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Weaving Old School: Day 3

19 Sep

In my last two posts, I discussed how to build the loom and its basic operation and how to thread the loom.  Today, I will show you a video of some weaving in action (complete with an epic outfit!) and show you some of the finished products.

Click the following link to check out my video: Weaving comes to life!

As you can see from the video, it is pretty straightforward but very tedious.

Step 1: Push the shuttle (bolt of thread) through the space between the two long planes of thread (the warp threads.)

Step 2: Step on the foot peddle to switch the position of the thread planes.

Step 3: Pull the wooden comb against the newly positioned weft thread (the horizontal one) in order to pack it down.

Step 4: Repeat.  Over, and over, and over again for about 8 hours until the fabric is about five feet long.

Step 5: Sew a loose thread looping in and around each warp thread in order to finish the edges.

Step 6: Roll the completed fabric onto the bolt and start again.

Once the bolt is full, the fabric is cut into five foot pieces to create scarves. The scarves are then loaded into a truck and driven eight hours to the nearest city where they are sold to tourists as local artisan handicrafts.

I was told that the scarves I made couldn’t be sold because they were too amateur and lumpy!  Weaving may seem like a simple process but it takes years to master and perfect.  As a result, I got to keep all of my scarves!  Here are some pics of my handiwork 🙂

Look at all those lumps! 😉


It was so cold in China that I wrapped myself in all my scarfs

My scarf kept me warm while hiking on the Great Wall of China!

It was a really wonderful and amazing experience to learn all about crafting in another culture and I am forever grateful to have had such an incredible opportunity.  You can read the paper I wrote about my experience living and working in this small village here.

Now I just have to build one of these things in my backyard and I’ll be in business!


Weaving Old School: Day 2

15 Sep

In my last post, I discussed how to build a traditional Chinese loom from scratch.  Today, we are going to learn how to thread the loom.  Let’s start with a photo of how the whole thing looks when it’s threaded and in action:

This is Aiyi, she's the best weaver in town!

The woven fabric to the left is completed.  You can see to the right of her hands the two planes of vertically stretched threads that meet at the ends closest to her, forming a ‘V’ shape.  Those are called the warp threads and they are stretched taught across the entire length of the loom.  Each thread is held in its own individual loop made out of the white string suspended from the top of the loom.  The white string is attached to pedals at her feet which she presses to bring the bottom plane to the top and vice-versa.  Each time the planes are switched, she passes a thread horizontally through the ‘V’ space made by the planes.  This is the weft thread, which gets packed down by the giant wooden comb in Aiyi’s hands in the photo above.

Here you can see how each thread goes through a white loop.

Here you can see how each of the white loops are wrapped around bamboo dowels in order to create the suspension.  This photo also helps to give you an idea of the two separate planes of warp (vertical) thread.

The thread is knotted in a special way at the end of the loom to make it easier to feed more thread through the loops as needed.

End of the loom

When the fabric is done, it is rolled onto a piece of wood used to make a bolt:

As you can probably imagine, with so many threads and ropes hanging around, it gets tangled pretty easily!  This method of weaving is pretty simple, but it becomes tedious because a weaver must constantly get up and adjust the warp threads that have become tangled from being switched back and forth.  Stay tuned for a video of *yours truly* wearing traditional Chinese clothing AND weaving on this loom.

Weaving Old School

15 Sep

Today’s post is the first part of three chronicling a very special and unique experience I had while learning how to weave on a loom.  I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to a very rural area of China and study the areas longstanding tradition of hand weaving fabric.

The loom structure and operation can seem daunting at first, but it is actually pretty straightforward once you learn the basics.  All the looms were built by hand using wood from trees we chopped down ourselves!

The loom is built about 6 feet long and 5 feet tall and basically looks like a 4-post bed!  Here is a sketch I made for our blueprints:

Piece o' cake, right?

The basic point of the structure is to be able to stretch the thread taught all the way from one end of the loom to the other, creating the “warp” (the thread that goes the long way).  Then, through a series of strings and wooden dowels, two separate warp planes will be created, like two sheets stacked on top of each other. The two planes move up and down between each other with the push of a petal.  Each time the planes switch positions, a spool of thread passes through horizontally, creating the “weft.”  In this way, thread by thread, fabric is made!  Fabric is still made using this centuries-old basic principle, the only difference is that today, most of it is made with machines!

This is what the loom looks like from the point of view of the weaver.  The two hanging wooden dowels (labeled “reni”) are connected by string to foot pedals which switch the warp (planes of fabric shown vertically).  Each time they switch, the bolt of thread (labeled “sige”) is passed through horizontally.  The wooden rectangle (labeled “busi”) is like a giant comb for the thread and each time the weft is woven through the warp, the wooden rectangle is pulled down to push the weft in nice and tight.  You wouldn’t want a bunch of little, see-through holes in your clothes, would you?!

Here is a photo of the finished loom once it was built and threaded!

Front of the loom!

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll show you all exactly how this crazy contraption works and turns thread into beautiful scarves and fabric.  You’ll also surely get a kick out of my crazy weaving outfit 😀