Speaking of Reeds

June 13, 2008


I bought this at an imports store that is trying to make a go of it in a small, mostly-abandoned 40’s shopping district near our place.  What is it?  Why, it’s a weaving hanger-upper!

Only, I am going to make it a weaving hanger-downer–maybe with a heavy knobbed rod at the top to balance it out–because this way round, the design looks wrong for Western textiles:

It’s really interesting to me how just reversing the curves of the scrollwork, something can look Western or Eastern.  I’ll bet art historians have written about it:  The flame and the lotus, versus the acanthus and the rose.

Der Mann and I were taking a walk when I spotted a box of what looked like weaving equipment on the sidewalk.  I got him to hold my tea mug while I pawed through.  There were a lot of wooden hangers like this one (but not so nice), bamboo hangers, and a bunch of small Thai reeds.  Most of the reeds had unevenly split and spaced rattan tines(?) and very coarse decorative carving, so I figured they had been made for the tourist trade rather than actual use.  One older reed looked functional.  The dents were very small and even, it had a black patina of soot, and the carving was much finer.  Curious, I went inside to ask the proprietor if she knew what sort of loom it would be used with.  I couldn’t imagine how it would fit into a piece of weaving equipment, with all that bumpy carving on top, so I was thinking it belonged to some sort of backstrap loom.

The lady said no, these reeds went with the big Thai looms.  She looked for a picture in her books but couldn’t find one.  I had noticed while we were talking that the old reed had been broken clean across the carved top and mended with glue, so I put it back in the box.  It cost a bit too much for a (broken) curiosity.

At home I started looking for pictures of traditional Thai looms on the internet–still a little skeptical as to whether such narrow, highly decorated reeds were typical fare.  I know Thai silk weaving can be very sophisticated, so I was picturing very elaborately constructed traditional looms.

This says a lot about weaving!  All you need, when you get right down to it, is a frame to hold your cloth and warp beams apart at tension, string, and sticks.  The elaborations are optional.  This picture is the best I could find, but there were other looms without even the pulleys to balance the shafts, just a loop of string over a large bamboo pole tied to the upper frame.  Still others had horses that were simply short sticks tied with string.

The reed seems to be the part of the loom that gets decorated.  This one has nice scalloping but I saw another that had figurative carving like the one at the shop.  And when I thought about it, yes, that makes sense.  The beater/reed is the part of the loom you handle.  The part that takes the most skill to make.  It’s traditional in the West as well.  Only we put our reeds in separting beaters, and decorate the beaters.  Or used to.

Have a look at this:  http://www.firesidelooms.com/services.html#carvings



7 Responses to “Speaking of Reeds”

  1. I love the photos. Where did you find them. Also, where is the link that I assume follows your last sentence?

  2. trapunto Says:

    I fixed the link. Sorry about that! It was on the word “this.” Unfortunately my blog template marks links by making the type a lighter grey that’s very hard to pick out. WordPress doesn’t let you mess their templates (unless you pay for the privilege), so I can’t fiddle the code to add underlining or anything to make it stand out.

    The pictures are tourist pictures of a Thai handicrafts center called the Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Center. There wasn’t any accompanying text. I found them through a Google image search for “Thai loom.” They were posted on an incomprehensible hobbyist(?) site of mapped New York City photo views called the Bridge and Tunnel Club.

  3. nepali looms Says:

    Hello. My experience is with (Central Asia)Eastern Nepali village counterbalance looms (where I lived for several years and had my first weaving lessons). The beater is always ‘turned’ or embellished, as are the wooden rods which slot into turned holes and align the top and bottom parts of the beater. What we call ‘horses’ are always carved into the shape of birds which dip at each other as the shafts raise and lower. The cloth beam is also embelished on one end and has turned slots which allow the weaver to wind on the cloth and secure it (an effective alternative to a ratchet and pawl). Using a specially constructed device, the heddles are wound from a continuous length of fine cord. Four shafts are mostly used and are tied directly to two treadles which the weaver attaches to her foot (a bit like thongs). There is no warp beam; the warp is stretched out fully or in part and secured by a long rope which is first looped around a short pole in the ground and then stretched up to another rod at the foot of the weaver, and secured there, allowing her to tighten or loosen it at her convenience. When weaving cloth, very fine yarns are used, and the warp is always sized by gently boiling it a saucepan of ground flour. If you’d like to read more on this subject, Susi Dunsmore’s books (large and small) cover the subject with great thorough-ness.

  4. trapunto Says:

    This is absolutely fascinating. I’m still not used to how far my voice echoes when I speak from my blog podium. It would be great to see some of these highly decorated Nepalese looms. I love the idea of the horses that look like bobbing birds! So far, my image searches aren’t turning up the right pictures. I’m having trouble picturing the tension mechanism and the location of the cloth beam. Is it at ground level in advance of the weaver’s feet? Beyond the treadles?

  5. nepali looms Says:

    Nepali looms can be quite varied depending on ethnicity and region. The looms I refer to are used by Rai and Tamang people in the eastern regions of Nepal. Susi Dunsmore’s books ‘Nepalese Textiles’, ‘Weaving in Nepal’ and ‘The Nettle in Nepal’ are about Rai and Limbu weavers. While I have lived for a short while in a remote Rai village and watched women weaving there, my descriptions of looms and the weaving process relate to my time living in a Tamang village.

    I think Westerners and Tamangs look upon looms differently. In our minds a loom firstly is a structure of wooden and metal parts to which is added equipment and accessories. For Tamang people, I’ve observed, a loom is more narrowly defined as the reed and the beater (often made of very hard wood and often embellished but never ‘over-worked’). The equipment/accessories are the pulleys (always wingless birds), the cloth beam (also embellished and on one side with oblong holes for fastening it to a post), the heddle maker and the shuttle/s.

    When not in use these items either hang on a wall or are stored in the spaces between the ceiling beams, where overtime they darken and stain from the smoke of the kitchen fire. All the other parts of the loom are impermanent. The posts from which hangs the beater are assembled each season; the heddled shafts likewise; also the treadle sticks and the sleying stick, made from bamboo, and the weaver’s bench.

    At the end of every weaving day, the reed/beater with partly woven cloth wound round the cloth beam and with unwoven warp running through reed and the heddled shafts with the attached treadles, the pulleys and the shuttles, all are folded up neatly and brought inside the house to hang overnight against a wall. Outside the structure of posts driven into the ground stands empty until the new day brings the weaver back with her loom and partly woven cloth. At the end of the weaving season, the loom is returned to the house, and the posts are pulled from the ground and recycled if necessary.

    When a Tamang weaver prepares a warp she does a lot of walking. Warping posts are driven into the ground over a distance and the warp walked (and crossed) around these posts. It is sleyed through the reed and attached to the cloth beam after which the heddles are attached around each end and connected to the shaft sticks (a complicated business when all the instruction is in Tamang!).

    As mentioned, there is no warp beam; the warp is stretched out at some length but not fully. A strong cord or rope is tied securely around it and the remaining section is left lying on the ground in a neat bundle. So, there are stretched warp ends for some distance (say about 270cm) then the fastened length of rope. At this point a small post is driven into the ground and another post located beside the weaver’s bench. The strong cord attached to the warp is pulled around the first post and taken up to the post by the weaver’s bench where it is tied off. When the weaver is at her bench and ready to tension the warp, she will untie the rope from the post, pull it taut and tie it off again. This process continues throughout the weaving. As the cloth is woven and the warp advances the weaver will untie the cord attached to the warp, release more ends (sufficient to allow for uninterrupted work), and retie the cord to a new section of the remaining warp. Returning to her bench, she will tension the warp again by pulling the cord and tying it around the nearby post.

    I think Tamang women used to consider weaving knowledge as a necessary competency for a mature woman. Nowadays manufactured cloth is available and women can allot some other task to the time they might have spent weaving. However, when I lived there, many years ago, there were still remote hamlets where on entering a village, one was first greeted by the rhythmic woody jangling sounds of newly laid weft and warp being beaten into cloth. Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce.

  6. nepali looms Says:

    P.S. When the pulley birds dip at each other as the shafts rise and fall, my Tamang weaving instructor explained that the birds are greeting each other with “Namaste”.

  7. […] I am so grateful for the comments you have been leaving on my blog.  A weaver whose first weaving lessons were in Nepal has left some fascinating descriptions of decorated Nepali counterbalance looms in the comments section of my last-post-but-one, Speaking of Reeds: […]

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