When I finished my second rug last week I decided it was high time I made an effort to understand the workings of my Toika Jeena countermarche loom. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never properly balanced my loom, or rather I must confess I don’t know how to do it! I knew that proper weavers do this before beginning any new project, particularly if they’ve had to change the treadling tie up. When I have changed a tie up it’s been rough and ready guess work to get a decent shed for each of the new treadle lifts. But with the advent of a more serious / dedicated approach to my attempts to weave rugs I felt now was the right moment to ‘understand my loom.
I’ve spent some time this past week reading, thinking, experimenting, making many diagrams with the intention of explaining to myself (convincingly) how the countermarche loom works and how to balance it. Many of the those generous weavers who help each other on the Weavolution website reckon you must first put some sort of warp on the loom before attempting to balance it. So I did. A very small one in jute (see above!) . This is a fibre I particularly want to work with some time soon – makes the hands a little sore though (but I have the right hand cream . . .). I made a particularly point of not drawing in the warp by allowing more than usual space at the selvedges – correcting the mistake I’d made in the early stages of my second rug. I think this warp should have been at least twice the width, but it’s served its purpose.
Here’s the first of my formal reference diagrams. The really significant illustration is of the warp line. Can you believe that I’d never really taken this idea in – that the warp should go through the very centre of the heddle as the reference point for a balanced shaft. Incredible! It seems so obvious, but I’ve never read anywhere that this should be so. No excuse though, this is common sense.
My next mini series of diagrams come out of studying my current tie up. What this illustration focuses on is how a pair of shafts (1 and 3) are raised. Starting with the treadle, the tie-up shows 1 and 3 tied to 1 and 3 lower lams (or marches). These lamms are connected directly to the jacks (or coupers). What the diagram doesn’t show is how the jacks connect to the shafts. So here’s a diagrammatic explanation.
The next diagram explains the unique quality of the countermarche in relation to the counterbalance loom. A countermarche has an additional set of lamms specifically to enable the falling shaft. This results in a much lighter action of the treadle.
As I was making these diagrams I realised what I’d missed in not assembling my loom at ‘ the outset. My Toika had been acquired from a lady who’d chosen it to weave rugs from the wool of her Herdwick sheep – but had really struggled with putting on a warp. When I collected it I didn’t have to dismantle it all, just the outer casing, so the all the tie up was in place. Then I engaged THE loom expert of West Yorkshire (Mr. Don Porritt) to reassemble it and balance it. I really regret now not making copious notes as he did this. If I’d had to get it out of the box from new I would have had to understand and install the tie-up myself.
In my week devoted to ‘understanding my loom’ I’ve been particularly grateful to a number of topic threads archived on the Weavolution website. It’s very inspiring to see the way expert weavers give such generous help and advice to novices. Here are two examples, one focused on tie-up, the other on balancing.
All this explanation is but a prelude to the business of getting a workable shed. In the image above shaft 1 and 4 have been lifted. The important aspect of ‘getting a good shed’ is to make sure the lower shed ends are at an equal height so that the ski-type shuttles I use for weaving the weft don’t snag on the lower warp threads.
For me the main area of difficulty in understanding the countermarche was learning the role played by the lamms. I spent a lot of (uncomfortable) time under my loom trying different lengths of tie-up cord from treadle to lamm. I’ve been aware for some time that Toika weavers tie their lamms in a different way than that shown in the Toika instruction manual (and the way my loom was originally tied). The next two images illustrate this difference. The first image is my four shaft six treadle loom, the second an 8 shaft, 12 treadle Toika with the plastic Texsolv anchor pin at the top of the lamm rather than underneath it. That and the fact that all the ties in this second tie-up are of identical length make a lot of sense. Perhaps in a little while I’ll find the time to move to this approach.
The second image comes from some ‘Weaving Basics’ resources for Toika looms created by Subu Designs. There is a really useful guide with text and photographs that you can find here. The most intriguing and valuable section of this resource is this passage:
Remember on a CM loom, each shaft must be tied to each treadle. All shafts either rise or sink with every treadling. (There are exceptions to this rule when the loom is being used as a jack or reverse jack loom). Move the treadles to the highest position by removing the metal rod that holds them in place and securing it, with treadles attached, in the uppermost position at the rear of the loom. Begin tying the treadles by tying the rearmost shafts first, proceeding to the front most shafts last. Tie all cords so they are taut and so all treadles remain parallel to the floor when tied. I find it easy to cut a length of Texsolv cord for every hole of every treadle. Each cord is cut long enough to reach to 3″ above the upper lamms so all cords will reach in any tie-up. By inserting an arrow peg below the hole in the treadle and threading the cord through the hole, one can install permanent treadle ties and not have to fuss with moving ties about when tying up the loom. Install a second arrow peg on the top of the treadle to keep the cord in place until used. When it comes time to tie that cord, remove the arrow peg and use it to install above the lamm to which it is being tied. When tie-up is complete, move the treadles to either of the two lowest positions. This will allow the rear shafts to travel further and open into a clean, weavable shed. The treadles will now tilt slightly towards the floor at the front of the loom.
Back in the real world of weaving my critical friend has been to the Bovey Tracey Contemporary Craft Festival 2012. Not a lot of weave this year, but one weaver caught my friend’s eye – Susie Gillespie (whose website is sadly inaccessible). This Devon-based artist has a tantalising statement on her page as a member of the Devon Guild. I think you might be justified to call this ‘vintage weave’. Notice she’s using that top of the shaft / lamb tie-up mentioned previously.
The other weave presence at Bovey Tracey was that of the Devon Weavers Workshop. This is a group of weavers who come together in an industrial unit in Ashsprington near Totnes. The workshop runs courses, exhibitions and provides a sensible space for weavers to keep their looms, equipment and yarns. It’s not unlike the workshop / group I’ve had the pleasure of visiting at Farfield Mill, Cumbria (this reminds me to mention an upcoming residency at Farfield by textile artist Alice Fox in late July). At the Craft Festival they had a dedicated space and were giving demonstrations and workshops. Their website includes links to work by seven of its members.
Maybe this week I can get back to weaving Rug #3 . . .