Weaving is an ancient process of making cloth that dates back to several thousand years B.C. While the method may be old, it is not yet forgotten as students at Oakdale Junior High School are learning the craft during an art enrichment class in the Oasis after-school program.
OJHS math teacher Anne Whitman leads the art class in Oasis and is also a knowledgeable weaver. An assortment of different looms, warping boards, and yarns were donated or loaned to the junior high for the class from Whitman, Judy Allen of Gilmore Looms in Stockton, and school Principal John Simons and his wife Amy.
Approximately five boys and four girls are working on the looms and learning the steps in the process of making cloth. Whitman said that in many cultures it was traditional for men to do the weaving. Once some of the junior high boys discovered this, they weren’t so quick to label it as being “for girls.”
“It’s more hands-on. The boys have been attracted to the loom. The girls like the weaving part… It’s a machine… It’s mechanical,” Whitman said, noting that is probably why the boys like it.
The students are in the beginning stages of making dishtowels, but there are several steps in the process before the actual weaving can even start.
“Hand weaving is often referred to as ‘slow cloth’ because it’s not done quickly,” Whitman said.
The students are currently “warping” a four-shaft floor loom. The more shafts on a loom, the more complex the weaves can be. The warp yarns are the vertical threads of the weave that are kept taut. Whitman said that the warping is the longest process of weaving and it involves a five-step process.
“The first step is measuring out the warp. The dishtowels are going to be about 16 inches and will require 24 strings, or ends, per inch. So that’s approximately 384 ends,” Whitman explained. “The second step is to pull each string through the beater, also known as the reed. This is called ‘sleying the reed.’”
Once finished with the first and second steps, she taught the students how to thread the heddles.
“The third step is to thread each end through the heddles – the metal eyes on the shafts,” Whitman continued. “The fourth step is to tie onto the back beam then roll the warp, pull the warp through the heddles, then tie onto the cloth beam. The fifth step is to check for threading mistakes and tie-up the treadles to raise and lower the shafts that will make the pattern in the cloth.”
Treadles are like pedals, although some are placed higher on the loom to be moved by the hands. By adjusting the treadles, the pattern of the weave will vary. Shafts are like frames that hold the heddles, through which the yarn is threaded.
“Once the loom is tied up the weaving itself goes rather quickly,” Whitman noted.
“It is a lot of stuff to remember…but I’m one of those people who really catches on fast,” said seventh grader Faye Harris. “…To me, it’s a lot more easy now than when I first learned it.”
Harris had made scarves with the weaving process prior to taking the Oasis enrichment class. She said she first learned how to weave from her mom when she was seven or eight years old.
She agreed that the total process takes time, and reported that over one summer she worked all day long, until bedtime, for two days straight to finish a long scarf.
Whitman said that weaving can use any number of different yarns such as wool, silk, llama, alpaca, and others.
The students’ dishtowels are being weaved with cotton. Some students have also been weaving on tapestry looms and are using a mix of yarns that have been donated, mostly acrylic. They choose their colors of yarn and wind it around the large bobbin that fits into the shuttle, which is held in the hand to deliver the yarn back and forth between the warp threads. This is called the “weft.” The warp and weft together create the weave.
“I’m concentrating on what I’m doing, but I’m also relaxed at the same time,” Harris said. “It’s really enjoyable…because sometimes not very many kids know what to do during the day…but this just made me happy.”
Whitman said that it’s neat for them to see how it works and that by making dishtowels, they’re making something they can use.
“You’re a lot more proud when you make it like this (instead of buying it),” Harris added.