Building a big loom, Part 1

During the fall of 2020 I got a notion that I wanted a big loom. A really big loom. Maybe I had looked at too many photos of Mark Bradford paintings and exhibits. Maybe I had stared too long at too many El Anatsui weavings and sculptures. Maybe the sheer size of a giant bedspread or quilt or piece of printed fabric had seduced me. Or maybe I was just mentally exhausted from finding diversions while I was at home during the pandemic. In any case, I decided I wanted a really big loom. 


Big looms are out there, but they are also outside of my budget. And they take up a massive amount of space that I don't have. So I did the next best thing: I designed a big vertical loom to build on my deck. I studied the structure of the Navajo rug loom I was using for a class and decided that I could recreate that structure and form on a larger scale with boards from the neighborhood lumber yard. Using 1x2s and 2x2s and various lengths of clothesline rope to hold everything in place, I built a 12-foot wide loom that could hold up to a 7-foot tall warp. It looked like it might work. I wrapped a 10/2 linen thread warp at 4 ends per inch.

But there was the issue of timing. I built the loom outside in early October. By early November daytime temperatures were hovering at the 40-degree mark, which made weaving outdoors uncomfortable and brief. So I built a frame in my studio that would hold the upper and lower beams of the loom. With the help of my son, we moved the 12-foot-long loom -- warp and all -- indoors to my 14-foot-long studio. One end of the framework spanned the doorway between the studio and kitchen, which meant that any time I wanted to go into the kitchen, I had to step through the narrow frame at the end of the loom.  That was a little magical -- until the moment when I discovered that the laundry basket that I needed to carry to the washing machine in the corner of the kitchen was too wide to fit through the frame. Then the frame became a significant inconvenience.

When I actually started weaving. I quickly discovered that the structure and form of the loom couldn't keep a consistent tension on the warp threads, no matter how tightly I pulled and tied the ropes at top and bottom. If one warp thread grew floppy, all five-hundred-some of the warp threads had to be adjusted -- a process that could take hours, if I had the patience to do it at all. After just a few attempts to weave, followed by several more hours of readjusting and tightening the tension, I grew frustrated. One Sunday, after yet another session of trying to tighten the tension, I decided that it was better for my mental health to wind off all of the linen warp, dismantle the loom and store the lumber in the basement. That took a lot less time than adjusting the tension, and I was a better person for it that day. 


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