Traditional loom weaving is the antithesis of fast fashion production. All elements of the textile, from the creating the threads to the set up of the loom, is done by hand - it is a true skill to master.
One of the first things you notice in a traditional loom workshop is the noise. It's a heavy clacking sound coming from the weavers as they use pedals to move the threads on the wooden frames. The looms are entirely human-powered, which is a rare sight in this day and age. It was especially interesting to see how textiles are engineered from scratch. How textiles are made has largely been overlooked in recent times, since the norm is to buy the finished product, and never know where, or even how it was made. Going back to basics in a family run workshop showed us how!
Setting up the loom.
Setup is usually the hardest part, as each thread (the warp) is aligned onto the loom through an eyelet and comb. This is a slow and painstaking process to load all the threads to create a fabric of around 1m in width. It can take several people to help complete the setup. For more intricate designs, each thread needs to be arranged technically to allow for the particular pattern to be achieved.
How are the threads woven?
The wooden shuttle, as in the photo below, is filled with a bobbin. This is usually of a different colour thread if the weaver is creating a pattern. The shuttle will carry the weft threads (the threads going in the opposite direction which creates the weave) back and forth across the loom. The weaver uses two pedals underneath the loom to operate the frames. Each frame holds half of the eyelets so as one frame pulls up, the other pulls down, and the shuttle runs in between these. The weaver pulls a lever to control the shuttle. After this movement, the weaver then pulls the comb forward to close the threads into the woven section.
The bobbin in the shuttle can be changed according to which colour is needed. As you can see in the photo above, for an intricate pattern the weaver will have to change the shuttle often. These already have the correct colour bobbin inside and are labelled to help speed up the weaving process. The weaver uses the pedals and shuttles in repetition until the textile is complete.
The end result.
This method of weaving creates an amazing and unique texture, each textile is different due to the use of handmade threads. For a typical longyi length fabric, a traditional Myanmar dress, it would take an experienced weaver of 40 years around 8 hours to weave once the loom is set up.
It is incredible that such intricate patterns can be achieved solely using a traditional wooden loom. It takes many years to train as a weaver, starting on single colour fabrics and progressing to more difficult textiles.
Benefits of traditional loom weaving:
- No carbon emissions
- Low waste - only the threads needed are loaded to the loom
- Revives traditional handicraft production
- Weavers do not need to rely on electricity supply to work
- Each piece is unique according to the texture of the threads
- The loom itself is handmade and lasts for many years