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Warp-weighted Loom

It is thought that the first looms, called warp-weighted looms, were vertical structures. The weaver would suspend fibers from a tree branch, which was parallel to the ground, or he might fashion a vertical loom using tree limbs and branches. Below is an image of a warp-weighted loom depicted on a terra cotta Greek vase. The picture gives us clear information about early loom construction, tools used, and weaving processes.

Warp ends were tied over the top branch and were then placed under tension with stones or weights made of baked clay. Initially, weaving was accomplished by walking back and forth in front of the loom, lifting one warp thread at a time, and passing the weft under and over the warps from side-to-side. Working against gravity, wefts were pushed up into place with the weaver's hands or with a crude comb. Since every warp thread had to be lifted by hand, the process was slow and tedious. In time, a large tapered stick was introduced and was used to carry the weft across the warp and to push, or beat, the threads up into place. Early on, this stick resembled an over-sized needle, but ultimately, it became the shuttle.

One of the most useful discoveries during the evolution of weaving was the realization of the shed, an opening in the warp through which the weft thread travels, resulting in a web. Initially, weavers had to raise every warp thread by hand and then pass the weft thread through bit by bit, but in time, weavers found ways to create sheds. One such way involved the insertion of a rod under every other warp thread. The rod, called the shed stick, could then be lifted or turned on its side, revealing a clear passage for the weft. The creation of the shed hastened weaving time, but the weaver still had to continually use one hand to hold up the rod in order to pass the shuttle through the shed.

Horizontal Ground Loom

The horizontal ground loom, probably a spin-off of the warp-weighted loom, was another primitive weaving tool. Equally spaced sticks or pegs were driven fairly deep into the ground in two parallel lines. The lines were spaced several feet apart, depending upon the desired length of the fabric to be made. The distance between the pegs varied according to the type of weaving desired, and the width of the two rows also played a part in the size of the fabric. Winding the warp began by tying the warp yarn onto the outside peg in one row and then crossing over to and wrapping around the corresponding peg in the opposite row, and then back to row one, peg two, and so on. Constant tension in winding the warp was imperative for a successful weaving. Using a shed stick and one or more shuttles, the weaver would bend over the tensioned warp and weave from the one end to the other.

Pit Loom

Since the horizontal ground loom required the weaver to lean over to accomplish his task, this made for a very uncomfortable exercise. Eventually, the ground loom evolved into the pit loom, so named because the loom was placed over a pit which was dug into the ground. The weaver could now sit comfortably on the edge of the pit with legs dangling in the hole and be on the same plane as the loom.

Frame Loom

With the development of the frame loom, the weaver was had a portable tool, one that was easily constructed and could be used almost anywhere. The loom was built using four sticks, attached at right angles, making it necessary for opposite sides to be equal lengths. The warp was wound by tying a warp thread to the top stick and moving down to the bottom stick, wrapping around it, and moving back to the top, and repeating this process until the desired width was achieved. The weaving could be done by holding the loom in one's lap or by placing the loom on a table. A shed stick could be installed to lift warps as needed.