Researching Central Asian yurts bands has been something of a challenge due to the lack of information written and easily available on this style of weaving and the difficulty obtaining samples to study. Through good fortune I obtained a handspun, handwoven yurt band this past summer on vacation which has provided the opportunity for study and experimentation to try and duplicate the style of weaving of this band. Yurt bands are not monolithic in their style and the type of technique used for weaving them varies between different nomadic groups.
The first step in my journey to learn how to weave these types of bands was to determine which method was being used and to do that I needed to find and identify what type of loom. Finding no evidence of cardweaving I was able to rule that out and began to search for 19th and 20th century photos of Nomadic culture to scour the photos for any signs of fabric production. Very quickly photos of Turkic women at work on deceptively simple ground looms began to pop up. The ground loom can be created very easily by readily available materials and is exceptionally portable. Interestingly the parallel development of Peruvian Pebbleweave took place on Backstrap looms which are essentially the same as groundlooms except for being body tensioned instead of staked out or held down by heavy rocks. The antiquity of this type of loom is beyond question and it’s continuous use from an estimated 6000 B.C. up to the present era speaks of it’s well functioning form and usefulness. A more in depth discussion of this loom and how to create one for yourself can be found at https://ladyvirag.wordpress.com/nomadic-looms-for-the-sca-simple-low-cost-historical-weaving/.
The next step was to identify the weaving technique used to create the unique pebbled effect that these particular bands feature as a design element. A close examination of the band revealed that the each block of the geometric design was created using pairs of threads so I know right away that I would be looking at a design that would be written out as Light,light, dark, dark, etc. There are at least two basic ways to achieve this effect on a loom that creates two sheds. The technique could be done on a loom with only two sheds and two pickup sticks or it could be made on a four to six heddle style loom where the pebbles would be more loom controlled then weaver controlled. The use of the more complicated loom didn’t ring true to the nomadic nature of the original artisans so it was ruled out. If, however, you would like to pursue weaving in this manner on a ground loom then Virla Birrell’s “The Textile Arts” list the warping order and instructions for both two shaft and four to six shaft floor looms on pages 140-143.
The first method I studied was the Irregular Warp Method which is detailed in “The Art of Bolivian Highland Weaving” by Cason and Cahlander. On page 83 it says “in the irregular warp method, the pebble rows are heddle controlled, so only the design rows need to be picked. Some weavers prefer this method, finding it faster and more rhythmic.” If using this style of warping then the design rows are picked and the pebble rows are heddle controlled which accounts for it’s speediness. I believe the warp threads are laid out as follows…
L DD LL DD LL DD L
D LL DD LL DD LL D
If the loom is warped in this manner then after several rows have been woven the result should not be horizontal strips but instead it should produce a design more like a checker broad. As the ends of my own yurt band are not entirely intact I used http://www.ebay.com to look up pictures of similar bands for sale. Several of the sellers had photos which showed the beginning of these bands and I found that the checkerboard pattern was not present so I ruled this out as a possible method for warping this type of yurt band. At this point I began to realize I was over complicating the issue.
Next I looked for a warping technique that would produce horizontal strips when the weft was thrown for several rows. This plainweave would look like a light stripe on top of a dark strip on top of a light stripe, etc. The warping order for this set up would be…
D D D D D D D D D D D
D L L L L L L L L L L D
The final detail needed to be able to make a decision on the basic warping order was a view of the back of the piece. Turning my yurt band over I found alternating bands of horizontal stripes which supported the second, and simpler, warping version.
At this point it is time to choose a loom. Our yurt band measures 48 feet long and 16 inches wide and most likely took between one and three years to create by an experienced weaver. Not being an experienced weaver or having that much concentration but simply wanting to learn the technique several options for looms are open to me which can hold between two an six yards. Obviously a homemade ground loom consisting of four stakes, three dowel rods, string heddles, and either two tall blocks to hold the heddle bar of a tripod is one inexpensive option. Other looms which are of use would be an inkle loom, backstrap loom, or rigid heddle loom. The type of loom you choose will determine the width and length of the piece you create. For example, the inkle loom I own produces a piece of trim about two yards long but my Beka rigid heddle loom can hold up to six yards of warp. Once the decision is made it is time to figure out your yarn requirements and procure your yarn. The yarn used for the yurt band we purchased meausures at 16 ends per inch and is two ply. It still kinks back on itself showing that it is very, very tightly spun.
To be continued…