When I bought my first loom in 1981 it was a sacred object. My first weaving lessons were at San Francisco Fiber in the old Sears building at Army and Mission streets in San Francisco. I bought my loom from them and for 25 years I used it exactly as it came. I did not add or subtract heddles. I used the same ropes it came with. But sacred objects are hard to live with. Sometimes my loom didn’t do what I needed it to do and weaving alone, without a teacher or local weaving store, I just trudged on as best as I could.
About ten years ago I began weaving more after the motherhood hiatus. I was increasingly frustrated with my weaving. After bending the rod attached to my back beam I realized that in order to do rugs I needed a stronger rod. Then I realized that I didn’t really need to use a raddle with half inch separations. Parts got added and subtracted from the loom. This was getting radical. Slowly I was turning my beautiful little LeClerc Artisat into a more functional tool.
Macomber looms have never attracted me because part of what I love is looking at the beautiful wood in a loom. Wanting more flexibility than the four shaft Artisat I signed up for my first weaving classes in 25 years so I could try out an 8 shaft Gilmore. I loved having more harnesses and the complex double weave patterns I could do, but my middle aged eyes did not enjoy peering down a dark tunnel of eight shafts. It was nearly impossible to thread.
Meanwhile I kept an eye out on craigslist etc, determined to find a better multi-shaft loom that I could afford. Surprisingly it came to me in the form of a Macomber B4 Add a Harness. It had been sitting in a local attic for 20 years and was not beautiful but it was affordable. The metal harnesses allowed a lot more light on the subject than the heavy wood of the Gilmore. It had six harness and eight treadles and I added four more harnesses and six treadles to take the loom to its maximum capacity. The water stained wood needed to be sanded and oiled and the harnesses needed to have the rust scrubbed off and be repainted, but the “sweat equity” made the loom mine. A loom with a front beam that comes off is SO much easier to thread and the lighter harnesses are easier on aging knees. A thing of beauty she may not be, but now I have an incredibly versatile weaving tool.
This week my Macomber and I have not been having fun. 740 ends for Bronson Atwater required moving 280 heddles to the first shaft. There were crossed heddles and I only have about 750 heddles so the whole things is going to be tight. Gorgeous soft alpaca silk is a dream to touch, but sticky and not much fun to thread at 18 epi. Then things got really bad. I had repeatedly checked myself each step of the way, but all of a sudden there was a threading error quite a ways back. I just didn’t have the heart to take out all those sticky threads so I was able to salvage the situation by inserting some rescue heddles, but how could it be that I had checked repeatedly but mixed up the 3rd and 4th shafts? Too much frustration; I had just had it! I was already using nail polish to mark the rescue heddles that I would remove at the end of this project and I finally did what I had been threatening to do for years. With dots and modified Roman numerals in pink nail polish I marked three places along the lower heddle bar of each harness. All of a sudden it was a cinch. No more quadruple checking to make sure I was on the 7th and not the 6th shaft. The cute little marks were right in front of me. Threading went faster; no more mistakes (so far), and I relaxed. No more sacred object, but I now have a more useful tool that truly meets my needs.