National Craft Month 3: Cardboard Loom Weaving

craft month_4Time for the third installment for National Craft Month. In this post I’ll show you how to make a loom out of cardboard and weave your odds and ends of yarn into coasters or miniature wall hangings. This is a great project for kids, too, though to accommodate their dexterity you may want to make the loom a bit bigger and “pegs” farther apart.

finalOnce I got started it was hard to stop. The cash and time investment are both small; it’s an easy activity to fit into an afternoon. Many of the things you can do on “real” looms can be done on cardboard looms as well, and I’ve included instructions for some of them. Have fun!

Getting Started

To make the loom, you’ll need ruler, pen, scissors, tape, and some cardboard. Using the ruler and pen,  measure and cut out a 5×6˝ [12.5×15 cm] rectangle of cardboard. To make “pegs” on the short ends, draw a line about half an inch [1.5 cm] in on both ends. With the ruler on top of the line, make a vertical line from edge of cardboard to ruler every half inch [1.5 cm] across; you should have 9 lines. With scissors, cut along the vertical lines. Repeat on the other end, making sure the slits are in line with the ones on the other end!

Making and warping a cardboard loomChoose yarn for the vertical strands, or warp. Warp yarns should pass the “pull test,” meaning you can yank on a single strand of it and it doesn’t break (singles, bad; plied, good). Leaving a good length tail, put the yarn through a slot on one end and tape the tail to the back.

There are two ways to warp a cardboard loom: the yarn can go *from top slot straight down to bottom slot, then around the back to the next top slot; repeat from *, as I’ve done here. Or it can go around the “pegs,” *from top slot to bottom slot, around back to next bottom slot, then up to next top slot, around back to next top slot, repeat from *. The former method gives more slack to work with during finishing, so I’ve used it here.

Pull warp strands taut. Not tight enough to bend the cardboard, but tight. At the end, take the yarn to the back, leave a good length before cutting, and tape the tail down. Now we’re ready to weave.

Plain Weave

For weaving itself, you’ll need odds and ends of yarn, scissors, and a blunt needle with a large eye. Tapestry and darning needles work well; somewhere along the line I was given this plastic needle with a flexible plastic loop on the end. I can tie my yarn onto it and it is a little easier to take back and forth than the tapestry needle. So: choose your first weft yarn for weaving back and forth, and tie it on your needle.

I usually work upward from bottom to top (maybe because I knit??), but you can work downward as well. I’ve tucked my tail around the first warp thread, but you can just leave the tail hanging off the end. Take the needle [over, under] across the warp threads to the last warp, ending with an over (photos 2-4). Next, beat (push) the yarn down into a straight line (against previous fabric once we get going) with your fingers (photo 5).

Notice I didn’t bring the yarn straight across, but rather at a diagonal (photo 3) or in a “mountain” (photo 4). These are two ways to assure the pick (aka a row!) you just worked with the weft yarn isn’t too tight. Pulling too tightly will distort the fabric, so check the warp threads on each side stay vertical!

How to weave

Now it’s time to work your second pick, taking the weft over where it went under and under where it went over on the first pick, taking the weft either diagonally or in a mountain (photos 7-9) before beating it into place. This time I used an old, slightly bent dp to beat the yarn. Decide whether you want the warp to show or not, and beat weft down accordingly.

And those are the basics of plain weave. Weave back and forth until this little bit of yarn is almost gone, leaving a tail of 4˝ [10 cm] or so. Pick your next yarn, leave a tail of about the same length, and starting over on the opposite side, begin weaving as before, over where the previous pick was under and under where it was over.

Pondering Process Improvement (skip if you’re having fun already!)

As I was weaving back and forth on some of the samples you see here, I came up with a couple of ideas for making the process easier. I borrowed from what I knew about rigid heddle looms and played with using index cards to imitate both the beating and shed-forming functions of a heddle. Imagine you could hold the strands you needed to weave under up and the strands you needed to weave over down: the threaded needle would be easy to pass through the middle, right? The shed is the open space that the needle would pass through. Of course for the next pick, what was up would need to be down and what was down would need to be up to get the necessary shed.

Beating, the shed, and improvising

Given the DIY nature of our cardboard loom, I couldn’t quite figure out how to get my folded index cards to work together to give me both sheds. But having one woven through every other warp thread and the other in back of all did speed things up a little, and gave me a better way to beat the weft into place.

Ghiordes Knots (Rya)

This is a fun way to add fringe to woven fabric. Choose yarn for your knots, decide how long you want it to be and how many strands to use, and cut your lengths twice as long. Fold, and attach as shown below (photos 1-3). When you pull the knot tight against the existing fabric, pull each section outward and horizontally toward yourself, not up. To hold the knot(s) in place, simply work plain weave above them.

Making Ghiordes knots (rya)

Basketweave

Basketweave is worked with two yarns and creates columns of color. Yarns alternate from pick to pick, and you have to be careful at the selvages that the next yarn goes over or under the previous one.

Basketweave

Dovetail Weaving, Common Warp

Want to make blocks of color? There are a couple of ways to do so; in this method the yarns are woven in opposite directions toward the middle, where they share a common center warp thread. It easiest if you have two needles and can work both at the same time.

Interlock with common warp

Finishing

Done weaving? Time to take it off the loom and weave in ends! Flip the loom over, remove the tape and cut the warp in the center (photo 2). Pull the warp ends off in pairs, and tie an overhand knot with each pair, using a needle to snug the knot up against the weaving. Since there are an odd number of warp ends, I knotted the yarn tail with the warp at that side (photos 3-5). Repeat for the other side (photo 6). When the piece is off the loom, weave the tail ends into the back. I used several methods, from weaving into the fabric for several warp ends to taking the yarn diagonally and splitting plies to burying the end down next to a warp thread (on real looms, it’s easy to weave tails through the shed of the next row for a few inches, joining the new yarn at the opposite end; the remaining tails is tucked to either back or front. On the cardboard loom we’d have to leave the tail in the front since the cardboard is at the back. That would mean a very messy tutorial photo, so I dealt with them later).

Finishing details

With the piece off the loom and overhand knots tied to secure the warp ends, you can decide whether you want fringe at both ends (trim them to the desired length, as well as trimming the Ghiordes fringe), or want to hang them. You can turn fringe into hanging loops simply by tying another overhand knot at the cut ends. If you don’t want fringe, sew the tail ends into the fabric on the wrong side.

Enjoy!

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