A Love for Weaving
Learning How to Use a Loom
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Linda Johnson was always fascinated by looms. When visiting museums, she would stay by any displays with a loom, uninterested in much of the rest. As she researched her genealogy, she was unsurprised to find that both sides of her ancestry possessed weavers. When her youngest child finally left for college, she knew it was time to pursue her lifelong love for weaving and learn how to weave. With the purchase of a loom, she was on her way.
When asked how long it takes to learn weaving, Linda says, “Well, I’m still learning! But, it probably depends on your instruction method. I first learned from a book which probably wasn’t the best method.” When Linda joined the (relatively) nearby Missoula Weavers Guild, her knowledge and progression went much further.
She has learned that having someone to show the steps and give insights is infinitely more valuable than instructions in a book. One example of this was when she first attempted to weave linen. Her threads kept breaking almost faster than she could fix them, and when she presented this problem to the Weavers Guild, she was told that the threads were breaking because linen, which is made from flax fiber, dries out very quickly and shrinks when it does so. The simple solution was to keep a damp cloth covering her project, especially the warp, and to loosen the warp whenever she wasn’t actively working on it. Your warp is the threads or fibers that are held in tension by the frame, usually they run up and down on a vertical loom.
The weft is the second thread or fiber that you weave through the warp. A shuttle holds the weft thread to easily move it through the shed, or space between warp threads. You may then use a heddle or beater to “beat” the weft in to make a tight weave. Part of what makes weaving take so long to learn is that there are so many options. There are many types of looms from small “card” looms that can literally be made from a playing card to ones that reach your ceiling. You can become a master at one form of weaving and still have much to learn in some of the other methods.
For many, the hardest part of weaving is the preparation before you even begin. The loom has to be set up with the warp threads carefully placed with proper spacing and tension, taking care not to accidentally cross any of them. You must have a plan of what you are going to weave, and have all the supplies. Peg looms can be prepped in about 30 minutes. The whole weaving process is very meticulous because even a small, simple mistake can be visible in the finished project. An example of the typical time constraint of weaving is that it takes around 20 hours of work for Linda to make five towels.
When Linda was asked if she had a favorite type of weaving, she responded, “Well, I haven’t discovered it yet.” She is often trying new sizes or types of looms. Although she may not have a particular favorite, she does enjoy making baby blankets and towels. She likes twill as a pattern, and she prefers natural fibers for her threads.
Her advice to those interested in weaving is to find someone in your area that already weaves and ask them if they would teach you. There are many aspects of weaving that are difficult to learn from a book, but most people who enjoy a craft also enjoy teaching that craft to others. You will also have some absolute disasters in your projects, especially at first. If you are not the type of person who can handle failing a few times, then this might not be the craft for you.
You may also find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of different weaving projects, patterns, materials, and looms that are available to you, but kits are a good place to start. They will come with a pattern and all the threads in the proper amounts. A kit also is a good way to be sure that the colors in a project will look good together, and that you aren’t going to have problems with different types of thread in a project shrinking and pulling when washed.
Another suggestion when starting out in weaving is to look into buying a used loom. Some new looms can cost upward of a thousand dollars. While buying on Ebay or similar places may not guarantee all the necessary parts to still be included, often local weavers may be upgrading their loom or ready to try out a new method and are willing to sell their loom to make space.
Weaving has been a part of many cultures for thousands of years. Not only is weaving used to make cloth for clothing, it has also been used to make rugs, tapestries, sails for ships, and many other useful materials. Cloth today is still made by weaving, although it is done industrially on looms larger than some living rooms. However, it was still commonplace recently enough that women’s magazines in the 1930s and 1940s still had weaving patterns as part of their material. Many of the old “rag rugs” that we may remember at Grandma’s house were woven using a loom.
Whether you want to weave cloth for historical reenactment, meaningful gifts to others, or just as a hobby, you may find joy in the patterning and methodical motion of your shuttle moving through the shed.
Originally published in Countryside and Small Stock Journal, Sept/Oct 2019 and regularly vetted for accuracy.