Monday, January 25, 2010

A small Navajo loom

As you have probably figured out, I am fascinated by weaving. I must have picked this up from my father, who made looms and wove at a like age. Anyhow, I owe this one to a Science Fiction novel! I picked up a book by R. M. Meluch and loved it. Space Opera, true, but sometimes that's just the ticket. One of the items on RM's home page is titled "Navajo loom." Munch. Got the bug. And so I set out to find out about Navajo (sometimes spelled Navaho, and that's the way I would spell it, but modernity triumphs) is a primitive loom. It is used to weave gigantic rugs, worth a great many dollars, pounds, or euros. A rug is beyond my capabilites, I reasoned, but not a place mat. So I set out to build a Navajo place mat loom. The first requirement is a very sturdy frame:
Since I am not doing rugs, the thing is about waist-high. I had a scrap 2x4 which I sawed in half, that set the maximum height of the loom. Besides that, you need a whole bunch of sticks -- easy to come by -- and a warping frame. The warp, on any loom, is the set of long threads that will be crossed by the weft threads. At this point I was following directions from a book by Rachel Brown, which you can also Google. An excellent book, highly recommended if you want to do this kind of weaving. I didn't have the whole book, but a photocopied excerpt (thanks to my daughter and her contacts) so really I didn't know what I was doing. But this is the way we learn. My waping frame looked like this:
I will call this warping frame 0.0. There is a a warp on it, it is strung up as a figure 8 around the horizontal bars. There are two sticks in the middle tied together which keep the figure 8 from disappearing. This is called preserving the lease in weaverspeak. At the bottom of the figure I am sewing the bottom stick to the bottom selvedge, The bottom selvedge (probably a corruption of self-edge) is a twisted bunch of strings around the warp edges. Rachel Brown tells you how to do it. Among the many things I did not know was that this selvedge is critical. It acts a warp spacing device. For those of us not used to primitive looms, where you have some gadget to do the spacing (like a reed on a modern loom) you will be in trouble if you don't get it right.

Having sewn both top and bottom selvedges to the corresponding sticks, you can now string up your loom:
I omitted to tell you that you must string up the heddle stick for your loom. This is the bottom stick in the middle of the loom. A series of string loops winds about every other thread. This allows you to make a shed, i.e, pull every other string ahead of the others; in weaving you alternate sheds. You can see the heddle stick better here:
You can also see the tensioning arrangement, simply a piece of cord (parachute cord, in fact) wound around the top of the frame! The thing is crying out for modifications, but they will have to wait. I want to see how it works!
I have made every mistake in the book, plus some brand-new ones I invented myself, but there is weaving and there is a design. Bad, cockeyed, whatever, but iy's a design, by gum. One of the beauties of the Navajo loom is that you don't have to weave a row at a time . You can work on an area and then fill in the remainder. It's a lot like painting. I'm approaching the top and the threads are crowding together. Getting harder to weave. Rachel Brown warned me, so I am not surprised. At the end, I was using a darning needle and a lot of sweat.
And she is finished. A real Navaho weaver would be in hysterics by thi point, but you won't learn anything until you try, and if you don't make mistakes you won't learn anything either.

Most of my problems can be traced back to improper warping. Obviously warp frame 0.0 was inadequate. It kept coming apart, twisting, and misbehaving. Time for a major upgrade. Behold warp frame 1.0 (new release):
I finshed this shortly after noon. Much sturdier. Couldn't resist, cast on a warp.
Note the two sticks preserving the lease. Will it bomb? Will it be a rave? No idea. Stay tuned.

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