Playing with Esme, the 12 harness loom and 12 harness patterns

Note: this is a picture heavy post. And I’m learning about wordpress’s new block editor, which is its own brand of fun. So layout is a trifle simplistic.

In the summer of 2019 I purchased a 12 harness tableloom from Egypt; it came packed in a lovely box, some assembly required. Which also allowed me to learn a lot baout how the whole loom was constructed. Here is what she looks like as I’ve assembled the castle – the structure that houses the 12 harnesses – and am about to tie the harnesses up to the levers that control them.

Esme’s Castle is assembled …

Since then she was assembled, I warped her up, I started weaving, I had shoulder surgery, covid hit, cancer hit, and … just recently I started weaving again. And I’ve been playing with weaving patterns that use 12 harnesses. I’ve been posting quick pics on facebook, but realistically, I would like to start collecting the patterns in a logical place. Like, uh, here …

The first placemat on Esme

So this first placemat wasn’t too complicated, because it was a modification of twill, and I could follow along with my pattern so I knew where I was. Also, I finished this first placemat before the shoulder surgery. And then I started the second placemat …

2nd placemat on Esme

And then I made the colossal mistake of stopping for 2 years … and not marking my spot in the pattern. (So the restart had … issues. And then I made a weaving mistake. And then … yeah. We’ll weave this one off and hide the bad bits.)

But meanwhile as I’m weaving I’m fantasizing about new patterns. Preferably ones that are less fiddly than this one because the fiddly doesn’t work as well as I would like because I’m working with fairly fine thread (10/2 cotton) so that the individual details fade out over any kind of distance. So after some inspirations from (where I had oodles of fun searching for other patterns with the same threading) the next two patterns I want to try are below. The difference is that these patterns are easier on the brain, because the changes are very predictable. Well, at least the first one.

New pattern to try

In contrast this pattern below is very different from the previous patterns, in that it has much longer floats. Now if I was weaving in wool the floats wouldn’t worry me in the slightest, because in the wet finishing the wool always felts to itself at least a little. But the current warp is cotton, which will shrink but not felt. On the other hand, this warp is set at 30 epi (ends per inch) so a 5 thread float is one sixth of an inch long. That’s about 4mm. It may be manageable. Especially if I end up throwing these into the feast kit for placemats.

2nd new pattern to try

Backstrap Weaving – Making Heddles

Backstrap weaving using the minimum required while making fabric, and can be improvised anywhere you can acquire stick like objects.

I’ve been diving into youtube looking for helpful videos on how to set up and weave, and this is an unordered collection of links to videos and sites that intrigued me:

I am intrigued by the variety of heddles and how tightly they are attached to the heddle stick, because these three offer three separate options.  If you want to weave using more than 2 sheds, you can add additional heddle sticks to accomplish that.  The biggest challenge seems to be keeping the length of the heddles consistent: this is less of a problem with the first two methods, where the loops aren’t tied in place.

Playing with Colours

Consider the following two patterns: they look very, very different.  The first one is basically a broken diamond twill with 12×12 squares, and I’ve been weaving various sizes of those for a while now.

But the second looks drastically different.  There’s a spiral effect, and this is highly reminiscent of greek key patterns.  Again graphed with 2 pattern repeats.

But what absolutely fascinates me is how similar the two patterns are, structurally.  If you look carefully at the warping and treadling setups, you may notice that the two patterns differ in only one way.  In the first pattern, all the warp is white and all the weft is blue.  In the second pattern both the weft and the warp alternate blue and white.

I foresee some experimentation coming up.

Playing with 12 harness patterns

So while I’ve been quiet here, I’ve finally been weaving on the 12 harness Leclerc.  The design of the loom, it turns out, has some major, and annoying, flaws. Worst is the way I can’t adjust the harnesses so that the string, traveling from back to front beam, lies flat.  Since the heddle eyes are below this level, the strings all come off the backbeam, slant down, go through the heddle, and then slant back up.  There’s enough distance between the first and twelfth harness that when all the harnesses are down there’s a visible deformation … And there’s tension issues, too.  Between that, and getting the loom warped, and then trying to fix it, it took a little longer to get weaving than I had hoped.

But as long as I’m weaving relatively narrow ware, and am careful, I can make it work. So I’ve been working on the rug mugs. In this picture you can see the pattern below, as well as previous pattern. The warp’s path was particularly problematical when the higher-numbered harnesses were down. The edges are not ideal (I keep meaning to weight those two edges, and then I keep forgetting, but …)


The pattern I used for the latest rug mug is an earlier variation of the one on the left.  The other challenge of that pattern is that in some places there are floats over 5 strings.

So the next two mug rugs are going to be a) the left pattern, and then b) the right pattern.

And I’m still playing with the same warp so I haven’t changed the threading through the heddles on the harnesses at all.  There is still so much room to play here …

Planning the First Voyageur Mug Rugs

So last night my new 12 shaft Voyageur Leclerc table loom arrived.  Unpacking her was an adventure; she was packed in a wood shipping crate in a cardboard box, with much tape.  Pity the customs inspector who had to open her up.  (Although I don’t think anyone did, actually.  She arrived ship shape and bristol clean, as it were.)

So my first project is going to be a series of mug rugs.  My goal is to experiment with the weave structures, so I’ve measure up about 5 yards, give or take, of 4/8 superwash wool (which is heat resistant and flame resistant).  79 ends, which I will be using at 12 ends per inch.  One copy of the pattern is 22 threads, so this gives me enough room for 3 repeats, with about 5 threads on each end.

So patterns.  Turns out you can do a lot with 12 harnesses … The following are just a small collection of possible patterns, all warped identically.  It’s how the harnesses are lifted and in what order that makes all the difference …






























So much twill …

Playing with Weaving Drafts II

So in happy anticipation of an oncoming birthday gift from hubby — 12 harness table loom where each harness is manipulated separately using a lever — I have been playing more with different weaving patterns and trying to make sense out of them.  (I’ve also learned how amazeballs having software to work out these patterns is, because doing this by hand would make my brain hurt.  Hurt worse.)

The first thing I learned is that it’s all about symmetries, reflections, and translations.  So I started with a very basic building block: Each column here represents all 12 harnesses, (each square is one harness), and if the square is black, the harness is lifted on this pick.  If I just kept repeating this block I would get diagonal lines across the surface.

So then I started playing with symmetries. Now in these symmetries I’m reflecting both the warp threads and the raising and lowering of harnesses as I weave, so I can’t move seamlessly form one pattern to the next.  But I’m trying to develop the intuition for how reflections work so that’s what I start with.

This is the base pattern.  There are reflections both horizontally and vertically so that each full repeat of the pattern consists of 4 copies of the basic block.  Every time the diagonals in both the threading (on the horizontal bar) and treadling (the vertical bar) change directions we’re starting a new reflection.

In this version we’re still reflecting the basic square in its entirety, and the size of a single repeat is 22 threads high by 22 threads wide.

It’s pretty, but it’s not really complex.

So let’s up the ante.

What we’ve done here is add some partial reflections, where the threading/treadling change direction after only 6 strings instead of 12.  The basic bloc is still the same size, But a full repeat of the pattern is now 32 threads wide and high.

Of course the next logical experiment is to add translations.  Translations occur when you keep going in the same diagonal direction for more than 12 picks, which you see here in the parallel lines in the pattern.  And the pattern is now 56 threads wide and tall.  (And yes, on the left side I forgot a reflection in the threading, so there’s an unevenness there.  Oops)

And then there’s this last Variation, where translations have been utilized to make the individual building blocks much bigger than they really are.

Playing with Weaving Drafts

So I’ve been idly daydreaming, along with friends, about getting looms with moar harnesses! And wondering how much of a difference it would make, and how I could draft patterns for it …

And I like brick-work.  One of the first patterns I worked out how to tablet-weave from first principles was the woven in version of Birka strapwork.  So here, for my first case of many harness pattern drafting, I present the 8 and 12 harness versions of birka strapwork.  Now all I need is the loom to weave them by …

Developing these was actually an interesting exercise in Escherian tilings; you have an 8×8 (or 12×12) grid that’s tiled horizontally and vertically, and so you want to set it up so that the repeats tile nicely.

Noodling with an MMM WWW Threading

An M-W threading is named for the threading through the heddles, which looks like repeating Ms and Ws on the form. The pattern I was playing with is a modified M W, where each M and W has three high (or low) points.  I’ve warped up umpty yards (he warp was measured for a sampler, so … I forget?), and enough ends for 8 repeats, warped alternating 2 olive repeats and 1 tan repeat.  The goal is to vary the weft in multiple projects.  Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the first two stretches, where the weft was respectively burgundy, and white, so that will have to wait until it comes off the loom.

Once the threading through the headings was decided, and going with a simple twill tie up, the next step is to decide the treadling. (I.e. in which order do the four harnesses get raises, or in what order are the treadles pressed?)  This first version looks more complicated than it actually is, mostly because I didn’t pick the best starting point.

In a simple twill weave, the treadling is 1-2-3-4 and repeat.  A twill diamond pattern, on the other hand, will treadle 1-2-3-4 followed by 3-2-1-4 for a 8 line pattern.  In my way of thinking, that would be a 4 row diamond.  In the pattern above, we have a 6-row diamond twill: 4-1-2-3-4-1 followed by 4-3-2-1-4-3.  This looks confusing at first, but by thinking of it as a six row diamond, I can reuse the muscle memory from previous projects.

On the other hand, the pattern looked very horizontal; it’s hard to make striped with just diamonds, but by golly I managed.  Also; I had woven two 19 or so inch lengths, and was bored.

Time to start playing with alternating treadlings.  This is where I once again thank my husband for the gift of a lovely piece of software (Fiberworks Bronze) which allows me to both typeset and change patterns up quickly and easily.  I’m still far from adept at pattern design, but the software lets me experiment with different treadlings really, really quickly.

My first idea was to treadly the same way as the heddles were threaded in extended Ms and Ws.  As it turned out, that gave a slightly unbalanced pattern and I experimented a little more, resulting in this pattern.

Oddly enough, I didn’t realize that this is still an extended MW treadling, except that if the extended M’s are treadled just as they’re threaded, the extended W’s are shifted one over, resulting in a 3-2-1-4-1-2-3 effect.  There’s exactly 1 extra treadling (using 4) between the M’s and W’s which makes this pattern again really easy to memorize.  Plus there’s lots of visual cues in the weaving, of course.

So what does the fabric look like? The weft is a lighter brown than the tan warp, keeping the pattern visible (albeit more subtle) on the tan stripes. As well, the edges are the best I’ve had on this yardage yet; there’sa floating selvage on both sides, but here I’m always treadling an even treadle when entering from the right, where in the previous bitsy bobs I always entered from the right on an odd treadle.  Funny the different that can make.

Adventures in Tapestry Weaving

So one of the things I got my hands on last year was a tapestry loom, from Schacht.  It’s currently sitting assembled in my office, and I am hoping to warp it this afternoon.   Right after I can find te wool I want to use as weft; I have some really nice embroidery wool samples that I want to play with.

But meanwhile I had been thinking and thinking about the continuous warp.  The warping instructions from Schacht are available at Tapestry Loom Manual but I was struggling to make sense of how the warp was advanced (since it’s a continuous loop).  But a bit more digging found me this excellent article which provided the A-HA moment I needed.  The key point is that after the warping is complete, the warping bar is essentially free floating because it’s held in place by the tension of the warp.

So hopefully I can warp the loom up this afternoon, and then I want to try knitting heddles as described by Laverne Waddington in her tutorial at It’s also possible to make fixed length reusable heddles, as in inkle weaving, but … we’re experimenting.

Weaving Directions in Doubleface and 3/1 Broken Twill using the 2 pack method

While trying to teach a friend to weave 3/1 broken twill, I stumbled on another way of looking at the cards to determine what the next turn should be.  To illustrate that method, I’m going to discuss doubleface first, since more of my readers are familiar with doubleface weaving.  All cards will be threaded two light and two dark, and we describe the positions of the cards as follows.  (Here the light is green, and the dark is blue.  We will also assume that the green will be the background.)

Horizontal and Vertical Position

We consider the position of the cards relative to the warp threads.  In these diagrams the warp extends to the right while the already woven portion extends to the left.  Horizontal and vertical are used to describe the position of the threads relative to the warp.

Card is shown with woven ribbon on left, warp extending on right, and the light coloured threads are in the two front holes closest to the woven ribbon

In the vertical position, the two green threads go through the holes closest to the woven ribbon.  Those holes are one above the other, so I call this position vertical.  If I turn this card forwards, the two green threads will lie above the warp and I will weave a green row.  Turn backwards, and the blue threads will be uppermost, and I will weave a blue row.


Card is shown with woven ribbon on left, warp extending on right, and the light coloured threads are in the two top holes above the warp. In the horizontal position, the top two threads are both green.  In this position, I will weave another green row regardless of whether I turn forwards or backwards.

Weaving Doubleface

Weaving doubleface with the 2 pack method, the cards are separated into two packs.  We can call these two groups “Background”  and “Pattern”.  When we start all the cards are in the background pack, and we start with the cards in vertical position.  If we consider “Front vertical” as the case where the background threads are all in the holes closest to the woven ribbon, and “Back Vertical” as the case where the background threads are closest to the unwoven warp threads, then the turning directions for each row in the pattern are as follows:

  1. Make sure any foreground/pattern cards are in the foreground pack and all other cards are in the background pack.
  2. If the background pack is in front vertical position, turn the background pack forwards and the pattern pack backwards, and put the shuttle through.  (Do this twice so that all cards are once more in vertical position.)
  3. If the background pack is in back vertical position, turn the background pack backwards and the pattern pack forewards, and put the shuttle through.  (Again, do this twice.)

For each row in the pattern you will complete either step 2 or step 3, but not both.  Notice how the pattern and background pack always move in opposite directions, and all the cards should all be in exactly the same vertical position every time you return to step 1.

Weaving 3/1 Broken Twill

The setup of the cards in 3/1 broken twill is slightly more complicated, and is a multi-step process:

  1. Divide the cards into two packs as follows.
    1. Card 1 goes into the Odd pack
    2. Card 2 goes into the Even pack
    3. Card 3 goes into the Odd pack
    4. Card 4 goes into the Even pack
  2. Flip the cards as needed so that the threading alternates between S and Z in each pack
  3. Turn the cards in each pack so that they are all in vertical front position.
  4. Turn the Even pack only once forward so that it is in horizontal top position.

Now the key point of weaving 3/1 broken twill is that the cards never shift between the packs.  Colour changes are made by flipping a card on its vertical axis, but only when that card is in vertical position.  (This reverses the threading for the card, and also switches between front and back vertical position.)

The turning direction now also never changes.  Each row will be one of four possible scenarios, and you can see which scenario comes into play by looking at the vertical or horizontal position of the two packs.  Be careful to key off cards which have not been flipped to produce pattern; but look at background cards.  Then the turning directions are:

Position of Odd Pack Position of Even Pack Turning directions Odd – Even
 Front vertical  Horizontal  Turn both packs forwards
 Horizontal  Back vertical  Turn odd pack forward, even pack backwards
 Back vertical  Horizontal  Turn both packs backwards
 Horizontal  Front vertical  Turn odd pack backwards, even pack forwards

At first try weaving only the background, without flipping any cards.  Notice how before every turn exactly one pack is in vertical position, and the other is in horizontal position.  Which also means that I can only effect colour changes in one pack, or the other, but not both at the same time.

Then eventually when it comes time to weave patterns, I like to use brick graph paper like 3/1 twill graph paper where each rectangle represents one card and two turns, emphasizing that the ability to change colours alternates between the odd and even packs.

Edited to add: At some point I will be adding a second article which focuses solely on weaving 3/1 twill patterns.  The purpose of this article is to get you weaving the basic 3/1 twill structure.