HNW - [long] History of Huckaback and Huck Embroidery Noramunro at
Fri May 12 11:11:52 PDT 2000

In a message dated 5/12/100 3:40:10 PM GMT, kbsalazar at writes:

> 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)

and later:

> 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.

The date of the name is not totally indicative of the age of the weave type 
(I'm sure you knew that, but it bears repeating).  Crowfoot, et al., in 
_Medieval Finds from Excavations in London 4: Textiles and Clothing_, define 
"huckaback" as "a self-patterned weave with a tabby [i.e. plain-woven] 
ground, and small all-over motifs  in offset rows formed by warp floats on 
one face and weft floats on the other" (212).  A small, charred fragment of 
linen huckaback was found in a 12th-c. deposit at the Guildhall Car Park in 
Aldermanbury in London; this is pictured as fig. 56 in the book.  They also 
note the existence of the "Shroud of St Bathild" (she died c. 680 but the 
cloth is thought to be much older) which "has bands of huckaback bordering a 
main web of tabby with a looped pile" (81) and a cloth in a honeycomb weave 
found in a 10th-c. deposit in York (which textile has been reconstructed by 
an SCA member and is online at 
for the curious).

Crowfoot et al. also mention the names of several kinds of self-patterned 
weaves recorded in a London guild book of 1456, including "crosse werk" 
"cheynes yn werk" and "catrylettes" among others.  These probably refer to 
several different weave types, and I don't know for sure if any of them refer 
to what we now call huckaback, although it's possible.

Huckaback fabric, along with its kindred twills, is perfect for towelling, 
napkins, and other utility linens.  It's hard-wearing and absorbent.  There 
isn't, to my knowledge, much evidence for huckaback being used in garment 
fabrics, although I'd be glad to learn otherwise.  Pattern darning or other 
embroidery done on huckaback would therefore almost certainly fall into the 
"decorated table linens" category, and I think we've hashed through that 
before.   In the case of the "shroud" mentioned, it sounds as though the 
huckaback weave was meant as decoration on its own. 

I've personally seen an example of pattern-darning on patterned fabric in the 
V&A.  The piece in question is a fragment of a German liturgical towel, 14th 
c. in date, accession no. 8636-1863.  The embroidery is blue and white 
geometrics worked in running stitch on a patterned white linen gauze ground.  
The piece is about  10" x  24".

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