Cranbrook Loom

I finally got around to putting the Cranbrook loom to work.

I had started off this past fall with a simple scarf, or at least what I thought was simple.  I figured I would use the loom’s full ability and set it up for an 8-shaft pattern.  First off, I would have to finally figure out the tie ups for the treadles.  How hard could it be?

Well, it turns out to be a rather complicated process of finessing just how much to adjust each treadle.  And each treadle has to both pull up the shafts in use while simultaneously pulling down the shafts not in use.  That is not technically the right description, but it is something I’ve not done before, so was a little strange for me. Then, to make it more complicated, each time you adjust a treadle, it changes the other treadles that you just got done adjusting.  Several times I lost track of all the adjustments, and just started over again.

One popular thing that owners of the older Cranbrooks do is to replace the chains that control the loom with “easier” to manage nylon ties.  My Cranbrook is one of those older ones that a previous owner had updated.  After hours of work, I could not get the newer ties to work properly as the pins that are supposed to secure the ties kept falling out.  Fortunately, the loom came with a box of the original chains and I decided to try them out.  They were a huge improvement, both in my ability to make adjustments, and the extra weight they put on the treadles and keeping the shafts properly aligned.  I eventually got the loom ready to use.

I started my scarf using some of Mom’s old alpaca yarn.  It turned out to be rather brittle and possibly moth-eaten, so that the yarn was continually breaking.  Also, in writing out the weaving instructions, I inadvertently missed some treadles in my treadling guide.  All the threads in a certain group were getting tighter and tighter.  Suffice it to say, I used some sort of treadling pattern that eventually made the continued weaving of the scarf impossible.  So, between the uneven tension, the yarn breakage, and frustration, I ended up just cutting the rest of the yarn from the loom.  On all counts, it was a complete failure.

Other work distracted me for a couple of months, and I think I was avoiding the loom altogether, and pretending not to see it, even though it is the largest item in the studio.  When the frenzy of Holiday sales venues were done, I relented and decided to do a couple of test rugs.

The first was a simple plain weave rug, and what started as a sample turned out a very nice little rug.  Also, I’m a sucker for red and black.

For the the second rug, I used a 3 color twill pattern.  Unfortunately, I didn’t wind enough on the loom and had to cut the sample short.  And it really was too bad, since it would have made a very fine little rug.  So now it’s just a sample or maybe a dresser top lamp rug or something.

It was another one of those instances where I decided to use colors I wouldn’t normally use.  But it turned out so well that I’ll have to keep these in mind for a future rug.

Then a local artist approached me and wanted to commission a rug made.  I thought I would use the Cranbrook, and have the Gilmore still available for other production rugs.

The client wanted green, blue, grey and red.  And she wanted a particular weave pattern I had done on a rug a couple years ago.  It is meant to hang on a wall next to a collection of swords.  I think it turned out pretty sword-worthy.

Even with the color scheme, the idea of the same pattern for the entire rug seemed a little boring to me.  Plus, I didn’t have a good way to incorporate the red.  So I did a tapestry weave section in the middle where I could do a rug within a rug.  The different yarns gave it a little wavy effect, which, even though it suggests some technical problems, gives it an organic look.  Of course the circle was nothing but trouble, but after a couple of do-overs, one of which involved cutting the several hours of work off with scissors, it actually resembles a circle. 

The background weave pattern was a skip twill, which in this case was a normal twill threading, but skipping every 5th thread.  The skipped threads give the weave pattern those ridges running the length of the rug.

The Cranbrook loom has a nice action without having to press too hard on the treadle with my feet, or having to hold down the harnesses with my hand just to get a good shed to fit the shuttle in.  There are a couple of modifications I would like in the future.  The first in a sectional beam.  For you non-weavers, the sectional beam allows me to wind the warp threads on the loom a small section at a time, getting a more consistent and even tension.  The other modification is not so much for the loom, but some way to keep it from scooting forward as I weave.  For the Gilmore loom I attached blocks to the floor, so maybe something like that.

It will take a while to get as comfortable with the Cranbrook as I am with the Gilmore, but despite its fussiness, overall the new loom worked better than I thought.

Next up:  Rio Grande yarns.



New Loom

Did I mention I got a new loom?  Cranbrook made by Norwood Looms, 8-shaft, 60″.  This loom is famous for being designed for Loja Saarinen at the Cranbrook School in Michigan.  Its design has since been passed on to two other loom makers.  (You can read more about the Cranbrook Loom’s history here.)  It’s nice and sturdy and suitable for the heavier weaving that I tend to do.  It’s been stored unassembled for the past two months and I had to completely rearrange the studio to accommodate it, but I finally got it set up.

Cranbrook LoomFor quite while now, I’ve been having trouble rug weaving on the Gilmore loom.  By “for a while” I mean “ever since I started weaving”.  While weaving rugs, it helps to have the project under high, even tension in order to pack the yarn down and keep the rug straight.  Whereas the old loom required a lot of fussing and fixes to get things to work right, the new loom is designed differently, so some of those problems don’t occur.  The old Gilmore loom is a great loom and I’ll be keeping it for other types of projects since it has some features the new one doesn’t have.

After a lot of research, I narrowed down my wishlist to three looms.  I also decided that a new one of any of these looms was just not in the budget.  So, I waited for a used one to come up for sale.

After a few months, I saw a listing that was a little more than I expected to pay, but pretty much what I wanted.  I could live with that.  In Bend, Oregon.  Oregon’s not that far away, right?  Ok, it would now be a 2-day trip, but I think I could do that.  Also, everything in Oregon is separated by mountains, and since this was January, there would be snow and tire checkpoints.  For those who don’t drive in Oregon, they have these really strict winter tire rules there.  I don’t really have a lot of snow driving experience, but I think my Subaru is equipped to handle that.  Oh, and the loom won’t fit in a car – I’ll need a truck or van.  Luckily, our little island car rental place had a van.  These little compromises just seemed to keep mounting, but none was a dealbreaker, so I gave in on all points and committed.

I drove the van, with it’s not-rated-for-snow-driving tires onto the ferry, through Washington and Oregon, and by detour around the worst of the mountains, hopefully avoiding any tire checkpoints.  I planned to get there around 3 pm.  I got there around 6 just as the rain turned to snow.

We took the loom apart and loaded everything in the van.  By the time I was ready to go, the snow had stopped, leaving about 2 inches on the ground.  Not too bad.  But even better, the formerly wet pavement underneath was now solidly frozen.  Other drivers could tell I was from out of town by the way I skidded around, barely in control.  They all just politely stopped a safe distance away and watched as I struggled – are you supposed to turn into the skid or the other way?  I stayed in Bend for the night as I didn’t dare do any more driving until morning.  I eventually made it back the next day, but not before some rather harrowing, white-knuckle driving over unplowed remote roads and 30 miles of fog so thick that I could only see about two car lengths in front of me.  Not really something I ever want to repeat.

When I got home, I had to put the new loom in storage so I could finish some already-planned projects.  So, at the beginning of April, I spent a week painting, cleaning, moving furniture around, and setting up the new loom.

Cranbrook Loom detail

It is pretty massive and is held together with these wedges that you pound into slots with a mallet.  Instead of crank handles to turn the beams, it has these pirate ship style wheels.  (Special appearance of Rug No. 1 in the background.)

I have yet to weave anything on the new loom, and I admit I’m a little intimidated.  I had buyers remorse that lasted for about a day – It’s new, it’s different. But I’m sure I’ll learn and adapt. Right?