Why do weavers like Swedish looms?
The 19th century industrial revolution in America brought manufactured fabrics to the consumer and weavers took the old looms apart and put them into the barn. Much of the knowledge of weaving and looms was no longer necessary. When weaving was revived in the 20th century there were very few grandmothers or aunts who wove. And there were few woodworkers who knew how the old looms were made. Without this knowledge of what makes a good loom, many looms designed in the 20th century for weavers are nothing like the old looms packed away many generations ago.
The weaving and loom building traditions in Sweden have an unbroken history and the knowledge about weaving and looms has been past down from one generation to another. A grandmother taught her granddaughter and an aunt taught her niece. Weaving has always been an important part of the Swedish culture and there usually was a woodworker in the neighborhood who was the loom maker.
I met a weaver in Montana named Ruth who told me her story of growing up in northern Sweden. Although she was born in the early part of the 20th century, her mother taught her and her sister to spin linen and to weave when Ruth was only 12. Not only did she weave many towels and linens before she married, but later her mother-in-law continued to teach her more about weaving. She showed me her towels, tablecloths and even the sheets she had woven when she was young. Perhaps this was not economically necessary in the beginning of the 20th century, but her mother thought that she should learn to spin and weave. And when she immigrated to American, she had a local loom maker make her a loom and a spinning wheel. She was told that she might not find them to purchase when she came here.
So what have the Swedish looms maintained from the past that make them such good tools? And what is the effect on the weaver and the weaves coming from the looms? Swedish looms produce a high quality of weaving. In Sweden there is a respect for excellent craftsmanship and each woven blanket, rug or tablecloth must be long lasting, made well with precision and with expert detail. On a Swedish loom you can weave the lightest curtain material and the sturdiest rag rugs. And when you hang those curtains, they will hang straight. When you put that rug on the floor, is it straight and square. And, it will last a long time.
The weaving is pleasurable
When it was time for weaving in a Swedish home, the loom would be brought into the home, probably into the kitchen and assembled. It would be the middle of activities for a while as the weaving progressed. Weaving produces a quiet thud as the beater hits the fell. And sometimes you will hear the sound of a lamm bumping up against it's neighbor. But the sound is pleasant. The weaving is pleasurable. Selma Lagerlof was a well known and well loved author in Sweden. In one of her books she stated that setting up a weave could be the salvation for a woman.
Weaving on a Swedish loom is pleasurable because the loom is built to do most of the work of the weaving and is large enough to fit the human body. You can create a rhythm in your weaving which makes the weaving go more smoothly and more quickly. The heavy beater gives a firm beat and is easy to use because it is hanging from the top of the high frame. The treadling is light and sure so you are never off balance. The loom is tall, there is enough space for the lamms to move and the bench is high so you can sit comfortably.
A quality tool
Swedish weaving equipment is made to work. They know that you cannot skimp on the equipment if you want successful weaving. The frame is sturdy, precision made, and the craftsmanship is superb. The parts fit perfectly together and the wood is smooth to the touch. The loom is designed so that the process of putting the warp on the loom is comfortable and easy. The frame, beater and ratchets all make the weaving motions nearly effortless. You can feel the difference when you start to weave. You know you are weaving on a well designed solid loom. And the loom will last and can be passed on from one generation to another.
Recently a weaver called me to ask a question about looms in their weaving workshop. She had been weaving long hours for several days on a Swedish loom and had accomplished a lot without getting tired or weary. But she had noticed that the weavers in a different workshop had to take frequent breaks because their feet and legs got tired and they were not comfortable. She asked me what she could do about the looms they were weaving on. I gave her some suggestions, but I reminded her that these looms are not Swedish looms. Not only are they too short for comfort, but the treadling takes much more effort than her Swedish loom. And these smaller looms do not have hanging beaters. She was aware of the differences between these looms and the Swedish looms, but had not realized how much difference it made in comfort and productivity.
Counterbalance and Countermarch
For those who have a counterbalance or countermarch loom, I have put instructional information into several files to help you to get started. You can read these files here.
Swedish looms have counterbalance or countermarch systems of moving shafts. Even some of the Swedish table looms are made with a counterbalance system. There have been jack looms introduced in Sweden, but they were in production only a very short time, as Swedish weavers did not like them. Counterbalance and countermarch tie-up systems give you the very best weaving with no sticking of warp threads, responsive treadling and the most quiet system available. It is the best way to weave tight weaves such as rugs and is also the best for fragile warp threads. Light weight shafts with balanced tie-ups produce these shed and the ease of weaving helps you to develop a rhythm in weaving motions. The Swedish Texsolv cord eliminates the need to tie knots. Swedish looms are quiet, have clear trouble free sheds and very light treadling.
Features of a Swedish Loom
Here are the features which are common to many Swedish looms. If you have seen a Swedish loom, you know they are tall and sturdy looking. You readily notice that there are very few metal parts and the frame is easy to assemble. It has a hanging beater, treadles attached in the rear, and large ratchet wheels for turning the beams. It is convertible from counterbalance to countermarch. The overall look is of a serious piece of wooden equipment with a smooth, elegant finish.
The Loom Frame is easy to assemble, comfortable for weaving, and deep enough to do excellent weaving. The framing pieces are large. The wooden wedges and bolts which hold the frame together insure that the loom frame will be strong even with changes in humidity and temperature. They allow you to put the loom together or take it apart quickly and without many tools. This makes the loom easy to transport and easy to store when not in use. You can even take the loom apart when there is a warp on it. Swedish loom frames are versatile. You can change from weaving counterbalance to countermarch, even if you have already started to weave. You can add extra shafts when you decide that it is time to use them. And with a large frame you can easily make your loom into a drawloom. When the treadling is easier, there is less tension in your legs, you are more comfortable, can throw the shuttle more easily, and you will not tire as you weave. And this depth is sufficient to provide a better shed and lessen the strain on the warp. This large frame also gives you plenty of space to get inside for the warping process. This is much easier and more comfortable than bending over the loom to reach the center.
Beater cross pieces are made from laminated wood to keep these pieces from warping and causing a crooked beat. The uprights which hold the breast beam are also laminated and have a bolt securing the top, as this part of a loom takes a lot of stress from warp tension. All the cross beams are also laminated to hold up to warp tension. This makes the loom stronger. The circumference of the solid laminated cloth and warp beams is from 9" on small looms to 12" on the larger looms.
The large Swedish loom has a breast beam which is more than 2"x 3" and has a fabric protector. This is a thin board which is placed outside the breast beam. This allows you to sit very close to your weaving without touching the weaving. This board when raised slightly prevents shuttles from falling off the loom when you are beating. This is especially helpful when weaving with more than one shuttle. If you compare weaving on this larger frame to a smaller loom, you will feel how the solid frame makes the weaving more comfortable.
Shafts and Heddles
Swedish looms have shafts which consist of the two shafts bars and the heddles. This is the simplest possible shaft and it is very easy to use. You can use different sizes of heddles and can use long eyed heddles for pattern weaving. Heddles are easily added or taken off. You thread the number of shafts needed for your project and the extra shafts are easy to store. They can be moved for warping and for more comfort when threading the heddles. You can add shafts and treadles to your loom. The Texsolv heddles were made for Swedish looms. They are kind to your hands when you are working with them, and the eyes are large and easy to thread.
Treadling is easier and more comfortable on a Swedish loom. The treadles are attached at the rear of the loom which gives the treadling a light touch. They are also close together so that you can feel them with your feet and move from one to the other without looking at them. This closeness is also an advantage when you are using many treadles, as they will be close together and easy to reach. If treadles are too far apart, the outside treadles will be too far away. The treadles on a Swedish loom are also adjustable in height so that you can determine the most comfortable height. Another feature which helps with treadling is the foot rest. When you do not need to put your feet on treadles, they rest on the cross beam below the bench. This helps to keep your balance and reduces tension in your legs and your back. Treadling is very light, so there is no need to have a slanted bench or to sit teetering on the edge of the bench. You can sit comfortably on the bench and you will not tire as fast. The treadles are tied with Swedish Texsolv cord, which was developed just for weavers. The cord has small openings for making loops and they are secured with plastic anchor pins. You can use precut cord kits or cut your own for tying up the shafts, lamms and treadles. When you first sit down and treadle a Swedish loom, you will notice the ease of treadling and how comfortable you feel at the loom.
Hanging beaters beat perfectly square, are quiet, and don't require a lot of strength. The beat is easy to control because the beater is very tall, producing a long sweep. This means that the beater can be heavy and the weight is doing most of the work. To weave very tight weaves just pull the beater faster. To beat lightly you beat slower with less force. The swinging quality of the hanging beater means that it can be in continuous movement. Because the beater does not strike the frame, it is very quiet. The hanging beater is hung from a cradle on the top of the loom frame. This cradle is adjustable so that you can adjust the beater to be perfectly parallel to the breast beam. The beater can be lifted out of the loom when needed. You can weave longer before you need to advance the warp because the beater has three positions. To change the beater position, lift the beater back into the next v shaped notch. You do not have to get off the bench. When you begin to weave, the beater is in the forward position. You weave 2 or 3 inches, put the beater in the second position, weave another 2 or 3 inches, put the beater into the last position and weave again. After this, you can advance the warp. The beater, in its third position is about 15" from the breast beam. This gives you a lot of space for weaving. You can weave for about 8"-9" before you have to advance the warp. The first time you use a hanging beater, you will notice the difference, not only in ease of beating, but also in the control of your beat.
Advancing the Warp and Even Tension
The greater depth of a Swedish loom means that you can set the warp at the same tension each time you advance the warp. This will give you a more consistent fabric and your beat can be the same each time you advance the warp. The deeper frame also gives you the possibility of having a very tight tension and a very tight weave, which is difficult on a shallow loom. On Swedish looms, the ratchet wheels are very large and easy to move and tighten, due to the leverage of the wheel handles. And there are many teeth, giving you a very fine adjustment. It is very easy to lift the pawl out to loosen the tension. The ratchet wheels on Swedish looms are on the outside of the frame at a convenient height where they are easy to use. Being outside the frame means that the ratchets will never interfere with the warp or the fabric. The ease of advancing and tensioning the warp makes weaving on a Swedish loom very comfortable.