threads for altar cloths

Hi.  I am a newbie here on the forum.  I work for a living history museum in upstate NY, and have been weaving and spinning for a few years now.  I would really like to weave a set of altar linens for a church where I am organist as a gift to the parish, but I don't know where to start, but I have a few ideas of what I would like to do.

1. The parish is Catholic, so the linens need to be in line with Catholic parameters.

2.  I would like to use bleached linen thread, the finer, the better, but in the realm of practicality.

3.  I am a staunch traditionalist, and am looking to do a traditional set of linens with whitework embroidery perhaps - I am pretty decent with a needle, even if I am a man (guess who gets to sew all the buttons on the kids' clothes). 

I am looking for suggestions as far as threads go, first of all.  I was thinking either 70/2 or 40/2.  I have a 45"/8 jack loom.

It's ok - you can tell me I'm nuts to do this.  This is not a looming project: I still have a baby blanket to finish, and another blanket, and a silk scarf, and...



Posted on Tue, 02/02/2010 - 18:31

Also: where is a good supplier for BLEACHED linen thread in either a 40/2 or 70/2?  Most places that carry them have them on small spools and I will need a lot of yardage.

Posted on Fri, 01/17/2014 - 21:32


I have the exact same goal as you do.  I also want to weave an alter linen for my parish as an act of thanksgiving to God for all of his many benefits and answered prayers.

As a Catholic convert, I took the time to actually study the faith for myself before entering the Church and did some work as a sacristristan for the Anglo Catholic church I was a member of.  Both of these churches require that the clothes for the alter be pure linen.  So what we weave with is important.  I am a new weaver and have just got a jack loom for Christmas but was unsure if I could weave a linen alter cloth with it as it has a different lift system than say..a counterbalance.

Tell me what you want to do.  Maybe we can exchange ideas.  I have not got any draft ideas yet.  Got any ideas?

Barb R.

Shelton CT

Posted on Sat, 01/18/2014 - 11:41

You might check with Michael White for fine linen. I think he has 40/2, maybe finer. He has a yarn shop in Georgia. I think there might be a link in the 'Resources' tab on the menu bar.

I think as far as weave patterning, your likely going to have to custom design it in software. I don't think there is a book out there on this subject. Someone elses design, may not suit you or the recipient. I know star of Bethlehem (overshot) have used in stoles with doubleweave. The tabby is in threading (warp), not the treadling.

Posted on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 02:19

Hi Michael!

As I am a new floor loom weaver, I am still a bit mystified as to what reed to use for what size linen.  I have to get at least 2 reeds so I just need to know what to get to make this fine fabric.


Posted on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 02:22

Is this a pattern you used for an altar linen?  I have this particular pattern in my growing library of drafts!  Do you sell reeds?

Sorry if my questions seem juvinile. I am a new floor loom weaver (used lots of rigid heddles) so some of this is a bit daunting.  I will not let some of these complexities stop me from making this linen though...


Posted on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 13:19

This draft has been used by others for stoles. The orginal is by Josephine Estes and in a number of books. Please be aware that the draft above is for a sinking shed loom (counterbalance or march). Most overshot drafts are presented in rising shed for jack looms. So this is why you see blue pattern weft there. Anywhere in the tie-up that is a black square, would be white on a jack loom. It's confusing, but it's just the way these looms work. And those blue pattern wefts, would now be warp on a jack loom. And they are always double the size of the backgound in overshot

This draft is turned (I know a new thing to understand). Why they call it turned is the original had the tabby ground (plain weave on two treadles) in the weft instead of the warp. As well the tie-up is as well. Essentially threading, treading sequence and the tie-up turn 90 CCW.  Pattern warp in this draft are twice as thick or doubled (2 per pattern heddle) the size of the tabby ground cloth. This uses one ground shuttle. Where as the original required one tabby and one pattern shuttle. If you don't have a supplementary warp beam (two sized threads require different tension or the thicker warp will become too slack) then you have to double the pattern threads of the same weight as the tabby ground threads. Tabby ground cloth means background threads in warp and weft in a plain weave structure, often (not always) white yarn.

I don't sell reeds, I get mine from Leclerc (via) Camilla Valley Farms in Orangevile, On. I did however make a 4 dent reed and have used it for heavy blankets.

Posted on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 12:23

You can purchase reeds from Carolina Reed Co or Gowdey Reed Co. Web sites below.

Yes you can purchase a special reed but I would go with the tried and true. A 10 dent reed or 15 dent reed. Eye heddles will be easer on the warp then flat heddles. You are going to hear about how hard it is to weave with linen. This is not true, yes tow linen can be hairy but you will be woking with smooth linen. It may feel stiff but "wet finishing" in hot water will soften it. You can find information on working with linen here on Weavolution or here:

Here is a picture of a linen table runner and napkins by my customer Cathorine Alter. If you want to contact her please PM me your email address.



Posted on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 23:08


Thank you ever so much for all that information!  I will read it all over again to ensure that i understand all that you wrote (I think I get it) and then make any transitions needed for my jack loom.  I will make sure to do some samples for Fr. Markey so that he can see what handwoven looks like and make sure he likes what he sees.  He can change his mind before any real weaving takes place.

Thanks again for all the information.  Have you make any items recently?


Posted on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 23:42


I really do not understand why I have read so much about linen being hard to work with.  It is as if linen is some kind of mystery fiber that has to be handled like raw eggs (don't drop the linen)

Human beings have been using linen for as long as human beings have been around and those folks in the past did not seem to have much of an issue with weaving this fiber.  I am just glad that I kept reading and reasoning.  This fiber just CAN'T be that hard to weave.

The pictures of the runner and napkins is wonderful.  Thank you for the offer of contact.  I may do so later.  I am just gathering what is needed to prepare for this project, and get other job requirments finished.  I have a certification thru Craft Yarn Council to get done and some knitting assignments for Michaels Crafts Store here in town. 

Again..MANY thanks to you and ReedGuy for all the information.  It has been more of a help than you can imagine!


Posted on Fri, 01/24/2014 - 04:50

I have not woven in linen until recently. I am setting up my loom to weave with Irish 20/2 line linen to weave some upholstery scrim in plain weave at 18 epi, later Belgian 16/2 linen for more airy scrim in a more open sett (8 epi) and then some Newport 16/2 dry spun linen for 'black and white' herringbone used for 2" wide chair webbing at 32 epi for more strength.

Posted on Sat, 09/27/2014 - 18:20

Hello, just tuning in with great interest from Fairfield, CT, where I am a member of the Altar Guild at a local Episcopal church. I am also a novice weaver with a Glimakra Standard countermarch and would love to learn how to weave and embroider altar linens. My experience with warping linen is nonexistent, so this is obviously not something I'll do overnight. I'd be most interested in learning how to weave the fabric for and construct purificators, corporals, and pieces of fair linen; as you may know, there is a constant demand for these three, since the linen soils so easily. Any suggestions are welcome.

Best, Anna

Posted on Sat, 09/27/2014 - 20:01

You'll be looking at using a 16/1 or finer linen, natural or half bleach (white). In the finer counts, the natural is a bit stronger and the fabric can be bleached by boiling after weaving.

Structure will be simple - plain weave, maybe a simple twill.

Just jump in and make a small piece of yardage and determine which thread and sett gives you the fabric you desire.

Posted on Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:28

After I got my old loom a year ago and began posting on this site, I told the priest at my parish that I wanted to make an alter linen as an act of thanks giving for all God has done for me an my family. He looked at me like I was NUTS!!

The old loom needed refurbishing as it had room for 4 more shafts, 8 more upper lams, 4 more lower lams and 4 more treadles. Yesterday all the remodeling was completed and now all that is needed are heddle bars for the new shafts, J hooks and....linen thread!

I have not given up on the alter linen.  I guess I will have to make it for him and just set it in the sacristy in secret.  Getting the altar dimentions will be easy.  I have a semenarian as an accomplice!


Posted on Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:33

Hi Sara,

I will soon be using my now, 8 shaft loom.  Got any pattern recommendations for an 8 shaft twill?  I am still learning and planning this project.  It has taken a year to get the loom up and running.  Now for the weaving part!

Barb R.



Posted on Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:57

People get very touchy about what is used on the altar.  Particularly the altar guild.  If the cloth you are weaving is to be embroidered, you'd need to do plain weave.  A good site for explaining church linens is  She sells Belgium linen for people making purificators, palls, fair linens, etc.  I am planning to weave a stole for our rector.  But I have a lot more freedom there with color and patterns.

Posted on Fri, 02/27/2015 - 18:38

Just a note here: if using anything finer than a 16/1 linen as warp, it is best to use NATURAL thread which is stronger and bleach the fabric later. Directions for bleaching are found in Bette Hochberg's "Fibre Facts".

I am not aware of any suppliers for super fine warp spun linen in bleach or colors.

Posted on Thu, 04/23/2015 - 09:21

Yarn barn of Kansas has 40/2 bleeched Normandy linen. It appears the source is Henry's Attic.

And loomlust sells Bockens 35/2 colored linen but small spools which will be very pricy.

They also sell Bockens 60/2 bleeched