Spinninglizzy's Weblog

Falling down the slippery fibre slope

Changing My Mind

I blogged about the Dutch Master Box Loom when it was first loaned to me last year.  I was amazed by the small size of the loom and its eight shafts.  Awed enough that I considered booting the four-shaft table loom I had purchased for workshops.  How the tables have turned!  I’ve since upgraded my table loom and am glad to have it;  The Dutch Master loom, however, has been returned to its owner, and I’m very happy not to have it.  The misery of commiting  every beginner’s mistake possible on the loveliest of hand-painted wool/silk warps now clouds my feelings for this loom; while it has many nice qualities (the major faults belong to the weaver, not the loom!), it’s difficult for me to overlook my painful history with it. 


The first time I threaded all the heddles, I had help, and it took two of us three hours to thread all 218 warp ends with an even number of pattern repeats.  Prior to that, my only weaving/warping experience  was on a rigid heddle loom.


I don’t know why I decided to re-do the calculations, but I did, and divided 218 by 16 (the number of ends in one pattern repeat).  Surprise, surprise.  16 does not divide 218.  In fact, 218 divided by 2 is 109, which is a prime number.  (A prime number is one that is divisible only by itself and 1.)  It gets worse.  I thought I threaded complete repeats of the pattern, but 218 ends with 16-thread repeats would leave a remainder of 10.  How could I have been so horribly… off?  Of course, this was after all the heddles had been threaded. I recounted all the ends again, never mind that they had been counted before they were hand-painted, and that I had confirmed that count.  This time, my recount now came to 221 ends.  How on earth???

Feeling my heart bleed, I pulled out all those beautiful ends from the heddles, chose a different pattern, and resigned myself to re-threading.  (Having now put on other warps on other looms, re-threading is not the major upset it was; but it was very daunting to me at the time as new weaver.)  The new pattern repeated every 12 ends, and I tied off each repeat in a little bundle behind the heddles,  and checked/checked/rechecked everything with an eagle eye this time through.  Even so, I still found three crossed warps when I started weaving.

I created an extra step for myself of having to tie the ends onto the back apron rod, as I had cut through the back loops of the warp.  A small loom means less space for my chunky fingers to operate.


Winding the warp onto the warp beam was an long, drawn-out exercise in tedium. The heddles combed the warp and created a jam of fuzzy lint that brought the winding to a standstill every other inch.


Things might have been different if my first warp were cotton.  But my lovely wool/silk blend warp stuck to itself like velcro, creating non-existent sheds. I was amazed that this smooth yarn would act that way, but in hindsight, I now understand that the dense sett of 24 epi was the culprit.

In order to create a passable shed, I had to pull the beater assembly completely forward, then insert my hands in front of the heddles to carefully open and define the shed.  For.  Every.  Single.  Pick.  Yes, I can blame my wrong choice of sett now, but at the time, I did not have the experience  to determine that.  Even if I could have known that, I am not sure I could have been brave enough (at that time) to triage some of the gorgeously painted ends.

I’m pretty certain I did not wind the warp onto the back beam evenly, as I have since picked up more tips for getting that right.  The unevenly wound warp had to be fidgeted with and adjusted for tension often, and every way I could imagine.  To no avail, as the reed kept hitting the fell line unevenly, and never made contact with the right side.  It did not help that the box frame is made to be taken apart, so is not a fixed rectangle, but has sides that can wobble and skew.

I had read about floating selvedges in weaving books, but as a new weaver, the notion was purely theoretical to me, and I did not understand what they were for until I found how desperately they were needed for the pattern I had chosen.  I had to fuss with the selvedges in order not create extra floats on the sides, creating another a self-inflicted irritation.

This loom’s maximum weaving width is ten inches; my project measured eight.  One can use standard letter-sized paper turned on the eleven-inch side to separate the warp and cloth layers, but the papers must be aligned carefully, as there is very little clearance from the teeth of the ratchet.  In my case, my papers often caught on and disloged the ratchet, and I needed to be careful to keep the beam from unwinding.

The warps winds over back beam, then down from the outside, then up onto the warp beam.  It does the same for the front cloth beam.  This is fine with other looms because there is clearance, either on the sides or the ends to reach in to tuck in separating papers (or sticks) from the inside.  On this loom, because sides of the loom are solid and reach all the way down to the base of the loom, there just isn’t enough room to reach inside to do this easily, hence my problem with papers catching on the ratchets.  There might be a simple fix, like switching the cloth and warp beams (to make them wind in the opposite direction) so papers or sticks may be inserted from the outside.  I haven’t tried, and don’t know if the existing hardware would allow it.


Even when the warps co-operated, the sheds were dismally small.  I think the height of the notches (that hold the shafts up) should have been increased to prop the shafts up higher.  The design of this loom is really very clever, with texsolv heddles on frames.  However, my warp was crowded, and the velcro stickiness I experienced with raising each shaft quickly dispelled for me the charm and simplicity of weaving with something like a rigid-heddle loom in a box.  (Yes, my fault, and not the loom’s!)  It helped a little to space out the four shafts on eight slots, an option I would not have if I were weaving with all eight shafts.  Changing the selection of shafts is also a lot more work than selecting levers on a more traditional table loom.

The small sheds, coupled with my sticking wool warps, made some of the weaving patterns incredibly difficult.  There were days when all the clawing and fighting with this loom were so painful, I could weave no more than an inch.  With all the fussing necessary to weave a single pick, it was inevitable that mistakes would be made.  When I discovered an error, I often created many more when trying to undo it.  The warp and weft were the same yarn, and the cloth they made was tight and difficult to cut apart; I was terrified of cutting warps rather than wefts, so I did not take that route to unweave.  I eventually did find that some patterns tended toward cleaner sheds than others.  Because of the difficulties encountered, I abandoned my hope of making this a twill sampler, after weaving only a few inches. Those first inches contain three different twill patterns, riddled with mistakes.

As to beating… having started and stopped work on this scarf so many times, often encountering much frustration, the beat throughout the project was erratic.


The rest of the scarf was completed with only one pattern (of the fourteen planned) that combined the best balance of design and speed (relatively) of weaving.  The ambitiousness of fourteeen patterns on this warp was more beginner folly in itself; it would not have been the best way to enjoy this particular warp as a scarf afterwards.  I think it hurts me the most to know I have dishonoured this beautiful, hand-painted warp with such poor weaving, rife with errors.


Perhaps every (self-taught) weaver needs one unruly warp to slog through, as a sort of initiation.  In retrospect, I am very grateful to have learned so many helpful lessons, with some I might not have taken to heart had I taken a smoother path; and the painful experiences associated with this project fade a little more with each touch of the finished scarf.


11 June 2009 - Posted by | Weaving | ,


  1. Have you by chance come across that song in the Mikado where the chorus goes, “His object all divine / He will achieve in time / to let the punishment fit the crime / The punishment fit the crime!”

    I don’t bring it up because I think you deserve punishment (if you did, this warp would have been excessively cruel punishment for any crime!), but because it came to me when I read about the rethreading. “To let the draft-repeats fit the warp, the draft-repeats fit the warp!” Funny how readily those prime numbers crop up. I’ve had the same thing happen.

    How frustrating it is to thread in a tight space. On the same level as trying to cut out tiny shapes with dull scissors in kindergarten. They should design *space for the weaver’s hands* into looms! Your perseverence is amazing.

    I love your scarf! It looks like the northern lights. And it is one of a kind, because now that you have your trial by fire, no more 24 epi scarves out of fuzzy yarn. I would say you have honored the warp with your sweat and tears and honest mistakes rather than dishonored it. I’m glad you are starting to get past the pain a little and can enjoy it’s gorgeous warp-dominant sleekness.

    Banishment, on the other hand, is quite a reasonable sentence for the loom. I am also learning that more shafts do not make a better table loom, though I’m not to the point of putting my first warp on mine until I make a lot more repairs.

    Comment by trapunto | 12 June 2009 | Reply

  2. Avoid smooth paths! At least if you want to grow as a weaver! And I would say on the basis of that beautiful scarf that resulted from all that slogging, that you are ready to tackle yet more uncharted paths.

    Comment by Peg in South Carolina | 12 June 2009 | Reply

  3. I had a warp like that – ends broke all the time, no matter how much combing it made no difference. But I got such a sense of achievement from finishing it. There have been quite a few things in life that I haven’t stuck with, finishing my scarf gave me a Can-Do attitude. Well done on your perseverence
    Jane in Sheffield UK

    Comment by weaverjane | 15 June 2009 | Reply

  4. Sorry you had to go through all this to get the loom warped, but I am glad I am not the only one who struggles with sett and epi. I counted the ends on my current project several times. My wife even counted them once. And I still don’t think we got the same count twice. Glad you stuck it out and completed the scarf even if not as intended, looks great.

    Comment by Troyce | 29 June 2009 | Reply

  5. Oh I’ve experienced that one and it is horrendous. Well it wasn’t as monsterously hard as your experience. My table loom is a 24 inch Ashford with only four shafts so I had a bit more room and was only doing plain weave. The yarn i used was singly ply, and wore thin beating it so i got yarn fuzzes and it caused the outer strands to keep wearing out. So I had to keep using lengths of yarn to tie it in place.

    I ended up cutting it off (cutting one of the heddles at the same time) and shifting the warp closer from 1 thread per 2x dpi spaces to 1 thread per dpi.

    I must say your scarf looks amazing. I have never seen anying like it in my life.

    Comment by Spydergryphon | 30 January 2010 | Reply

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