May 13, 2007

Warp Weighted Loom

Somehow, in all my years of weaving, I have never woven on a warp weighted loom. I've woven on backstraps and two beams (primitive/early period looms), and on countermarches and Jacquards (fancy modern stuff), but never on the standard loom of North Western Europe, during early SCA period; my period.
Obviously, this needs rectifying. Part of my taking on the 50 New Things challenge is being able to afford it; therefore I made the little loom you see here from twigs from my overgrown suburban backyard. It is only about 15 inches tall (you can see my baseboard in the background), but I ought to be able to do some nice sampling on it when I am done; hopefully enough to make some nice pouches and maybe even sleeves for my girls.

For those of you who haven't tried weaving before, the biggest issue is keeping the warp threads (the ones that you set up first, and run the long way down a piece of fabric) evenly tight; if they aren't evenly tensioned, it is really hard (ig not downright impossible) to create smooth weaving, and some types of weaving (like tapestry) just won't work at all. On most looms, tensioning each thread equally is done by lots of trial and error, and is a real headache.
Warp weights tension small groups of threads (which still need to be tensioned equally within their groups) by using *gravity* to keep the groups even. Basically, one ties weights (soapstone or clay on big looms, but I used brass weights and lampworked beads on this one) to groups of warps and let gravity hold them down.
One can always thread the horizontal thread (called the weft) by counting over and unders and moving a needle, bobbin or shuttle loaded with the weft under and over the appropriate threads, but a faster way of not having to count the same patterns over and over again is calls for a heddle. A heddle is basically a stick that separates warp threads into groups; when lifted it picks up all of the threads that one needs to go under *at the same time,* making it much easier to pass one's bobbin under, and weave quickly. Several heddles can be used together, so that one can alternate which threads one goes over and under on each pass. Complicated arrangements of heddles allow one to create complicated patterns in one's weaving.
Some kinds of looms simplify this process by having what is called a 'natural shed.' The 'shed' is the space created by a heddle, between groups of threads, where one passes one's bobbin through to create the weaving. As one switches heddles (sometimes called harnesses), one creates different sheds. When a loom, in its normal position, has one group of warps separated from another so they form a shed, this is called a natural shed. On a warp-weighted loom, some of the threads hang straight down the back of the loom, while the others are kept in front of the bottom beam of the loom (the horizontal twig at the bottom of my loom above.) The space created between the groups is the natural shed; I don't need to do anything to create a space between them where I can pass my bobbin.
I DO need a heddle on my warp weighted loom though, and that is where I have run into problems. Since I need to be able to pull those warps hanging down to the back of the loom to the front to create a shed there (so I can go under them as well as over them), I need a heddle with strings that can reach the back of the loom. I can figure out how to do this, but I also want to be able to take this loom to events and not end up with it in tangles, so I need to make it snarl-resistant. That's my quandry, and I'll let you know how it goes.
(As soon as I have this sorted, I want to do some weaving, obviously, but then I want to do a little experimental archeology; warp weights on a horizontal loom, which have been done before, and warp weights thrown up over the top of the loom, so that one can actually start one's weaving at the BOTTOM; which would make tapestry weaving on it much easier. Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me. Good thing I have eight years to figure it out.)
You can see some good images of warp weighted looms here, where several New Zealanders have kindly shared their extensive experimentation with us. They have some nice illustrations of parts of the loom and the natural and created sheds about a third of the way down their site.
Note to more industrially inclined gentles: want to make a friend for life? Carve a weaver some loom parts, or make them some warp weights from either soapstone or clay. The only trick to making loom weights is that they have to be the SAME weight.

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