Spa Wash Cloth on a Rigid-Heddle Loom
As I've said in earlier articles, I'm a sucker for interesting yarn. So I wasn't able to resist when I ran across two handspun yarns from Nepal.
One was hemp, and the other aloo (nettle.) Both were singles yarn, naturally colored, and with a rough, rustic, texture.
My plan was to weave spa-style organic, exfoliating wash cloths and give them as gifts with a bar of artisan soap. Hemp, being naturally antibacterial and moisture resistant, is perfect for bath linens, and aloo smells great and is good for buffing skin.
Plain weave, however, seemed a bit too plain, especially given the rustic nature of the yarns. I wanted a weave structure that would show the two yarns off to best effect, keeping them distinct and special. I also wanted something which could be woven on a simple, rigid-heddle loom so I could weave them during my summer travels.
Inspiration hit: hand-woven looped pile! The structure is similar to terry-cloth towels or Berber carpet. You can weave it on a rigid-heddle or any loom with two (or more) shafts, since it's just a hand-manipulated variant of plain weave.
The aloo being more flexible than the hemp, I used it as the weft because it made pulling up the pile loops easier.
When I was done weaving my handspun yarns, I was thrilled with the results. They looked like something you'd see in an upscale spa: rare, funky, and authentically textured.
Because not everyone shares my hippy-granola asthetic, or can get their hands on handspun hemp and aloo, I've also included directions for weaving the wash cloths in Lily Sugar'n Cream, an inexpensive worsted-weight cotton available from most yarn and craft stores.
A quick and satisfying weave, these looped-pile wash cloths make a great gift, especially when paired with a bar of handmade soap.
- Any loom that can weave plain weave, with a weaving width at least 10 inches wide. The samples in this article were woven on a Schacht Cricket rigid-heddle loom.
- A knitting needle or dowel to form the pile loops over. I used a 5mm (US 8) needle, but anything close to that will do.
- A small crochet hook (optional) can be useful to help pick up the loops.
Handspun 100% hemp, single ply, approximately 640 yards per pound. You will need 144 yards for 4 washcloths.
You can also substitute 20/2 wetspun linen for the hemp warp. Linen is also great for bath linens and can be easier to work with than the high-energy singles yarn
Note: bast fibers, like hemp and linen, behave better when there's humidity in the air. If you live in a dry climate, spritzing the yarn with water occasionally will help even out the warp tension and help the weft turn. It's like magic! I keep a spray bottle full of water on hand.
Lily Sugar'n Cream worsted-weight 100% cotton from Lily (or equivalent) 50 grams in White.
8 ends per inch
Aloo (nettle) handspun singles from Himalayan Yarn (100 grams/approximately 150 yds) The amount of weft needed depends on the density and length of your pile, but I've found that one skein more than enough for 4 washcloths.
(You can also use the hemp singles as the weft, though it is less flexible and more abrasive. It all depends on how exfoliating you want your scrubby wash cloth to be.)
Sugar and Cream worsted-weight 100% cotton from Lily (or equivalent) 50 grams in Lime Stripes. (Using a different color than the warp makes it easier to see the weft when picking up the loops.)
Wind a warp of 72 ends, 2 yards long. Makes four wash cloths.
- Weave 1-1/2 inches of plain weave. This will be folded into a hem later.
- Weave a section of looped pile, as described in the following section.
- Weave a second 1-1/2 inches of plain weave for the second hem.
Repeat the steps above for each washcloth. (Note: Remember that this means you'll have 3 inches total between washcloths.)
If you have extra warp at the end, you can weave a soap bag, a simple draw-string bag that you tuck scraps of soap into and then use as a wash cloth. It's a thrify way to use up every last bit of the soap.
Weaving Looped Pile
The following video illustrates how to pick up the pile loops using a knitting needle.
The process is as follows:
- Weave a pick of plain weave.
- Change the shed, and throw the shuttle. Leave the shed open. Do not beat the weft into place.
- With the shed open, use a knitting needle (or other pointed stick) to pick up loops of the weft between the raised warp threads. I find a small crochet hook helpful for picking up loops.
Make sure the weft has slack when you are picking up the pile loops. You'll need a lot weft to form the loops.
The size of the rod you use determines the height of your pile loops. Again, this is entirely up to you. Do you want a subtle, nubbled texture or long, plush loops?
I like to leave a plain-weave border on the edge of my pile block. To do so, I simply do not pull up pile loops between the first four and last four raised warp threads in the shed.
- Leaving the knitting needle in place, beat the weft into place. If you are weaving on a rigid-heddle loom you can angle the heddle to beat under the knitting needle.
- Weave 1-3 shots of plain weave to secure the pile.
The number of plain-weave rows between each row of pile loop is up to you. Fewer rows of plain-weave makes a denser pile. Experiment until you get the cloth you want. I used three plain-weave rows for the hemp/aloo version and two plain-weave rows for the cotton version.
- Remove the knitting needle and begin again at Step 2.
Variations: Pictoral Designs
You know how you created a plain-weave border by not picking up pile loops between the four threads on the edge?
You can actually do that anywhere along the pile row. Each potential loop can either be picked up or left down, to create patterns or designs in the pile. This is what I did in the free-form heart design to the right.
Think about it, you could weave in a message, initial, a teddy bear, a skull and crossbones, whatever you desire. Needlepoint books and counted cross-stitch patterns would be a great starting place for creating your own designs. Or you could make up your own with graph paper.
Think of these little washcloths as a fun little creative palette, and in no time you'll have a pile of these little treasures to hand out as hostess gifts or during holidays.
Syne Mitchell enjoys playing on the rigid-heddle loom and seeing just how far this simple loom can go. She teaches rigid-heddle classes at various venues, including the Madrona Winter Retreat, John C. Campbell Folk School and others. Syne is also the editor/publisher of WeaveZine.