Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tapestry workshop looms

I have been teaching workshops in a variety of places recently, to guilds, conferences, and smaller shops. Each has their own challenge in terms of looms.  I frequently get questions when posting photos of student looms on my blog. People want to know what others are using and why. Here are my feeling about tapestry looms for workshops. Keep in mind, these are just my opinions and you undoubtedly have your own reasons for what you use... as does every tapestry teacher out there. When I am in my own studio, I weave tapestry on a Harrisville rug loom. Most of us have a small loom we use for carting about and those are the looms I want to talk about.

A tapestry loom has to hold a high tension. A loom you are working on in a workshop is no exception. If you start with a poor tool, you won't be encouraged by your results and won't want to continue working in tapestry. Using a good loom to learn on is important. Tension is one of the biggest issues.

Rigid heddle looms: My issue with most rigid heddle looms is that, in my experience, most of them do not hold a good tension. The shedding device (the rigid heddle) works fine for weaving tapestry, but the tensioning mechanism is usually poor. Many of these looms have a "beam" on each side which just doesn't tighten enough. That said, I have had a couple rigid heddle looms in my classes that worked far better than I expected them to.

Table Looms: I used to have a LeClerc Dorothy loom which my grandmother gave me. It was meant for weaving fabric and actually had 8 harnesses. The beams were tiny though and I couldn't ever get it tight enough for tapestry. I have found that most table looms have this problem. I have seen looms that do work fairly well for tapestry in this category. In the Michigan (Michigan League of Handweaver's Conference) class I taught this summer, one of the students makes looms with her husband and their table loom was not only beautiful, it worked quite well for tapestry. You can see Bruce and Ann Niemi's looms at www.kessenichlooms.com.

A loom that a blog-reader recently asked me about was the LeClerc Penelope II. This link is to a vendor's website. LeClerc has a website but it is exceedingly clumsy (so go to that link at your own risk--you have to download PDFs to see what they sell, though LeClerc does make excellent looms). I have never seen one of these looms in person, but from this photo and the description, I feel that this is basically a table loom tipped upright for weaving tapestry. If you've tried it, let me know!

Archie Brennan pipe looms: These looms show up at almost every workshop and if you want to make your own loom, I recommend the design. Archie has offered the design for these looms for a long time. Here is a link to a place you can order one disassembled or get diagrams for making one.
Archie Brennan pipe loom diagrams.
These looms are made of copper pipe and use threaded rods for a tension device. People use various methods for standing them including Tommye's solution here. I have seen people use inexpensive painters easels also to hold the loom. Of course some people just lay them on their lap and against a table (perhaps not the best ergonomic solution however).
Photo Source: Tommye Scanlin's blog
Another tapestry weaving friend of mine, Jane Hoffman, makes her own copper pipe looms and has made her own shedding device so she doesn't have to use leashes or pick a shed.



The loom below is one that a student brought to the last workshop I taught. The loom is not labeled. Does anyone know what it is or who makes it? It had a beam system for tensioning, though the teeth on the beams were large and I didn't feel like it got a tight enough tension. It used leashes for shedding. The advantage of a loom like this is that you can put on a long continuous warp.

I don't work for Mirrix, but for my money, it has become the best tapestry loom out there that you buy ready to weave on. These looms are pretty much bomb-proof, super sturdy, infinitely tightenable (if you don't loose that little wrench they send with it--seriously, keep track of that!), and come in a wide variety of sizes. I believe Elena and Claudia originally designed this loom for beading, but it quickly became apparent that tapestry weavers were going to love it. The shedding mechanism is easy to install and works smoothly. You can put on a warp that wraps around the loom and rotate it for more length. It uses a spring at the top (and now at the bottom if you choose) to space the warp evenly (yes, you need to take the spring at the bottom out after you have woven a few inches so that you can advance your work).

This is the tightening tool for a Mirrix loom. It is extremely handy and you should not lose it... though I'm sure you could buy another if you did.
I recently read this blog post by Janette Meetze about a recent tapetsry workshop she taught. I looked at her photos and realized everyone in her class was using a Mirrix. I emailed her and turns out she has a stash of them that she uses for teaching. It is an interesting idea to have a set of little looms for teaching beginners. Of course my current house/studio combination being quite small, I think my partner might have my head if I decided to invest in a fleet of new looms. Perhaps one day though.

What workshop loom do you like to use?

9 comments:

  1. Hi Rebecca
    I've been waiting eagerly for this promised blog and it's really helpful. I've decided, with your help and recommendation, that my Mirrix is the one to use. I think it was the aesthetic appeal of that un-named wooden loom that caught my attention on your original blog.
    Hope you're well and have had good weather this summer. I know many places have had real extremes this year.

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  2. Really enjoyed your post Rebecca! I think I can feel your frustration with looms that don't work the way they are supposed to for tapestry. It is difficult to enjoy learning if your loom isn't up to the task. My first tapestry was done on a second hand rigid heddle from Ebay that literally fell apart while I was using it. I am much happier on a Mirrix.

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  3. I totally agree with you on using rigid heddle looms.

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  4. As you know, I'm partial to the Archie Brennan style copper pipe looms for workshops when I take looms along with me--I have a slew of these looms I've made now and will loan them to participants at the workshops. The Mirrix looms seem to work well... especially the ones that are a bit taller so that the shed below the heddles and the web is longer. The "mystery loom" you showed may be a Glimakra since it looks a bit like the Regina tapestry loom from Glimakra, only on the table. In a class I taught a couple of years ago a participant bought a Mountain Loom tapestry loom at a fiber-yard sale and used it in the rest of the class... I was quite impressed with that loom. They aren't made any longer so one might only come up occasionally.

    I agree with you about the rigid heddle looms... the few I've had come to classes have had problems with the tension.



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    1. I recently was "gifted" a Mountain Loom Tapestry Loom that was warped and never used. As an advanced beginner I feel very fortunate to be weaving on this loom. It is not as light weight as a Mirrix, but it is still portable. The two harnesses speed up the weaving process and the tension device is working very well. It is a sturdy loom and I love that you can fold it up for traveling.

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    2. Hi Deb, I don't think I've ever seen one of these looms! I had to look them up. It looks a lot like the Leclerc Penelope loom. Have fun with the weaving!

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  5. Hi, this is a very old blog post by now, but I was wondering if you know if Jane Hoffman has plans a person can use to copy her loom? I'm Canadian, and although I'd like to try the Mirrix loom, the cost with exchange rate, shipping, etc., is prohibitive. Thanks.

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    1. This is a great question. I don't think Jane sells plans, but I'll ask her! She is an amazing tapestry weaver and such an all-around great person. You can contact her yourself through her website which is blueriverwildernessretreat.com (She runs Blue River Wilderness Retreat.) You can also find plans on Archie Brennan's website for copper pipe looms. Another good reference is Sarah Swett's blog which is found at AFieldGuideToNeedlework.com. She has had some recent posts about building galvanized pipe and PVC looms. Any of these resources should help you make a really great loom. I totally understand about the price of a Mirrix and I really encourage you to make your own loom! The shedding device is the trickiest thing, but Jane might give you some tips about that. You can always use leashes as Archie does in his plans. I do hope to do some blog posts about making these looms myself this year and I hope Jane will help me with them! Stay tuned. :-)

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    2. Thank you so much Rebecca! Who knows, I may make one myself, or cave and buy the Mirrix, I just haven't woven before, and I hate to spend the money if my interest won't last. I did see the Blue River Retreat site, but didn't realize it was hers. Also I did look at Archie's plans, but Jane's loom definitely looks more complete and useful. And as I've never woven before, I don't necessarily understand what each piece is for, what measurements it should have, etc. It's a fine looking loom though!

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