Setting up the Looms
Before weaving can begin, there are another three big jobs. These are the building of a unique loom control chain; the task of tying the new warp thread by thread to the last one; and then finally the new warp is pulled through the reed (wire mesh) onto the loom, and tensioned.
The first two tasks are particularly skilled, and time-consuming.
Building the Loom Chain
Our single-width looms are best described as 'semi-automated'. Once the shuttle starts to fly to and fro, the choice of colour for the next weft (sideways) thread is (mostly) encoded in a loop of metal chain, which acts like a primitive computer. There is one metal link for each thread in the sett (repeating pattern). Each link's shape instructs the loom to use (a) the same colour as last time; (b) the next colour on the bobbin cartridge; or (c) the last colour on the cartridge. This chain must be built by hand for each weave, link by link, with wire and pliers.
The double-width looms are only slightly more sophisticated, with a few more variables in the chain's instructions. But the principle remains the same, as does the task of hand-construction of each chain.
Tying on the Warp
First the new warp hanks are wrapped one by one onto the single width warp beam, which is then positioned on the loom. This may sound simple, but it is a three-person job, requiring the weaver to find a couple of colleagues to help carry, position, and correctly tension the key parts.
Now comes perhaps the most impressive skill of all. Every single thread in the new warp going onto a single-width loom must be tied by hand to the tail-end of its equivalent thread in position from the last weave. The weaver individually picks up the next thread from each side, then twists them together in a special knot that is slim enough, when the whole warp is ready, to glide through the reed to the other side of the loom. This action must be repeated twelve hundred times for a heavyweight fabric, and over 1600 times for lightweight.
Until a few years ago this process was also done by hand for our double-width looms. But no one can say we don't modernise... today we have a machine for this largest of jobs.
The final step before the weaving itself can begin is for the new warp to be pulled through onto the loom and tensioned. A remnant of the last weave is always left in place, which is now used to carefully guide the new threads through the reed (the wire mesh that keeps each thread in position).