How to Make a Loom
When kids bust a pair of jeans or outgrow an old shirt, it's usually followed by the familiar cry of “I need a new one!” However, a little history lesson can teach your child that it wasn't always so easy.
During the colonial era, pieces of clothing that had been ripped or damaged were never thrown out. Everything back then was sewn by hand, which meant that a lot of effort went into each article of clothing. To make a pair of woolen pants, for example, a family would have had to shear a sheep, spin thread from the sheered wool, weave cloth with the thread, and then cut and sew the cloth into garments, and there weren't even any sewing machines then...a far cry from today’s drive to the department store!
If you’re like most modern folks, you’re not planning to raise your own sheep or set up a spinning wheel in your living room. But with just a few ordinary supplies, you and your child can make a simple weaving loom to explore some colonial history and celebrate our nation. This is a great project for a summer afternoon, especially if it’s around the Fourth of July and you’ve got some extra yarn in red, white, and blue!
What You Need:
- 2 straight sticks, each about 14” long and at least 1” thick, or 2 pieces of 1x2” cut wood, each 14” long
- 2 pieces of ¼” rope, each about 30” (clothesline rope works great)
- 11 pieces of string, each about 26” long
- Extra thick yarn or strips of fabric in red, white, and blue
- Optional: Power Drill with 3/16” or 1/4” drill bit
What You Do:
- Start with a lesson in weaving vocabulary! Explain the process and names of the special tools used in cloth making to your child. The loom (the contraption you weave cloth on) will start as a series of vertical strings, called the “warp.” Your child will weave in yarn or fabric strips, which are called the “weft.” For this project, your child will be moving the yarn or fabric around with his hands but in more advanced looms, you wrap the fabric around a special piece of notched wood called a “shuttle.”
- Now it's time to make the loom! Start by laying each 14" stick on a flat, sturdy surface that can withstand some drilling. If you are using a drill, parents will do this next part: make 12 holes along each stick , evenly spaced 1” apart. You may want to have your child lay out the spacing first and mark off where each hole will be to make sure that they all fit. (If you don’t have a drill, don’t worry! You can cut your strings a little longer, and just tie each end of the yarn around the sticks at ¾" -1" intervals so that the twelve pieces of fabric are each attached to a stick at the top end and at the bottom end.)
- Have your child thread a string through each hole of one of the sticks, and tie a knot securely at the end to attach it to the stick. These strings will form the "warp."
- Pull the strings through the wood, and make sure they are all the same length. Then have your child pull warp threads through the holes in the second wood strip, which will be the top, and knot them securely to the second stick.
- Now it’s time for some weaving! Help your child hang up his loom from a ceiling or trellis beam, using two of the pieces of ¼” rope, and use the other two pieces of rope to fasten the bottom of the frame to a solid object such as a chair, so that the loom is secure but suspended. And just like that, you'll have a hanging loom!
- Have your child pull out his weft yarn or fabric strips, and weave them over and under each warp thread starting on either the left or the right side. For the very first string, leave a tail of about two inches, and have your child weave it through just above the bottom stick, going under first, then over and so on.
- When he has reached the other side of the loom with his thread, he's ready to start back again. He will take the same piece of fabric he started with and go back in the opposite direction, weaving right above the row of fabric he previously did. Each piece of yarn should be able to make two passes or two rows on the loom. In each new row, he will start by weaving over if he went under before, and under where he went over before. As you and your child work, help him to use his fingers to push the rows of thread together toward the bottom. Keep going, and you’ll start to see a whole piece of cloth forming!
- Continue this process with your yarn or fabric strips. For a special artistic addition, you can also add natural materials to your cloth such as dried grasses.
- When you’re all done, you can leave the weaving on the loom and hang it up as wall art. Or you can remove the cloth from the loom and take the extra tails of warp string on each side and knot them off, two at a time to finish the edges. You’ll have a real piece of handwoven history to enjoy. This handmade cloth makes a great table centerpiece or even a potholder. It’s also a great reminder of the patience and hard work of all those colonial ancestors who helped to shape the history of our nation, making this project an excellent way to celebrate this year's Fourth of July!