In woven fabrics, two sets of yarns cross perpendicular to one another. One set, known as the warp, is held taut on the loom while the weft set is woven over and under the suspended warp. When the row of the weft is pushed up against the previous row a solid woven cloth is created. This is achieved with a comb on a basic loom, and with an integrated beater and reed on more sophisticated looms.
The reed is a guide used to separate the warp threads and to beat them down once they are woven. Pictured right is a reed from a rigid heddle loom which has a heddle combined with the reed. The warp is threaded through the holes so that when the reed is lifted within the heddle block, the warp threads separate creating a space for the shuttle with its weft yarn to pass through. This space is known as the shed and repositioning the heddle creates different shed and therefore different patterns in the weave.
A simple loom can be made from an old picture frame or even a shoe box. Provided the warp threads are taut, the weft can be woven using a host of materials including ribbon, fabric strips or string. Tablet weaving cards allow for patterning in woven straps or belts. The warp is fed through the holes in the cards and suspended at either end.
Tapestry is also a relatively simple introduction to the weaving process. It allows for creative deviancies from the ‘rules’ and the finished article is generally used for decoration.
More complex looms raise or lower groups of the warp threads to create a pattern. The space made is called the shed. Yarn, loaded on a shuttle, is then passed through the shed until it reaches the other side of the suspended warp threads. Altering the shed with different shafts (a part of the mechanism which assists lifting the warp threads) will define the patterning on the woven fabric.
Choosing a weaving loom is very personal. Many factors influence the decision. Equipment costs and the type of weaving loom has to be considered along with the type of fabric to be produced.
Loom design is a series of compromises. A balance has to be made between overall size, accessibility in dressing the loom and its strength, the size of shed obtained and the tension created in the yarn. The design also has to balance the simplicity of warp tie-up with the quality of shed obtained. Other factors are the ability to fold and access to the loom controls which are solved in ways that may suit one weaver more than another.
First decide whether the loom has to be portable, then the width, the number of shafts and treadles required on the loom. This is largely dictated by the type and complexity of the fabric to be woven; floor rugs require a very different loom from silk scarves, though the loom for rugs can also be used for silk scarves but not vice-versa.
Beyond the Bounds
Fabric from a handloom is distinguished by being exactly what you want and not dictated by what comes from a commercial loom. Many weavers create simple cloths for domestic use, differentiated by being precisely the colours, pattern and weight they desire. Along with that item comes the immense pride of creation.
Others will create curtains, wall hangings or screens using weaves which emphasise the special yarns they have chosen and build pattern from the interplay of light on the woven structure. For others their wish is to make rugs and carpets from hand spun yarn or even worn-out jeans torn into strips.
Clothing from hand-woven fabric, from simple scarves to tailored suits can demonstrate a range of personal skills in colour and design choice as well as tailoring and finishing. This mohair coat was hand woven by Susan Litton and lined with her hand painted silk fabric.
Modern looms, whether a simple two shaft tabby where colour and texture lead the way, or multi-shaft computer assisted looms using computer aided designs, offer the craftsman artist unbounded opportunity to bring out their creative skills.
Weaving comes in the later stages of this website since it can use all the products from the other sections to create complex, innovative and unique items with the weaver’s personality stamped right through the core.