is a machine or device for weaving
thread or yarn
. Looms can range from very small hand-held frames, to large free-standing hand looms, to huge automatic mechanical devices.
In practice, the basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp theads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads. The precise shape of the loom and its mechanics various, but the basic function is the same.
- See Weaving for more information.
- See Textile manufacturing terminology for more terms connected with looms.
Weaving is done by intersecting the longitudinal threads, the warp, i.e. "that which is thrown across" (Old English wearp, from weorpan, to throw, cf. German werfen) with the transverse threads, the woof or weft, i.e. "that which is woven" (Old English wefta, from wefan, to weave, cf. German weben).
The Old English geloma and Middle English lome meant an implement or tool of any kind.
The earliest example with its specific meaning quoted by the Oxford English Dictionary is from the Nottingham Records of 1404, but handwoven cloth existed much earlier, perhaps as far back as 8000 B.C.
Types of looms
The earliest looms were probably vertical warp-weighted looms, with the warp threads suspended from a branch or piece of wood and weighted or attached to the ground. The weft threads would be pushed into place by hand or a stick that would eventually become the shuttle. At first, it was necessary to raise and lower every warp thread one at a time, which was a time-consuming and laborious process. Basic techniques, such as the insertion of a rod, were developed to produce a shed, the space between warp threads (perhaps every other thread would be alternately raised and lowered), so that the weft thread or shuttle could pass through the entire warp at once.
On a horizontal ground loom, the warp would be strung between two rows of pegs. The weaver would have to lean over in order to work, so pit looms were developed, with the warp strung over a pit, so the weaver could sit with his or her legs underneath and would then be on a level with the loom.
Frame looms followed basically the same principles as ground looms. The loom was constructed out of sticks and boards attached at right angles (producing a box-like shape), which meant that it was portable and could even be held in the weaver's lap. Frame looms are still in use today, usually as a portable, less expensive, and compact alternative to a table or floor loom.
Backstrap looms, as the name implies, are tied around the weaver's waist on one end and around a stationary object such as a tree, post, or door on the other. Tension can be adjusted simply by leaning back. Backstrap looms are very portable, since they can simply be rolled up and carried.