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Building a 4-Shaft PVC Weaving Loom

Book Review: Building a 4-Shaft PVC Weaving Loom

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I was looking for a cheap way to try out weaving but the majority of looms are outrageous in price.  This caused me to start looking for DIY plans which led me to find this really cool book on building DIY PVC Weaving Loom.

I contacted to author and he was kind enough to write the following post for me.  I am not receiving anything for posting this, I just believe this is a great idea.  When I get some time I plan on doing a full review of his book and actually making the loom.

I hope this is useful for you, and see the usefulness of a loom costing under $200 versus the $500 to multiple thousands for a pretty loom.

Now for the article from David Holly of PVCLoom.com.

Why modern folks should look into weaving

Thinking of weaving as a way to “remember the past”, sounds to me like a great way to irritate High School history students. But thankfully, there are a lot of important reasons to keep this craft alive.

For example, the iPhone in your pocket owes its existence to weaving. Joseph Marie Jacquard invented the Jacquard Loom in the early 1800s. It used punched cards to control the patterns and designs in the woven fabric. These punched cards, and how they were used by Jacquard, formed the foundation for virtually all modern computers.

The Wikipedia page on Jacquard states, “Jacquard’s invention had a deep influence on Charles Babbage. In that respect, he is viewed by some authors as a precursor of modern computing science.” Pretty cool!

But other than the historic aspects of Looms and Weaving, us modern folk can enjoy weaving as a craft like any other. The types of cloth and design patterns possible with available modern Looms is endless. Plus it gives us an appreciation for modern weaving technology.

Before the invention of the Power Looms that sparked the Industrial Revolution, all cloth was woven or knitted by hand. That meant every piece of clothing, socks, underwear, curtains, bedspreads, sheets, towels, rugs, etc., etc., were all handmade items. Even Jacquard’s invention, which let weavers accomplish in a day what normally took a week, still required nine hand spinners to keep a single loom in operation on a daily basis. In the mid-1800s Jacquard-woven coverlets (bedspreads) were so valuable that men often bought them as engagement gifts for their Fiancés. (As a comparison, a Jacquard coverlet might cost $600. But back then, you could also purchase 10 acres of farm land for $600.)

We touch and use fabrics every day of our lives. Knowing how they are made, and learning how to make them ourselves, can be valuable information in troubling times. I’m not what you would call a “survivalist”, but I do know that knowing how to weave would be a valuable skill if (heaven forbid) society ever collapsed.

Is it easy to weave?

Yes and no. I find the process of weaving to be easy. Open a shed, push the shuttle through, close the shed, and beat the weft into place. Weaving is the fastest method of creating fabric; much faster than knitting or crocheting. You can probably weave an inch of fabric or more in the time it takes to knit just one row of the same width.

What is not so easy about weaving is setting up the loom. This is also called warping the loom. You must measure out the warp threads, and tie them to the loom on the back roller. To do this, a warping board is often used, which is a square frame with pegs.
Once you measure out the warp threads on the warping board, you must remove the warp and move it to the loom. To summarize the next steps, you first tie the warp to the back beam. Next, you thread the warp ends through the heddles in the harness frames. Then you insert the warp ends through the reed. And finally, you tie the warp ends to the front beam.

Many weavers attach long warps to their loom to reduce the number of times they have to warp the loom. But this has a downside. You must weave all of the projects before you can take them off the loom.

As I said above, understanding the workings of weaving gives one a deep appreciation for modern textile mills.
But this warping process can easily be mastered. Some weavers even say they enjoy the process. One thing is for sure – the warping process is very important because it forms the foundation for your fabric. If the warp is uneven, then the finished fabric will not be even.

Does it cost a lot?

It can! And this is one of the primary reasons I created the PVC Loom. Years ago I decided that I wanted to weave. But when I looked at the price of even the smallest table loom I was shocked. Today, a new table loom with a 22” weaving width will cost anywhere from $300 to over $900 depending on the accessories and manufacturer. At the other end of the price spectrum are the large floor looms for weaving wider width fabrics and rugs. These looms can cost anywhere from $1,200 to over $6,000 new. Even loom accessories are outrageously priced. A “kit” to add 4 extra harnesses to one popular floor loom cost over $900 alone. All that money for something a little more refined than logs and sticks! I always thought that there was something not quite right about this pricing structure, and I finally figured it out.

Long ago, exactly when I’m not sure, loom manufacturers transformed the handloom into a piece of fine furniture. (My theory is that this happened shortly after the time when hand weaving ceased to be a vocation and emerged as a craft.) While there is nothing functionality wrong with furniture quality looms, they have created a true paradigm resulting in very high prices. Most all handlooms today are made of hardwood and are constructed like fine furniture. Fine hardwood furniture requires a lot of time. People with the skills of a cabinetmaker are needed to dimension, join, shape, sand, stain, and finish the wood. The looms produced are very usable and most are quite beautiful. Unfortunately, for us, they are also quite expensive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with such looms. It is not my intent to bash any of the loom manufacturers out there, especially since they have helped to keep the craft of weaving alive all these years. People working within a true paradigm, such as this, never even think of questioning the paradigm itself. Just as no one would expect a bird to think of questioning the air in which it flies. I just happen to come from outside this paradigm, so I started asking questions.

I think that many people would love to start weaving but can’t afford a loom plus all of the required accessories. So, I determined that the real question is, “DO I HAVE TO BUY A PIECE OF FURNITURE IF I WANT TO WEAVE?”
I think that the loom is a tool, not something to be put on display. Pride of ownership can be nice, but in my opinion, it is out of place in a craft such as weaving. After all, the focus of any craft is not the tools, but the work produced using the tools.

For me personally, the high cost and fancy hardwoods had yet another drawback. I considered purchasing one popular rug loom a few years ago. It is made from mahogany and maple and costs over $5,000 brand new. It’s a beautiful, fully functional weaving machine. But, I think I would actually worry too much about dents and scratches to use it properly. Maybe it’s just me, but I hate getting scratches and dents in a beautiful piece of wood, whether it happens to be part of a dining room table, or a baby grand-sized floor loom. I’d probably end up just polishing it once a week and showing it off to friends and relatives. I think that looms should be used, not admired.

How hard (or easy) it is too make? And how much does it cost?

I work as a programmer in the pharmaceutical industry. And a big part of my job is documenting my software. I used my documentation skills to write the PVC Loom book. There are over 100 photos showing each operation, plus detailed instructions laid out one step at a time. I also provide more than one way to accomplish certain parts of the loom. For example, there are instructions for hanging the harness frames using Texolv Cord (from Sweden created specifically for hand weavers), or using ordinary nylon rope from the hardware store. And there are two ways to finish the slider bars to hold them in place. You can use Velcro tabs, or you can cut notches to “hook” the bars in place while weaving.

Many people have told me they like the way the book is written. It is easy to understand, the instructions are very clear, and I use a big of humor now and then. I had the book proof read by a hand weaver, and she and her Son built a PVC Loom using my pre-publication draft copy. They found several mistakes and omissions that I fixed before it went to print. I have a special “thank you” for them in the beginning of the book.

All the parts for a PVC Loom, including reed and heddles, will probably cost you around $200; much less if you plan to scrounge around at garage and yard sales, or browse equipment on eBay.

Weaving on the PVC Loom

I use a folding table I found at Staples that is four feet long. I stand when I weave and use my tummy against the front of the loom as I pull the slider bars forward. Compared with other table-style looms, I think the PVC Loom is much quicker. The action is very smooth and light, and that makes for quicker weaving.

I have a very expensive wooden table loom I purchased about 14 years ago. It has a 22” weaving width and has 8 shafts. It cost $550 back then. Today, the same loom costs over $900! And when I compared the action on the professionally made table loom to my hardware-store PVC Loom, I was amazed! The wooden table loom has many eye screws that force the harness frame ropes through some tight turns. These ropes make their way up to a slanted action board that has wooden levers. When you pull a lever down, it pulls one of the harness frames up. Due to the tight turns, the action is very stiff, which makes the weaving process a lot slower.

In contrast, the PVC Loom has a flat action board. And there is a slider bar directly over each harness frame. The ropes only bend 90 degrees and pull in a straight line. This makes for a very fast action with very low drag because the ropes don’t have to make any tight turns. I didn’t really worry about the looks of the final PVC Loom – I was more interested in function over form.

Some examples of things you can make on the PVC Loom

The PVC Weaving Loom is a “Jack Loom”. Jack Looms are lightweight looms that are intended for smaller textiles and accessories like scarves and shawls. They are perfect for kitchen towels, table runners, napkins, place mats, and even washcloths. A lot of weavers like to make scarves and kitchen towels as Christmas gifts. You can even weave fabric for men’s ties.
Even though these may seem like every day ordinary items, the possibilities for color and pattern variations are very exciting. Probably the best thing a weaver can do is to turn an ordinary object, like a kitchen towel, into an appealing work of art that becomes part of a kitchen’s décor.

If you look at patterns and color combinations on websites like Pinterest.com, you can get a great idea of what is possible with this little loom.

What you can’t make on the PVC Loom are big, heavy weavings like rugs and bath towels. And that’s really beyond the scope of a Jack Loom. All of the principles of weaving can be learned, including the warping process. So, making and using a PVC Loom can provide valuable weaving experience that you can use on any other loom.

The quality of the cloth produced on the PVC Weaving Loom will improve as you gain experience weaving. In most cases (like with me, for example), a weaver will have great success with the majority of the weaving in the middle of the cloth. But the more difficult parts to master are the edges. This is called the “selvedge” in weaving terminology. Getting the weft threads (the threads that go left to right through the warp threads) even, and with the proper tension, is the skill all weavers need to master. But uneven selvedges are nothing to be ashamed of, and they improve as you gain experience. These are, after all, handmade items.

Where to get the PVC Loom book

The website, http://www.PVCLoom.com, has a link to the book’s page on lulu.com. Lulu is the publisher, and they have an ingenious Print-On-Demand system that only prints a copy when you place your order. Books arrive in about 4 to 5 days on average. I used Lulu.com because they were able to print using a spiral-bound cover. This lets the book lay flat for easy reference when you are building your PVC Loom.

Happy Weaving!

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