Comfort and Looms
Benches are a critical part of being comfortable while weaving. When purchasing a loom, be sure that there is an appropriate bench available for the loom. An adjustable bench is essential for comfortable weaving. Comfort while weaving will give you more accurate, faster and less tiring weaving. Benches do not have to be as long as the weaving width of the loom, as you generally sit in the middle. A bench which is shorter than the weaving width will be more comfortable for getting in and out of the loom.The bench should allow you to sit very close to the loom. If you find that you feel like you are sliding forward, your bench may be too far away from the loom. With larger looms, your balance will be the best if you are actually pressing your body against the breast beam. This will support your back, as you will have better posture and you will not be leaning forward to weave. It is easy to forget to move the bench up close when you are concentrating on other aspects of your weaving. But if the bench is not close enough, and if you must lean forward to get closer to your weaving, there will be tension in your lower back. So remember to put that bench up close.
To determine the correct height of the bench, sit at the loom and check to see that your elbows are above the breast beam. If your elbows are below the breast beam, you will need to raise your shoulders to throw a shuttle and this will cause tension in your shoulders. If your loom is short, you may find that your knees are pushing on the fabric. You may need to raise the loom on blocks. When you are sitting on the bench, your knees should be much lower than your hips. This gives you better balance and keeps your back straight. If your knees are too high, you are more likely to slump and not sit up straight. Plus, if your knees are too high, it is more tiring and uncomfortable to lift your legs to treadle. This can cause poor posture. If your breast beam is less than 33" high, it is hard to get the bench high enough to have your knees lower than your hips. In this case, you could try to put blocks under the loom and raise the whole loom higher. Lengthening the treadle cords to lower the treadles can also make weaving more comfortable.
Comfort while sitting on a wooden bench suggests the need for a soft cushion. A bench cover is very nice, but breast beam height can be far more important to your posture, which is a big part of being comfortable. I sat at different sized looms to test the comfort on the bench according to the height of the breast beam. If found that if the breast beam height is only 30", my knees are too high and I was uncomfortable, feeling a need to pad my bench at this loom. And I needed to raise my knees higher to treadle. Then, I tried a higher breast beam height of 32 inches. It was definitely better. My knees were lower, my posture was better and I was more comfortable, but I can still feel a need to put some padding on the bench. And I still needed to raise my knees to treadle, which is not comfortable. Then I sat at a loom with a breast beam at 36 inches tall. Adding four inches made a big difference. I could weave at this loom for a long time and I wouldn't need any padding. My knees are a lot lower and the treadling is more comfortable too. So why do looms have breast beam height less than 36"? Portability would be the only logical reason. Looms do not take up more floor space if they are a few inches taller. So for comfort weaving, especially for long sessions of weaving, it is best to have a taller loom and leave the little workshop loom for taking to workshops.
Fabric Protector and Foot Rest
These two features can help to prevent discomfort from weaving. A fabric protector on the breast beam is really a comfort feature. And, it protects your weaving when you are sitting close to the breast beam. If you don't have a fabric protector, you might not sit close enough as you try not to rub against your woven cloth. Another comfort feature is the foot rest. It is a cross piece on the loom where you rest your feet when you are not treadling. It is placed at a height that will allow your resting leg to be extended naturally without your knee being bent too much. Having a place to put your feet is essential for getting that bench up close enough and for keeping your balance when you are sitting at the loom but not treadling. Having a foot rest reduces tension in your legs and back.
It can be very uncomfortable for a tall weaver to sit at a short loom. A short loom is one where the breast beam is less than 32" from the floor. If this is a problem, it doesn't help to just raise the bench as that can put you up too high for weaving and doesn't increase the leg room. Instead, put blocks of wood under the feet of the loom, so that the whole loom is taller. Then lengthen the cords which tie up the treadles. If you have long legs, look for a breast beam which is more than 34" tall. Also, a knee beam will give you more space, keeping the woven cloth off your knees. Look for a loom which has adjustable cords for tie-ups, or replace the cords with Texsolv cord so that they are adjustable. If you have short legs, you can put blocks of wood on top of the treadles to raise them.
Most weavers learn to weave without looking at the treadles. The first step to achieve this is to take your shoes off. Most treadles are too close together for weaving with shoes on. Wear socks or very thin slippers. You need to feel the treadles and shoes are generally too wide for treadling. If you have to push so hard on the treadles that you must have shoes, then the treadling is too hard for weaving.
The most important recommendation for comfortable treadling is to have the treadles as low as possible. You should not have to raise your knees to treadle. For maintaining balance and comfort while treadling, tie up the treadles so that the ones on the right are used by your right foot and the ones on the left are used by your left foot. If you are using only two treadles, tie them up in the center so that you will not be reaching out to the sides of the loom. If you are using more treadles, plan your treadling so that you can alternate feet. You should be able to feel the treadles with your foot. You can put a rubber band around a treadle, or tie a thick cord around it, so that your foot can identify which treadle it is.
Throwing the Shuttle
Boat shuttles are fast and easy to use, but require a properly wound bobbin (or quill). If the bobbin catches periodically, you might need to wind the bobbins more carefully, moving your hand quickly back and forth as you wind. You may also have problems if you do not have the proper bobbin for your shuttle. The bobbin (or quill) should not fill the whole cavity length of the shuttle, but should be 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch shorter than the cavity. You can try putting small metal washers on the spindle on each side if the quill catches inside the shuttle. Do not put anything that will fill that extra 1/2 inch of space, as the quill needs to move back and forth as it unwinds. If you do this, there will be too much drag on the thread and your edges will start to get pulled in.
Quills are bobbins without sides and are made of paper or cardboard. If you are having problems with your bobbins, try using quills as they do not have the wheels on the ends, which are what causes the catching inside the shuttle. Quills also make less noise for more relaxing weaving.
If you are weaving with linen or if you are weaving a narrow warp or a slippery weft, and too much thread comes off the full bobbin, try using quills as they unwind more consistently than bobbins. Also try wetting the weft as you wind the quill. This will make the weft less springy and will take away static electricity. If you are weaving with a doubled thread, try a double bobbin shuttle. It is easier than winding two threads on one bobbin. The two threads wound separately will not give you tension problems and they will not twist in the weaving. If you are weaving with fine thread, a small light weight shuttle will be best. When weaving wide warps, a heavier, longer shuttle or one with rollers on the bottom will be better. A shuttle with a 6 inch quill will hold more weft for wide warps. Be sure that you do not fill the quill too full, as that bulge in the middle will rub against the warp threads. When you start with a new full quill and it sticks up a little above the top of the shuttle, advance your warp or advance your beater, as that will give you a slightly bigger shed. To get a rhythm while throwing a shuttle, you need to be comfortable on your bench, be sitting close enough, use the foot rest when needed and alternate your feet on the treadles.
Hanging beaters were the standard kind of beater on looms in the past and many find them easier on their shoulders and arms. Today with looms being made small enough to put into your car and built very short, the lower beater is more common. If you have a lower beater on a very wide loom, it will be heavy and will sometimes tire your arms and shoulders. It will be difficult to control your beat, especially when you want to beat lightly. It helps if you advance your warp only a short distance, keeping the fell closer to the beater. If you have a castle, check to see if you could order a hanging beater. When it hangs, the weight of the beater is held by the castle and you don't need to lift it at any time while beating. The hanging beater is helpful for developing a rhythm in weaving.
Threading the Heddles
On traditional looms, the frame of the loom is big enough for you to sit inside while you thread the heddles. Place the shafts at the back of the loom, hanging from the castle. Place the loom bench inside the loom and sit in the middle of the loom, facing the back of the loom. Adjust the height of the bench and the height of the shafts for your comfort. After the heddles are threaded and the reed is sleyed, the shafts are moved back into their normal position. If you cannot move your shafts, or your loom is smaller remove the breast beam and knee beam to put the bench inside the loom.
Medium Sized Looms
If you cannot sit inside the loom, then you will need to remove the breast beam, knee beam and the beater. Then you can put a chair or bench in the front of the loom close to the shafts for threading. If you have a jack loom, prop up the shafts about 4 or 5" to avoid stress to your back.
Small Looms and table looms
On small looms and workshop looms which are put together with screws, it is best not to remove the screws. Here you may have a problem getting comfortable. If it is a jack loom, prop up the shafts about 5". If you have a folding loom, folding it slightly will raise the shafts and this might be helpful. This is a good time to have someone help you thread the heddles by handing them to you to make the threading go faster.
Tying up the Treadles
If your treadles are attached at the back, place a pillow on the treadles where they attach to the frame. Sit on the pillow facing the lamms with your back to the warp beam. If you cannot sit inside the loom, sit as closely as possible at the front or the back of the loom for the tie-up. If you have a small loom, put the loom up on a table and sit in a chair to attach the treadles.
Peter Collingwood's Comments on Bench Height and How to Beat a Rug Tightly
“I only learnt about these some years ago when I found I could no longer raise my arms sideways sufficiently to throw a ski-shuttle. The chiropractor, who cured me practically in a single acupuncture session, emphasized that the strain on the muscles of shoulders and neck is greatly reduced if the loom seat is as high as possible, so that your arms go DOWNWARDS to the batten, (hence Jason's advice that your thighs should be jammed up against the underside of the breast beam) Obviously the more horizontal your arms are, the more muscle power is needed to hold them up.” “That was the main thing… the other is the oft-repeated maxim of stopping every half hour or so, and stretching your arms in the reverse way to how they are in weaving. The moment of turning the warp on is the obvious time to do this.” “Another help is not to beat by pulling the batten towards you, as you sit upright, but to lean backwards as far as you can with your arms straight out in front of you, gripping the batten. I used to tell students, “Hold the batten and fall off the seat backwards”! This adds some of your weight to the power of the beat; this plus a weighted batten gives you a well-compacted weft.” “Another help is to have the treadles slung as low as is convenient. It requires much less muscle power to push them down, if your leg is almost extended, than if it is bent at the knee.” Peter Collingwood