Weaving the Fabric
The weave itself is one of the simpler parts of the tartan production process... which is not to say it's easy! The weaver now has two main responsibilities. One is to ensure that the bobbin pirns that dispense the warp thread from inside the flying shuttle remain topped up and in sequence. The other is to watch eagle-eyed for thread breaks, to minimise the need for darning later. There are few moments to rest.
Once the length required has been woven, the weaver cuts the fabric off the loom (leaving a tail end for the next warp) and takes the tartan for finishing.
How the flying shuttle works
All our looms use flying shuttles, since this is the only method that results in the natural edge which is essential for traditional kiltmaking and other high quality uses. The shuttle contains a special bobbin called a pirn, which dispenses one colour of thread from its end.
The shuttle is fired, in fact batted, from a cartridge at one side which holds shuttles containing various yarn colours. The shuttle travels between the warp threads which are alternately pulled either above or below it (the gap is called a 'shed'). At the far end, the warp arrangement is reversed, allowing the shuttle to be sent back, closing the loop.
How the warp chain controls the sequence
Among the Gallery images on this page you will see pictures of the warp chain, both during its creation (specially built for each weave) and when fitted to the loom. Both our single and our double-width looms use versions of such a chain.
The chain controls the loom's action, like a very rudimentary computer program. It tells the loom which colour of yarn to use on the next warp run of the shuttle. On the single width loom it really has three settings: (a) same colour; (b) next colour; or (c) last colour. With careful sequencing, this covers the majority of colour changes for most tartan setts. (The double width loom chains allow for greater complexity.)
But this only covers the majority of changes. The cartridge from which the shuttles are 'fired' across the warp has six chambers (a bit like a revolver gun) so the weaver will often have to stop the weave to manually advance the cartridge to the correct shuttle. And a few tartans can have seven or more colours, requiring changes of shuttle during each sett sequence.
The more complex a tartan, the longer it takes to weave. A sett with seven or eight colours in a complex arrangement can take up to twice as long to produce as a simple pattern. That is why we sometimes have to surcharge based on complexity.