The Wrong Way to Buy a Loom

May 27, 2009

or, Pound Foolish at Pop-Henge

tloom1

Ever since I got it home, the saying “Penny wise, pound foolish” has been running through my head. More like a couple hundred dollars foolish. By couple, I mean several. And by several, I mean four, if you count the $60 for heddles.

What I should have done was to get myself a buying agent. Someone like SpinningLizzy, say, who has a genius for finding used equipment bargains and is the author of delightful weaving-related reading material beside. Check out her rigid heddle shibori article in Weavezine!

What I did do was spot an ad for an 8-shaft, 25 1/2″ weaving width table loom for sale on craigslist for a third the cost of a new one.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that not only am I not weaving at the moment because I am teetering and sweating like a substitute Atlas under the weight of the fixer-upper we are renting from my parents. . . but also because I can’t treadle. Long story short, my left SI joint seems to be permanently compromised. It flares up regularly even when I’m not weaving. This is on top of a lot of other physical problems. I used my little Spears rigid heddle loom this winter, but, lacking blocks, it was hard my arms–and I really wanted to do multi-shaft weaves.

All the same, I wasn’t looking for a table loom. It is rare to find one with more than four shafts and even rarer to find one as wide as I wanted. They cost too much, even used. I was so surprised by this craigslist loom that I pulled out the stops on the oughts and shoulds and woulds and coulds and mays. The monologue went something like this: “I ought to be weaving. Some day, although I can’t really imagine it, I may have the strength to weave again. If I don’t have a workable loom on hand when the time comes, I could miss the boat. So I should probably buy another loom. But it would be foolish to look for a lighter-treadling countermarche. Big countermarches cost a lot, and considering that everything downstairs will have to be trundled from room to room when I re-surface the other broken walls and replace the floors, where would I put it? Therefore, if I buy another loom it ought to be a table loom. I may never see another big 8-shaft table loom for sale this cheaply. If it is in decent shape, I shouldn’t pass it up. I could always sell it for a profit.”

Even with all the shoulding and oughting, I was too tired to really think about buying a loom. I was going to let it slide, which is what I usually do with craigslist finds, but on Memorial Day I showed the ad to Der Mann. He encouraged me to call, and we drove the hour and a half to see it.

Our final turning took us into a small property covered with pop machines. These were more or less evenly spaced, like standing stones and yet not, because there was no intentionality in their placement. And I can’t say they were surreal (though they were), because there was no artistry or irony about them, either. There must have been at least fifty broken pop machines sitting in the mud as if they had grown there. Even stranger, though some of them had parts loosened or coming off, the machines were all fairly new, with identical picture panels on the front. It didn’t look like a collection. It looked as if someone had bid on a huge lot of identical used pop machines at an auction and then said to the delivery man, “Oh, just put them down anywhere.” Wherever there weren’t pop machines there were sheds and barns for recreational farm animals. Goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and probably others I couldn’t see. The largest pole barn had an awning made from some of the glow-through plastic panels with photos of giant dewy pop cans.

On the phone I had gained confidence from the fact that the seller was a weaver, and had bought the loom to use for her complex weavers group. In person she was perfectly nice, if a little rattled with the effort of managing both us and her granddaughter who has just learned to crawl. But her house was a hoarder’s house. She apologized for the mess as soon as we came in and her toy poodle(s?) had calmed down, explaining she’d moved from a big house to a small one, but I know moving mess (boy do I ever) and I know hoarders’ houses, and this was a hoarder’s house with a hoarder’s moving mess. I’m talking about the actual psychological disorder, not mere packrattery. It was plugged with chest-high stacks of boxes. Most of the furniture was inaccessible. There was no way all that stuff could have been unpacked into that house ever; for that matter, there was no way it could have been unpacked in her her old house, unless her old house was a mansion. I had a feeling the move wasn’t all that recent. The top boxes looked like they were arranged for regular access.

So, okay, nothing wrong with hoarders. Hoarders are people too. They have hopes and dreams and looms. Maybe the house was so dirty under the hoard-boxes and layered counter clutter because it had been dirty when she moved in. Anyway, as long as the loom was okay, no skin off my nose if her carpets smelled doggy and she had to keep her grandaughter in the playpen or in her arms because there was nowhere else to put her.

The lady took Der Mann and me to a back room where the loom was resting in a little carved-out chunk of floorspace. She really was quite pleasant and well spoken, and the loom looked okay. She had already explained that it was made on the plans of a Mountain Loom (a manufacturer of reliable looms until they retired from the business a few years ago), and it looked to me like the pictures of Mountain Looms I had studied online. I was a little surprised at the roughness of the wood, but it was hardwood and sturdy. Everything was square and symmetrical.

tloom2

There wasn’t much space to get around the loom on the floor, but I did the best I could. I checked to make sure the teeth of the ratchets were evenly spaced and intact. Der Mann and I lifted it a few inches to get a sense of the weight. I checked the seating of both reeds in the beater. (The Gowdey-made replacement reed didn’t sit quite straight.) I raised each shaft by its lever. I noticed that the last shaft was catching on the underlip of the castle, but it would be an easy fix with a wooden guide.

That’s when I should have sat down, caught my breath and said, “wait a minute,” but the baby was fussing in her grandma’s lap, the small talk was rolling on (it takes at least 3/4 of my brain to make even the most fumbling small talk), and there were three televisions playing in the background. Der Mann told me about the televisions afterward. At the time I only had a sense of blocking out noise and confusion; when I am focused I am not good at perceiving extrinsic details; I am too busy tuning them out.

The heddles on the loom were fraying, hand-tied polyester, and only on the first two shafts. Again I should have said “wait a minute.” Now I understood that the lady had been saying she bought the table loom intending to use it for multiple shaft weaving, before she got her floor loom. She had never actually used more than the first two shafts.

Wasn’t it a good sign that it had been sold to her by a more experienced weaver in her weaving group for $500, though? (You don’t charge someone $500 for a faulty loom if you have to socialize with her afterward!) I could see for myself it was built by someone with decent carpentry skills. Because the loom was a copy of a Mountain Loom, I wasn’t critiquing the design, just checking that everything worked.

I am bad at quick decisions, but I honestly thought I had all the information I needed. I came all this way with the intention of buying an eight shaft table loom, right? The rest was just dithering. I was tired of crawling around on the floor and I could feel the woman getting anxious about how long I was taking, especially when I asked for a ruler to measure the height of the shafts. I said I’d take the loom and the 800 extra heddles as well. The heddles were new and uncut; she’d never used them because she was waiting for her friend to show her how to get them on the shafts (another warning sign; putting on heddles is not that hard). I bought the heddles partly because she seemed desperate to unload them, and partly because they were the same size to fit my Bergman if they didn’t fit the table loom.

I felt sorry for this lady in her dark hoarder house, daily babysitter for a fussy grandbaby who couldn’t be put down on the floor for fear of disturbing her hoards, beseiged by toy poodles and labor-intensive livestock and eerie pop machines. She said she was getting rid of it because she didn’t need two looms. When a hoarder makes a healthy decision like that, shouldn’t you support them? Wasn’t it convenient I wanted a loom and she wanted to sell one?

tloom3

Five minutes and a lot of cash later Der Mann and I were waddling out with an extremely heavy loom. After having ducks, we tend to gauge the weight of things against the fifty pound bags of duck feed we used to unload from the car. The loom is more than fifty pounds.

You can guess how the story goes from here. An imitation Mountain Loom is not a Mountain Loom. When I got it home and got it up on a table, I immediately saw what was wrong: the lifting mechanism. Back at the seller’s house I had lifted each shaft by itself. I should have lifted them in combinations. The shafts drag and catch at each other as they go up and down.

The first problem should have been obvious even crawling around on the floor. Every time a lever is brought forward to lift a shaft, the lift cord catches on the nut that secures the bolt on which the lever pivots. The cord hitches and twangs like a bowstring as it is forced past the nut.

lever1

lever2

lever3

I could drill shallow holes in the levers to recess the nuts into the wood, but I would need a drill press for that. It would be very delicate work, and how would I get a wrench in the recesses to tighten the nuts, anyway? Or I could look for a different fastener entirely, one with round heads on both ends, though I’ve never heard of such a thing. Or I could totally rebuild the top panel of the loom, which I have no desire to do.

The other problem can’t be diagnosed until you look at the underside of the castle:

tloomcord2Here it is. The metal eyes guide the lift cords up to the levers and down to the shafts. You can see how two of the cords on the right cross over and rub each other, and the the one on the left catches the outer edge of the next eye? You can also see here

tloomcord1how the top eye in the vertical row has been repositioned a couple of times, trying to fix the sticky first shaft. I don’t think this loom has ever worked properly, because I don’t think the person who built it actually got a good look at this part of the loom they were trying to copy.

There is another error in construction. The ratchet on the cloth beam is on the right side. The ratchet on the warp beam is on the left. The loom is 30+ inches wide and 29 deep. The pawls have to be lifted by hand, and I will have to stand up and stretch diagonally over the top of the loom every time I advance the warp. I can’t simply flip the warp beam, because then the teeth of the ratchet will be going the wrong way.

On top of all that, it’s just not that great a piece of woodworking. The person who made it was a carpenter, not a cabinetmaker. The rough boards and unevenly sunk screws don’t show up in the picture. It is mostly maple. The shaft-ends are oak, the cloth and warp beams are fir, and there is a piece of messy mahogany in the beater.  It’s not the kind of loom you want to stroke or name or feed little tidbits to.  I can’t lift it by myself. I can move the Bergman by myself when it’s folded by dragging it carefully across the floor, but the table loom will be stuck wherever it’s resting until I get help lifting it: by a weird twist of fate, I own a table loom that is less portable than my floor loom!

I don’t know why I’m not upset. Der Mann was certainly surprised at the way I switched over immediately into trouble-shooting mode rather than raging against the wasted money or collapsing in despair and banishing the loom to the basement. The best explanation I can offer is that even a substandard loom has some dignity simply by being a loom at all. I don’t think it’s possible to make this one work well, but I can make it work a lot better than it does. As distasteful I find the task, it does have the lip-smacking aftertaste of a crusade. If I can transform this into a decent tool before I pass it on, I’ll have brought something useful into the world.

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21 Responses to “The Wrong Way to Buy a Loom”


  1. At the beginning of your post, I was all loom enabler, thinking….”but it looks so pretty.”

    You have a great attitude about how it doesn’t work well…..but you think you can make it work well.

    If you could figure out your Bergman, I’m thinking getting this pretty-looking loom to act pretty will not be too much of a challenge for you.

    And an 8 shaft table loom is a very good thing!

    Good luck!!! I really hope it works out for you!!

    Sue

    • trapunto Says:

      The way I see it, you can’t have too many loom enablers!

      An 8-shaft loom *is* a good thing, and good to be reminded of. I actually feel pretty cheerful about the work ahead when I remember that.

  2. Susan Says:

    If you can tweak it and get the snags out, it should be a great little loom!
    Susan

  3. Lynnette Says:

    I was completely enthralled with your saga and can completely empathize. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed when you find yourself in such as weird place. My Aunt was a hoarder and I always felt flustered when I visited…You really seem to have a handle on all the loom problems – great problem solving!

  4. Stef Says:

    I’m very impressed by your attitude about this loom. I probably would have collapsed in despair and banished the loom to the basement.

    I love your description of the pop machines in the yard. My husband and I live down the road from Tractor Henge, so I can visualize exactly what this property looks like.

  5. Cathy Says:

    Awww! I am sorry your loomscapade didn’t turn out perfectly. However, as per other comments, your confidence in resurrecting the loom will surely prevail.
    Good luck to you. I really enjoyed reading your post!

  6. Dot Says:

    Ata girl, you fix it!!!

    Must be nice to have your hands on a loom again, and there’s no point in regretting a bad deal, sorry to say but I’m sure we all have made a bad deal at sometime or other and it’s One of Those Things.

    I wonder if it would be easier to fix it up as a working 4 shaft, that would give more room for the shafts and levers?

    • trapunto Says:

      That’s my back-up plan, Dot. Though the whole thing is getting a bit more complicated the more I look at the loom. Happily I have been assured that the nuts and bolts exist to do what I want them to do, so at least those levers should work without too much trouble.


  7. As always, you tell a really good story! I do hope you can get this to work. You seem to have both the skills and the determination. I look forward to reading more about this adventure.

  8. deborahbee Says:

    I so enjoyed your loom saga! I want a table loom and scour the contents of the loom exchange for much the samre reason as you. I am getting bad bach ache and stiffness whenever I do long static type tasks like warping, threading and worst of all tie-ups.You have been wonderfully sensible and rational and deserve to get it working smoothly.I have completre confidence in you….mother of all Bergmans!!!!

    • trapunto Says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, and good luck in your search, Deborah. There have been a couple of times when I was googling the names of my wish-list looms and they have appeared for sale on one of the the UK lists. May you find the table loom of your dreams! After my own humbling experience, I recommend getting a brand name loom; though if you find one warped up so that you can try weaving on it before you buy, that should be okay too.

      Yeah, static tasks are bad. Much as I love my Bergman, its underside is *not* a comfortable place to be, so I’m with you on tie-up! The temptation to just finish just this one more bout, group of heddles, etc. often gets the better of me.

  9. Cally Says:

    Really sorry that the treadling pain is still such a problem. My mother also had to trade from a floor loom to a table loom as she has problems with numbness in her feet. But at least it is still weaving, right? Or loom repair… What an adventure, and what a frustrating find, but the blogosphere has confidence in your loom-savvy and we know you’ll find a way.


  10. Wow, what a marvelously told tale — I’m looking forwards to future tales of the rebirth of the loom into a solid, usable citizen of the weaving world. But, I’m stuck on the part about your treadling pain — actually, I’m upset about hearing that the pain might be permanent. I’m hoping, no **WILLING** that something will come along to bring you back to treadling with ease. Thank Goodness you’re not giving up on weaving!

    • trapunto Says:

      Thank you for the willpower! I’m thinking of this as a detour. You’ll have noticed I haven’t made any mention of getting rid of the Bergman. I still have a big warp pre-sleyed and ready to go on it from before the move. It’s going to take a lot more time and weaving for me to give up on my first favorite loom–in fact, it’s just possible they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead claws.

  11. Susan Says:

    I thought I would post a second comment, but this time address your SI problem. I can recommend physiotherapy? Find a therapist that does ‘hands on’ over just hooking you to a machine. I have 4 affected discs in my lumbar/ SI area and have permanent numbness dow my right thigh and along the right edge of my right foot. I can’t feel much some days and treadling is like hitting the treadles with a lump. I also get nasty calf muscle cramps at night on that side. Some days it improves and I get more feeling back. But over all, you actually adjust to the situation and ‘tune it out. I refuse to give up weaving and carry on! My physiotherapist Bonnie is amazing and it seems core strengthening excerises are the key to better body stability. I have arthritic degeneration of the vertebrae and as a result the discs bulge and pinch nerves. It’s not the end of the world….but it does mean doing things differently from now on. I multi task at weaving and other weaving related jobs such as winding warps, finishing etc. I never weave for more than 20-30 mins at a time and all tasks are reviewed for ways to do things smarter for my back. I do most things myself but will ask for help when I need to. I also take frequent rest breaks and that helps a great deal. A few mins rest here and there means you don’t hurt so much later on.

    All these modifications to my day and movements becomes the ‘new normal’ 🙂

    Susan
    PS take it easy during the reno’s!

    • trapunto Says:

      Your beautiful (and prolific!) work is a testimony to the success of your methods, Susan Thanks for your wisdom. Core strength does seem to be an area I should be heading. I was taking a “Core Yoga” class from my favorite yoga teacher, who is also trained in Pilates. It was quite a revelation, though I don’t think I got far enough into it to start reaping the benefits in terms of taking strain off my back. The disc thing sounds awful. My own back problems mostly stem from a childhood accident that left one leg a little longer than the other. Being ever-so-slightly crooked in the hips all these years (shoe lifts didn’t work for me) seems to have added up.

  12. Kathy Says:

    Disasters make great stories, and yours is well-told!

  13. Jakob Grimm Says:

    I have possession of a beautiful custome built extra large loom I need to sale and was wondering if you have resources, references, or if you where interested in it at all. If you can assist please contact me ,I’m located in Oakland California. thank you

  14. Stephen McCulloch Says:

    Greetings to all. Could I suggest to all you weavers out there who are suffering arthritic pain, swollen joints, rheumatism and rheumatoid arthritis etc, to do some research into using Borax to help cure the problem. Before you all shout at me, I know Borax is labelled a poison. It is believed that these issues are caused by a boron deficient diet, which affects the joints, high calcium in the blood and many more. Please do some research and free yourself from the pain. I am not affiliated with any chemical companies. I am a trained Reiki practitioner, curtain maker, and new weaver, and have recently stumbled across this information. While doing research into alternatives to chemo for a friend with bone cancer. I have only been dosing myself with Borax for two days now with no ill effect, except for a Bicarbonate of soda type after taste which can be masked quite easily.The research is online.
    Warm regards
    Stephen


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