I haven’t forgotten about my Pics to Picks challenge, but this isn’t it.

Momentum is a big concept for me.  If I lose it, I’m sunk.  Which is why, instead of deciding on a draft and making a winding plan for the foundation of my Pics to Picks project, I went ahead and wound this warp I’d already planned for towels, and am now in the process of sleying it.  The towels were going to be my first warp on the table loom, until I decided it would be wiser to start with the simple runner in my last post.  I was afraid that if I started my Pics to Picks warp before this one, I might forget my interpretative schema for all those scribbly notes I made.

Coming over the back beam, the stripes look like fabric for a Sultan’s pantaloons.  Actually, they are a re-working of a draft for fine linen handtowels in a 1986 issue of Väv Magasinet.  I don’t have weaving software, and my brain is bleary lately, so these things tend to take me days to figure out.

The towels for are for my aunt.  Recently, she remodeled her dark, barely-functional plywood mineshaft of a kitchen into something astounding–contracting all the workers and making all the plans herself, including the shape and position of a geometrical celestory window that completely transformed the room.

This is the Auntie Aesthete who got my favorite rigid heddle scarf.  Last time I visited her, she showed me the little abstract guache painting she wanted to use as plan for a mural on the high wall by her new kitchen window.  When I saw it, my color memory filed it away.  Later I realized that I had some leftover cottolin in some of the same hues as the painting.  And, just like the opaque layered colors of guache interacted in the fabulous little painting (yellow on top of red-orange and umber, particularly, for a halo effect), I could make the cottolin colors interact in stripes.  Then I could give her the towels as an encouragement to go ahead and paint the mural.

I only had enough thread for two towels, and they aren’t going to be as big as I like (I like BIG kitchen towels), but I think they are going to be interesting.  The weft is a sort of putty brown cotton.  The colors will be toned down quite a bit from what you see here.

My Le Clerc Warping Reel

March 15, 2010

Have I ever told you about the six years I spent fighting mold in a rented stucco farmhouse between two creeks?  Every spring and fall the water table crept into the cellar.  I became an unofficial expert on the kinds of grey-green mold that grow on furniture and wood floors, and the kinds of mildew that grow on window frames and plaster.  At any rate, I became an expert on how ineradicable they are!  Spores are viable for upward of a decade, and–according to my friend who is a chemist–nothing really kills them but bleach or formaldehyde.  If it is humid enough for them, they will grow.  Truthfully?  Even bleach doesn’t hold back a patch of household mold for long.

Sometimes it’s convenient to be a human mold detector.  I can trust my sense of smell completely.  If there is even a tiny amount of mold on something, my mold-sensitized nose will pick up on it.  On the downside, if I walk into a musty antique store or garage, what to others is just an unpleasant odor gives me itchy eyes and a tight, choking cough that lasts for hours.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that my new-used Le Clerc warping reel arrived moldy.  I should have known better, since my old no-brand reel was another Ebay disappointment.  That one wasn’t moldy, but it had design problems.

When you have a piece of equipment you don’t like, it teaches you a lot about what you would like.  Actually, there are inherent problems in using any warping reel to achieve a consistently tensioned warp.  With a warping reel, unlike a warping board, individual warp threads accumulate on two different planes, because the pegs are perpendicular to the body of the reel.  Each new thread has a little farther to go than the last thread did to get its place as the top thread on the peg.

Some reel designs magnify the tension problems, others smooth them.  This makes a bad reel a bad bargain.  How do you tell which reels are the best?  Its mostly a matter of how the cross bars that hold the pegs attach to the body of the reel.  But it is hard to see details online, because the product photography is very low resolution.  It’s also hard to find out how much a given warping reel holds. When manufacturers state a reel’s capacity, they are assuming you will pack it tightly and make a lot of small bouts.  I don’t do that.  It’s a big pain, and I’d lose any advantage a warping reel has over a warping board.  Based on my old reel, which resembles a Louet warping reel / yarn blocker, I assume a 16 yard reel will comfortably hold 12 or 14 yards, or even less.  A 20 yard reel will hold 16 or 18.

After peering at a lot of blurry photos I decided that a Woolhouse (rare), Ashford or a Le Clerc would be a good used reel for me.  A Glimåkra would have been my first choice, but they are expensive.  The Le Clerc holds more warp than the Ashford.

Then one day I happened to find an older Le Clerc reel on an ebay auction that was ending in a few minutes for a very good price. There was no time to ask the seller about mold.  Usually, I won’t bid on ANYTHING made of wood without asking the seller where it has been stored.  Old weaving equipment is often banished to damp basements, sheds, and garages.  I also take note of the sellers location.  If they are in a humid area with mild winters, I’m wary.

I bid, I bought, I regretted.  The warping reel arrived from Tennessee smelling faintly of mold.  It was covered with a fine layer of that sitting-in-storage, ground-in, house-dust-of-ages kind of gunge, which always makes it hard to tell visually what is mold growing on the wood itself, what is mold growing on the gunge, and what is just gunge.  The metal axle was rusty.

I let the reel sit in the entry-way for a month.  Should I should try to clean it up, or just get rid of it before the mold could spread?  I decided to risk a cleaning.  Der Mann kindly de-rusted the axle with Naval Jelly.  It wouldn’t have been good to use bleach on the wooden parts–any residue could transfer to the warps and discolor them.  Besides, I am allergic to it  (another legacy of the moldy farmhouse).  On a sunny day I washed everything outside with a rag dampened in sudsy hot water.  I did a lot of rubbing before I rinsed and dried it.

This is never a great way to treat an old piece of varnished wood, but at least the gunge is gone.  As long as I’m careful to store it in a dry place with good air circulation, maybe it will be okay?

I hope so, because I like it!  Here it is with its first warp.

I don’t know if the current Le Clerc warping reels are made as nicely, but I can certainly recommend the older ones.  Judging by the the logo and the opaque brownish-yellow varnish, mine is from the fifties or sixties.  It is a beautifully joined tool.  If you make crosses at both ends of your warp, the circumference is almost exactly 2 yards.  You can move the peg holders anywhere you like for odd-number-yard warps. The design is simple.  Gravity holds the axle slotted into the heavy butcher-block base. The body of the reel slots onto the axle, where it rests on a nylon ring to reduce friction.  If you remove the adjustable peg holders, It folds to about 3″ wide.  The lumber is all top notch: unblemished Canadian maple.

I received some interesting responses when I posted about my problems winding warps with a warping mill and beaming them on.  Jane, solo warper and owner of international looms, had raddle advice: slit paper towel tubes.  And I was all like, duh! and yet, wow!  One of the things I love about weaving is the way household objects start becoming weaving tools; Jane uses Home Depot painter’s paper to separate her warp.  Cally offered hope of a well-trained husband.  Katherine, a sectional warper, likewise recommends skilled beaming help.  A bit later I found out Charleen has a vertical reel that works fine for her, now that she has learned to overcome her dizziness (though she does wind in quite small bouts).  Dizziness is one thing that has never been a problem for me while warping!  I wonder if this is a hidden advantage of the horizontal reels.  The lengths of warp slide past your eyes up-and-down, rather than side-to-side like scenery whizzing past a moving car.

I also got an out-of-the-blue comment from a seasoned Bergman Loom owner.  One of my hopes for this blog has been that new Bergman owners will find it and be spared some of the trouble I had with mine in the beginning, but I was surprised to hear from a veteran.

The lady was kind enough enough to measure her loom and send pictures.  I asked her to do this because I have long suspected that my incurably narrow sheds are due to my loom being shorter in the castle and/or breast beam than later Bergman looms.  There are not many pictures of Bergman looms on the internet–none full-figure–but I do have an magazine article from the 1940’s with a grainy photo of half a dozen set up in a library meeting room for a guild exposition.  It was very hard to see, but I pored over it, and it seemed to me the castles were taller than mine.

This lady’s loom was made in the 1970’s, shortly before the Bergmans closed up shop.  Her castle and breast beam are nearly the same height as mine (in fact my breast beam is 1/2 inch taller), but my upper and lower lamms are set 2” closer together.

Bingo!  When the upper and lower banks of lamms on a countermarche are attached to the loom too close together, your sheds are small.  Why?  Well, when you push on the treadle, the rising lower lamms and the falling upper lamms quickly crash into each other.  At that point, you can’t push the treadle any farther, so that’s as big as your shed gets.  Ditto the sinking shafts and the rising upper lamms: crash!  The best you can do is to adjust the cord lengths for all the moving parts for maximum non-crashing movement.

This is why Glimåkra looms are so hugely tall (aside from needing somewhere to hang the beater).  The more vertical space in which your shafts and lamms and treadles have free play, the bigger your sheds can be.

. . . as I understand it after crawling around my loom for months, trying to maximize my sheds.  Not that I have ever woven on a full size Scandinavian countermarche.  I’ve just thought a whole lot about loom design.  There is no better education in simple mechanics than pinpointing the shortcomings of your own machine. 

The Bergman loom was designed low and compact in order to be quite strong, yet fold easily when warped.  This has wonderful advantages.  You don’t have to take it apart to get it through a doorway, just fold in the wings.  But there are sacrifices you will make with a smaller loom.  If the height of your countermarche loom affects the size of your sheds, the depth of the loom affects their quality.  A Bergman loom may be decently deep for a countermarche, but not for a Scandinavian-style countermarche.

Deeper looms allow for more inches of stretched warp from back beam to breast beam.  This means (how do I describe this; it’s all so visual!) more total elasticity, therefore less stress on your threads while weaving.  For instance, pull on an 80” inch piece of string, then a 20” piece of string: there is more “give” in the 80” piece.  Now picture each of these two pieces of string stretched across a brick and tacked to the floor at both ends.  The 80” inch string approaches the floor from the top of the brick at a gently inclined angle, whereas the 20” string is very sharply inclined.  On a short looms the sharp incline of the warp from the lowered shafts to the fell line contributes to bad sheds.  This is because the thread angle produced by each separate lowered shaft will be quite different from its neighbor’s.  The steep angle magnifies all the discrepancies.  Your shuttle will try to sneak under the high threads when it’s supposed to glide over them.  Here’s an old picture I borrowed for a good cause.  Thank you, Ulla Cyrus.

You can get good sheds with a Bergman (I’m taking this on good faith from Mrs. S-G), but it will take a lot of fiddling.

My Texsolv tie-up is a problem in this department.  A person can only fiddle with Texsolv so much, because it only allows adjustments in 1 cm increments.  I would really appreciate being able make finer adjustments than that.  I decided to make a fresh start with the Texsolv because my loom’s tie-up had been Frankensteined.  The cords it came with were ancient, all lengths, several thicknesses–none of which fit through the holes in the lamms.   I wrapped the ends with masking tape and worried them through for my first warp, but it was hellish.  The rest of the cords were clearly on their last legs, er, strands.  The heddles were so many sizes, I couldn’t even guess which size was correct.  I think someone had simply grabbed a bunch of assorted heddles and cords belonging to various looms from what remained of Mrs. S-G’s weaving school supplies.

You wouldn’t think so, but restringing the loom with Texsolv was a huge job, as well as expensive.   My advice?  If you don’t have to go the Texolv route, don’t–at least not until you have woven 3 or 4 warps.  Unfortunately Bergmans take less kindly to Texsolv cords than most looms.  As well as the difficulty making fine adjustments, the usual benefits of Texsolv aren’t available to Bergman owners.  Because there are only 6 holes in the treadles of an 8-shaft Bergman loom, you must must make old-fashioned treadle loops.  This means no going-through-the-treadle-hole-anchoring-underneath.  No cool Vävstuga knitting needle tie-up.  Just a messy loop-through-a-loop secured with an arrow peg.

Another inconvenience: the holes in Bergman lamms are small.  Unless you take a drill to them (Please don’t!), it will be a real pain to get a Texsolv cord through.  You will spend a lot of time with a candle, melting and shaping the ends of all 80 tie up cords to severe 1” points.

That said, my Texsolv tie-up is a big improvement over the one my loom came with.  I even replaced the wires that went from the inner jacks to the lower lamms.  None of the several lengths of wire that came with the loom were the right length–more Frankensteining.  Since Texsolv is slippery, this seems to work okay, although it adds a little bulk between the shafts.

If I had it to do over again I might look harder for some linen tie-up cord.  Did you know dense, non-stretchy cord is really hard to find?  Some sources I consulted recommended linen drapery cord–the kind that goes around the pulleys on fancy fitted drapes, or that you use to string roman blinds.  In the 21st century?  Pff, doesn’t exist for normal mortals!  Though I suppose a person could try asking a seamstress or an upholsterer who sews custom drapes.  Pretty much all non-stretchy cord is synthetic now, and you really need the friction of a natural-fiber cord to make the treadle tie-up knots and Bergman twist-around-a-cuphook adjustments hold properly.  I recently discovered that Earth Guild carries seine twine.**  I bought some and it is very sturdy but not thick enough enough for the treadle tie-up.  I wonder if there are any linen carpet warps heavy enough and highly twisted enough to work for that?

I would still buy Texsolv heddles, though.  The string heddles were a pleasure to thread, and easier on my eyes than shiny Texsolv, but really needed to be replaced.  Personally, I knew I was not going to make a heddle block and tie 900 new string heddles, so Texsolv was just dandy!

Let me wind up with a testament to the power of the Internet. While I was composing this I heard from a brand new weaver who just yesterday bought a lovely older Bergman like mine.  It’s really exhilarating to have something to offer!  I had been wondering if there is any point in talking countermarche shop at such length (Like dreams, eccentric looms are always most interesting to their owners.), but now I think I will go ahead make this the first in a series of related posts, with excursions back to my current project and whatnot.  A sort of Rough Guide to Bergman Weaverland.  Maybe it will even entertain some armchair travelers.


**Sorry, I meant to say Earth Guild carries hawser twine.  “Seine twine” was stuck in my head because the old books say to use linen seine twine for heddles.  It seems to be a marine product. I see Camilla Valley Farm sells it in cotton and cotton/poly for tapestry and rug warps.  It looks a little lighter-weight than my hawser twine.

Allow Me a Whine

May 30, 2008

Warping reel put away. 314 threads of lovely 28/2 merino. I shouldn’t be complaining.

But, Waaaaaa!

Make that 313 threads. As I was about to put away the chained warp away I found a broken thread, right in the middle of the 7 yard warp. After 3+ hours on my feet by the reel, I might not have been thinking very well. Instead of starting (our late) dinner, I decided to sit down and extricate the single thread from the chain, it so offended me. A broken warp thread while I’m weaving, I can deal with. For some reason, a broken thread between the reel and the chained warp just makes me sad. I think I may have dragged it across my scissors, which I left on the table under the reel as I was chaining off the warp.

Now I’m having a Madeira, and der Mann is out buying fresh tortillas for us to eat with leftover chicken. Thank you everyone for your advice. I’d like to talk more later about some of the issues your comments brought up.

Here is the yarn I’m using:


I have a confession to make.  Even though I am looking forward to working with some color at the end of my warp, I have been dawdling about getting there.  I don’t really want to be finished, because that means it’s time to get out the warping reel and get frustrated.

Generous readers: help! 

Part of my problem is that I have not found a satisfactory way to beam on.  My old weaving books show Swedish högskola girls in 1940’s wedge sandals and handwoven aprons working in teams of four.  If I had some Swedish high school students I’d use them!  My husband helped me with the last warp, and it was not good for our relationship.  He turned the warp beam while I tried to hold one half of the warp in each hand, put in sticks, shake the threads, and give orders at the same time:  “Stop.  No, go back one notch  Okay.  No.  Wait!  Okay, now.  Nooooo!”

It doesn’t help matters that my warping reel makes one side of the warp ever-so-slightly longer than the other as it climbs the pegs.  I have to compensate for the lopsided tension by combing it as I beam.


I’d like a better reel, but I’m afraid the tension problem is endemic to them.  My current reel is similar to the Louet yarn-blocker/warping reel.  It lacks those separate cross-pieces that carry the pegs on Schacht and most other horizontal reels.A Schacht horizontal reel

Yet even with better-positioned pegs, isn’t there is always going to be a tension discrepancy as the plane of the wound warp transfers from the horizontal barrel of the reel to the perpendicularity of the pegs?

Any fellow reelers out there?  I would love to hear your take on this problem.  What sort of reel do you use?  Can you wind an evenly tensioned warp with it?

As for the beaming, I beamed my first few warps by myself when I was warping Swedish-style.  (That’s the back-to-front threading method where you sley the reed twice, using it as a raddle the first time).  The tension wasn’t too bad, and frankly I can’t remember how I managed it!  I was using 15-dent reed, so that might have helped–the friction as the yarn pulled through.

But then I bought a bendy quarter-inch Glimåkra raddle.  I tried it on both the front and the back beams with poor results and some bad ol’ times with my beaming partner.  Fortunately, they were forgiving warps.  (Fortunately, I have a forgiving spouse.)

I’m about to wind a new warp.  It’s fine wool–not too wide, but long.  And you know, I’m afraid the original owner of my loom was right.  In a handwritten note with her warping instructions, Mrs. S-G declared to her granddaughter, “This is the way I warped a loom. . .This is the simplest and best way to warp no matter what anyone says about it.  I can put a 45” warp on a loom with no one helping, which I preferred to do.”

So I’ve given in.  My loom is Swedish.  Designed by a Swede, built by Swedes.  Okay!  I’ll dress it like a Swede, for Pete’s sake!  I’ll follow your directions to the letter Mrs. S-G.  Unfortunately you don’t say how you kept your tension.

On Bergman looms the main warp beam rests in the castle, a little higher up than the back beam.  If I’d thought logically about this fact, I’d have known a raddle wasn’t the way to go.  But I wasn’t thinking logically.  I was thinking that I didn’t want to sley the whole warp twice.  After struggling to lay my warps in an open raddle without accidentally lifting a piece of them out again or knocking the rod out of the loops and onto the floor, I’m not going to mind the extra sleying so much.  I now have a rocking chair with arms that are perfect for propping a reed across my lap.  And great plans for some bag clips from IKEA.

The tension problem remains.  I don’t have enough floor to drag the warp across it under weights as Elkhorn Mountain Weaving recommends.  I don’t have a warping trapeze like the Vävstuga folks.  If I were a homeowner, I would hang chains from the ceiling and suspend my warps over a wooden closet-rod.  For now I guess I’ll try the milk jug trick.  It’s just that my beam is so low, I’ll be rehooking them every 12 inches.

Advice is welcome!  Wish me luck.