Pueblo looms were not all of one type as many people suppose. Instead, there were two distinct types learned or worked out, perhaps, from different sources. One was the waist loom, used by weaving peoples all the way from Peru to the pueblos. The other, which came a little later, was the famous blanket loom of the Southwest, used by Hopi and Navaho today. There were a number of variations between, as there are still.
What Is a Loom? A loom must do two things. First, it must hold the foundation strands, the warp, tight. This requires two parallel bars and usually they are adjustable so the threads can be tightened or loosened. The bar nearest the weaver, where the cloth is begun, is called the cloth beam. That furthest away, covered with yarn not yet woven, is the yarn beam.
Second, the loom must provide some arrangement for separating groups of warps by wholesale means, so the weft can be passed through quickly. Otherwise, the weaver would be endlessly at work, picking up one warp after another with his fingers. The device for separating warps is called a heddle (sometimes, heald).
Weavers, when classifying a loom, do not think first of whether it is wide or narrow, upright or lying flat. The point is how the warps are laid on and what is the heddle arrangement. Are the warps tied to a stick or passed through reeds or fastened to a lever? These are all different heddle arrangements and the passageway which they open between the warps is called a shed. Another way to put the question would be: How is the shed opened? With these facts in mind, we can go on to a description of the loom.
Probably one of the oldest forms of loom in the world is the frameless type shown in the photograph (111-10) and usually called the waist loom. Here the cloth beam and yarn beam are not set rigid in a frame but put in place each time the weaver begins to work. The yarn beam is attached to a tree, peg or, in our photograph, to the wall. The cloth beam is fastened, somehow, to the weaver's waist. The loom can be seen in many parts of the Old World even today and it was apparently invented again in the New. It was the standard loom in Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico, where the weavers were usually women. Somehow it came to the pueblos many centuries before the development of the big blanket loom with its fixed frame. Perhaps it brought with it the tradition of women weavers. At least many Pueblo women used the waist loom and do still. However, men used it also. At Hopi, men took over the weaving art altogether but it is interesting to see that they never fixed bars to their waist. Generally, they fastened them between floor and ceiling.
Warp Stringing for the Waist or Frameless Loom. Many weavers had permanent fixtures in their homes for warp winding and the diagrams (111-7, 111-8) show these in a modern Hopi house.
First, two bars A and B are placed in position parallel with the floor and a little above it. One end of each is held in a hole in the wall (J and K).
The other end of each bar lies against a heavy plank, I, where it is held in place by a circle of nails. The plank, in turn, is kept firm by a stone wedged against it. In the early days, when planks and nails were not to be had, the weaver kept on hand two heavy stone blocks, with holes pierced in their sides to receive the bars.
The Hopi weaver sits at X, holding in his hand the tight-spun cotton string, many yards long, which will form his warp. He ties one end of it to A, on the wall side then winds it over B under A, over B under A, like a towel on two rollers. This has been called a tubular form of warp, which seems a good name, since the diagram shows that the strings pass back and forth without intersecting and do, actually, form a wide flat tube. It is the best arrangement for long articles like belts which are woven in one continuous band. When cut apart, the band is twice the length of the loom, so that a belt nine feet long need have a cloth beam and yarn beam only four and a half feet apart. For blankets, the warp is strung differently.
The weaver keeps winding his warp back and forth until it forms a series of parallel threads as wide as the finished fabric is to be. This cannot be too wide if one bar of the loom is to be tied to his waist. Ancient fabrics from the pueblos or from Middle America are only about two feet wide and modern belts three or four inches.
Plate 111-7. Stringing the warp for waist loom.
Plate 111-8. Warp for waist loom, with heddles in place.
Plate 111-9. Warp prepared for waist loom.