Designing a weaving project - Swedish Lace place mats and napkins

I love weaving functional, useful things. Dressing up the dining table is especially close to my heart. I love the "experiences over stuff" ethos and it is inspiring to think about a life spent snorkeling around a Caribbean Island instead of folding the 798 t-shirts our family seems to own. BUT! When I dig a bit deeper and think about the experiences that just scream "this is me! this is us! this is the tribe of people whose love and friendship defines my life," what comes to mind is our first Thanksgiving dinner in America, being grateful for the warm welcome from near-strangers who generously shared this wonderful tradition with us; I think about the many art projects we made with my son and his friend when I picked both of them up from kindergarten and hung out at our house until his parents could come and pick him up; I think about the feverish nights debating and planning with my husband where we should move when he finishes his advanced degree, I think about the christening outfit I sewed to welcome my beloved friend's baby into the world. Those experiences all happened around a common backdrop: a sturdy, warm brown dining table.  

Hand woven napkins, place mats, runners and such always make even a regular, unremarkable table very special for me. The first thing I  design when I try out a new loom is usually a set of napkins. 

So I threaded the loom with a gentle off-white cotton thread (warp) and selected a few different colors with different intensity for color blending and contrast in the cross threads (weft).  


Then came researching the weaving pattern, that is, the weave structure, as weavers call it. In the spirit of allowing tradition to live and breathe in our 21st century lives, to be an active part of it without being stuffed away in a glass case of a museum, I chose a traditional Swedish lace pattern and adapted it to fit my four-shaft loom and my napkin's width. 

This is what that pattern (draft) looks like on graph paper, along with my weaver-ish side notes: 


These are just the notes for myself. Translated to plain English, the lace pattern is formed by having the threads on the loom (warp threads, marked white on the draft) float over up to 5 cross threads (weft, marked blue on the draft) at a time, and vica versa. These little floating threads give the square patterns and also allow the threads under them to move closer to each other and form the little rhythm of space and holes characteristic of lace. 

Threaded 9 inches wide and with a fine weft thread, weaving 9-inch squares makes sweet little cocktail napkins, perfect for lunches, picnics, and parties. 

There are few things I find as soothing as the neat order of the stretched out warp threads on the loom, lifting according to pattern, opening and giving way to the shuttle darting back-and-forth, back-and-forth, as it lays down the weft in between. 

Spreading the threads out to 13 inches and using thicker cotton for weft however makes the perfect fabric for place mats.

I tested many different yarns and colors to find the best ones for the place mats, both to get the most practical fabric (sturdy, lies flat on the table, doesn't slip under the place setting, easily machine washable!) and the best, subtle colors. I settled on matching the trusty cotton with a thin metallic thread that adds a hip modern spark, silver for the turquoise and copper for the white. 

To avoid sewing hems for those who do not like to sew, I designed cute little knotted fringes. If you can tie a knot, you can weave this place mat at a work shop.