Converting tie-ups

Have you ever woven a draft from a book and discovered that the woven design was on the bottom rather than the top? That’s not the end of the world, but it can be confusing and maybe even frustrating. What’s going on? Why does it happen? How do you fix it?

Why does fabric weave upside down?

The issue is that you’ve used a tie-up written for a kind of loom that’s different than the one you’re weaving on. There are three general categories of shedding mechanisms: sinking shed, rising shed, and countermarche.

  • Sinking shed looms create a shed by pulling shafts down. Any shafts that are tied to the lamms or treadles are pulled down when the treadles are depressed, and tie-ups written for sinking shed looms indicate the shafts that sink.
  • Rising shed looms create a shed by jacking shafts up from below (or pulling them up from above). Any shafts that are tied to the lamms or treadles (or to levers, on a table loom) are lifted when the treadle is depressed or levers are flipped, and tie-ups written for rising shed looms indicate the shafts that rise.
  • Countermarche looms combine these two: they have two sets of lamms, and the shafts that sink are tied to one set while the shafts that rise are tied to the other. Every shaft in use is tied to every treadle in use, and tie-ups written for countermarche looms indicate which direction each treadle moves each shaft.

If you use a tie-up written for a sinking shed loom on a loom that actually has a rising shed, the warp threads will rise where they ought to sink and therefore the weft will go under the threads it ought to go over. The reverse is true if you use a tie-up written for a rising shed on a loom with a sinking shed.

Much of the time, that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Twill diagonals might go the other direction, what should be light might be dark, etc. Even when you’re weaving something like overshot, the pattern still comes out correctly — but you won’t see the public facing side of the fabric until you take it off the loom and turn it over. That’s not the end of the world but it does make keeping track of the pattern more difficult while you’re weaving.

If your design includes anything directional, like letters, weaving it upside down is a deal breaker: once you flip the fabric over to see the right side, the letters will be a mirror image of what was intended.

How do you tell what kind of tie-up you’ve got?

Many older drafts, such as those in publications like Marguerite Davison’s Handweaver’s Pattern Book and Handweaver’s Source Book, are written for counterbalance looms with sinking sheds. Drafts in newer books, like Anne Dixon’s Handweaver’s Pattern Directory or Carol Strickler’s A Weaver’s Book of 8 Shaft Patterns are usually written for looms with rising sheds. Newer drafts from other sources are probably written for rising sheds (unless they’re reproducing olde timey drafts that were written for sinking sheds) but there’s no hard and fast rule. A draft for more than four shafts is almost certainly (but still not 100% guaranteed to be) written for rising sheds.

There are a few clues to go by, at least. If your draft has Xs in the tie-up, it’s probably written for a sinking shed loom. If it has Os instead, it’s probably written for a rising shed loom:

A tie-up written for a sinking shed loom
A tie-up written for a rising shed loom

If there are numbers in the tie-up, it’s probably for a rising shed loom (again, no guarantee). If it has filled in squares, it’s hard to say: drafts with filled in squares in the tie-up are usually for rising shed but that doesn’t necessarily apply since people are often copying old drafts into new software.

Most modern Proper Books™ written by publishers with tech editors will tell you somewhere (probably near the front) whether the tie-ups therein are written for rising or sinking shed. That’s not the case for websites, blog posts, patterns produced by individuals, drafts doodled by a guildmate on the back of a napkin… and don’t even get me started about Pinterest!

The good news is that it’s not a crisis if you tie up your loom only discover after you’re underway that you’ve got the wrong kind of tie-up. You can simply convert the tie-up, retie the treadles, and carry on – SO much easier than fixing a threading mistake, for instance.

How do you convert tie-ups then?

Notice that the two tie-ups above are exact opposites of one another: all the Os on the right are in the blank spaces on the left and all the Xs on the left are in the blank spaces on the right. They’re actually the same tie-up, just written one way for sinking and another for rising.

Take the first treadle in the left tie-up for instance. It says that shafts 1 and 3 go down, which means shafts 2 and 4 will go up. Now look at the first treadle in the right tie-up. It says that shafts 2 and 4 go up, while shafts 1 and 3 stay down. The end result is the same either way: 1&3 sink (or stay down) and 2&4 rise.

Realizing that the sinking tie-up is just the opposite of its rising counterpart tells you all you need to know to convert between them, and actually making the conversion is a piece of cake!

Here’s how to do it in two simple steps:

Converting to or from countermarche is even easier: the countermarche tie-up is that one in the middle, with both Xs and Os. If you start with either a sinking shed or rising shed tie-up, just do Step 1 to get the countermarche tie-up. If you start with a countermarche tie-up, just ignore (or erase) whichever of the Xs or Os you don’t need.

Easy peasey, lemon squeezey! Now your designs will always appear right side up while you’re weaving.

P.S. Sometimes it can be advantageous to intentionally flip a tie-up over. If you’ve got an 8 shaft draft that lifts five shafts with each treadle, for instance, flipping it over means you’ll only have to lift three shafts instead of five. If that doesn’t make the pattern too hard to follow, it’s worth the extra effort to take some strain off your legs and hips.

6 thoughts on “Converting tie-ups”

  1. Thank you Janet. You have given such a clear, detailed explanation. I have 2 counterbalance looms and as patterns get more complex I would certainly like to see the pattern as I weave!

    I have enjoyed the WALs with Tien – how timely during COVID…I think about the planning stages of weaving differently now and have applied your tips during weaving, as well.

    Thanks again,

    Irene, Aurora, Ontario

  2. Brilliant! That’s why I love the way you teach Janet. You take what seems to be a complicated subject and boil it down, give it a shake and voila! ….. understanding where there used to be oatmeal!

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