I’ve now woven a few warps on Lady Ada, and am starting to get the hang of working on a treadle loom again. I haven’t owned a treadle loom since I was a wee beginner – I bought one in October 2006 when I started weaving, but within seven months I had moved to a computer-driven dobby loom. I’ve been weaving on various computer-driven looms ever since. So despite having almost eleven years of weaving experience, I’m basically a complete novice to weaving on treadle looms.
What’s different between a treadle loom and a computerized loom like my AVL 40-shaft loom or Amazing Grace?
Quite a bit. They both require skill and attention to produce good work, but the needed skills are different. On a treadle loom like Lady Ada (who, for new readers, is an 8-shaft Baby Wolf), everything is mechanical. Before you throw a single pick, you have to choose a treadle, press it, and hope that you tied the correct shafts to that treadle, so it raises the correct set of threads. Then you throw, beat, release the treadle. And then you have to find the next treadle in the sequence, press it, and so on.
This probably sounds like a stupidly simple process, but there are all sorts of mistakes that can be made, and I have been merrily making all of them. In the course of a single afternoon, I managed to make at least eight different kinds of mistakes, most of them repeatedly. Who knew there were so many ways to screw up weaving a simple 4-shaft twill? But because I am an extremely talented and determined woman, I managed to tie the treadles incorrectly, press the wrong treadle, lose track of where I was in the treadling sequence, accidentally treadle the sequence backwards, and a few other errors which I won’t mention because they are simply too embarrassing. All in the course of a single afternoon! It took me nearly 45 minutes to weave a single eight-inch sample of 2/2 twill, and I’m not going to tell you how many times I had to start over or unpick things.
Of course, that was only the start. I also rapidly discovered that advancing the warp on Lady Ada can be an exciting journey into adventure. How was I to know that if you press too hard on the friction brake release, the warp flings itself off the warp beam with the speed and fury of a striking snake? Or that when you advance the warp, you have to be super totally careful to get the tension just the way it was before, if you don’t want weird lines in your cloth?
Here’s the kind of cloth I was producing that first afternoon. The right side is plain weave, the left side is 3/1 twill.
Obviously I was having major problems keeping the beat even – the yellow striations are where the yellow weft beat in more densely, and the black stripes are where the weft was less dense.
Since then I’ve gotten a bit better, and Lady Ada has gotten a complete tune-up thanks to my friends Sandi and Kaye. Here’s a more recent sample:
There’s still some variation, but not nearly as bad.
The challenge of weaving on a treadle loom is that you are doing all the work. It’s up to you to choose the right treadle, to tie the treadle to the shafts correctly, to advance the cloth, to set the tension, and a host of other small details that most computer-driven looms handle for you. So if you’ve spent virtually your entire weaving life on a high-tech loom, as I have, you probably haven’t learned how to do all those mechanical things. You haven’t needed to!
Until, of course, you sit down at a lovely little treadle loom and try to weave something…
I’m not saying that a treadle-loom weaver is more skilled than a high-tech-loom weaver, by the way. The skills are different. Amazing Grace, my TC-2 jacquard loom, is about as high-tech as you can get in a hand-operated loom. When I’m weaving, I just push a button and she automatically lifts all the correct threads; after I’ve thrown the pick and beaten in the weft, she automatically advances to the next pick in the sequence. If the phone rings or I need to run off to rescue something from the cats, I don’t need to worry, because Grace will remember exactly where I was in the sequence when I got up. Grace maintains a precise warp tension for me automatically, using embedded sensors to keep the tension exactly identical over every inch of weaving. Finally, she auto-advances every fraction of an inch, keeping the fell line in exactly the same place, so it’s easier to keep the beat even. Had I woven that black-and-yellow sample on Grace, I wouldn’t have had any of the unsightly striations because Grace handles all those adjustments for me.
But working on Grace requires a different set of skills. For example, you need to know how to maintain and troubleshoot her. Treadle looms, once you’ve got them working, are mechanically simple. If you press a treadle, and the wrong shafts lift, it’s because you tied it up wrong. On Grace, or on her predecessors, if the wrong threads lift, it could be any of a long list of possible problems, each with a different solution.
You also need to be able to design things to weave on her. It took me years to figure out how to design effectively for multishaft, computer-driven looms. Using Grace to her full potential requires a much deeper understanding of weave structures than my previous looms did – plus I had to upgrade to more powerful weaving software and design techniques to do it.
Grace (the jacquard loom) also requires making more adjustments as you’re designing and weaving. I am weaving about 200 color samples on Grace for my current project, and then I’ll weave an aspect ratio sample that tells me how much I need to stretch or squash my design to compensate for shrinkage, etc. All that will feed into an incredibly complicated project that is far beyond anything I would attempt with a treadle loom.
I love Grace because she can produce incredibly complex designs, and requires serious thinking (I love a challenge). I love Ada because she is simple yet beautiful, much quicker to set up and use, and exercises a totally different set of skills. (Plus, if the power goes out, she’s the same wonderful loom, whereas Grace turns into a 1000-pound rock.)
All that said, having now woven about 15 yards of warp on Lady Ada, I’m back to working on Grace for awhile. Last week I dyed the last of the yarns I’ll need for Everett’s stole, and this morning I started weaving the rest of the samples I’ll need to complete the design. I’m weaving a total of 200 sample swatches – here are the first 30:
These are for the bottom of the lake. I’m using four wefts: metallic silver, deep indigo blue, teal, and a medium green. This batch of samples shows shadings with all possible pairs of those weft colors on top, plus the four possibilities with one weft on top.
After I’m done weaving all 200 swatches, I’ll photograph each one, color-average it into a single shade, and do some more design voodoo to convert my initial sketch into a full draft.
If you’ve forgotten what the stole project looked like, here’s the sketch again:
The fabric for the stole will need to be about 60″ long, and the samples are weaving up at 230 picks per inch. So the stole will require 13,800 picks (weft threads), or about 20 hours of weaving. I better get going!