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If you follow me on Instagram you know I’m a fiber addict. I love spinning and knitting. The problem is that I’m a SLOW knitter. It’s not so much the speed of my stitches as that my wrist hurts after a while (thank you carpal tunnel – argh!) so I only knit for short periods at a time. But I love yarn and have sheep and alpacas and… well, I needed something to use up all that fiber! Enter weaving.
I tried it first at an alpaca show where a vendor was giving free classes. When class was over I asked the vendor if I could keep going and I haven’t stopped since! I started small with a used 24″ Ashford rigid heddle loom. It’s a great loom and I love it – so easy to use and so portable. I thought it would be ages before I needed anything bigger.
Then I made the mistake of browsing “for sale” groups on Facebook. I came across a listing for a four shaft, six treadle, 40″ weaving width floor loom for $112. Yes, that’s the correct number. One hundred and twelve dollars. New, a loom like this goes for $1,500 plus. Used, they’re still nearly $1,000. It was a long drive, all the way to the eastern shore of Maryland, but for that price I couldn’t *not* get it, right?
Figuring out what I got
Once we picked it up I knew this loom would need a lot of work. Every metal piece was covered in rust, there was a broken piece, and the wood was dull and dusty. I started by figuring out what kind of loom it was. There’s a wonderful group of weavers on Facebook and that’s where I got a good bit of information. I discovered this is a Loomcraft. The late John Post of Littleton, CO made it sometime between the 1950s and 2007 (possibly even later).
This is a “jack” loom. The treadles pull down on lamms that jack up the harnesses (harness and shaft are used interchangeably) to lift the threads in the pattern. The Loomcraft was designed with front-to-back warping in mind. On this loom there’s a beam in the back that folds up for easy access while threading.
Taking her apart
The first thing I did was take pictures of everything. At every step, every piece removed, I took a picture. I even made videos of the way the mechanisms worked so I could ensure they worked the same way later. If you scroll through my phone for that month you’ll find hundreds of pictures of the loom at each step of deconstruction.
Then I began taking her apart. I’ll admit – it was nerve-wracking. Although everything seemed doable, there was a part of me that was afraid I’d never get the loom back together. But I dove in head first anyway. The one thing I wish I’d done better was mark the hardware as it came out of the loom. If I had it to do again I would put each set of screws, etc. in a plastic baggie with a label. I took pictures, but it was still hard to tell what was what when I only had a big pile of screws.
I cleaned all the wood with Murphy Oil Soap as I pulled them off the loom. It was amazing how much dirt came off this loom. I think it may have been sitting untouched for years. Metal parts were unscrewed and more pictures taken so I knew where they went back. The heddles (the metal bits that the yarn goes through so the loom can lift the yarn for the pattern) were rusted and bent. So was the reed, with the edges coming off. (Old reeds were often finished with a kind of tape to keep the bars in place.)
There were one or two places that had been dinged or broken. The worst damage was one of the apron rods had been broken. That was, thankfully, an easy fix. I found some pieces of oak at Home Depot that were almost exactly the same size. I wanted hard wood as it would have to stand up to quite a bit of tension, but I didn’t mind that it didn’t match the cherry of the loom.
All the metal bits went into a bucket for de-rusting. I tried the bath method first. Unless I wanted to order from online we didn’t have a whole lot of options, even at Home Depot. I picked up Workshop Hero Metal Rescue, which had rave reviews online. However, the results sorely disappointed me. I used two gallons of the stuff (at $25 a pop!) and let everything sit for two days, but no joy. Finally, I resorted to naval jelly and a metal scrub brush. My arms were rubbery from all the scrubbing! I did get (mostly) rust-free metal, though, so it was worth it.
I thought long and hard about the reed and the heddles. Both were in pretty poor shape and both would be a LOT of work to de-rust. In the end I decided to just order new ones. Yes, it upped the restoration cost by a pretty penny. But, even after buying them (and the replacement hardware and cleaning supplies) I was still hundreds of dollars under what a better condition loom would cost. Most of my parts I got from the Woolery and Webs. A special shout out to the Woolery for some seriously good customer service when a shuttle I bought had a defect. They shipped the replacement the day I contacted them and I had it two days later. Their communication is also top shelf!
Those metal bits I didn’t replace I immediately coated with Rustoleum paint. I didn’t want the rust coming back, and for those bits that were just too pitted or rusted I wanted something that would stop the oxidization as much as possible. This stuff came highly recommended and so far it’s held up very well to the use on the loom.
Putting her back together again
I was more nervous to try and put the loom back together again than I was to rip it apart. Taking it apart was an adventure, and hard to mess up. But if I didn’t put this together right, I would have wasted several hundred dollars and several weeks of time.
Once I got started, though, it was pretty simple. I found a couple spots that were quite confusing. It took me two days to figure out what I was doing wrong on the cloth beam mechanism. (Thank goodness for the FB weaving group – sooooo helpful!) I had put the pawl (the metal piece that stops the cloth beam from unwinding) on upside down!
The thing that seemed to take longest was putting the new heddles on the heddle frame. It didn’t feel like a chore, though. I swear it was downright meditative. I put on my audio books (the loom restoration accompaniment was the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep) and I just zoned out. Sliding the shafts back in place was a triumphant moment, when the loom was finally usable. Angels sang, poets wept, and I swear I heard trumpets blare. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it was still pretty cool.
Warping and weaving
After about a month of restoration, it was a thrill to get the first warp on the loom. I used some sock yarn I’d bought as warp and had expected to use some fingering weight yarn as weft. Well, the planned-weft-yarn was way too small. It didn’t allow you to see the pattern. I sampled several different yarns and found one that showed the pattern, but I had maybe two yards total of that yarn. Diving back into the stash I dug out some yarn I’d bought ages and ages ago. Lo and behold it not only worked, but it looked great!
My first project I did back-to-front warping. That was interesting, but was very uncomfortable. As I’d mentioned above, this loom is designed for front-to-back warping. This meant that to thread the loom I had to lean over the breast beam in front, which made my shoulders burn.
My next project I warped front-to-back and I LOVE the technique. I can move my reed to a spot with better light to thread it. I actually lay it on the top pegs of my warping board – gives me plenty of room underneath to pull through the threads. Then the back beam folds up so you can easily reach the heddles to thread it. Pro tip – remember to put the beam *down* again before you attach the warp to the apron rod! I’m on warp number three that I’ve had to unwind and fix this. To quote one of my favorite movies, “your memory, Miss Price!”
Of course, in front-to-back warping you do not need a raddle, so the one I made sits unused. You also don’t need leese sticks, which is nice. It’s one step fewer needed to get the loom ready to use. I’m all for making it faster to get the loom warped!
Still to do:
- New tie ups for the treadles! Right now I’m using fishing line and it’s slippery. Every project I have to retie some of the treadles at least once, usually every other weaving session. I was going to try Texsolv, a very popular string material for weaving, but I have an idea brewing that would let me change tie ups by just clipping and unclipping the treadles. We’ll see how that turns out!
- Weaving bench – At the moment I’m using folded fabric on an old office chair to get the right weaving height. It’s not terribly comfortable, and it’s certainly not ergonomic. Long-term I definitely need something better on which to sit.
- Floor surface – the benefit to the mats I’ve got under the loom is that it doesn’t move no matter how hard I’m beating. This is especially important for rugs as from what I’ve read you need to beat the heck out of them to get them tight enough. However, this makes moving it so I can warp it a real pain. I have to lift the loom to slide it forward. The loom is pretty light – surprisingly light, really, for the amount of wood in this thing – but it’s still a big, bulky piece of equipment. I need to find something that will let me move it to warp, but not let it walk across my studio as I beat it.
- Adjust the brake cord. Right now it’s a little short and so doesn’t always have enough pull to release the warp beam if it’s really snugged in there. I’ve worked around this by grabbing a long pick up stick and using it to push back the warp beam just enough to release the tension on the brake. Then it works just fine.
- Spring on the brake. Another brake adjustment – there’s supposed to be a spring on the brake bar that helps it go back in place after the brake has been released. Right now I have a shoe lace tied to it. I’ve hung the lace on a 3M hook on the front beam, within easy reach. I can pull on it to snug the brake bar back into place.
- Venetian blinds – a lot of weavers use the plastic slats from a set of blinds as warp separators. I want to grab some and give that a try for spacing of fringes and such.
All in all, restoring this loom was a blast. I loved the work that went into it. Most importantly, I learned so much doing this project. I understand looms in a way I didn’t before I took this on. And I adore weaving. There’s nothing quite so amazing as seeing the pattern on the screen (I use an app called iWeaveIt instead of printing out patterns) turn into amazing cloth. I have many plans of items to make – and yes, there will be an Etsy shop once I get some pieces done. In the meantime, it’s balancing the day job with farm chores, normal life like laundry and cooking, and spinning and weaving.