Looms, backstrap and otherwise

The European loom is a complicated and elegant piece of equipment, so perfectly designed that few modifications have been made to the essential design. The job of a loom is to keep the warp threads taut. And the threads must always have a cross.

With that said, there are a few different kinds of looms. A Jack loom has a rising shed, that is, sets of threads are lifted so the shuttle can pass underneath them. The ‘jack’ mechanism lifts the shed. The treadles, or what my husband calls the gas pedals, lift the sheds. Connecting different sheds to different treadles is one piece of making a pattern.

A counterbalance loom is usually limited to four shafts ( a jack loom can have more and of course the more sheds the more complicated a pattern). The sheds are raised and lowered equally to allow the shuttle to pass between them.

The countermarche loom includes features of both a jack and a counterbalance loom. This type of loom allows the shafts to operate independently, as on a jack, and the shed to open easily and symetrically as on a counterbalance. But the countermarche requires more time to tie up.

Other variations include rigid heddle, treadles operated by hand instead of foot, but they all utilize a mechanism for separating the threads for the shuttle.

The backstrap loom, hoever, uses the weaver herself to hold the warp taut. A strap goes around her back and a stick is used to separate the sheds or the threads which are separated into two bundles by the cross. A backstrap weaver memorizes her patterns and uses her hands to lift the individual threads for the bobbin. (The shuttle mentioned above contains the bobbin.) The heddles are not metal but string. Although this is considered a primitive form of loom, it still contains most of the pieces of the floor looms (heddles, bobbin, warp and weft, and of course the all important cross) it is still complicated. Since the patterns are memorized, weaving on one of these looms demands a great deal from the weaver.

Am I the only one who wonders how something like this was invented?