Why am I so fascinated with looms? Well, partly because textiles themselves fascinate me. I quilt, dye fabric and have tried my hand at weaving. Some hand weavers I know also spin. For most of human history, spinning and weaving were core to, not just the production of cloth, but to a central experience of living. Every culture has some form of weaving. Egyptian paintings, images on Classical Greek pots, excavations in Greenland all speak to the ubiquity of looms and the equipment by which cloth was made. Some times fragments of clothing are discovered as well, clothing that was worn by people of that era
.Looms, in other words, developed in some form everywhere in the world. All looms must hold the warp threads straight, must be able to form sheds (the opening that is formed by lifting alternate threads and allows a space for the weft thread (or shuttle if one has been invented) to go through, and a beater that presses the weft threads together to form the cloth.
Broudy suggests that basket weaving predated weaving with fibers. That makes sense since the reeds or other vegetable matter are intertwined in much the same way as the warp and weft. No loom necessary. Early looms were probably a cord strung between two poles, or trees and the weft is woven from the top. It must be hard to weave this way. But it is easy to see how the warp weighted looms developed. The hanging threads, especially of some softer fiber, would need to be weighted to maintain the necessary tension.
One type of early loom that I find fascinating is the ground loom. Two pegs are driven into the ground at either end. The weaver sits on the floor. Primitive right? Nonetheless, the Egyptians managed to weave sheer linen in this manner.Sher linen, I might add, that the mechanized looms do not seem able to duplicate. And linen is a difficult fiber to weave since the linen yarn has no give or stretch.
Anyway, back to the warp weighted loom. Pictures on Greek pottery clearly show looms with weights at the ends of the threads. Weavers were able to weave tapestries on these looms and both Barber and Broudy suggest that the cloth Penelope was weaving while she waited for Odysseus was a story tapestry. (This makes sense. If it were straight weaving, the suitors would have to be idiots not to realize she was ripping out the rows she’d woven during the day. ) Warp weighted looms have also been found in Scandanavia.