London weaving, pt. 3

Whoosh and click goes the loom. Back and forth goes the shuttle. Hour on hour, day after day, the one-man-mill weaves away. Hand-weaving demands concentration at the best of times — and even more so when you’re hand-weaving the fat and coarse yarn of rare breeds of British sheep on a loom long past its heyday with no automatic safety features.

The story left off two weeks ago with the completion of the winding of the warp: 1,000 ends and thousands of metres of mid-brown British yarn wound onto the sectional warping beam. This week that warp met two colours of weft, itself wound onto 184 perns, which are then inserted into the loom’s shuttles for the pedal-powered exertions ahead.

The one-man-mill’s loom of choice is a four-shaft tappet-controlled loom (below) of indeterminate inter-war age, from Keighley in Yorkshire. A tried and tested machine — but because of the fat, hairy, and coarse nature of the yarn at hand, the loom was modified at the start of the week, with an extension helping up the take-up-motion ante.

Being a step into the wooly unknown — the Space Invader twill having never been woven before — there has been no small amount of trial and error involved. Chief among the known unknowns was the required number of picks-per-inch. 22 proved too steep for the pattern; 18 too low; but 20 has proven just right for the thick and grippy yarn.

With picks-per-inch and other nuances of configuration settled upon, it was time to take to the pedals: weaving could begin. Due to the aforementioned absence of automatic safety features on the loom — no stop-motion means that if there is a break in the yarn, you’d better spot it — this is two days of undivided, wide-eyed, and hyper-alert attention.

The outcome of the process: two complementary colours of never-made-before Space Invader wool-twill — one brown and dark-brown, the other brown and off-white. Now to the factory in North London it must go to meet its made-in-London peacoat destiny.

(The preceding part of the story, which covers the weaving of warp, can be found here.)