Two Weavers | Two Looms

Two birds living together, each the friend of the other, perch upon the same tree / Of these two, one eats the fruits of the tree, but the other simply looks on without eating.

Translation to English

Two weavers working together, each the friend of the other, steadfast on two looms / Of these two, one orders the threads and weaves, while the other is looking on, / They do this in turn, till both are weaving the same pattern, each on her loom.

Interpretation on the loom

Ellen setting up the warp-weighted loom in the Thinker House Schedlberg (with Tonny and Annapurna)

Annapurna, describing what she observes

The warp-weighted loom at the thinker house was set up quickly by the three of us, Ellen, Tonny, and me on the first day of our stay. Tonny brought her shaft loom, already set up with the some of the patterns that she and Ellen had discussed previously. There had been exchanges over email, Ellen aimed at doing a fabric depicted on a plate from Cyprus from the 9th century BCE.

Plate from Cyprus with depiction of a warp-weighted loom with intricate patterns, 9th century BCE, University Collection, Bonn

They decided on a technique that Tonny had done years ago, and that Ellen had said had been attested for ancient fabrics: Taqueté. Scholars assume that such patterns must have been done on drawlooms, because of the complexity of the structure which is compound tabby. But the fabric is depicted on a warp-weighted loom, so Ellen is interested in finding out if it is possible to do Taqueté with this one. To me, who can see the warp and the possibility for a weft also in a warp-weighted loom, similar to the shaft loom, it seemed quite a simple task, but I soon realised that it was too simplistic a view of the difference between the two looms. The pattern from the plate contains several rhombuses or squares in a square and Tonny brought her loom already with some rhombuses woven.

Tonny did the first pattern with two colours that appear inverted on the reverse side. She had used drafts on squared paper and notated the numbers of pattern warp threads she had to lift for each round. As she started weaving, I could see that from looking up the numbers of the picks on the notation, she could transfer the pattern to the warp threads. But unlike her, I could not connect the binary representation of the pattern on the draft that she was looking up, to a direct action on the loom.

Tonny beginning the rhombus pattern to the left

Over two days, the pattern slowly emerged, as Tonny wove and unwove, as she learned the pattern. At the end of it, the pattern in the picture, the graph and the draft faded into the background, even as the pattern emerged in its full splendour on the loom, weft thread by weft thread.

At one of the first days, Ellen, who was observing Tonny’s work carefully and every now and then asked a question or made notes about Tonny’s work (but clearly did not write down patterns or number of picks) decided that this was a moment to take up the challenge of weaving the Taqueté technique on the warp-weighted loom. While here too there are warp threads that can be pre-ordered, and the possibility to weave weft threads, in the same manner as the horizontal loom, Tonny and Ellen first had to figure out how to tie the heddles, in order to create the possibility of weaving Taqueté on the warp-weighted loom.

Knitting the heddles for Taqueté setup on the warp-weighted loom.

Here, as the two weavers stood in front and behind the loom, picking some threads to tie them and some not, this is what I observed. Not speaking much, but still clearly in communication over the loom, they were completely absorbed, even sometimes seemed almost to be in pain, getting exhausted and excited in turn, pausing often to unpick what had been picked, to confer over each other’s shoulder, and even watch a you-tube video on knitting heddles that sent them into undignified giggling.

The three sheds on the warp weighted loom. all pattern threads are in front. The two warp parts for the tabby binder are caught by the heddles.

In a third step, they went back to Tonny’s loom, armed again with drawings, graphs and drafting patterns. As Tonny strived to weave and communicate to Ellen what she was doing, it was obvious that now the ordering of the warp was clear to the two of them – but now the patterns had to be mastered in the order of the threads. At one point, Tonny, found into a rhythm of picking but stopped it every now and then to look at the numbers. Ellen pointed this to her, to which Tonny answered “I do not trust myself”. But it indicated to me that there could be a moment when she could trust herself, and then she was in the weaving technique completely – mind and body.

This is what I observed from what I could see.

On one loom, the pattern emerged. On the other, the possibility of the pattern emerged.

One weaver knew the technique on her loom, the other had to grasp the technique, but within the possibility of her different loom.

Each was moving from an abstract ordering (conditions that make the technique possible) to the threads, but since the ordering of the threads was different, the abstractions were different.

The moment of coherence emerged – not when the same pattern emerged on the two looms – but when the weavers were able to take into consideration the difference in the ordering of the warps across both the looms. Thus, even though the order in the pattern is identical on both the looms, they still had to contend with the difference in the ordering of the warp in the different looms.

But this was only a moment, as soon as they stood behind their own looms, the order jumped back into the threads, dissolving the momentary splitting of abstraction and the threads.

If one had to see how the pattern was being transferred, then what I saw was that in the transferring of the pattern, everything but the pattern was transferred. The pattern was an outcome of the transfer of abstraction into the order of the threads, not its medium.

Ellen, describing details known to her, invisible to observers

Tonny’s loom is a shaft loom with twelve shafts. The Taqueté needed one shaft for the pattern warp and two shafts for the shed and counter shed for the tabby binder. She did not thread the patterns into the shafts but picked them along the progressing work. So three shafts would have been enough. I had tried to weave the pattern from the plate from Cyprus in weft-faced weaves, but the floats on the reverse side of the fabric became too long. Taqueté instead employs two warps, a binder warp to hold the fabric together (and prevent those floats), and a pattern warp.

The warp-weighted loom in its basic form has only one heddle bar for lifting the perpendicular warp-threads in front of the ones that go over the lower beam or kairos. This is the artificial shed. When the threads that are caught by the heddles hang down, a natural shed is (always) open. That means that only one additional heddle would be necessary for doing the warp setup for a Taqueté. That seemed doable (although the sorting of the threads is still a challenge and cannot be done by one person).

There was another problem, namely that I did not remember how to knit the heddles. Sandra DeBerduccy had shown it to me in September 2018, but as it was impossible to write that down in words and we had no third person to do a video, there was no representation I could refer to (just the knitted heddles for the tapestry to the left side of the loom, which I could not ‘read’). That is why Tonny and I looked at you tube videos, but most of them were useless for several reasons (too many words, the hands always covering what people were doing). Already quite disappointed, we decided to look at a last video by someone we perceived as ‘survivalist’ sitting in the woods on a trunk of a tree with some primitive stick and some rough yarn stretched out, seemingly a useless weaving situation, but he was able to show the heddle knitting correctly without much words. [https://youtu.be/3tWxLcYvzVo; Thanks to Dave Canterbury, pathfinder; and we apologize for giggling]

What was not clear to Tonny, and also only assumed as possible by me, was how to keep the pattern shed open after having selected the warp threads by picks. On Tonny’s loom, she could select the threads between shafts and pattern and then transfer the pick to the other end of the loom, far away from the fabric, by inserting a distancing ledger there. In my case, the weave is on top of the loom and the final ledger would have needed to stick between the open ends of the warp beyond the heddles. It was not clear if this would work.

(To be continued).


annapurna mamidipudi

I am a scholar writing about craft work, collaborating with craftspeople and activists in India.

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