Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Learning to use the dobby loom...sort of

I've been trying to get my new-to-me dobby loom warped up for the first time. It is an older AVL 12 harness loom, with a mechanical dobby set up. And I think today I have made just about every mistake in the book.

Over the past few days, I managed to get the warp on the back beam, and threaded the heddles. Today I sleyed the reed, tied on the front beam, and started teaching myself how to peg a dobby pattern. Instead of lifting the various harnesses via foot treadles, the dobby loom has a mechanism that lets you pre-set your pattern through a series of bars and pegs. First thing I had to do was make a pegging pattern.

I'm using a fancy point twill pattern in the threading, and figured I could just tromp as writ for the weft. I figured and figured, and came up with something that I thought might work. Then I started pegging the dobby bars.

I got the whole thing done, and tried to install the chain onto the loom. Um...and tried again. And again. And then figured out that I had put every one of those pegs on the wrong side of the bars. See? I put them coming out of the narrow side of the bars. Wrong. They were supposed to come out of the wide side.

So I took all the pegs out, and screwed them back in on the correct side this time. After that, the chain went in to the loom, slick as a whistle.

Ah ha! I fiddled with the tension of the warp (that is going to take some figuring out still), and started weaving. It worked! Um....sort of. Something wasn't right. After about an inch, I figured out that I had installed the dobby chain upside down. So I took it out, flipped it around, and tried again. Much better.

Now I wove an inch or so...and found that there were warp threads that floated over more than 7 weft threads. For a serviceable cloth, those floats are way too long. They'd snag. I went back to my pegging pattern, and looked for where the trouble spots were. Then the dobby chain came back off again, and I changed the pegging in those spots. Back on the loom, and try again. Now I had weft floats that were too long. One more time back to the graph paper, another change in pegging, and I had the pattern pretty well close.

Except...I was getting elongated rectangles when I had been aiming for a square pattern. Even when I got the tension mostly cranked up, it was still elongated. Which meant that I had the warp crammed too close together.

I looked at it...and looked at it...and took a scissors to my warp. Back to figuring out my math. Now I'm in the process of re-sleying the warp into a different reed, spreading it out a bit more.

Crossing my fingers that it will work this time. At least I have a better idea of what I'm doing this time around. But it was heartbreaking to cut away hours of work!

Maybe tomorrow will go smoother. I hope. It can't be much worse than today...can it??


  1. Thanks for posting about how your dobby loom works! I have a friend who has one, and I could never quite get her explanation. Your post, despite the trials and travails you hit, finally made me understand more what it's like to use one!



  2. Glad I could help! :) It took me a bit to figure out how it works, too. That was part of the problem yesterday. Lets see...I learned that each of my bars have 12 holes. I have 12 shafts on the loom. So each bar controls one pick for the pattern, and each hole controls one shaft for that pick. If I put pegs in holes one, two, and three, when that bar comes around to be used shafts one, two, and three will stay down while the others rise up.

  3. I am considering a manual dobby loom available in my area of the southwest but had some trepidations about learning to use it. thanks for your explanation. It doesn't look too terribly difficult. One question, is it noisy as it advances from one row to the next?



  4. Hi Karen,

    I just emailed you, but I'll answer here too. Getting the warp on the loom was a bit tricky for me, since I'm used to warping front to back and this loom warps through a raddle in the back. But once I got the warp on, and figured out how to peg the dobby bars, the weaving went really smoothly. I was doing a 30 pick repeat pattern, and I really loved not having to remember where I was. Once I got the tension set correctly, the weaving went slick as a whistle.

    It is maybe a little noisier than the Harrisville loom I used to have, because the gears that advance the dobby chain makes noise. But this loom has texslov heddles, so you don't get the rattle of the metal bits as the harnesses change. It evened out for me.