Daily Archives: March 2, 2010

In Which She Chronicles Her First Attempt At Weaving

It’s a sunny day; I have no work on my plate. Today, I thought, would be a good day to pull out the antique table loom that’s been sitting in the basement for a year and a half, wipe it down, and give warping it a shot, putting theoretical knowledge I have been collecting for two years into practice. There’s only so much that theoretical knowledge can do for you; someday you have to actually get your hands dirty and figure out what’s what by actually doing it.

So I did. And it was pretty filthy. It’s missing the front apron rod, so I kitbashed one with four bamboo skewers and some packing tape. I needed a stick shuttle, too, so I found a paint stirrer and sawed two notches into it. While cleaning it I looked for any kind of maker’s mark, and apart from the LeClerc name on the reed, the loom looks homemade, possibly from a kit. (This is definitely not a LeClerc loom. The basic design is similar to the current LeClerc Dorothy, but it certainly isn’t one; it looks more like the LeClerc Jano [fifth picture down the page, marked 1936], which is long out of production, but it isn’t precisely that model, either. I suspect someone copied the Jano and used a premade reed in the beater, which is what I was considering doing when I asked HRH if he could build me a rigid heddle loom.)

I’ve been researching rigid heddle looms for a few months, thinking they would be a good gateway drug to the four-harness table loom I’ve got. A couple of weeks ago I realised that the only reason I was looking at rigid heddle looms was because they had only one heddle, which meant that it was the multiple harnesses that were spooking me. And I thought about it, and realised that I don’t have to use all four; I could use one, like the rigid heddle looms. (Experienced weavers will have just spotted an error. Don’t get ahead of my story.) I’d watched enough videos on how to warp rigid heddle looms, and despite the books I have that use different techniques, I reasoned that there wasn’t anything stopping me from warping my table loom like a rigid heddle loom. [ETA: Aha, this is called direct warping, and yes, one can do it on non-rigid heddle looms as well. As I proved today. Good job, me.]

I picked up some crochet cotton last week to practice with, thinking that it would be easier with something light and inexpensive. In some ways, the experience is a positive one; the cotton is very easy to handle and doesn’t fray or pill. On the other hand, it sticks to itself, which makes separating one strand from sixty others not so much fun. It will be interesting to try this with homespun, once I’m finished this test scarf.

And I started warping. I lifted the beater out of the loom, tied one end of the warp thread to the back apron rod, and began measuring it out, using one of the boy’s craft chairs as a warping peg, then looping the warp thread around the back apron rod before bringing it forward again. When I was done, I cut the thread off the ball and tied it off on the back apron rod.

Then I cut the loop made by the chair and tied it in a knot. I wound the warp threads on to the back roller carefully, keeping tension on it, and rolling pieces of paper between the layers of warp so they wouldn’t snarl with one another. (This all took about an hour.)

Then I did just as the rigid heddle videos told me to do: I threaded the dent in every heddle, leaving one thread loose in the slot between each heddle.

I almost tied the front ends of the warp on to the front apron rod before I remembered the beater! Right; I have to sley the reed in the beater. Wow, wouldn’t that have been frustrating if I’d forgotten to put the silly beater in? Chuckle, chuckle.

So I set the beater frame back in the loom, sleyed the reed in it, and tied the front warp to the front apron rod. (Time check: This took about an hour and a half.)

Very proud of myself, I tested the shed: I raised Shaft 1. Yes! A very definite shed!

And then I realised my error. To change the shed on this kind of loom, you need to raise another shaft that has the alternate warp threads threaded through its heddles. On a rigid heddle loom, you lift the heddle off the upper bracket and place it on a lower bracket, kind of dropping the shed below the neutral line of warp.

(Experienced weavers: Here is where the story catches up with you.)

So I untied the front warp ends, pulled them back through the reed, lifted the beater out again, pulled all the warp threads back through the shafts, and started again. This time, I alternated between threading a warp thread through a heddle on Shaft 1, then Shaft 3. And I got halfway across the shafts before realising that I wasn’t going to have enough heddles, since I’d started partway along each shaft. (I have since learned to push ALL the heddles to one side or another and start from the first heddle. You’d think that would be obvious, but I was following some vague sort of ‘balance it all by positioning it in the middle’ sort of thing.)

So I pulled it all back yet again and threaded the heddles for a third time. And this time it worked. It went much faster, too, no doubt thanks to all the practice I’d had. (Time check: This all took an hour and a half.)

And I put the beater back in and sleyed the reed, tied to warp ends to the front apron rod, and balanced the tension. I lifted Shaft 1, and yes, a shed! And when I lifted Shaft 3, a different shed appeared!

Yay, me! (Time check: This took about three quarters of an hour.)

Making my stick shuttle had taken about forty-five minutes before I started the whole project, what with the looking and sawing and sanding. I sat down and wound my weft thread onto it.

I put my waste weft along the bottom to help even out the warp, and then I got to actually weave my first few rows of a scarf. (Time check: This took five minutes.)

Mistakes I will learn from (apart from the ones already outlined above):

* My warp wasn’t centered through the reed, so it’s a bit cockeyed. I’m going to put marks on the frame to help line my warp up as it passes through the various harnesses and the reed.

* My jury-rigged front apron rod is going to have to be a real metal rod, not a bendy bamboo one. Also, the back rod is a bit rough; I may replace it with a smoother metal one.

* I need to get the rust off the harness frames. Perhaps white was not the best colour with which to warp it for the first time.

* Putting the loom on the coffee table was a good idea. Bending over to work on it was not. My back is in serious rebellion. After lunch I dragged the boy’s tiny chair over to the table and worked on warping the loom that way.

* A raddle on the back beam is a good idea to help centre the warp as it passes from the back roller over the beam to the heddles. I can make one and clamp it on.

But you know what? I warped a loom, and wove two inches of scarf. All by myself. It’s sloppy and loopy and crooked and I missed a slot in the reed (a classic rookie mistake, apparently), but I did it. (I keep telling myself that blocking will help a bit.) And I’ve been thinking about my maternal grandfather all day, because he was a weaver, too.

And now, if you don’t mind, I have a scarf to weave.

Dear Winter:

I feel it only fair to warn you that yesterday afternoon on the way home from school, the boy informed his father that he was done with winter. “Because,” he said, “I can’t really make snow angels any more, or play properly, because it’s too wet. So the snow can melt now.”

Winter, you’ve done your best (which, just between you and me, was a slightly below-average turn, but we’ll discuss that on your annual performance review). However, you’ve just been given your walking papers by the kid who plays with weather like it’s a Transformer.

See you next year.