woven rug

Perhaps you’ve already met my little childhood loom, which being tiny, though perfectly formed, has merely made me crazier to try a large weaving. Perhaps you’ve also heard of my friend Amy C Lund, the extraordinary handweaver. Amy is going to take us through the process of weaving a woollen rug on a loom in her Tiverton, Rhode Island studio. If, like me, you are mad to try even a simple bit of weaving, this will not help you calm down. It will inspire you to further heights. Hang in there.

Many years ago another weaver gave me a large quantity of wool rug yarn, some of which had become home to mice before I got it. Not having an immediate project in mind, not wanting to take the time to sort though it, I left it aside until recently, when I was clearing out corners of my studio and I had a loom set up with a bit of warp left to weave. So I gathered it all up and shook it all out.


With the warming spring days I found some time to give it all a soak, and set it to dry in the sun. It was a lot more than I would need for this project, but I got a sense of how much I had and what weights. Some of the yarn was thick and some thinner, some plied and some single strands. I did not end up using the darkest blue, but decided to use the two lighter shades with some gray on an ivory ground in a pick and pick pattern.


While the loom I used already had a warp set up, usually I measure out all the ground warp threads to the same lengths on a revolving warping reel or a stationary warping pegboard. The principle is that between threads wound between two points, A to B and back, become sets of 2 matching length threads. This is done for as many threads as needed for the density per inch and the width in inches of the project. The grouped threads are then chained and transferred to the loom. They are spread to the proper width and wound onto the beam. Consider the loom as a scroll from which the threads begin on the back beam, get threaded through the harnesses and tied to the front beam. As the fabric is woven it comes off the back and winds down to the front cloth roller.


Each warp thread passes through the eye of a heddle (similar to threading a needle) in a harness or shaft, which will then be raised or lowered. The order the threads are threaded, as well as the order the harness groups are raised can create a multitude of patterns. The simplest pattern is to alternate every other thread through the front or back harness shaft to lift & lower odd and even threads alternately.

Once the loom is threaded and the warp ends are tied to the front beam extension apron, the cloth is ready to weave. This requires inserting the weft or filler threads.

pick and pick rug

To start weaving the rug, I created a hem or header section of a tight weave before beginning the body of the rug. For this project, I chose to weave a pick & pick weft-faced patterned rug, which means alternating 2 color yarns so that one shows more on the even shaft and the other on the odd shaft, also resulting in a structure where the weft is condensed over the warp ground threads. Here, I alternated each section color with a ground color in a repeating pattern.

finished pick & pick wool rug

There are many ways to finish a rug, with tied fringe, twisted or braided, hemmed edges folded under, or in this case I rewove each of the warp threads back up into the rug (as if in a U-turn) for a flat finish.

You see? Such appealing possibilities. I am willing a loom to come to me, and a weaving teacher like Amy along with it. We would love to live with a woollen, woven rug. Visit Amy’s gallery and studio on one of your trips to New England’s coast – until then, content yourself with seeing her gorgeous work at her site and getting a piece of your own at her shop. Thanks Amy!

simple wreath

Autumn leaves are just beginning to tumble across the grasses here. It’s been a good twenty years since I first visited this lakeshore and saw it all leafless and cold; now we watch the changes with keen interest. The mosses that dried to a deep orange have brightened green in the rains, and just a few colours are appearing. Each year as the days shorten and winds chill the air, I make a simple, tiny wreath. I’ll make one for the cottage gate very soon.

silver birch wreath

Gather together sprigs of silver birch or some other beautiful, delicate branches, still in leaf. Bend one of the pliable wands in a small circle, hold tightly, and weave more in at quarter turns, starting each new end pointing through the center of the circle to the back. Allow most of the little branches to spray out, weaving just enough to catch and keep the circle strong. Hang the little wreath with a length of ribbon on a gate, door or knob somewhere; the leaves will slowly scatter through the autumn weather. I like to tuck in berries, nuts, or cones as I come across them on walks throughout the season.

This simple wreath featured in last autumn’s newsletter. Read this autumn’s edition here.

laundry basket

In my short life, I have watched the demise of a series of unfortunate plastic laundry baskets. Handles, then sides, would crack, rendering them unstable, collapsing in your hands and scratching you with sharp edges as a final insult. What to do with a broken plastic laundry basket? Very little. Such vexation! When I needed a laundry basket in England, I turned to tradition for a better solution.

traditional rolled top laundry basket

A handmade willow laundry basket, woven sturdily whilst green, with a traditional rolled top for tremendous strength and beauty. This is a an old fashioned basket I am happy to see, particularly in a small space where it lives and works in constant proximity with us.

old fashioned roll-top laundry basket

It is designed to sit flat on its base, rising in elegant curves to comfortably handle the perfect amount of laundry. I can rest it on my hip on the walk to the washer and out to the clothesline in the garden, and the oval shape slips effortlessly through doorways. The willow, and the spaces between, breathe easily, keeping clothes fresh. In two years the basket hasn’t shown the least sign of breaking, but on its retirement some day, it will go lightly into the earth again. I’d love to learn to make baskets myself. Such a good old skill.

little loom

When I was a little girl I was given a little loom and would work with it for hours. Now it belongs to my children, and we all weave pretty little things with it.

title="loom © elisa rathje 2012

I’ve begun to learn to spin my own yarn, on a wheel and on the drop spindle, and I made off with the loom to try weaving the stuff. I fell over when I saw how beautifully the slubby yarn weaves, subtle variations in shade and tremendous variations in thickness. I’ve heard that slubby yarn is the most expensive, because once you know how to spin it is difficult to reproduce those textures, like trying to draw in the charming hand of a child. My spinning is distinctly charming, yet. Lumpy. My weaving is very basic, but I absolutely adore it.

I wove every bit of our homespun yarn, and will need to card some of the fleece I bought, ambitiously, to continue. It is such a little loom, there isn’t so much you can make with the narrow pieces, but it is such a pleasure and makes me think of my mother and her family, in Canada and in Finland, sharing looms to make rag rugs and beautiful weavings. Now I’m acutely inspired to weave on a larger scale. If I can just find a friendly person with a loom. I dream about it! Entrancing process.

rustic wreath

The first wreath I made for the little cottage had a Charlie Brown charm to it, with a habit of blowing away in the snow, so I was thrilled to learn some sturdy wreath-making skills at a little winter floristry class in the village this weekend, led by the wonderful Jen and Bek of Blooming Green.

rustic wreath © elisa rathje 2011

The plants they chose were striking, red dogwood, black willow, silver and weeping birch. I can spot a silver birch, at least, so I’ll be gathering some more from the garden to play with.

rustic wreath © elisa rathje 2011

Bek showed us how to bend the pliable wands into circles and weave more in at quarter turns, starting each new end pointing through the middle to the back. For the knitters, as if to knit. Later those longer hard ends of willow and dogwood were clipped cleanly off, leaving the birch a bit wild. Amazing how it works when you do it properly, with good materials. I love the branches just as they are, as a candle surround intended for a table, or as a wreath.

<rustic wreath © elisa rathje 2011

But there were cones and crab apples, which I couldn’t resist. I learned to conjure with floral wire, wrapping it round the center of the cone, near the base, or poking and hooking it down through the apple, threading through to the back of the wreath and twisting to secure. Brilliant!

rustic wreath © elisa rathje 2011

I’m ever so pleased with it. I’d like to make another rustic wreath with greenery for the front door, and perhaps a tiny, silver birch circle for the gate. Exciting! The class was so friendly, it’s very sweet to meet more people from the surrounding villages. Be sure to see what Blooming Green gets up to; their local, ecological approach to floristry is something I deeply admire. (Come spring they’ll have more flowery pick-your-own days, involving cake, in Kent. Like berrying at a local farm, how delightful!) I’m a little bit more ready for the holidays now.


p>Many thanks to Plumpton College, Centre for Sustainable Food, Farming and Forestry, and the Weald Forest Ridge Partnership for providing the funding for the floristry course. It was brilliant.