Notes from the Fell: Keeping Records

Keeping good weaving records is a goal for many of us. Tom talks about a couple of uncommon methods that might work for you, as well as a more traditional style.

Tom Knisely Mar 16, 2022 - 8 min read

Notes from the Fell: Keeping Records Primary Image

This book belonged to a Japanese weaver before becoming part of Tom’s collection. The plain-weave swatches provided all the information needed to re-create the plaid and stripe designs. Photos by Tom Knisely

Come January first, my New Year’s resolutions are to keep better records and sample more. There is a far better chance that I will keep to these resolutions than my usual ones of losing weight and getting more exercise. I know many of you reading this save files on your computer. You save weaving drafts with pertinent information on thread, thread sizes, and amounts required to weave a given project, along with WIFs of all the treadling variations. I admire you all, but I am just an old-fashioned guy. I need to hold a woven sample in my hand to look at along with the draft and actual snippets of the yarns used to weave the sample. Observing how other weavers keep records of their weaving shamed me and made me realize that this doesn’t have to be a difficult task. I just need to get better organized and develop a system that will work well for me.

A few years ago, I met Stephen Szczepanek from Sri Threads in Brooklyn, New York. Stephen is a dealer in antique and vintage Japanese rural textiles. Although Stephen is not a weaver himself, he has a keen eye for collecting and buying fabulous examples of handwoven fabrics that were created for utilitarian use. These fabrics are mainly woven in plain weave, and the designs are created with different arrangements of stripes and checks and often involve fabrics dyed with indigo. Stephen called me one day to offer me a chance to buy a weaver’s pattern book containing dozens of small swatches of handwoven cloth. Of course, I bought the book. I love being able to study these small pieces of cloth and share my findings with other weavers. They’re a wonderful source of inspiration.

In this example of record keeping, because the fabrics are mainly plain weave, a sample of cloth is all that is needed. You can easily count the threads making up the stripe arrangement, and then make changes to thread counts or colors to suit your own needs. It’s ingenious. These small snippets can be the inspiration for anything from doubleweave blankets to rigid-heddle towels.

The other means of record keeping that I admire for its simplicity is the system used for weaving tartans. It was explained to me that weavers of old kept records for the different clans’ tartan color sequences by wrapping colored yarns around a wooden stick in the same order in which they appear on the loom. Now how smart is that? There is no need for a threading or treadling draft nor a tie-up. Tartans are woven in 2/2 twill. That’s all you need to know. The color order in the warp and weft is the important factor that distinguishes the clan tartans.


Studying and weaving tartans today is even easier. One of my favorite resources is a pocket-size book, The Tartan Weaver’s Guide, by James D. Scarlett. It contains color examples for 142 tartans with their thread counts and arrangements. Here is an example of the color sequence for Campbell of Cawdor.

4 2 16 16 16 2 4

A color key is given in the back of the book. A=azure, K=black, G=green, B=blue, R=red. The numerals listed below the colors represent the number of the threads in the sequence. Before you get started, you need to know that the color sequence is in a mirrored order with the end colors used as pivot points. If you read the order from left to right, you start with azure and go to red and pivot back to azure. Pivot points are not doubled.


Examples of the tartan color sequences found in The Tartan Weaver’s Guide, by James D. Scarlett. Because the warp color order and weft color order in a tartan are exactly the same, and symmetrical, only half of a color order is needed. Tartans are traditionally woven in 2/2 twill so full drafts aren’t required to re-create any of the patterns.

I thought about this way of record keeping for clan tartans and realized that it was simple and straightforward and didn’t need anything more. It was simply up to the weaver to do a little homework, such as choosing the threads for the project and determining the proper sett.

The simplicity of these examples of record keeping inspired me, but I need to do more to keep my own mind straight. I am all over the map with different projects—I never have less than two or three projects going at a time. And not only do I have my own work to consider, but I also carry home my students’ work in my head, and their weave structures and warps change each week of the year. There are always marvelous ideas passing in front of my face, and I don’t want to forget them. Between Handwoven, Ravelry, Pinterest, and other internet communities, there is never a lack of ideas that I want to remember. So how am I going to do better?

I started by dedicating a filing cabinet to weaving. One drawer has hanging folders for ideas for towels, blankets, rugs, etc. Another drawer has hanging folders for ideas and pattern drafts for specific weave structures such as overshot, summer and winter, Bateman, tied weaves—the list goes on. A third drawer has ideas and samples for perhaps a future book that I want to write. This system works much better than the scattered papers and drafts on the corner of the dining room table—well, says my wife.

I know a lot of weavers use weaving record sheets. A good example can be found in Learning to Weave by Deborah Chandler. You can use these sheets to calculate the amounts of materials needed for a project and include the draft and attach samples of the actual yarns as a reminder.

I like to start with graph paper to write out the threading draft, tie-up, and treadling as well as intended threads and colors, sett, width in the reed, and warp length. If I have woven a sample, I include it and slip everything into a clear sheet protector for safekeeping. Pictures are also a good reminder and can be added to that file.

Getting organized is rather a new concept for me, and I think I may really like it. My family appreciates my newly adopted efforts to reduce the clutter and secretly prays that I never go back to my old ways. This is one New Year’s resolution that I know I won’t break.

Happy weaving everyone.