Learning to weave in a day

You may recall I have a friend Bridget who we met on holiday. She and her husband sat on the coach in front of us, and while he studied a map of Jordan she knitted. We got on very well, and she introduced me to many things including marvellous patchwork, knitting and weaving. Bridget also kindly follows this blog and when I mentioned a desire to learn to weave she pinged me an email.

“I spent last Saturday with my 10-year-old niece and we wove a scarf in a day – she did it from beginning to end – starting at 11 and finishing by 6. If you fancy that, it would be lovely”.

So last Sunday Nick and i went to see our friends. Bridget’s husband is a bell-ringer, and her son is great fun and works with one of my board members,  so there was plenty to talk about while Bridget and I escaped to her workroom at the top her house. First she showed me some very fine examples of her own work – a silk cushion and a beautiful scarf she made for her late mother. The colour work was gorgeous and the very even weave impressive. My standard was set by a ten-year old however, so I was focused on getting the basics right and then working against the clock. Nick was in charge of lunch and cooked home-made pitta bread, lamb and salad.

Bridget’s loom was found in an attic and gifted to her. When I last saw it, it was in pieces and looking rather sorry for itself. But recently she had had it overhauled, and while all the fittings were in nylon rather than the original cotton bindings, it was sitting waiting for me at 10am.

The loom

I had read that for beginners the foot pedals are much easier to use than a table loom, but they do take up quite a lot of space and are a rather expensive piece of equipment. Bridget wrote:

“Mine is a four-shaft floor loom, 28 inch wide. And sometimes bits fall off, but we can sort it out. I think we should aim for a couple of metres about 30cms wide. I have two reeds, one 12 parts per inch, the other 6 parts. If we use the 6 parts then we will have a loose weave, but we will achieve something and I am all for results. On the warp we need 6 times 15 (say 14”/30cms) and double up for the selvedge times 2.5metres – and that will be our warp – so bring whatever four ply you have and we can organise it. It does need to be the same material as otherwise they stretch differently and that is complicated.”

Absolutely none of this made any sense before I got there, but it does now. I took cotton yarn as I had rather alot of it – a gift from my dear friend Jo – and I thought the wonderful deep teal blues might make a nice scarf. Plus I also had a 50p cone of red cotton yarn that I found in the Salvation Army shop in Walthamstow. Bridget did some calculation of how many threads we would need and we use a fiendish piece of equipment made by her husband. We included two types of teal and a stripe of red. Obviously those who love fabric will have worked out that weaving gets some of its uniqueness by having a variety of warp as well as weft threads. That flash of red looked so nice next to the blues. Bridget was very careful with the counting, using a little pink thread to hold it all together before moving it over to the loom.

The warp threads – one big loop – and carefully removed, loosely knotted are then attached to the loom. A wooden bar takes the looped threads and the cross over (where Bridget is indicating in the first picture) is preserved with two flat pieces of wood.  Then each thread is feed through. This is obviously much easier with two people, especially when one is an expert. I pulled the threads through the nylon holders, and then through the reed, using a trusty opened paper clip. The threads were tied firmly in a bow on a roller near to the weaver so that the yarn is under tension. We got this done by lunch at 12.30.

Now we start weaving! First Bridget wound more yarn around the shuttles and this meant I could go quite quickly. She sat and knitted Christmas presents and amused me with her funny stories (this woman has great comic timing!). She also shared her plans for growing, in the church garden, sufficient flowers to decorate the church throughout the year – what a great project!

Bridget showed me two weaving methods. Using the outside “pedals” I made plain weave. This was fun and fairly quick. She also showed me how to weave a twill type weave using the range of foot pedals. I followed the instructions but also made some of it up, just to see what would happen. Actually it made a bit of a mess but I was very keen to see how the lifting of the different warp threads altered the weave and lengthened the floats.

Look Ma, I am weaving!

This was one of the most fun things I have ever done. If you have a chance to do a course or even spend one day on this marvellous craft, don’t hesitate.You can see below that my work is uneven and rather messy. The stitch patterns are not correct. The scarf is not even finished! Bridget has kindly asked me back to have another couple of hours on it. But what a lovely, life-enhancing experience. Working together with a friend made it even better. Bridget is generous and kind, a great teacher and sharer of knowledge. I can’t wait until my next lesson.

My work so far

I would love to have a floor loom like this. I think I could accommodate one in the Cotswolds. But first I need to go on a course or learn more. It is a most fascinating craft and surprisingly quick – quicker than knitting for example.

Any weavers out there?

32 Responses

  1. Jenny

    This looks like great fun. And with Nick’s skills in the woodworking department, rescuing or doing the odd repair on what will probably be a vintage loom will be doable. And what perfect guests! Giving the hostess the whole day to craft and teach an enthusiastic student while her other half cooks lunch.

    • fabrickated

      Ah no – Bridget and Julian were the generous ones. It is so special to do an activity like this. And yes, as you guessed we are now on the look out for an antique loom!!

  2. jay

    I did a weaving course decades ago, and was somewhat slow – the ten year old would have beat me hollow. The best thing about it is that you end up with marvellous cloth. Somehow, like all things done the slow by hand way, it turns out vastly superior in ‘feel’ than the machine woven stuff we usually sew. The downside was that when your mind wanders you lose your place in the pattern, or end up with an uneven weave. My mind used to wander a lot. I made a coat and a jacket with my finished lengths, and regret not having kept them when they went out of fashion. As you have so much success with hand knitting I can see this idea working out well for you, and your new house would be the perfect setting. Your style tends towards classic pieces in subtle colours, hand woven would be a good fit.

    • fabrickated

      This is interesting Jay – yes I know what you mean. I lost my concentration a few times – not surprising in that we were chatting and laughing quite alot. But I am guessing that one could get reasonably good with practice! I am intrigued that you were able to make a coat and jacket – I would love to do that. I suppose cutting into it must be just about impossible (I struggled for weeks with the steeking, and Bridget – who is an ace knitted admitted she had never done it).

  3. Chris

    How lucky you were to meet Bridget! This brought back fond memories of college for me – I have used a floor loom and loved experimenting with different lifting patterns. It was a taster as part of my textiles course. I had thought about buying a loom, but the reality is that it might sit there beside my knitting machine making me feel lazy for not using it!

    • fabrickated

      Ha ha ha. Of course. I can see that it is a big outlay and would sit looking at me and might make me feel guilty. A knitting machine is also something I would very much like to get acquainted with. Wouldn’t it be nice if this sort of equipment were available in a place in every community, where you could just go, and borrow it, and spend time with others?

      • Chris

        You know I’ve often wished there was somewhere like that…almost like a library..where you could pay to use the machinery. There is a movement called the Mens Shed where men meet and share communal tools to build things. Our local one made scenery for a recent theatre production. Wouldn’t it be great to have something similar for people interested in textiles!

        • fabrickated

          Yes! Thanks so much for your lovely response Chris. I think it sounds like a cool idea. I wonder if it is something I could achieve, possibly through my work. We are so virtual these days, but there is still such an important role for community. I may do some research about Mens Shed and see if it is applicable.

  4. Elaine

    Wonderful! Back in the 70s, we lived for a mercifully short time in a very hippyish household in a rough area of Birmingham. We had a mattress on the floor, walls decorated with felt pen ‘head’ art, and a houseful of very eccentric characters, including a hippy milkman [permanently stoned] and a radical French feminist, who had a full size loom in the attic, and bossed everyone around all day. Communal eating out of a cauldron, locks on doors were considered ‘bourgeois’, and whenever our stuff was nicked by casual visitors, we were told ‘property is theft man’. Fun.
    The loom was fascinating though, and I’ve always been intrigued by weaving, and its mathematical processes. I’m well-jel as the kids would say lol

    • fabrickated

      Yes – I can see the mathematical possibilities (and maths are everywhere once you start looking!). When I did my City and Guilds in fashion it was interesting to me that many of us had failed to get to grips with maths, as maths, but all of us managed to do the fairly complex calculations for pattern cutting. And some knitting patterns are unbelieveable. It’s all about motivation!

  5. Beeke

    Oh, I can relate! I caught the weaving bug when I came across a BBC series called ‘Mastercrafts’ about traditional crafts, fronted by Monty Don, a few years ago. The episode about weaving was fascinating, there was something so tactile and emotional about creating your own cloth, it just grabbed me. Just a few days later, I visited the Handweavers Studio in London (Finsbury Park) and on their advice started small, with a 60cm wide rigid heddle loom, a few accessories, some yarn and an instruction book – and I have enjoyed it hugely. The loom is fairly basic and simple to learn – for instance, the warping is much easier than the process you describe (it happens directly on the loom, totally manageable for a beginner on their own). Still, there’s enough creative scope to keep it interesting for me, as an occasional hobby alongside sewing and knitting. And it makes weaving so accessible, without the huge investment, space requirement and learning curve. I’ve made scarves, table runners, bags, cushion covers, several large lap rugs (3 lengths of 50cm wide cloth, seamed together), even enough cloth to upholster a small armchair. And when not in use (which is most of the year, realistically), the loom packs away neatly and doesn’t take up precious space. Visiting the Handweavers Studio was ideal, they had a wide selection of yarns and kit. They also run classes and workshops, by the way…

    • fabrickated

      My dear Beeke – what a fabulous response. I knew it existed but have not had the time to have a look, or even do any research. But you have helped open my eyes (and hopefully others) to the possibilities with this wonderful craft. I am very impressed you have been upholstering with your fabrics!

  6. Cynthia

    I bought a small rigid heddle loom, 16″ wide, you can get wider. You can make quite a few projects on a rigid heddle loom. I got it mainly to use up yarn oddments. Previously, I did have a four shaft table loom, but threading the heddles hurt my back, I just could not get comfortable with it so I sold it.

    You can see a couple of the scarves I made on Ravelry, Cynky, My Projects.

    You could make some lovely cashmere scarves with all your knitting oddments. I actually spun some cashmere tops, wove a scarf and then dyed it, it’s a favourite scarf, so soft, much quicker to weave it than knit it. If you just want to weave scarves etc, a rigid heddle loom is ideal.

    There are loads of Youtubes about rigid heddle weaving.

    • fabrickated

      Hi Cynthia – I just had a look at your projects! Wow oh wow! I love the scarves, especially the blue and pink one. The way you have done the fringes is amazing too. I agree a cashmere scarf would be so beautiful and I do have lots of bit and bobs now. You have got me thinking about going for something smaller. Can I admit that the big machine made me feel powerful, and I loved using my feet – like I was an organist!!

  7. Janet Nora

    I have a made-in-Canada Leclerc floor loom which was a gift from my husband in 1981. The company continues to operate in the province of Quebec. Over the years, I have made some beautiful scarves, placemats, blankets and shawls. It is currently set up to make some cotton tea towels that will be given to friends and family members as Christmas presents. Weaving takes great patience but the results are tremendously gratifying. It is a great way to learn how various fibres work and you can conduct endless colour experiments. Your first effort is impressive, Kate.

    • fabrickated

      Dear Janet – thank you so much for the encouragement and kind feedback. The history of weaving, and as you say the colour opportunities, are very seductive. My father was in textiles, and originally weaving, in Lancashire.

  8. MDy

    Your scarf is lovely. And I agree with you – working with a friend makes all of it better. What a wonderful way to spend the day.

  9. Bunny

    What a wonderful day for everyone! Learning a new craft that “fits” can be so exhilarating. A future of weaving is predicted for you, Kate.

    A state in the US we lived in some years ago would hold annual auctions of “state” items. These were open to the public and included everything from antique Hitchcock chairs to snow plows. The sale would be set up in an old farm and it’s buildings and was HUGE and lasted three days to auction off all the goods. I still kick myself for an item I didn’t and couldn’t bid on. It was a lovely floor loom, quite large. I had no way to get it home and no place to put it once it got there. The state mental hospital had been closed and all the contents were part of the auction. That is where the loom came from. Today I would have plenty room. Sigh…..oh, it went for five dollars, nobody wanted it….but me…….the bidding contractors who surrounded me didn’t even know what it was.

    • fabrickated

      Bunny, this story nearly made me cry. The idea of the poor women of the asylum weaving away their sadness. And the lack of value associated with the loom. And that you could have preserved it. Oh my – its almost a short story.

  10. Lynn Mally

    Famous American weaver Dorothy Liebes believed that every woman should have a loom in her home. Maybe you could start a new trend! My sister has two–they take a lot of room.

    • fabrickated

      I will have to look her up Lynn. Knitting is so much more discrete, cheap and portable. The whole history of hand loom weavers, or the industrial revolution, or the Indian movement to make your own cloth, the role of women in working from home while caring for children – it is such a powerful story.

  11. mrsmole

    I have a friend who started with one and now owns 5…it can be addictive! It would be a great way to escape for a while and just enjoy the rhythm of producing a well made item.

    • fabrickated

      Oh gosh! Five looms. I know quite a few people with several sewing machines – it is interesting why we feel the need to collect things – maybe we just feel sorry for the wasted item and want to save it. Or maybe we have five weaving projects on the go (I have five knitting or sewing projects live at any one time. And often three or four books.)

  12. Catherine

    I had the good fortune to take a weekend beginner’s course in weaving, a few weeks ago. We learned a range of patterns, and we all came away with fantastic items, from fabric for cushion covers (me) to bags, a scarf, and wall-hangings. Alongside the opportunities for thinking about colours, what I really enjoyed was the level of relaxed concentration that weaving encourages. The tutor had already set up the warp – and from your piece I have to say that this looks like the most difficult and time-consuming bit. I do hope you develop this, and write about it for us all.

    • fabrickated

      Thanks Catherine for your very interesting story. You did well to get so many things made. I can see it would be nice to have it all set up, but I guess I am always interested in the whole thing – start to finish! I think the setting up took a couple of hours so not too bad, although the scarf is not terribly wide. However I didn’t get it finished!

  13. Michelle

    That sounds like a lovely day spent learning a new craft. Getting the loom set up and ready for weaving seems to be quite a skill in itself. How wonderful to be able to design and weave your own cloth . . . I foresee a loom in your new sewing room!

  14. Barbarags

    Beeke has already mentioned The Handweavers studio. Here is a link to their courses.
    Unfortunately you have just missed a lovely exhibition at Southwark Cathedral run by the London Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers- another link follows. They handed out a useful information sheet about courses, suppliers and other resources and demonstrated what beautiful effects you could get with handwoven cloth.
    I also recall, a couple of years or so ago, attending the annual Textile Fair held in Braintree at the District Museum and Warner Textile Archives and hearing a talk and demonstration from two women who wove their own tweed for clothing on a hand loom. Unfortunately I cannot recall the names of the speakers or of the book they had published on this subject, but I think it was Sarah Howard and Elisabeth Kendrick and this was the book (sorry that the link is Amazon)

  15. Sue

    I am so interested in where you go with this next part of your adventure. I have a small loom (50cms) that I can use on a stand, but do have a bit of a yen for one with pedals! I really like the colours you have chosen and look forward to seeing your finished scarf.

  16. ceci

    There used to be a weaving workshop with a huge loom close to where my husband got his hair cut…..I would go watch who ever was weaving. They seemed to be very calm kind people who spontaneously explained what they were doing and why. So it will be interested to see if you end up with a loom in your country house! Weaving and looking at that lovely view could be perfect.


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