False Starts: In Which Weaving Pick Up Bands on a Bead Loom and with a Normal Rigid Heddle Does Not Work For Me

November 28, 2009

Of course you weaver folk guessed correctly about my letter opener. I’ve been using it to weave a pick-up band. I don’t have a band loom, and there were a couple of false starts before I worked out a shedding and tensioning arrangement that suited me.

My first mistake was a vintage bead loom. This belonged to my aunts when they were children, but they never used it, probably because the impenetrable instructions made it look like work, which it was.  I used it once to bead a cuff bracelet. I was good at things like that as a kid. I had a strange talent for completing self-imposed projects I had come to hate. (The hideous printed-yardage-kit rag doll plus accessories and the dolls house come to mind.)

I didn’t exactly hate beading–I just found the end result rather frail and useless. It didn’t justify the finicky work.  I didn’t know how to tack the finished web of beads to leather (didn’t know where you even got craft leather at the age of eleven), and wasn’t much interested in Indian jewelry or belts or hatbands in the first place. But I loved the little loom! I had a notion I could weave cloth bands on it, if only I had some directions. I clearly remember finding some Scandinavian needlepoint patterns in an ancient copy of Workbasket magazine around that time, and thinking “If I knew how to weave, I could weave sewing trim or narrow tapestries with motifs like that!” Much more exciting than seed beads, to me.

I kept the loom all these years not for band weaving, but because it was too cute to get rid of and no one else in the family was likely to want it. As I was contemplating the problem of tensioning my current band warp, I took it out and had a look at it.

It is too small to use with the Beka rigid heddle I bought from Earth Guild, so I made a continuous string heddle, like this–

–and prepared to beam my warp. I meant to treat the the wire spacers on the back beam as a kind of raddle, then cover the breast and back beams up with little rolls of card to keep the wire spacers from catching the threads while I was wove. But the spacers (intended for fine bead thread) are too close. My linen and cotton warp dragged and caught, and inevitably popped right out of them. I might have managed to carry out my plan with a single ply of embroidery floss or something equally fine, but even so, the loom is really too short to allow much of a shed or much room to ply the pick-up stick. Nix on that.

I threaded the heddle, sighed, got out my backstrap sling. I don’t like the whole tied-to-a-doorknob thing much, besides which the doorknobs around here–where they remain–are a hundred years old. They have been taken out and put back in the wrong doors, with the wrong screws, in stripped holes. They are rickety. Tie the warp to a doorknob, and I was liable to pull the knob right off and find myself locked in.

I looked around for something else to tie myself to. The newel post is a part of a modern prefabricated stair-and-banister kit someone put in when they ripped out the original staircase. I don’t like it much, but it is great for weaving. All the little turned bobbles allowed me to attach my warp at whatever height I wished.

I had used internet resources to learn how one does this kind of work. They made it sound really complicated, and I spent a lot of time earnestly trying to comprehend the whole process before I had begun it, which didn’t work. Happily, once I understood the threading principle (ground, ground, pattern–regardless of holes and slots) and had the loom in my hands, it wasn’t that hard to figure out pick-up technique.

I soon saw why clever folk put a second set of holes in their traditional rigid heddle tape looms. From what I read it is strictly a Norwegian innovation, though it is such an improvement on regular tape looms, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t taken up elsewhere!

Speckled background bands are a pain but doable with a normal rigid heddle. (That’s when you let the unused pattern warps go up and down as they please to make specks in the plain weave ground when they are not skipping up to make part of the design, as shown in this nice article on the Weaver’s Hand site, and this older entry on knotted pile weaver Sarah Lamb’s blog.) But I didn’t want to make speckled background bands. I wanted monochrome backgrounds as shown in the second part of Sarah Lamb’s tutorial–which means you have to pick out all the pattern warps from the all ground warps all the time, not just select and lift the few you especially want on top.

With a second set of holes in the heddle, to carry the pattern warps just a tad over the ground warps, the pattern warps are always easy to see and pick out, even when they happen to be on the bottom side of the shed. You can see how this double-holed Norwegian loom is threaded in a 2008 article in Weavezine (“Scandinavian Tape Looms”, by Grace Hatton), which I have to admit I only really understood after I had tried weaving with an normal rigid heddle and found it unnecessarily difficult! I unpicked the bit of weaving you see here, plus a little more, and decided to make myself a new loom.

to be continued….

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One Response to “False Starts: In Which Weaving Pick Up Bands on a Bead Loom and with a Normal Rigid Heddle Does Not Work For Me”


  1. I have got to read this one. I’ve never seen bead looms (isn’t this one?) in action before. It looks portable and fabulous to take on trips, too!


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