Friday, 20 November 2009

The making of the krokbragd tote

Krokbragd is a traditional Scandinavian weave, most usually attributed to Swedish and Norwegian weaving traditions. Katherine Larson, in her fabulous book The Woven Coverlets of Norway describes how most Norwegians spent their summers in the field, retiring indoors in the dark days of winter, where the women would spend long winter days by the fire carding, spinning and weaving yarn to produce the yardages of fabric required to produce clothing and bedding for their families and their farm labourers (who were partly paid in clothing). Only if there was enough time and fleece left in the winter after producing these vast quantities of yardage would they attempt to make a bed coverlet. The larger and more advanced the coverlet, the higher the mastery of the mistress of the house. The most valued coverlets tended to be woven in tapestry, but krokbragd was also a popular technique (albeit less valued than tapestry because it's faster and less finicky). Often the bed covers of fishermen were of krokbrad. In Sweden, krokbragd is often used to make floor coverings becasue of its durability, and there is a Finnish variant, Flessberpleg, which is often used for rugs and bed covers as well.

Krokbragd is a weft-faced weave which is effectively double-sided, but with the pattern only on one side. Peter Collingwood describes it well in his book The Techniques of Rug Weaving. It is threaded on three shafts in a 4-thread repeat draw, so 1-2-3-2-1-2-3-2 and so on. Three treadles are tied up: two are a 2/1 twill, with the third being plain weave. Having a pick of plain weave in every third pick not only helps to create the pattern, it also creates a flat fabric rather than one which will want to curl at the edges, which a pure twill draft will create.

The warp should be something fairly chunky and sturdy, but it doesn't matter too much what it is because if krokbragd is woven correctly it won't be seen. For this project I used medium-thickness, high-twist Lancashire cotton (also known as "loom cord") from Texere. I now have a warp for a floor rug on the loom, which is made of medium thickness raw linen thread. You want a very wide sett: I threaded this at 5 epi, one every second dent in a 10-dent reed. You also want to use a *very* heavy beat. I double-beat heavily enough that the loom was 'walking' across the studio floor despite having non-slip feet on.

It's best to tie up so that the pattern side is face-up. This can be done by tying to that pedal one lifts shafts 1 & 2, pedal 2 lifts shafts 2 & 3 and pedal 3 lifts shafts 1 & 3. The pattern is treadled 1-2-3, which allows the thread on the first pick to sit below shafts 1 and 2, but over 3 (so the pattern on the surface will be over every fourth warp thread), the second pick apears over shaft one (so every fourth warp thread again, but this time in between the colours of the first pick), and the third pick will appear over warp threads threaded on shaft 2: so every second warp thread, but this time in between every previous colour pick. This way, three picks are required to fill every 'line' of the pattern, but the warp thread is completely covered. You can see this in the image below: At the bottom of the image, think of red as treadle 1, blue as treadle 2 and green as treadle 3.

(I'd like to point out that you can't actually see the warp in the finished item. This yarn was a bit on the thin side for this project, and I chose to photograph in this particular spot because it shows the interlacing of the warp and weft nicely. The warp was hidden once the yarn was fulled.)

You can weave this with a single solid colour, or choose to create all kinds of patterns according to the order in which you throw shuttles to create colour. Because there are only three options for colour in a single row with krokbragd, it's best not to use more than three shuttles at a time.

The colours I was using for this project weren't entirely traditional (originally dictated by the availability of nartural dyes, but often involved dark red and navy with various earthy colours in between), but were dictated by the results of the spinning challenge we had for our spinning group. I laid these out on my work table to try to get a sense of how they would work together, and in which order the colours should go before I started weaving.

To start a krokbragd project off (and ignoring the orangey colour of the sample header at the base of the image below), choose a colour and designate it 'colour A'. In this case, colour A is dark red. Weave a few lines of this, remembering that each line equals three picks. In this case I think I wove about 30 picks of red, to get a centimetre or so of red. Then choose a second colour, colour B: in this case, purple. The second part of the pattern (three warp thread covered in red, one in purple) is achieved by throwing the shuttles A-B-A as you treadle 1-2-3. The next sequence (three warp threads covered in purple, one in red) is A-B-B. To incorporate the third colour, orange, throw A-C-B. Then B-C-B, and so on. You rapidly get a feel for which order the colours should go in.

When working with multiple shuttles, it helps to have a logical order in your throwing and placing of them. I put the shuttles beside me on the stool, with the last thrown further away from me and the next to be thrown closest to me. This ensures that the selvedge stays as neat as possible, with all of the threads neatly wrapped around each other. It also reduces the chance for picking up the wrong shuttle in the wrong sequence.

You can see in the image above that there has been a bit of draw-in on the selvedge. This was due to sloppiness on my part: the outside bouts of warp seemed to have not quite as much tension as the inner bouts, and I wove this in a hurry without using a temple. It didn't matter so much as the selvedges would be hidden in seams anyway. For the floor rug, where the selvedge will be visible, I'll use a temple.

What I've shown you here is krokbragd in its most simple form. The next step would be to reverse the pattern, to make stars:

There are many other variations and patterns possible with this fun technique. Yarninmypocket has been playing with krokbragd on a rigid heddle loom (quite a skill!), and has been making motifs in a sampler. You can see them here.

To finish the tote, I sewed the two selvedges together, making a mitred corner in the speckled blue section for a square base, turned over and blanket-stitched the top, and added a handle. Simple!


  1. Thanks for the clear explanation of this weave and beautiful photos. It's one of those things on my list to try.. rather a long list, I'd better switch the computer off now and do something!!

  2. Your krokbragd looks great! Linen is often used as warp in traditional krokbragd. Krokbragd blankets were also used as wallhangings or sewn on to the skin side of a sheep fur, which then was used as bed cover. I think it was a very good idea to use it as a tote.

  3. Thanks for posting so much info about your tote. I, too, think krokbragd is really interesting and your post makes me feel like I could try it sooner rather than later. Plus, I have that rug weaving book so I can get more explanation there.

    Beautiful job on the tote! I love the colors together.


  4. Thank-you so much for your interesting and detailed description of this weave structure; I have collected snippets of information about it in the past, but your comments provide an excellent overview with practical 'know-how' and useful links to Larson and Collingwood. I am encouraged to try weaving it.

  5. It's stunning. Great choice of yarns and colors and interesting information.

  6. Thanks for a great post - I've been hunting around for some info on krokbragd since it's one of the structures my mother really wants to teach in Week 2 of our workshops next month. I've never tried it (good job she has!), so I need to weave some samples before Christmas & I'm really glad to have your blog as a reference!

  7. Hi, I followed exactly the threading 1232 and pedals 1&2 2&3 3&1, and when I started weaving I get the right side on the bottom, so I do not see what pattern I am weaving. What I am doing wrong?
    Thanks, Bozena

  8. Hi Bozena,

    May I suggest you try throwing your shuttles from the opposite side to the one you have been? I drew these threadings for weaving starting the shuttles from the left. If you've started from the right, you'll be weaving upside down.