This surface embroidery form has several different versions and is known by many names: Huck Embroidery, Huckaback darning, Punto Oitinho (Brazilian), Yugoslavian Weaving, and Swedish weaving. (There is a form of loom weaving called Swedish weaving also.)
The style we are talking about today is best known as Huck Embroidery or Swedish weaving. The name Huck Embroidery comes from the specialty fabric, huck, which it is stitched on. Phyllis Maurer from Ethnic Textile Art researches ethnic needlework. She says this technique has been found in linens dating back to the 1600’s. Sweden may have gotten the credit because many of the surviving linens and clothes came from this country. Swedish weaving was at its height of popularity in the 1930s and 1940s in the United States where the stitching was done on huck kitchen towels and linens. Phyllis suggests the usage of automatic dishwashers in homes created a decline in the need for dish towels, and therefore, the technique began to die off (http://ethnicfiberart.com/swedish_weaving.htm). (Click here to view a will written in the 1680’s that bequeaths huckaback linens.)
Thankfully there has been a resurgence in the popularity of Huck Embroidery. Designers are creating new exciting patterns which use today’s wide range of fabrics and fibers. Today one of the most popular projects is making Monk’s cloth afghans.
What distinguishes huck weaving from other similar styles is the design is worked completely on the top of the fabric, so the thread never appears on the back. That is great news for those of us who hold our breath when someone picks up our work and turns it over to see how neat it is! This is a very easy technique to learn working with basically two stitches. It works well for both right- and left-hand stitchers. Designers combine the stitches in a repeating pattern that is easy to follow and relaxing to stitch. Let me show you just how easy this technique is to learn.
Fabrics: There are several specialty fabrics which make your stitching a breeze.
Huck fabric is a descendant of a linen weave called huckaback. It is usually 14 count (7 floats) per inch, 100% cotton and 55″ wide. This fabric has a smooth and rough side. Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart by feel. The easiest method is to check the floats. One side will have 1 thread per float, while the other will have 2 threads per float. You want to stitch on the side with two threads per float. This fabric does not have to be prewashed. The way you finish your edges will depend on the project. To stitch the design you will want to use a size #8 or #12 pearl cotton or equivalent, or 3-6 strands of embroidery floss. Metallic threads look great on this fabric, if you are not going to use or wash it often. With huck fabric you can make tablecloths, runners, place mats, wall hangings, box lids, or card inserts. The possibilities are almost endless.
Huck toweling is approximately 14″ wide. It has become increasingly difficult to find a source for this toweling. The stitch count can vary greatly. Unfortunately, the quality can be an issue with little bits of thread woven in. With patience and a good pair of tweezers, you can remove them. It is milled in such a way that one side is more textured with one float thread running vertically. The smoother side has two float threads running vertically. You can use either side, but most people prefer the side with two floats. You do not need to prewash this fabric. Nordic Needle carries two sizes. Item 9151 is approximately an 18-count fabric, while Item 9153 is a 10/11-count fabric. Both of those are sold off the bolt. There are also two colors in a hemmed 15″ x 27″ towel with 10/11 count: Jade Green and Ceil Blue.
Monk’s cloth is an even weave fabric, 100% cotton, 60″ wide, 7 count (4 floats per inch) Monks’ cloth has floats going in both directions, so you can work your design either way. Monk’s cloth has to be pre-shrunk before you start to stitch. This cannot be stressed enough, because there is significant shrinkage. Zigzag the edges of the fabric to keep it from unraveling. Machine wash the prepared fabric with detergent in warm water. You can use fabric softener. Dry the fabric in the dryer. Sources can’t agree on the temperature setting. Some say hot, others say medium or low heat. My recommendation is you dry it on the setting you would normally dry it on when you when you wash it later. Depending on the manufacturer, you will see a 4-6" shrinkage per yard. We recommend you purchase 2 1/2 yards for an afghan and 1 2/3 yards for a baby blanket. Monk’s cloth is great for afghans, lap robes, runners, and placemats. It is also an alternative for folks who want to continue to stitch, but their eye sight has declined significantly. There are many ways to finish an afghan, such as hemming and fringing. Monk’s cloth now comes in quite a variety of colors.
Because of the size of floats, you can experiment with lots of fibers. Many folks use size #3 pearl cotton, multiple strands of #5 pearl cotton, 4-ply worsted yarn, ribbon, or Rainbow Gallery Plastic Canvas 7 or Overture.
Popcorn fabric, is also known as popkorn or Stockholm, and is 7-count (3 floats per inch) fabric with floats going both vertically and horizontally. The fabric is 70" wide and 100% cotton. You do not need to prewash this fabric. Stitch with size #3 pearl cotton, 1-2 strands of #5 pearl cotton, or 6-12 strands of embroidery floss. This fabric has a nice look and feel to it, and it would be great to use for pillows, placemats, napkins, box lids, and wall hangings.
Waffle cloth is 100% cotton, 45" wide and has 5 rows per inch. This cloth is woven so it has little "boxes" on the top of the fabric. You stitch through the longer threads on the edge of the boxes. Waffle cloth must be prewashed. Zigzag the edges of the fabric to keep it from unraveling. Machine wash with detergent in warm water on the delicate cycle. Dry in the dryer on low heat. This fabric has a unique look and works great for pillows box lids, and wall hangings. You can use size #3 or #5 pearl cotton, ribbon, or 6-12 strands of embroidery floss.
Aida cloth can be used in place of a huck fabric by running the needle under the loose top threads, but not through the back of the fabric. Designers may recommend whether to pick up all four or just the two center threads when stitching. Aida is 100% cotton. You do not need to prewash. A good size to use is 14 count (7 floats) per inch. You do not need to prewash. Stitch with #5 pearl cotton or 6 strands of embroidery floss. You can make ornaments, placemats, napkin rings, card inserts, and wall hangings.
Threads: Floss and pearl cottons were the threads of choice for earlier hand towels. Today the possibilities are almost endless with over-dyed, variegated, silk, metallic, and synthetic fibers. When you choose your threads, keep in mind what the project is. Will it be handled and washed often, or will it be displayed with little cleaning? For those items that will be used, you will probably want to stick to strong fibers such as cotton and silk. Silks have been found in costumes and household linens dating back centuries, so don’t be afraid to use this fiber in your projects. Ornaments and samplers can be accented with metallic and specialty threads. For the larger float sizes, such as Monk’s cloth, you can use a 4-ply worsted weight yarn. Check the content so you don’t get something with special washing instructions or that won’t take heat well. The ribbon mentioned above is not the silk ribbon type. Silk ribbon can tend to stretch or separate with a lot of use. Use the ribbon you can get in the craft department that comes on the rolls.
Needles: You need a blunt needle so you don’t split the floats as you stitch. For huck toweling, fabric, and Aida, you should use a tapestry needle that works well with your thread, such as size 24 tapestry needles. Clover makes a Huck Embroidery needle set with 3 needles (2.25", 2.62", and 3".) The 3" needle has a bent end to help get under the floats.
For Monk’s cloth, a bodkin or weaving needle is preferred.
Other handy accessories would include safety pins to mark your center on Monk’s cloth projects. Many people do not use a hoop when doing Huck Embroidery. stitch in hand, not using a hoop. For small projects or specialty fibers, you may want to use a hoop (click for embroidery hoops & frames) to help maintain an even tension. The choice is yours. Experiment and do what works best for you for each project. Some stitchers have found stitch counters and lighted-magnifiers (click for lights & magnifiers) a big help.
Reading the Pattern
Sometimes it is hard to get used to the diagrams and terminology that designers use to lay out their pattern. You need to know how the code works to decipher some of the patterns, especially older ones that come with no additional instructions or photographs. Here are some common things to look for in Huck Embroidery patterns:
- The order of stitching may be marked. On the edge of the pattern you may see "1", "A", or "row 1". This tells you the order in which to stitch the rows.
- Sometimes the designer gives you the length of thread for each row. The code for 3 times the length of the design or fabric might appear as "3W", "3L", "3T", or "2 times length plus 8". There will be times you find a pattern and it doesn’t give you the thread length. Here is a general rule of thumb:
- For a straight stitch, width of the fabric or design plus three inches
- For a straight looped stitch, one and a half times the width of the fabric or design plus three inches
- For a stitch that goes up or down several rows, use two times the width of the fabric.
- For a stitch that goes up or down more than 4 rows, use three times the width of the fabric or design
Often you will get a pattern charted with the fabric diagrams showing the floats and a dark line showing the path. Some designers print their patterns in color, which is a wonderful help if you have multiple threads in one space. This is the road map for your needle.
Tips and Tricks
To start a row, leave about 3" of thread. When you are done with the row or project, your choice, work the ends under three or four floats that you worked on that row, making sure that you loop around the edge float (otherwise it would just pull through). Cut the thread close to the fabric. You can wiggle it around with your blunt needle so the end doesn’t show.
How you end your threads will depend on how you plan on finishing the edges. If you want a fringe all the way around, you will want to leave them long. (Be sure to add more to your thread length to allow for the fringe length.) You can hide the ends in the hem if you are hemming or binding the edge. If you are working on a towel that has a pre-finished edge, you will want to loop around the last float and weave your thread back through several floats. Cut the thread close to the fabric.
Where do you start? Read the designer’s instructions to see if there is a suggestion. Most patterns will have you start the first thread in the middle of the fabric and stitch out to the ends. This helps center your work and reduces wear on the thread. For items such as afghans and lap quilts you should start in the middle of the row and the fabric length. This will ensure that your stitching will be centered, and you can treat the ends equally. Safety pins will help you mark the center points. For the remaining rows, it will depend on your piece whether you start in the center or on an edge. For large pieces you may want to always begin in the center and work out to reduce the length of thread you are stitching with and reduces the wear on your thread. If you are using specialty threads such as metallic, you may want to work from the center out for each row to reduce the wear on your thread.
You should calculate the amount of thread you need for each row so that you don’t run out in the middle of the row. There are a few patterns that have you stitch back and forth and you may run out in the middle of the row. To join a new thread you want to work your stitching thread following the pattern and when you get to the end of the thread, cut it as close to fabric as possible. Begin your new thread about four or five floats back from where you ended. You will have double thread for those four or five floats.
You want to be sure to stitch with an even tension. If your tension is too loose, your design may lose its shape. If your tension is too tight, your fabric will pucker or your stitches will pull tight creating harsh edges.
There will be times you need to correct a mistake. Take the thread out of the needle and work the thread back through. Do not try to stitch back through your worked section. This will stretch the floats and you may split the thread of your worked piece.
Finishing the Edges
How you plan to finish your huck weaving project plays a big part in preparing to do the pattern. Here are some suggestions:
- For projects such as box tops, card inserts, or stool covers the edges will be hidden. When you are done stitching, you can machine zigzag or fray check (6622) the edges to reduce fraying.
- For towels, linens, and wall hangings you may want a finished edge, perhaps hemmed, fringed, bound, or lace.
- For larger items such as afghans and lap robes you may want an edge that is hemmed, fringed, bound, or finished with a blanket stitch or crocheting.
Hemmed Edge: You turn the edges over twice and hem stitch, either by hand or by machine.
Self Fringing: Decide how long you want your fringe to be and machine stitch just above that point. For example, if you want a 1" fringe, machine stitch 1.25" up from the edge. A zigzag stitch is best. Remove the cross threads below the stitched line and trim your ends.
Fiber Fringe: You can have fringe along the edges of your piece by leaving a length of your fiber at the beginning and end of each row. The fibers should be secured when you finish the project. You can hem the fabric so only the fiber fringe will show, or you can zigzag above the point you want to fringe, then pull the cross threads from the fabric giving you fabric and fiber threads in the fringe. Trim your fringe to a uniform length when completely done.
Blanket Stitch: Hem the edges and do a regular blanket stitch around the outside. Keep the distance between your stitches even.
Single crochet: Hem the edges. Crochet a single crochet through the fabric so the crochet loop is on the edge.
Bound: Zigzag the fabric close to the edge, then stitch seam binding around the project.
Lace: Add a prepared lace or trim to your project. You will probably want to hem the edges or zigzag close to the edge of the fabric to secure your threads Add lace or trim to the top of your finished edge.
Techniques to Try
There are basically two stitches (straight and looped) which are worked in differing ways to create wonderful patterns. We’ve tried to illustrate several of the stitches showing how a designer might describe the stitch, how it looks graphed out, and how the finished stitch looks.
- Straight Stitch, Darning Stitch or Stitch a Float
- Step Stitch
- Zigzag Straight Stitch – one and two row examples
- Loop Stitches
Free Patterns and More!
Sue has designed a special pattern for you called Autumn Windbreak. "I grew up in rural Minnesota and have lived the last 34 years in North Dakota in the heart of the Red River Valley. Those of you who know this part of the U.S. know that the topsoil is very precious and the wind rarely stops blowing. In order to prevent wind erosion, many farmers plant rows of trees to protect their fields. This huck embroidery pattern reminds me of two different fields separated by a row of trees, a windbreak. Depending on whether you are viewing the scene in the autumn, at sunrise or at sunset, the colors will vary from rich golds, rusts, and burgundies to beautiful greens and blues, to lavenders, pinks and blues. Enjoy!"
We want you to have an opportunity to try out this needlework technique, so we’ve made some super deals to go along with Sue’s new free pattern.
Read about some of the designers that are helping to keep this needlework technique alive.
Swedish Weave Design
Here is Katherine Kennedy’s story. "I first learned about Swedish Weave in 2002 when a friend showed me a towel she had gotten at an Estate sale. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. I became instantly enamored with it. What I also found out was that I could not find any patterns for Swedish Weave, (but of course, I hadn’t yet heard of Nordic Needle.)! I’ve always loved to create, so immediately set about designing my own patterns. Besides towels, I made afghans, pillows, runners, wall hangings, curtain, etc. Within just a couple months I was selling my items at craft shows and some local Scandinavian shops. I also started teaching classes at Michaels’ and it was my students who really encouraged me to look into publishing my patterns. My first book "Easy Does It, Swedish Weave Towels" came out in May 2004. Even as that book came out, I still had several more designs finished and was creating more. About a year later, I contacted Nordic Needle to find out it they were interested in my work and that is when I started publishing the individual chart packs and kits. I still have so many designs and countless ideas for designs that I doubt I will ever get them all out!" Katherine’s advice is "I would say to anyone, to snatch a phrase from Nike – ‘Just Do It!’ I guarantee once you try it, you will be amazed at how fast and easy it is. I still marvel at how quickly I can make something and how beautiful the piece looks when it is finished." Here are Katherine’s patterns and kits available at Nordic Needle:
"The concept of Avery Hill was started in January 1998 when due to the lack of patterns Jeanne began to brainstorm. Eventually she convinced me (Nan) that it wasn’t as hard as it appeared and so I too started designing. We found that patterns were still not available and in May of 1999, with a little encouragement from Roz and Sue at Nordic Needle we published our first book "33 Contemporary Swedish Weaving Patterns for Monk’s Cloth“. The book was more successful than we ever anticipated and we decided that we might could do another book." In fact they have gone on to publish several more books. Avery Hill has a wonderful selection of sampler kits. Avery Hill Designs has several books and kits:
- Click here for books and kits by Avery Hill
- Avery also has a free pattern called Venice on their website at:
In a Gentle Fashion
Linda Palmer says "I first learned the technique from my mother when I was about 10 years old. Probably the most familiar use for Swedish Weaving is as border designs on hand towels but it is certainly not limited to towels. The technique uses a large blunt needle that is easy to thread, so it is a great technique to teach to children as an introduction to needlework. There are any number of wonderful fibers that can be used, but Pearl Cotton is one of the easiest to work with. Also, metallic threads can be added to give a bit of sparkle to the project. Swedish Weaving is wonderful for table linens, curtains, tote bags, pillows, and many other projects. A tip that I would like to share is that when you start a border design, always begin in the center of the design and work the row from the center to the outer edges. This will assure you of a symmetrical border that is perfectly centered. When calculating the amount of thread, if the design has several curved stitches, I usually measure three times the width of the fabric I will be stitching. If it is a straight row then you will only need to measure the width of the fabric and add 3 to 6 inches. You can start and stop in a row if necessary, but I prefer to have my beginning and ending stitches along the outside edges where they can be hidden in a seam."
Did you know that huckaback needlework was mentioned in at least three pieces of literature?
“The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll” (1897) by H.G.Wells
"Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work” (1860) by Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the famous Moll Flanders" (1722) by Daniel DeFoe.
It appears that September 30th was the day the safety pin was invented. The idea of a pin to hold things in place had been around for centuries. However, Walter Hunt had incurred a $15 dollar debt and he needed to find a way to pay it off. He was twisting a piece of wire when he came up with an idea that included a clasp surrounding the pointed end of the pin. It protected the point from harming clothing and people, therefore, the name "safety pin". On April 10, 1849, Walter Hunt was granted US patent number 6,281 for his safety pin. He sold his patent rights for $400 and paid off his $15 debt. You can own 100 copies (modern version, assorted sizes) of this marvelous invention for only 99 cents:
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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