In which things start getting warped

My new tablets finally arrived, which means this project can move forward!

For those of y’all who aren’t weavers, though, let’s go over some basics first. There are lots of subtleties and refinements and differences depending on what kind of weaving you’re talking about, but at its core, weaving is about having threads pass over and under each other in order to make fabric.

In the kind of weaving I know how to do, here’s how you do that: first, you put the warp threads on your loom. These are long, each one forming a big loop. The weft thread is wrapped around your shuttle and passed back and forth at right angles to the warp threads. But for this to create fabric, it needs to go over some of the warps and under some of the others. Then, on the next pass, that needs to change — maybe not every thread (this is how more-than-binary patterns happen), but enough to get solid material out of it.

Very primitive looms require you to make that change manually, selecting each thread by hand. An inkle loom, though, achieves this by alternating leashed and unleashed threads. The unleashed ones move up and down freely, while the leashed ones are held in place by pieces called heddles. First you push the unleashed threads down below the leashed and pass the weft through; then you push them up to the top and pass it through again. Rinse and repeat. Looms are, in a basic sense, devices for 1) holding your warp threads while you work and 2) creating that shifting gap between them, which is called the shed.

On a card or tablet loom — like the kind I’m about to start using — it’s a little different. As you’ll see in a moment, all of the threads can move; they’re passed through the holes in the tablets, and by rotating those (collectively called a deck), you change which ones are above or below the shed. I’ll show how that works once I get started weaving . . . but Step One is to warp the loom.

Here’s the advantage of me having had to wait for my new tablets: it gave me time to think. Since I have the sort of brain that pre-games things, I realized that some of the memories I have of warping my inkle loom are not quite going to apply to this style of weaving.

The heddles I use on my inkle loom are just loops of string, hooked onto a peg, passed over the thread, and then hooked again. I can run the warp thread around the loom, pause to wrap a heddle over it if it’s supposed to be leashed, then keep going until I’m done warping that color for the time being, at which point I cut the thread and tie the whole thing off. Or if I’m just putting in, like, one or two threads of another color, I can wrap the one I was using around a peg, add the new color, then unwrap the previous one and keep going. Don’t worry if you don’t quite follow what I mean by that; the relevant point here is that I can just keep pulling thread off the skein for quite a while before cutting it. But on a card loom, the thread has to go through a hole. That’s not really going to work when what I’m holding is an entire skein!

Also, it was my habit in the past to go down first in warping: start at the front peg (you have to start there), run whatever course I’ve chosen along the bottom of the loom, then come over the top before I add the heddle, tie it off, etc. But since I need to pass the loose end of the thread through a hole in the card, and since the cards go at the top of the loom, it makes more sense to reverse my habitual course. That’s fine; it’s just going to feel weird. And then I’ll have to cut each thread off so I get a loose end again, rather than being able to warp continuously.

Which means this is going to be . . . a hassle.

Let’s get started!

a tablet loom with one card's worth of threads warped on it

a tablet loom with one card's worth of threads warped on it

One card down, lots of cards to go. As you can see, there are four threads passing through it, one per hole; you may also have noticed the edges of the card are color-coded. That’s because most of these will not have all four threads be identical, and once the cards start rotating, you need a way to keep track of which threads have gone where. Traditionally the holes are lettered A, B, C, D — which these lack — but it’s easier to see what you’ve got if you mark the edges; the ones I inherited from a friend (which do have the letters) had a highlighter run over them for that purpose.

three stacks of tablets for weaving, one set of cards smaller than the other two

I wasn’t paying close enough attention when I bought the new ones; they are tiny compared to the ones I got from my friend. I have no idea if I’ll wind up regretting that: they’ll probably be easier to turn (especially since they’re laminated), but the shed they create is much smaller. We’ll see.

a tablet loom with four cards' worth of threads warped on it

That’s four cards warped, with the second color now showing up. We’re on our way!

Since I complained above about the inkle-weaving habits that don’t apply here, I should note one that does: I remembered, while waiting for the tablets, that it’s good to check the loom from the side before you finish tying off a thread, to make sure you didn’t accidentally pass over a peg you should have gone under or otherwise screw up the placement. For this enterprise to work, all the warp threads need to be the same length, running along the same path. I already caught one place I’d almost messed up, so that precaution is worth the effort.

My next update will come when I start weaving. How long will the rest of the warping take? Who knows! I am out of practice at this stuff; I will have to be much more meticulous to make sure I put the right colors in the right places and also in the right threading direction (because on some cards it will run front-to-back instead of back-to-front)*; and also I’m not young anymore, but warping is still most easily done on the floor, which my back starts to dislike after a while.

*Yyyyyeah, so, I warped two more tablets after scheduling this post and then figured out that I had a flaw in my draft, the fixing of which requires me to thread tablets 4-6 down instead of up. HOWEVER! Before I resigned myself to either cutting twelve threads off the loom or painstakingly untying them and redoing them no matter which method I chose, I realized that I could solve this problem with trivial ease by just flipping the cards around and rotating them a quarter-turn to put the single white thread each one of them contains back where it needs to be. If I were doing anything more complex than the pattern I have in mind, this would be a nightmare, because it messes up that color-coding thing: a quarter turn that will put the red on top for the cards with the correct facing will instead put the green on top for these. But since my plan involves rotating the whole deck together the entire time, with no fancy variations along the way, I can actually survive this. And it’s less annoying than redoing that whole bit.

weaving tablets, some of them flipped to show their back instead of front

Pictured: not a good idea. But I can make it work.

Anyway, we’ll find out as we go just how wide of a pattern I can actually warp onto here. The threads all have to stay on the pegs; it’s no good if they start slipping off because they’re too crowded. I can (and probably will) put rubber bands or, better yet, hair elastics on the ends of the pegs to protect against slippage, but still, there’s a limit to how wide a band I can weave. I think I’ll be okay, since I only want my final product to be about an inch wide, but the knots at the front add a lot of local width. I’ll just have to play it by ear.

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