Ask Madelyn: Ideas for Quick Dish Towels

What yarns and structures make for towels that are thirsty—and speedy to weave?

Madelyn van der Hoogt Apr 24, 2024 - 3 min read

Ask Madelyn: Ideas for Quick Dish Towels Primary Image

Palaka-Inspired Canvas Weave runner by Kate Lange Mckibben. Photo by Matt Graves

Hi Madelyn!

I know it‘s late, but I have a few days in which to weave some dish towels as presents (both for hostess gifts and for holiday gifts). I should have a specific project in mind, but could you make some suggestions about what materials and structures are (quickest) and most appropriate for dish towels?


Hi Jeanne!

Your question is pretty open-ended, but not too difficult to answer. First of all, there are two great eBooks you can consult for perfect dishtowel projects (Winning Towels from Handwoven's 21st Century Towel Contest and Best of Handwoven Top Ten Towels on Four Shafts). When you glance through the projects, you‘ll find that the most common materials used are 8/2 unmercerized cotton, 10/2 pearl cotton (only because 10/2 unmercerized cotton is not available), and 22/2 cottolin. In general, setts are either 20 or 24 ends per inch (so not all that time-consuming to thread and weave).

Marina O’Connor‘s Thousand Flowers Towels from Top Ten Towels on Four Shafts are a lovely and delicate take on overshot.

If your recipients will actually use the towels (sometimes they are inclined to think handwoven towels are too good to use), towels in 8/2 unmercerized cotton are probably the most absorbent, next would be cottolin, and last would be pearl cotton. For absorbency, too, a weave structure with texture, usually produced by floats of some kind, works best (waffle-weave, huck or huck lace or other spot weave, or twills).

If you like color, try Ursula Stehle‘s Global Warming Reminder from the Winning Towels collection.

Luckily, the yarns above all come in a wide range of colors, so you can design towels to match specific decor. For a variety of colorways, you can weave a set of towels on one warp, wind a new warp in different colors, and tie the new warp onto the old one for a different set of towels without rethreading. I usually allow 1 to 2 weaving hours per towel. I don't know of many items that are more pleasurable to weave than dish towels. And beyond weaving, all they need is hemming or hemstitching and a quick wash and press, and they‘re ready to go.


Originally published November 24, 2015; updated April 24, 2024.