Early looms – warp weighted

No discussion of early looms would be complete without mentioning warp weighted looms.

As I mentioned in a previous post, weights have been discovered in archeological digs. The earliest date from the seventh century B.C. in Anatolia. In Europe, this type of loom was used since Neolithic times ( and according to one of the books I read is still used in Norway!). It is thought that this is the type of loom used in Ancient Greece.

What makes this loom different? Well, most of the modern looms are oriented horizontally. The weaver sits on a stool or bench. The warp runs from a front beam through the reed and heddles to a beam at the back. The tension or the warp threads can be adjusted by tightening the beam. The warp weighted loom is oriented vertically. In a warp weighted loom, the weaver stands.Moreover, she must walk back and forth and she pushes her shuttle through the sheds. How did she obtain several yards of cloth? With the modern jack, the warp can be very long and rolled around the front beam, and unrolled gradually as the weft threads are woven through. From what I’ve read, the warp weighted looms were tall. From the descriptions, she would have had to stand on a stool for the first bit of weaving. And pieces of cloth would have had to be sewn together to achieve the necessary length.

Tension is very important. To achieve a closely woven cloth, the warp and weft threads must be tightly packed together. So, the warp in every loom is under tension. In the warp weighted loom, warp threads are tied around weights that hang to an inch or so above the ground. Sticks would have had to be put through the warp to form the sheds.

All in all, weaving with this type of loom would have been much more physical than with a more modern loom. And, as a weaver, I wonder how it would have been possible to create the different patterns possible to construct on even a four shed jack loom.

A word about Norway and the Norse. The warp weighted loom is the type that would have been brought to the Norse (and Viking) colonies. Think Iceland, Greenland, and even early North America. Remnants of these looms, as well as cloth and weights, have been excavated from digs in all these areas. Ostergard, in Woven Into the Earth, discusses the digs in Greenland and the artifacts removed from just such a dig. The colonies were originally established during the middle ages. I always thought that the name Greenland was a lie,  chosen to lure colonists to a harsh and forbidding land. But the climate during this time was much warmer than it became later. In England, the climate was so warm grapes were grown and England had its own wine industry. But after the eleventh century, the climate became much colder. (It is call the Little Ice Age). So much for English made wine. And the climate in Greenland (and in North America) became too harsh for these colonies and they had to be abandoned. Or else the colonists died out.

An interesting study of the burials in North America shows that the bones, coming forward, show evidence of starvation and nutritional deficiencies. The dead also had to be buried in much more shallow graves since the permafrost line rose and graves couldn’t be dug as deeply as formerly.

Weaving and an interest in looms has led me far afield.