Thursday, June 21, 2007

Why A Countermarche?

By Leigh

Cathy mentioned in the comments of my last post that she was curious as to why I chose a countermarche loom. I guess the short answer would be,

"It was there, I was there, and the price was right."

Of course there's a little more to it because I probably wouldn't have pursued the ad if it had been a jack loom, and definitely wouldn't have pursued it if it had been a counterbalance loom.

When I first started weaving I didn't know that there were different kinds of looms. My introduction to weaving was at a one day workshop, where we were able to try variety of floor and table looms; all jack. That workshop not only confirmed that I loved weaving, but also gave me an idea of the make and model of loom I wanted, especially since I had back aches at the time. The Schacht Wolf loom was the most comfortable for me to work at, so it was what I looked for.

I eventually found a used Mighty Wolf, which came with two reeds, a bench, and lots of yarn. It had belonged to the seller's deceased aunt, and I was told that it was thought to be a '4 Now - 4 Later'. That was deciding factor for me, as I knew I would someday want more than four shafts. Needless to say I was very disappointed when I later figured out that this was not a '4 Now - 4 Later' model, just a basic four shaft loom. Ah well. I put it to good use nonetheless.

I first read about loom types in a Woodland Woolworks catalogue. I immediately dismissed counterbalanced looms, since the shafts work best in pairs and therefore seem limited in regards to unbalanced weaves. I already had a jack loom and could verify that they take a lot of leg work to weave, and yes they are noisy to operate. But I lingered over the description of the countermarche looms. Phrases like "wide even shed," and good for "using delicate materials and when weaving narrow on a wide loom" really got my attention.

A little more research and I found new phrases I liked; "quiet, smooth treadling" and "better tension" were added to my list of things to admire. My only mental set-back came when I discovered that CM looms are much trickier to tie-up (for nonweavers, this basically means connecting the shafts to the treadles, which determines the pattern on the cloth). Several weavers had told me that it was just too much work to get down on the floor and struggle with tying up a countermarche loom.

Of course, everyone has their personal preferences. It is human nature to prefer what we have good success with, whether warping back to front versus front to back, or Scotch tension versus double drive spinning wheels. Since I thought a new loom was a long time down the road, I pretty much set the whole thing on the back burner and pressed on with weaving on what I had. It was when I read the ad that I knew I was ready and willing to own a countermarche loom.

Now that I have it, I've been doing more research because I want to understand how it works and how it is different from my jack loom. Interestingly, in my reading I am discovering that some of the weaving problems I have been having are probably due to the design of the jack loom itself.

When creating a shed (the opening that the shuttle passes through), the jack loom uses what is referred to as rising shed action. This means that as the treadles are depressed, their attached shafts are lifted to make the shed. The result is that the lifted warp threads are stretched tighter than those that remain unlifted. This creates an unevenness of the warp tension that can result in skipped warp threads, poor shed, and poor selvedges. These are things I've been battling for as long as I've been weaving! I used to try and fix skipped threads by increasing the warp tension, but as I would crank the tension tighter, my shed would get narrower.

Another problem this uneven tension creates is difficulties weaving weft dominant fabrics (which is why jack looms are not usually recommended for rug weaving). I always thought that I was not beating hard enough because I could never get the weft well packed in when certain shafts were lifted. Now I understand that it probably wasn't just me.

Even so I would not have traded my jack loom for all the world. And if I had started with a countermarche loom, I'm sure I would have thrown in the towel a long time ago.

I cannot honestly tell you if and how well the countermarche loom will correct the weaving problems I've had. I'll just have to wait, weave, and see. In the mean time, if you are interested, there is an excellent article on the different types of looms at, read it here.

Related posts:
Comparing Looms: Jack & Countermarche


Sheepish Annie said...

I'm not a weaver, except with my very, very tiny rigid heddle loom. But, I've found this whole discussion fascinating! Even if I don't weave, I sure do appreciate the work that goes into it.

Peg in South Carolina said...

Concerning the complaint being too difficult to get down on the floor, etc. I stretch every day. I mean every day. I do it carefully and thoughtfully and determinedly. I do it so I can continue weaving and gardening. I am 69. Believe me, stretching works.
I also have arthritis in the knees. For that I stretch, but I also walk and do leg strengthening exercises. Arthritis so far is almost totally asymptomatic. 5 years ago I was told that knee replacement was in the very near future. I am seeing how long exercise can put that off.

Laritza said...

You are like me, you read and research before you get into things (well kind of) Rest assured that tying the loom is no big deal. It is just a matter of understanding how it works and you will have it nice and clear.

Cathy said...

Thank you Leigh! Your post was very helpful and interesting (as was the link). I'm really excited now to see what you think of the loom as you start working with it. (BTW - I also have the Mighty Wolf)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info about spinning with merino/tencel - I'd say the fiber length is at least 4 inches long. I'll try to go slow and give it lots of twist!

Nice looking loom, too!


Anonymous said...

I've had a counterbalance loom for several years, and have never had any problems with it. Then again, I don't weave very complex weaves. When I found a GlimÄkra countermarch for almost no money at all, I bought it, and it is so much nicer to weave with. I don't find the tying up difficult at all, since the shed is so much nicer. It's a real treat weaving on a countermarch.

I've never seen a jack loom, but from reading the article you linked to, I don't feel it's a loom I'd like. I think you'll be plenty happy with your new loom!

Sharon said...

As always, I appreciate the thought you put into your blog on weaving. You've helped me to not abandon it and for that I say thank you. I owe the fact that I weave at all to Laura who swears by her countermarch loom. I know the limitations of my jack looms and know that rugs are out of the picture. I'm warping with fibonacci sequences right now - hope you remember that imitation is flattery.

Jackie said...

I never knew that rugs were a problem on the jacks before this spring when one of the students had a really hard time doing a bound weave rug with a direct tie up on a jack. Talk about your issues! I couldn't figure out what the problem was, so I am glad to find out that it wasn't just "us"! Thanks, and I will steer students away from jacks for rugs in the future.

Anonymous said...

I loved your response "It was there, I was there, the price was right" -- that sums up what I felt when I bought my countermarche recently. Great blog, thanks for sharing the information!

Leigh said...

*LOL* Thank you Spinning Lizzy! Congratulations on your new CM. I absolutely love mine.

susan said...

I've been weaving boundweave on a counterbalance loom (LeClerc Fanny) and it's quite possible to do that once the harness heights are adjusted. However, I've been contemplating getting a jack loom precisely to make unbalanced weave structures easier. At the same time, I've been working on a little 22" Minerva (LeClerc) jack loom and having a devil of a time with balancing the tension. I've been told that's partly attributable to the small size of the Minerva -- and I wonder how different things would be on a full-size loom. Any ideas on that? Thanks!