A Loom for the Movies

by Susan Styrchak

In August, 2005, a film company was in town and needed a loom, such as would be used by a Bedouin weaver.  The loom didn’t have to “work” as it was to be used in a scene showing the destruction happening at the end of the world. A representative of the film company contacted me and I agreed to see what I could find out about Bedouin looms and whether it would be possible to construct something for a “shoot” in a couple of days.

“Flat Woven Rugs of the World: Kilim, Soumak, and Brocading” by Valerie Sharaf Justin yielded a few good diagrams and a lot of examples. A website, www.beduinweaving.com, showed 20-30 foot long warps for tent materials and also patterned weft-faced rugs, and some distinctions were made between whether the tribe was situated east or west of the Nile.  I thought that a loom with a long black warp would be easy enough to construct and have authenticity.  The film studio wanted colour, however, so the project became a three-foot wide loom with whatever I could get woven on it in the next forty-eight hours.

I drove to the riverbank to gather some driftwood boards for a shed stick, some forked sticks for holding the heddle bar and a few sticks for weft sticks. With the high water on the river this year, there was a lot of debris to choose from, and I am pretty sure sand erosion and water erosion look similar on wood.  I had a collection of broomsticks for the heddle bar and the “breast beam” and “back beams”.

Returning home, I wondered where there was room in my house to assemble this loom.  Three feet started to sound a lot bigger than it had when I suggested it!  The solution was to lash the poles to the rear extension on my own weaving loom, which would allow me to stand to do the weaving. Bedouin weavers may sit on the ground, and the notes said they didn’t use the shed sticks, but to get anything done in such a short time, I had to scrap any idea of doing it their way. My back and knees wouldn’t hold out long enough, either, I am certain.  A picture of a rug from North Africa had a lot of colourful stripes, and it happened that I had rug yarns in the same colours: a golden yellow-orange, a sage-green, black, white, grey and rust. That odd orange yarn had been unused on my shelf for a long time, but now it was exactly what I needed! By midnight, I had the wood lashed to the loom, a warp stretched between the beams, and 1½ inches woven.

The next day I continued to weave, but the lashing wasn’t holding the side poles apart. The poles were not part of the loom, but they were necessary to hold the beams onto the extension.  The stripes were going a bit “wonky” in the middle.  I forced the poles apart and kept weaving.  Then one side became very much lower than the other, so I filled it in like tapestry weaving and kept on going.  This was going to be blown up, after all, and they weren’t planning to do a close-up!  In deference to the wonderful soumak and tapestry motifs of the region, I created three zig-zags along each edge.  The rug in the book showed a similar embellishment that would probably have been done in soumak. By 10:00 pm. I was exhausted.  It was still “wonky” but what a neat design and I loved those colours!  In forty-eight hours I had learned what I would do if I had time to do it “right”!

The loom, and a diagram of how it went together, was picked up the next morning for the Saturday “shoot”, and I decided if I ever got so annoyed at any of my weaving that I wanted to blast it to bits, I would be able to rent the movie and watch it happen.  It sounds therapeutic to me!

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Epilogue – March 2008

The rug was not used in the scene!!  Oh, well!  I had said that in three days I had merely learned what I would do if I had the time to do it.  So, I’ve woven a rug for myself!