Open Source Loom

By Ben Everard. Posted

As part of Derby Museum’s ‘Derby Silk Mill Museum of Making’ project, artist Toni
Buckby designed and shared two weaving looms: a simple frame loom and a more complex heddle loom. The designs are available here.

The frame loom is entirely laser-cut from any 3 mm material (we opted for acrylic, while the designer used MDF – it might be worth avoiding plywood as any splinters may snag on the yarn).

The heddle loom is a bit more complex and needs a few bits that can’t be laser-cut, such as bolts and dowels. As we’re weaving novices, we focused on the simpler and easier frame loom. The designs come as SVG files. Depending on your laser-cutting software, you may need to change the colours or size of the lines, but they’re easy to work with, and we had no trouble cutting them out.

The frame loom consists of a hollow square with teeth along the top and bottom, as well as associated bits for weaving. In this case, the bits you need (on this one, a spool to hold the yarn when threading, and bars to make it easier to thread the yarn under and over alternating threads) are cut from inside the loom, so there’s little waste.

You might need to set your cutter to cut these out first as the material may move slightly if the outer frame is cut first.

Weaving with the loom is all fairly straightforward. Some yarn is threaded over the comb sections on the top and bottom of the square to create a series of parallel threads (this is the warp in weaving terminology). Some more yarn is wound around a shuttle and threaded under and over the warp (this bit of yarn is known as the weft) to form a line of weaving. The weft is threaded back and forward to gradually build up the fabric. Once you’ve filled the frame with fabric, you can cut it out and tie up the loose ends of the warp to stop it coming undone.

These small squares of fabric can be sewn together to make larger items, or simply used independently (such as for drinks coasters).

A finished square of fabric – the pattern comes from the colour changes in a single thread of yarn

You can change the yarn you use in the weft to make patterns in the fabric – adding different colours and textures of yarn can lead to startling effects in the weave. For more advanced patterns, change the way you thread the weft through the warp. By going under and over in orders other than ‘under one over one’, you can build up designs in the weave of the fabric itself. There’s not much limit to the complexity of pattern you can weave – if you’re willing to take the time. There’s an active weaving community on YouTube which should help you get started and build up to more advanced techniques.

Of course, your weaving doesn’t have to just be about aesthetics, and the Interlace Project have experimented with weaving in conductive thread alongside the yarn, to make touch-sensitive areas of fabric. There could well be more opportunities to incorporate technology into the actual substance of the material itself, rather than creating wearable electronics by adding components to pre-existing materials.

Speedbumps

While this loom is simple, it’s quite time-consuming to weave because you have to thread the warp over and under each thread of weft every time you take it across the fabric. The more complex heddle loom has a block that raises or lowers alternate threads of weft to make it much quicker to thread the weft. This loom also allows you to make longer pieces of fabric as it is rolled up as it’s woven. The downside of the heddle loom is that it’s a more complex loom to build and set up.

While the frame loom is quite small, and you’d struggle to build up a large amount of material with it, it’s easy to make and gives you the chance to learn about weaving and experiment with patterns. You shouldn’t have much trouble expanding the design to a larger frame to make larger weaves, but you might be better served by the heddle loom.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

A fun little laser-cuttable project to help you learn about

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