Hands on Traditional skills and where to learn them



What is it?The making of fabric for wall hangings, rugs, throws, clothing or anything else by using a loom, on which you pass the weft (the horizontal yarn in a fabric) over and under the warp yarn (the threads that run vertically from the top to the bottom of a fabric).

How do you do it?You can weave with a table-based or floor loom. Most people prefer floor looms, as you can work with your feet, using pedals, as well as with your hands. You can weave smaller pieces of tapestry on a timber frame.

What’s first?You begin by preparing the warp threads, or vertical lengths of yarn. “You have to decide how close you want those threads to be to each other, and the total width of your piece, as well as deciding on the length of your warp,” says Muriel Beckett (murielbeckett.ie), a professional weaver. After winding the warp around a warping mill you transfer it to the loom, where you spread it out and section off each thread with a raddle (a piece of wood with evenly spaced metal pegs) and feed it through the eyes of the heddles – pieces of string or wire that move the warp threads apart to allow you to weave the weft between them. The heddles are attached to the shafts and pedals that operate the loom.

Sounds trickyYou need to take care. “If you don’t have the threads evenly spread on the back of the loom you’ll have bad tension, which will upset your whole piece,” says Beckett. “The number of shafts and the order in which you thread the heddles and press the pedals will give you the variety of pattern.”

Anything else?Finally, you thread the warp through the reed, a finer raddle that will keep your weaving in place as it develops. You feed the waft from side to side by putting it on a bobbin in a shuttle that passes back and forth through the openings that the heddles create in the warp, thereby weaving the fabric.

What kind of yarn do you use?You can choose from hand- or commercially-spun wool, linen, cotton or silk. Some professional weavers spin and dye their own yarn; others use commercially spun and dyed yarn.

How long does it take?This depends on how much detail you put into the piece and if you add inlay (hand stitching). A professional weaver will make a scarf in about an hour; a beginner might need a day.

Where do I sign up?Members of the Irish Guild of Weavers, Spinners Dyers offer introductory courses in loom weaving, tapestry weaving, spinning and natural dying. Their website, weavers.ie, also has information on looms for sale. You can get a flavour of what’s possible at an exhibition of work by the Contemporary Tapestry Artists group, at Castle Yard Gallery, Kilkenny Design Centre, Kilkenny, from June 4th to 11th. Oideas Gael, in Glencolumbkille, Co Donegal, runs a tapestry-weaving course from July 2nd to 9th; see oideas-gael.com.