Monday, December 5, 2016

Loom Mechanics

Variation in loom mechanics can provide clues about the cultural origin and age of a particular loom type. Here, we begin to take a closer look at the engineering involved in loom construction. We find that this variation in structure is quite diverse. Further, the loom mechanics inform the technique for how the loom should be used to weave. In this post, we compare back strap looms to warp weighted looms as we explore the rich cultural and mechanical history of these tools.

Backstrap Looms

A type of backstrap loom is used for centuries in countries such as Peru, Guatemala, China, Japan, Bolivia, and Mexico. It is used by Mayan women in some parts of Guatemala. The loom typically consists of six to seven rods, which usually weavers make themselves, and the width of the project depends on the width of the rod. Generally, Mayan women use embroidery to attach multiple parts of the woven cloth in order to attain the required width. These rods perform the basic function of raising every other warp thread. A backstrap loom is easy to carry as it can be rolled up when not in use.

Back strap loom.jpg
Weaving with a backstrap loom involved the coordination of multiple rods.

The rods are of varying size and often are handmade.

Warp Weighted Looms

Warp yarns hang from a single bar in the warp-weighted loom. Groups of warp threads are tied to the hanging loom weights, which keep the tension correct throughout the weaving process. In contrast to the back strap loom, the warp weighted loom is designed to lean against a wall while two weavers work together. A single heddle bar is often used, but it may have been the case that weavers in early European history used multiple heddle bars depending on location and desirable designs within a community. In the warp-weighted looms weaving, clay weights shaped like rings hang from the yarn to control the tension of the material bidirectionally across the weave. As you can imagine, the warp-weighted loom is not easily portable like the back strap loom may be.

Two weavers simultaneously interact with warp weighted looms.

The warp weighted loom is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece and spread north and west throughout the rest of Europe. Evidence of these looms - both in folkloric tale and pictorial artwork - can be found in European villages. Depictions of warp-weighted looms - specifically of two women work with a warp-weighted loom, can also be found in artifacts from Ancient Egypt.

Depictions of warp-weighted looms can be found on ancient artifacts.

The story of the warp weighted loom is mysterious. Typically, this type of loom is historically associated with Scandinavian people, but over time, the presence of the loom diminished until the design nearly disappeared from common use. In 1964, Marta Hoffman published a monograph centered on ancient weaving technology, specifically the warp weighted loom. Hoffman had to search extensively to find any weavers who still knew how to use the loom. Eventually, she came across six weavers - three sets of two women - in Norway who could still use the loom. Hoffman narrowed the focus of her research to these six women.

It is interesting to note the role that observable differences in loom construction play in modern comprehension of narratives related to materialisms. Variation in loom mechanics led to variation in design across time and location. A closer look at the particular loom used to make a weave can give the weaver or consumer an in-depth understanding of the cultural background of the craft.

Co-written by Pooja Saxena and Kate Samson