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Reusable Paper Towels


Well, not quite "paper" towels, but when you can't find any paper towels at the stores during the pandemic shutdown, you get desperate.


Our ancestors never ran into the dilemma of no paper towels like we currently have. Paper towels and toilet paper didn't exist. So what did they use to wipe up spills? Rags. What were the rags before that? Clothing, bed hangings, towels. How did they get that cloth? It was woven on looms. In many areas, several families in an area would have a loom and often, traveling warpers would warp the looms in exchange for lodging and food. Then someone in the family could weave the necessary yardage for clothing, bed hangings, bartering for other goods, etc..


Let's start at the beginning and explain what a loom is and the weaving process. A loom is a machine - manually operated in the 18th century, and later motorized to speed up the process during the Industrial Age - that a person weaves on.


The parts of a loom are similar in all types of looms whether they are jack looms, counterbalance looms (which is what we are using today), or countermarche looms. You have treadles at the base that you step on. See my green shoes? Those are the treadles. They are attached to horizontal pieces called lamms. The lamms are attached to harnesses, which are shown in our next picture. So when I step on the treadles, a harness will raise or lower.

On those harnesses - the horizontal pieces shown below - are headles, through which your warp threads run from the back beam to the front beam.

Each thread goes through only one headle on one harness. For example, plain weaving has a threading pattern of thread 1 going through a headle on harness 1. Thread 2 goes through a headle on harness 2. Thread 3 goes through a headle on harness 3, and thread 4 goes through a headle on harness 4. Then it repeats across your warp.


The threads then travel through the reed, which is on the beater bar, and then wrapped around the front beam. These pieces can all be seen in the picture below. I bet you're thinkng "Oh geez! more new vocabulary!" Don't worry - it'll soon be clear how the pieces work together.


So why do we need the harnesses to go up and down? Because we need room for the shuttle (in my left hand in the picture below) to pull thread in between the warp threads. By changing the treadles, different harnesses are activated and the thread left by the shuttle - the weft - is locked into place. The name of that opening made by the threads is called the shed.

Alright, if you've kept up with us so far, you're in luck! We are at the end of explaining the loom. Here is the whole picture......


You can weave if you know your ABCs. Really, all you need is A, B, and C.


A for throwing the shuttle ACROSS the warp.

B for BEATing the thread into place with the beater bar.

C for CHANGE feet on the treadles.


Now there are about a million different ways to thread the warp threads through the headles, which will create different patterns on your fabric. Those are called threading patterns. And about a million different sequences to treadle - treadling patterns.


When you are looking to weave a piece of fabric, you have a weaving draft for instructions, which is the threading pattern and treadling pattern written in a graph form. Here is an example from Comfort Weaving for a plaid twill fabric:

Across the top is the warp and headle threading information. It says to thread the first 6 black threads in your warp through headles on harnesses 4, 3, 2, 1, 4, 3. and then continue the threading pattern with 6 white threads, and repeat until you are at the end of your warp. On the right side is the treadling pattern and weft colors. The first 6 rows are white, the next 6 rows are black, and so on.


See that box at the upper right? That is the tie-up pattern. It's how the treadles are tied up to the harnesses. Treadle 1 is tied to harnesses 1 and 2. Treadle 2 is tied to harnesses 2 and 3, and so on. When you step on treadle 1, then harnesses 1 and 2 will be activated.


You can use the plain weave threading and different treadling patterns to produce different fabrics. Plain weave fabric - a.k.a., tabby - or twill is made with the same warp threading, but a different treadling sequence. It is truly mind boggling! Sort of like 3D chess.


Each piece of weaving could be its own blog post. I've just given you a very brief overall view. If weaving sparks your curiosity, there are lots and lots of information on the internet. From beginner to advanced expert weaving information.


Yes, we made a video to show it in action and a bit more explanation. And here are a few more pictures which you can click on to see up close details.

And some shots of the finished towels. The extra shot is the finished towel with a 5-year-old towel.



Happy spring and warmer weather!!!


-- Pati




70 Court Street

Freehold NJ 07728

732 - 462 -1466

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© 2019 by MCHA

Monmouth County Historical Association received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.