HNW - [long] History of Huckaback and Huck Embroidery

Kim Salazar kbsalazar at
Fri May 12 08:38:01 PDT 2000


The discussion of huck darning here got me thinking on this rare quiet 
morning.  I didn't think it went very far back as a distinct style, so I 
did some Web searching.

Here's what I found about the history of Huckaback darning aka Swedish 
Weaving and Huck Embroidery, or Popcorn Embroidery (from "Popcorn Cloth"); 
and about huckaback fabric in general.

Huck embroidery was very popular in US the 1930s and early 
1940s.  Patterned darning on huck toweling was a late-Depression favorite 
but fell out of style by the end of WWII.  It was briefly revived in the 
late 1960s. The style has also enjoyed popularity in contemporary 
Scandinavia (as one of its name would suggest), Japan, Portugal, Brazil and 
Yugoslavia.  I remember huck darning being taught in my sixth grade sewing 
class in Brooklyn, NY (1968) by a teacher who came to the US from the 
Netherlands after WWII.

I haven't found any sources that mention pattern darning specifically done 
on huck toweling that predate 1930.  Huck embroidery is also done on Monks 
Cloth, but all the references I have for it done on that fabric are dated 
within the past 10 years.

Huck toweling today is a machine-made 100% cotton fabric.  Specific 
industrial standards for what can be called "huck toweling" exist in the 
SIC codes.  While huck today is a descendent of the earlier linen 
huckaback, I cannot tell if today's weave and structure - the fabrics used 
for huck embroidery - are identical to historical stuffs.  I suspect not, 
because "huck" appears to be the name of a family of weaves in weaving 
terminology, and not a specific single float pattern. I also don't know 
when huckaback as a name became fastened to cotton instead of linen.

The earliest source for the name I found on line is in the appendix of this 
paper on historical textiles.  It cites the first mention of huckaback in 
the OED as being from between 1651 and 1600
Merriam-Webster dates Huckaback to 1690 (note one of the wills below is 
earlier than 1690)

Websters Uanbridged cites "huckaback" as being derived from "huckster" - a 
reference to peddlers and their wares.  That same dictionary says that 
huckaback was the name for linen cloth with raised figures. That sounds 
like it refers to a kind of diaper (the type of absorbent possibly brocaded 
cloth, not the baby's nappy), and not necessarily the simple toweling we 
know by that name today.

While none of these sources mention ornamentation or embroidery of any type 
done on the cloth, I did find mentions of huckaback napkins and tablecloths 
in wills and inventories of various dates:

1684 -
1693 -
1698 -
1700 -
1709 -
1709 -
1716 -
1722 -
1776 -,nicholas.htm

It is interesting to note that some of these wills mention both huckaback 
and linen table textiles.  Huckaback napkins were different enough from 
regular linen napkins in some way to merit the separate reference.

Huckaback was also mentioned in a "what to pack list" for missionaries 
circa 1865:; in a 
lading list for a California-bound cargo ship circa 1849 - H.G. Wells mentions "huckaback" 
in his book "The Wheels of Chance" (1895); and  Ralph Waldo Emerson 
mentions it in "The Conduct of Life" (1860/1876).  It's also mentioned in 
Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722).

Only one citation mentions the fiber from which the huckaback was made - an 
award list dated 1860 specifies an prize given for a piece of linen 

In modern cloth the floats are doubled, and spaced sort of a "knights move" 
apart.  Here is a link to recipe for weaving a contemporary piece of 
huck.  Click on the picture to see the weave detail:

The characteristic float pattern in huck toweling today is simple and 
distinctive. There seems to be a direct link between modern huck toweling 
and the cotton huckaback (and possibly linen) huckaback of the 
mid-1800s.  But was it used in huckaback from pre-industrial times?  I have 
no way of knowing from the sources I found.  If any weavers read this list, 
advice on the history of this weave pattern would be greatly appreciated.


Back to the embroidery style -

Patterned darning can be done any even weave linen - you don't need to use 
the specialized huck toweling.  Remember that the appearance of works done 
on standard issue even weave will be quite different from huck darning 
because they don't incorporate the proportions of huck toweling's staggered 
row float structure into the design.

If you are looking for a type of embroidery to decorate costumes from 
before 1600 - pattern darning is an excellent, easy to work (and often 
overlooked) candidate.  It is especially suited to doing bands of geometric 
designs to use as trim in place of the ubiquitous store-bought stuff.   If 
authenticity is a concern, I'd recommend eliminating doubt by working the 
patterned darning on strips of even weave linen, and not huck toweling.

Please excuse me for not including specific references for darned strip 
ornamentation.  I'm at work, not at home.  I know that there is a 
magnificent "Last Supper" done in pattern darning in "Masterworks of 
Embroidery" (German, 13th?? 14th?? century - my memory dims); plus some 
strip type patterns in Schuette.  And this note is long enough already.  [grin]

As ever, I invite those with better sources to add to this pile,

Ianthe d'Averoigne
ianthe at

Kim Salazar
kbsalazar at

Go to to perform mailing list tasks.

More information about the H-needlework mailing list