Weaving

I am engaged in a longterm project where I am trying to document all of the possible occupations that existed in the past up to the Edwardian Era. If I had the money, the youth and the health to do it, I would buy land and set up a self-sufficient farming community that would have craftsmen who would run technology museums for the tourist trade and also provide the manufactured goods that the community would need should the community ever get cut off from the outside world due to natural disaster or we ever have another energy crunch that would limit what could be shipped in.

Cloth manufacturing from raising the animals and growing the cotton/linen to producing the final finished cloth would account for a good number of the occupations, and cloth manufacturing was the first thing to be industrialized with power machinery. I would want my technology museums to show how cloth and everything else was industrialized.

But, I don’t think I will ever understand the technology of cloth production without building my own weaving loom. I can find plans in various books and online sources, but I have limited space so I’d have to settle for a small loom like the ones I’ve seen online using small-dimension lumber (2x2 rather than 4x4). These small looms can be designed to either be dissassembled or collapsible. But, I am concerned that they wouldn’t be sturdy enough to actually use. Has anyone had any experience with such things?

You mean like the Amish?

you can find small looms for relatively cheap especially if look for a rigid heddle loom. I am not sure why you want to build one though, many universities have a weaving program where you can try out their loom or look for a local weaving club. Depending on what time frame you are looking at an organization like the Society for Creative Anachronism has a lot of weavers in it. looms hanged a lot over time from warp weighted looms, back strap looms to jaccard looms as late as the 1500’s, I am sure even more so up until the Edwardian era as did the roles of who did the weaving.

Have you read Eliz Barbers book “Women’s Work: the first 20,000 years”?

This is about as simple as it gets.

I want to use a harness loom rather than rigid heddles. I wan to try to make a Christmas table runner, and I don’t think it could be done with a rigid heddle. I’m also thinking of setting the loom up in my public library and let people try it out with donated yarn just to see what the finished cloth would look like.

We had a local weaving club, but it only met once a month and only certain months of the year. A year ago last September I took an all-day class with its president, but she doesn’t live locally so I had to travel to get to her. I tried contacting her again last summer, but didn’t get any reply to me email. We have 3 colleges in town, but weaving isn’t something they have.

Historically, in small, self-sustaining communities like colonial plantations and pre-industrial New England weaving was done by women whenever they didn’t have anything else to do. Their looms were designed to be taken apart and stored for most of the year because they weren’t in everyday use and took up too much space.

But, in places where weaving was done commercially but before water power was available, weaving was usually done by men because most women weren’t strong enough to work the peddles that controlled the harnesses. Then when everything was done by power machinery it was usually women and children who operated the looms because they worked cheap and could get in the working mechanisms where men were too big to fit. What goes around comes around.

I have read part of that book over 20 years ago. I used it to date the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. A new style of weaving or pottery making (I can’t remember which) was adopted in the Holy Land, but the style originated in Egypt so the conclusion was that the Israelites took it with them when they left Egypt. That’s logical, but the date indicated isn’t what most historians accept for the Exodus.

I first learned of this type of loom from a story in one of my grade school reading textbooks. A Navajo grandmother was making her last rug. When she finished she knew that her life would be over and she would die. So every night her granddaughter secretly undid part of what her grandmother had done during the day thinking that this would keep her from dying. I don’t remember how the story turned out.

Self-sufficient like the Amish, but not as technologically phobic (for lack of a better term) as the Amish.

Depends on the cloth.

It requires a very heavy, sturdy loom to weave things like rugs, and likewise to weave broad swaths of fabric. Each individual thread might not have much tension, but when you have thousands of threads pulling simultaneously on the loom structure the forces involved add up.

If you just want to explore the basics of “cloth production” you can use a very small loom to weave what are basically swatches. You can get good results even on a small loom if you work within its limitations.

I’ve built a number of looms, mostly small scale things like card looms and backstrap looms, but also a few other sorts. I also own a four-harness jackloom capable of weaving fabric 4 feet wide (wider, if you know a trick that lets you weave the fabric folded over, but I’ve never been entirely pleased with the results of that) which I have assembled and disassembled more than once.

Nope, disagree - a basic backstrap loom is simpler. And it’s portable, to some degree.

Depends on the heddle and a bunch of other factors.

“Variable” comes to mind.

Grrr… I’ve worked with looms with up to 16 harnesses. Yes, that can get heavy. However, women are capable of operating such looms. Especially if string heddles are used, which are significantly lighter than wire ones.

I suspect the dominance by men was more a matter of societal custom (man is chief breadwinner) than lack of strength on the part of women. Also, women would have had to split their time with child care, it’s the men who could put in solid 10-12 hour days weaving.

I thought you might be talking about this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Weaving

Covers many subjects besides weaving, as practiced in Colonial America. Might be of interest to you, and is free for Kindle and the Kindle Reader app: Home Life in Colonial America

That’s something else I want to try to understand- how did a human-powered loom made mostly out of wood and string (string headdles were used before wire ones were), get turned into a water/steam powered machine consisting of metal?

I’m also fascinated by Jacquard looms that used punched cards to control the weaving pattern and how that technology contributed to modern data processing and computers. The eye of a headdle is either threaded or not- think opened or closed or a 0 and 1. But, apparently this did not lead anybody to the binary code that computers use even though it seems rather obvious now.

I know this is possible, but without a loom in front of me, I’ve never been able to make any sense from what I’ve read about it. It sounds like you’d end up with a tangled mess.

I know that different widths of fabric are used for different applications. You can’t make drapery or upholstery from the size fabric you’d use to make clothes. But, how did the different widths come about? I would assume that the length of the human arm set the first standard since you can only throw a shuttle so far, but then flying shuttles and power looms came along. Did they make the fabric to fit the applications or the other way around?

That’s the explanation that the president of the local weaving club here gave me.

I thought he was great as Elrond, but he didn’t quite click as Red Skull.

Oh, wait, not that Weaving.

When you say that you don’t have much space, to clarify: Is that a short-term or a long-term problem? Can you clear out space temporarily to set up and use the loom, and then put it away in a small space? Because my mom uses a style of loom that’s about as simple as it gets: The original consisted of a bunch of nails in opposite ends of her grandmother’s attic, plus a flat floating heddle/banger that fits in nearly any space. The nails are far enough apart to make two or three rugs. You run warp between the nails and through the heddle to set it up. Two people stand one on each side of the heddle, and alternate lifting it and pushing it down while they pass the shuttle full of weft through. It takes two people about 4-6 hours to make each rug, and when you have all of your rugs finished, you cut them down and the space is again free.

Depending on your location and budget, you can get a loom for a good price on Craigslist. My wife got a Leclerc table loom for $100 a while back, and a very nice floor loom for $200 more recently. People often really want them gone.

If you are a skilled woodworker, a proper harness loom would not be terribly difficult to DIY if you buy the heddles (cheap) and reed(s) ($$$).

You’re right, it’s something that makes a lot more sense when you have a loom in front of you.

The most difficult bit is keeping the thread density the same throughout and not bunching it up along the woven fold. Most example of that fabric I’ve seen there’s an obvious line going down the middle because keeping exact tension is a trick.

There’s some back and forth on that one.

In the distant past rugs and tapestries were woven on huge, stationary, vertical looms that didn’t have full-width heddles - horizontal rug looms are largely post-steam tech - and width was dependent on the application, not the human arm. Looms where you throw a shuttle back and forth are limited in width by human anatomy, but people have long joined narrow widths of fabric to make wider ones - see the woven (not printed) kente cloth of Africa for an example of that. As also mentioned, there were two-person looms developed as well for wider widths.

I give that the same credibility as saying women weren’t professional chefs because they weren’t strong enough to lift pots and pans. It ignores all the other social factors that dictated who could be a professional and who couldn’t. When lace collars were in their heydey most professional lace-makers were men, too, and that had nothing to do with strength.

There’s also a LOT of folklore surrounding weaving, with a fair amount of it being BS.

Weaving is a technology that was probably invented multiple times around the world. Are you interested primarily in the European history or the world history of it?

You can of course sew smaller widths together to make wider widths. A lot of looms were limited by the width of one persons arms but many looms were designed for two people to operate.

Another interesting source would be Woven into the Earth as well as Barbers Prehistoric Weaving and the Archeological digs of London . For actual visuals Williamsburg VA, Plymouth Plantation in MA, Jamestown VA or any of the Shaker villages. Also of course the Victoria and Albert Museum. The textile museums in Washington DC and the new textile exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Plus a whole lot more, I recently have gone to a Middle eastern textile exhibit in Nashville TN and a Japanese textile exhibit in Chicago that would all fall into the pre-1900’s.

Is this a personal interest or is it for a dissertation or published paper?

You may need to limit your interest to a more specific time and place rather than anything prior to 1900’s

Long term. I couldn’t set up a loom and leave it in place indefinitely. What is the heddle for your rug loom made of? Is it a rigid heddle?

The sad thing is that about a year before I got interested in studying the technology I saw a harness loom in a local thrift store that I seldom ever go into. It was dissassembled and in a box and at the time I didn’t know anything about looms so I had no way of knowing if all of the parts were there or not. Naturally it was gone by the time I wanted it, but if I remember right they wanted like $500 for it. I do keep an eye on Craigslist.