First Floor Loom Project part 1: Process

Merry meet on this Samhain Eve! Today I’m excited to tell you all about how weaving my first project on the floor loom went! I’m splitting posting about this project into two posts; one focussed on the process of weaving and the second one, focussed on the finishing and the project itself, following in a couple of days. I don’t imagine I’ll always do this for my weaving projects, but as this was my first time with everything on the loom there is just a lot to talk about. So hold on tight folks, here we go!

First thing to do after setting up the floor loom was deciding on a inaugural project. I’ve read some advise on what to choose for a first project, and while I don’t think any of it was bad, I’m also a firm believer of picking projects that you actually want to make. It’s why I don’t necessarily think garter stitch dishcloths are the best projects to learn how to knit for every knitter. You are bound to make mistakes in a first project anyway, so better make them in something you actually enjoy working on. All this is to say that I dismissed towels as a first weaving project, as I did with them as a first knitting project. I don’t doubt for others they can be great fun, but they are not what draws me into weaving.

I wanted to start with a project that could serve as a stepping stone to what I want to learn to weave and keep the ember of enthusiasm burning. With this in mind I decided on a plaid twill scarf as my first project. Patterned weaving was a big reason to get a loom with shafts so I wanted to incorporate something in my first project. First I thought of doing a stripe or herringbone pattern, but then I was looking at lots of tartan projects and since I have already done a plaid pattern on the rigid heddle, I thought a simple plaid must be doable. So I switched tracks to doing a plaid. Finally I decided to make a scarf as I thought it would be manageable in scope and I would get the most use out of it. Apart from weaving yardage, weaving scarfs and shawls is what I mostly want to weave on the loom anyway so this was a perfect project choice. I like wider scarves that you can fold either double as a thick scarf or use unfolded as a wrap. I used the measurements of a scarf I like to roughly calculate the width and length I wanted for this scarf.

The plaid pattern is based on a single photo I found on Pinterest of a plaid project in progress on someone’s loom. The blog it links back to is no longer in working order so I only had the one photo to go by but it seemed doable to try and make something resembling this plaid. What I liked about this plaid is that it seemed minimal and simpler to weave than some of the more evolved tartans I had seen, yet was still clearly a stepping stone to those patterns. It would teach me weaving with multiple colours on a floor loom, weaving a basic twill pattern and it would introduce me to calculating yardage as well as basic warping pattern. I decided to go for a 2*2 twill, the bread and butter of twills, and calculate my own thread numbers regarding the pattern.

Someone had used the same yarn I planned to use and very helpfully included their ends per inch in the project log and I just went with that same number (12, which very conveniently exactly matched my reed). I guessed based on the photo how large each stripe was and with the ends per inch then calculated to how many threads that translated in the cloth. At the same time I had an approximation of how big I wanted the scarf to be and then started messing with the thread count to accommodate that. This is why my beige and black plaid blocks are slightly bigger then the brown and black. I will admit the difference is a bit bigger than I expected it to be and was afraid it would overpoweringly scream “calculation mistake” in the finished scarf but I think it looks fine and possibly adds more interest to the scarf than same sized plaid blocks would have done. I added a border of 6 light beige coloured threads on each side of the scarf for a neat finished edge and to frame the plaid.

So something you might not know if you are not a weaver or into weaving but a big part of weaving is dressing the loom so you can actually start weaving on it. Some estimate this is actually 50% of the work, so buckle up! I followed the steps in this video pretty faithfully so if you want some visual help picturing exactly what I did it’s very helpful to watch it. I warped back to front, though you can also warp front to back but I’ve yet to learn that way of warping. The first step in this process is making the warp, these are your vertical threads that are tensioned on the loom and where you’ll weave in the horizontal threads with the shuttle. To make the warp you need a tool; either a warping frame or mill, where you’ll wrap your warp threads around to reach the length you need. I did this on my warping frame, where I first used a piece of scrap yarn to find a path that would give me the correct length and would enable me to make two crosses in the warp. This took me longer than I anticipated, but I think with more experience this will get easier and I will get some go to paths for my shorter and longer lengths warp needs.

On the frame you wrap the threads around your chosen path and in the correct patterning order. So if you have a one coloured warp this is really straightforward and you can just keep wrapping until you have all your warp threads. If you have a warp with multiple colours like I did you need to pay more attention to the colour sequence and keep track of the thread count so you don’t make a mistake in the warp. In addition I made two crosses in the yarn, on one side I crossed the thread every six passes, so it’s easy to slot into the raddle. The other cross is nearest to the front and is crossed every thread to make threading the heddles less of nightmare later in the warping process. One sentence you will hear thrown around a lot when you watch videos of warping a loom is how important it is to maintain the integrity of the cross when transferring your warp thread from the frame to the loom.

Next step is to put your warp threads on the loom. I warped back to front so I started at the back beam where I put my warp in groups of 6 on the raddle. When those threads are secured and your raddle is on the loom at the back beam you can start rolling up your warp threads. The warp threads need to be under tension while you do this, it’s easiest to do this with someone who helps you but you can do it by yourself using the crank and yank method. While you roll up the warp threads you snip all ties you come across so the warp threads can spread freely. The warp gets rolled up to the point that the end of the warp threads reach the back of the castle. Now it’s time to thread the heddles!

Threading the heddles is a finicky and time consuming job, but altogether less so than I had anticipated. Or perhaps you just get used to it fast. You thread the heddles either by just pushing the threads in with your hands or by using the heddle hook; a small long hook specifically made for this job. I used a mixture of both methods to get them all threaded. Ashford sells what they call “helping hands” to wrap around the crossbars to keep your work in place while you thread the heddles but I just used two pieces of elastic t-shirt yarn (the red thread in above photo) which worked well for this job. A good advise, whether you are experienced or not, is to regularly go back and check you heddles and see if the thread pattern is still correct. The pattern in which you thread can vary wildly, even for similar fabrics. I noticed a mistake maybe 2 or 3 times while threading and had to go back and do all those heddles over again. This was time consuming for sure, but altogether a lot less effort than had I only noticed when I was done threading all +/- 300 heddles! So some level of concentration, time and stamina is required for this, especially once I graduate to more involved patterns and thinner yarns but I also found some pleasure and satisfaction in this task.

Once the heddles have been threaded, you are almost… -but not quite- there. You first have to do this wonderfully confusing thing that you can say to non weavers and you’ll leave them wondering to which poor sod you are swinging a sword: you have to sley the reed. In a loom the reed is the metal or plastic grid that is fastened to your beater. The amount of ends per inch decides how you have to sley it, meaning how many threads in each slit. Because my reed is a 12 dpi and I had 12 ends per inch I had it easy for this first project and could thread one thread through each slit. To do this task you have to remove your front beam and deconstruct half of your beater so it can lay vertical while you thread the warp through each slit. You do this with a reed hook; a sister to the heddle hook; her hook is much bigger than the heddle hook, but she is much narrower, almost paper thin so she can go in between the tiny slit spaces.

After the reed is sleyed you can almost -but again, not quite- rest your back against your chair with the satisfaction and relief of a knight that just stole back treasure from some dragon or another in a haunted castle. But first you got to tie your warp onto the front beam stick. To do this you tie your warp in groups with little knots which you then interlace with a piece of scrap thread between the front beam stick and your groups of warp thread. Once this is tied on you roll the warp on the front beam until your work is entirely under an even tension. Hurrah the loom is dressed! A mammoth effort for a baby weaver but we got there relatively unscathed and without hating our freshly introduced craft.

We can now start weaving! Ah, but not so fast… before we start our actual weaving we have to weave a bit with some scrap yarn first. This is just a few rows with some unassuming scrap yarn to get an even tension, even out the warp threads and get a neat straight edge. When the weaving is finished and you go back to do your edge finishing this scrap yarn will be unravelled and thus invisible. Phew, so if you are still with me…now you can actually start weaving. After all this you get an idea why weavers say that dressing the loom is almost or just as much work as the actual weaving and setting yourself up can take a few days to a few weeks depending on your schedule (though I have hear from weavers who get it done in a day, truly weaving wizards with mythical powers I do not grasp!).

I did a floating self edge for the edges of the scarf. A floating self edge is an extra warp thread on both sides of your scarf that is not threaded through a heddle, but is threaded in the reed (hence the floating, as it stays somewhat in the middle of your shed). This is the most used edging for twills, or any kind of weaving pattern that does not naturally capture the self edge every pick back and forth. The self edge is made by going in the shed under the floating self edge thread and going out over the thread or vice versa and this needs to be done consistently throughout weaving your work.

In the beginning, literally the first few picks, I hadn’t caught on that it didn’t always automatically went over the second self edge when sending the shuttle in so it is a bit messy there. However when I noticed it and whenever I saw the floating thread up too high I used my fingers to hold it down so the shuttle would glide over it. This soon became second nature and I was surprised how fast I found myself getting used to the motions and in the process becoming speedier with it. It truly became second nature.

The weaving itself was done with one boat shuttle for which I immediately got more spools. I switch between these spools while weaving whenever I needed to attach a new colour. In time I’d like to get more shuttles, as well as more spools but for now it’s fine to just switch. I also do all the filling of the spools by hand, which is slow and not great on your hands but it will do for now. In a while I will want to look at getting a weaving bobbin winder too, or rather my wrists will want to look at them, but with having just gotten a loom and everything we have to pace ourselves a bit so it will come in time.

I spoke in my post introducing the floor loom about how our cats hardly acknowledge the loom and mostly ignore it. This has changed somewhat since starting to weave properly on it, but only marginally so. Only one of them has felt compelled to try walking on the cloth tensioned on the loom and soon found out that it’s more like a trapdoor than like a cosy hammock and has since left it alone. My other cat likes purring at it and rubbing her head against the beater when someone is using it (honestly same) but so far that is the reach of their interest. They are much more interested in the loom bench as is has a PILLOW on it. In our house you have pillows, which are perfectly ok, fine vessels to rest ones cat body on, then you have PILLOWS these are marvellous, extra voluminous/poofy or otherwise SPECIAL resting spots that are in high demand among cat folk and finally there is of course the highest prized of soft, fluff filled things and that is a PILLOW with a stray scissor on it. Anyway, so far we haven’t yet had to negotiate bench time, but will keep you posted on these exciting developments.

I loved weaving on this loom and on this piece of weaving. It felt like a homecoming. Do you know that feeling when you click so well with a tool, or a craft or another medium that you loose yourself in it in when you pick it up for the first time. A loosing yourself that feels like a homecoming. I remember the first time I felt it and realised what it was when I found “my” music instrument as a young teenager, but over the years I felt it with books, other crafts and tools and I felt it while weaving this first piece on my floor loom.

Overall I was surprised by how smooth weaving on the loom went and that the transition from tablet weaving and rigid heddle weaving wasn’t as stark as it could have been. The loom works fantastic and runs really smooth and easy. The shuttle race makes running the shuttle through faster and easier than it would have been without and the warp advancement is an enormous time and tension saver. This is just my first project on the loom so take all of this with that info in mind but so far we are really happy with it and haven’t run into any limitations or issues so that is all good.

I will go more into the mistakes made and lessons learned in the second post on this project as this one is so wordy already, but overall I’m really pleased and surprised with how smooth this first weaving experience on the floor loom was. I visibly saw myself get more used to the motions, becoming faster at it and my work becoming better. It’s really odd and wonderful to feel my motions being absorbed into muscle memory in such a short period. I think my experience with the rigid heddle and tablet weaving over the past many months really has helped as well as all the reading about weaving in general. It makes my understanding of weaving and my base level much more complete. To go a step further I guess my skills in other crafts and the fact that I am no stranger to working with textiles will have helped on some level as well I think.

That’s it for now, in part 2 I’ll talk more details about the project itself, finishing techniques and will have finished project photos. See you there!

2 thoughts on “First Floor Loom Project part 1: Process

  1. Mooi verslag door het eerste weefproject. Heel bijzonder en mooi ambacht het weven. Leerzaam het omschrijven van het proces en het ontdekken van het opzetten tot weven.
    Ben benieuwd naar deel twee.

    1. Ja bedankt! Ik vind het echt geweldig me er zo in te storten en vond het ook wel mooi om zeker bij zo’n eerste project dan ook het hele proces te omschrijven en wat er verder allemaal bij komt kijken!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *