Monday, August 22, 2011

Swedish Weaving Vintage Towel Tutorial - Introduction

We're going to make a vintage-style kitchen or hand towel using the Swedish weaving (a.k.a. "huck embroidery," "huck weaving," or more rarely, "huck darning") technique.  This style of embroidery was very popular in the 1930s and 1940s and was often used to make kitchen towels using a type of material known as "huck toweling" or "huckaback."

You can also make lovely guest towels for the bathroom, especially if you decide to use a more intricate design and you'd rather not risk ruining it in the kitchen.  Swedish weaving is incredibly easy to do and the results are impressive.  A couple of towels make great gifts for the holidays!

Some Background Information

You'll have to do a little studying before we get started! This will help you better understand the type of fabric we're using and the technique.  If you have a copy of Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework there is a great four page section on huck embroidery that I highly recommend. (In the 1979 edition it starts on page 70).

Otherwise, take a look at this short FAQ about the different types of even-weave fabric that can be embroidered and shows some stitching techniques.

You may also want to look at the diagrams for a couple of free patterns:


  • Huck toweling cut to 22" long, or a ready-made towel*
  • Two skeins DMC pearl cotton #5 embroidery thread in two complementary colors
  • A blunt-tipped tapestry needle
  • A pattern, diagram, or a vintage towel to copy
The particular pattern that we are going to use is so simple that you do not need to count rows or read a pattern, you just have to count the number of floats to pass your needle through.  In fact, if you can count the number of floats in a photo of a pattern (as we will do) or count the floats on an existing vintage towel you can actually copy the design.

*About Huck Toweling*

You'll want to purchase huck toweling, known as huckaback outside of the US, for this project. It is a cotton fabric woven in 15" to 17" widths.  It has 9 rows per inch (9 count) and  is woven with vertical loops on one side, and horizontal loops on the other side:

The floats as picked up by a needle

You can work both sides of the fabric, but we are only going to work the side with the vertical loops, also known as "floats."

Huck toweling is most often available in white, and it is not that easy to find, at least in my neck of the woods.  Usually an entire bolt must be ordered from a fabric supplier or craft store. Unless you have friends that want to join you in this project and split the cost of a bolt, I would scour the web for a supplier who will provide it in smaller quantities, or simply buy a ready-made towel. Easy.

My huck toweling came in a 16" width from selvage to selvage.  I cut it to 22" long. One-and-one-half yards of toweling cut apart into two 22" lengths will make two kitchen towels.

To prepare huck toweling it is best to wash and dry it before use.  This helps puff up the floats so you can see them more easily.  Serge or zig-zag along the cut edge to keep them from fraying while you work.

Ok, we have our equipment and some general knowledge about the Swedish weaving technique.  In our next installment we'll get started!


  1. My mom had tons of this material and the thread in her stash when she passed. I had no idea what it was called or haow to finish her work. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. I am so glad you posted this as I have often searched without success to find the name of this technique. My mother gave me a couple pieces that she had done as a young girl (she is now 79), one of which still had the needle in and was unfinished. If you like, I can share pics of them, just let me know where to send them.

  3. Wow, I'm so glad that I could help both of you identify this technique!

    I also didn't know about this type of embroidery until an acquaintance in her 70s showed me how to do it. She learned from her grandmother as a young girl.

    Lisa, I would love to see photos of the towels. You can send them to this address: serendipity [dot] vintage [at] ymail [dot] com. Thanks!

  4. Colette,

    This is beautiful! Thank you so much for linking it up to Show,Tell,Share's Handmade Gift Ideas.

  5. I have several towels made like this by my grandmother (she passed back in 87). I had no idea what the stitching was called. Thanks so much for the tutorial. Can't wait to try it.

  6. While shopping an antique mall, I came across 5 booklets of Huck Towel Patterns by Mildred V. Krieg, published in the 30s and 40s, all in near perfect condition. Along with the booklets were 3 pieces of vintage Huck toweling; two white pieces just over a yard each and a peach piece that is about 3/4 yard. I grabbed them up, hoping to try it out sometime. That was almost 2 years ago and I'm still hoping!

  7. I am 68 now and made these when I was a teenager. I have two huck towels that I hang in my home that I made, remnants of my crafty childhood. Now somewhere I have my pattern book. But today origami is my thing.

  8. OK what pattern is on the towel there isnt a pattern that I can see

    1. Hi Catherine, the pattern is more evident in the next parts of the tutorial. I'll drop you a line via email if you need more help.

  9. I am teaching a group of young ladies from girls inc. a non for profit org that helps kids.
    I would like permission to use your pattern I am not getting any money from this class I think it would be perfect for the kids to use Thanks Catherine of Dale
    or 812-202-8872

    1. Certainly -- I'll send you a message via email Catherine!

  10. I have a collection of vintage huck toweling from my grandparents, all hand embroidered, I would like to know if this has any collecting value, I would appreciate any input.
    Thank you

    1. Elwood, your best bet is to check eBay to estimate the value of your collection of towels. Certainly I'd love to see the designs, so feel free to send me an email with photos.

    2. Do you use the whole strand of embroidery floss?

  11. I have ordered the huckaback or huck toweling that you describe from Nancy's Notions in Beaverdam, WI. Online catalog is readily available.

  12. has them. (White and ecru) Search huck towel in the arts and craft section. Also a set of needles with a slight curve, since I'm disabled I thought would help me.


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