A 'loom' is a device upon which weaving is performed. This can be a very low technology solution involving only a few sticks, or may involve many dodits and whatsits that make the process of weaving semi-automated or enable greater variation in weaving types produced.
The term loom is used for a variety of forms of weaving and related activities - cloth is woven on looms, but narrowwares - narrow decorative bands - can be woven on specialist looms, and devices upon which sprang is created might also be called a loom, although 'frame' is more often used.
Warp Weighted Loom
The warp-weighted loom is so called because the warp threads are attached to the top of the loom and then weighted in order to provide tension so that the weft threads may pass easily through the warp, thereby creating woven material. The loom itself is propped upright against a wall, for example, and weaving occurs from the top of the loom frame, to the bottom.
Heddles, which could be as simple as loops of string, were used to raise or lower alternating threads so that the weft thread could pass through the space, or 'shed', created instead of laboriously threading the weft under and over every individual warp thread. It is believed that the warp-weighted loom is depicted on Greek vases, and survived up until the 20th century in some areas in Scandinavia.
Three Shaft Loom
Tablet weaving, also known as card weaving, can be performed with the warp strung between any two immobile objects, leading to one very simple method of attachment called the "backstrap loom" where one end of the weaving is tied to an immobile object such as a doorknob and the other to a belt around the weaver's waist. This method was used traditionally in Scandanavia in the 19th century, but evidence of its use in period is scarce. One illustration from the Manesse Codex shows a woman weaving, the far end of the warp attached to a rod on the wall and the near end being woven from her lover's hair. The warp both passes through a freestanding rigid heddle device and has cards strung on it, which seems superfluous as either device would be sufficient for weaving narrow wares. The artistic symbolic nature of weaving her lover's hair probably outweighs accuracy in this instance.
The minimum requirement for a permanent loom (one that allows the weaver to leave the weaving without arduous setting up upon return) is two posts driven into the ground. There has been some speculation about this occurring in Anglo-Saxon contexts.
A standard tablet weaving loom for the medieval period was a 'band loom', a freestanding frame which supplies the two posts but also includes a framework enabling them to stand on the floor rather than have to be driven into the ground. The only extant period band loom is the 'Oseberg loom', found in a Xth century Norwegian ship burial along with a set of strung tabletweaving cards. Tablet weaving looms are generally 3 meters (9.84 feet) long and 1 to 1.5 meters (approximately 3 1/3 to nearly 5 feet) tall, and several dozen manuscript depictions of such looms are known; some clearly show tabletweaving cards, and others show neither cards nor heddles and may have been used for other narrow wares techniques, or may simply represent lack of artist knowledge. A modern band loom is depicted here; many modern tablet weavers use an inkle loom for tablet weaving or a shallow loom constructed in such a way as to keep the tablets from turning when not in use. In medieval psalters, the Virgin Mary is frequently depicted weaving, especially in scenes of the Annunciation.
Rarer in manuscript depictions are unusual looms - one which might be a warping board, a period inkle loom, or a shorter (1m (3 1/3 feet)long) band loom with ratchets to enable moving the warp along more easily.
While inkle looms themselves are not period, the resulting narrow warp-faced woven bands were and are frequently used as clothing decoration in period. Modern inkle looms can have warps ranging from approximately 6 to 30 feet, although the majority have warps in the range of 10 - 12 feet. The length of the warp is determined both by the size of the loom and the number of pegs used; the warp travels around staggered pegs in a recursive path that allows longer length warps in a shorter horizontal distance.
Although most forms of braiding don't require a loom per se, they do create material in the form of interlaced threads much as do other narrowwares techniques.
Whipcording is a Viking-era form of braiding using bobbins to keep tension on the threads while interlacing into a cord. Fingerloop braiding, very common in medieval London, uses loops of thread over the fingers to enable the user to braid up to 40 individual strands. Other forms of medieval braid range from three-strand braids to multi-strand fingerwoven braids of over-and-under (tabby) weaving in which each strand is both warp and weft.
Kumihimo braiding originated in Japan in the 6th century and uses specialized equipment unique to the technique. Braids are created using a stand called a marudai ('round stand') or using a kakadai ('square stand'); each thread is wound on a weighted bobbin called a tama, and the braid being formed is kept under tension with a counterweight to offset the weight of the tama. Braid forms can be hollow, flat, round or square.