Diamond Twill Woven on a Warp-weighted Loom

Editor’s note:   Marta Kløve Juuhl wrote this article for the Østeroy museum blog, and for readers of the Norwegian Textile Letter,  after receiving many inquiries about their investigation of diamond twill weave on the warp-weighted loom.  If you would rather read the original Norwegian text, it is found here.  The English translation below is thanks to Edi Thorstonsson.

After having given many classes in weaving on the vertical loom, including at Østerøy Museum, where I work, and at Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum, in Decorah, Iowa, I had Elizabeth Johnston from the Shetland Islands and Hildur Håkonardottir from Iceland as students in a class at Østerøy Museum in the summer of 2010. After the course, we discovered that we had so much in common that we wanted to continue our work together. We hope that our combined efforts will result in a published book. Others have become aware of our work, and we have received some inquiries about weaving particular textiles using this technique.

Up to the present, what has been the most exciting—and demanding—for us has been to weave fabric in broken lozenge twill, also known as diamond twill.

A few years ago, objects including a tunic were found at the edge of a glacier, Lendbreen, in Lomsfjella (Gudbrandsdalen). This tunic was in amazingly good condition. It was eventually conserved by the Kulturhistorisk Museum (Museum of Cultural History) in Oslo and described as being 1,700 years old. Information regarding the find was placed on the Internet.

Last spring (2013), the director of the Norsk Fjellmuseum i Lom (Norwegian Mountain Museum, Lom) called us at the Østerøy Museum to tell us that this tunic would be exhibited during the summer of 2013. They would like to borrow a warp-weighted loom from us, therefore, for the purpose of demonstrating the kinds of equipment used to produce cloth. Lise Bender, textile historian and specialist in the study of Iron Age textiles, had determined that the fabric had been woven on a vertical warp-weighted loom. We were pleased to lend our loom to the Fjellmuseum, which promptly came to pick it up.

Then, a couple of weeks later, the museum director called again and asked whether we might consider weaving fabric in diamond twill on the warp-weighted loom that could remain on the loom through the summer. To this we answered yes, with a bit more hesitation. I don’t believe that the people at the Mountain Museum quite knew what they were asking for…

Weaving diamond twill on a horizontal loom is a simple matter, as it is on a vertical loom as well, if one knows how.   But the first time requires a lot of thought.

  • What kind of yarn should we use?
  • How many threads per centimeter should there be?
  • How large should the “diamonds” be?
  • How heavy should the warp weights be?

We could not find the answers to such matters, because the conservation report on the tunic could not be made public before it had been published in a national professional journal. Besides, not all answers to our questions would likely be found there.

But there were good images of the tunic on the Internet, and we knew that the material was made of wool yarn. It so happened that we had arranged earlier for Elizabeth to be at the museum with us during this week in May, which was incredibly good timing.

We ordered yarn from Hoelfeldt-Lund Norsk Kunstvevgarn (Helfeldt-Lund Norwegian Fine Handweaving Yarns), single ply spelsau yarn number 4.5, gray for the warp, brown for the weft. This yarn is suited for 10 warp ends per centimeter and somewhat fewer in the weft. We then calculated that our fabric would be slightly courser than the original, without being sure. We later learned that our calculation was correct.

diamantkypert+smallUsing the photographs on the Internet, we were able to determine how many threads there were in each “diamond” or repeat. The photographs were so good, in fact, that we could count the threads. Therefore, we counted the repeat using a close-up of one of the sleeves.

We decided to wind a warp 60 centimeters wide in the reed, that is, 600 warp ends, and use a heading cord along the beam edge, as is done in weaving åkler (coverlets) in the West Norwegian tradition.   Of course, we knew nothing as to what method was used in setting up the original textile, but we knew how to carry out this method and that it would work well. Besides, since we had so little information about the original, ours could not be an exact copy.

We started out cautiously with light loom weights, 50 grams per warp end. This worked.

So far, so good. The biggest problem were the heddles. For diamond twill, one needs four sheds: 3 heddle rods and a 4th natural shed. The warp is threaded so that points appear in the woven fabric. These points result when one threads two or one warp ends in their heddles on a particular order. With the help of Marta Hoffmann’s The Warp Weighted Loom, we figured out the procedure, which we modified for “our” cloth. Elizabeth and I worked together to thread the heddles. I stood behind the loom and picked out the threads that she, who stood in front of the loom, then knitted the heddles around. We threaded the second and fourth heddle rods (counted from the top) at the same time, and lastly the first heddle rod at the top. The natural shed corresponded to rod number three and remained between rods two and four during the weaving. In order to make sure that we wouldn’t skip any threads on rods two and four, we followed a rule that we repeated aloud every time: single, double, double, double, double, double, single times 2. This was one repeat. Each repeat, therefore, had 24 threads in both the warp and weft.

marta-warp-loom-smallThis process was the most time-consuming. All else was quite easy. After three days’ worth of fairly intensive work, the loom was ready. We wove enough to see that our technique was correct.

Then, Elizabeth returned home to the Shetland Islands, and Randi Andersen, director of our museum, and I removed the fabric from the loom, with the heddle rods still in place, and drove to Lom. When the Norwegian Mountain Museum opened for the summer, our cloth was on the loom, alongside the glass case with the tunic inside. I stood weaving on the opening day, and everyone saw the similarity between our cloth and that of the tunic.

Hildur was not physically part of this process, since she was back home in Iceland. Just the same, we all agree that all three of us can take equal credit for what we succeeded in doing.

Marta Kløve Juuhl taught weaving in the Norwegian Husflidsskole system for many years.  She now works part-time at Østerøy museum, primarily with textiles, and also in her private studio. Her current commissions include bands for bunads and wall hangings for churches.

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