Demystifying the Loom

Demystifying the Loom

The man sat working on his loom. There was a beautiful rhythm in the way he seemed to become a part of the machine, both replying to each others slightest movement. A tap of his foot lifted two shafts upwards, a tug on a cord & the shuttle ran with the pick, gliding through the warp threads.
It looked like magic seeing someone work on the loom. The number of threads! The process through which these threads transform into fabric is a complicated process which lifts the weaver from a mere craftsman to a master creator. The working of the loom completely intimidated me, with too many things moving at once for me to comprehend. To overcome my fear of the loom & come a step closer to being able to weave; I joined a basic weaving course at the Weavers Service Centre, Bharat Nagar, New Delhi.

The loom is surprisingly simple in its design. It comprises:

  • Warp - the longitudinal threads running through the loom

  • Weft - threads running horizontally from one side of the cloth to another between the warp threads.
    A single thread of the warp and weft is known as an 'end' & 'pick' respectively.

  • Heald - thin long wire or cord with an eye at the centre and two loops at either ends. A warp thread passes through the eye of the heald to control its movement during weaving.

  • Heald Frame - a rectangular wooden or iron frame used to hold the healds in place. Thin metal rods are placed horizontally along the frame .the loops on either side of the healds slide on these thin rods

  • Heald Shaft - the heald and the heald frame together comprise of the heald shaft.

  • Treadles - thin wooden peddles placed under the loom near the foot of the weaver. The peddles have holes drilled at the far end and cords are tied through the holes to the healdshaft to enable their movement.

  • Sley - a wooden frame, fixed at top, to the body of the loom enabling it to swing. The sley accommodates -

    • Two sley swords - vertical wooden arms forming the structure of the sley.

    • Reed - a long metal frame with thin metal wires equidistant to each other. The reed is fixed on to the lower end of the sley. A long smoothly polished piece of wood is placed on the reed as a reed cap to enable easier grip.

    • Sley Race (explained later)

  • Reed hook - a thin long strip of metal, with a hook on one end and a plastic handle at the other.

  • Shuttle - an eye shaped wooden or metal piece. It may even be a combination of wood with metal caps. The centre of the shuttle is carved out to accommodate the weft bobbin.

  • Weft Bobbin - a thin wooden or plastic pipe on which the weft thread is wound.

  • Sley Race - the path on which the shuttle runs along the reed. Two shuttle boxes, rectangular wooden boxes are placed at either end of the sley race. The shuttle rests in the shuttle box when not in use. A picker is a piece of leather or wood, iron, brass or rubber placed inside the shuttle boxes. The picker gives a blow to the shuttle to drive it to the other box. It also sustains the impact of the shuttle when it enters a box.

  • Lease - rods dividing the warp threads into even and odd numbers is termed as lease. The rods passing between the two divisions of the warp threads are called lease rods. These rods are thin flat wooden slats.

There are four wooden beams in a loom-

  • Warp beam (m) - the warp yarn is wound around this beam, which is fitted at the bottom at the back of the loom.

  • Back beam (n) - is fixed above the warp beam, acting as a guide for the warp threads.

  • The third beam is the front rest, placed at the front of the loom, after the weaver's seat (q). The back beam and the front rest keep the warp yarn horizontal and under proper tension to facilitate weaving. The front rest also guides the finished cloth onto the fourth beam which is the cloth beam - which is a roller for the made cloth.

The interlacing of the warp and weft is called weaving.
The warp ends are passed through the eye of the healds, with the help of the reed hook. This process is known as drafting. The number of healdshafts required in a loom depends on the number of ends in one repeat of the design. The most important function of the healdshaft along with keeping the threads in place is that of shedding. A shed is formed by the division of the warp threads into upper and lower layers. A pick of weft is passed through this division, allowing the interlacing of the warp and weft. The passing of the pick through the shed is known as picking.

The open space between each wire of the reed is termed as a dent. A warp end is passed through a dent with the help of the reed hook, after it passes through the heald this process is known as denting. The reed keeps the warp ends in their respective position. The reed acts as a guide for the shuttle to pass from one shuttle box to another. It also helps in beating the last pick of weft to the fell of the cloth (fell - part of the cloth which is already woven). Depending on the fineness of the warp yarn a reed with a particular number is used. To find the number of the reed one must count the number of dents in one inch of the reed and multiply it by two. The finer the yarn the higher the number of reed used. To weave a silk sari a 144 number reed may be used so in one inch of reed there are 72 dents in comparison to a reed for a coarse cotton warp which has 22 dents in one inch.

Once the drafting and denting has been done, the two ends of the warp yarn are secured to the beams. The part of the warp yarn on the further end beyond the healdshaft is wound around the warp beam and along the back beam which guides the threads to the healdshafts. The yarn towards the weaver is tied to the front rest. Once the weaving process begins the made cloth is guided to the cloth beam below.

The seated weaver presses the treadle with his foot. The treadle and the healdshafts are connected with cords tied in such a manner as to make the shafts move up and down. When the shaft moves down it forms the lower layer of the shed. This motion imparted to the healdshaft by the treadle is called a shedding motion. Raising the various healdshafts in their required order to form the pattern is called lifting. The tie-up (of the treadle to the shafts) for the shedding and lifting motion is done differently.

By pressing the treadle and the movement of the healdshafts the shed is formed. The weaver now pulls a cord which attaches both the pickers to the sley. Once the cord is pulled the picker pushes the shuttle harbouring the weft bobbin through the shed towards the shuttle box at the other end of the sley race. The weaver then swings the sley towards himself, placing both or one of his hands on the reed cap pulling the sley towards him. This forward motion of the sley enables the reed to beat the last pick to the fell of the cloth. Beating of the pick ensures the density of the cloth to be even; hence the force applied should be the same. Once the sley swings back the treadle is pressed again forming the shed. The shuttle shoots out of the shuttle box whizzing through the shed, the sley is pulled beating the pick firmly to the remaining cloth. And so the loom goes clickaty clack on and on...

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