Preparing for Divine Design

Yesterday I went to the State Collections of Antiquities in Munich in order to prepare the warp-weighted loom for a forthcoming exhibition on ancient dress. Our loom is meant to demonstrate the work-in-progress of a complex weave like the one that Penelope might have woven. It integrates a small tablet-woven starting border and selvedges with a broad tablet-woven top followed by a double weave. There are difficulties in presenting such a state of work-in-progress because the woolen threads will wear out when constantly under tension and therefore we lower the clothbeam until the weights touch the ground.

Taking the tension out of the warp threads however results in a state of disorder over the course of time. This disorder not only concerns the warp threads but also the heddles and the tablets that start to move slightly downwards and sideways; which is the reason why our demonstration piece needs care and adjustment from time to time.

The first step was to adjust the tablets again, which can be a difficult task depending on the pattern to be woven. But in this case the design is not very complicated and it was sufficient to turn the tablets back into the correct position.

Because of the important role of the weights for the order on the loom, readjusting usually starts with putting the cloth beam up again so that the weights can hang free. For this I need a second pair of hands as the beam is quite heavy. But as luck would have it, the loom was palletized for transport and I could use the interstices for letting the weights hang down row by row.

ordered rows of loom weights

A bit more time was needed for putting the heddles in order. Colleagues often ask me why I do not use a more rigid way to fasten them to the heddle bar. However, I followed the advice of the loom builder who recommended to use a marlbend (German: Marlschlag, Martha Hoffmann in her book on warp-weighted looms calls this technique “knitting the heddles”). It has no rigid knots but a special way to do a half stitch and when the warp threads are under tension it works well. However, when they are not, the half stitches of the marlbend will start to move.

The left image and the top of the right one show how entangled the heddles became and on the right side of the lower heddle bar you see how it should be like. The advantage of the marlbend is that just because it does not use rigid knots, everything falls back into place again when the tension of the warp is back and the heddles are adjusted with appropriate movements of the hand like you can see in this video.

The exhibition Divine Design. Das Kleid der Antike will open on the evening of the 4. April and display ancient depictions of textiles and dresses as well as new designs made by students from the AMD Academy for Fashion and Design, Munich at the two venues: the State Collections of Antiquities and the Glyptothek.


Ellen Harlizius-Klück

I am a researcher interested in the order and logic of making textiles and its impact on the history of technology and science.

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