Choosing a Loom

By THL Cassandra of Glastonbury
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Choosing a loom is an important decision in a weaver's life. The loom you choose will determine how well you like weaving as well as what you weave. There are many different types of looms and many reputable manufactures. Disclaimer: Please note that I am not affiliated with any of them and what works best for me has formed my opinions.

Before purchasing a loom, you need to consider the following: budget, space, and what you want to weave. These answers will determine what loom will suit you best. This does not mean that you cannot eventually have several looms that fulfill different functions.

A loom is an investment in your craft and with proper care, should last for many years. Your initial outlay can range between $2 for an inkle loom at a yard sale to several thousand dollars for a room filling counterbalance floor loom.

When considering space, take a tape measure and block out the space the loom will take up, including height. Then add one foot all around for walking. Remember that you will need to get behind the loom occasionally. Unless your loom is closet sized and you plan to store it when not in use, it will become a major part of any room it inhabits. The width of the loom directly affects how wide your cloth can be. If you want cloth that is 22" wide, you will need a 26" loom minimum. This will account for take-up and shrinkage of the finished cloth. The wider the loom is, the heavier it will be to move the harnesses. Also the farther your arms will have to reach for the shuttle. The wider the loom, the more expensive it will be. Width can range from 22" to 60" for floor looms and 10' to 24" for table looms.

Some looms are designed to perform specialized functions only. Inkle looms and tapestry looms fall into this category. If you want to weave cloth, the type will determine how robust a loom you need. Rugs demand a very sturdy loom and often the weavers add extra weight for beating. If the loom is going to travel with you to workshops, demos, events, or shows, you need something lightweight, portable, and that fits in your vehicle.



Types of Looms

Inkle:

Used to make narrow bands of warp-faced weave. This is an excellent beginner loom since it is inexpensive, easy to find, and stores compactly. You can create elaborate patterns using a variety of pick-up techniques. The loom can also be used to hold cards for tablet weaving. Look for hard wood construction and a robust design. I am not sure it is possible to overbuild one. The pegs that hold the warp should be at least ¾" thick and even. These looms come in both floor and table models from a variety of manufacturers. Plans are also widely available to create your own.

Tapestry:

Used to make wall hangings and rugs. These range from a simple peg frame to standing units that can take up an entire wall. The peg looms can be found inexpensively. The professional workshop looms command a heftier price. Look at the construction, the wood and the stand. If you find one that is missing rods, but everything else is good, buy it and pick up dowels at a hardware store. They can easily be cut to size. This is another loom that could be easily crafted by someone familiar with woodworking.

Rigid Heddle:

These looms offer a relatively small weaving surface - 10-24" wide. While it is possible to weave multiple harness cloth on one, they are geared primarily for tabby or a finger-manipulated weave. Since it is not feasible to put a long warp on, they are a good loom for scarves, placemats, napkins or other smaller projects. They are portable and again relatively low cost.

Warp-Weighted:

These are one of the earliest looms. To get one, you will need to find either a museum or a woodworker. They excel at wide cloth and coverlets. They are still being used in parts of Scandinavia today. They are not quick or easy to weave upon.

Horizontal Looms:

This category of looms is designed for weaving yardage or rugs. They come in a variety of options in construction.

Your primary decision will be one of table or floor. They vary widely in cost, storage, and portability. Harnesses are not an issue. Some table looms can go up to 12 harnesses.

Table Loom: Loom sits on a table or a frame. The harnesses are raised and lowered by hand. By necessity, these looms are not as wide as floor looms. They can be stored and travel well. Because you manipulate the harnesses with your hands, it may be harder to establish a working rhythm. It also may aggravate shoulder problems.

Floor Loom:The loom is a self-contained unit. The harnesses are raised and lowered by the use of treadles. Because the feet perform this operation, the hands can focus on moving the yarn back and forth in the shed. This makes it easier to establish a rhythm. With a little encouragement, they will dominate a room.

Harnesses are one the things to consider in your purchases. The more harnesses the more complicated patterns you can weave and the more weight you have to be able to move. In addition, when you increase your harnesses, you increase your loom waste (yarn you cannot weave)

2-Harness:These are rare. Their purpose was to make rag rugs. Sometimes they are called 'Barn Looms". Since a 2-harness loom limits you to tabby, like a rigid heddle loom, I do not think they are as effective as the modern 4+ harness looms.

4-Harness:4-Harnesses allow you to weave a variety including tabby, twills, lace, and overshot. Even without finger-manipulated techniques, you can weave an astonishing range of patterns.

4-Now + 4-Later: For the undecided, this offers the cost break of a 4-harness loom while allowing the possibility of adding on an additional four harnesses later. Ultimately, you pay more than, if you went with an 8-harness loom.

8-Harness:The extra harnesses allow you do weave more complex designs, including satin (5-harness), extended twills, and lampas. However, the extra weight of the harnesses may be a drawback. Remember, your legs are raising the harnesses.

12+ Harnesses:Yet more harnesses. While this allows you to weave more complicated designs than an 8-harnesses will, your trade-off is in cost and ease of use. The more harnesses you have, the further you have to reach back when warping your loom.



The mechanics of the loom will make a difference in what you can easily weave and how much the loom costs.

Jack:Also known as a rising shed loom. The style is modern and easy to operate. As you press down on the treadle, the attached harnesses rise up.

Counterbalance:This type of loom is found in nearly every country and is the traditional type of loom used in around the world and throughout history When a shed is made, some shafts go up and the rest go down.

Countermarche: In a countermarche loom, every shaft is actively involved in each shed. Each shaft is either lifted or pulled down by each pedal.

Jacquard: Named after J. M. Jacquard, French inventor of the loom d. 1834. A woven design made with the aid of a jacquard loom may vary from simple, self-colored, spot effects to elaborate, multicolored all-over effects. The loom operates a bit like the roller on a player piano. Instead of notes, it gives instructions to the machine on how to create the design. For SCA purposes, this is definitely Out of Period.

Dobby: Small, geometric figures can be woven in as a regular pattern. Originally, this type of loom needed a dobby boy who sat on the top of the loom and drew up warp threads to term a pattern. Now the weaving is done entirely by machine. This loom differs from a plain loom in that it may have up to thirty-two harnesses and a pattern chain. While the dobby boy can be documented, the mechanical loom cannot.



Trials

You can find opportunities to test out looms from several sources. Weaving shops frequently run classes where you learn using the shop's looms and just pay for class fees and materials. If you do not know if you will like weaving, this is an excellent and low investment opportunity to try weaving and a loom type. Your local weaving guild might have a loom that they allow their members to borrow. Ask a weaver you know if they have a loom they lend out or teach on.



Finding

You can find looms at a wide range of places including yard sales, weaving supply stores, and Internet auctions.

Looms end up in yard sales because someone tried weaving and did not like it. Inspect these looms closely. They may be damaged or have parts missing. They may also have been used once and are very dusty.

Stores that specialize in supplying weavers are the safest and most expensive route. The physical stores offer you a chance to kick the tires and investigate exactly how the loom works and how much space it will take up.

Internet auctions are chancier than stores, but not as chancy as a yard sale. The seller wants to maintain a good reputation and that will not happen if they send out defective merchandise. Occasionally you will run into a seller that does not know what they have.

Your local guild may have a 'For Sale' section in their newsletter. These people do know the loom and what if anything that needs to be done to it. An experienced weaver will sell a loom for many reasons, like, moving, upgrading, injury, or needing money. While these will have a good price, do not look for bargains.



Care and Feeding

When caring for your loom keep in mind that it is a cross between furniture and a tool. The wood needs to be dusted on a regular basis and completely cleaned after each project. I recommend using a high-grade furniture oil to nurture the wood, letting it set for a couple of days to soak in and buffing off any excess oil. This is a good time to clean fiber dust out of the movable parts. If your loom has metal moving parts that require lubrication, use a high grade of machine oil (sewing machine oil works just fine). Do not use WD-40 or a similar product, as this will not produce the lasting lubrication needed. Remove all excess oils and dirt before starting your next project.

Always take the tension off your warp if letting the loom sit for any length of time. Keeping the loom under tension can result in warping the wood in the loom, upsetting the balance and distorting your warp.

If you are going to let a project sit unworked for an extended length of time, consider putting a sheet or dust cover over your work. This will keep dust off the loom and light from potentially fading the weaving.



Bibliography

Bress, Helene (1980) Inkle Weaving. Flower Valley Press, Rockville, MD. ISBN: 0-9620543-1-3

Broudy, Eric (1979) The Book of Looms. University Press of New England, Hanover, NH. ISBN: 0-87451-649-8

Chandler, Deborah (1995) Learning to Weave. Interweave Press, Loveland, CO. ISBN: 1-883010-03-9.

Collingwood, Peter (1968) The Techniques of Rug Weaving. Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, NY. ISBN: 0-8230-5200-1.

Harvey, Nancy (1991) Tapestry Weaving: A Comprehensive Study Guide. Interweave Press, Loveland, CO. ISBN: 0-934026-64-5.

Hoffmann, Marta (1974) The Warp-Weighted Loom. Hestholms Boktrykkeri A.s, Oslo, Norway. ISBN: 82-00-08094-3.



WEB Resources

All about Fabric: http://www.all-about-fabrics.com/index.htm?http://www.all-about-fabrics.com/global/dictionary/us/w324.htm

Elkhorn Mountains Weaving Studio: http://people.montana.com/~elh/welcome.htm

Halcyon Yarn: http://www.halcyonyarn.com/

Woolery: http://www.woolery.com/index.html



Last updated: 1/17/2006