More thoughts looming

Archie Brennan Copper Loom
Archie Brennan Copper Loom

Something I didn’t mention in my earlier post about looms is the copper pipe loom.  The original, Archie Brennan design is available online for you to make yourself – the photo shows a version constructed by Sara Lamb (pic borrowed from her blogspot).  I haven’t made one, but I’d really like to, as there’s something very aesthetically pleasing about the copper.  The Mirrix looms, although also copper pipe-based, don’t have the same aesthetic appeal for me. And I know a decision about buying or making a loom should be based on practicality rather than appearance, but despite their widely held regard and respect, the Mirrix looms are also expensive, and I just can’t bring myself to splash out so much.

Copper Loom Small
Copper Loom Small

I have just discovered that a company called Copper Loom is now putting out  a copper loom similar to the Archie.  The copper loom looks great, and I would definitely buy one (yes, of course I could make one myself, but DIY stores are not my natural habitat, and although one day I will bite the bullet and do it anyway, I would be very happy if someone just did it for me in the meantime, so I don’t have to…!) .

Copper Looms PVC loom
Copper Looms PVC loom

However, the Woolery site that distributes the loom only has a white PVC version of the same thing.  I can’t find it now, but I read somewhere that the Copper Loom designers have deliberately switched to PVC as the cost of copper has gone up.  I think this is a little short-sighted, as while the PVC version is indeed moderately priced at $25 (I can’t figure out from the woolery site if the stand is included as well as the loom), I think people would like the option of a slightly more expensive version made of copper, for its more pleasing aesthetic values whilst being similarly ightweight, portable and easy to construct.

Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett
Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett

Although I am still tempted by the PVC version to try the loom out, you can find detailed instructions on how to build a PVC loom in the book Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett.  I actually prefer this structure to the original Archie Loom, and would probably use these plans to build my own copper loom on the eventual day I get around to it.  I’m currently undecided on whether I would prefer an integral stand, as in Swett’s design, or separate, as the Copper Loom.  The beauty of buildng your own, of course, is that you can completely customise it to suit your own needs and taste, and have whatever size you need and structure you prefer.

Copper Looms Copper Loom
Copper Looms Copper Loom

Going back to the new Copper Loom, though, the authors have also written a book ($25), which tells you how to make and use your own loom, as well as a 4-selvedge finishing technique.  I’d be interested to know if the finishing technique is the same as the one on the Brennan-Maffei site, or the method outlined by Kathe Todd-Hooker in her book ‘Shaped Tapestry’ (available in the UK for £22.50, from George Weil Fibrecrafts, a wonderfully in depth site to explore).  I would just buy the Copper Loom book to find out, as I would like to read it, anyway; but it is self-published & the only distributor I can find is the Woolery, who warn of a $30 surcharge (in addition to shipping) for overseas orders…

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Thoughts looming…

I go through phases, alternating between weaving and needlework (I never stray far from the lovely world of tangled threads).  Needlework expresses my orderly side, and I do take delight in the satisfying symmetricality of many of my patterns and designs (although I do also embrace the occasional asymmetric quirk).  This, of course, is because I have not yet really experimented with free embroidery, which I suspect might be quite a liberating experience.  However, needlework (for me) is the orderly craft, worked within its nice neat grids and charts.  Compact, yet beautiful.

Then after a while, I need to take a break from stitching, and weaving refreshes me.  Sometimes all I want to do is lose myself in the mind-freeing, zen-like over-under trance, and that’s when I like weaving for its basic, essential simplicity.  In those moments I’ll work a placemat on a small tapestry frame, or a rug on a peg loom, and just enjoy the process.  I like the small detail of embroidery, but sometimes I need to concentrate less, and clear my mind.

A break of cleansing weaving then frees my mind to focus awhile on my other weakness: tapestry weaving.  This is where  I find expression of more free-flowing, organic ideas, the swirls and curves and natural shapes, far less formal than counted thread work.  Like the freeform bargello I have been experimenting with lately, my tapestry weaving is also freeform.  I let the warp thread form its own shape within the weft,  then work around and into it, and find natural landscapes building up of their own accord.

Before anyone begins imagining rooms covered in tapestry wall-hangings, let me clarify: my weaving is as small-scale as my needlework.  I take great delight in being able to sit with my weaving resting in/on my lap, wherever I happen to be, and I have looms ranging in size from a self-made 1.5″ x 2″ to – well, actually a floor loom, but that hasn’t been constructed, yet – let’s say instead 18″ x 18″, to almost everything in between.  The largest two of these smaller looms are structured so that they can sit upright on a desk or table top, still very portable and fuss-free.  My tapestries are generally miniatures, explorations of curve and colour; sometimes I play with texture, tufting, needleweaving etc.

I do have a lot of small looms, it’s true but I always need more!  I love to experiment with new, different, interesting looms.  Stash-hoarding needleworkers and fabric addicts will understand what I mean; those who don’t, just never will.  I usually weave on basic frame looms rather than anything with a complicated (or even simple) heddle system – given the scale I work, it’s far easier just to manipulate the warp threads manually, which is part of the process that I enjoy.

Good Wood Frame Loom
Good Wood Frame Loom

You wouldn’t think there would be too much variation in simple frame looms, but there is, you know, there is.  I love the sturdiness of these frames from Good Wood.  They have a ‘magc heddle’ bar which I like, but would only use if weaving something with very plain stripes (it happens sometimes; I like stripes).  But you can remove the heddle bar and just warp it without.  At $58 for the 6″ x 10″ version, perhaps it seems expensive, bt there’s something about the solidity and simplicity that appeals to me (and the wood seems a lot nicer – and sturdier – than the cheaper frame looms you can buy).

Trishary Travel Loom
Trishary Travel Loom

Now this is what I really want to try, even though the weaving area itself is both tiny and primitive: the Trishary Travel Loom.  The loom was designed and is sold by Scottish tapestry artist, Trisha Gow.  Her work is strongly influenced by the Scottish landscape, the lovely muted colours a result of using wools hand-dyed with natural, locally sourced dyes.  The loom has a weaving area of just 9 x11cm, with no added extras to aid tension or shedding etc.  But it is (obviously) a gloriously portable size, and even better, your piece can remain on the loom in its finished state, ready-framed!  No more fiddling about weaving in loose ends, knotting fringes, or any of the other time-consuming finishing practises – hurrah!  (And at just £26 per hand-made loom, it’s not unrealistic to simply buy a new loom for your next piece.)

Cactusflower Miniature Loom
Cactusflower Miniature Loom

In comparison to the Good Wood Loom, the C. Cactus Flower Miniature Loom is an absolute bargain at $78.  This is a loom in the traditional Navajo style, measuring just 12″ a 15″.  I’ve never tried a Navajo loom, but this is the one I’m going to start with.  It’s got a clever peg & spring tensioning device, as well as a peg bar for easy warping.  Hand-crafted in a choice of woods (price varies with wood-type), they also do a package that includes batten and Navajo weaving instruction book.  Yum.

Beadlooms.com
Beadlooms.com

But you know what?  For practicality and fine work, the best looms I’ve found aren’t tapestry looms at all, but bead looms.  Using a warp of medium silk or perle cotton, I love the coils for even warp spacing, and the tensioning is the best I’ve found. Most people probably know that Mirrix make some of the most highly regarded tapestry/bead looms in the business.  Unfortunately, I can’t afford one of those.  Instead, I currently have a 12″ x 18″ loom (one of my largest) from beadlooms.com.  As well as the even warping and tensioning advantages, this particular style of loom is very sturdy, and if turned on its shortest end will sit very comfortably on a tabletop (or your lap), tapestry loom-style. It also has the warp bars and different heights, so the working area is tilted, which can really help if you find weavng makes your back ache.  I want to get the 6″ x 10″ version for smaller pieces.

Some other places worth checking out are Bearcat, Crazy Acres Wolf Ranch and Boomerang Professional.  Please post if you have experience of using any of the looms I’ve mentioned – could be interesting!

Colours and crafts

Colours are a hugely personal experience, and while in design terms there are rules and reasoning why some combinations work and others don’t, it’s still true that two people can experience the same colours in entirely different ways.  I found the poem below on a website called Plant Dyed Wool which runs courses on dyeing wools with natural dyes, as well as weaving and felting the results.

I’ve tried dyeing my own embroidery threads before and loved the results, but found it too time consuming to keep up (if I wanted to do any stitching/designing, too).  There’s somehing very appealing about natural dyeing, though, and I’m going to get around to trying it out one day.  I love tapestry weaving (my header above is an extract from one of my small pieces) but have just in the last couple of days started hankering to go back to basics with some ‘pure’, solid, traditional weaving on an old-fashioned peg loom – nothing fancy, just simple, cleansing ‘zen’ weaving, for its own sake.

[I find that I go through phases of stitching then switching back to weaving, then back to stitching again.  They’re very different crafts, but have the reassuring familiarity of working with threads, fibres, wools etc.  There’s a project coming that will combine weaving, needlework, music, and possibly some fiction, too, once I’ve completed this exploration of bargello.  There’ll be a break for a while from the appearance of new designs, but I am looking forward to putting my time and energies into it, and I think the results will be worth it.]

It was on the search for a peg loom that I stumbled across the Plant Dyed Wool site.  Theirs are the only peg looms I have found with character (click here to see what I mean), made out of gorgeous grained, knotted natural wood, rather than wood with the life planed out of it.  Anyway, to return to the point, it was on this site that I discovered the poem below, written by Skye, the daughter of the dyeing-weaving-felting lady, Jane Meredith.  I love the vivid colours that streaks through it, and found it very evocative.

Blue fingers planted this garden

Where there is gold in the petals and leaves

Where green breathes

Then turns blue

Blue softly turns pink

As it dies by the river

And wool white as a swan

Is dipped

Kingfisher red