Learning To Weave at The Burr House

Published Categorized as Workshops

We did it! We wove things! When I was little, I remember thinking weaving was the ultimate craft. If you knew how to do that, I thought, you’d made it. Mum’s floor loom and an antique spinning wheel occupied the hallway just outside my bedroom. They fascinated me. My Mum wasn’t even weaving at the time, I was just mesmerized by the loom and the idea of what it could do. I can’t describe the feeling but suffice to say learning to weave has been a long time coming.

Fast forward a few decades and we’re both in the right place to learn. We each have Leclerc floor looms (mine passed on by a family friend, Ute), and are eager to start using them. By some lucky timing we found a course at our local guild, The Burr House Spinners and Weavers, taught by an instructor we knew and loved. We had both previously taken beginner courses on table looms so learning on floor looms was the next step. We got to work on the type of looms we have at home (jack and counterbalance) and it was a small class so we got to ask all our annoying questions. It was 6 nights over the course of a month which proved the perfect length. We didn’t want a weekend crash course, we wanted to build a solid enough foundation that we’d feel confident going home and warping our own looms.

What we learned:

  • How to make a warp and use a warping board.
  • How to dress a floor loom.
  • How to weave many different patterns, our sampler project had 12 (plain weaves, basket weaves, twill weaves, herringbone, weaves done with two different warp colours…).
  • How to finish the edges by hemstitching, knotting, twisting fringe, etc.
  • How to read and write a basic draft.

We were shown a variety of finished projects to see how differences in threading/tie ups/treadling change the pattern. For anyone interested in learning to weave themselves, take time to look around at the courses accessible to you and be sure to know what they each involve. Know what your goals are and what each course will teach you. For me, I wanted to leave the course confident enough to use my own loom at home. I also knew I wanted a small class size and for those classes to be spaced out over a few weeks because that’s how I learn best.

You can find classes at your local guild, through continuing education programs (Toronto District School Board offers them), through yarn suppliers, and independent studios or teachers. I’d start by Googling or calling your local weaving supplier for suggestions. I took a whack of photos throughout the course to act as my own little how-to guide, and I’ve included a few below to give a feeling of what we did. Enjoy!

Winding the warp on the warping board.
Tying the warp before you remove it from the warping board. The major takeaway here is to respect the cross! That cross helps ensure you get it on the loom and threaded correctly.
Chaining the warp.
Positioning and spreading the warp across the raddle before threading. We learned to dress the loom back to front.
Threading the heddles. Good lighting is very important when weaving.
Sleying the reed.
Tying the warp ends to the front apron bar. This process took quite a while, I was at this point by the end of the second class out of six. It’s sort of like sewing, there’s a lot of prep before you actually on the machine!
And we’re off! In a coordinating outfit, no less. That thicker cloth is used to space out the warp threads evenly. It’s removed at the end.

The first section is plain weave and the second 2/2 basket weave. The neat thing about this sampler is we got to see so many different combinations of patterns. As I said earlier we did 12 different sections (different tie-up and treadling), and each section spans 4 different sections of warp threads. So these first 4 inches were plain weave, just over under over under. It looks different across the width because is goes from all blue warp threads on the far left, to alternating navy and white warp threads, and so on. (Remember the earlier photo of the warp threads spaced across the raddle?)

My edges are seriously wonky throughout my sampler. I didn’t fuss over it much though, I think it just comes with practice and getting the feel of it. I found it was one of those things where the less you think about it the better it looks.

Apparently some draw in is normal, but my sampler got pretty narrow at some points. I also had problems with the outside few warp threads rolling in on each other.

Oops! During the twill weave I wasn’t catching that outside warp thread consistently. I think most of this is because I started passing the shuttle right to left instead of left to right (or is in the other way?!).

These are the last couple sections where I started using two different coloured shuttles. I really like the way this part turned out!

On the floor doing tie-ups. I certainly didn’t realize how physical weaving was before this!

Here’s Mumma finishing off her sampler. She was on a direct tie-up jack loom, which meant she didn’t have to get down on the floor to change her tie ups for each pattern. Her treadling alone dictated the pattern.

Now I have to tell you this wasn’t some dreamy picturesque process. Although it was very special and we were both thankful to be doing it together, there were a lot of tears and frustrations. I think the woman beside me (not in photo) was crying when I took this because she had sleyed her reed wrong and had to redo it, and soon after I had my own mini-crisis. It’s not like the whole process was second nature, certain aspects were totally maddening and others felt wonderful. None of us could have anticipated how much time was spent warping, threading, doing tie-ups, and how little was spent actually weaving!

I think it’s easy to look at photos of someone weaving, read a sentimental mother-daughter story, and imagine it was a dreamy process complete with Cinderella’s birds passing us bobbins of thread. I feel like people get discouraged and give up when they try something new because they have this idea everything should feel easy, and if it doesn’t, they assume they’re no good and quit. Sometimes you just have to push through your frustrations to get to the good part, it’s worth it! And you don’t have to love every part! At the same time, it’s totally okay to get through all of this and say, “You know what, not for me.” Don’t get hung up on how you think it should feel, give yourself a chance, and just go with it.

As for me, this is definitely just the beginning, I’d eventually like to get weaving with yarn I’ve spun! Baby steps though, my next project will be a pair of simple 8/8 cotton placemats which I’ve done the warp for (above). I think my Mum’s going to join the guild since she lives so close and take advantage of their group support and resources.

The ultimate goal is for my Mum and me to spend part of a summer weaving in Sweden. I got this idea in my head when I visited Stockholm 4 years ago and it just needs to happen. We’ve got family there so it would be this awesome combination of exploring our heritage and a craft we love. I better start saving up…

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