There comes a point in time during any weaving experience when you know to either run the other way, or travel down the rabbit hole and learn as much as you can about a new structure. What’s compelling for one weaver may be anathema for another. I have always looked at the drawloom configuration and said – Too big! Countermarche? No way! That said, my friend Laura and I both got the drawloom bug at The Weavers’ School, and we had to pursue it.
The weather was unsettled as we landed in Helena Regional Airport in Montana. Mid-40’s, scattered rain in the distance and big clouds threatening activity everywhere. Montana! Big Sky country! And home to Joanne Hall, drawloom weaver and teacher extraordinare. We were looking forward to three days of devoted weaving, plus two days of actually warping a shaft drawloom in the Swedish tradition.
Joanne’s home is built in the Swedish style, so it is comfortable and cozy. Her studio is filled with plenty of natural light. And looms. Mostly Glimakra, and countermarche. Having learned on a jack loom, I can only say that any perceived complexity in warping a countermarche is more than compensated for in ease of treadling. It’s so light on the knees, I found I could weave for much longer periods of time on the countermarche than I could on a jack.
Drawlooms have two sets of harnesses (a group of shafts). One set is for the ground cloth, the other (located above/behind the ground cloth shafts) is for the pattern. There are two basic configurations for the drawloom – single unit, where you can create tapestries and pictures and all sorts of designs on the fly. The other is the shaft drawloom, where there is a series of drawcords that are organized by units of threads (the number of threads is driven by the quantity of shafts in your ground cloth). With the shaft drawloom, you can weave patterns that repeat, and also modify them as you go along.
Some people modify a countermarche loom by adding “half heddles” behind the shafts, and use a sword to raise the half heddle (imagine how backstrap weavers manipulate patterns on their looms). It was this approach that I used for my first weave structure.
My next sample was on the single unit drawloom. I have to admit that I had a lot of fun playing around with the different configurations. You can “save” a pattern by using a similar approach to the half heddle method, on the pattern shafts. But those kinds of decisions are driven by which loom configuration you have, and the type of design you’d like to weave. At this point I was just playing. And, having fun.
At this point I do have a slight confession to make. It’s a challenge for me to get a good selvedge on the drawloom. There is a combination of new muscle memory and technique that I found I need to work on. The drawloom shuttle is narrower and longer than your typical Schacht open shuttle with a bobbin. They have quills, and I have never used a quill while weaving before. Always a first! But, as with everything, with a lot of practice comes expertise.
My third sample was on the draft drawloom. At this point I had developed my confidence and was going to town on arranging and modifying the selection of repeats that Joanne had created for Laura and me.
After three days of weaving and enough lecture to make us dangerous on the looms, we were joined by two more students, and went through the process of warping the draft drawloom. Joanne was very wise to have us review the process on the Vavstuga video before attempting it. Having that information floating in our heads and then grounding it with the actual experience was most helpful and a good learning process.
As always, there are always new “hacks” to pick up whenever weavers are weaving together. We learned the most incredible way of tying the warp onto the front beam. It really reduces the warp waste, and quite frankly maintains a great even tension.
Those five days passed way too fast. I love being immersed in a weaving experience where the demands of our fast-paced lifestyles can be put on hold for just a bit. It’s a renewal for the soul, and I become a better person for following a mindful practice with a satisfying craft. Good food, good company, and even good weather came around and followed us home. Thank you, Joanne, for getting me started on this phase of my weaving journey!