Making a bolster pillow for bobbin lace

(Check here for how to make a flat, block lace pillow).

I am Italian, and while the first type of bobbin lace I started studying is in the British tradition (Bucks, Beds, torchon), which is typically the “palms down” type, worked on a cookie (or flat) pillow (of course there are exceptions – Honiton pillows are not cookies but look more like a drum, and bolster pillows are used in the UK too, but not as frequently as far as I can tell), I always wanted to get back to my own traditions – Italian laces are typically of the brade lace type (Cantù, Goriziano, and Ligure to name just a few) but not only (Aquilano). The overwhelming majority of Italian laces are however done on a bolster apart from some notable exceptions (e.g. the tradition in at least some areas in Tuscany seems to be cookie pillows, I’ve seen some really huge ones!).

The diameter of these changes too – Gorizian lace (which is related to Idrija – geographically they are not too far from one another) is done on smaller diameter pillows, about 18-20cm, while Cantù lace is done on 25cm diameter pillows.

Fillings and shapes are different too – Cantù pillows have a hollow centre:

and are typically filled with straw like materials or linen flax, while Gorizian lace bolsters are full and filled with sawdust. Boltsers from Cogne are filled with felt and woollens, and are even “hollower” than Cantù ones:

and I am sure there are many other types (the ones in these pictures are nicked by the Tombolo e disegni website – an amazing store where you can find anything lace related that you can think of: if it exists, they stock it – and deliver worldwide!).

Some bolsters are gorgeous displays of beautiful wood craftmanship, like the ones from the Piedmont region of Val Varaita (just have a look at these, to die for!), not to mention the bobbins themselves, which can also be very intricately decorated – the weight on the bottom of the bobbins gives you an idea of the thickness of the thread to be used. These are different from bolsters for needle lace, which have to be softer as the actual pattern is kept above the bolster from a roller pin like implement that keeps the right tension – but to regulate tension the bolster is softer. A lacemaker from the Museo del Pizzo di Burano told me her bolster was filled with tastowels and suchlike.

Bolsters and bobbins can be a thing of beauty – what about this one?

(picture from here) and frankly I could quite easily fill my house with all sorts of bolsters and supports, and spend my days looking at them…. but I digress

So, what did I do? I wanted a 25cm diameter bolster, packed hard with straw. This is because I find the crunch of straw under the pressure of the pins enormously satisfying, and since you’ll be spending hours at your bolster, why not enjoy every single second?

If you do go the straw route, be aware of the following:

  1. whatever you think, the pillow will take much more straw than you think. Think of the dimensions you like, calculate the corresponding volume, then check the weight of the chopped, compressed, dust extracted straw you buy. You want to keep the same proportions with your bolster – indeed such a pity they don’t sell straw in cylinders, as covering that would give you your pillow! This is really important, as to make sure your pillow is
  2. even if you get dust extracted straw, there will be dust generated in the process, so make sure you cover your mouth and eyes – in these post covid times I found FFP2 masks to do the job remarkably well!
  3. even if you are careful, there will be stray straw going around – so
  4. be patient and be strong: allow quite a bit of time for the filling (two hours isn’t unreasonable), and be prepared for a full body workout and a lot of sweat. Buy a ready made pillow otherwise, as the risk is to end up with a substandard product after a lot of effort, which would be a pity. The good thing is that you can always reopen the pillow and get some more straw in.

So, here are my supplies:

  • 2 x 25cm/10″ diameter strong round disks (some sources suggest using cardboard) that will form the ends of your bolster – I wanted wood ones, but in the end it was too easy to get a pair of extra strong MDF cake bases from Lakeland, thin but really sturdy, you will need something to withstand pressure.
  • straw – I went for barley straw, which is the tradition in the UK, and got some chopped, dust extracted, compressed one (3kg), to avoid having to chop it myself (smaller bits pack more tightly).
  • fabric: some heavy calico or heavy (say curtain weight) cotton for the actual pillow, and some lighter fabric for the removable cover.
  • 6mm or 8mm cotton drawstring cord
  • a mallet, or a heavy rolling pin, or a cricket bat, or whatever will allow you to bash the straw.

To begin with, I found it rather useful to have a look at this video, just to see from beginning to end how it would have to be:

How to make a straw filled bolster – he uses cardboard as ends

Then it was time to get started – but how much straw did I need? The guy in the video mentions “a third of a bale of straw” but surely it depends on how big your bolster, and I wanted to be sure I ended up with the right density. I needed to do some homework…

Some pillow math – how much straw?

The pillow must be dense – since the barley straw I bought felt quite right, I calculated its density, so as to replicate the same for my pillow.

The 3kg package measured 18 x 28 x 45cm=22,680 cubic cm. This means that each cubic cm weighed 3,000g/22,680=0.132g.

I wanted my pillow to be 30cm wide – with 25cm diameter, its finished volume would be 12.5 x 12.5 x 3.14 x 30cm=14,718.75 cubic cm. Hence to obtain the same density as the bale I bought, I needed 0.132 x 14,718.75=1.943kg of straw.

I cut two 60cm x 90cm (i.e. 24″ x 36″) rectangles out of each of the two fabrics, and sew two cylinders out of each, allowing for a doubled up hem as casing for the drawstring. I sewed the seam along the length of the casing three times with silk thread, the strongest natural thread (I think) as I did not want to go down the polyester route. That seam has to take a lot of pressure, not just while stuffing, but also for the lifetime of the pillow. I also made sure that the diameter of the casing was snug around the end disks.

I pulled the drawstring so as to leave about 5cm opening (I allowed 10cm overall with the base) put one disk in, put everything into a large moving cardboard box to contain the mess, and got into stuffing the pillowcase.

Stuffing the pillow – note how the seam is pulling out at the base, where I have compressed more.

I had to stab the straw with a carving knife every so often to ensure I packed it tightly. The hardest part was towards the end, as I had to put in the other end, draw in as much as possible, and check the length of the pillow to be just 30cm, to make sure I had packed it right.

Once the pillow was done (which is quite a workout), I had to get rid of the bumps, so as to have as much of a smooth surface as it is possible with straw. So I took the thick rolling pin you can see in the picture above, and went to work on it. I literally rolled the side (with considerable force) until it looked reasonably smooth. That takes a while, too.

In the end the total weight of this pillow, including fabric and ends, is 2,114 grams so about 150g more than the straw I wanted to put in, which makes me think that I got the density about right, though possibly there is a bit less straw than I wanted. But I am pretty happy with the results, and working on it is quite a joy!

This was in fact my second pillow, the first one I think needs a bit more straw and a bit more bashing, so perfect activity when you have some steam to let off, perhaps on a rainy day…

Making a block pillow for bobbin lace

(Check here for how to make a bolster pillow for bobbin lace)

Block pillows are very useful for bobbin lace done on a flat (i.e. non bolster) pillow, as it allows the lacemaker to progress the lace without having to “move up”: once your lace occupies most of the pillow, you have to unpin and move the whole thing up/sideways to continue, say you are working on a tablecloth or anything larger than a motif.

For me the drawback is that blocks are typically made of foam, and after a while all the pinning makes them go soft, not to mention that I’d like as much as possible to stick to natural materials.

I had come across a German lace supplier selling felt block pillows: beautiful, but very expensive, and on top of that the covering seemed to be held by glue, so I wasn’t too convinced I’d be happy afterwards. And so it was that I set out to make my own, and here is how I did.

First of all I ordered 50cm of this 100% wool industrial felt: it is denoted as “soft” for industrial purposes, but it is in fact pretty stiff, and I do mean stiff! But my expert lacemaking friends tells me that pillows must be stiff to hold the pins well, so why not?!

Before ordering I had tested on a sample that it would be stiff enough to hold the pins, but also soft enough not to be impenetrable (they kindly sent me a small sample, which was enough for testing). The “0.18 density” denomination means that it weighs 0.18g/cm³. So the whole 180cm wide piece I ordered (which came rolled up) weighs 180×1.2x50x0.18/1000=1.944kg. I should add that this was by far the cheapest 100% wool felt I could find, and in the right density (most others were denser, and I was afraid pins just won’t go in), and the people there couldn’t have been more helpful (and my guess is that mine was a tiny purchase from their point of view).

I made the blocks by dividing the 180cm wide strip into four pieces. I then put three of them one atop the other and cut through. To cut through this dense felt you will need a cutter – this video was very useful for me to figure out how to cut the felt:

How to cut through thick felt – video by The Felt Store

It is worth investing in a good cutter with a suitably long blade (as in the video) – mine has a short blade, so it did take a bit of extra work.

The felt blocks are cut!

The blocks aren’t exactly identical (thanks to the cutter and my “skills”): I thought the covering would take care of that, but I kept track of the original position when I cut just in case. The blocks are laid on the uncut fourth piece.

To cover the blocks I used strips of calico and of close weave quilting cotton. I washed them first, just to be sure that especially the cotton would not run off any dye. Before cutting any pieces I “starched the hell out of them”, following the expert advice of a very accomplished quilter friend of mine. Just a couple of points to note with starching:

1. I put the piece of fabric to be ironed flat on a tiled floor and sprayed it with starch to make sure it was evenly covered in starch. Any starch ending up on the floor will make it very slippery, so make sure to clean it up very carefully;

2. if you starch while ironing, be aware that any starch ending up on your ironing board may be burnt by the iron if it comes in direct contact, so again do wipe it out

3. iron without steam.

The starching makes the fabric very crisp and stiff, making it really easy to cut. It also removes the need to zigzag at the cut.

I first cut a template in tracing paper, checking that it would accommodate each block, then cut the fabric.

The template should of course include a a seam allowance. I cut both calico and cover cotton of the same side, of course bear in mind that the covering cotton will have to also accommodate the thickness of the calico.

Fabric ready for stitching

Again following the advice of my seamstress friend, I stitched the strips of fabric around the blocks using slip stitch. I found this video really useful to figure out the slip stitch, though unlike the video I had a seam allowance on both ends being stitched together:

How to sew slip stich/ladder stitch (video by J. A. Milton

My stitches were of course also much closer, I’d say about 3-4mm. I took an amount of thread equal to three times the length to stitch. Not sure what the size of my needle was though.

Stitching the cover so that it fits snugly means you have to pull the thread a lot, so I used silk sewing thread (Gütermann S303), which comes in many shades. I happened to have already the exact shades I needed, though with slip stitch the stitching should be invisible, so it should not really matter.

For each block, I started by stitching a tube (along the long side – my blocks are not square) with the calico: I made the the seam allowance so that it would fit the block snugly, but I stitched the fabric without the block inside, so that I could press the inside seams flat. I then slipped the block inside, so that the seam would be in the middle of a side. I pressed a seam allowance of about 5mm to cover the other two short sides, stitching it all along, then tucking the two corners inside. I pressed with the hot iron all around the block.

I repeated the same process with the cover fabric, wrapping it over the calico.

Of course there is nothing preventing using the sewing machine for two out of the three seams required for each cover, which is what I ended up doing after sewing both covers for the first two blocks.

And then it is done!

All is left for me to do is to add a strap all around to tighten up and minimise the (unavoidable) gaps.

Still to come, how I made a bolster bobbin lace pillow!

Unbeaming and rebeaming on a table loom – a better way!

I have blogged previously about fixing tension issues in a warp already wound onto the back beam – that experience was scarring, and since I’ve just come across and tested a much simpler method, at least for the Table loom, I thought I’d report it here.

The problem: I wound a gradient warp involving three colours, so the order of the thread is very important. While the threading looked fine at the cross, somehow the threads had got twisted between the back beam and the cross. I knew it had to be something that would untwist itself, but I did worry that it might create tension problems as I weaved. This is what the back of my look looked like:

What to do?

As it happens, the warp was for a sampler in the wonderful course Understand Double Weave on 8 shafts run by the fantastic Cally Booker. It is impossible for me to convey how mind blowing I am finding this course, but it is pretty amazing, and the clue is in the first word of the title, “understand”: it is not a “recipe” course, but one where every lesson ends with at least one design challenge, where students are asked to put into practice the teaching of the lessons. The emphasis is on block design in double weave, and the possibilities are endless… but I digress.

The short of it is that I asked Cally, and she suggested to finish dressing the loom (so thread the heddles, sley the reed, tie at the front), then bring the whole warp forward onto the cloth beam (packing it with paper to avoid messing up the tension at the front) so as to clear the back beam.

Then sort any problems there, checking that everything is aligned, then rewind back onto the warp beam.

And this is precisely what I did: in an hour it was all done, and my warp looks so very even and pretty!

Isn’t the back of my loom pretty?!

I will just note here all the steps, just in case I need to to this again:

  1. dress your loom as usual;
  2. once the loom is threaded, if they are still there, remove the lease sticks (the heddles will already do the job of keeping the warp threads under tension)
  3. release the tension on the back beam, and start rolling the warp onto the cloth beam, using a warp separator (heavy lining paper in my case). If there are crossed threads at the back, inevitably they will pull at the heddles as you advance the warp – just give it a shake. It did help to open a few sheds every so often to keep the threads separate and prevent tangles and bunching at the heddles. This pulling is not a bad thing though, as it means that the warp at the front is under tension.
  4. once the warp has been rolled onto the front beam, if the threads on the back apron rod do not look even, just cut the loops and tie on (as you would for front-to-back warping), checking for even tension.
  5. Open the two plain weave sheds and insert lease sticks to create a cross – this will keep the winding thension even.
  6. start beaming the warp on the back beam again, obviously adding warp separators.
  7. once finished, correct the tension at the front knots
  8. enjoy how pretty and even your warp is looking!

and you are ready to go!

Just for the sake of completeness, here is the warp viewed from the front, ready to weave, with the gradient layer up:

Fixing a broken warp thread with very little yarn

The standard method suggested to fix broken warp is to take a fresh length of yarn as long as the remaining length to be woven, secure it to the cloth already woven, and weave that while discarding the broken warp thread.

Perhaps because I came to weaving from knitting, with a sizeable stash of expensive knitting yarn, I could never really stomach this method. And since I can see no reason why the same method cannot be applied also “in reverse”, this is exactly what I did to fix my very first broken warp thread in my very first project.

So with this method, depending on where the broken warp is, the yarn needed is at most the length between the between the front and the back beam. Should the break occur during winding, just knot the two broken ends, and deal with the knot once it approaches the fell line (the case in the pictures below)

Saving yarn gives me great satisfaction, and thought I am sure I am not the first person who has thought of this, I could not find it online, so I am reporting it here.

The first part is the usual one:

  1. take a length of yarn and thread it in the same heddle as the broken warp thread, along the warp.
  2. Secure a pin (a sewing pin or a T-pin) to the cloth parallel to the fell line, so that the pin head is just to the side of the woven part of the warp thread you have to replace.
  3. Secure the front end of the replacement warp to the pin, e.g. by making several figures of 8 using the two ends of the pin.
  4. tension the replacement warp thread by weighing with something at the back – a possible solution is to stick it between two yarn cones. Just make sure that the weight is not excessive as to break the replacement warp!
  5. if dealing with a knot, cut the old warp thread after the knot, and place both ends out of the way temporarily – the end closest to the cloth beam will be snipped out later, the (long) end going to the back beam will be rejoined.
  6. weave. Depending on how slippery the yarn is, you want to weave a few cm, as the replacement warp thread will be cut.

Now with the usual procedure you would keep weaving until the end, and then discard the old warp thread, whatever its length. To avoid that:

  1. after weaving the desired length, take another pin and secure it parallel to the (new) fell line; attach to it the old warp thread, pulling it hard enought that it is in tensioned as the rest of the warp. This definitely works on a rigid heddle loom and on a table loom. Maybe on a floor loom, where the warp is more tensioned, something thicker than a pin is needed.
  2. cut the replacement warp, and pull it out of the heddles; remove the pin that secured it to the cloth (not a good idea to remove it before cutting, to avoid the tension pulling out the woven relacement thread)
  3. weave as normal. After weaving enough cm that the warp is now securely woven into the cloth, remove the second pin. Done, and you’ll just trim the ends that stick out of the cloth later.

Adding a shuttle race to a table loom

Table looms (mine is a 60cm 8 Shaft Ashford) do not generally come with a “shuttle race” – in a floor loom this is a little shelf beneath the reed that prevents a boat shuttle from diving to the floor.

In order to use a boat shuttle with a table loom or a rigid heddle loom you have to rely on the tension of the warp. Depending on the weight of your warp, this may work just fine or end up badly – the time spent rescuing the boat shuttle from the floor/table top and disentangling it from the warp defeats the purpose, not to mention the risk the risk of damaging the shuttles.

However hacking a race for a table loom is really pretty easy (and I suspect I can do something similar for my Rigid Heddle loom), and “non invasive”, in that it is a non permanent hack.

I borrowed this idea from a discussion in a weaving Facebook group, so I have no claim to originality here, but as I could not find this solution on online blogs, I thought I’d record it here. Alternative solutions using clamps are here and here.

For this you only need a lease stick compatible with your loom, and some elastic bands, cord or anything you can use to tie something up. In my case I use some Ashford helping hands, but e.g. strips of jersey fabric from an old t-shirt would probably work equally well.

As you can see in the picture at the top, the lease stick is sitting just below the warp. At each end of the lease stick I have passed the helping hand cord through the reed from above and below to make it snug. Here are a couple of close-ups from the front and back.

In this picture you see that the cord goes through the hole at the end of the lease stick. The cord end coming out from the top goes through the reed and around the top part of the beater from behind. The cord end coming out of the heddle hole from below goes also through the reed, but then comes back out from the next slots, and joins the other end in a bow knot at the top of the beater.

Here is a picture from the back of the reed:

Back of the reed

You can see next how the “race” sits below the warp:

Doesn’t really matter if the “race” isn’t entirely snug to the warp

Even if the race moves a bit below the warp (which it will do while weaving), it will still work well, and being supported the shuttle will glide through without issues.

Even if wider than the “race” the shuttle is sufficiently supported to glide through the shed without diving – this is the limit of what I can weave comfortably before having to advance the warp.

This seems to work well for my setup, and it does make weaving faster and more pleasurable, at least for me.

Some final observations:

  1. care must be taken if you are using a temple: if the teeth are long enough to come out on the other side of the cloth, when the temple is close to the fell line, its teeth will scrape the race when beating (ask me how I know…).
  2. I wound’t recommend usin a piece of wood wider than a lease stick; however this will limit the advancing of the cloth, as the race will be “one shuttle race width” apart from the front beam when beating.
  3. unless the lease stick are leaft in place when weaving, there is no need to buy a separate shuttle stick, as one of those used for holding the cross when warping can double as shuttle race once the warp has been beamed.

Reading a weaving draft (including adaptation for the rigid heddle loom)

There are many sources to find out about weaving drafts and how to read them – however most of what I’ve found is either for multi shaft looms (e.g. check out joy of weaving, Cally Booker on floor looms and table looms, or Peggy Osterkamp) or for rigid heddle looms (joy of weaving again). I thought I might save you some time if I combined the two in a single place.

So, what is a draft? As a starter on a rigid heddle loom, I came across the term “draft” or “weaving draft” very often, and wondered what it was (though I could weave quite happily without needing to know anything about it).

It may be useful to think first of the basics of a loom.

Most loom types seem a variation of the following: a more or less rectangular frame that keeps a set of threads, which are said to form the warp, in tension. Then another set of threads, called the weft, are interlaced with the warp, by being woven at a right angle across the warp, with each weft thread going over and under the weft threads. The way in which you go over and under determines the pattern.

You could weave with a needle – in fact, tapestry weaving uses exactly that. it is slow, though, and so heddles come quite handy: if each warp thread goes through a heddle, then by lifting heddles you lift a certain group of threads, and so rather than slogging a needle up and down what could be very many and very fine wapr threads, you lift all those threads you should go under, create a shed (i.e. an opening) between the lifted threads and those that stay put, and can pass the weft thread through with a “big needle”, i.e. a shuttle. In some looms (e.g. a rigid heddle loom) you can also lower heddles, in others (e.g. countermarch looms) you lift some heddles and lower the others at the same time. In all cases the objective is to create a shed as tall as possible to put the weft thread comfortably through.

How to do all this lifting (and lowering) of heddles? You need a “shaft”, something that the heddle is secured to which can pull it comfortably up and down. To do any weaving you need at least two shafts, so that you can lift different groups of threads to get warp and weft interlacement. In a rigid heddle loom you would have some threads in a slot and some in the hole: by lifting the heddle you are raising the threads in the holes – call these “shaft 1”. By lowering the heddle, you push down the warp threads in the holes, so that those through the slots are raised relative to those in the holes – call these as “shaft 2”.

A “draft” then is a plan that tells you which warp threads go through which heddle (the draft threading) and which set of heddles, hence which shaft, has to be raised at each pick (the draft treadling). It may be that your draft wants you to manipulate some shafts at the same time, or separately. This is noted in the tie-up section of a draft.

The combination of threading and treading will produce a specific warp and weft interlacement, the drawdown.

For plain weave only two shafts are needed, i.e. shafts 1 and 2, and in the treadling you shafts 1 and 2 are lifted in alternating fashion. In a rigid heddle loom, a single heddle behaves as two shafts, where e.g. call the holes “shaft 1” and the slots “shaft 2”.

Below is a plain weave draft. In the threading each column corresponds to a warp thread and each row refers to a shaft (start counting from the bottom). In the treadling each row corresponds to a weft thread, and each column refers to a shaft. In the box occupying the right top corner, each row corresponds to a shaft. Finally each solid black box indicates a thread/shaft combination.

Example draft for plain weave – note that the drawdown is missing

Start from the tie up: the bottom corner identifies shaft 1, and the top corner identifies shaft 2.

Next, the threading: the bottom row links up with shaft 1 of the tie up, hence it tells you that the odd warp threads go through heddles in shaft 1 (or holes in a rigid heddle); while the top row links up with shaft 2, so it tells you that the even numbered threads go through heddles in shaft 2 (or slots in a rigid heddle).

Finally, the treadling, the first row tells you that at the first pick you should lift shaft 1, since the first solid box corresponds to shaft 1; the second row tells you to lift shaft 2, as the second solix box corresponds to shaft 2. The third row is again a pick with shaft 1 lifted, and so on. With a rigid heddle loom, lifting shaft 1 would mean put the heddle in the up position, and lifting shaft 2 would mean put the heddle in the low position.

No drawdown shows in the pictures above. To think how it should look like: the first bit of the treading says to lift shaft 1 when passing the first weft thread (i.e. weaving the first “pick“). This means that all odd warp threads will be up, and all even threads will be down – hence the weft will go over all even threads, covering them. With a rigid heddle loom, the first pick would mean raising all the threads through a hole, so the even threads in a slot will stay down.

Then with purple weft and white warp, after the first pick the project would look this:

Drawdown (i.e. interlacement of warp and weft) starting to show

The second pick tells you to lift shaft 2/put the rigid heddle in the down position, hence after the second pick you have this:

Drawdown after two picks

and so on:

Plain weave

This is the simplest draft there is! Of course a draft could use more shafts, and the treadling could prescribe lifting multiple shafts at a time – for instance in 2/2 twill shafts are always lifted in pairs, here is an example:

The pictures above are screenshot from weaving software, which makes experimenting very easy, and hours fly by quickly playing around with drafts. Having said that, for me pen and squared paper were what I needed to really understand what any combination of threading, treadling and tie up will do for a drawdown.

Drafts intended for multi shaft looms can be woven on a rigid heddle loom, definitely up to four. True, the structure of a rigid heddle does impose constraints and requires some creativity, but it can be done in various ways. I do find that understanding how a rigid heddle loom can function as a multi shaft loom quite liberating, so some more thoughts on this follow below.

Rigid Heddle Loom as Multishaft loom

As discussed above, a rigid heddle loom setup with a single heddle can be seen as a two shaft loom: the holes are heddle 1, the slots are heddle 2. Now what if you add another rigid heddle? if you do, you will be adding one more shaft.

Hang on, you may ask, did we not just say that a single heddle counts as two shafts? Yes, but that is true for the first heddle only. When you add a second heddle, it is still the case that you will be able to lift the threads that go through the holes of that additional heddle, and we will say that such threads belong to shaft 3. But the threads that go through the slots will still be “passive”, and in order to “lift” them you will have to lower all the other heddles, to lower the hole threads. Hence by adding each furhter heddle, you are only adding one more possibility of manipulating threads through holes.

In short then:

1 rigid heddle = 2 shafts

2 rigid heddles=3 shafts

3 rigid heddles =4 shafts

and so on. I find it more convenient to number the “shafts” starting from the holes, and leaving the slots as (residual) shaft 4.

To learn more about four shaft weaving on the rigid heddle loom, I recommend the excellent Weaving With Three Rigid Heddles, by Reverend David B. Mckinney.  The Xenakis Technique for the Construction of Four-Harness Textiles on a Rigid-Heddle, by David Xenakis, has the advantage of being free, thought the writing style may not appeal to all. I found the section on converting four shaft drafts for the rigid heddle loom in chapter 6 Syne Mitchell’s “Inventive weaving on a little loom” pretty clear.

Happy weaving!

Choosing and using a boat shuttle

For the Table Loom without a race? Yes, for the table loom without a race! The race can be hacked by attaching in a non permanent way (so no damage to your loom!) a lease stick held under the warp by the short helping hands, or some rubber bands; some examples are here and here, and here is my own hack:

The makeshift race skirts the warp from below

Boat shuttles come in many variation:

  1. Bottom. The bottom can be open, closed or have rollers; a closed bottom one glides easier but is heavier, which may be an issue with table loom warps which aren’t as tightly tensioned as floor loom ones. Open bottoms allow the user to control the thread. Something worth bearing in mind is that overfilling the bobbin will make it stick out of the shuttle bottom profile, making it catch the warp threads.
  2. Feeding. The yarn may come out of the shuttle (i.e. “feed”) from the end or from the middle; end feeding shuttles tension the yarn. Also, there are shuttles with two bobbins; these are particularly useful when the weft goes with two ends held together.
  3. Size. The bigger, the heavier. Longer and slimmer will glide more easily, travel longer and are more likely to go straight; obvioulsy though, for a given width, the longer the shuttle, the more it will weigh. Wider shuttles will carry more yarn; wider shuttles it may fall off the makeshift race, and/or catch the warp. Shuttles taller than 1″/2.5cm may be problematic for the Table loom, since the shed is not as tall as for a floor loom.
  4. Shape. A pointier shuttle will travel more easily. A shuttle with an asymmetric “bulge” on one side provides more room to the bobbin/quill to move and feed the yarn (if it is a side-feeding shuttle)
  5. Material. traditional ones are in wood, but I have seen quite a few plastic ones. Material will affect gliding ability as well as weight.
  6. Bobbin or quill? The yarn must be wound around either a bobbin or quill, which must be a couple of cm shorter than the shuttle box (i.e. intterior of the boat shuttle) with the spindle that will host the bobbin/quill; this is because you’ve got to leave room to the quill for moving to the left or to the right, depending on which side it is thrown from, otherwise it will drag the yarn. Quills are quieter, and apparently don’t pull the yarn as much as bobbins (and pulling may create tension issues at the selvedges); they are smaller than bobbins, so will fit smaller shuttles (and smaller sheds). You can make your own paper quills; Bluster Bay Woodwork has a very clear tutorial on how to make paper quills. They have to be winded pretty tightly (must feel firm in the hand when squeezing the wound quill) in cigar shape, leaving both ends clear of any yarn, and here is a video on how to wind a paper quill:

If you do not have a bobbin winder but can locate a drill, then you can fashion it as an electric bobbin winder (if it can get low speeds).

Another video on winding bobbins which I found really useful is here:

All this stuff on quills is as in the end I bought some Toika closed bottom shuttles as my (first?). They are very light (only 86g/3oz) and have a low profile, which will suit the table loom.

My first shuttles!

The results in the videos are all quite polished – my reality was actually rather more rough! I opted for the drill solution, and as paper quill I cut a rectangle out of a discarded letter and rolled it around the smallest drill bit I had.

Tools of the trade!

To wind you have to start the yarn inside the paper fold, then trap it inside:

Then start your drill, guiding the yarn up and down, and making sure you leave about 1cm free on your paper quill at both ends. Then pull out the yarn cigar, and insert into the boat shuttle. I found it easier to use with the bobbin unwinding from below, it made it easier to re-roll, but it may work differently for you.

For posterity, here is my very first wound home made paper quill:

Throwing the shuttle isn’t at all hard – for this pointed ones, grab them from below as you would a paper plane, and throw them through the shed along the race, with your other hand ready to catch it on the other side. It only took me a few tries to not feel awkward anymore: it is much quicker than a stick shuttle!

The content of this post is an imperfect and highly condensed summary of the sources below (in addition to the links already posted):

Bluster Bay Woodwork


Handwoven Magazine 1

Handwoven Magazine 2


Shacht 1

Shacht 2

The Woolery 1

The Woolery 2 – video

Unbeaming and rebeaming on a table loom

Which is something you should ideally never do. But what if you have to? That is what I was confronted with when after threading each and every one of my 672 ends for my very first table loom project I realised that something was amiss from my 7.5m warp: tension!

My heart sank when I saw the disaster on the back beam:

paper warp separator improperly rolled on

So what to do? I scoured the internet, and while I could find some info in one discussions on Weavolution, all the information I could find was either on how to warp properly, or tips on how to solve minor warping issues, and one useful blog entry on rebeaming. In this blog entry everything went more or less uneventfully, which gave me courage, but I could not find anything preparing me for the awful tangles and problems that were to come – I guess there isn’t much pride in disasters.

However I’d like to bare it all here, as it is a story with a happy ending, reached however after several setbacks over five evenings that brought me close to tears (and to scissors!). I almost gave up at least three times, and the excellent advice on Ravelry is what saved my day.

First the theory:

  1. divide your warp in bout;
  2. tie some weights to each bout to keep tension;
  3. if the warp is already threaded (my case), leave it threaded
  4. start unrolling the warp from the back beam, chaining the warp as it falls off the loom, and retie the weights as they get to the floor, to keep tension.
  5. chain the bouts as they come off the loom;
  6. once you’ve unbeamed, rebeam the warp, as if you were warping front to back.

If you happen to have a trapeze, or can hack one (a broom handle held by two high back chairs, or whatever you can think of), even better. If you have a yarn that sticks together (my case), you can let it all roll and it won’t tangle, otherwise better to collect each chain in a separate container.

Then the reality…

Having said this, a lot can go wrong. All this happened to me:

  • while UNbeaming, the weights on the bouts will be completely ineffective: this is because due to differential tension, after each turn of the back beam, some threads were pulled out more than others. And why is that? because…
  • while UNbeaming, the warp threads will bunch at the heddles: the threaded heddles act like a comb. You should never ever comb your warp, as this is a sure recipe for tangles. But in this case the heddles will do so for you. To reduce the severity of the problem, insert lease sticks between the castle and the back beam. Now you will have bunching of the warp threads at the lease sticks, but these are much easier to straighten than those at the heddle. You will have to pull out to the front each and every one of these warp threads – requires steady resolve.
  • while UNbeaming, the warp threads will be coming out at the front full of loops and tangles, by which I mean something like this: this and the bunching are what made my heart sink, and repeatedly so.

However fear not, as incredible as it seems, these horrible tangles can be and will be straigthened out while REbeaming. For that to be the case, standing at the front of your loom you have to grab the bout and do possibly each of the following multiple times:

  • tug at it sharply;
  • shake it vigorously, as if they were horse reins;
  • beat it against the breast beam;
  • strum it (as if it were made of guitar strings)
  • make a shed and pass your hand through it to separate a top and bottom
  • repeat
  • do not comb if you life depended on it!

If you do the above, then miracously a minute or two of such exercise take each bit of you bouts from e.g. this: to this

You just have to keep going, steadily and patiently.

The good news is, it works! Just take plenty of time, and be prepared for getting very close to quitting multiple times. Just keep reminding yourself that, no matter how long and wide your warp, it is only a finite set of warp threads: with enough time and patience you can untangle anything!

When you RE-beam, do make sure you tension your warp properly, you don’t want to have to do this again! Use the “yank and crank” method (i.e. divide the warp in even bouts, and after each turn or half turn of the back beam, pull at each bout sharply) – some useful tips are on Peggy Osterkamp’s blog, among other sources.

The reward awaits you – a lovely, taut warp ready for the shuttles!

Miracle weaving tool – the autodenter (or auto reed hook)!

I had come across this tool several times on George Weil’s webpage while looking for something else weaving related, and always wondered briefly and idly what it was. And then decided to look it up. And then decided to buy it. And then used it, and really, it makes a super neat party trick – more importantly, it is such a useful tool!

It is a tool to sley a loom reed, and you would only use it for metal reeds. Why would you part with a non negligible sum of money for this flimsy spatula looking thingy when you can use a cheap plastic hook that costs a fraction of the price?

There are several reasons:

  1. it is going to make slewing the reed much faster, as you won’t have to pull the autodenter completely out, then back into the next slot, as you would with a standard hook;
  2. you won’t miss any dents!
  3. it’s endlessly entertaining.

So how does it do that? It actually consists of three parts put together, as far as I can see: a central “tongue” and two opposing “lips” that hold the tongue as in a pinch:

The “mechanism” – the central “tongue” held in a pinch by two lips

The tool is not symmetric – the “tongue” is bent at the top, and so is one of the lips.

First you insert the tip of the tool in the slot (at an angle, so that the bent tip can go through) – from here onwards you will keep the tool straight, and you will push it in and out of each slot, exerting a little pressure when going in towards the direction indicated by the bent tip. So e.g. if you want to start sleying from the right, you would insert the tool with the tip pointing to the left, as that would be your direction of travel. If you want to sley the reed moving towards the rigth, then you will insert the autodenter with the bent tip pointing towards the right.

Once the tip is in, the fun begins. So let’s suppose that, as in the video below, you want to sley left to right:

  1. slide the autodenter so that the bent lip engages the right dent of the slot: at this point the dent is between the right lip and the tongue of the denter.
  2. As you push the denter in the slot, you will hear a double click once the dent is past the lips. What has happened at this point is that the dent is in the free space between the two lips;
  3. now put the warp threads through the denter’s hooks
  4. pull the autodenter out, still exerting a little pressure so that the denter pushes lightly against the right dent in the slot – as you do, you will hear another double click: now what has happened is that the dent has ended up between the tongue and the left lip, or put it differently, the denter has moved to the next reed slot to the right of where you were – magic!

Below is a little demonstration, mid way through I slow it right down to show the “lip and tongue” movement.

Autodenter in action – take a note of the double-clicks

I got my autodenter from George Weil, in the UK. It is unbranded, though apparently Schacht also do one, though I haven’t been able to find it. in the US, AVL Looms sell it as “patent denter”. Alternativesly just search for “autodenter”, or “auto enter”, “patent denter” or, “auto reed hook”.

Further sources of information I’ve found useful:

George Weil, Sleying the reed with the Autodenter

Tangled Threads blog, How to use an autodenter

Spinning Lizzy weblog, how to use an autodenter

Finally, if you want to see the autodenter in action with actual warp threads (I did not have enough hands to film and sley), as well as the denter pulled apart, have a look at this video

Band weaving on a rigid heddle loom (or on any other loom, or on no loom at all!)

I’ve been long fascinated with bands, and especially while planning my double faced yardage, I’ve been thinking of ways that a novice sewer like me could use to sew up a reversible garment. A decorative band might be just the thing to make a feature of seams – or at least this is where my thinking is going.

Equipment: on shuttles, beaters and (no?) looms

Equipment is minimal: indeed, you could get going with just a belt shuttle! The latter is much shorter than the smallest weaving stick shuttle, and has a bevelled edge to pack in the weft; the other edge is thicker:

Then you would tension the warp between your waist and anything else you can hook the other end of the warp to, as here (nicked from Shelag Lewins).

basic setup for band weaving, here with cards – picture taken from

The principle is the same as with any weaving: you need to interlace horizontal yarn threads (the weft) with vertical yarn threads (the warp). To do so you separate some warp threads from the others by pulling them up with something (a heddle, strings, cards) to create a gap (the shed) through which the weft will pass (wrapped around a shuttle). Once the shed is closed, the weft thread will lie above some warp threads (those at the bottom of the shed) and below others (those you had pulled up to create the shed). If you now form the shed by pulling up those threads that were laying at the bottom, you create an interlacement (credits of picture below to Backstrapweaving).

Different interlacements create different patterns – to create the sheds you can use cards/tablets (see e.g. here and here), or a reed, or nothing at all, in the sense that, you can just make your own heddles out of strings. By far the funniest video I’ve found which makes the (serious) point that this type of weaving really IS portable and easy to do is this one (using a heddle):

Weave a band anywhere!

For a long band you need to keep in tension a long warp, so to weave more comfortably you can wrap the warp around something repeatedly: this is what looms do. So you can use a rigid heddle loom, a table loom, a floor loom, or an inkle loom, which you can hack out of carboard, as here, to get this (picture credits to heartsonfibre):

Click on picture to go to hosting blog

or out of PVC pipes, to get this (picture credits to weavershand):

Click on picture to go to hosting blog

If you have it already, you can of course use a Rigid Heddle Loom – a quick set up is here, while to see weaving in action I found this video very clear:

video by rigidheddleweaving

You can in fact use any loom, indeed one can do pretty amazing things by putting together band and loom weaving, as here:

How to weave and what to weave

For how to weave, I found this blog a great resource for band weaving with heddles, while for tablet weaving, this is I think an excellent compromise between being complete and being compact.

As for what to weave, google is your friend: the free resources out there are staggering!

There is great specialisation: Celtic knots, Andean pebble weaves, letters, animals, you name it, it can be woven on a band!

First however you will want to learn how to read a draft (i.e. a pattern telling you how to form sheds, alternate colours, etc: think of reading a sheet of music). The inkle loom manufacturers guides (e.g. Schacht and Ashford) seem great as jump starts.

Another useful quick start is with Handwoven’s Magazine free guide: all of their guides will ask you for your email, I think it is a fair price to pay. This guide gets you going with the basic principles.

Mary Atwater guide and patterns for the Inkle loom is vintage and in the public domain, and again refers to the Inkle Loom.


Of course pecil and paper are fine to use to sketch out band patterns. However there are some free software programmes that allow you to play around with colours to get some idea of what patterns you will get.

Here whether you are using a reed or a set of cards does make a difference.

For heddle users, Raktres: web based, it is pretty complete, with clear usage instructions here; ess sophisticated (it does plain weave only) but still easy to use to muck about is the free pattern simulation hosted by the Carolingian dream, again web based.

For cards/tablets users drafts do work differently (e.g. you must note the direction in which you turn the cards), two useful pieces of software to experiment with are the Tablet Draft Designer and Twisted Threads (the latter requires setting up an account, again pretty good price, it seems to me).

Links to further resources

There is a staggering amount of resources on band weaving out there, and this post is very long. So I will finish adding just two more “links of links” to societies dedicated to band weaving:

The Braid Society, which is based in Europe, esources on band weaving are staggering, and the Tablet Weavers’ International Studies & Techniques society (TWIST) which is US based – just check these out to be sure you plunge into this rabbit hole!

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