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Different types of looms

Buying a new floor loom is a big decision, so it is important to understand the differences between all the different looms available, before you jump in. When it comes to floor looms, there are 3 main types: the counter-marche loom, the counter-balance loom and the jack loom.

Counter-Marche Looms and Counter-Balance Looms

I like to think of counter-marche looms and counter-balance looms as being related because the shedding system works similarly with both of these looms – so lets start with them. The counter-balance (C/B) loom is one of the oldest looms around – they basically work with 2 or 4 harnesses that are attached to overhead rollers. The important thing to understand about them is that when you step on a treadle, half of the warp pulls down, and the other half goes up. These looms are called sinking shed looms. Both parts of your warp are in action – the tension on the warp threads that are down, and the tension on the warp threads that are up, is the same. This is a good thing – when you throw your shuttle the weft enters the cloth evenly. Counter-balance looms are great 4 shaft looms and I love them. There tends to be some maligning about them in regards to uneven sheds, when tying up unbalanced weave structures – like 1 against 3. I however, have never found this to be a problem. When I look at the old books like “A Handweavers Pattern Book” by Marguerite Porter Davison, where all the patterns are woven on sinking shed, C/B looms, we see many unbalanced tie-ups, and yet our weavers of days gone by created stunning cloth using these simple looms. The sheds may be smaller on unbalanced tie-ups but, from my experience, the smaller shed on a C/B loom is often as big, or bigger than, the regular shed on a jack loom.

Counter-Marche Looms

Let’s take a look at the counter-marche (C/M) loom. I had said earlier that C/B and C/M looms are related because of their shedding system. The similarity is simple – when you step on a treadle with a C/M loom, both parts of the warp are in action, just like they are with the C/B loom. Some warps threads go up, and some go down, but what is important is that they both move, and you have equal tension on both parts of the warp. There are two types of C/M looms currently being manufactured – the first is the standard traditional European-style loom, which requires quite a bit of space, especially if you want a wide one. Then there is the newer, parallel-C/M loom, which are much more compact.

The first thing you need to know is that all C/M looms have two sets of lamms, which require double the tie-ups – there is no getting away from that with a C/M loom. You have an upper set of lamms that move down, and a lower set of lamms that move up. If you are tying-up for a pattern on a jack (rising shed) loom, you would tie-up the lower lamms exactly like it is in the pattern, and you would tie-up all the remaining shafts to the upper lamms. The easiest way to remember this is that upper lamms are at the top and the only place they can move, is down, and the lower lamms are at the bottom, so the only place they can move is up.

Example: For a 2/2 twill you would tie-up: 12, 23, 34, 14 to your lower lamms:

On the 1st treadle where you have tied-up 12 – you would tie-up what is left over – the 34 to the upper lamm directly above

On the 2nd treadle where you have tied-up 23 – you would tie-up what is left over – the 14 to the upper lamm directly above

On the 3rd treadle where you have tied-up 34 – you would tie-up what is left over – the 12 to the upper lamm directly above

On the 4th treadle where you have tied-up 14 – you would tie-up what is left over – the 23 to the upper lamm directly above

Easy peasy…

With the traditional C/M loom, the lamms pivot from a side point. Imagine your arm being a lamm and it pivots from your arm pit. Now imagine tying-up a treadle to your finger tips and stepping on that treadle – your finger tips would move closer to the floor than your elbow. The closer the tie-up to the pivot point (your arm pit), the less distance it could travel. To get around this (and still get an even shed), the tie-cords on all the different treadles have to be fussed with, to get all the shafts moving the same distance. This can be quite tiresome – however, once it is done, you will have a huge, beautiful shed with even tension on both parts of the warp.

Below is a picture of a traditional counter-marche loom. You can see that the lamms are pivoting from one side.


Parallel-C/M looms are much easier to tie-up. They work entirely differently in that the lamms move parallel to each other – they don’t pivot. This system was designed by Jan Louet in the early 1980’s, and is used in several of his looms. The Hollandia (no longer in production), Spring and Delta all work with this brilliant system.

Another feature of these looms is that they are compact, and need little space – they don’t have to be tall or deep like a traditional C/M. They also have an extremely big shed, and are much easier to treadle than any other loom – you work with gravity rather than against it. They are quiet because they use texsolv heddles, and the harnesses are light. Louet counter-marche looms are so sweet that they quickly became my favourite looms.

The Spring, in particular, is my favourite simply because it fits my stature, which is a very important thing to consider when purchasing a loom. I am 5’6” tall, and the Spring fits me like a glove. Taller weavers would prefer the Delta. I generally recommend the Spring for weavers 5’8” and under and the Delta for 5’8” and over.

Jack Looms

This leaves us with the jack loom to look at. Traditionally, all jack looms have been rising-shed looms, meaning the warp sits at the bottom of the reed and on most jack looms the warp comes straight from the back beam into the heddles. When you step on a treadle, you lift (up) the harnesses that you want to move. Usually, rising shed looms have metal heddles and heavier harnesses, to help them fall back to their resting position. When you step on a treadle, you have to sustain the lift until you have thrown your weft pick. When working with many harnesses this can be a real workout. Unlike the previous looms that we have looked at (where both parts of the warp move), only one part of the warp moves on a jack loom, and therefore you have greater tension on what is up than on what is down.

About 15 years ago Jan Louet invented a new type of jack loom, called the David. It is related to the jack loom in that only one part of the warp moves, but it moves down, rather than up. Jan envisioned a loom where all the warp threads sat in the upper position from the get go – all the warp threads are sitting at the top of the reed. You can look from the back beam, through to the heddles, and see that the warp is moving up. When you tie up a David loom and step on a treadle, the moving part of your warp moves down, through the neutral position, and onwards to the bottom of the reed, giving you a fully opened shed.

Because the warp starts in the fully-up position, and part of it moves to the fully-down position, you end up with equal tension on both parts of your warp – pretty cool! The really

nice thing about this little loom is that it only has one set of (very accessible) lamms, which makes the tie-up much easier than a C/M loom. The David loom is a little feller, and I love how he was named – it is after the biblical story of David and Goliath – he was small, but mighty :^) If you are looking for a small, compact loom that packs a punch, then the David is for you.

Hopefully this article helps you understand the differences between loom styles, and gives you a few of things to think about. It is important to have as much information as possible before you make such a big commitment. If you have any other questions about looms in general, or LOUET looms specifically, please check out Jane’s Helpline where there are many more questions answered. By the way, we have all available models of Louet looms in our studio, on beautiful Salt Spring Island B.C. – if you are ever in the neighbourhood, please come see us, and take one for a test drive.

Happy Weaving,


Back to Front vs Front to Back – a wee conversation

There are many choices in life: The Beatles or The Stones, plain chocolate or milk chocolate. Then there’s the really pressing question of our time: Back to Front or Front to Back?

It’s a question Sarah threw into the mix on Weave with Jane Stafford on Ravelry:

Would you mind talking about pros and cons for warping back-to-front as opposed to front-to-back? I learned to warp from Cay Garrett’s Warping All By Yourself, which teaches a front-to-back method, but I gather that you’re a big fan of back-to-front. I’d love to know what exactly makes that method superior, in your opinion! 🙂

As you may know, this is a question dear to my heart. I replied:

Hi There,
That is a very good question. There are 3 main ways to warp a loom. Back to Front, Front to Back and Sectionally.
I use back to front for almost everything we do in my world. For any yarns that are generally smooth and that includes cotton boucles we warp back to front. So about 99.9 percent of the time for all of our warps. We only use an adapted method of front to back for sticky yarns like brushed mohair. For brushed mohair I warp differently and I will demonstrate that in the Online Guild in October.
I feel (and this is just my opinion) that warping back to front is the easiest in most cases. There are other very respected weavers out there who think that front to back is the way to go. It really is a matter of preference. Sometimes we are just comfortable with the way we first learn and that is all good as long as you’re happy.

As far as being able to warp all by yourself I know you can do Back to Front, easy peasy all by yourself.

My reasons for warping back to front are these.
1. We go to an great deal of trouble to make a warp where every end in the warp is the same length. When you warp back to front you don’t cut anything until the very end…after the entire warp has been beamed.

With front to back warping the first you do is cut the warp and sley it and then thread it and then try with all your might to tie every end to the back apron rod and have all those ends be the same length. That is really hard to do….and if you don’t do a good job of getting all those ends the same length you have to move all the diffential through the entire warp and clean it up.

With Back to Front you don’t cut anything…you just spread your warp to the desired width in your raddle and then you beam. Every single warp end is still the same length. Beaming is easy.

  1. Threading from the cross is the big bonus of warping Back to Front. When you have beamed your entire warp and you thread into the heddles from the cross which is on your lease sticks it is much faster and you can be more accurate with your threading (and that is just my opinion)
  2. When you warp Front to Back you have to sley first and if you have complicated sleyings and you have colours to organize, say alternating colours, or specific sequences in colour and weave you have to make sure you get all that perfect into the reed and then from the reed you have to get them all in the heddles in the correct order. That is no easy task!!!!!

But if you are threading from the cross into the heddles and then into the reed it all flows perfectly. Sleying from the heddles is very easy because everything is already in perfect order coming from your heddles.

Everyone has their preference and all I suggest is that you try both ways and see what is easiest. I have tried all ways of warping looms and I adapt to the specific situation…but mostly, I warp back to front.

Maybe some of you who are reading this can comment on it….share your thoughts….it is all good…as long as you are happy and feel like you are moving forward.

:^) Jane

Putting heddle to the metal, Jan, aka Granny Janny, chipped in with another great point:

Back in the days when most heddles were metal, there was more wear and tear on the yarns from the yarn rubbing on the metal. By warping back to front the yarn only went through the heddle once and so there was less stress on the thread and thus less breakage. That was the explanation I was given when I did my instructors courses.

To which I replied:

Thanks Granny Janny, that is another bonus. For me, there are just so many bonuses to Back to Front.
I sure don’t think you have anything to loose by trying :^). The online guild demonstrates it 3 times in Episode 2.
My momma always said……….how do you know if you don’t try!
Well, actually she didn’t say that but it always sounds better if I say ‘my momma always said……..’. LOL

Sarah also responded to Jan’s point with a question:

I don’t think I quite understand how this would make a difference: warping front-to-back (at least the way I’ve been doing it), each end only winds up being threaded through one heddle, and only once… unless you mean that the length of the thread only passes through the heddle once?

It may be the case that I just need to watch your videos, Jane, for all this to become clearer… but there are things about the idea of back-to-front warping that continue to perplex me. The way I’ve been warping, the action of being drawn first through the reed, and then through the heddles, and then through tensioning sticks (are these what are called “lease sticks”?) beautifully untwists and untangles and straightens everything out as it’s wound on. So if you’re warping back-to-front, does the warp just get wound on in its somewhat tangled and twisted state? And is it possible to warp back-to-front at all unless you have a raddle (I don’t, and I’m not even sure that there’s anywhere that one could be attached on my Woolhouse counterbalance loom)?

to which I responded with:

Hi There,
What Granny Janny is talking about is how many times the warp passes through the heddles and reed. When you warp back to front your warp is spread out in a raddle. The warp has the lease sticks inserted into the cross at the back of the loom and once it is beamed you thread directly from your cross into the heddles and then thread through the reed. Your warp has not had to wind through the reed or the heddles while beaming. When you warp front to back…your entire warp runs through the reed and heddles and then it has to run through the reed and heddles again as you advance it while weaving. This means the warp has gone through the heddles and reed twice. Metal heddles and the reed abraid your yarn each time it has to move through it. Look to see the dust bunnies under your loom and you will get the idea. Those dust bunnies came from the abrasion through the reed and heddles. Warping back to front reduces that abrasion.

While warping back to front the warp is in perfect order running through the lease sticks and its width is determined by the raddle. I think you just need to watch it to believe it :^)

There’s nothing like hearing from a convert. Lisa chipped in with:

I am an absolute back-to-front convert. I learned to warp front to back and thought that I was pretty quick and efficient. But now that I’ve tried back to front, without a doubt I get warps on the loom faster and with fewer mistakes. There are so many advantages to back to front warping.

First, the threads never get as dis-arranged as they do with front to back. You spread the threads along your cross and then wind them nicely on the back beam all before you start cutting ends and threading heddles or sleying the reed. This means that the fussing about with the ends after they are cut only affects the very end of the threads. It never travels down the whole length of the warp as you wind it on the beam.

Second, as Granny Janny said, you abraid your threads less because they don’t travel through the heddles as you wind on and then again as you weave off your piece. They only travel through the heddles as you weave.

And third, I have so many fewer warping mistakes. Because my threads are sitting in the cross as I thread the heddles, it’s so easy to see which thread is supposed to be next up in the order of things. With front to back warping, when I had two or more threads in a dent in the reed, I would have to either transfer the cross to the other side of the reed to thread the heddles or I would guess which thread came next. This caused lots of crossed threads and other threading errors.

My most heartfelt recommendation to you is to just give back to front warping a try. I think that you’ll be a convert as well.

And there you have it. Give it a try. You might never go back.