Thursday, October 15, 2009

Winter coming on -- break out the looms.

Fall has lingered on this year. The grass is actually green, and it has rained a lot. No snow yet. Temperatures mild, about five frosts this month, always above zero C in the afternoon . Can this idyll go on forever? Of course not. So it is time to think about my winter crafts, which can be done indoors, because soon the -10C, -20C and -30C temperatures will be here. One of my favorites is weaving. I have put together a number of looms, of which I have saved two. My favorite is the Inkle loom, which is a loom adapted to weaving long narrow pieces such as belts. My currrent version looks like this:
It is strictly home-made, of course. I suppose you could buy one, but I'd consider that a copout.

The Inkle loom originated in England, as far as anyone knows. My father built one and that was my introduction to the contraption. As you can see, it consists of a horizontal beam and (in my case) three uprights -- the classic Inkle has but two -- with pegs. The long threads, called the warp in the trade, go around the pegs in zigzag fashion. At the left is the tensioning arrangement, held down by a bolt (I need a wrench to tighten it, wing nuts are not up to the job no matter what the books say). An inkle takes a continous warp, that is, there is one great long thread going around all those zigzags. You cross it with the weft threads. Once you get the hang of it, it is not too hard.
By the way, the reason I put in a third upright on the loom is so that I could do short belts. It is disconcerting to come out with a three or four meter belt. I know of no person with a four-meter waist. In the picture, I use a shuttle to hold the weft. My right hand raises or lowers the shed -- the place where the warp threads go. It does require some concentration:
All great fun, and since I picked up the yarn at a thrift store for oh, three bucks, it is not expensive. Yarn, however, is sticky stuff; it is hard to do the sheds. I have since switched to embroidery or craft thread, just as my father did about 40 years ago.

A good book to start from is Helene Bress, Inkle Weaving; in these days of Google I no longer do citations in full. The book that started it all is Mary M. Atwater's Byways in Hand Weaving which dates from 1954. I doubt that it is still in print, but you never know. Maybe Dover has come to the rescue. Wonderful book.

Now, we come to real looms, on which you might weave cloth. These are horses of another color. For one thing, a full floor-standing loom takes up more space than a grand piano, and costs about as much. Roy Underhill's The Eclectic Woodworker has a description of building a full four-harness loom. I could do it, just. But it would be a strain, and I have no place to put it! So I built a two-harness table loom.
My son calls this thing the Macrame Torture Rack. It has a 96-thread wide capacity, the white strings with knots tied in them to guide the warp. In the picture, I am doing a 3 cm belt on it as an experiment. It works, but it needs some major revisions. Tying 2x96 heddles (the name of the strings with the knots) is excruciating work which I do not wish to repeat any time soon. Commercial looms use manufactured, machine-made heddles, and I envy them. Sort of. Back in the day, you tied your own heddles or didn't weave. With two harnesses, your options for patterns are limited. But it's all clean fun. Maybe this winter, Macrame Torture Rack v.2.0 will emerge.

On the other hand, there is the Navaho loom, a simple contrivance on which the Navahos have woven incredible rugs. If you Google R.M. Meluch, a Sci-Fi author who is a favorite of mine, you will come up with her home page. Click on "Navaho Loom".

I am surely tempted to build a Navaho loom. Only I will weave Navaho placemats; I have no room for a rug loom.

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