Earlier in the summer, I briefly and vaguely alluded to some very exciting weaving developments. As you will have been able to gather from the title of this post, ahem… things have spiralled quite spectacularly since my last in-depth post about my learning to weave adventure. Surprise! The Treehouse has a new inhabitant: meet our floor loom. I thought it would be interesting for you to read a bit about the process of choosing a floor loom and why we settled on the loom we ended up with. Floor looms are a big investment both in time, money and commitment so perhaps it will help someone who is interested in weaving or in getting a loom to read our process, and I hope that for everyone else it will be interesting to read about this new step in in my craft and making endeavours.
You can read my first post to see how I got interested in weaving and started learning in the summer a year ago. Short story is that I started with tablet weaving and a bit later got a rigid heddle loom. My experience with those got me interested in diving deeper into weaving and along the way did a lot of research into all things weaving related. Soon enough I felt the itch to expand my skills and weave more, with different kind of techniques, than the tools I had would allow me to do. However, at the same time I was kind of daunted at the prospect of adding another big craft thing into my already – delightfully – filled craft and creative life. Yet, almost a year after weaving entered my life via tablet and RH weaving, that seed and the wish to dive in deeper had only grown more profound. Dreams about weaving patterns, twills, and yardage still were as strong, or stronger than ever.
Additionally I realised and had to admit to myself, I was already spending time on weaving with tablets and on the little rigid heddle loom anyway, so a new tool for that craft wouldn’t really make it an extra craft to the pile. Finally, as I mentioned at the end of my previous weaving post I’m not the only Treehouse resident who has been taken by the weaving bug as my partner learned to weave with me and like me is still at it almost a year later. So getting a bigger loom felt like an investment in tools and skill for both of us.
The Search for a Loom
So over the past months we’ve spend time on researching bigger looms with shafts. This meant talking about what kinds of things we were interested in weaving and what features in a loom were important to us. There was some overlap, but, naturally, also some differences in both of our goals and interests and finding a loom that would serve both of us the best was important. Apart from that we are limited by space, we live in a small apartment which means some looms would not be an option simply for space alone (which is a relative thing as I fully realise that the loom we ended up with would be too big for some people in the same situation as us).
Initially we were looking into getting a table loom, as it seemed a good way of getting into weaving without the enormous space and financial investment of a floor loom. However, the more we researched it and talked about it with other weavers it became clear that those looms could start to limit us sooner than we would wish for. An aspect of a table loom that seemed great at first is that you can fold it and stash away. However when I look at it in practise it means that you have to have enough free table space to put the loom on, and you either have to leave it on there for long stretches of time while you work on it or stash it away and set it up every time you want to weave. When I look at my craft practise the latter option seemed really uninviting. My time is limited and therefore I like to be able to hop from crafts and activities and pick up and do crafts in-between my day for small stretches of time. I very rarely have a long stretch of time to dedicate on just the one thing. We also talked it over in terms of table space and precisely because we live small having a table dedicated to one craft seemed like more of an impediment that just having the dedicated spot. Apart from that a table loom is hand operated meaning it inevitably is slower than a floor loom, but more importantly for someone that already puts so much strain on their hands and wrists with all the other crafts on top op of computer work and the like I was worried of adding another strain on those joints.
I diligently kept an eye on second hand looms, almost since getting into weaving a year ago. A lot of the problems that I ran into there are similar to when I was looking for a second hand spinning wheel. It is an extremely niche market over here and what is on offer needs to suit you, especially if you don’t have the space and funds to simply ‘stash it aside’ when it turns out what you picked doesn’t suit you. Second hand also increases the chance you’ll end up with a loom for which it’s hard to find replacement parts, and we don’t have a car so picking up a loom would’ve been another issue. The big pro of second hand is off course the relative affordability (although obviously people selling a modern loom aren’t going to part with it for a fiver). With my spinning wheel I got very lucky indeed but that isn’t always the case, so eventually we started looking at new looms too.
Buying a loom is bit different from ordering most things: It is such a niche field that you might not know any other weavers nor have a specialist store in your surroundings and if you do it might not have the loom you want to try out. If you have the chance I would advise to try the different loom operating systems -many people can have fantastic looms for what they are doing, but it might not be the thing that you want to do- but at the same time the different operation systems also influence non-craft considerations, like size and price. Stores often sell their looms on backorder instead of from stock, so it can be quite the wait for your loom to arrive. I’ve heard waiting times ranging from a month to more than a year. In my case the loom was already on order by the store, but still in the warehouse of the loom maker – yet it took a couple of months to get here. I was kept well informed all the while by the store and I didn’t mind the delay as I already knew it would take a long time for it to get here but it is something to keep in mind when you go into this yourself.
Our Loom: Details and Why this Loom
So the loom we got is the Ashford Jack Loom. We had some fairly solid pointers that where important to us; our space limitation was a big thing so we didn’t want huge loom, yet at the same time we hoped to weave yardage at some point so wanted at least 80cm of weaving width. We also wanted a loom with at least 4 shafts. One of the standout features of the Jack loom is how compact it remains in relation to what it offers. I would for example love to weave on a Swedish counter-balance loom such as Glimakra or Oxaback but given the size of those looms and us living in a small apartment that just isn’t feasible. The Ashford jack loom owes its compact size to its jack system, which eliminates the need for a huge castle above the loom, which other systems do need. All table looms, regardless of brand, always work on a jack system, for example. Our floor loom has a shelf on the castle, and while it seems like a small thing, when you live small it’s 100% more practical to have a small shelf there than to have the loom so big it touches the ceiling.
Another appeal of this loom is its weaving width: 97 cm. A nice width on which you can weave more substantial pieces while remaining compact in size. Because of its size you can also double weave (weave twice the size of you loom width) on it more comfortably than you would on a table loom. Given we are interested in weaving yardage in time it was important to have a large enough weaving width, especially when taking weaving shrinkage into account. Because the work is tensioned on the loom weaving shrinkage cannot be avoided, but it can vary wildly between 5% and 25%. I was concerned that with some of the smaller weaving widths we had seen we wouldn’t be able to weave the things we wanted to.
While remaining compact in size (relatively speaking, as I’m aware it’s still quite large) it still offers a range of neat features. The loom has 8 shafts (or harnesses) and 10 treadles, this means a whole range of patterns can be woven on it and you can double weave 4 shafts patterns on it. Since patterning is a big attraction to weaving for us this was important and 8 gives you a solid range to work within. It is made from silver beech wood and it comes with a 12 dpi reed and 100 heddles per shaft. In time I think we’ll need to add more heddles to the shafts so we can weave with thinner yarns but for now it will do. Some practical features are the shuttle race, which from the weaving I’ve done on it so far works very nice and makes running your shuttle through very smooth. Another feature that I really like is the one-go warp advancement with the steel ratchet and friction brake, it makes advancing the warp and tensioning it a lot smoother, easier and faster than it is on the rigid heddle.
Apart from all these features it is quite simply also one of the more affordable floor looms, which again is in relative terms. The fact that I also own a second hand spinning wheel from Ashford that I have positive experiences with helps. I also like that they continue to make parts or spare parts, even for otherwise discontinued wheels and systems. Though that said I think I would have been happy with a lot of looms that had some of our key features and simply got us to weave. I don’t have enough experience with looms to recommend this loom over another and I think quite simply that there are a lot of good looms out there. But my experience with this loom has been very good and I like weaving on it so there is that.
Putting Together and Setting Up the Loom
We started setting up the loom the day we got it (it was a weekend day!). Like true pros who have constructed their fair share of Ikea furniture we first checked whether all parts were included. This took quite a bit of time as there are a lot of parts spread over different boxes. It took us two days in total to set it up with the two of us. We worked the entire afternoon and part of the evening on the first day – by that point most of it was done (we stopped midway assembling the shelf) however there was still quite a bit left to do. On the second day we worked on it the entire morning – finishing up the shafts and assembling the beater and front and back beam – and by lunch we had a loom in our room! Assembling it was a lot of crawling around on the floor (not great for your back it has to be said) and it took up a lot of space with loom parts scattered about on the floor. However it came together smoothly, there are just a lot of parts and that takes time to put together. The instructions were clear and we had no trouble following it. Doing it together was obviously also faster than doing it alone.
When you have your loom assembled you aren’t done quite yet as anyone who wants to weave on a loom needs something to make a warp with. On the rigid heddle I just used the direct warping method for which you don’t need anything other than a peg to wrap loops around. This doesn’t work for a floor or table loom and you need a tool to make a warp on for the indirect warping method. This tool can either be a warping frame or board or a warping mill. Because of our space concerns we had our eye on a warping frame. They come in a small and big size, and given we are mostly interested in larger pieces we went for the big size. I say this as if it was as easy as that but finding a frame to begin with was something of an adventure in itself. For months the frames just where out of stock everywhere I looked (I had started looking at frames before I even ordered the loom) and this was the case across a range of brands to the point were I just refreshed the stores in my country that stocked them daily for a while. In think the combination of covid effects and general material shortages where the reason for this as I know it causes lots of issues across a whole range of things. Anyway, I literally almost choked on my tea one evening when I did my “warping round” and one of the stores had them in stock. Even while ordering it I was a bit incredulous about it actually being true and half expected a “sorry, our bad” email but a few days later it actually arrived! Hurrah and rejoice!
Assembling these was easy. We started by hammering in one peg, but realised this slightly damaged the peg so we switched to manoeuvring them in by wricking them in and using the sandpaper to slightly manipulate them to better fit the hole. So far the pegs have been rock solid while warping. We used beeswax wood polish to finish the wood as unlike the loom the wood of the frame is unfinished.
Of Cats and Looms
I wasn’t sure how the cats were going to react on the loom, but so far they surprisingly…are mostly nonplussed and ignore it. They were very into the boxes the loom came into though and into helping putting the thing together (unless it made noise, at which moment they revolted and left the scene). We will see how it goes once there is cloth on it and we start weaving on it regularly, but so far they have not started using it as an elevated climbing device yet. We did ignore the instructions that said to tie all the 80 treadle ties on the loom already so you only have to peg them into the correct treadles once you get to weaving new patterns with different tie ups. I mean I like to think of our cats as the respectful sort who don’t just use every other thing as a play and scratch palace, but I though having 80 loose threads permanently hanging from it would be pushing it a bit perhaps. So we only have the treadles tied to to the shafts currently in use and they completely ignore those.
Final Thoughts and Now What?
I’m so, so happy and revelling in the wonder that we now have a floor loom in our little home. One of the reasons why I wanted to write this post is to show people in a similar boat as us that is is entirely possible to do this in a smaller home or if you don’t have a dedicated craft room (ours is set up in the living room). I remember when I just got into weaving and wasn’t sure whether a floor loom would even be possible for me I stumbled on a Malaysian weaver online who had their loom set up in their apartment in the living room/kitchen and it was such an inspiring thing. I don’t know, it was a refreshing representation of how you can weave when you don’t have a dedicated room for it. I mean, I love seeing other people’s crafting spaces and am stoked for those of us who are living their dream life in a dedicated craft place, but at the same time I am well aware that it’s not the life every crafter has or even aspires to have. So I hope, in part, that as that weaver did for me my experiences will resonate with and inspire other (potential) weavers, and crafters who may sometimes feel left out or unrepresented as well.
I can’t wait to learn and explore more about weaving with this loom and have been dreaming about all the adventures this loom will take us on over the coming years. With all the crafts I’m bringing into our home and all the tools, some of them used since ancient times, our small city apartment is starting to look more and more like the cosy crafter’s burrow of my dreams. I joke that with every passing year, with every tool that gets added and skill that is learned slowly over the years I’m growing closer to my optimal form (like a caterpillar). What an honour and privilege to be able to work with all these materials and tools and add my bit to the long line of crafters and weavers of old.
Finally, this is a loom on which both me and my partner will weave; the idea being that we will weave our own projects on it as well as collaborative projects and we’ll see how that goes. Speaking for myself I think for the near future I’ll mostly be keeping to just the 4 shafts and patterns I can make with those while I’m getting the hang of weaving on a floor loom. My first project has already been warped and woven on! I’ll talk more (like a lot more) about it in a later post but I can tell you it’s woven in a twill pattern and I think for now I’ll continuing to explore twills for a bit while I’m gaining my footing in weaving on our very own loom. I love twills and there is so much to explore and pattern variations in that bit of weaving alone and given my interest I foresee a lot of them in my future. I’m super excited about the future of weaving in the Treehouse!
There are occasional times in my life when I look back at things in my life and think “Meh, maybe if things had gone different, made those and those changes or had done things differently here and there, this and that and so and so…”. You might be familiar with those open ended questions and self deprecating narrative thoughts. However, when I’m sat at my loom in the evenings weaving herringbone, the shuttle and beater moving in rhythm, my spinning wheel behind me, wearing a handknit cardigan and a dress sewn by me, while the moon gently shines through the window and folk tunes softly fill the room, it is not one of those moments. At those moments I regret absolutely nothing.
Thanks for reading and heddles up!