13th Century Spanish Loom

by Forest Butera, Summerisle Spinners and Weavers, Inc.

Summerisle Spinners and Weavers, Inc. has embarked on its biggest project yet - building a replica of a 13th century Spanish floor loom! The original loom can be seen at Medieval Life Village adjacent to the Medieval Times dinner theater in Kissimmee, Florida. The loom is now finished and ready for demonstration at the South Florida Renaissance Festival in February, 2000. Our loom builder is Allen Jones of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

The idea for this project was born in 1997, and finally got under way in the summer of 1999. Weaver, Forest Butera made several visits to Medieval Life Village to measure and photograph the original loom, then drew up the plans for his Dad, woodworker Allen Jones to work from. Allen's job began with visits to lumber yards in West Virginia in search of the timber which would become the loom. Much of the wood had to be custom milled. The wood used in the loom is poplar, white oak, red oak and just a little bit of yellow pine. The woods were chosen partially for their strength and durability, and partially for their availability.

The original loom was copied faithfully except in a few instances which are explained below with the photographs. The loom is made entirely of wood with mortise, tenon and peg construction just as the original.


Click on any of the following pictures to see an enarged version.

The original, 800 year old loom which served as the model for our replica.

And here is our completed version of the loom set up in the parking lot outside of my office in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The loom (all 500+ pounds of it) were brought down from West Virginia a week before the February 2000 Festival for final adjustments, rigging, and finishing (with a coat of linseed oil).

 

One of the massive (8" x 8" x 4') legs on our replica.

A leg on the original loom.

This picture shows (from left to right) the toothed wheel attached to the cloth beam, the breast beam and the seat. The breast beam was moved a few inches closer to the weaver in the replica loom. The seat on the replica was made wider than the original beam which apparently served as a seat on the original loom. You can also see the brake stick for the cloth beam in this picture. It is not attached to the loom, but mere jams between the leg and the toothed wheel. We had to glue two pieces of wood edge-to-edge to form the 17" blank needed for the toothed wheel. It is nearly impossible to find lumber that wide these days. There are 36 teeth in the wheel, just like the original.

Here are the same parts on the original loom. Weavers will note that there is no knee beam on this loom. The use of even a breast beam is rare in old looms. In many the cloth beam would be located where we now find the breast beam. We found that someone in recent history had nailed a board onto one of the original beams to serve as a seat on this loom. The original seat beam was only about four inches wide. There were no signs of missing pieces so we are a bit puzzled as to why the original loom maker would have created such a narrow beam for a seat. We modified this beam by making it wider as the added-on seat on the old loom appears. We noted that the brake stick on the old loom had a single nail through it, acting as a pivot and attaching it to the side beam. This was definitely another add-on. The original brake stick would have rested against the leg as we have done or may have jammed in a hole in the floor.

Here is a close-up of how we attached the treadles to the loom. We noted that the treadle mechanism had been added on to the original loom (again by modern nails). Since there was no sign of attachment points for treadles on the original loom we believe the tradles would have been attached to a bracket set into the floor of the weaving shop or house as we have noted in old drawings. Since our loom had to be portable we used a configuration similar to the one added onto the original loom, but we used mortise and tenon joinery as would be correct for the time period. (The pivot/axel for the treadles is sticking out further on the right only because we didn't notice it while taking the photograph). On the back edge of the seat board (above the beam to which the treadles attach) you can see the marks left by the enormous saw blade at the old-fashioned mill from which much of the lumber was purchased. We left them in as a point of interest.

The non-original treadle attachment on the original loom.

This is a view from the back of the loom showing the configuration of the back beam. The beam sits in pockets hollowed on in the two back legs. We determined that the lips of these pockets had been worn down on the original loom to the extent that they were required to use braces to hold the beam in as shown on the picture below. The original back beam and cloth beams included a long groove into which a stick at either end of the warp would be placed. That configuration can waste a lot of warp so we chose to drill holes in the warp and cloth beams to allow the warp sticks to be laced on as is done on modern looms. The stick resting on the tenons just below the back beam is temporarily preventing the back beam from turning during the warping process. While weaving is taking place the warp is held under tension with backs of stones hooked to the back beam as shown on the original loom below.

This picture of the back beam of the original loom shows several modifications. The sectional warping apparatus was nailed to the original back beam. The light colored piece of wood tucked under the peg on the left leg is being used to hold the warp beam in place since the original hollow in the leg has become too worn to hold the beam in properly. The bag holds stones or sand which acts much as a friction brake does on a modern loom.

 

This pulley block, on which the cord holding the harnesses rides, duplicates the original.

Getting the harnesses to sit level was quite a trick. We eventually found that using one loop of jute cord (one end of the cord ties to one end of the lower harness stick, and the other end of the cord ties to the other end of the same lower harness stick). Then a shorter piece of cord is looped around the end of a treadle then is fastened to the loop already attached to the lower harness stick. The short cord can not be tied to the middle of the loop, but must be shifted a bit left or right and tied tightly when just the right balance is achieved. Some tilt to the harnesses seems to be inevitable.

We do not have any good photographs of the hand-tied linen heddles or the wonderful, antique reed we found to use on the loom. We will be sure to take pictures of those next time we have the loom set up.


Some construction photographs

Here's the same beam almost finished. Other parts of the loom which required varying degrees of handwork were the wooden nails which hold the bottom of the beater to the beater uprights; the hand-grip on the beater top; the ends of the bar from which the beater swings; and the cradle/blocks on which this beater top bar pivots.

Allen is putting the finishing touches on one of the many mortises this loom contains. One of the biggest challenges, he says, was cutting the mortises in the 8" thick legs. Power tools were used whenever possible to expedite the project, but he burnt up one heavy duty drill (using a 2" bit) and had to purchase another before the project was finished.

 

Allen tries out the seat on the loom-in-progress. As a woodworker, but not a weaver Allen solved all the mysteries of how the various parts of the loom should be fabricated. Forest, as a weaver and not-yet-woodworker, was on hand toward the end of the project when a weaver's input became necessary. It led them to wonder whether the builder of the original loom was also a weaver? Did he copy another loom? I'm not sure we will ever know.

The finished loom.

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