Monday, 10 August 2015

Loom setup for the Borum Eshøj project

You know what's great about warp-weighted looms?  You don't need any equipment at all.  You just need a couple of sticks and something to weight the ends with.

I've now finished setting up the loom for my Bronze Age belt.  As I said previously, I re-spun some of the warp threads to get a combination of S-spun and Z-spun threads.  Now they're all ready to go.  Today,  we're going to look at a quick and easy way to make loom weights, and how you can produce a piece of weaving that is longer than the height of your loom.

Warp weighted loom all ready to go.

The belt from Borum Eshøj is a warp-faced tabby weave, which I find is fairly easy to make on a warp weighted loom.   In general, however,  a warp weighted loom is trickier to work with than something like a table loom.  This project is not too bad because it's a narrow band and uses sturdy yarn, but it does require a certain level of manual dexterity.

As you can see, the warp threads are arranged in groups, and each group is attached to its own weight.  There's a group of homespun threads in the center, and a group of commercially manufactured threads either side.

In Ancient Textiles: Production, Crafts and Society, Marie-Louise Nosch noted that the Borum Eshøj belt's warp threads are divided into groups of 8 like rune staves (the runic alphabet is made up of groups of eight letters, called staves), and she wonders if this was intended to have magical significance.   In Viking Age Scandinavia the number eight did have magical or supernatural connotations.  It occurs in Viking magic inscriptions relatively regularly, and there are also references in the sagas to textiles with magical properties woven into them.  It's likely that number magic was one way of doing this.  This is an interesting idea, but the belt from Borum Eshøj predates the earliest known runic inscriptions by some 1500 years so I don't know how likely it is.  I guess it's possible.  Stephen Flowers*, who is a leading authority on Viking runic magic, believes that the Vikings' magic practices belong to a very old tradition that was in place well before the runic alphabet (and that, esteemed readers, is a little preview of my October project).

Anyway, I did the warp in groups of 8 like the original, because why not?

Let's talk about loom weights.  Loom weights provide tension for the warp threads while you're weaving, and if the warp is made of wool it will stretch slightly.  This is good, it helps keep your weaving nice and tight.  Different yarns need different weights, and there is a bit of trial and error involved in figuring out how much weight you need.  I find commercial yarns intended for knitting are very stretchy and need heavier weights.  The yarns that I spun are spun more tightly and less inclined to stretch, so a lighter weight is fine.  The homespun threads are the ones in the middle, and they only need a 150 gram weight.  A 250 gram coffee mug worked well for the commercial yarn, but I didn't want my coffee mugs bashing together and chipping, so I've used dried lentils weighed out into plastic bags.  Feel free to use other things besides lentils, the sky's the limit here.  Anything that can be conveniently weighed out into small bags will get the job done.

In the ancient world loom weights were made of clay or stone because these were cheap and readily available.   Today,  dried lentils (or rice, or corn kernels) are cheap and readily available, and the benefit of using them is that you can adjust the amount of weight you use very easily and precisely.

Now that we've covered off loom weights, what happens if the piece of cloth you want to make is longer than your loom is tall?  For reasons that should be fairly obvious,  the height of a warp weighted loom is limited by the height of the weaver.  It's still possible to make a longer piece of cloth on the loom, if you roll it up around a bar at the top.  Take a look at this picture of Penelope weaving her tapestry:

Image found here.

You can see that she has a big roll of finished cloth rolled up around the beam at the top of her loom.

This next photo shows how I dealt with the warp ends.  You can see I've tied a knot in the bundle of warp threads, part way down their length.  The weight hangs from this knot.  When I want to weave the rest of the warp, I'll untie the knots, wrap the belt around the header bar to pull it up, and reattach the weight further down the warp threads.  I can repeat this process as many times as I need to, until I reach the end of the warp.

*For everything you ever wanted to know about runes and the magical properties Vikings ascribed to them, read Stephen Flowers' doctoral dissertation Runes and Magic.  

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