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Syria's textile luxury

The weaver

In Syria today various sorts of hand looms are still in use. For weaving ikat fabrics in silk and artificial silk the shaft loom (without punched cards) is used. Wool and cotton are often woven on a pit loom.

Many old Syrian shaft looms have been improved by the addition of modern equipment, particularly in Damascus, but to a lesser extent in Aleppo, Homs and Hama, on which silk and artificial silk are woven into damasks and brocades or other fabrics. They have been fitted with Jacquard machines and fast-shuttle device.
The basic framework for all sorts of looms (shaft loom, pit loom, hybrid loom, draw loom or Jacquard loom) is always in principle the same, apart from some deviations and modernizations.

It consists of four upright posts joined together. At the back is the warp beam on which the warp threads are wound. From here they run through leashes which are attached to two pieces of wood and form a shaft. After this they pass through the weaving comb and are tied to the cloth beam at the front. The weaver sits on a bench or a board in front and, by working the pedals which are connected with the shafts, forms the shed he requires, passes the shuttle through and beats in the weft thread firmly into the woven fabric with the weaving comb which hangs in a slay in the basic framework.

The shaft loom
After the hank of warp threads, with the shafts and comb, has been taken from the mulqi (leash threader) to the weaver (annawwal), the first thing he does is to insert the comb into the swing drawer and stretch out the warp threads attached to the breast beam. When the sley and breast beam are ready for use, the shafts with pedals attached are suspended from the frame. It takes five or six hours for the nawwalto do this. The more complicated the pattern, the more shafts with pedals are included.

To do the weaving the weaver sits on a board placed so that when his legs are almost extended they reach the pedals. This raised position gives him a good view of the whole loom.

Today the shaft loom is often equipped with a fast-shuttle device. The shuttle (makkuk) with the weft thread is hastened on its course back and forth by pulling on a handle.

As he weaves the nawwdl operates first one pedal so that the shaft to which it is joined is lowered and the other shafts are raised and form a shed. By pulling the handle he shoots the weft thread across and then beats it into the woven fabric with the sley. If the weaver wants to weave in a smaller pattern or his name, he uses a smaller shuttle with a different coloured thread and draws the weft through the newly formed shed only as far as the width of the the pattern or script. The cross- patterning is only possible with plain weave; there is no point in doing it with atlas weave since the weft threads are completely concealed by the warp threads.

Pit loom

This works on exactly the same principle as the shaft loom. except that the warn is not stretched out so far and runs horizontal only for a short distance before turning backwards and upwards 120 degrees. This means that it takes up less room. Breast beam, sley, framework and pedals are constructed in a similar way to the shaft loom, but are smaller. The warp threads run from the breast beam almost horizontally to the first roller. Passing beneath tills they then turn diagonally backwards and upwards for two or three metres and round another roller. They are weighted down so that they hang vertically behind the back of the weaver.
The weaver at the pit loom sits on a board at ground level in front of the breast beam. The space for the pedals is a pit.

I This loom is used especially to weave carpets (flat r weave), small fancy kerchiefs made of wool, cotton or mixtures, but larger cloths made of silk or artificial silk can also be woven on it. Nowadays the pit loom, too, often has a fast-shuttle attachment, though tins is not used for particularly small patterns and partial patterns, where frequent changing of the weft thread is necessary, in which case a number of small hand shuttles are used.

From draw loom to Jacquard machine

The draw loom was widely used for weaving compli­cated patterns (damask, brocade) until the invention of the Jacquard machine (by J.M. Jacquard, 1752-1834) in the nineteenth century.

The weaver formed the shed for the fabric base with pedals and shafts, while an assistant placed in the "figure or drawing area" high above on the loom created the sheds for the motifs in die pattern by pulling up groups of cords with the corresponding warp threads suspended from them. (This process is now accomplished in many looms by means of punched cards). Moreover the warp threads were not threaded on shafts but in individual leashes each with a little rod weight below, threaded through a horizontal board with holes carefully made in it and carried up to the drawing arrangement above.

The Jacquard machine was devised to control the warp threads drawn through the leashes, each leash having a platine (weight) attached. The size of the patterned surface depends on the number ofplatincs (there can be more than 800). The platines s.re controlled by means of series of cards attached together, which are punched with holes corre­sponding to the pattern, or else by "endless" bands made of paper or plastic.

Damasks and brocades are produced on ^ looms equipped in this way. A genuine damask (usually silk) has an even alternation of warp and weft atlas, which gives the fabric its characteristic shiny quality.

Brocade is a patterned, damask-like fabric made of natural or artificial silk with metal threads woven in. There are also brocades made entirely from gold or silver threads.

Brocade threads usually have a cotton or linen core round which metal threads (lame) are spun. Today special threads, such as lurex, which do not oxidize, are mainly used.



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Choosing a Loom

Whether choosing a loom for yourself or as a present, there are many factors to consider, besides price.  Here are some thoughts to help you.  If you are unsure as to which loom is best for your needs, please call, write or e-mail us, and we will be happy to help you.
How Skilled is the Weaver?
It is important that beginning weavers not be overwhelmed by either the complexity of weaving or the amount of time it takes them to do their first projects, or they may lose interest in weaving.  For this reason, many beginning weavers should start with one of our Frame Looms, our Pocket Loom, or our Mini-Inkle Loom.  However, people who are skilled at other crafts and are undaunted by more complex and time-consuming tasks may prefer to start with a Slant Loom.


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