IKEA hack: Loom stand

I weave with smallish rigid heddle looms. I don’t have house-space for a floor loom, and I find I like the limitations that a 24 inch width imposes upon me. I started with a 15″ Schacht Cricket, but I found that the 15″ width didn’t give me the bandwidth I wanted. I’m still learning my technique, so by no means expert, but so far, I’m 95% happy with the used Leclerc Bergere I found on Craigslist.

The 5% dissatisfaction comes exclusively from the fact that the Bergere does not have a stand and does not have the notches for propping it between body and table like a Cricket. It required me to stand at the loom, and I couldn’t come up with a good place to weave with it. The dining room table (30″ tall) was too low and gave me back and neck aches. My cutting table (36″ – counter height) was too tall and I couldn’t see the work as easily. Both were too wide to effectively clamp or tie the Bergere down, so it kept wanting to skid or shift, which was making my tension wonky.

I sort of knew what I wanted, from building furniture before. Chair seats are usually 17 to 19 inches from the floor, and tables run 28 to 31 inches tall. The loom is 5 inches tall at the beams (front and back) and 11 inches tall at the castle (where the heddle rests.) I wanted to be able to steady the loom with my feet and I wanted whatever stand to be the width of the loom (26 inches) so it could be clamped. The stand also needed to be petite enough that it can stow away, deep enough that it is stable and light enough to move around easily.

When in doubt, go through IKEA’s website, looking for something.

This is so simple, it doesn’t even feel like much of a hack.

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I bought one Molger wall shelf and four Ekby Stodis shelf brackets. I assembled the shelf per instructions, put it on the hard-surface floor (don’t do this step on carpet or the legs may not be straight) and clamped a bracket on each upright. I drilled pilot holes then screwed the brackets to the uprights.

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This almost worked, but the Bergere has six legs — one at each corner and one in the middle of each side.

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These legs are only 3/4″ inch tall, but they’re necessary because the Bergere has a metal cross-brace to help prevent the loom from warping under the tension of the warp. I can’t either cut off the legs or remove the cross-brace. There’s no good place on the loom to clamp it to the stand without it being wobbly. Enter 4 small pieces of craft wood.
I stacked them under the side rail of the loom until it was stable, then clamped the loom with my Cricket loom clamps. (Regular 2.5 or 3 inch C clamps would work, just make sure the adjustable part is down and in so that it doesn’t snag the yarn.)

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I intend to drill a few more holes in the middle shelf of the stand, so that I can insert dowels to serve as spool spindles, and I’m thinking of building a couple of square-bottomed bags (think paper bag, but cloth) that I can secure to the two shelves for storing spools, shuttles and pickup sticks, but that’ll be when I’ve spare time. Right now, I’m just happy to have the loom at a comfortable height. And yes, it is comfortable — I’ve used it while sitting on the grey sofa, and while sitting in the red chair, but the best seat so far is the black foot stool.

The Waterloo Project: Looks Shifty Part 1

Costuming is not period clothing. This makes me a terrible cosplayer — even though that’s what reenactment is, just for history, not fiction — because comics, TV and film never shows me what’s underneath the visible garments. A costume is an externalized depiction or representation of an idea, while clothing is much more mundane and the product of invisible technology. Example: the modern hemispherical or teardrop shaped boob is the product of the invention of lycra, moldable sheet foam, a nylon fabric called powernet, and cheap steel. When steel was expensive, so were underwires. It’s also the product of changing social mores that allow for things like visible nipples. The old style torpedo-bullet-pointy bra effectively masked temperature or hormonal nipples in stiff decorative stitching. (Modern visibility of this: in Mad Men, Joan will never have anything remotely like a visible nipple — her undergarments won’t allow it. Peggy might, especially as the seasons move forward — her black and white gingham dress does show this. Peggy’s friend Joyce, being on the far end of the counter-culture, has shown nippage.)

I learned the hard way in my dim college days of medieval re-creation that what goes next to skin matters a lot more for comfort and look than any amount of technique, and thus, I have to build my wardrobes from the skin out. No matter how perfect a houpelande looks, if it’s worn over a push-up bra and tights, it’s gonna look weird. This is actually good, since I can practice technique on clothing less visible and less expensive, but at first, it felt truly boring and wasted effort to spend days or weeks on something nobody but me and a lover would see. It took me a long time to realize that foundation garments really are the foundation for the entire look, and for appropriate movement. One can run in a properly fitted corset or stays — and I’ve done so whilst serving as field medic — but one cannot slouch.

The modern body type and the modern silhouette are incredibly recent inventions. Look at The Bletchley Circle or Call the Midwife — these are both modern dramas, but the costumes are point perfect. Bras used to make boobs look all pointy and stabby, and in the context of the time, that was beautiful and appropriate. These programs depict a recent time — the 1950’s. Step back to Downton Abbey and the silhouette changes again (and in the course of the series so far.) Note that in Season 1, all of the women still wear corsets on late Victorian lines. By the current season, the only ones still corseted are the Dowager Countess and Mrs. Hughes, who are both personally conservative and extremely confident in their personal world views. They fixed their fashion choices and won’t stray from them. (Also, given their ages, it’s likely that they lack the core muscles to maintain their posture without assistance.) Even Mrs. Crawley has dumped the hard lines of the corset by S2. Move further backwards in time (Bleak House, then Wives and Daughters, then Sense & Sensibility) and the silhouettes change further.

The Napoleonic Wars era is almost unique in clothing history because it breaks with a running pattern of emphasizing the female waist to hip ratio in favor of a smooth, columnar line with high, widely separated and emphasized boobage. This doesn’t mean women just stopped wearing corsetry for twenty years — the older ones had the core muscle issue, and the younger ones had just as many body variations as we have today — one breast larger or more droopy, a tummy that wants to pooch or uneven hips. The difference between a set of stays and Spanx is not qualitative.

The greatest difference between clothing then and clothing now is not one of fabric or construction or line, but of infrastructure. Specifically, running water and washing machines. Before running water, every drop had to be either pumped or drawn from a well or surface water source, and had to be heated without the aid of machinery more sophisticated than a boiler. Hand washing is heavy labor — a three or four day task for most households, and for large households or institutions, a never ending one. There are extremely convincing economic arguments that the invention and mass production of the washing machine is as important to equal opportunity for women as birth control. In Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter, even wealthy women aren’t using the scarce labor and fuel to bathe and have clothing washed daily. While their standards of clean were more flexible, most people in the pre-industrial world were not slovenly. They had senses — greasy skin felt greasy to the people of the past, too. There were slobs — but we have slobs today, and it is not necessarily a mark of either ignorance or poverty, nor was it then.

They dealt with cleanliness with basin baths – which do work fine – and regular changes of undergarments, and using their undergarments as a sort of full-body dress shield. Which means the shift, or chemise.

A shift is the most simple sewn garment. In base form, it’s two big rectangles, two medium rectangles and two squares. The big rectangles are the front and back, the medium ones are sleeves, and the squares are gussets under the arm for shaping and ease of movement. They’re always made of the most durable, undyed, local fabric and they’re always washable. Shifts have existed since shortly after weaving.

For most of the western world, the local, undyed, washable fabric is linen. While cotton becomes more common through the 18th and 19th centuries, it had to be imported from India, Egypt, or the southern US, and that made it more costly than the local linen. Further, a cotton fiber is short and fine — 3 to 8 inches, depending on variety — while a flax (linen) fiber is 2-3 feet long. It’s much easier to spin linen thread than cotton, and it took a while for Northern Europe to learn how to spin cotton. (In the 18th century, most cotton fabric produced in England was made from thread spun in India — where they knew cotton well — and shipped several thousand miles.) Experienced linen spinners could produce thread as fine as modern sewing thread from flax fiber, so it was not the bulky, coarse fabric that most of us associate with modern linen. Thread counts from extant garments show fabrics with 150 to 300 threads per inch — quite respectable and comparable to modern natural fiber fabrics.

The other major textile technology difference is loom size. Until the mechanized looms of the late 18th century, a loom was about a yard wide, because any wider, and it becomes difficult for one person to work it. Humans were just as prone to repetitive stress injuries then as now. That meant that all fabric came in 22-36 inch widths, so they took advantage of those qualities. It’s much easier to butt two selvedges together with a whip stitch and get a nearly flat seam than to make French seams on handmade garments. It just so happens that two pieces of 30 inch wide fabric sewn into a tube will fit most people with generous wearing ease. Even carpet was woven on narrow looms and sewn together rather than trying to broad-loom.

Thread-banging, Head-banging Entropy

I’ve been quietly working (okay, reality is I’ve been roundly cursing, but let’s try for a modicum of dignity) on several projects as time permits. I’m nearly finished with the first chemise (about a foot more stitching on the neckline casing, then the hems) and have a workaround for underarm gussets I’m planning to document on the next go-round. I’ve run several dye experiments, on both cotton yarn and an incredible linen-cotton blend fabric that I found at Mama Said Sew in Fort Collins the last time I took the cat-child for her medical experiment. (More on that when I have time to write it up.) I altered the glove pattern and built a pair on the altered pattern out of a lovely, soft wool, and I have built a muff base (following on Katherine’s muff base) that is stuffed with silk batting.

I’ve also woven some of that same dyed cotton on my rigid heddle loom, but truly, that was a practice piece that is not at all ready for prime-time, or even day-time UHF (what is the equivalent now? Daytime basic cable? Having gone to TV by interwebz in about 2000, and having been without cable since I was 16, I’ve kinda forgotten or never knew.) I’ve managed to forget to snap pictures during daylight every time, despite having cameras on practically every device I own (and a pretty good digital) because seriously, I’m GenX. For me, pictures were expensive, between the film and the developing, and there were books that I needed a lot more than more scraps of paper to be packed or tossed whenever we moved. By the time I remember to take a pic, the light is gone, and my other half is home, and he’s as camera-shy as the Amish. Also, he’s happier in the dark.

And in between all of this, and work, and just dealing with the fact that the country as a whole seems to be one missed dose of thorazine from a full psychotic break, and goofing off on the Intertubez and reading and the other forms of cat-vacuuming known as sustaining life and fending off local entropy, I’ve been winding various hanks of spun fiber into useable balls or onto spools. A couple years ago, I managed to score ten hanks each of Araucania Ulmo cotton yarn in the most gorgeous violet and red. I had intentions of crocheting it, but my crochet projects have to be short attention span theater. Weaving turns out to be just active enough that I don’t get bored, while crochet is just too slow for me. (I cannot knit. Yes, I’ve tried. No, it doesn’t work for me. I’m glad you do, and I’ll admire your efforts, but no, I can’t be taught.) This stuff is soft and delicate and small vat dyed, so it has this incredible, subtle marbling. It is going to weave into beautiful fabric. It’s also the most consistently tangled skein of yarn I have ever encountered. I can wind a ball of Cascade or Simply Caron in about 10 minutes (no swift, no winder) but every skein of Ulmo takes at least a half hour, despite being stretched on warping pegs and carefully handled. All knots, all the time.

Tonight, I’m winding floche, which is fancy-schmancy embroidery thread. (Ah, the exciting life of a pure geek.) It’s not stranded, like regular DMC floss, and it’s a little more delicate than either perle cotton or floss, but it’s the stuff for period embroidery. It’s soft and smooth and gorgeous long-staple cotton. I expect it to be brilliant to work with. And I know now why it’s rare and nobody uses it anymore. It tangles. OMGWTFBBQ does it tangle, despite warping pegs and careful handling.

If you’ve come to this post via googling on tangled thread, here’s the advice:

1. If you’re hand-sewing, make sure your thread is no more than 18 inches long. Yes, you’ll be rethreading the needle a lot, but shorter threads tangle less, are less likely to break under pressure, and shorter thread makes for better control of smaller and neater stitches.
2. Though it’s tempting to double the thread and knot both ends together, don’t. This will cause more tangles as the two halves of the thread try to double-helix around each other, plus the eye of the needle will wear a weak spot in the thread. Knot one end, if you must, and slowly adjust the tail end so that you’re always sewing with about 3 inches of single thread.
3. Lubricate the thread. Traditionally, this is done by running the thread over a block of beeswax, but in a pinch, you can use a dab of beeswax based clear lip balm on your fingers, or a hand or body lotion. Just use a very, very light touch and try to stay away from the petroleum based balms and lotions. Yes, Chapstick works. No, I don’t recommend it, because it does make oily stains. If that’s not an issue, have at.
4. For embroidery floss, take the two tubes of paper off the ends and stretch out the skein between your hands so the skein is flat and unkinked. If you have a handy comrade you trust with sharp objects, have your comrade make one cut with sharp scissors through all of the threads in the skein. (If not, lay the skein on a table and do the snip yourself. If you don’t trust yourself with sharp objects, please call your doctor or your local mental health emergency help line. End PSA.) This will produce about a gazillion 18 inch lengths of 6 strand floss (assuming DMC or equivalent), which is the right size for needlework and hand-sewing. Loosely slip knot the strands around something so they both stay together and don’t tangle up. The something can be anything from a pencil to a spare embroidery hoop to a set of disused circular knitting needles.