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

The Merry Weavers of Memphis

Fifteen students were registered to take the “Beginning Rigid Heddle Weaving” class I was teaching at the Lewis Senior Center of the Memphis Parks and Recreation Department. This class is funded by Creative Aging Midsouth, a non profit organization providing entertainment and arts workshops to senior citizens living in the communities of West Tennessee.  Many of the students had never woven before, but everyone completed at least one project which ranged from scarves to tote bags to mini purses to handbags made from rags or fabric strips. Students used both Beka and Schacht rigid heddle looms, and one student had her own Kromski “Fiddle”.

Students threading their warps on rigid heddle looms

Tommie weaving with fabric strips, or rags to make a handbag

Marty and Irene showing off their handwoven scarves

Dorotha and Frances wearing their scarves woven with Peaches and Cream cotton yarn

Marty's third class project on her Kromski "Fiddle"

Senorita with the two small purses and her scarf woven with peaches and cream yarn

Bea weaving fabric for mini purses

Kathryn with her cotton/linen/rayon scarf just cut off the loom

Ola was only able to attend two classes, but she managed to warp her loom, weave a scarf, and cut it off the loom

Everyone seemed to enjoy the class and they all were pleased with their finished projects.  Several decided to purchase their own looms,  and they all have requested another rigid heddle weaving class for early Spring.  It really was a pleasure to weave with these ladies!


When I lived in Massachusetts years ago, I had a good friend from Tennessee who used to give me gifts of  irises.  I learned that they were the state’s official  flower.   And for some reason I’ve always remembered that.  Now that I am a resident of Memphis tucked away in the far southwest corner of the state and bordered by the Mississippi River, I’ve come to truly appreciate irises. Especially in early August.  I never realized how many varieties and colors there were.

Map of Tennessee

Map of Tennessee

Because of their rich colors and textures, irises have for a long time been a beloved subject for artists.  Though these irises aren’t from Tennessee, they were painted by an artist who shares my Dutch ancestral heritage.

Irises painted by Vincent van Gogh

Irises painted by Vincent van Gogh

And so this painting became my inspiration to create a rep weave wall hanging  based on the colors and design of van Gogh’s irises.  My weaving is not completed yet, but here’s a glimpse while it still sits on my loom.

Irises in Rep Weave on Loom

Irises in Rep Weave on Loom

Instead of a field of irises, I designed three large blooms in three different shades of purple.   When completed, this wall hanging will measure approximately 30″ wide and 50″ long.  I wanted to capture a “prairie style” block design with a visual imagery of long columns and squared off blocks – a suitable pattern to rep weave structure. My warp is 5/2 perle cotton doubled and threaded at 24 ends per inch. I find that the doubled cotton strands cover the weft nicely when sett at this epi.  My weft requires two shuttles as the weft rows alternate thick and thin yarn, as is customary in rep weave.  The thick weft is comprised of two strands of 100% cotton, Peaches and Creme by Elmore-Pisgah. The doubled peaches and cream strands are wound around the ski shuttle.  The color is olive which is primarily seen at the selvages.  The thin weft yarn is a 16/2 cotton in turquoise that I just found in my stash. This is wound on the bobbin in the boat shuttle.  And so each shuttle is thrown alternately in successive rows to create the design in the pattern.

This piece is almost finished, and once the ends are hemmed and sewn , then I will post a photo of it here. But as with all my other work, during the weaving process I am always thinking of my next project.  And I so fell in love with van Gogh’s painting that I think that I’ll stick with the theme of irises.  But I may try to design narrower columns and smaller blocks  of color so that the finished piece will  more resemble an entire field of irises instead of just three individual beauties.

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!