’t own a serger, do two rows of closely set straight stitch and a row of zig-zag stitch.


cut apart and serge

ironingSteam press the reverse side of the weaving.

Needle-weave the tails of pattern inlay yarn into the back side of the weaving.

Anchor the fabric strips on the back side the weaving  with a row of machine straight stitching. To do this, fold back the woven ground fabric areas to expose just the cut strips. Stitch on the strips only, close to the woven edge, to secure them. Then trim the fabric tails leaving 1/4-inch beyond the machine stitching. 

sewing and cutting the tails


Making the Bag and Cover

The details of sewing the bag and cover together are explained in the pattern, "The Smart Handbag Pattern #601" by Eliza Jane Smart.  The great thing about this pattern is that once you sew the bag, you can make as many interchangeable bag covers as you want.


inner bagI used Fusiknit to underline the bag-cover sides, which I cut from the leftover quilting fabric. I also used Fusiknit for the interfacing when the pattern called to interface. This is a great sewer’s resource available from weaver, Linda Kubik

I cut the bag cover sides for Cabbage and Rose  5-1/4 inches wide x 12-3/4 inches tall, so that the bag cover is just a bit wider than the bag.

To finish the top edge of the bag cover, I added a cuff/facing cut from the bag cuff fabric 3-1/2 x 32 inches.

I covered black webbing with the cuff fabric to make matching bag handles.




I am grateful to Theo Moorman who—although I never met her—opened my hands, mind, and loom up to hours of exploring this most satisfying inlay technique.  I believe that once you know and honor the reason you weave and explore that path with focus, then the loom, fiber, and your skills and creativity blend.  This alchemy creates a fulfilling practice of self-expression that becomes more than the activity of weaving.


Nadine SaundersThe Singing Weaver, Nadine travels to teach and uses the internet to inspire and mentor students.  She has written books, produced recordings, videos, and leads fiber tours. "I strive to touch each individual by honoring their present abilities, stimulating all of their senses, and guiding them to achieve beyond their expectations."