Tutorial: Making A Mat Board Loom for Weaving

Recently I taught a weaving class at an assisted living center with a delightful group of women, the oldest being 90 years old! My training as an occupational therapist provided some foundation on adapting the weaving project for individuals with some limitations as to memory, vision, and gross and fine motor skills.  I always like to focus on the 3 P’s when I work with seniors: the person, the process and the product.  The person should be interested in being an active participant and thus be in control of creating his/her own work. The process should be somewhat repetitive and yet hold the interest of the creator by employing colorful and tactile materials. The process should also guarantee that the person succeeds at it. And finally the product should be attractive and finished in a way that it can be displayed or given as a gift. Using this methodology, young children and adults with physical or developmental disabilities could also benefit from such a project.

However, this means that a lot of preparation is required by the instructor. For art teachers or others interested in this activity, weaving on mat board looms, I am sharing a brief tutorial on preparing the looms. Teachers with students who are able to do so can also have their students make their own mat board looms in advance of the weaving.

Materials Needed        

IMG_5265 Mat board cut to 6″ W X 9″ H

2 pieces decorative card stock measuring 1″ W X 9″ H

2 pieces heavy cardboard measuring 1″ W X 6″ H**

**I used book board for this, illustration board can also be used

2 pieces decorative card stock measuring 1″ W X 6″ H

Glue Stick

Discarded piece of mat board measuring 1″ W X 6″ H

Pencil and ruler

Small drill or awl

Tapestry needle

Strong yarn for warp, such as cotton carpet warp or perle cotton

Picture frame hook (optional)

Assembly Instructions

With a glue stick, glue the 1″ X 9″ decorative card stock to the long edges of the mat board.  Then glue the 2 pieces of heavy cardboard onto the top and bottom short edges of the mat board. Lastly, glue the shorter pieces of decorative card stock onto the heavy cardboard.

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Now make a template from a piece of discarded mat board measuring 1″ X 6″. Mark and measure a  4″ length in the center of the   template. Within this marked  section, find the  lengthwise halfway point and with a ruler draw a straight line from one end of this 4″ section to the other end. This line will be your guide to make evenly spaced holes across the template. The holes in my loom are roughly spaced 1/4″ apart for a total of 17 holes. I used a small drill like a Dremel stylus to make the holes, but an awl would work just as well.

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Next position the template on top of  the bottom edge of the loom and carefully following  the holes of the template use an awl or other sharp tool to pierce corresponding holes through both the heavy cardboard and the mat board. Do the same for the top edge of the loom.

Warping the Loom

Measure a 4 1/2 yard length of strong warping yarn such as cotton carpet warp or perle cotton. With a tapestry needle, thread the yarn through the holes that you just pierced on the bottom and top edges of the loom. The front of the loom should look like this:

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The back of the loom should look like this:

back of loom

Note that the warp threads are threaded in a vertical direction only at the front of the loom. On the back of the loom, the warp threads are threaded horizontally through consecutive holes. This will prevent the mat board from curving toward the front during the weaving process. A picture frame hook can be glued to the top of the loom if desired.

Now you are ready to weave. I use thick and colorful textured yarn threaded through a wooden weaving needle. A long plastic needle with a large eye will work just as well. A strong comb or pick is used to “beat” each row of weaving.

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The classes at the assisted living center were sponsored by  Creative Aging Midsouth. Miss Eula was one of the participants in the class. Here she is with her finished weaving project. This lovely lady celebrated her 90th birthday during the course of the class!

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Bag It, Gladys

I think I am done. I have been weaving fabric to sew into bags for a number of years now. Probably about 15 years. That’s almost half my weaving life! And I really do enjoy designing and creating bags, but every time I try to sell one I am disappointed. Customers seem to like the style, but it’s not the right color, too big, too small, too casual, not the right strap, etc. And I’m talking about all kinds of bags from tiny, what I call “pick pockets” (TM) for storing your guitar picks to” the mother of all tote bag” humongous bags. Some are for evening, some for daily use, and others are just for fun. Once, and I am grateful it only happened once, a customer was admiring my bags and expressed her approval. But the next question she asked was  “Where do you get your fabric?” Really?

I just can’t help it, it’s a fact that I love all kinds of  purses and tote bags. But the truth is, the current market can’t support the cost that is worthy of a bag made from handwoven fabric, then carefully constructed and sewn with a lining, a pocket and often a hand-twisted strap. The bags I wove these last few weeks will be my swan song.

If you recall my post Back to The Future, there was an image of  the double weave fabric I was weaving still on the loom. This is the fabric now:

Hobo bag made from handwoven double weave fabric

Lined interior of hobo bag with magnetic closure

I have also been playing with recycled fabric and cutting narrow strips from thrift store t-shirts to make my own “yarn”. Here is a tote bag made from strips cut from a neon green t-shirt. The weave is a rep weave which I seem to be fond of!

Tote bag woven in rep weave with t-shirt strips in the weft.

Lined interior of tote bag with pocket and magnetic snap closure.

And here is a photo of the tote bag’s fabric while still on the loom with the t-shirt strips on the stick shuttle. I used a metallic thread called “holo-shimmer” as the alternating fine warp on the boat shuttle to get the rep weave effect.

Tote bag fabric still on the loom.

So now I took the t-shirt idea a step further and added recycled jeans to the mix. These two bags were woven in a rep weave and both have recycled jeans pockets in the interior.

Mini-messenger bag woven in rep weave with a hand-twisted strap.

Rep Weave hobo bag woven as one long strip.

Yes, the fabric of the hobo bag was woven in one long narrow strip, approximately 7 1/2″ wide by 96″ long. I then folded it to create a strap from part of the strip and joined the other sections to make the body of the bag. Blogger Donatella who writes doni’s delis explains it here. It’s quite ingenious.

The interiors of the last two bags were lined with denim fabric and each  has an inside pocket taken from a  pair of  recycled jeans.

Interior of hobo bag with denim lining, recycled jeans pocket and a magnet snap closure.

These bags will definitely be one of a kind, because I am not weaving them anymore.  Though I may still weave one or two just for me, or for my daughter, or for a friend… But maybe not this summer. Definitely not this summer.




Rep Gallery

The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright has always been an inspiration to me.  And for many years I have been admiring the handwoven textiles of Kelly Marshall whose rugs and accessories for the home are a natural fit for any Prairie style or Arts and Crafts style home. Ms. Marshall who has been designing and weaving through her business, Custom Woven Interiors since 1992 has work in private residences, corporations, businesses, restaurants and galleries throughout the country. Readers of this blog would know that I lean toward the block type weaves which are prevalent in the rep weave structure which Ms. Marshall utilizes in her work.

In my last blog I described rep weave as a Swedish weave structure also called ripsmatta. It is characterized by densely threaded warp yarn on the loom. The pattern design is created through the colors and sequence of yarn ends in the warp yarn, that is the yarn threaded on the loom. Ms Marshall has just published a book for weavers based on her own creative process for her work in rep weave. The book is as beautiful as the work Ms. Marshall produces and she is extremely generous with her instructions for projects with precise details and clear photographs. I am still in the process of savoring each word and photo of this book.

Custom Woven Interiors by Kelly Marshall

I hope that my weaving will one day aspire to the many layers and complexities of Ms. Marshall’s work. My work is much simpler and certainly not as technically skillful as Ms. Marshall’s. Rep continues to be one of my favorite weaves and I will work on any challenges that will help me get to a higher level of skill. In the meantime, I will end this blog post with a short gallery of my own work in rep weave. The gallery, shall we say will be the baseline for my work so that in another year or so, we can all compare any progress that I’ve made!

Three Irises

Turkish Kilim

Nightcrawlers

Bongo Fury

Curacao Sensivel

Safe as Milk

Electricity

Moonshadow

Jacob’s Ladder

Falling Waters

 

Back to the Future

Yes, May was a busy month with graduations, reunions and out of town guests. June finds me back at the loom, this time weaving something from my not too long ago past. It’s been awhile since I have woven a rag rug. When my son went to college, I wove one for him, and now it’s my daughter’s turn. She and I like to visit thrift shops and look for nostalgia items or clothing that can be recycled. I often buy used  jeans at these shops so I can cut out the pockets. I make a sort of patch from the jeans’ pocket and then sew it onto denim fabric which I use to line the purses that I weave.

Lining pocket from recycled jeans

This lining is from a small rep weave messenger bag that I recently completed.

Small rep weave messenger bag with denim lining

Rep weave to non-weavers is a term that refers to a traditional Swedish weave known as ripsmatta. It is a very sturdy weave as the warp threads are packed close together when threaded on the loom. And so with rep weave on the brain, I warped my Macomber loom with 600 ends of cotton carpet warp for a rep weave rug woven with strips from recycled jeans. This is what it looks like at the moment:

Rep Weave rug woven with recycled jeans

And this is the rug once finished that will go with my daughter to Chicago where as it happens is also the home of my son’s rep weave rug.

Here is another rag rug that I wove some time ago. This one is woven in a point return twill or goose eye pattern. Lucky seems to favor this one.

Lucky on a handwoven goose eye twill rag rug

Detail of the goose eye twill rag rug pattern

Playtime is over, and I am done with weaving with thick weft yarns for awhile. I miss working with fine, smooth and silky yarns. The kind that is soft and that drapes beautifully. Here is another project just completed where I wove two layers of fabric at the same time in a technique known as doubleweave.

Doubleweave fabric on the loom

The fabric on the bottom is bamboo yarn and the fabric on the top layer is a variegated tencel yarn. Both rep weave and doubleweave are slow patterns to weave. In fact there’s nothing fast about any kind weaving. But for me, I believe my future holds the promise of working with finer, smoother and more elegant yarns.

Confetti Landscapes

During the holiday show season, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Kacky Walton on Memphis’ NPR affiliate, WKNO-FM. As a listener of her radio program, I always found her to be one of the most upbeat radio personalities that I ever heard. And sure enough, upon meeting her, she proved me right! This was my radio debut and her warmth and friendliness put me right at home.

During the interview, I wore a scarf that I had woven about 10 years earlier. Kacky remarked that the scarf looked like someone had merrily thrown bits of colorful confetti on it. It was a new description of a scarf I hadn’t woven in a long time. But her observations propelled me into re-examining this scarf design and weaving a collection for 2012.

When photographing the scarves in their various stages of production, the colors and textures reminded me of urban landscapes of tall buildings with mirrored windows and banners blowing in the wind.

Hand dyed tencel scarf with novelty yarn on the loom

The warp is a hand dyed 5/2 tencel yarn from Yarns Plus in Mississuaga, Ontario Canada. The novelty yarn is Cancun by Stacey Charles.

Dark confetti scarf of tencel and novelty yarn on the loom

The original 10 year old handwoven scarf that inspired the confetti landscapes

And the wound warp chain that will be the next set of scarves to go on the loom looks more like a high desert landscape.

I am looking forward to seeing the customers’ reactions to these colorful, textured and playful scarves.

Fruit Fabric

Whenever I  sell my handwoven accessories at a show or craft fair, invariably someone will admire my work and then turn to me and ask “Where do you get the fabric”? They ask, despite the large sign that describes my work as “Handwoven” They ask, despite the hang tags that say “handwoven”. They ask, despite my business cards that describe me as a “handweaver”. It is a puzzle to me that adults do not know where fabric comes from. Do they think that it starts as some concoction that is ground up and stirred in a giant stainless steel vat under great amounts of pressure? Then poured onto a slab to eventually pass through huge rollers and pressed  into a smooth paste? With an end result looking something like . . . . . . . . . . fruit roll ups? Not any kind of fabric I would want to wear.

Fruit Fabric?

And so here is where my role as a teacher comes in. I feel compelled to remind everyone who comments that weaving is “a modern art”, that the oldest known handwoven fabric is cotton cloth that wrapped Egyptian mummies. And that in colonial America, weavers were bachelor men who traveled the countryside with their barn looms strapped to their wagons. And when a family commissioned him to weave their linens, rugs and fabrics for clothing, this gentlemen would become that family’s guest and boarder for the duration of the weaving. And that the earliest computer can probably be attributed to a mechanical Jacquard loom with its punched hole cards to control its sequence of operations in early 19th century France.

I tell my students that there are indeed many steps to weaving, but each step by itself is not a difficult one.  And as their instructor, I guide them through the sequence of steps so that they can weave fabric. And no stainless steel vats, slabs or rollers are involved. Not even electricity nor a computer.

When a project’s  color scheme, design and fiber content are decided upon, each strand of yarn or “end” is measured and wound in a group called a warp. Each individual warp end is the length of the weaving project plus enough for sampling and  waste. Students are often surprised at how much math energy is required to calculate the yarn needed for a project or to know the length for each end.  We are all thankful for the calculators on our phones.

Here are a few photos that show a fabric I recently wove in various stages on my loom.

Partially Woven Fabric on the Loom

Individual strands of yarn or "ends" threaded through the reed which separates and evenly spaces the yarn

Individual strands of yarn threaded through the "heddles", large needles with eyes that determine the weave pattern

Warp of yarn wound around the back beam of the loom

Detail of Handwoven Fabric

Completed Vest Sewn from Handwoven Fabric

The yarn used for the fabric is bamboo – Bambu 7 in several colors including gold, yellow and persimmon.  Randomly inserted in the warp is a nubby novelty yarn by Stacy Charles that carries similar colors to the bamboo yarn. Because of the predominance of the persimmon color, I call this vest “Persimmon Vest”. And persimmon is a fruit, right?

Studio Space

When Harry Potter lived with the Dursleys, his room for a  time was  the cupboard under the stairs. I have one of those. But as far as I know, no boy wizard has ever lived there. This is what my cupboard under the stairs looks like:

Rigid heddle looms and tools stored in the cupboard under the stairs

Some of the Beka and Schacht rigid heddle looms are stored here. Rigid heddles, stick shuttles, pick up sticks, clamps, warping tools and re-usable brown paper for winding are stored here. Two big blue buckets of cotton carpet warp and Peaches and Cream cotton yarn are stored here. Everything that I take to classes are conveniently stored in this space because it is easily accessible to the garage and driveway where I load and unload all the tools and equipment I need to teach my weaving classes. My inkle looms and large rigid heddle looms do not fit in the cupboard.  They are stored in the attic. More on that later. Though it doesn’t house  a wizard, the space under the stairs is more than functional.  However, there is no room for me to weave in the cupboard.

So where do I weave? As it turns out, a few places. In my last post, I mentioned cleaning out my weaving room. A room that measures roughly 9′ X 12′. It is off of the master bedroom and its  intended function when first built has long been forgotten. Was it a sitting room as part of the master bedroom suite? A nursery? An office? A man cave? Whatever its intended use,  a weaving room was not one of them. When I weave, that is what it becomes, but it also is a room where  I create the bulk of my designs, where I prepare my warps and sometimes pay the bills, answer my e-mails, read and listen to music. Sometimes my daughter even does her homework there. It is comfortable enough for me to call it my studio.

Weaving studio in a small space

This is as tidy as it gets.  It’s difficult to keep such a small space uncluttered and organized especially when working on a complex project.

56" Macomber Loom and Schacht Baby Wolf in my weaving studio

Amazingly, this large Macomber loom and the Baby Wolf loom both fit comfortably in this 9′ X 12′ studio space.

And I also have another space where I weave. I call it my attic studio. Previous owners had finished the attic probably in the 1970’s. The attic has a larger area than my weaving room and I use the additional space to sew my handwoven fabric and create my handbound books. One corner of the attic space has a third loom which I use for quick projects. And it’s very cozy up there. It’s off the beaten path of household activity.  I can turn my iHome up as loud as I want. And there is a day bed there, so I can take naps! I’m all for those! Now that’s a real studio!

The Leclerc Loom in my attic studio