Restoring a tapestry loom

Several weeks ago, a good friend moved away from the Mid-Ohio Valley in search of a new job.

Being a good friend, I offered to assist her in the tedious task of packing her home in preparation for the move. Little did I know that, when she accepted my offer, I would end up with a new crafting toy as a “wedding gift” that would entertain me endlessly.

The packing session was as most people would expect it: a hot Saturday in August, sweat dripping into my eyes and soaking my hair, as we worked together to get her possessions shoved into various boxes and trash bags for the big day of the move.

Except the majority of the items I helped to pack were fiber related.

Rather than packing away dishes, books or clothes, we worked for hours cramming large cones of fine weaving yarn into bags and figuring out the best way to shove wooden knitting needles into boxes without breaking them.

Halfway through the process, my friend stopped and gave me a funny look.

“Do you have a tapestry loom?” she asked me, as she motioned to a complicated looking wooden frame, wrapped in plastic, leaning against the wall of her crafting room.

I had heard of a tapestry loom before, but never seen one first hand. As I watched, my friend knelt down and ripped the plastic from the wooden frame.

She offered the plastic to me to be discarded, and I shoved it into the trash bag by my feet. Moments later, she hoisted up a simple, tattered-looking wooden frame, holding it out to me with one hand.

The loom was old, and had obviously seen better days. A long-abandoned project still hung limply from the top of the vertical frame, yellowed with age and left there by the loom’s previous owner before it was sold.

My friend was candid with me: she did not know if the loom functioned, she did not know if all the pieces were there, but I could have it because it would be one less thing she would have to pack.

And besides, she had a second one still leaning against the wall that had been bound in the same plastic as the first.

When I got home that evening, I had to first research the tapestry loom in order to determine what, exactly, I had been given, and what condition it was in.

Several hours of research later, and I determined that I appeared to be in possession of an old style of tapestry loom called a Penelope, made by the Leclerc company, based out of Plessisville, Quebec.

Attempts to communicate with the company were hindered by a language barrier, but we determined that the loom appeared to be one of theirs. However, it had been heavily customized by a previous owner, and several pieces were missing.

I spent several more hours studying photos of modern versions of the Penelope loom, while playing with small levers and gears on my own loom. Eventually, I discovered that a metal rod and two wooden dowels were missing.

A quick trip to Wal-Mart supplied me with replacement wooden dowels. I switched out the missing metal rod for a wooden dowel as well and set about making repairs.

By the next day, I had restored the loom to arguably working condition. I finally cut the fragile, yellowed warp of the long-abandoned project off of the top beam, and produced a spool of modern cotton weaving yarn to work as my warp for my first ever tapestry project.

Winding the warp onto the loom proved to be no small hassle. The modifications made by the previous owner had shortened the width between the support bar and the bar the project should hang off of so much that I could not get the modern spool between them.

I cut my warp into several small pieces, and threaded each through by hand, leaving the ends to dangle onto the floor, much to Mari’s delight.

With much trial and error, I got the warp onto the loom. It was then that I realized I had no shuttles for a loom this small.

Even more research led me to the tapestry bobbin, a small, wooden rod with a wide end and a pointed end, that cost upwards of $10 each.

I looked at the tapestry bobbin and found myself muttering “but that’s just a golf tee…”

Another trip to Wal-Mart, and $3 later, I owned 90 golf tees which I could use as tapestry bobbins.

The original project on the loom has not been a pretty one, but it is not supposed to be. I have learned much about this style of weaving, including what happens when your feline crafting assistant finds golf tees wound with colorful yarn left unattended in the crafting area.

Eventually, I will make a full-scale project on this loom that will be worthy of saving. For now, though, I am happy to have found a new craft, and glad to have been able to so easily restore this old Penelope loom to working order.


Gretchen Richards-Meunier is a reporter at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She is a fifth-generation artisan and skilled in multiple art forms.