Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weaving Lesson: Threading a Loom

McMorran Balance, Weighing Yarn, Finding Sett

When I wrote on Facebook that winding warps was one of my favorite activities, my friend Ann said I was "wacky." But i do love the set up of a loom, winding the warp and dressing the loom, something I miss when I add a new warp to the TC-1 loom by tying knots that connect the old warp to the new one. For all those of you who think weaving and setting up a loom is a boring process, I say, it is fraught with tension--a mine field where every step has a possible mishap lurking. So I photographed my process the other day to share with those of you who have never woven, and might be interested in the process. Before you actually get to throw the shuttle and actively make cloth, there are dozens of steps that proceed, and lots of lovely tools to help in the process.

One warp I wanted to make was from a spool of linen thread, which had no data on it--so I took out my McMorran Balance to find out the approximate yards per pound of this yarn (1300). Then I weighed the spool (15 ounces); and then I did a warp wrapping to find out how many ends per inch would work for a balanced plain weave (10 epi) (the warp sett). Calculator, pen and paper (not photographed) got me the calculations that I could safely wind a 24 inch width at 10 epi of almost 3 yards and have enough yarn left for the weft. (We will see.)

Overall Picture of Threading Loom; Counting 40 Warp Ends

With the warp wound, I can go to the loom. The following pictures are of a different warp than discussed above--this one is 40 inches wide, Borgs Bomullin (50% flax and 50% cotton). I wound on an 11 yard warp (with the help of my husband), and the plan is to thread 20 ends per inch--800 threads. What isn't pictured is the hours spent counting the heddles on each shaft, moving them over so they are in the proper place on each shaft (these shafts are divided into three areas) and adding heddles on each of the eight shafts since none of them had enough heddles. There was math involved here too--800 divided by 8 = 100 heddles per shaft; then divided appropriately for the three sections which are not identical in width. Above you see the general set up--note the important coffee cup which seems to be making an appearance in every step of the process. On the right you see me counting off a group of 40 ends.

Counting and Moving Over Heddles; Threading Heddles

Then I count off a group of 40 heddles--5 on each shaft (40 divided by 8 = 5). I should note that I go for accuracy rather than speed and I have these processes which help show me as I am going whether I have made a mistake or not. I would much rather correct a mistake in 40 threads than find out at the end that there is a problem somewhere in the middle, or anywhere. I hold the 40 ends in my right hand, along with a threading hook, and use my left hand to move over the correct heddle and pull out the next thread from the group and hold it taunt so the hook can grab it and pull the thread through the eye of the heddle. If I have done everything right, there are now five threaded heddles per shaft and no extra threads in my hand, and no shaft with more or less than five threads.

Pulling Group of Warps in heddles and tying them in a knot

Then I pull the group tight and make an overhand knot in front of the heddles. Even though i don't go for speed (I always lost to my friend Marilyn when we worked together in her studio in Brooklyn in the mid-80s), I am always amazed how fast this process can go. It definitely takes me about a third of the time to thread a loom than to tie the knots on the TC-1.

Pulling two warp ends through dent of reed using a hook and tying groups in a knot

After all the warp ends are through heddles, I get to thread the reed. In this case I used a 10 dent reed, and put two ends per dent (bringing the sett up to 20 epi). Reeds come in different divisions, and over the years I have acquired a great variety. If I had decided on 30 epi, I could use this 10 dent reed (10 spaces per inch) and put three threads per dent, or I could use a 15 dent reed and put two threads per inch, or, if I had it, and the threads moved smoothly through the space, I could use a 30 dent reed and put one thread per dent. The cloth I am going to make is going to be a fairly open plain weave, but the cloth will shrink when washed and make the cloth firmer. It is going to be used by my husband, Mark Goodwin, for his work.

Mark and I have talked about collaboration before, or tried to talk about it--I guess I am not an easy collaborator. But he has been doing some experiments on cloth I have given him, and the results are starting to be really intriguing. You can see two of them below. So now I am going to make yardage for him so he can really explore. I don't know if the energy I am putting into the weaving is really making a difference, and I don't actually think this is a collaboration, since the creativity is all coming from his side once he has the cloth, but I do like the idea that the cloth is a catalyst for him, and I like that I have this weaving to do. It is different than the work on the TC-1, less demanding in terms of expectations on my part. Thinking about why I like dressing a loom so much, I realize it is an activity where I feel in control--I have mastery. It is one of those mind-body connections where I have done it so often that the smoothness of the process feels right--I feel right--in other words, I know what I am doing.

Drawing by Mark Goodwin on cloth woven by Bhakti Ziek

Another Mark Goodwin drawing on Bhakti Ziek cloth plus more work by Mark Goodwin

Will end with an image of the beautiful light pattern on Mark's studio wall yesterday. We both wish we could claim it as our art.

Light Pattern on Wall


  1. Hi Bhakti- This is an amazing review of the process and one that you should keep in a hardcopy form. I love you for loving this process. A related story: Bill's daughter Nora, just had her wedding here about 2 weeks ago and ever since she set the date, we had talked about setting up a loom so that the guests could weave in their good intentions and help them "tie the knot" via cut ribbons that then got a knot tied at each edge once they were woven in. So I started setting it all up once they got here and they were amazed at the process and taken aback as to what is involved - and this was just a simple plain weave set up. I want to post a picture on your facebook of Mike (the groom) and little Bridger, their son as Mike was trying his hand at the threading process.

  2. I love the little girl who took to weaving that you posted on Facebook. Another generation falls in love. That is the power of weaving.

  3. Bhakti, I know the collaboration between you and Mark will lead to even more things--I look forward to seeing more of his drawings on your created cloth.

  4. Yes, I love the images that Mark is making on the cloth you have woven. Really beautiful! More!!