As a child, I studied accordian and ballet. In adolescence, I dabbled in track and field and the martial art hapkido.
So when I first arrived at a loom, shuttle in hand, it was with a keen awareness of my body: how it interacts with tools, the necessity of proper positioning, and the need for “drills” in order to develop muscle memory.
The words of past teachers and coaches ringing in my ears, I set out to discover the most efficient way to do the tasks involved in making cloth: winding warps, dressing the loom, and weaving.
I analyzed my motions and fine-tuned them to make the movements flow smoothly and efficiently. Weaving is a repetitive activity. When your movements are economical, you weave faster and with less fatigue.
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Good posture at the loom is essential. When weaving, it is important to sit on your hip bones, not your tail bone. Make sure that your pelvis is in a neutral position and you are sitting upright. Keep your abdominal muscles tight and your back straight.
The next thing to look at is the height of your bench.When you sit at the loom, you should be high enough that, with your shoulders relaxed, your elbows clear the breast beam. If you sit too low, you will have to hunch your shoulders to raise your arms when you throw the shuttle. This is very tiring, and leads to muscle cramps in shoulders and neck.
When seated, your hips should be higher than your knees, otherwise treadling will stress your lower back. When your hips are lower than your knees, you use your lower back and abdomen to lift your feet. When you sit on a taller bench, with your hips higher than your knees, the work-load shifts to your thighs. Thigh muscles are some of the biggest and strongest in our body; you will be able to weave longer and more comfortably with your hips higher than your knees.
If you are short in the torso and raising the bench makes it hard to reach the treadles, you can add blocks to the treadles to make them taller. (One creative weaver I know bought platform shoes to weave in!)
Sitting too high is as bad as sitting too low. If you are too high, you will find yourself bending your neck to watch the shuttle when you throw and catch it, especially if you wear bi-focals. Another problem with a bench that is too high is that it may reduce circulation to your legs.
Not everyone is the same height or leg length. It is helpful to have a bench that is either adjustable or custom-fit to your body.
You may find that a custom-built bench like the ones made by Walter Turpening worth the investment. Mr. Turpening uses your measurements to build a bench custom-sized for you. In additon, the seat is woven so that there are no hard edges to cut off circulation.
For my three looms, I have three different types of seating.
- For my Leclerc Fanny, I have an adjustable bench built by my husband, Doug. Students who come to my studio use this loom, so I needed a bench that could fit many weavers.
- My Woolhouse Tools loom is too high for an ordinary chair, so I use a kitchen stool.
- I removed the built-in bench on my AVL when I realized it could not be adjusted to fit me. I now “perch” on a tall, heavily padded stool. This is the loom I weave on most often, so it was important the seating be comfortable.
All bodies, looms, and tools are different. We all have abilities and disabilities; what works for one person won’t necessarily work for the next. If something about your weaving is uncomfortable, analyze why, and what needs to be changed, in order to avoid physical stress.
Once you get your seating arrangements right for you, remember to take breaks! When you can weave without discomfort it will be tempting to weave for long stretches of time. A good rule of thumb is that the weaver should take a break every 45 to 60 minutes. Some weavers wind a single bobbin at a time so they are forced to take a break to wind their next bobbin. I wind enough bobbins to last until my next “scheduled” break at which time I leave the studio and go do something else entirely for 15 or 20 minutes.
Ideally, weavers should work towards developing a rhythm to their weaving. Opening the shed, throwing the shuttle, and beating should flow into one seamless movement. When the weaver achieves this rhythm, the act of weaving becomes a dance, an art form, a working meditation.
If you are just starting out and your motions are awkward and uncomfortable, take heart: with a little experimentation and attention to detail you will find the positions and motions that work for you.
Laura Fry has been weaving professionally for more than thirty years. In 1997, she was granted her Master Level by the Guild of Canadian Weavers. In 2004, she self-published a book, Magic in the Water: Wet Finishing Textiles. Her informative website is full of articles and tips about weaving: http://www.laurafry.com/