Silk Cocoons – Part Two

These are more natural silk cocoons. In Japan a man I met at a flea market has a business of selling natural fibers. These cocoons thrilled me!

You can see why the above cocoons interested me when you realize most cocoons look like these.

Did you notice the stem on one of the cocoons in the above photo? I did and found out that the silkworm MAKES the little twig that makes its attachment.

Here is a little bit of the silk fibers in a fluff along with the silk “twig”.

Here is a skein of yarn made from the silk twigs. I am calling this the baby bear yarn. A strand of 5/2 cotton is for comparison.

This is the mama bear size yarn.

This is the papa bear size yarn.

This is grandpa bear size!

Here is a lovely shawl made from the cocoons shown in the first photo.

A closer look at the fabric. It is soft and a joy to wear.

Silk Comes from Cocoons. I Find Them Fascinating

Many know that I’ve travelled a lot looking at interesting textiles and all things textile related. I’ve brought home many things that interest me. The other day a friend came to my studio for some kibiso silk for her artwork and then came back again for a cocoon. When I got out my cocoons I found a lot of things I’d brought home from China, Japan, Uzbekistan, and India and ?? This post is the first one about cocoons. Note: I’ll be selling my collection of textiles in San Francisco in November. Stay tuned.

We visited a silk growing place in Japan where they raised at least two different varieties of silkworms. There was a video showing how they saved some males and females for breeding. They showed putting a pair of moths under a domed basket where they bred then I think the eggs came and the moths died. These two cocoons made two different silks.

This scarf is made of two layers. Each layer was made from silk from a different variety. One layer is pure white and the other is yellow-ish.

These cocoons made the thread on the spool. The silk filaments were reeled off as the cocoons were unwound. The silk threads in the scarf above were unwound (reeled off) from the cocoons. The scarf is stiff which tells us the sericin has not been removed and is called raw silk.

In the case of the breeding cocoons, the “bug” (pupa) inside the cocoon  develops into an adult that breaks out of the cocoon as a moth. Since the cocoon is broken, the fiber cannot be reeled off. These spent cocoons were in a wastebasket in a mill where they were reeling off the silk. I helped myself to see what the cocoons looked like and was pleased to find one pupa. (The word chrysalis is the same stage as pupa but only refers to butterflies).

These cocoons were purposely cut open so that silk fiber cannot be reeled and must be spun. It means the moth can exit the cocoon on its own without being killed. However my understanding is that the moth soon dies a natural death.

On a silk growers farm in Japan we made hankies like these in preparation for spinning. The cocoons had been degummed, were wet, and had been cut open. We put our thumbs in the hole and  worked with forefingers and thumbs from both hands to pinch and spread out the cocoons into flat pieces like these. We draped them over a dome and piled up a certain number (maybe 12?) together, then removed them for spinning. These were called caps. If they were flat they would be called mawata.

Here are silk hankies on a small frame with several layers. I’m finding there are lots of ways to spin silk in the book “A Silk Workers Notebook” by Cheryl Kolander. Apparently, each method produces a very different type of thread.

Camp! A Great Place to Introduce Weaving

I’m taking 7 Structo looms and 2 others to a day camp. They are all ready to go.

Kids love the mechanics of a loom and these clanky Structos have really fascinated them in previous years.

Rusty but still workable make them even more interesting.

I have an old tape loom which I hope will interest some. The long, wooden levers are the “treadles”.

A closer front view.

A basket of yarns should entice the kids.

Silk is silk is silk – or not? – A Guest Post by Giovanna Imperia

We all love to weave with silk! It is such an incredible fiber: soft, supple, yet very strong
and with great aging stability.
However, not all silk is the same. Starting at a high level, silk can be classified based
on the moth type and the yarn construction. Below is a good way to visualize the

Muga silk is also produced by a specific type of Antheraea moth (Antheraea
assamensis) exclusively in Assam, India. It is very rare and is highly sought after
because of its warm golden color and sheen.

Reeled silk
Cocoons are placed into hot water and filaments from several cocoons are pulled
together and reeled. This produces a continuous multi-strand yarn. A number of multistrand
yarns are then plyed together to create the desired yarn size.
The filament from the cocoon is covered in sericin — which is a protein gelatin produced
by the silk worm to bind filaments while making the cocoon (Think of it as worm spit). It
is not removed from the filaments being reeled to add strength and minimize breakage.
Both Bombyx and Tussah silk are available as reeled yarns. They are both very strong.
The nice thing about Tussah is that it can withstand high torsion due to its natural
strength. So, it is possible to achieve high TPMs (Twist Per Meter) when creating crepe
yarns. A good example is the Italian silk crepe that Lunatic Fringe currently sells. The
base yarn is partly degummed Tussah silk. The Italian mill that I used to source the
yarn was able to apply 1800 TPMs — making this a very tight over-twisted yarn with a
lot of elasticity that can be used as warp.
One word about degumming. This is the chemical process that removes the sericin
from the silk. Degumming improves sheen and softens the silk, making it easier to dye.
However, degumming also removes the protective layer of sericin that adds strength
and protects the silk from abrasion. Partial degumming is an attempt to take
advantages of both sides of the chemical process: remove some sericin to soften the
yarn, but retain some to maintain the strength needed for high torsion.
In my experience, undegummed or partially degummed silks are the best as warp. The
long filaments rarely break under tension or due to friction. The sericin can be removed
after the weaving process to achieve a softer, more drapeable fabric.
Because reeled silk is a continuous multi-strand yarn, it does not pill or fuzz with use.

Examples of reeled and handspun silk.
Bottom row from left:
2/260 partially degummed natural ivory tussah (Japan, from Lunatic Fringe), handspun tussah (Japan, from Habu Textiles), naturally yellow reeled tussah (Laos).
Top row from left:

two handspun tussah skeins in natural brown (Japan), reeled bombyx in natural white (Japan, from Habu Textiles)

Examples of spun silk with even and uneven ply.
Top: spun handdyed variegated silk with even ply (China, Red Fish).
Top left: hand spun handdyed, slubby uneven ply (US).
Bottom left: tram handdyed organzine silk (Source unknown, dyed by Randy Darwell) . Cone on the left: bleached spun tussah uneven ply (Italy). Cone in the middle: recombed spun tussah organzine (Italy). Cone on the right: silk shantung loose ply

Spun silk
Most spun silk commercially available today comes from China. In Italy, where the
production of silk has essentially disappeared, many mills import the fiber from China
and then ply and dye the yarn in Italy. This allows the Italian mills to maintain their
quality controls while benefiting from lower production costs.
Once the first quality silk is reeled from the intact cocoons, the reminder as well as the
damaged or pierced cocoons are used to produce a variety of styles of spun silk.
Sericin is first removed from the silk waste. Next the fiber is carded and spun.
Generally speaking, spun silk tends to be weaker, more fuzzy and less durable than
reeled silk because it is produced from shorter fibers. It is also important to consider
how the fiber is being plyed: an uneven or slubby ply will make the yarn weaker, and
more difficult to use as a warp.
Not all the spun silk is the same. Since it is produced from the silk waste, different types
of yarn are actually produced. For instance, here in the US we are very familiar with
Shantung and Noil (In Europe also called Bourette due to its knobby appearance).

However, in Europe spun silk also includes another grouping called “Schappe”. This
type of spun silk is actually a higher quality than Shantung or Noil. In fact, Shantung silk
is typically produced with whatever is left over after the production of Schappe silk.

All three types of spun silk can be used in a similar fashion. The difference between
them is mostly in terms of sheen, and smoothness of the yarn — with Schappe being
the smoothest, most consistent and with the greatest sheen.

Let’s summarize:
• Reeled silk is a continuous multi-strand yarn. Very strong. Smooth with no
imperfections. Bombyx is high sheen. Tussah is more rustic. Reeled silk does not
fuzz or pill. If undegummed, unlikely to be affected by abrasion.
• Spun silk is produced from the silk waste. Short fibers that are always degummed
before carding and spinning. Some are spun with intentional imperfections. Not as
strong. Not high sheen. More sensitive to abrasion, and over time it fuzzes and pills.
• Warp yarn:
• Tight and balanced ply
• Undegummed or partially degummed yarn
• Spun silk with longer fibers
• Weft yarns:
• Unbalanced ply with slubs
• Loose ply such as tram silk
• Spun silk from very short fibers
• Originated in the Shandong province in China
• Spun from whatever is left over
• Purposely stubby and uneven
• Often confused with Dupioni
• More refined texture than Dupioni with smaller slubs and
less stiffness
• Spun from the higher quality short filaments after the
cocoons have been reeled, and from cocoons where the
moth has emerged thus damaging the continuous filament
of the cocoon
• Irregularities are removed from the fiber yielding a smooth,
regular, high sheen yarn

At a very young age I became fascinated by the textures and visual and tactile
experiences provided by certain materials such as fiber and metal. Over time, I also
became intrigued with the possibilities created by the interaction between structure,
techniques and material manipulation as a way of creating texture and threedimensionality.
In my most recent body of work I have taken the tactile experience a
step further by creating work that can actively involve the user as transforming agent.
This is achieved by allowing the viewer to manipulate, reshape and reconfigure the
work. Thus, transforming wearables and non-wearables into unique personal
My work has been shown in many juried and invitational national and international
exhibits. Selected work has also been reproduced in textile and jewelry books, and
can be found in private and museum collections.
Over the years, I have written articles for Ornament Magazine, Strands, Handwoven,
Shuttle, Spindle and Depot, and a variety of international braiding conferences
proceedings. And, of course, I am the author of the book “Kumihimo wire jewelry.”
Published by Potter Craft (Random House), 2011.
Many of the yarns discussed in this blog are available from Lunatic Fringe Yarns (https:// As I have been sourcing yarns in Italy over the last decade or
so, I have built a collection of interesting spun silk. If you are interested in expanding
your collection, I can be reached at

Tapestry weaving for selvedge to selvedge lovers – A Guest Post by Rebecca Mezoff

Weavers everywhere share a common language so I embraced the opportunity to virtually sit down with a group of selvedge to selvedge weavers and talk about what has become my first weaving love, tapestry. I started my weaving career making structured fabrics, moved to doubleweave when I wanted to make pictures, then decided to try tapestry. Two decades later, I’m still weaving images one pick at a time.

Tapestry weavers very rarely throw a shuttle and we don’t mess around with lots of shafts or threading and treadling drafts. Tapestry weavers might, on the face of it, seem a simple sort to those patterned fabric weavers who know and use lots of weave structures. But though us tapestry weavers most often utilize a simple unbalanced plain weave, we have a different set of skills.

Tapestry is officially defined as a discontinuous weft-faced weave that creates an image. While multi-shaft weavers of fabric are throwing shuttles and clicking through their treadling patterns while rolling off yards of fabric at breathtaking speed, us tapestry weavers are meditatively tap tap tapping our weft threads into warps. Over, under, over, under is our song. Sometimes we even do all this without the benefit of a shedding device.

But though tapestry is slow and highly reliant on image-creation for successful artwork, there is a deep satisfaction in the slow building of that image. All weavers understand the structure of starting at one end and weaving to the other and that is no different in tapestry. The biggest difference between shafted pattern weaves and tapestry is those discontinuous wefts.

To make our pictures, we tapestry weavers change colors constantly. You can weave tapestry line by line meaning one pick at a time. But the color can change many times across that one pick. This results in a fell line with a whole host of butterflies or bobbins coming from it.

I often weave my larger tapestry on a Harrisville rug loom. This countermarche loom has a warp extender and worm gear which means I can get the tension on the warp very tight and very even. In the tapestry pictured below (taken from above—those are my feet standing on the loom bench), you can see the weft bundles at the fell line. I believe there are about 30 butterflies being woven at that point on this 24 inch wide tapestry, Lifelines.

The wefts are in pairs because most Gobelin-style tapestry weavers also use something called meet and separate. This means that adjacent wefts move in opposition to each other in the same shed. This manner of working means that a weft can be moved to a new position to create a form without putting two wefts in the same shed. The diagram below shows three   butterflies moving in meet and separate in the same shed.

In the image of my Lifelines tapestry above, I’m weaving line by line and using the beater on the loom to keep everything square. I’m also using a technique called hatching where sequences of colors are alternated to blend them which can only be done line by line.

The diagram below shows irregular hatching. This is a little different from the shaft weaver’s clasped weft technique as we don’t lock the wefts around each other unless we’re specifically doing a weft interlock to close a vertical slit. Irregular hatching often means weaving line by line and in my work, I do a lot of it.

Tapestry can also be woven one shape at a time. It is common to build a shape with one color before picking up the bobbin or butterfly of another and building that shape. In another section of the Lifelines tapestry I wanted to create smooth lines around a curve and I built up shapes so I could do that. That curve can then be outlined with a weft that does not move perpendicular to the warp. This smooths out the steps that happen due to the gridded nature of weaving.

Making pictures

As a tapestry teacher, I find that the biggest stumbling block for weavers of patterned fabric when they first come to tapestry weaving is the design component. Suddenly there is a big piece of the puzzle that has to come from your own head. There aren’t books of tapestry patterns though there are many ways to create a tapestry pattern from external sources and I provide some simple starter ones in my courses. The weavers who embrace this new skill of designing most often discover a new well of creativity and expression and create some marvelous tapestries.

Rebecca Mezoff, Handbasket (detail), 14 x 14 inches, wool, cotton

Equipment for tapestry

Tapestry can be woven on large beamed looms but it is also a wonderful thing to weave on small equipment. You only need a small frame loom, cotton seine twine warp, a tapestry fork, a shed stick, and some time. There are many kinds of looms from the small untensioned tapestry looms pictured below by Handywoman Shop to larger tensioned frame looms like those made by Mirrix to large high-warp tapestry looms with beams and low-warp floor looms like the countermarche Harrisville Rug Loom I favor.


Tapestry weaving is a great way to incorporate images in woven form. Those images often need to be simplified from what we might like to create due to size and sett limitations, but those challenges can also be fascinating. The world has gotten so complicated that some time with a simple loom, a variety of colored wefts, and the slow tap tap tapping of the weft into the warp is certainly a balm to our rushing way of life.

Tapestry is a wonderful adjunct to patterned shaft weaving and I challenge you to expand your weaving language and give this slower form of weaving a try.

Rebecca Mezoff, Lifelines, 24 x 72 inches, hand-dyed wool weft, cotton warp


Rebecca Mezoff, author of the bestselling book, The Art of Tapestry Weaving, loves nothing more than helping new tapestry weavers untangle the mystery of making images with yarn. Her fledgling career as an expert latch-hooker died before she made it to middle school, but her love of fiber never abandoned her. Now she creates large-format tapestries and is often found weaving in her pajamas which she affectionately calls her “home pants”. She runs an online tapestry school which has over 3,500 members and occasionally she leaves the studio to teach weavers in the real world about color, design, and technique in tapestry. Her current artistic work focuses on human perception and the long scale of geologic time. Her studio is in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can find out more about her on her website and blog at

Making Art with Moiré

I’ve been intrigued about moiré for many years. I ran across some samples and when I picked them up and saw light behind, I immediately saw wonderful moire patterns. Voila! These double weave tubes produced moire if seen backlit but only then. This photo shows that two layers superimposed can or cannot make moire, depending on the set up. I put a card behind a portion of the piece to show how it looked lying on a table and hanging with light behind it.

Here is the same piece as a little hanging.  Art!

Another little moire piece I discovered and made into a little hanging.

A third scrap turned into a hanging just by hanging it up.

Here is one of my original pieces where I discovered moire.

Moire sometimes isn’t desirable. This is part of an illustration in my book Weaving for Beginners in the Rigid Heddle chapter. Again, 2 layers superimposed can cause the moire effect. Perhaps you’ve seen in when 2 screens are next to each other.

This photo is from my go-to book for textile definitions. For moire it said, “see Watered”. The definition: “Term used to describe textiles in which a rippled or watered effect is produced by pressing certain ribbed fabrics in such a way as to flatten parts of the ribs and leave the rest in relief. The flattened and unflattened parts reflect the light differently. Synonym: moire”. From Warp & Weft A Dictionary of Textile Terms. Dorothy K. Burnham. Royal Ontario Museum, 1981. Now that I think of it, I think I had some fabrics like that from Uzbekestan, and we went to see the big callerending machine that pressed the ridges.

Pads of Graph Paper! And Project Planning Worksheets, too!

I got the idea for pads of graph paper when planning my booth for CNCH. I was thinking maybe some weavers might have questions and it would be much easier to work on graph paper that was on a pad like a tablet. I love my padded graph paper now. I took a sheet to my copy place and voila! They made copies and made them into a pad. So much nicer to work on a cushioned surface than on my desk which usually is full of papers. And I can rip off pages as I make variations or keep them together.

While I was at it, I thought if I wanted to help anyone plan a project, working on a padded surface would be nice, too. These are my project worksheets that I always use. They are in my book Weaving for Beginners. Someone asked if I could put them here on the blog so it will be easier to make copies than from the book. I first posted them on my blog 9 years ago in 2013. I posted them again in 2016 after I had 598 subscribers. Now after 2,135 subscribers, I’m posting them again—but this time with the pads idea. There are two sheets but often I just need one of them for a different version. So, I made each sheet on its own pad. You can download both sheets HERE

I use my worksheets to calculate the many things needed when planning a project. When I was starting out, I was always worried that I’d forget a critical calculation. Now I don’t worry about forgetting.

I designed them a little bit like a tax return.

The Two Most Popular Things on My Table at CNCH

People loved these balls of rags. I do, too. I bought them in an antique shop in New York. I will sell them along with other textiles from my collection in a sale next year. Stay tuned (become a subscriber if you are not already one).

This needle book caught the eyes of many people, too. A weaver had one and I had to make my own. In this previous post, I explained how I wove it. See it HERE

Here is the second needle book I came across. Check out this previous post for a lot of needle books that I have now and love. See it HERE

An Ahrens Loom Needs a Home!

Hi fellow weavers! I have a beautiful Ahrens loom I would love to donate to an enthusiastic intermediate or above weaver who is mechanically minded and familiar with Ahrens or AVL looms. I live in San Francisco, and you would need to move the loom. There are 25 cement steps to get to the loom. And the loom is heavy. 

Send me an email if you are interested. Be sure to tell me why you are the person for this loom. And thanks for helping find a home for my very neglected Ahrens loom.


It is a 10 shaft loom but only has 4 shafts. It is 4ft. wide and 44” high. There’s no bench and no extra shafts.

It’s made of bird’s eye maple.

It has 10 treadles, (but remember there are only 4 shafts on the loom now)

The loom needs new string heddles (available from Texsolv).

It has a side tie-up so you don’t need to get down to the floor to tie up the treadles.

It can be folded for less space when not in use. The loom has been in storage for a long time so probably needs some adjusting. 

I also have additional weaving supplies to donate. 2 additional reeds, raddle, leases sticks & books. 

CNCH Vendors Post

CNCH (Conference of Northern California Handweavers) was last weekend. There was a whole lot of excitement and energy for the exhibits, Tableau (fashion show), classes, and vendors. I had a booth and bonded with the other vendors. Here is who else had booths and enticing things to sell. I didn’t sell anything but visited with a lot of weavers, friends, and enthusiastic new weavers. It was thrilling to meet up with so many who knew of my books, blog, and also my name!

Amazing Yarns is located in Redwood City in the Bay Area. The shop specializes in unusual hand spun and hand painted yarns and classes. They also have hand dyed yarns for knitting, weaving, crocheting and roving and fleece for spinning, dyeing and felting. Phone 650-306-9218

Carpool showed a lot of beautifully dyed yarns and fiber. I asked about the company name: a lot of travels caused it. They can be found on Lisa dyes all the yarns! 773-507-8582

Ephemera Creations had beautiful “small batch hand dyed yarn”.  They are dyed in Humboldt County, California. The photo of the booth says it all. Instagram & Facebook: @ephemera.creations.

Eugene Textile Center had a large booth that looked just like a store. You name it, they had it: Yarns, books, looms, spinning wheels, tools, and everything a fiber person would like. The store is at 2750 Roosevelt Blvd., Eugene, OR  97402.  Phone: 541-688-1565.

Featherweight Finery sold vibrant handcrafted Jewelry all made by Sue Toorans. ”Elegant enough for a night on the town, comfortable enough to wear all day.” .  on Facebook and Instagram as Featherweight Finery.

Lunatic Fringe Yarns. “Unique Yarns for Unique People!” They are known for Tubular Spectrum yarns in all the colors on the color wheel. Their newest line is “GevolveYarns. They are from the unique collection of Giovanna Imperia. Phone: 800-483-8749

Peggy Osterkamp. I had my booth to visit with old and new weavers, colleagues, and students. The large pieces on the back wall are examples of textiles in my collection which I will be selling in the future. Instagram at PEGGYOSTER and on Facebook.

Fine Threads Part 3 – Words of Wisdom from Junco Sato Pollack and Mr. Ashenhurst

Junco Sato Pollack is a nationally and internationally known artist. She served as a cultural ambassador for a while, at the same time, her interest was always to find ways to do 3-D surfaces and forms by combining fabric and layered techniques. She has used a variety of techniques in fiber. These include weaving, surface design, sculptural work, heat transfer printing, and paper making. She is Professor Emerita of Georgia State University where she taught in the Textiles Program.

In one very early series of her art were silk hangings woven in damask with printed warps. After the cloth was off the loom, she added silver leaf which was adhered to the woven surface by screen printing adhesive and pressing silver leaf onto the surface. The silver leaf in this hanging has tarnished to dark grey.

This detail shows more of the damask patterning in the cloth itself. The silk damask has screen-printed warp images of ivy. Then she adhered silver leaf leaves on the woven surface. The weave is a 16-shaft damask.

Reed and Sett
Junco tells that “Japanese silk hand weaving is mostly plain weave based on tsumugi fabric which is hand-spun weft on plied reeled silk warp. The weft is coarse, but both warp colors and weft colors are interactively visible. (What we call tabby.)

“So, denting is usually double dent, and this is why we have so many fine reed numbers per inch, ie. 45 coarse, 55 medium, 65 fine. Double dented, they become 90 epi, 110, 130 and so on. Thus, achieving well distributed warps and no dent lines, called “shirome” (white looks) of lines.” (What we call reed marks.) The photo is of a bamboo reed of mine I have “ for show,”  

Peggy O.

Besides being an artist, ambassador, and teacher, she has grown silkworms and reeled out the filaments. The reason for raising silkworms was that she wanted to create 3 dimensional raised patterns on silk fabric. That required the use of sericin-rich silk threads to create the thermo-plastic silk for a 3-D surface. She wove in “shibori binding stitches” while on the loom, and heat set the pleats after the stitched-in threads were gathered up. This process is now called “woven shibori.” By weaving on a jibata loom, it was easy to create an extra harness to weave in shibori stitching threads. Images of her work can be found at

This is a diagram of how the Japanese traditional jibata loom works. A loop of string attached to the loom’s heddle stick and the weaver’s toe is how warp threads are moved to make the sheds. The backstrap of course lets the weaver lessen and tighten the warp as needed. This helps to make clean sheds with dense warps of fine threads.

Jim Ahrens (a part of AVL as you all know by now) taught us Ashenhurst’s way to calculate sett that industry uses. It’s especially handy when winding such very fine threads on a ruler would be difficult! I use this method and teach it to my students. This worksheet is in my book, Weaving for Beginners, and the information also is in Winding a Warp & Using a Paddle (in the big chapter on sett). 

The Ashenhurst formula calls for the square root of the yards per pound. I don’t even have a cheap enough calculator anymore and certainly don’t remember how to find square root. What to do?? I Googled “what is the square root of 30,000.” That was a yardage Molly McLaughlin gave in the previous post. The answer: 173. Then I multiplied 173 by 0.9 (on iPhone calculator) to get 155 for the diameters in an inch. That’s a calculation for the wraps per inch concept. According to Ashenhurt’s Rule you should then divide the diameters by .5 for plain weave or .67 for twill. However, it looks like Molly skipped that step and took 80% of the diameters to come to 124.5 for 120 epi for her 30,000 ypp silk. Previous tips on my website explain the calculation more thoroughly. See them HERE. Here are two Tips: “A Weaving Tool: Ashenhurst’s Rule” and “Good Reasons to Use Ashenhurst’s 80% Figure”.

Fine Threads Part Two
Molly McLaughlin, Artist, and Expert Weaver:  with additional comments from Lillian Whipple

I can’t thank Molly McLaughlin enough for all the information she generously shared.  She’s been weaving for over 30 years and has developed her own unique weave structures to weave beautiful, intricate, and exciting art pieces. This post is about her work and the fine silk threads she uses.
Master Weaver, Lillian Whipple has been weaving for over 50 years and has all the qualifications as Molly but her comments supported Molly’s so much I chose to include them as comments. Molly is on Instagram: @mollymclaughlinsfiberart. Lillian is on Facebook and it’s a good idea to Google her.

This picture is of Molly’s Oxaback loom. This is what she mainly uses because countermarch looms make very clean sheds easily. You can see it in her crowded studio by looking through her Nilus loom in this phot

Reed and Sett
Molly uses a 40 dent reed for different circumstances and doubles up the threads in a dent as required. Double cloth is sett at 360 epi. Single layer cloth is 120 epi. For linen she has used 100 epi but would like it more dense. These setts are for twill based ground cloths. She gets the reeds from the Woolgatherers ( They are specially made by a reed maker in Germany.

Silk and Other Threads
120/2 at 120 epi uses 3 ends per dent. There are 30,000 yards per pound
240/2 at 200 epi uses 5 ends per dent
260/2 at 200 epi also at 5 ends per dent.
40 gauge copper she setts at 80 epi
Molly also uses a nylon thread sett at 60 epi (for tabby based ground cloths)

Notice that all of the silk threads are 2-ply and they should be of good quality, smooth and not at all fuzzy. Lillian Whipple says, “The thread must be beam-able. If I can’t beam it, I throw it out.”

I wondered how Molly could get a hook into such a fine reed. Her first answer was she cut one out of a plastic clam shell box—with the warning to put some color on one end or “you’ll never find it when it falls to the floor!” Ashford makes a thin one that will work if you put it through the middle of the dents where the wires are more flexible. Lillian Whipple told me that she uses her threading hook, which is thinner, to sley her fine reeds. 

Beaming is done with 1-inch sections on a warping wheel on a plain beam with a 1-inch raddle.  Look behind the heddles where you can get a glimpse of the raddle. Molly stressed that beaming is critical. Lillian uses a warping drum.

Both Molly and Lillian use Texsolv heddles. Molly had no trouble with metal ones up to 120 epi on 8 shafts. She went to Texsolv because they use less space and are much lighter to lift.

“Over time I have worked to reduce the necessary number of shafts. Currently, I prefer to use 4 shafts for a single weave and 10 shafts for double weave. However, I space the shafts on the loom so that there is a space between each shaft, so 4 shafts take up the same amount of space as 8 shafts. This separation of shafts makes it much easier to avoid mistakes in the threading and to fix broken threads. I used to try and spread the warps over as many shafts as possible to reduce friction and heddle density, but I found that less shafts with more space between them made life much easier.”

“Along the lines of keeping things simple, I only weave double cloth if the shifting of layers will make it easier to actualize the cartoon that I have created, generally with a 3D component. Otherwise, I stick to single weave…here is an example of a design that called for double weave.”

“At the moment, everything that I am producing is being created with the intent of going to some large shows this fall and winter, so nothing is currently available for sale. But, I am including a photo of the piece that is currently on the Nilus, because it is pretty.” Molly McLaughlin.

Still Doing What I Love: Teaching! (Now with my blog posts)

A teacher loves to teach. In fact, when I want to procrastinate, I compose a new post. That means questions and comments are welcomed. That also means no question is a bad one! In my blog I hope to teach and give good techniques that will make your weaving a pleasure, not a hassle. If I don’t have a good answer to a question, I’ll ask experts for their advice. That’s where I am now on the issue of fine threads. Several expert weavers have shared their advice and I’m working on how to present it all. I’ve often said, “The teacher learns the most.” And, “It’s the bright people who have the most questions because they can read what I’ve said in different ways.”

 One student in a workshop said, “I pray when I’m warping.” I said, “I don’t want you to have to pray. I want to teach you good techniques, then you can be as artistic and creative as you want.”

I learned to weave at Pacific Basin School of Textiles in Berkeley, California in the 70’s. The curriculum was structured and full of the principles of weaving and designing woven textiles. Each term’s class relied on what we’d learned before. I had a year’s sabbatical from teaching in a junior high school in San Francisco. So, I took the full year’s courses (plus some night classes after I went back to the classroom). I spent another year as an apprentice with Jim Ahrens, the “A” in AVL in a production weaving studio at the school. When we moved to Washington, DC someone in the guild there asked me a question. That was the minute my weaving life and teaching life collided.


Jim Ahrens, the “A” part of AVL.

Tangled threads are a major obstacle to confident weaving. They’re troublesome in themselves and they can cause threads to become uneven, snag, and break. The underlying purpose of many of the methods I teach is to keep threads under tension. And most of the techniques have been used for centuries around the world for efficient, production weaving.

Generally, the chain keeps most warp threads organized enough so that they don’t tangle.
However, some yarns (for example, linen) can be quite “jumpy” or springy and tangle easily as can a large number of fine, silky threads.
I recommend winding the warp on a kitestick instead of making it into a chain so that the threads are always on tension and thus, can’t tangle.
In the case of a large warp made in sections, you would have each section on its own kitestick rather than in several chains.

More about the kitestick is in my May 7, 2011 post. Another post describes how to wind a kitestick. Click HERE for my post on September 24, 2011.

Fine Threads Part One: How I decided on the Sett for My Ruffles and Sheer Pieces

Tal Saarony’s posts have led me down a wonderful “rabbit hole” for information about fine threads. I’m still gathering information from very experienced weavers, so I’ll start with how I’ve dealt with fine silk threads. 
You can see some of my sheer pieces by checking out my Gallery and the photos for on the headings for the various tabs on my blog.
Check out my post from April 9, 2021 “Unwinding Skeins of Very Fine Threads” HERE

When I was planning my “ruffle warp” all I knew was that I wanted the cloth to be sheer. That meant neither the warps nor the wefts could be close together. Here’s what I remember how I determined the sett (epi). When Master Weaver, Lillian Whipple asked a reed maker for a fine reed he said, “I can make one as fine as 75 dents per inch, but you won’t like it. It will be too fragile.” He suggested putting a threading unit in a dent instead. Going on that advice, my first silk threads were threaded at 96 epi with 8 threads per dent in a 12 dent reed. Since I wanted sheer and an open weave, the reed marks weren’t a problem for me. Another thread was finer yet so I sett it at 120 epi with 8 threads per dent in a 15 dent reed. Both Lillian and I used a warping drum when beaming. I think I’ll try a trapeze the next time because it won’t take so much space in my studio. Lillian’s drum is no longer made by AVL and I had mine built. Directions for it are in my book, Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps (newly available in print).

To make it easier to beat, I decided to weave double cloth thinking the two layer’s worth of threads would give more friction in the reed. That meant ½ the epi was in each layer. I don’t know if it helped, but it turned out that the tube made the ruffles. That was a lucky surprise.

Here is an idea I had “post ruffles”.

Another idea I had. These were in my blog post dated March 8, 2013. You can search on the home page for “ruffles” for that and other ruffle posts.

Happy Easter, 2022

The ladies in Sicily made these for Easter. I was there on Palm Sunday in 1004 and loved seeing them being made.

Another Easter sculpture made of dough.

 My former husband made these 50 years ago! He covered the eggs with wax and embedded the beads and painted one.

These quail eggs were in a grocery store in Japan. We were so taken with them my husband blew out the insides and I’ve kept them all these 55 years! So beautiful.

Unwinding Skeins – Part 3

I see I made a post about unwinding skeins of fine threads exactly one year ago today, the day I am making this post. See it HERE.

There were a lot of comments responding to Tal Saarony’s previous two posts. It was mentioned that swifts work better mounted like a Ferris wheel rather than a merry go round. I remember hearing that from my mentor Helen Pope when I encountered my first umbrella swift. However, I probably didn’t remember it all the time.

In Japan fine silk threads were wound on this kind of spool. I bought some when I realized that the circumference is larger than a spool’s and that has made it easier to wind off skeins of fine threads.

It took a special winder for the spools.

Here is the skein holder that goes with the Japanese winder. Note it is positioned like a Ferris wheel, too. Another commenter said that the yarn coming off the skein should come off the bottom. I was told when you can’t find an end to pat the skein from the inside so the end could fall out and show itself.

I bought a cone winder with a skein holder attached from ETSY that came from Hong Kong. I haven’t tried it yet—too many other things to do before I go back to fine threads again.

I bought  this skein holder in Bhutan. Simple with straight sides unlike an umbrella swift. I think they all used the same size skeins in a workshop, but it wouldn’t be hard to exchange the bamboo sticks to change the size of the holder.

I bought this treasure years ago and finally sold it to an antique dealer.

This came along with the one above and went to the same dealer so someone else can enjoy it.

Skein Winders – A Guest Post from Tal Saarony

Hello again intrepid weavers,

The skein winders we had at school and grad school were all of the swift, or umbrella, type. This one is a  random picture from Amazon:

I struggled with the umbrella swift as I struggled with all things weaving. There are so many processes, so many tools. I am not technically gifted. When, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I asked my teacher to help with my first mess of a warp, he said he had never seen a warp with so many crossed threads. He had been teaching for many years, so it was quite an accomplishment on my part. 

Over the years I only ever used the umbrella swift. I didn’t know there were other types (this is pre-internert). As the years passed, my swift and I developed a mutual aversion made more bitter by co-dependence. 

I will explain the reasons I dislike umbrella swifts; just a caveat — I’ve only ever used wooden ones.

1. They can collapse. No matter how much I tighten them, I can never be sure they won’t collapse while I wind or unwind. This by no means happens every time, nor does it happen frequently, but the few times it has happened (during many years) make me distrustful and fearful of them.

2. The wooden ones are never smooth enough for my fine silk yarn. The yarn snags on the wood.

3. They are narrowest at their center and expand in width outwards, so the length of yarn per rotation is not equal and a skein will have within it different lengths of yarn. 

4. They don’t rotate smoothly.

The skein winder I use now is this:

I bought it on Etsy. I like it much better than the umbrella, although it too is not perfect. It rotates smoothly and the yarn is generally the same length. But:

1. there are many nuts and screws. The nuts do loosen if not checked regularly. I have had an arm fly off once during an intense session at high speed with an electric bobbin winder (sorry, that sounds vaguely obscene).

2. While the yarn rotation length is in theory the same — the space on the metal yarn holders being flat — I tend to apply too much pressure while winding, and the front of the metal holders gets pushed down a little, making the yarn toward the outer edge shorter than the yarn toward the inside.

3. It is adjustable for different skein sizes, but some skeins will be loose because you can play around with the pre-drilled holes, but obviously the available combinations will not be perfect for every size. I haven’t had a major problem, but it is something to consider.

4. It has a dinky handle to help rotate when winding, but the handle is quite small, more of a peg, really, and it fits loosely into one of the holes, but is not very stable. Sorry, it’s not in the pictures.

I saw these two winders for sale here:

Both look really good to me.

Peggy has pictures and information on various winders. She will enlighten you further.

Do you have a skein winder you love? Please share!


UPDATED! – Spools and Skeins, Part One – By Tal Saarony, Guest Post Author

Tal lives in Belmont MA, a town adjacent to Cambridge. She graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Hello genteel and/or uncouth followers of Peggy,
My name is Tal Saarony and I have been weaving for many years. I belong to the tribe of masochistic weavers who enjoy, while cursing like a sailor, battling with very fine yarn and, on occasion, inlaying patterns with several complicated treadling sequences, e.g., different overshots, into each row of weft. Not for me the simple life. These days I’m more of a plain weave kind of person, a balanced-weave tapestrier (in contrast with the weft-faced kind), but it still takes me hours to weave a full inch of cloth. 

I recently asked Peggy a question she thought the rest of you might like to know the answer to, and she generously invited me to share a post with you.

I will add some pictures of my weavings at the end of the post for your perusal. 

I recently bought some very fine silk yarn in skein form. 

I needed a way to store it so that I would be able to cut pieces off to use for inlay in my weavings. Normally I use bobbins for yarn storage, but I would have had to buy a large number, probably about a hundred, and I was hoping to avoid the expense. I don’t use regular-sized bobbins and shuttles — my shuttles and corresponding bobbins are very small. While, to my thinking, you can never have too many bobbins of any size, it seemed silly to buy a hundred bobbins just for yarn storage.

Here are bobbins and a cardboard spool I have. I normally use the middle bobbin.

I came up with the idea of a bobbin that would have very wide flanges that would allow me to store the yarn on. I thought I invented this ingenious idea and in my mind’s eye was seeing the pots of money it would be bringing in, but apparently such spools have already been invented. Probably two thousand years ago. But I didn’t know this, and enthusiastically made a wonky paper prototype.

Before embarking on mass production, I sent an email to Peggy — whose knowledge and deep understanding of all things weaving is unparalleled — and to another master weaver friend, Bhakti Ziek. Both warned me kindly but firmly of the dangers of collapsing flanges and the ensuing loss of yarn and sanity. Peggy explained it thus: “Big problems if the flanges aren’t VERY strong. They will pop off and make a mess as the spool fills. As a spool fills, more and more pressure is applied to the core of the spool, squeezing it dramatically. That is what can cause the ends to pop off. A lot of pressure is being applied to the flanges, too as more and more thread is wound on.”

Both Peggy and Bhakti alerted me to the existence of cardboard and plastic spools such that I desired. The dreams of pots of money evaporated in an instance. I would have liked the plastic spools, but, alas, finances dictated cardboard. The spools are available at Halcyon Yarn, and also at other yarn and weaving tool stores. I have been sternly warned that the flanges of the cardboard spools have been known to pop off when the spools fill up, with catastrophic results.

I have not had this problem. Although my spools don’t look very full, the yarn is extremely fine and, in my estimation, there are tens of thousands of yards on each of the spools. Some of the skeins took as long as half a day each to wind on an electric winder (admittedly with frequent breakage).

The current spools are reinforced with metal. Check for that when you buy.

And so I invested in 30 spools. 

Here is a skein of silk yarn on a skein winder being wound onto a cardboard spool mounted on an electric bobbin winder with which I have a love-hate relationship. Please excuse the tissue that sneaked into the picture. I assure you it is snot-free.

Spools wound with my silk yarn.

The inside diameter of the spools is larger than my Leclerc bobbin winders. I have one electric and 2 manuals (and don’t get me started on how much I dislike them all. Are you listening Nilus Leclerc? Contact me for design tips on how to make your bobbin winders user-friendly, weaver-friendly, human-friendly). The electric one is at least 30 years old and the others older; I skeptically wonder if newer ones are made differently (why improve something inadequate if it has been selling for years). For the electric one, Bamboo skewers — not much thicker than a toothpick, but longer — and insert it along with the spool onto the winder. The skewer will be destroyed with each removal of a spool from the winder, so you will need a packet of them. It takes a bit of trial and error to get just the right length of skewer sticking out toward the body of the winder. Push the spool inward as far as you can but leave about a 1 mm space between the spool and the wooden base. 

The skewer method works with manual winders too, but it makes an unholy racket; they’re, annoyingly, noisy enough already. I found that wrapping some masking tape (you will later have to scrub off the sticky residue, so there’s that to consider) around the shaft works better.

The photo shows the end of a skewer peeping out. Note that the spool is pushed almost all the way to the wooden base and pushed a little bit onto the thicker part of the shaft. In the background is the manual winder with masking tape that was shredded when I struggled to pull the spool off.

Peggy expressed concern that you, the reading weaver, might be dazzled by my paper spool and rush to make your very own. Do not! Should you attempt to use such homemade crappy specimen, you are sure to end up ensnarled in a tangle of yarn; tearing at your hair; clawing at your eyes; and muttering incoherently, until your loved ones are forced to ship you off to a suitable facility.

Happy winding, and do heed the warning re homemade spools…


Mosaic Photos
These are my most recent weavings. The pink ones are off the loom, but not cleaned up yet. The blue are still on the loom, the last two pictures are the same piece, still in progress. Click the first photo to see it larger and the details then use your arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate.

Making Textures from Circles

My last post was about my sampler that came before my overshot wall hanging. In the final piece I corrected the draft for the circle to make it symmetrical. That is, I used the rule about turning blocks. You’ll find it when reading the instructions for drafting overshot.

Here is the circle I began with which was in my sampler.

In the wall hanging I made more circles at the top but with white pattern weft as well as white tabby weft for white on white. An idea to think about.

Here at the bottom of the hanging you can get an idea of the drafts I used from the sampler. For most of the hanging the texture won’t give a clue as to the blocks threaded in the sections.

The draft I used directly from the sampler was in sections 2 and 4. The corrected circle draft was used for the sections 1, 3, and 5.

I made the texture by just treadling the same pattern block over and over. With the tabby wefts as usual. The warp is a smooth rayon and the pattern weft in the textured area is a nubbly yarn. The tabby might have been the same as the warp or some other appropriate smooth yarn.

Here is the final wall hanging with the outcome.

The Overshot Sampler Behind a Wall Hanging

Here is the finished wall hanging that followed a very ugly sampler.

When I learned about overshot and designing for it, I wanted to try everything in my sampler. So, a different technique/design went into each of the four sections. The outside sections were similar 2-block overshot on 4 shafts.

In the section with the big X, I designed a large circle. The other middle section I designed for the optical blocks you can see further on. My other idea was to graduate the colors of the pattern wefts from dark to light—not thinking about what the yarns themselves looked like!

Here you can see both the 4-block circle and the optical circle. In 2 blocks.

Looking closely I noticed my circle wasn’t symmetrical. I had disregarded the instructions for threading turning blocks. (So that’s what turning blocks are all about!)

Progressing along with various yarns and techniques for overshot threadings, my sampler became more and more ugly.

Near the end I was just wanting to get to the end, so I tried weaving the same block over and over. I made the last section the same as the first hoping it would transform it into something nice—didn’t work!

When thinking about what my final project would be my teacher asked what my favorite part was. This repeated-one-block design was my reply. And that was enough to start me on my final design. More on that the next time.

An Illusion and a Double Weave Project

When I was taking the double weave class at Pacific Basin Textiles in Berkeley, CA in the 70’s I decided on combing several ideas in my final project. I wanted to make a color blanket plus I wanted to try an optical illusion of a triangle laying on top of it. At first it seemed like a great simple idea.

I wanted a black frame which meant its own double weave block. No one said that all the blocks had to be the same size, right? So, one block was the color blanket and the second block was the black borders on the sides. (More on the top below). That meant 8 shafts.

I wanted the fringe to show so the viewer could appreciate how the original colors of the yarn were altered by the weaving.

My loom had 2 more shafts which I used for a separate warp for the triangle. I probably used both shafts when one would do—just because—and it spread out the dense grey yarns more that way. In a sense, that meant 3 warps with wool yarns. I never thought that it might be difficult to open the sheds. But because I had a loom built by Jim Ahrens (AVL) the sheds were not a problem.

 I picked up the yarns as needed with pickup sticks for the triangle. Otherwise, they just floated in between the two outer layers.

Here’s the back of the hanging. This way I could see how black crossing all the colors would look. Also, I arranged the colors in a different order from the front side.

For another experiment, I made the border grey so I could see how grey crossing all the colors would be like.

At the top, I had to weave and extra piece to get the black border and I sewed it on. Inside, for a flat rod I used a sturdy flat metal bar.

What I learned. Right away I saw that I didn’t like the way mixtures of colors of strong value differences looked. Much later I learned that colors blended better when they were closer in value. I thought at the time I was seeing lots of samples of color combinations. I never consulted the blanket for that purpose, but I will always remember that I don’t like dark purple and bright yellow as a yarn mixture!

Combining Sectional and Plain Beaming and Vise Versa

Order “Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps” HERE.

The newly printed book has complete information on beaming the warp as expected plus an extensive chapter on sectional beaming. (Along with all the calculations and illustrations you’ll need.) However, there is an unexpected chapter about combining sectional and plain beaming. Here are two ways to think about it.

Strategy I
Make a warp as for a plain beam and beam it on a sectional beam.

Measure a 1” or 2” section on the warping board or reel, depending on the size of the sections on your beam. In sectional beaming, many weavers do not make any crosses or choke ties. I always do. Instead of a threading cross, they use tape to keep threads in order.

Just as in plain beaming, you load a raddle or pre-sley a reed to spread out the warp. In this case, the raddle is a short section of a raddle or coarse reed, used in place of the front reed on the tension box. Put the whole section of warp together as one “ribbon” over and under the pegs in the tension box.

Attach your section of the warp to a cord on the sectional beam.

Wind the warp to fill a section of the sectional beam.

Make sure the warp exactly fits in between the pegs so the thread layers can beam on absolutely flat. Angle the tension box or rearrange the threads so that the layers are flat—they can’t build up or slope down at the peg. This is the most important step in the process. If the layers aren’t flat, the threads won’t be the same length or tension.

Strategy II.
Make a section on an AVL warping wheel and beam it on a plain beam.

Make the warp, one section at a time on the warping wheel. If your raddle has 1” sections make 1” sections of the warp on warping wheel. (You make the bouts (sections) the same size as the spaces in the raddle.)

The cross-maker is an accessory to the warping wheel and is installed on one of the spokes. It easily makes the threading cross.

Load the raddle. Tie on the raddle’s cap I several places—or if it doesn’t have a cap, loop a string figure-eight fashion, or stretch rubber bands around the teeth of the raddle to keep the threads very securely in place.

Attach the raddle to the loom and wind the warp as usual. This idea came to me from Mary von Tobel from St. Louis, MO. Note: She attaches the raddle onto the loom first and finds it easy then to load the raddle as a section is made.

Part 4 – Tying On New Warps

Another Item from My Book Back in Print

“If you can talk them out of tying on in front, you will be doing them a big favor.”

Jim Ahrens to Peggy in 1995

Here are the advantages and an excerpt from the chapter.

• You tie only one set of knots. The warps are automatically on tension, and you don’t need to waste time or yarn by tying onto an apron rod.

• Because the warps are always under tension they can’t tangle or break or invite mistakes. (When you pull loose, untensioned threads through the heddles, loops and snags are inevitable.)

• Keeping the threads under tension at all times is the key to pulling the knots through the heddles easily.

• You get a perfectly wound warp on the warp beam without any knots on the apron rod.

• You can accurately spread the warp on the warp beam. When working from the front, you wind the warp onto be beam after the knots are tied, using the reed as a guide to keep the warp spread to the right width. The reed is a long, long way from the warp beam, and as the knots pass through the heddles, the heddles can actually scatter the warps.

• With many looms, you can be much more comfortable tying at the back.

For the first few times at least, you’ll find tying the square knots much easier with a firm support to tie against. A board placed beneath the knot-tying area gives your thumb something to press the ends against while your fingers tie knots. It’s like having someone put their finger on the knot while you tie a bow! Later on, you may be able to tie the knots “in the air” without the support, but I still like to use one.

Position the board beneath the knot-tying area, midway between the back beam and the shafts. If your old warp is short, position the board closer to the shafts and adjust the warps so your knot-tying area is above the board.

Support the board on the side framework of your loom, or on lary sticks, or suspend it from long loops of string tied to the loom’s overhead structure. …

The top of the board should be on the same plane as the warps. It should be sturdy and in no danger of falling, so experiment with C-clamps and string, if you need to, to get a firm work surface.

From My Book Back in Print

Part 3: A Fairy Tale to Explain the Automatic Tension System

Order Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps HERE

When I was writing the book, I wanted to explain the tension system on the Ahrens looms I had and on AVL looms. Since Jim Ahrens is the “A” part of AVL and I was consulting with him when writing my book, I had to make sure I made it clear. I could never explain right. Finally, Jim said, “You still don’t understand it, I’ll tell you a story that I think can explain it. The system was used centuries ago; in fact, all the looms in Diderot’s Encyclopedie (1751-17172) show it. It might have been discovered like this story.” Hence “A Fairy Tale” on pages 140, 141 repeated here.

Once upon a time long, long ago before there were ratchets for looms, ways to tension the warp were very primitive. One day a weaver found a new way to put tension on the warp beam.
He put a sturdy stick, like a peg, vertically in his warp beam, hooked a rope on it, wound it around and around the beam, and hung a big rock on it. With the weight off the floor, he had full warp tension, and he was very pleased with himself. As he wove along and advanced the warp, the rope wound up on the beam and the rock rose higher and higher off the ground. Prety soon he had to stop because the rock was up on the warp beam, and he had to unwind the rope to let it down. Then he wove along until the rock got too high, stopped to unwind some rope and let it down again. This worked fine and he was very, very pleased with himself.

One time when he was unwinding the rope, he pulled out the peg and the rope slipped off the stick into his hand. He was surprised when he held the end of the rope, that he didn’t have to pull hard on it at all to keep the rope from slipping around the beam. In fact, he could hold the loop in the end of the rope with one finger and the rope around the beam didn’t slip. The big rock still hung in place putting full tension on the warp!

He had been winding the rope, say, ½ dozen times around the beam, so he decided to see if he could wind fewer times. He found with only 3 turns on the beam there was still not much weight needed on the end of the rope. So he hung a small rock on the end of the rope and began weaving.

As he wove along, the big rock rose and the little rock fell until it hit the floor. Then the most amazing surprise came.

When the warp threads were lifted to open the shed, the beam rolled forward slightly, raising the big rock and lowering the small rock to the floor. The little rock touching the floor took the tension off that end of the rope for an instant. As soon as it did, the rope slipped a bit on the beam. As soon as the beam slipped, the big rock put tension back on the rope pulling the small rock up off the floor again. The slippage let the warp move forward a few thousandths of an inch—just enough to compensate for the take-up of the warp for the weft!

The big rock was off the floor, obviously, while the small rock dangled just above the floor, where it bounced and dangled on and off the floor as he wove along.

Not he didn’t have to get up and unwind the rope to let the big rock down! He could weave along continuously, and the big rock would hold the full warp tension. The little rock would let the warp beam slip a bit with each weft and also would let it slip when he advanced the warp. The two rocks remained in these positions all during his weaving. This pleased him very, very, very much.

When the shed closed, our weaver realized that the beam rolled backwards to its starting place. The tension on the warp threads never changed even when the warp threads were lifted to open the sheds, because the wight (the big rock) was always the same. This was perfect for fine silk warp threads that couldn’t stand the stress of stretching with old locked beam systems. He was enormously pleased with himself!

Rocks (with on rock ten time heavier than the other) and the weaver’s invention are still used today! (Peggy’s note: I’ve seen this over and over in my travels.)

When Jim Ahrens began using the wight-counter weight system he tried the two weights and noticed the two weights jerked when the rope slipped. Then he got the idea to use a small spring in place of the counterweight. The spring let the rope slip slowly so there was no jerk or sudden change, just smooth weaving. He came up with the idea on his own, but never claims to have invented it; he said, “I always found someone else had done the things I worked out on my own.”

When he needed to make smaller looms, there wasn’t enough room for the big weight so he substituted a heavy spring for the weight. “It was no big advance, there was no place for the weight,” he said. It works the same way as the weight and small spring. Today some AVL looms use the two-spring system, and some use an arm with a weight and the small spring.

The heavy spring (or weighted arm) puts the tension on the warp; the small spring is the counterweight. When the shed opens, the warp beam rolls forward a bit loosening the tension on the other end of the rope at the small spring. The rope slips a little. The heavy spring takes over again, putting the rope back under tension. When the shed closes the warp beam rolls back to its starting point. The slippage is a few thousandths of an inch, and the warp stays under constant tension.

As you crank the warp forward you exert more force on the warp than the force of the weight or heavy spring, causing the cord to slip. This allows the beam to turn and the warp to unwind.

Jim prefers using the combination of a heavy weight and the small spring because he can beat harder than with just the two springs. But the double springs are a good enough substitute if you don’t beat too hard.

There is a Big Chapter on Adjusting Looms in My Back in Print Book

Order your copy of Warping Your Loom & Tying On New Warps HERE

The chapter is comprehensive, but I want to give a glance at what is there. Much more information is required to fully understand how various looms work and are adjusted. This is just a short introduction.

Part 2: Preview of How Looms Work

Variations of Jack and Rising Shaft Looms

These looms have shafts that only move up when treadles are pressed. The top of the shed is made by lifting shafts and the bottom of the shed is where the warp threads rest and remain unmoved. Any number of shafts can be lifted: from on to all-but-one, making this loom favorite of American weavers because of this flexibility.

Often, but not always, the mechanism for lifting the shafts is a “jack”—a lever with a pivot in the middle. The levers work like a balance scale in that when one side of the lever (jack) is pulled down by a treadle, the other end goes up and lifts or pushes the shafts upward. Jacks can be under the shafts or above them. Usually there are two jacks for each shaft, one at each end. 

Sinking Shaft Looms

A few looms are made so the shafts go down when the treadles are pressed. The weight of the foot on the treadles keeps the bottom of the shed flat. I’ve only seen one sinking shaft loom: it was my first loom, and it was homemade.

Counterbalance Looms

When shafts on counterbalance looms are tied to a treadle, the shafts go down when the treadle is pressed and the untreadled shafts automatically go up like a balance scale.

A counterbalance Loom with Horses

There are rollers, pulley, or short bars called horses that are attached so every shaft has a balancing shaft. The action is like a balance scale in that what goes down with the treadle forces a matching set of shafts to rise. Only the shafts that are to be lowered are attached to the treadles.

A Counterbalance loom with Rollers

The weight of the foot on the treadle keeps the bottom of the shed down and forces the top of the shed to stay up. With gravity working on your side to lower the shafts and with the counterbalance action, the shafts can be very lightweight, and you can weave faster and easier. If the loom is deep enough it can make large, clean sheds with the warp under high tension.

A Countermarch Loom

Countermarch systems vary but all of the systems are designed so the shafts are both raised and lowered. The shafts work independently rather than being connected to each other like in counterbalance looms. Between the shafts and the treadles there are two sets of lams, which are levers or bars. The upper set of lams is usually shorter and the lower set of lams, longer.

Most countermarch systems have above each shaft a jack or a pair of jacks (levers with pivots in the middle). When one end of the jack is pulled down, the other end goes up.

The lower set of lams is attached to the jacks overhead, and the upper set of lams is directly attached to the bottoms of the shafts. Think “Long lams lift; short lams sink”

The sheds are made by tying up the treadles so all the shafts that are to be lifted are connected to the lower set of lams, and all the shafts that are to sink are tied to the upper set of lams.

Usually, the lams pivot at the side of the loom (like railroad gates); however, some countermarch systems are designed with lams that are not attached to the side of the loom.