Two Simple Tablet-Weaving Looms

You don't actually need a loom to do tablet weaving. (That's part of what makes it such an accessible craft.) You can tie one end of your warp to anything stationary and hold the other in your hand, or tie both ends to, say, the legs of a table or the handles of two latched doors and weave away. But as I prepared to teach my kids' tablet weaving class, I realized the only feasible option, given restrictions on time and space and the ages of my prospective students, was to use sort of tensioning device that could easily be transported from my home to the event site already warped.

I considered just using some of the fruit crates I had around the house, tying my warp to the ends (as shown at right). A trial of this approach proved it to be workable but awkward. The available warp space is limited, requiring the me to frequently untie the ends, move the warp along, and re-tie. Passing the weft and packing the warp was also somewhat inconvenient, as it required me to get my hands down into the crate. It would do, in a pinch--at least for an adult--but I decided it wasn't a viable choice for the class.

I searched the web and asked the members of some of the mailing lists to which I belong for suggestions, considered a number of possible approaches, and, in the end, found two designs that I viewed as serious contenders--Herveus' Quick-and-Sleazy Student Loom and Toli's Cardweaving Mini-Loom. Both could be executed relatively quickly and inexpensively by someone (like myself) with limited woodworking skills and basic tools. Several looms of either type would fit in the trunk of my car and then on the top of a single six-by-four-foot table. And the designers of both reported their past successful use in tabletweaving classes. Neither design is historically-based, so suiting the equipment to the period reflected in the event's theme wasn't a consideration.

I chose Toli's Cardweaving Mini-Loom for three reasons:

  1. It has a shorter warp length and the warp is held semi-upright in front of the weaver, so I thought it likely the kids would find it easier to reach wherever they'd need to using it.
  2. It looked like it would be significantly lighter and, due to its shape, easier to carry.
  3. I was concerned that Herveus' Quick-and-Sleazy Student Loom might have a tendency to tip over on its side if bumped or carelessly handled, possibly landing on little fingers or at least resulting in dropped or tangled threads and frustrated weavers.

I made instructions for making both looms available as hand-outs for the parents of my students on the day of the class, in case one of the participants was inspired to do more weaving later. They're repeated below.

Herveus' Quick-and-Sleazy Student Loom

Master Herveus d'Ormonde (of White Wolf and the Phoenix) responded to my question about simple loom ideas with a description of a design he uses when he teaches tablet weaving. It works much as medieval weaving frames did, but on a reduced scale. I asked some questions, made some illustrations, and generated the following instructions for his loom.



About an inch and a half from each end of the two-by-four, on the narrow edge, drill a two-inch-deep hole that slants slightly outward. It should be just barely bigger in circumference than your dowel.

Insert the dowels into the holes and test the fit. They should be just loose enough to turn in the holes. Sand or shave them a little if you need to.

You can use a circular warp or tie the ends of your warp to the dowels. To use the loom, either set it on a table with the dowels upright, as shown below, or set one end on your lap and one on a table or the ground.

If you'd like to add a little more flexibility to the loom, you can drill an additional hole between the first two, near and slanted away from one of them, and insert a shorter length of dowel to make a cleat. Or you can do that at both ends, and make two cleats.

For tension adjustment or for warps longer or shorter than the space between the dowels, you tie a cord to one end of the warp and tie it off to the dowel, or lead it around the dowel and use the cleat or the other dowel to secure it.

Toli's Cardweaving Mini-Loom

HL Toli the Curious has webbed plans for a loom he designed which is similar to the 19th-century inkle looms that many SCAdians use but less expensively constructed. Hidden away at the bottom of the page I found a suggestion as to what one might do with the trimmings from that project--make a "mini-loom" that looked perfect for my purposes. No step-by-step directions for doing this were given, as the procedure was just a simplification of that used in the larger loom. I'm far from an expert woodworker, however, and I wanted to be sure I had every step of the process clearly laid out before I started. I therefore took the instructions for the larger, more elaborate loom and re-wrote them, incorporating the necessary adaptations and some additional information that I collected from HL Toli. (He was remarkably patient in answering my questions.) The instructions that follow are the result. The words are mine, the ideas came from him.

This loom is appropriate for tablet or rigid-heddle weaving. It can be warped circularly, or the warp can be tied to two of the dowels.





Preparing the Parts

Cut the doweling into three equal lengths, using the mitre box to ensure the cuts are perpindicular to the long axis of the dowel. Use the smaller drill bit to pre-drill both ends of each dowel, taking care to center the holes and keep them perpindicular to the ends. Make sure the holes are the right depth. The ones that will be fixed will have to admit most of the lag bolts (minus only the thickness of the board). The one that will be your tensioning dowel will have to admit all of the hanger bolts except the portions that will pass through the slots and the parts that will be accepted by the T-nuts.

Using the larger bit, drill into the center of each piece of 1 X 2 lumber. Do not go all the way through the wood; only penetrate to the depth required to accommodate the shafts of your T-nuts.

Cut from the board two L-shaped pieces, as shown in the diagram below.

On one of the side pieces, carefully mark the positions of four holes: 2 where the centers of your fixed dowels will be, and two where the ends of the tensioning slot will. Make sure the holes will be at least an inch from all edges of the board and that the tensioning-slot holes are about six inches apart.

Firmly clamp the two L-shaped pieces together, one on top of the other, with their edges aligned. Drill your holes as marked, using the smaller drill bit for the dowel-fixing holes and the larger for the ends of the tensioning slot, going through both pieces of wood at the same time.

Unclamp the side pieces, then use your coping, scroll, or jig saw to cut out the tensioning slot on each one. (Just connect the tops and bottoms of the holes you drilled.)

Check to make sure everything is as smooth as it should be; sand where necessary. If you'd like to decorate the side pieces or the pieces of 1 X 2 that will serve as your knobs, do so now. Don't paint or stain the dowels.



Screw a lag bolt through one of the small holes in one side piece and into the hole in the end of a dowel. Repeat with the other hole and another dowel. Then do the same with the other side piece.

Lock your pliers onto the machine end of a hanger bolt, and use them as a handle as you screw the lag end into a hole in the remaining dowel. Repeat with the other hanger bolt at the other end. This is now your tensioning dowel.

Insert a T-nut into the depression in each piece of 1 X 2. Gently tap it in until the prongs are buried and the flange is flat against the face of the wood. These are now knobs.

Slip the tensioning dowel between the ends of the side pieces and rotate it into place so that the protruding hanger bolts stick through the tensioning slots on either side. Screw a knob onto each bolt.

When screwed down tight, the knobs should keep the tensioning dowel from moving. If they won't come in far enough to do that, you may need to screw the bolts further into the dowel. Unscrew them and drill the holes deeper, if you have to, but be careful not to widen them at the same time. You don't want the bolts to be loose in the holes.

Ultimately I didn't make the looms we used in the class. Lord Thomas of Conway made them for me. He modified the procedure, thus:

Clarifications for Novice Woodworkers

One end of a hanger bolt is pointed and threaded like a lag bolt. The other is blunt and has machine threads. If your local hardware store doesn't carry them, you can find them through any number of vendors online, including Lee Valley Hardware.

T-nuts are designed to be fitted into holes in wood, then to have bolts screwed into them. The prongs that project from their flanges are tapped into the face of the wood and hold them in. Again, if you can't get them in your neighborhood, you can order them online from vendors like Lee Valley Hardware.

There are a variety of types of center finders on the market that make positioning a centered hole in a dowel easier. It might be worth the investment, especially if you're going to make multiple looms for a class or guild.


This page was written and is maintained by Coblaith Muimnech, who owns the copyright to all elements not attributed to someone else, including all images less than 300 years old. Please do not reproduce any portion of it without express permission.

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