Tools Day: Countermarch Loom Pros and Con

When my long-held dream of weaving on a floor loom became a possibility, I started my journey with questions. What are the pros and cons of the different types of looms? After considerable research, a winner emerged—the Swedish countermarch loom!

Pros and Con of Countermarch Looms
(My experience is with Glimåkra. Other countermarch looms may differ.)

Pros

  • Weave anything. Rag rugs to lace-weight fabric.
  • Hanging beater. Swinging beater has momentum that enables a firm beat. No strain to shoulders, arms, or wrists. Asset for weaving rag rugs, and superb control for cloth with an open weave. Beater placement is adjustable, making it possible to weave longer before advancing the warp.
  • Rear-hinged treadles. Pressing treadles is effortless, no matter how many shafts. No strain on back, legs, knees, or ankles, even with robust weaving. Because treadles are close to each other, I press correct treadles with sock- or bare-footed ease…without having to watch my feet. Ample foot rest makes it easy to trade feet when using many treadles.
  • Clean shed. Stepping on a treadle raises and lowers shafts at the same time, so a great shed is not only possible, but usual.
Horizontal countermarch. Info about CM looms.

Glimåkra Ideal with horizontal countermarch. The cords from the countermarch jacks at the top of the loom go straight down through the warp to the lower lamms. The lower lamms connected to treadles cause shafts to lift when a treadle is depressed.

  • Even warp tension. Because shafts are both raised and lowered, tension is equal on raised and lowered warp ends. Even warp tension is good for all types of weaving. This even tension makes a tight warp possible. Perfect for linen, and for rugs.
Vertical Countermarch Loom - info about CM

Gimåkra Standard loom with vertical countermarch. Cords from the countermarch jacks go over the side of the loom to the lower lamms below. The upper lamms (not pictured) attached to treadles cause shafts to sink when a treadle is depressed.

Threading ease of countermarch looms.

Bench sits in the loom for threading heddles. I call this my little playhouse.

  • Texsolv heddles. Heddles can be easily added or removed from shafts (shafts are also easily added or removed). Quiet. Easy to thread.
  • Perfect fit. A petite person like me can weave on a large loom (my Standard is 47”/120cm) as comfortably as someone with longer arms and legs. Able to sit in upright posture for weaving.
  • Wooden. The loom is primarily wood. Bonus if you appreciate natural beauty of wood. Held together with wooden wedges and a few bolts. No screws or wing nuts.
  • Scandinavian clarity. Because of the Swedish loom, I adopt Swedish weaving practices and have an interest in traditional Scandinavian textiles. The loom fits the style. Streamlined design, precision, systematic and logical processes, and beauty with function.

Con

  • Treadle tie-ups. Shafts are connected to upper lamms and lower lamms. Treadle cords with a bead at one end are hung in the lamms. Lamms are then attached to treadles. Treadle tie-ups normally fall under the Pros category, because this is what enables the loom to have the clean shed it’s known for. But since I just finished tying up ten shafts to ten treadles (that’s 100 treadle cords), this is my least favorite part right now. 😉 (The weaving pleasure more than makes up for it, though.)
Countermarch treadle cords. Pros and cons.

One hundred treadle cords hang from upper and lower lamms. The only thing left is to attach all the cords to treadles. 😉

Treadle cords for 10 shafts! 5-shaft satin coming up!

Treadle cords are attached. Little anchor pins lock each cord into position under the treadle. After a few adjustments, the shed on each treadle is good. The loom is dressed! Five-shaft satin dräll coming up!

Conclusion:
When I weave on my Glimåkra Standard countermarch loom, I am soaring like an eagle. I’m sailing with the spinnaker up. I am a pipe organ maestro. I am dreaming while fully awake. This is everything I imagined weaving could be, only better.

Countermarch looms - pros and con.

Testing weft options. Gorgeous handcrafted damask shuttle, Chechen wood, made by Moberg Tools. Five-shaft satin dräll–a weaver’s dream.

For more in-depth information about countermarch looms, comparisons of looms, and other fantastic resources, see articles written by Joanne Hall, found at Glimåkra USA.

May you live your dream.

Very Happy Weaving,
Karen

12 Comments

  • Annie says:

    This article is exactly what I needed to read, Karen. I have been looking online at websites at the various looms, trying to decide which one I think would be best. I narrowed it down to countermarches for the versatility and sheds but was confused about brands, sizes, etc. This really helps. However,l I have a large learning curve before I jump into buying one unless a great used one suddenly appears.
    Many blessings, Karen.

    Annie

    • Karen says:

      Hi Annie, It was your previous comment that prompted me to write this. So I thank you for that!

      Take your time with research and questions. As you narrow it down, you’ll gain confidence about making the right choice for your circumstances.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • JAN says:

    Great descriptions/instructions! Yes, sitting on the floor tying up the treadle cords for any contramarsch loom is tedious, but as you said, the results are well worth it. Sounds like you have written an ad for Glimåkra. The same, even somewhat better results can be obtained on an Öxabäck loom, a.k.a “Ulla Cyrus”?

    • Karen says:

      Hi, JAN, Yes, the tie-up can be demanding, but I can see that you enjoy what comes as a result, too.

      I’m afraid you’re right. It does sound like an ad for Glimåkra. I’m very happy with my Glimåkra looms, so I may be a little eager about my own experiences.

      Öxabäck has a wonderful reputation! I haven’t yet had the pleasure of weaving on one. I’m sure there are details about the Ulla Cyrus and other countermarch looms that I would really appreciate!

      Thank you,
      Karen

  • Joan says:

    Check out Vavstuga Weaving Studio’s way of tying up the treadles. Becky has figured out how to ditch the legged pegs for knitting needles. So much easier!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Joan, I think Becky’s ingenious method of using knitting needles for tying up treadles is fantastic! I learned it at Vavstuga Basics a few years ago. I use that method when weaving with two, four, or even six shafts.

      When weaving with eight shafts, however, I have found that I can get better sheds by tweaking the tie-up after weaving a few inches. And it’s easier to pop out and replace individual pegs than to pull out the knitting needle and redo the whole treadle. So, with eight or more shafts, I prefer the old-fashioned method of pinning each treadle cord.

      Thanks for your input!
      Karen

  • Esther Bauer says:

    I have a 4 shaft Glimåkra. I love it.

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Esther, I can spend hours on my 4-shaft Glimåkra. It’s such a weaver-friendly loom. It’s good to hear of your experience!

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

  • Kayleen Andresen says:

    I have a Glimakra 4 shaft. I have found it to be great to use. I have had to dismantle it to move and it is very easy to assemble again. My least favorite job is changing the tie up.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kayleen, Thank you for bringing up how easy it is to dismantle and re-assemble. I didn’t think of including that in my list. That is definitely a big plus!
      Changing the tie-up is one of those things of which can be said: “I didn’t necessary like doing it, but I like having done it.” It does give me a good sense of accomplishment!

      All the best,
      Karen

  • Gerda says:

    Thanks Karen, very clear and I love your conclusion. Such prose! It is exactly how I felt when I finally had my Toika countermarch up and running, after years on a counterbalance (which is still very useful, and I like it too). I have graduated to 8 shafts, 8 treadles, this week going to 10 treadles: more texsolv to cut, more crawling to do… 10 shafts comes in a year or so, lots of soaring and playing to do first. Living the journey and reading your blog faithfully!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gerda, There’s such satisfaction in weaving on a loom that functions so beautifully for the task. That’s great that you are graduating little-by-little adding treadles and shafts. There’s no hurry, because even 2 or 4 shafts is sufficient to have a grand time at the loom.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

      Happy weaving,
      Karen

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Tools Day: How to Set a Temple and Video

The temple is one of my favorite tools. I have a collection of them. I happily use a temple for almost everything I weave. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of weaving a rag rug without one!

Temple instructions and video.

Temple in place.

Rag rugs are especially susceptible to draw-in, and a temple helps reduce that by maintaining the proper width of the rug. Draw-in distorts the shape of a rug, contributes to uneven warp tension, and can make selvedge threads break. A temple also aids in getting tight selvedges, and enables the firmest beat possible. (My favorite temples to use, even for rugs, are the wooden ones made by Glimåkra.)

How and why to use a temple for rag rugs.

Spaced rep rag rug, using fabric strips and warp thread for weft.

Temple Tips:

  • Set the temple to the proper width. (The video below shows how I do it.)
  • You can set the temple into the cloth as soon as there is is enough woven for two or three teeth to sink into. Then, move the temple up when you have woven enough to set all the teeth into the cloth.
  • Even with a temple, place adequate weft through the shed. The tool works best in conjunction with careful weaving practices.
  • Watch out for the sharp points! I get pricked when I forget and reach around the selvedge to straighten something out.
  • Make sure the temple is far enough back from the fell line that it won’t scrape the edge of your beater. I have a scar on my beater because it was hitting the temple. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice until the damage was done.
  • Move the temple frequently. For consistency at the selvedges on a rag rug, I move the temple at least every inch.
  • Remove the temple by moving the slider with one hand, while holding the center part down with the other hand. Keep the pin in place and the temple will draw up in the center. Then, disengage the teeth from the cloth on both sides.
Spaced rep rag rugs on the loom. Tutorial for using a temple.

Width in the reed for this rag rug is 90 cm on this 100 cm loom. I keep a supply of temples so that I have what I need for any weaving width.

 

May your tools serve you well.

Happy weaving,
Karen

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Tools Day: Paper and Yarn

A folded piece of paper and a seven-inch tail from a yarn butterfly become an answer to a small technical problem. When using a cartoon, like I am for this transparency, it’s imperative to identify the center warp end so I can align the dotted-line center of the cartoon with that one end. Finding the center warp end is my technical problem. The paper and yarn work together as the tool that helps remove the guesswork.

Weaving a transparency. Bluebonnets.

I check the alignment of the cartoon about every inch, and move up the pins that hold the cartoon in place.

With these bluebonnets, if the cartoon slides to the right or left by even one warp end it distorts the picture. It’s not enough to eyeball it. I need a way to make sure I am finding, and marking, the exact center end every time.

How to Find and Mark the Center Warp End

Supplies:

  • Pencil
  • Subscription card from a magazine, folded in half lengthwise
  • Seven-inch tail from a yarn butterfly, or a strand of yarn
  1. Measure the width of the beater and use a pencil to mark the exact center with a vertical line.
  2. Hold the folded edge of the card against the vertical pencil line on the beater, with the bottom edge of the card almost touching the warp.

Finding and marking the center warp end to align with cartoon.

3. Slip the yarn tail under the center warp end, as identified by the bottom corner of the card.

Aligning center warp end with cartoon. Tutorial.

4. Check the alignment of the center line of the cartoon with the center warp end.

How to mark the center warp end.

5. Slide the yarn from the reed to the fell line to check the entire length of the alignment. Reposition the cartoon, if needed.

Aligning cartoon with center warp end. How to.

Bluebonnet woven transparency almost finished!

Ready for one last alignment!

May you find a solution that eliminates guesswork.

All the best,
Karen

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Tools Day: Narrow Hems

Hems shouldn’t be noticed. At least, not at first glance. I don’t want the stitching of the hem to detract from the overall handwoven quality. Decorative items, like this table runner, deserve a hand-stitched hem. But for functional pieces, like these tea towels, I stitch the hems on my trusty old Bernina sewing machine. This ensures the durability I want for something that will be thrown in the washer and dryer again and again.

Long M's and O's table runner is hemmed by hand.

Long M’s and O’s table runner is hemmed by hand using an invisible hem stitch.

Last year I purchased a Bernina walking foot through my local Bernina repairman. It was one of the best sewing investments I have made. (Don’t be fooled by off-brand “Bernina compatible” products.) The advantage of a walking foot is that it evenly feeds layers of fabric, which is especially useful for sewing handwoven fabric. And for the towel hem, it means the top of the hem won’t become skewed and slanted as you sew, like it might with a regular sewing machine foot.

Bernina Walking Foot - good investment!

Bernina Three Sole Walking Foot with Seam Guide. The walking foot stays on my Bernina sewing machine almost all the time.

One of the three sole plates that comes with the Bernina walking foot is a sole for edge stitching. This works beautifully for stitching a narrow hem on lighter-weight fabric, like these airy cotton and linen towels.

My process for a machine-stitched narrow hem

  • Turn and press the 1/4″ hem twice. Hold the folded edge in place with small fabric clips.
Sewing narrow hems on handwoven towels.

Small fabric clips hold the folded and pressed towel hem in place, in preparation for stitching the hem.

  • At the sewing machine, attach the edge-stitching sole plate to the walking foot. Align the fold of the hem with the edge-stitching guide.
Bernina walking foot with stitch guide.

Sole with stitch guide. The metal plate that extends below the foot is a steady guide that works for sewing a narrow hem, as well as for top-stitching, or “stitch-in-the-ditch” techniques.

  • Adjust the sewing machine needle to the right, so that it catches the fabric just inside the edge of the fold.
Sewing hems on handwoven towels.

Sewing the narrow hem. Needle is positioned so that it is to the right of the hem fold.

Slowly sew a narrow hem, keeping the folded edge next to the walking foot’s edge-stitching guide. Remove fabric clips before they come to the needle.

Hemming handwoven towels.

Front and back of the hem have consistent, straight stitching. The narrow hem (not yet pressed) will be barely visible.

May your hems be a suitable frame for your handiwork.

Finishing,
Karen

10 Comments

  • Cate says:

    I’m going to have to visit a Bernina dealer soon and get one of these for my machine. I really love that little stitch guide! Brilliant!

  • Beth Mullins says:

    Really pretty project! I inherited a Bernina last Summer but I have yet to play. My Elna sits in a cabinet making the sewing surface larger and at a much better level. I need a cabinet (and more floor space) for the Bernina. Sewing with my arms raised above cabinet height causes me too much shoulder/neck pain. Any suggestions would be welcome, Karen. The walking foot lives on the Elna most of the time.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Beth, It’s not worth it to get shoulder/neck pain! I have never had a sewing machine cabinet, but my Bernina sits on a small lower-height table that Steve made for me eons ago. Table and chair height make a huge difference. Maybe you can find a lower table or an adjustable chair that you can raise to sit a little higher. I use an adjustable swivel desk chair at mine.

      I’ve always heard that an Elna is a great machine. So maybe just stick with that. 🙂 (but I do love my trusty old Bernina…ha)

      Happy pain-free sewing,
      Karen

  • D'Anne Craft says:

    The M’s and O’s fabric turned out beautifully, just like all your weaving. I’m a Bernina gal, too.

    • Karen says:

      Hi D’Anne, I’m very happy with the way the M’s and O’s turned out! I got started with Bernina many years ago. It’s the only sewing machine I’ve owned. I don’t think it will ever wear out.

      Karen

  • Mary says:

    I too recently invested in a walking foot and what a difference it makes in my hems.j I no longer dread this part of finishing. Do you like those hem clips better than straight pinning.? Where do you find the clips?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mary, I do prefer the fabric clips over pins for simple stitching like this. It’s quick and easy, and there is no distortion of the fabric. Also, there is no threat of snagging the fabric with a rough pin. Of course, I do use straight pins for sewing that requires more detail.

      I got my clips at Hobby Lobby, but I think you can find them at most places that have quilting supplies.

      Karen

  • Suzy says:

    What size machine needle do you use for your handwovens?
    I am experiencing some pulled threads, and wonder if it’s the needle, or the
    8/2 cotton I/m weaving with?
    Thanks, suzy

    • Karen says:

      Hi Suzy,
      The 8/2 cotton shouldn’t make a difference at all. I use a size 70 or 80 machine needle, depending on the weight of the fabric. A finer needle for finer fabric. For very delicate fabric, sometimes I put in a ballpoint needle.

      The size of the needle probably doesn’t make that big a difference. If I had to guess, though, I would guess that your needle needed to be replaced. Sewing machine needles can get little nicks and burrs on them, even after just a little bit of use, and that can cause pulled threads. I often put in a new sewing machine needle before I start sewing on handwoven fabric.

      Karen

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Tools Day: Umbrella Swift

The umbrella swift earns the “Cool Tool” award! I have sixteen skeins of 20/2 Mora wool (as seen in Skeins of Colors). Before making them into little butterflies of color for a woven transparency, I am winding the skeins into balls. This means I get to use one of my favorite tools–the umbrella swift. My Glimåkra swift is simple to use and gives flawless results every time.

How to Use an Umbrella Swift

  • Attach the clamp of the umbrella swift to the side of the loom, or other secure structure, like a table. The swift functions vertically or horizontally. I prefer to position the swift horizontally so the yarn rolls off vertically. Also, I find it easier to hang the yarn on a horizontal swift than to place the yarn on a vertical swift, holding the yarn while expanding the umbrella.

How to use an umbrella swift. Tutorial.

  • Position the yarn ball winder so that it is in line with the umbrella swift, a short distance away. I clamp the yarn ball winder to my loom bench, and sit on a small stool behind the bench.

Yarn ball winder in use with umbrella swift.

  • Remove the yarn skein’s label and put it aside. Carefully unfold and untwist the skein of yarn and open it out to a big circle. Place both arms through the center of the circle of yarn and snap your arms outward. Repeat the snapping action one or two more times, with the yarn repositioned about a quarter turn each time. This helps straighten out the yarn for placing it on the swift.
  • Lower the “umbrella” of the swift by loosing the screw and pulling the bottom screw-piece toward the clamp. Place the opened and prepared skein of yarn around the swift.

Placing the skein on an umbrella swift. How to.

  • Push open the “umbrella.” Spread it open just far enough to hold the yarn taut. Tighten the screw to keep the swift in that position.

How to use an umbrella swift for weaving yarn.

  • Find the place(s) on the skein where the skein has been tied, and untie the knot(s). Identify the end of the yarn that is on the outer side of the skein and connect that end to the yarn ball winder. For consistency among multiple skeins of yarn, I have the umbrella swift turn in the same direction for each one, with the yarn unwinding from the top of the swift.

Putting skein of yarn on umbrella swift.

  • Turn the yarn ball winder until all the yarn has been unwound from the swift.

Set up for using umbrella swift. Tips.

Winding ball of yarn from umbrella swift.

Winding ball of yarn from umbrella swift.

  • Remove the yarn ball from the yarn ball winder and wrap the skein’s label on the new yarn ball.

New ball of yarn thanks to umbrella swift.

  • Collect the new balls of yarn and play with the colors in your imagination.

Mora wool. Getting ready for woven transparency!

May you take pleasure in your work of preparation.

All the best,
Karen

11 Comments

  • Dear Karen,
    Good morning, I just had the luck of stumbling onto your lovely blog and I see you have accomplished what I am struggling with. I too have a glimakra and I recently “upgraded” it to 8 shafts. Very long story short, I don’t have any documentation and I suspect the reason I’m getting terrible sheds is because of cord lengths. Is there any chance we could talk for a few minutes?
    On a pretty morning by the Bay,
    Astrig

  • Betsy says:

    Well, duh! I’ve never thought to use my swift horizontally! I’ll have to give it a try. It’s a little smaller than yours, but hopefully it will fit on the Standard upright.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Betsy, I hope it works for you! Horizontal seems logical to me, but I suppose if you think of it as an actual umbrella, it naturally would go in the vertical direction. The good thing is, it works either way!

      Karen

  • Thank you Karen for the explanation of use and excellent photos to accompany. I’d be lost without my swift. As we all know, skeins can bite you if you don’t treat them with respect!
    Alison

  • Ruth says:

    Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU. Love the KU foot stool(?)!
    Wonderful horizontal use of your skein winder. Never looked at using mine horizontally – must remember to keep an open mind and look at all possibilities in life.
    Happy weekend.

    • Ruth says:

      Guess I’m tired this morning. I intended to refer to the swift as a swift. LOL

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ruth, You took the bait. I was hoping to draw out any KU alumns with that little stool. 😉
      Good point about seeing possibilities. We can do surprising things if we are not set in our ways.

      All the best,
      Karen

  • tsw says:

    Karen, your photos and step by step instructions are clear and wonderful. As a former private investigator, I give you high marks for your ” evidentiary photography.” I am a wannabe weaver, awaiting retirement to spread my wings, attend Vavstuga, and weave away my retirement. In the meantime, I study, and gain inspiration and food for thought from your blog and the online weaving forums.
    If you only knew how much you nurture other people’s hearts and minds…
    You are a blessing to all of us!

    • Karen says:

      Dear tsw, I am touched by your thoughtful remarks. Your encouragement means so much to me!

      What a wonderful way to prepare for retirement! Keep dreaming, and seeing those dreams come to life. You have nurtured me today with your kindness.

      Happy weaving dreams,
      Karen

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