Friday, March 11, 2016

Introducing ... Swedish Weaving!

As Annake promised in our 3rd anniversary post, here is the first in a series of tutorials on Swedish weaving (huck embroidery)

Vintage Swedish weaving sample
Vintage Swedish weaving sample
This type of needlework (there is also a type of loom weaving with the same name) goes back at least as far as the 1600s. It was widespread in Europe, but probably is called "Swedish" because the best surviving samples of it may be found in Swedish museums. It has many names, including Nordic weaving, huck embroidery, and huck weaving which is what it was called when I learned to do it. It was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s and has come back into fashion several times since then. The latest surge in popularity has been for monks' cloth afghans; but that is quite an undertaking for a beginner, so I'm going to focus on smaller projects like linens, pillows, framed decorations and decorative inserts for clothing.

The “huck” in huck weaving comes from huckaback, a type of linen woven with loose surface threads called ‘floats’. The embroidery is done on the surface of the work and does not go through to the back of the fabric. Huck toweling is still the best fabric for this kind of work. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find it and it is expensive. It customarily comes in white or cream color. Here is a close-up of huck toweling showing how a blunt-pointed needle (so you don't split the float threads) is used to lift the pairs of floats. Needles with long, narrow eyes are preferred, because they don't pull the floats out of shape in the way needles with rounder eyes do.

sample with blunt needle

Many other fabrics may be used, as long as you can count the threads and lift them with your blunt-pointed tapestry needle. One of the best is Aida cloth, which is available in several gauges from many sources, and comes in a wide variety of colors. Monks' cloth comes in a few gauges and is commonly available. It also comes in a wide variety of colors. However, it is loosely woven, so it must be pre-washed because it shrinks and pre-hemmed because it frays. Also, some of the dyed versions are garish and the dye is uneven; examine them carefully before you buy them. I have discussed monks' cloth in previous posts (see the posts for February 27, 2014 and April 30, 2014). If you have been practicing embroidery chain stitches with me, you may be able to use the same practice material for this weaving. Below is a sample of it done on decorator burlap.

There are a number of pattern books and teaching DVDs on this subject available in shops and online. These are expensive and many of the patterns are confusing. Check with your nearest library to see if you can check out the books or order them through inter-library loans before you purchase them. Also check the back issues of the library's needlework and craft magazines for useful illustrated articles. I'm assuming that you would prefer not to spend a large sum on a craft which you may decide you don't want to pursue, so I will suggest inexpensive alternatives. If you are a regular reader, you know that my intention is to show you basic stitches and patterns like the ones below and to encourage you to to go ahead to develop your own designs. If you decide you really like the technique, then is the time to invest in materials, books, DVDs, and so forth.

Sampler of traditional huck weaving stitches
A sampler of some traditional huck weaving stitches
The most basic stitches in this technique are straight horizontal and diagonal ones. You can make a number of patterns using these alone. Diagonal stitches can move either up or down and either backward or forward. Even the simplest lines of horizontal stitches make an attractive border if they are done in a pleasing arrangement of bright colors or graduated tones of the same color. Each line is identical to the one before it, so you can follow easily and the pattern develops quickly. The patterns are traditionally worked from right to left, but will work equally well from left to right for left-handed people. I often work one row one way and the next row the other way. Although I usually prefer to do embroidery with a hoop, these linear patterns are easier to do without a hoop. Click on the sample patterns below and enlarge them to make them easy to understand. Remember that your thread or yarn should lie lightly on top of your fabric. Do not pull your stitches tight and distort the material.

More simple huck weaving samples
More simple huck weaving samples on Aida cloth
Do you want an easy way to make your borders more interesting? Just double the pattern. Put in a pattern as you have practiced. If it starts with a baseline and reaches upward, turn your fabric 180 degrees. Repeat the pattern. You may want the two straight sides to join, or you may want to leave one or more unworked rows of thread in the middle, or to put in a row or two of running stitches in a contrasting color. If the pattern starts with a baseline and reaches downward, turn the fabric 180 degrees and do the pattern again, deciding whether to join the two halves together or to separate them with running stitches or a small amount of space. The examples below show how this is done. Experiment with other patterns you have learned.

simple stitch pattern repeated two different ways
A simple stitch pattern, repeated two different ways
We are going to concentrate on stitches and simple patterns for a while; later we will discuss preparing the materials, beginning and ending rows of stitching, estimating the amount of thread for a single row of stitches, finishing the edges of projects, etc. I will show you more patterns, done on Aida, monks’ cloth, decorator burlap, and so forth so you can compare them.

Be creative,

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