How to Make a Primitive Loom

If learning to weave appeals to you but you're feeling a little inhibited, here's how to make a primitive loom in your back yard using only sticks and string.

| July/August 1973

To the hopeful, hopeless, or hapless (pick your category) beginner, a full-size loom can be an alarming contraption ... and the mystique in which some experienced weavers like to veil their craft doesn't help matters any. Well, if weaving appeals to you, you may be glad to know that you can dispel your awe and discover the basic principles of the skill by building a very primitive device in your back yard.

"Primitive" is the word for this gadget, all right. Nothing could be simpler to construct (just pound sticks into the ground and tie strings on them) and the resulting machine is so easy to operate that I've seen first- and second-grade children using one in their school playground. Of course, you're not going to turn out tapestries or patterned fabrics on such an invention ... but as an introduction to weaving, the outdoor loom is hard to beat.

Here's what you'll need to begin the project:

[1] Earth soft enough to pound sticks into.
[2] Fifteen dowels, each approximately 18 inches long. Sturdy sticks cut to a uniform length will do just as well . . . I used dowels because I had some given to me.
[3] Ball of postal or baling twine, or heavy string.
[4] Hammer (or large rock) for driving stakes.
[5] Yardstick.
[6] Scissors.
[7] Natural weaving materials: cattail leaves, corn stalks, goldenrod stems, straw, wheat, reeds ... anything that isn't too brittle when it dries out. I'd recommend that you begin with a place mat of cattail leaves, which are easy to obtain and to work with. Just cut a bundle (a good armful should make two table covers) and lay the greens flat in a cool, damp spot until you're ready to use them.

To make the loom frame, lay a yardstick on the ground and pound seven dowels into the earth about three inches apart in a straight line. Then place the rule parallel to this first row of stakes and a dowel's length away, and hammer in seven more sticks exactly opposite the first. (These dimensions will make a place mat 18 inches long.)

Next, prepare to "warp" this simple loom by measuring and cutting seven lengths of twine at least 24 inches long (better too long than too short). Tie each piece of string to the middle of a dowel in Row One, pull the line taut and fasten the other end to the corresponding stake in Row Two.

Then cut seven more bits of cord to a length of at least 28 inches and attach one end of each just above the first knot on a Row One stick. Draw out these strings to lie parallel with the warp ... they should pass between the stakes in the second row and extend several inches beyond.

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