More on Looms

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Weavers' Friend - My barn frame loomwarp beam and rear postsBarn frame looms are interesting beasts, huge in comparison to the modern version of today.

This rendering of  an old loom gives a good representation of the basics. While none of the looms I’ve met look like this because they are more detailed in their construction, you can see the frame that I refer to.

An  interesting feature on this loom is the floor rails that give a base – most looms don’t have this addition. In fact, they rest on the legs of each post with side rails never really touching the ground. I believe this floor rail adds stability to an unusually long loom – one with a longer than 5ft. footprint. It might also keep the loom from “walking” which is typical when the weaver beats the cloth with any force.

Termed ” Barn frame” for their style of construction, I’ve seen a few that would have been better referred to as “railroad tie”.

Early American looms, like spinning wheels, are wooden machines designed to create a “web” of cloth according to different patterns.

Simple floor looms have either two or four harnesses or shafts – these hold the twine “heddles” ( hundreds of them, hand tied to have an “eye” in their center, very much like the “eye” of a sewing needle). Each “heddle” holds one thread ( usually ). The more harnesses or shafts, the more complex the patterns can be.

The loom starts out with a basic frame much like a four poster bed ( if you leave out the  mattress and springs). This frame has a “footprint” an imaginary box  where each leg stood and left it’s print. Measuring the  distance from the front feet to the back usually gives about a 5 ft.  foot print, often square.

Of course there are variations on this, with some looms being smaller and some wider, but in the North East where I’ve seen most of my looms, by far the most easy to find are the “four poster” looms with 5 ft. footprint.

If you are fortunate enough to find an old loom, you will likely discover the frame-which consists of  four upright posts, the breast beam, warp beam and any side supports.  Anything else included is considered “gravy”. It’s not often one finds an old loom complete with all it’s parts, and we can imagine why. After 200 years of being dismantled and moved from place to place, stored with other dismantled pieces and forgotten about it’s easy to see how parts could be forgotten, overlooked or confused with another item.

Museums often have intact and complete looms though not always original, some pieces would have been replicated and replaced.

This should be obvious to the visitor as the replacement pieces are to be unfinished and easily distinquished from the original. This policy preserves the authenticity of the original unrestored portions of the loom.

 Most looms are about six feet tall on average. Many have built- in benches for the weaver.

Some are made from tree roots ( albeit giant tree roots ) while others are clearly hewn from several trees; mixing wood types is quite common.

Warp beams are interesting as well, many showing the rings of the tree they once were, with little if any change from tree to warp beam except removal of the outer bark.

The cloth beam is narrower in diameter, with a “ratchet and pawl” for tensioning as the woven cloth is wound on.

The harnesses or shafts are suspended from a roller bar usually wound with cord and pulleys to allow for the treadles to raise and lower them smoothly.

The beater is usually heavy and frequently carved with a curve to fit the weavers hand and facilitate beating the cloth.

While the original looms had “cane” reeds made from cane found in ponds, today even in museums and historic houses you will occassionally find brand new stainless steel reeds in the beater. While historically inaccurate, it renders the loom useable until a cane reed can be found.

There is a brake system for the warp beam. On the weavers’ right hand side a rope was threaded from front to back which attached to a bar that fell between pegs on the warp beam, effectively impeding it’s continued revolutions and permitting re-tensioning of the fabric after advancing the warp.

In these  elements all looms are similar though the individual element itself can vary widely.

Warp beams can be thick or thin, solid or hollow.

Beaters are always hung from the top, but may or may not be curved, heavy, thick, thin, with or without a “shuttle race”.

Harnesses can have continuous  knitted heddles or  individually tied heddles.

There may be two treadles, four treadles and rarely six.

There may be “lamms” which distributed the weight between harnesses and treadles to be more even.  In which case the “tie-up” from treadle to harness is NOT a direct tie-up, but tied to the lamms THEN the harnesses.

The warp beam might be high, low or adjustable to several different heights.

The beater may hang from a “cantilever” loom rather than a four poster.

There may be supplemental warp beams frequently seen on looms used for linen weaving.

And finally, the style of the loom can vary. Four posters can be beautiful if made by woodworkers who bead the wood and pay attention to detail, or they can be rather homely and crude if made by a son for his mother with no particular affinity for woodworking.

German looms are usually extraordinarily heavy and dark with artistic carvings and even the date carved in sometimes.

Swedish and Finnish style looms are frequently known for the rear support beams being one huge piece of carved wood from a tree root – very distinctive!

However they were built, I doubt the builder or the weaver ever imagined that someone  like  me would fall in love with the same tool used to supply household linens, some 200 years after the loom ceased to be needed.

What a testiment to simple skills and tools.


Rear View of a typical four-poster with warped beam

Cantilever loom with overslung beater *note: pulleys on ropes suspended from roller-these hold the harnesses*

The last four photos on this page are excellent shots of barn frame looms -the Antique Handloom shows the built – in bench, harnesses, heddles and warp beam including brake.

Michelle shows the side supports ( arched) and the four support posts as well as a good shot of the beater

Lynette gives a good shot of the breast beam and harnesses ,

 Norm Kennedy shows a good shot of the cloth beam, harnesses and pulleys.

If you check out the Equipment for Sale page, you’ll find a cantilever loom with a freestanding bench – the interesting feature  here is that  the treadles are attached to the BENCH! not the loom as is so  often the case. I have a loom very much like this and it took me awhile to discover the treadles didn’t attach to the loom, but the ancient bench. Up till that time I didn’t know such an adaptation occured.


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2 Responses to “More on Looms”

  1. Leslie Killeen Says:

    I am looking for some diagrams/directions for the lamm system for a barn loom. I am trying to help get an old loom that has new parts back in working condition. Thanks, Leslie

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