Loom Parts

Loom Parts: Dowels of various widths, battens, weaving forks, four-ply wool warp yarn, string, cotton clothesline, dyed weft yarn (here black) doubled and respun for edging cords.

Winding the Warp: The tightly spun, four-ply white warp yarn is wound in continuous figure eights around two dowels presently serving as warping frame. In weaving, these warps will be completely covered by the weft yarns.
Winding warp

Twining end cords

Twining the End Cords: Weft yarn, doubled and respun, is twined between the loops of warp to bind them to each other and space them equally. The warping beams will then be removed and lashed on the outside of the twined warp ends, becoming the loom beams for weaving. The end cords will form the top and bottom selvages of the finished rug.

Dressed loom
Dressing the Loom (left): With the loom beam lashed to a tensioning bar and tied to the loom, the warp is pulled taut for weaving. Weaving (right): I pack down the wefts with the weaving fork, row by row. Above the fork, the batten holds open the current shed. At the top, a stationary stick holds every other warp to the front; I pull the alternate warps forward for weaving by the heddle stick, where string heddles lace around the rear warps.  Weaving closeup


More than 1,200 years ago, archeologists tell us, the peoples of the American Southwest perfected the vertical frame loom, enabling the weaving of pieces wider than the weaver's armreach. Adapting to their needs and way of living the continuous warp technology of the backstrap loom already in use in Central and South America, these weavers wove in cotton and other native plant fibers. Their technology, together with the wool of the sheep introduced by the Spanish, was adoped by the Navajo to great and well-known advantage.

This is the loom and technology I use for both rugs and tapestries. For warp, I use a tightly spun four-ply worsted wool. For each weaving, I wind the warp as shown in the photographs, twine the end cords to bind and space the warp loops, and finally lash the end cords with cotton string to the beams of the loom. In a sense, each rug or tapestry forms its own loom, and as a result, each completed weaving comes off the loom frame with finished selvages on all four sides. As I weave, using various tapestry techniques, including those of Navajo and kilim rugs, the warp is completely covered by the softer, but very closely packed single-ply weft yarns. I use modern "acid" dyes to dye or paint the weft yarns, as these dyes offer the rich colors I delight in as well as good washfastness and lightfastness and minimized environmental impacts.

As I weave, I often think how throughout human time--50,000 years or more, up until a mere 300 or so years ago--all items of material culture were made by hand, with the rhythm of work set not by machines but by the breath and heartbeat of a human. In the case of textiles, each fiber passed multiple times through human hands: in the harvesting or shearing, the washing and preparation for spinning, the spinning itself, the dyeing, the weaving, the fulling, and more. For me, this quiet, slow, meditative way of  weaving forms both a spiritual practice and a social/political act. For I suspect we moderns could learn--or relearn--valuable lessons in the making of objects from basic materials in such direct, immediate ways, with deep, conscious awareness and presence in the work and the world.