warping a new loom

If you’ve been here since the very start, you may remember that my large warp wieghted loom has been on loan to Kirkleatham museum as part of the Saxon Princess exhibition that highlights the finds from the street house, Loftus, excavations.

However, there were problems with this. That particular loom, and it’s web, had been in storage for a while and had suffered moth damage – I hadn’t discovered this until it was too late to do anything about it, and so had  to fudge the loom a bit – basically it looked nice but was no longer weavable. It was also a little too large for the available space.

Earlier this year the museum found they had room in thier budget for a whole new loom, so it was built and I’ve spent the last few days warping it up.

 The old loom was warped up with drop spindled, naturally dyed wool (which made the moth damage all the more irritating), but the decision was taken to warp this one with commercially spun thread for several reasons.

Obviously, one was expense, I didn’t have that much handspun on hand, and setting time aside from work to spin enough would have been prohibitively expensive. The second was practicalility, I will, whenever I get time, pop over to the museum and weave a little, but I would also like to show Liz, the education officer, how to use the loom so she can demonstrate it with school parties, so something a little more robust seemed appropriate for a beginner. Therefore a two ply rug wool was chosen.

Sticking with Penelope Walton Rogers conclusions about dyed threads being found primarily used for borders and decoration rather than the body of fabric, we wen’t for a nice dark brown, which looks enough like Black Welsh as makes no matter.

That’s not my carpet, btw, it’s John’s – he has a large empty room so I used that as doing this at my place would have meant moving all the furniture. There’s no space to do this bit at the museum.

I don’t have a warping board so I just ran the warps across the room. I used a simple six card tablet woven band as starter for the web, and introduced a little colour with some handspun madder dyed thread. Once I’d looped the warps I tied them with grey and white fabric scraps to mark which were for the front and which for the back – this is only going to be a simple tabby as there’s no point in doing something complicated for a beginner like Liz.

 Sorry about the background to these pictures, the museum walls are dark grey, so it was hard to get contrast.

I find my best tool when warping up these looms is a tapestry bobbin as it holds more thread.

Chaining the warps at the bottom holds them apart so they dont clump together when you weave – otherwise they will hang in groups around the wieghts.

 Normally I re-use my heddles, as they’re a pain to knit, but with this being a new loom I had to start from scratch. It took me a while to remember how to do it!



 Robert, who runs the place, has nicknamed this dummy “Tanya two” because she normally sits by the loom. She was moved in with the boys whilst I worked and the smug cow just sat there and grinned at me the whole time instead of helping me warp up her new loom.





 I wanted to keep as much handspun in the thing as possible, so I used the drop spun I do in schools as weft – this tends to end up a little irregular after teachers have had a go so I don’t use it for anything else. I also wanted the weft to be a contrasting natural colour so the structure of the weave would be more visible from beyond the barrier, especially as the light in the gallery is normally quite dim (they took the screens off the windows while I was working, so this is much brighter than normal).

As you can see, I haven’t made great progress so far. I would like more weaving on it for the display, but after two or three days on the thing I’d had enough. I always forget what hard work weaving one of these big looms is – I didn’t need to tone my upper arms at the gym after this, that’s for certain. Hopefully over the next week or two I’ll be able to spend the an afternoon giving Liz a weaving lesson and with two of us we ought to make some headway – its much much harder to handle a loom this size on your own.

The wieghts are 8oz donuts made by Graeme taylor of potted history up in Rothbury




~ by opusanglicanum on April 14, 2012.

6 Responses to “warping a new loom”

  1. Wow, that’s a lot of work. Is the old moth-damaged loom still usable at all, or is it fit only for kindling? I do hope the museum is paying you for your time.

  2. (argh…. wordpress is giving me problems with my comment….) I think it’s great that the museum is doing this, to show folks that it was very labour-intensive back then for ordinary people to make clothing. I vaguely recall that commoners usually had only one or two changes of clothing due to the expense, no?

  3. Do we know whether there was someone who specialised in warping looms, or would the weavers have done it themselves?

    • it really depends on period and type of loom, but broadly speaking if you weave you warp up your own loom. even in the c18th, silk weavers were obliged to pay thier drawboys, who helped operate the immensely complicated jacard looms, for the several weeks it took to warp one, even though the drawboys had nothing do do with the warping process. obviously this loom isn’t that complicated, but really if you’re going to weave it you want to know it inside and out

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