Weaving on a loom requires that threads be strung so that each is assigned to a shaft, also called a harness. Pedals lift the various shafts up in different sequences to create patterns while weaving. It’s really more involved than that, but suffice it to say that, traditionally, once you string up the loom, that’s it – you can’t change the assigned shaft. However, in a technique called shaft switching, you can do just that. As I discovered, unless you have a loom rigged up for such a purpose, the process is lengthy and messy and frustrating.
Here is my over-zealous attempt at shaft switching on a 4-end block weave rug (for those of you keeping track):
Shaft switching was pioneered by Peter Collingwood, and his son, Jason Collingwood, is the current master of the technique. (If, for some reason, you’re really interested in learning more, see The Techniques of Rug Weaving by Peter Collingwood.)
Jason Collingwood, by the way, is the weaver whose work I most aspire to. I once took a rug weaving class with Jason where I learned how to temporarily adapt a loom for shaft switching using string ties and slip knots. I had never made a rug using shaft switching until now, and I may never do another. Of course I had to make it even more complicated. Normally, one sets up a shaft switching loom so that threads can alternate between pattern 1 and pattern 2. I thought it would be keen to alternate between multiple patterns at once. Wouldn’t that be cool? Uh, no.
Where the pattern shifts horizontally – that’s the where the shaft switching occurs.
Ok, to be truthful, the shaft switching part worked. There were some quirks, but it did work. I was more disappointed in the color and design than anything else. That’s my own fault. It was really the set up and some of the complications during weaving that I’d rather not ever do again. I had trouble figuring out which of the 128 supplemental ties were which, the ties kept binding up in the loom, and the set up took forever and a day.
(Edit: To be fair, I would do a scaled down shaft switching project, or one using a loom with more permanent modifications for the technique.)
After two days of tying tiny knots, the loom looked like this.
But I did learn some things during the whole process. Like, if you’re going to experiment, maybe go smaller. I also figured out some problems attributed to some sloppy weaving techniques I had been using. As a result, the next rug (coming soon!), that is the same type of block weave rug but without the shaft-switching part, turned out great.
Reverse side is the same, but with the opposite colors:
Next: More 4-end block weave, this time with 100% less shaft switching.