Introduction: Giant Craft Loom
My cousin is a farmer who suffers from diabetes. His life changed dramatically when two lower leg amputations became necessary. Recovery left him stuck indoors for over a year.
Never much of a reader, he wasn’t very interested in books or magazines to pass the time. Word puzzles and sudoku got old pretty quickly. Living on a midwestern farm without the luxury of cable or Netflix, television was mind numbingly terrible. He needed something else to do.
Falling back on a childhood hobby, he started working with a tabletop craft loom. It was fun and allowed him to exercise his fingers that were also affected by the diabetes. But, on a fixed income, the cost of loops (when he could find them) was adding up and how many potholders can you unload on family, friends and neighbors anyway? He needed to expand the inventory.
What else could he weave using this basic technique? Placemats? Throw rugs? Where would he get loops that big? I was folding laundry when it hit me. The body of a t-shirt is a big wide loop -and could be cut into a couple dozen narrow loops. Shazam!
It seemed a safe bet that all, or most, of the family, friends and neighbors he had loaded up with the potholders may be willing to donate their old country-western band, high school PTA booster, 4th of July parade, Farmall, Case, John Deere, Ford, Chevy and Dodge Ram t-shirt swag. And, if not, Goodwill was over in town. End of loop dilemma. Now I just needed to design a loom the right size to accommodate the giant loops.
1 1/2” finish nails
90° corner braces
3” machine screws and nuts
Table saw (or circular saw or hand saw)
1/16” drill bit
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Step 1: Determine Your Loom Size.
I found this guide online, but dug through a couple t-shirt drawers to confirm various sizes of shirts. Thanks to the shape shifting figures living in my house, I was able to come up with four different sizes. A small measured approximately 18” side to side, a medium came in about 19 ½”, a large somewhere in the vicinity of 21” and an XL around 23”. Using these measurements as a guide, and keeping with the retro loom format, I decided to make a square frame and started looking for frame materials.
As it turns out, a square loom is great for chair seat pads and throw cushion sides. However, to make a throw rug, two or more weavings need to be joined. A rectangular loom might have been better for making rugs and runners.
Step 2: Prepare the Parts and Joints.
Looking at the shirts I had on hand, there were more smalls and mediums to pick from, so I went with a 22” frame plan. I figured the smalls would have enough stretch to become the length of the mediums and some older shirts would be a bit stretched out already. I chose some old 2” x 4” stock and ripped it to 1 ¼” x 1 ¼”. 1 ¼” width will allow the pins to be set on ½” intervals without falling directly on the joints. I then cut four (4) pieces at 22” and two (2) pieces at 10” to be used as feet. You could cut two (2) of the framing pieces at 19 ½” if you want to butt joint the frame. I felt like half-lap joints would be sturdier and stand up better over time to the stretching and pulling of loops.
I clamped the pieces together to cut the half laps on the table saw. This worked ok, but was a bit hard to maintain vertical alignment. I suspended my operation and spent a little time building a vertical jig. It was more stable and ultimately allowed me to make more accurate cuts.
Here is a link to a simple vertical half-lap jig. https://youtu.be/2zTvqE7iwgc
Step 3: Measure and Drill Pin Holes.
Dry fit the frame sides together. Measure and mark 1/2” in from the inside on all four sides. Draw lines completely around the frame. Then measure and mark 1/2” intervals along each line.
To better guarantee all the pins are vertical and to avoid splitting the frame by nailing so many nails along the grain, pilot holes are necessary. Set the depth stop on your drill press at 5/8” which is one half the depth of the frame thickness. Lock in a 1/16” drill bit to drill the holes.
If you are using a hand drill, use a tape flag to mark the depth and help keep the holes consistent. Be careful to keep the drill at a 90° angle while drilling.
Step 4: Set the Pins.
I used 1 1/2” trim nails for the pins and a scrap piece of 3/4” plywood as a spacer while nailing. Using a spacer allows you to sink each nail to the same depth. After I had all the nails in, I realized I didn’t need the nails on the corners. You can leave those off.
Step 5: Assemble the Frame.
I squared the corners and put the frame together with a lot of wood glue and 1/4” crown x 1 1/4” staples. Nails or wood screws would do as well. Do yourself a favor and drill pilot holes if you opt for screws. Having the frame split after all that nailing would be infuriating.
I added corner braces to insure the frame would stay square over time. I put a 3/32” hole on center of each 10” piece of stock and centered a matching hole on each half of the frame bottom. Attached with a couole machine screws and nuts, the feet can easily be turned to create a vertical loom or stored to use the loom horizontally.
Step 6: Cut Some Loops.
I measured and cut t-shirts into 1” wide loops. A more narrow loop would make a looser weave. A thicker fabric, like a sweatshirt, could require a more narrow loop to allow enough room to weave easily. So, the width of the loops is really up to you and the kind of shirts you’re using.
Step 7: Try It Out.
If a loop is too long, cut it and knot it at the correct length. I chose to twist my loops, but you can let them run parallel in the traditional potholder fashion if you wish. It will depend entirely on your design idea.
Once the warp loops are in place, begin weaving your weft loops in the basic over-under method and drop the opposite end onto its pin.
Step 8: Finish and Cast Off.
When you are finished weavng, you will need to cast off and chain-knot the edges. To do that, take the first loop off its pin and hold it over the second pin. Pull the loop from the second pin off and up through the first loop. Hold the second loop over the third pin. Pull the third loop off its pin and up through the second loop. Continue like this all the way around and knot the very last loop to hold the chain in place. You can do all of this by hand or with an optional wire weaving hook or crotchet hook.
And there you have it. Chair pad, throw cushion side, part of a larger rug, giant potholder. Loop like mad and have fun!
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