DIY

Weave With a Homemade Loom

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PHOTO: NICO TOUTENHOOFD
The author decided a table mat would be the first item she weaved with her homemade loom. This was the result.

Weaving, the interlacing of two materials, is one of the
oldest skills in the world. It’s done by holding one set of
parallel threads so that you can cross a second set of
threads over and under the first set to form a fabric.

How much time and money you spend is entirely up to you. As
a beginner, less than $10 got me on my way; it was enough to buy some cheap yard and cover the cost of wood and hardware for a homemade loom frame. 

Professionals may spend as much as $3000 on a loom, an
apparatus that speeds up the over-and-under process by
raising the preselected threads. Exotic mohair and silk
yarns can cost as much as $10 an ounce. There is even a
computer program now, called Combby 8, that allows you to
design your own pattern and transmit it to your loom; it
will automatically pick up all of the threads you selected
for your individual pattern.

“Have you ever woven before?” Judy Steinkoenig asks. She’s
the co-owner of a local weaving shop and my instructor.

Sure I’d woven. There was the set of square pot holders I
made in grade school. And shortly thereafter, I bought
myself a weaving kit complete with fabric ties and plastic,
red loom. It wasn’t long before I filled the kitchen with a
colorful assortment of more useless pot holders. Within a
few weeks, Mom ceased being impressed, and I didn’t know
what else to make, so I threw away the loom and retired
early.

Judy swears she never once made a pot holder. In fact, she
never even tried weaving until she was married and home
raising her one-year-old son. She was in dire need of a
hobby when she discovered a local weaving course.

“I had tried pottery and cross-stitching, but everything
called for specific patterns,” Judy says. “My grandmother
tried to teach me to knit and ended up telling me I was
hopeless. I just didn’t understand it and there was no
freedom in it for me. Weaving was a craft I understood, and
I found I could make wonderful things.”

Her favorite advice is: “Be a kid. A lot of adults will ask
me how their projects are going to turn out if they do such
and such. I’ll tell them I don’t know, try it; find out.
Kids are much more willing to experiment. They’ll change
their weaving patterns all the time, and they’re not as
tough on themselves when they make mistakes.”

If there is one thing I learned that afternoon, it’s that
weaving calls for patience. While some may find the process
tedious, many will find weaving a good way to escape stress
for a while. In fact, according to Judy, a number of
students are professionals in high-tech jobs who have
chosen weaving as a creative outlet.

In this article I will provide instructions for making a
plain-weaving project on a hand-built wooden-frame loom. If
you wish to add complexity, experiment with different
textures and types of yarn. Weave in other materials: dried
flowers, weeds, lace, rags, etc.

One unique aspect of this project is that you will decide
when it is done. I decided a table mat would be enough of a
challenge to begin my weaving endeavor. If I kept on going,
I could have made an intricate wall hanging. If I had
stopped earlier, I could have made …well,.a pot holder.

Weaving Materials

For frame: 

 – four pieces of 2′ x 1 1/2″ hardwood (frame can be larger or smaller if you like)
 – drill
 – four 1″ screws
 – four 1″ corner brackets
 – sharp knife

Note: You can buy a
wooden loom for under $20 at many weaving supply shops.

For weaving: 

 – roll of string
 – yarn
 – 16″ shuttle ($3 to $4)
 – 16″ shed or “pickup” stick ($7 to $8)

Assembling the Frame

Form a square or rectangle with your hardwood pieces. Place
a bracket in one of the inside corners of your frame and
make a pencil mark inside the two bracket holes. Remove the
brackets and drill holes at the marks; then replace the
brackets and drill in the screws. Repeat with other three
corners. Then, with a sharp knife, cut six to eight small
grooves per inch on the inside top and inside bottom of
your frame. Be careful to make certain that the grooves on
the top and bottom of the frame line up exactly.

Warping the Frame

Tie the end of your string around the first groove at the
upper left-hand corner of your frame, and knot. Then bring
the string end down over the frame opening, into the first
bottom groove, and back up to the second groove on top.
Continue stringing through all of the grooves, keeping the
tension taut (not so taut that the strings could break).
When you reach the right-hand side of the frame, tie the
string around the last groove and make a knot before
cutting. This set of vertical strings is called “the warp.”

Next, lift your shuttle and wrap a bunch of yarn around it
in a figure-eight formation. This will be the yarn for your
horizontal weave, or “weft.”

Plain Weave

Grab the shed stick in your right hand and, starting at the
right-hand side of your frame, pick up the first string
with it. Leave the second string and pick up the third.
Continue picking up every other string so that it runs past
the frame and then rotate the stick so it is resting on its
side. This will further raise all of the strings you have
just picked up. The space between the raised and lower
strings is called “the shed.”

Starting at the right-hand side, pull the shuttle through
the shed (passing it to your left hand) to the other side;
do not pull so tight that you distort the left-hand warp.
Now use a fork to push the yarn down toward the bottom of
the frame. If you wish to have a fringe on your mat, leave
one or two inches between this weave, or “shot,” and the
bottom of the frame.

Next, pick up the warp again with your shed stick. This
time start with the second string, and continue picking up
every other weft thread. (These will be all of the strings
you ignored the first time around.) Again, rotate the stick
and pull your shuttle through (starting from the left this
time). Pull this new shot down to the first one with your
fork. Repeat from the beginning. If you miss a string with
your shed stick once or twice, don’t worry about
it–it won’t show up. Note: You may wish to go over
two and under two to achieve a “basket weave.” Or go under
one and over three to achieve a “rib weave.”

Continue weaving until you reach the size you desire. If
you wish to fill the whole frame, remember to leave the
same amount of room for the fringe at the top that you left
at the bottom of the frame. Don’t worry; your fabric is
interlaced and will not come apart. To make the fringe, tie
three or four pieces of string into a knot as close to the
weave as possible. Wash the final piece to give it a
finished look.