Monk’s Cloth

Why is it called Monk’s Cloth? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Webster’s New World College Dictionary both indicate it is "a coarse heavy fabric in basket weave made originally of worsted and used for monk’s habits but now chiefly of cotton or linen." The time period in which it was used can be debated as well. One reference that stated the first reported use of Monk’s cloth was about 1847, but it didn’t reference its usage. Rosalie’s Medieval Woman website reports that it was used in the 15th century and was a worsted material. (This is a fabulous website that lists information on historical fabric names and clothing terms.) The Linen Trade, Ancient and Modern, by Alexander Johnston Warden states that in 1651, the mills at Newmills were attacked by an army led by General Monk, and a store of the home-made linen was taken.

The Fabric

Monk’s cloth is distinctive because the weave is created with four vertical (warp) and four horizontal (weft) threads which form individual blocks. For our purposes with huck weaving, each block becomes a "float". The fabric comes on a bolt and is 60" wide. There are seven floats/blocks to an inch, making it a very large weave. Monk’s cloth is 100% cotton and comes in a variety of colors including natural, pink, sage, navy blue, and many more.

Unlike most other needlework fabrics, you MUST wash Monk’s cloth BEFORE you start to stitch on it. Resources vary a lot on how on this step. At the very minimum, you need to stitch along the cut edges before you wash the fabric. Even out the cut ends so that there is one long continuous thread going from selvedge to selvedge. Because of the loose weave, your fabric will probably not lie straight at this point, so you can’t line up the edges and cut straight across like you would for a piece of broadcloth. Once you have your edges cut correctly, you need to keep them from unraveling. A zig zag stitch stitche works well. Sew completely across the cut edge, a couple of rows from the edge. It is really hard to stitch right along the edge because of the loose weave.

NOTE: If you were going to make an afghan from the piece of cloth, then you could go ahead and straight stitch along the cut edges about 2" in. Before you wash the material, pull out several of the fabric threads to create your fringe. This will keep these end threads from unraveling in your machines and getting tangled up. It also makes your fringe softer.

You MUST wash your fabric before you start to stitch because it will shrink up to 15% of its size. This also tightens up the threads and makes it easier to stitch under the floats.

Wash your fabric in cold water in the washing machine. You can add fabric softener if you desire. You can let it dry flat or you can put it in your dryer on a low setting. Some resources suggested a HIGH heat setting. If in doubt, use the heat setting you would probably use when you wash it in the future. When it is dry, you can iron it if needed.

How much fabric do you need?

It is estimated that Monk’s cloth will shrink about 15%. Avery Hill gives this handy formula for figuring yardage: multiply the inches needed by 1.15 and then divide by 36.

So, if you want an adult size afghan that is 2 yards long when finished, your formula would be 78 (2 yards) multiplied by 1.15 divided by 36 = 2.49 (2 ½ yards).

Your afghan will be approximately 52" wide, since the Monk’s cloth is 60" wide minus shrinkage.

Stitching Basket

A large blunt-end needle is used. The eye needs to be large enough to handle your thread or yarn. You can use a size #13 yarn needle or a bodkin needle. Here are some options for bodkin needles: 3" flat weaving needle, 12 in package, John James Raffia and Bodkin Set, and Colonial Raffia and Bodkin Set.

Threads need to be thick enough to create your design. Whatever you use, it must be washable since your project is designed to be used. Size #3 pearl cotton works well DMC has a size #3 as does Leah’s. The project below uses DMC and Caron’s Watercolours, without separating the strands.

Here is what Caron’s suggests about using threads that will be washed after stitching: "It is always best to test your threads before stitching with them. Moisten a length of thread and place it on a paper towel. If the finished embroidery is to be blocked with a steam iron, briefly add heat from an iron. If any color does come out, agitate the skein of yarn in very hot soapy water until all excess color is removed. Ivory Snow, Ivory or Palmolive dishwashing detergent (be sure not to use lemon scented detergent) or Synthrapol, a special soap solution used commercially for washing yarn, are the only ones we recommend. After washing and rinsing, air dry the thread." (reference link)

Another tool that will make your stitching smoother is the use of safety pins to mark your center and starting points.


The stitches are worked through the floats on top of the fabric, not going through to the back. Each row will be worked from the center out. This helps control the length of thread and reduces the stress on the thread so it doesn’t start to fray. Your pattern should tell you how long to cut your thread for EACH row. Thread your needle and starting in the center of the design, make your first stitch under the float. Pull the thread partway through and then adjust the thread so you have equal amounts of thread on each side of the stitch. Complete one half of your design row working from the center to the edge.

Some stitchers will stitch one entire side of the project (leaving the tails hanging for the other side). Then they turn the project over and finish the other half. Others will complete each row before going to the next one. It is up to you. If you stitch one side only and leave the tails hanging, they may get tangled up and pull at the stitches already done. Completing each row at a time will eliminate this possibility. Even if you stitch one row completely at a time, you will still begin in the middle of the row.

How you end the row will depend on your finishing technique. If you are going to fringe the edges, you will want to take your thread clear to the edge and include it in the fringe. If you are hemming the edge you may want to stop the stitching a few floats before the end. Then you will need to run your thread back through a couple of floats.

The basic stitches are the straight stitch, zig zag stitch, step stitch (up and down) and loop stitch (open and closed).

Straight Stitch »

Zig Zag Stitch »

Step Stitch »

Loop Stitch »

This project is stitched on a half yard of rust Monk’s cloth. The threads are Watercolours #061 Harvest and DMC #3 Pearl Cotton #758, #951, and #320.

There are several great books for afghans and lap robes such as 33 Contemporary Swedish Weaving Patterns for Monk’s Cloth.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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