Toy Piano Counterbalance Loom 3 – How well does it play?
I had two sorts of problems using the toy piano loom for the first time, one simply due to the selection of inappropriately-sized threads, the other suggesting a modification of the loom itself. In spite of its overall small size, It was not difficult threading the heddles with a fine crochet hook – the knots forming the heddle eyes tended to hold the eyes open. As suspected, the pipe clamps holding the front and back rollers need some running assistance to improve their grip, or else a complete redesign. The open-sided rollers allow the selvedge warps to slide off the hump to become too tight or too loose, depending on when the slippage occurs. When weaving got under way, I found I badly needed an apron area below the fell line to park my accumulating kani/bobbins between uses – I improvised one out of cardboard.
I was disappointed to find that the warp I wanted to use was too heavy. It was a British-spun tussah silk single, the finest thread in my store of mostly thick tapestry yarns. It would have been more traditional, and more size-appropriate to use some of the same hand-spun pashmina two-ply that I had for the weft, but I thought it wouldn’t be nearly as strong, or as easy to distinguish the raised pairs (nals) of warps I needed to count for my tapestry imagery. I wanted 400 warp ends – 100 nals or pixels of my design – in the available width of my loom, about 5 inches at 80 ends per inch (a kani-shawl standard) and the full width of the pattern-repeat I wanted to use. I found that my initial heading was weaving up at a steep 40 picks per inch. By removing 10 groups of 4 threads across the width, I reduced the warp to 90 nals, about 72 ends per inch, but found the heading still weaving up at less than 50 picks per inch. I was reluctant to remove more warps in search of a balanced weave, because too much of the pattern-repeat would be missing. As the weaving proceeded I had to look out for warps sticking to each other, but with the extra slack of tapestry wefts I was able to weave at about 50 picks per inch.
The second problem was one built into the loom: I had tied the string heddles symmetrically – the eyes midway between the supporting bars – without considering where they would sit in relation to the passage of the warps from back to front beam. It turned out the warps were deflected downward slightly. One disadvantage was that the side panels of the loom blocked more than necessary a clear view or access to the shed opening. Another was that because of the interaction of the counterbalance harness, warps on one shaft would become more slack when others were raised. My anticipated fix for this is that the vertical arms of the counterbalance harness can be shortened 1/4 inch, or the point where it attaches to the side panel can be raised the same amount. Both methods would have the effect of raising the whole harness assembly a tolerable amount, without disturbing other features.
Nevertheless, it was possible to proceed with my woven sample, with extra care but no backtracking or significant lost time compared with the inherently slow pace of twill-tapestry. In a month of steady half-days of weaving, I completed 160 talim lines, 320 picks on 360 warp ends.
The finished sample flattened out in width off the loom, and is approximately balanced-weave (width 5 3/4 inches = 63 e.p.i.; length 5 1/4 inches = 61 p.p.i.). Close inspection showed that seeming irregularities in the weave structure I had seen in photos of antique fabrics could just be due to differences and unevenness in handspun wefts. The resulting sample was useful to show, and received more recognition than I expected, simply for its fine threads. I thought it was a barely workmanlike effort, but showed improvement as the weaving advanced. It provides a demonstration of the fluid, delicate line that can be achieved with two-picks-per-talim-line (2PPTL), and the beginning of a useful field-repeat pattern. This same design, which is from an old traditional talim, is now being used for a sample woven at the School of Designs, Srinagar, to try to prove the merits of returning to 2PPTL practice.
The loom worked, but I think sheer portability is its only advantage – more elbow room and better working conditions would be worth more in any situation except where I want to be able to demonstrate the actual weaving process on location.