A Loom By Any Other Name

I’ve always taken issue when the word “loom” is used in a context other than weaving.  For instance:  “A harsh winter looms ahead.” Or “Factory workers’ strike looms.”  It always seems that it’s used in a negative way when weaving isn’t involved.  Deborah Chandler in Learning To Weave defines “loom” this way:

…a device to hold a set of yarns taut

so that it is easy to weave other yarns over

and under them.  (p. 14)

Cotton and ribbon "warp" tied with taut tension to front of floor loom

You Transylvanians are probably getting ready to do the time warp again. And though I’ve waited in an endless line in a raincoat to see “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and thrown toast at the movie screen, this is a slightly different time warp.  In fact it really doesn’t involve time transference except that it does take a bit of time to put a warp on a loom.

Deborah Chandler defines “warp” as this:  the yarn attached to the loom such as the warp yarns of cotton and ribbon tied to the front of a floor loom pictured above.  The warp is always kept under tension during the weaving process. The “weft”, Chandler continues is the cross threads that are woven over and under the warp threads.  “Warp” and “weft” are the essential ingredients of a handwoven product.

Not all looms need to be floor looms like the one pictured.  Here are some simple wood  and cardboard looms.  All of them are capable of holding a tight warp.

Simple wood looms

The loom on the left  is a small sample loom for needle weaving.  The loom on the right is a potholder loom just like the plastic or metal ones we all seemed to have as children.

Cardboard looms made from mat board

Above are cardboard looms cut from mat board.  They are notched at either end and then threaded with a warp of Peaches and Cream cotton yarn.  The two purses are examples of products that can be woven on a cardboard loom.

Harrisville peg loom

Here is a peg loom made by Harrisville Designs. The wooden needle is used to weave in the weft,  in this case fabric or “rag” strips.  The rag purse with braided handle is an example of what can be woven on the peg loom.

Now here is my gripe, other than the one when “loom” is used the wrong way.  If you have ever typed “handwoven” in the search box of an online retail site such as Etsy, you will find many items, most of them lovely.  However, not all have a warp and a weft which is the hallmark of a truly handwoven item. Some are knitted, some are crocheted, some are braided.  Keep in mind that these items are made with sticks, sometimes one, sometimes two.  They are not created on a loom, and they do not have a warp and a weft.  Let me just say, “Buyer beware”.  When you want to purchase a handwoven item, be sure it has a warp and a weft.  This means that it was woven on a loom – any kind of loom, from simple to complex. Weaving is a unique process – it is not knitting, crocheting, quilting, or embroidery although there are people who mistakenly believe so.

As for me, I am lucky to have a loom (several of them in fact) of my own.  And mine comes with a view.

My loom with a view


Weaving on a Frame Loom

So you’ve built your frame loom.  Now what?  Here are the steps to weave on your frame loom using recycled materials.  The class I designed this project for was interested in weaving a sturdy and reusable tote bag out of strips cut from old t-shirts. First, round up some old t-shirts in colors that are compatible with your warp yarn.weaving-on-a-frame-loom-0251 The best ones to use are the shirts without side seams as the seams will add bulk to your weaving.  Now cut straight across the the shirt directly below the sleeves.  You will have a tube.

Place this tube on a cutting mat so that the closed ends are at the top and the bottom ends of the mat.  The open ends of the t-shirt will be on the right and left sides. Now fold the bottom ends toward the top of the tube twice so that you will have several layers of thicknesses at this end.  Do not fold all the way to the top of the tube.  Leave about 1 1/2 inches between the top of the tube and the top of the layered material:


Using either a pair of scissors or a rotary cutter and a straight edge, cut 1/2″ wide strips through all layers of the t-shirt from the bottom edge to about 1 1/2″ from the top of the tube.  Do not cut all the way to the top edge of the tube.  Otherwise you will have several giant loops of t-shirt tubing!  By leaving an uncut area at the top, you will have one long continuous strip of t-shirt material when you are finished cutting.


Now, carefully unfold the cut layers so that your t-shirt tube  resembles a hula dancer’s grass skirt.  Next, and starting on the left side make a diagonal cut from the edge of the tube to meet the first cut of the first 1/2″ strip.  Continuing to the right, make another diagonal cut to the next 1/2″ strip. Continue making diagonal cuts to the end of the right edge.


You can start winding your long strip of t-shirt material around a stick shuttle.  If you don’t have a shuttle, you can fashion one out of a wooden lattice strip or ruler, by cutting a v-notch at either end and using the notches to hold the t-shirt strip or rag material as you wind.  But before winding, I like to stretch the t-shirt strip a bit to create a sort of knit tubing.  Your rag strip will be better behaved this way as it will be easier to lay into the shed as you weave.


Now you are ready to weave!  Lift up the dowel that holds the string heddles.  This will raise the layer of warp threads that are held by the string heddles.  The opening that is created by raising these warp threads is called a shed and this is the opening where you will insert the shuttle.  Push the shuttle all the way across the width of the warp, leaving about a 2″ tail of  the t-shirt strip/rag at the edge where you rag-strips-on-shuttle


entered with your shuttle.  Now beat — more on that below.

raised-heddles pick-up-stick-shed

For your next row of weaving, you will lower the heddle rod, and now pull forward the pick up stick that was used to pick up the warp threads that were not held by the string heddles.  Pull this pick up stick as  close as it will go to the string heddles, then flip the stick so that is wedged on its side between two layers of warp yarn.  The warp threads that are not raised are the opposite of the threads that were raised in your first row of weaving.  Insert the stick shuttle into this layer pulling the strip of t-shirt material all the way across the width of the warp.  Remember to insert the 2″ tail of t-shirt strip from the first row into this shed before you beat.  Now a little  about inserting your weft and beating…..

inserting-weft tapestry-beaters

When inserting your weft into the shed, do not pull tightly.  Let the t-shirt strip/rag relax against the selvedge end of the warp.  Be sure to place the t-shirt strip/rag at an angle once it is in the shed.  This will avoid “draw in” which is a pulling in of your selvedges (the outside ends of your weaving) due to placing your weft too tightly into the shed.  You will need to play around with different angles to find the one that would work best to keep your selvedges even.  Now you will have to beat your weft down to meet the “fell line”.  This is your last row of weaving.  In the photo above, I have used a wooden Navajo tapestry fork to beat the weft down to meet the fell line.  You can also use household items such as a fork or hair comb or pick as a beater.  The photo above includes two wooden tapestry beaters that can be used.  In addition to the Navajo tapestry fork, the other wooden beater is a weighted beater for weaving heavy wool rugs or tapestries.


I have woven an inch on this frame loom  The t-shirt strips/rags pack very well after beating, and so the project will be pretty close to a weft faced weaving.  That is, the warp threads will be hidden by the density of the weft material.  As you continue weaving, the warp may tighten, so be sure to take off the tension sticks that you Velcro(TM)ed onto the top and bottom of the front of your frame.  This will also make it easier to advance the warp (pull the unwoven warp forward) when you will no longer have room to insert the shuttle as you get closer to the heddle rod and the pick up stick.  This project was meant to be sewn into a tote bag once finished, but it can be made into a small floor mat, table runner, pillow cover, or anything you can think of.  Be creative…and Happy Weaving!

Building a Frame Loom

Recently a group of art teachers invited me to lead a workshop on weaving with recycled materials.  In the past, I have taught a “Weaving for Recyclers” workshop on a rigid heddle loom  using materials such as plastic bags, t- shirts and old sheets as weft.  For these teachers, purchasing looms for class use was out of the question because of the cost factor.  So instead, I decided in this workshop to include instructions on building a frame loom using materials that would cost no more than $15. The loom described here measures 24″ X 30″ and has a shedding device made from a dowel and  string heddles.  The recommended warping process on this loom will allow you to have a continuous warp so you can weave nearly twice the length of the frame — that is nearly 60″.

These are the materials that are needed to build this frame loom:stretcher-frame-etc1

Canvas stretcher frame:  2 24″ sides and 2 30″ sides

2 wooden slats measuring 2″ wide X 24″ long and 1/4 thick

wooden dowel measuring 7/16″ in diameter and 48″ long

6″ long taper file

2 – 1 1/2″ C-clamps

Rubber cork and X-acto knife for cutting

6″ hook and pile Velcro TM

hardware-for-frame-loom2 rubber-wedge

Once the canvas stretcher frame is assembled, mark the top and bottom sides (these are the 24″ wide sides) every 1/4″ with a pencil.  Then use an X-acto knife or small hack saw to cut into each of these marks.  Now use the taper file to file a groove into each of these cuts.  The depth of the groove depends on how thick the yarn you plan to use will be.

Before warping this loom, you need to attach tension sticks.  These will keep the warp under correct tension while weaving, and can be removed once the warp tightens during the weaving process.  Attach about 1 1/2″ of Velcro TM to

the ends of each of the flat wooden slats and also to the outside ends of the front of the top and bottom pieces of the frame loom — these are the 24″ lengths.  Velcro TM can be attached by stapling, or just pressing down if it has a sticky back . Place the tension sticks so that they are attached to the front of the top and bottom pieces of the loom.tension-sticks-and-wedgeNote in the above photograph, that about a 1/2″ piece of the rubber cork has been placed on the inside of the frame loom near the bottom corner.  This will be used as a “wedge” to hold the dowel in place as it is used as a warp end rod for anchoring the warp ends during the warping process.  (This wedge can be removed once you start weaving.) The dowel or the warp end bar should be cut to fit just inside the width of the frame loom minus about 1/2″ to allow for the wedge.  Now you are ready to start the warping process.  For the workshop for art teachers, I have used Peaches and Cream 100% worsted weight cotton yarn.  This yarn is economical for classroom use, readily available, and comes in a variety of colors.  The warping process for the frame loom is the same as the instructions given for warping the tapestry loom at Schacht Spindle Company’s website.

Here is the loom with completed warping:warp-without-heddles And a detail of the warp end rod:


Before you start weaving, you will need to create a shedding device.  That is a means of raising alternate threads in order to form  a “shed” .  The shed is the opening between layers of  your yarn ends through which you will carry your weft yarn which is wound onto a shuttle.  Go to Schacht Spindle Company’s website again to see how to use your dowel with strong cotton cord such as “kitchen cotton” or “cotton carpet warp” to make string heddles.  The dowel I used in this example is the remainder of the original 48″ dowel from which the warp end rod was cut. It extends just a few inches on each side beyond the width of the frame loom.  In this example, I have used the continuous heddle method of making string heddles. Additionally, I have clamped the C-clamps on either side of the frame loom close to the top edge of the loom.  The dowel is then tied to the clamps to prevent it from sliding down the warp ends.  Also note that I have used a wooden pick up stick (a  wooden slat similar to the tension sticks will work as well.) to separate the non-heddled ends of yarn from those held by the string heddles.shedding-deviceIn order to maintain the even spacing between warp threads and to establish the sequence of thread order, I used a simple twining process around each warp end. Basically this wraps around each warp thread or end to keep it securely in place. There are two rows of warp twining in my example.   Again Schacht Spindle Company’s website has a good description of the twining technique.

twining1 warp-with-heddles

Now you are ready to weave.  You will need to wind some yarn or recycled material such as strips of plastic bags, or strips from an old t-shirt or sheets and wind it around a shuttle.  In my next post, I will show you how to start weaving a project on your new frame loom!