Honeycomb Spot Bronson on Two Shafts
Only have two shafts on your loom?
You can weave more than plain weave!
Venture into historic Honeycomb Spot Bronson; it's a technique that will stretch your loom’s capacity, and make it possible to weave richly textured cloth using only two shafts.
In this article, I talk about the history of Honeycomb Spot Bronson, and then show you how you can use this technique to weave a blanket and pillow.
Southern Handweavers: The Genius of Creating
For generations, inventive weavers have made the most out of the equipment and yarns available.
In the 1800’s, a great deal of cotton was grown in Alabama, where "cotton was king.” These fibers are ideal for that region's hot climate, and were made into cool and comfortable clothing and bedding.
Cotton is resistant to coloring however, so many weavers of the time were limited to white-on-white designs and so used texture and structure to create patterns, such as the white-on-white counterpane coverlets characteristic to the region.
The loom most available to Southern weavers in the 1800s was a counterbalance loom, with either 2 or 4 shafts. With 2 shafts, they could weave plain weave. If a weaver was fortunate enough to have 4 shafts, they could weave twills and other simple weave structures.
But what about weaving fancy patterns?
Some weavers wove “Boutonne” in which they would pull up loops of weft in pattern configurations, often following a large gridded chart that had the design laid out line by line, pick by pick. (Editor's Note: You can see an example of weft-loop patterning at the end of the Spa Wash Cloth article.)
But the most ingenious method of all is the Southern adaptation to weave Spot Bronson. It is a lovely weave, ideal for counterpane coverlets with a light-and-airy weave structure. But it requires 3 shafts, at a time when many weavers had only 2-shaft looms. What to do?
Those enterprising weavers discovered that they could warp up a loom by threading one thread in a heddle and one thread between a heddle!
These “between threads” run directly from the front beam to the back beam and so are always in the same place, right in the center, while the threads in the heddles sit a tad lower. The result is that, at rest and without any shafts active, there is a shed!
This shed is the first shed for plain weave, a natural shed at rest; when the other 2 shafts are lifted, we have the other plain-weave shed. These threads are higher than those in the center, so now there is a double shed.
On a jack loom, as I’ve set up this project, one always weaves in the top shed. (See photo below.) So now we can weave plain weave using only one of the loom's shafts. That frees up the other shaft to thread a pattern, and Spot Bronson is ideal for our purposes.
About the Weave
Spot Bronson has gone by various names over time and is easily confused with other lace weaves. Mary Atwater is said to have named it Bronson when she came across it in a book by a man of that name and, though she found out later that it is actually a much older weave, the name has stuck.
A simple way to explain this lace weave is that the spots (5-or-7-thread skips) actually overlap from one unit to the next. In fact, we are using both 5 and 7 combinations in this project. (See the followng weave draft.)
When the cell is outlined with a heavier thread as we are doing in this project, it creates a lovely all-over lace effect known as “Honeycomb”. However, be forewarned: you cannot see the lovely curving thread deflection of honeycomb in the draft, but it will appear in the fabric, especially after it is wet-finishing. (See Resources at the end of this article for more information on the history and structure of Spot Bronson lace.)
Basic 2-Shaft Draft to Weave 3-Shaft Spot Bronson
It the diagram above, the green dots indicate threads that are not threaded through a heddle. They form a "virtual" third shaft. This has also been called a false shaft, a floating shaft, or a phantom shaft.
A to B is one threading repeat; B to C is the ending thread to balance the design. The two green dots, one at each end, also act as floating selvedges.
In the treadling, the green dots indicate sheds where you do not lift any shafts; you weave in the shed that exists when all the shafts are down.
For example, to weave plain weave you would throw a pick in the shed at rest for the first shed. Then for the other shed, you would lift all the threads (raise both shafts).
(Note: If you have a loom with more than 2 shafts, you can of course weave 3-shaft Spot Bronson. In that case, you would simply thread the threads that are floating in the diagram above on shaft 3.)
Threading a Sample
If you would like to try this method without weaving a big project, you can thread a sample according to the draft above: A-to-B two times (or as many repeats as you wish) ending with B-to-C threaded once (to balance the edge thread.) I also recommend a floating selvedge at both edges.
Because most modern looms are jack looms, I have adapted the southern method of weaving Spot Bronson to a jack loom configuration. In order to make the sheds, you weave the fabric upside down, so you will see the back of the fabric as you weave.
(Note: This is one case where inverting the tie up won't work to convert a counterbalance tie-up to a jack tie-up. It would mean you would have to weave in the bottom of the doubled shed, which would be difficult and lead to errors.)
- Two-shaft loom
- Shuttle (preferably low-profile, such as a damask shuttle)
- Pickup stick (optional)
- Temple (optional)
White 3/2 perle cotton (1200 yards/lb.)
Wind a warp of 363 threads (12 repeats of 30 threads each, plus one to balance the pattern, plus 2 floating selvedges), 4 yards long.
This allows for take-up and loom waste, sampling at the beginning of the warp, and weaving the blanket and pillow.
Sampling is something I always recommend; it gives you practice with the weave structure, and you can test-wash your sample to see how the fabric will react before you commit your entire project.
Main Weft: White 3/2 perle cotton (1200 yards/lb.)
Honeycomb Weft: This yarn should be larger than the main weft to outline the cells, add dimension to the fabric, and emphasize the lace pattern.
Lily Sugar'n Cream: 4-ply, worsted-weight, 100% cotton (805 yards/lb)
I used a variegated yarn in shades of pink, blue and white, so my baby blanket and pillow could be used for a boy or a girl. Some recommended colors for baby blankets are “Antique Twists” #20423 and “Baby Stripes” #214201.
(Note: You can use the 3/2 perle cotton throughout, and omit the heavier yarn. This will give a lovely all-over pattern, but it will not have the cells outlined with a heavier thread as shown in this project. Without the heavier thread, the structure is simply Spot Bronson, as it is the heavy thread that creates the honeycomeb cells.)
Hem Weft: White 10/2 perle cotton (8400 yards/lb). I use a thinner thread at the hems to reduce bulk and make them easier to sew.
15 epi (One thread per dent in a 15-dent reed.)
Width in reed: 24 inches.
Length of the blanket on the loom: 40 inches
Finished blanket: 20-1/2 inches wide x 36 inches long.
This blanket is sized as a receiving blanket. For a crib blanket, wind an additional 150 ends for a weaving width of 34 inches, which should finish up around 30 inches wide in the finished blanket.
Honeycomb Spot Bronson
Note: in the draft above, the honeycomb weft is represented in teal and the main weft in blue.
Configuring Jack Looms for this Technique
Counterbalance looms (in which the shafts pull warp threads down) are best for this method. To use this technique with a jack loom (in which the shafts push warp threads up), you need the back beam to be at a high enough angle to create a decent shed when the shafts are at rest. The size of the shed created by the warp threads between the heddles depends on the geometry of the loom.
Some looms (such as the table loom shown above) already have a good angle, and need no modifications. Other jack looms will create a better shed if the floating threads are raised at the back beam.
When I am weaving this technique on a Schacht Baby Wolf loom, I place the raddle on the back beam and then put only those threads that are between the heddles through the raddle. This lifts these threads up another inch above the others, and makes for a larger shed when the shafts are at rest.
The picture above shows a Schacht Baby Wolf set up to weave Spot Bronson. Note the raddle in the back, carrying the threads between heddles. The threads that are threaded through heddles run under the raddle.
Other things to note in this picture:
- A pickup stick can be used to widen and hold open a shed.
- A Damask shuttle is very low profile and works well in narrow sheds.
- A temple prevents the fabric from drawing in and improves the selvedges.
If you use a loom without a back-beam raddle and need to increase the angle on the back beam to get a good shed, you can clamp a board onto the back beam. The board should be approximately 2 inches high and the width of the cloth being woven or—even better—the width of the back beam.
Ideally, you would run the threads that are between the heddles over this board and the other threads underneath it. I use a board that has a little foot on either side so the heddle threads can run under it.
In addition, if you still have difficulty getting a shuttle easily through a narrow shed, insert a pickup stick in the shed and turn it sideways to open it up, as shown in the picture above.
I use damask shuttles when weaving this technique. They are low-profile, only 1/2-inch high, which helps them slip through narrow sheds. (These shuttles were developed to weave damask, which has very narrow sheds.) Stick shuttles are another good option.
When threading, alternate between one thread in a heddle, and one thread between that and the next heddle. Begin with a float and one in a heddle; repeat across, ending with one in a heddle and then a float. You will need half as many heddles as threads.
Using a Temple
If you have never used a temple, this is a good project to try one, since this soft yarn tends to pull in. A temple has pins that lock into the selvedges of the woven cloth, pushing them out and keeping the edges from drawing in.
You will need a temple that expands to the woven width of the fabric, here about 22 inches. Bury the teeth in one selvedge within a warp thread or two of the edge, then expand and set the temple so that the teeth set into the other selvedge in the same way. Lock the temple down at the width desired, usually about an inch less than the width of the warp in the reed. It will counteract draw-in, so the selvedges remain even throughout the cloth. Move the temple about every 2 inches while weaving, keeping it just below the last several picks. (See the previous photo which shows a temple in use.)
The blanket and the pillow are both woven on the same warp. The width in the reed allows for the pillow to be woven so it can be folded over horizontally. Thus, you only need to weave the length of the pillow, not twice as long.
Weave a heading of plain weave for 2 inches by throwing the shuttle through the shed at rest and then lifting both shafts (1 and 2, treadle 4) and throwing the shuttle through the top shed.
If you have only two treadles, weave plain weave by throwing the shuttle in the warp at rest and then use both feet to lift shafts 1 and 2 together.
Also, you may find that it is better to weave with a tighter tension so the sheds separate readily.
Treadle 1 (shaft 1 up), treadle none but throw the shuttle in the shed at rest, treadle 1, treadle none, treadle 2 (shaft 2 up), treadle none, treadle 2, treadle none. The heavier honeycomb weft is thrown on the picks that are in red.
The 3/2 perle cotton is thrown for each pick except for every 4th pick, when the heavier honeycomb weft is thrown. Repeat for the length of the blanket, 40 inches.
End with another two inches of plain weave.
Next, weave 16 inches of honeycomb to create cloth for the 10-inch-square pillow.
Since the Bronson units are threaded and woven right up to the edges in order to save shafts, this pattern results in a slight scalloping effect at the edge where the floats round the selvedge.
Some prefer selvedges woven on 2 and 3 shafts to need a finished edge, even when it is woven evenly. On mine I used 2 strands of the Lily Sugar'n Cream tacked along the edge, one each side. This results in a straight visual line up the sides and reinforces it for wear.
But how did the southern weavers finish the edges of their counterpane coverlets? Often they made their own fringe (by weaving or crocheting) and sewed it onto the selvedge sides and bottom. If it is a two-panel or three-panel counterpane, they would sew the panels together and fringe the edges except for the top.
Dealing with the scalloped edges is more important on the blanket than the pillow, since in the latter the edges will be sewn inside.
If you have 4 or 5 shafts on your loom, you can use the extra shafts to thread plain-weave selvedges at the edges. There is a draft for this later in this article.
Pediatricians now warn against putting pillows in a baby's crib because of the chance of suffocation. If this project is planned—as mine was—for a baby, the pillow should only be used as a decoration, and always outside of the crib.
As with any spot or lace weave, wet finishing is essential to fully form the lace patterning.
Serge or zig-zag stitch around the raw edges of the fabric. Soak it in hot water with a mild soap (not a detergent) such as Orvus® for a half hour. The threads will slip into place on a bit of an angle, further enhancing the lace effect.
Rinse in warm water. (If you are using a non-rinsing soap such as Eucalan®, you can skip this step.) Do not twist the fabric to remove excess water; drain the water drom the fabric and roll it tightly in towels. Block and hang to dry.
When the fabric is almost dry, steam press it from the wrong side over thin toweling to help retain the texture. This fabric is very stretchy, and yet practical because it pops back readily into place.
Turn back and sew down the hems on the blanket. Make up the pillow with a 10-inch square pillow form; a zipper along one side is optional.
Rope trim is a nice, decorative touch, and you can use threads on hand to make a rope that is a perfect match to your warp and weft.
Although you can twist rope by hand, it is easiest for me to make longer ropes with a rope machine. Divide 21 threads into three groups of 7 and twist them in one direction, and then ply in the opposite direction to create the rope. You will need a finished length of approximately 100 inches. Tack this across each end of the blanket and around the pillow, in each case beginning and ending with a curly-Q (shown in the detail photo). Wrap the edges with 20/2 cotton, knotting it inside. Trim the ends so they fluff.
Draft with Selvedges
In order to have plain-weave selvedges and avoiding the scalloped edge, you need addititon shafts on your loom. Below is a draft which shows how to add plain-weave selvedges at each side using shafts 4 and 5.
Note: If you have a loom with 5 or more shafts, you can thread and weave using the standard method, threading all the warp threads in heddles, and treadling as shown.
Two-block Spot Bronson
If you are interested in weaving a 5-shaft, 2-block Spot Bronson baby blanket on a 4-shaft loom using this method, see my article, “Baby’s First Blanket: Christening Cover in Spot Bronson”, in Handwoven, Nov/Dec 1999, pp. 33, 66 and 67. I wove this for my first grandchild in 1999...and our seventh was just born in February 2010!
- Atwater, Mary M., The Shuttle-Craft Book of American Hand-Weaving, Macmillian, NY, 1959.
- Burton, Dorothy S., Versatile Bronson: Monograph Five, The Weavers’ Guild of Boston, 1984.
- Jemian, Pat, Chattahoochee Coverlets: Handwoven Coverlets and Counterpanes from East Central Alabama, Auburn University, 1988.
- Frey, Berta, Designing and Drafting for Handweavers, Macmillan, New York, 1958, pp. 95-129.
- Piroch, Sigrid, “Letters and Words in Bronson Lace: It’s as Easy as ABC”, Handwoven, March/April 1990, pp. 68-72. This article shows how to use Spot Bronson to weave letters and numbers on 8 shafts.
- Piroch, Sigrid, The Magic of Handweaving—The Basics and Beyond, Krause Publications, WI, 2004. This book contains “how to’s” for getting started weaving, for weaving simple textiles and for reviewing techniques.
- Piroch, Sigrid, “Spot Bronson Takes a Turn in Striped Pillows”, Handwoven, November/December 2009, pp. 40-42. This article shows how to weave Turned Spot Bronson in 20 colors.
- Thilenius, Carol, “A Five-Harness Pattern on a Four Harness Loom”, Interweave, Summer 1979.
How do I know about this method of weaving Spot Bronson on only two shafts? In the late 1980’s, I took a seminar from Pat Jemian on southern coverlets at an area conference. She had researched coverlets from the Chattahoochee area of Alabama for many years.
I was fascinated by her discovery of this method of loom threading and weaving and hope you, too, will recognize the genius of the weavers of those times.
She put out a booklet, Chattahoochee Coverlets: Handwoven Coverlets and Counterpanes from East Central Alabama, with the support of her local University. It contained her analysis of the coverlets that she had found in local museums and within families. She also was able to watch older weavers at work. Pat passed away in 1994 but her research keeps alive these traditions through us.
Sigrid Piroch is a professional designer, teacher, weaver, juror, researcher, and publisher whose love of fiber and love of working with people is reflected in her lifestyle and work. She is the founder and director ofthe Allegheny River Textile Studio (ARTS). Teaching, she feels, is an essential way of sharing which keeps our traditions alive and opens doors to new challenges in this new century.