As a maker, my goal is to bring handspun textiles into all places in my life where textiles are used, especially household textiles. I began by knitting a hand towel from linen yarn that had lingered unused in my stash for many years. The yarn was the first flax I’d ever spun, and it’s not pretty: unevenly spun and plied with lots of slubs and mistakes during the learning process. This towel has now been used for over 15 years, and the cycles of use and washing have softened and bleached the yarn from a wiry dark grey to a soft and drapey off-white. While not the most beautiful thing I’ve made, it absorbs water well and I take great satisfaction in it. I learned from this project to embrace the fact that nothing I make will ever be perfect and that my personal satisfaction comes more from making something useful than something beautiful.
As I learned to spin cotton, I enjoyed talking with a friend about the beauty of natural colored cotton. She planned to use her handspun cotton to make kitchen towels. I did not yet know how to weave, but I offered her my stash of handspun cotton and she very kindly wove me two kitchen towels using her more expertly and tightly spun natural colored cotton yarns as warp and my looser spun and plyed white cotton yarn as weft. These towels have been used in regular rotation for many years now and have stood up well to the rigors of drying dishes and hands, wiping up spills, and taking a quick turn as impromptu potholder.
The first woven household textile I made myself is a woolen blanket woven on a rigid heddle loom using my stash of handspun yarn. The blanket is made of three woven panels sewn together. I learned in making this that yarn spun for knitting can work just as well for weaving both as warp and as weft. I was just learning to weave, and this was my third project. My partner immediately adopted this as his personal blanket and all winter it resides on his side of the bed. Surprisingly, there was still a great deal of handspun yarn left in my stash by the time I got my floor loom up and working. The first project I made was another blanket, this one made of two wider panels sewn together. I wanted a handspun blanket of my own and now I have it. Perhaps it is my imagination, but sleep seems sweeter when a blizzard is raging outside and we are warm under layers of handspun and handwoven wool.
Recently I have been working a great deal with bast fibers—both flax and hemp. A weaving experiment with hemp singles provided me with several yards of cloth, some of which was made into a lunchbag, some of which I eventually made into a bread bag to hold the loaves of sourdough bread and rolls I bake.
An experiment with two-ply hemp for knitting led to more projects for the household. I knit a bath mitt as a sample of how the yarn would knit up. As I was knitting, I kept admiring the yarn and wondering how it would look woven up. A short warp later, I had four placemats woven from bleached hemp yarn with a small stripe of unbleached hemp.
There is a long list of things I want to make for the household from handspun: bath towels, pillow cases and eventually sheets, rugs, curtains, and narrow bands to use as webbing to replace the reeds used on a stool. The list could go on and on, and I look forward to finding more uses around the house for my handspun, handmade textiles.
Devin Helmen has been immersed in fiber since learning to spin at age eight. They spin, knit, and weave in beautiful Minnesota. Devin enjoys writing and teaching about fiber arts and has a passion for spindles and everyday textiles. They blog, intermittently, at afewgreenfigs.blogspot.com.