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Coping with Harness Envy: Reducing Multi-shaft Drafts to 4-shafts

It's frustrating to love an 8-shaft pattern when you only have a 4-shaft loom. In this article from March/April 2018, Madelyn describes how to reduce 8-shaft twill drafts to 4-shafts. We tried her methods on some recent drafts, check out our results!

Madelyn van der Hoogt Oct 13, 2022 - 7 min read

Coping with Harness Envy: Reducing Multi-shaft Drafts to 4-shafts Primary Image

Kathie Roig's Random Exchange Towels from Handwoven September/October 2021 were woven on 8-shafts but you can weave a similar version on 4-shafts. Photo by Matt Graves

Four-shaft looms are very versatile, but sometimes you might fall in love with a handwoven fabric only to be frustrated when you realize it uses more shafts than you have available. This article by Madelyn van der Hoogt from Handwoven March/April 2018 explains how you can reduce 6- and 8-shaft twill drafts to 4-shaft versions. One of the examples she gives is an M and W twill that exactly matched Kathie Roig's Random Exchange Towels from September/October 2021, so that one was easy. Then I tried both of her methods on Annette Schipf's 8-shaft twill draft for her Stormy Days Jacket from September/October 2022.

If you are a current subscriber to Handwoven magazine, log in below to read the article and practice the techniques. Then check your results using the attached downloadable pdfs, and you are ready to branch out on your own! - Susan

Annette Schipf's Stormy Days Jacket is an 8-shaft twill. The 4-shaft version I developed using Madelyn's methods is similar but not exactly the same. Photo by Julia Vandenoever

Two Methods for Reducing Multi-shaft Twill Designs to 4-Shafts

I bought my first loom based on the only word about it that I understood— “cherry.” I didn’t know what a harness was, how a friction brake worked, or what “weaving width” really meant. My “cherry” Norwood just happened to have four shafts. After a short while, I began to believe that more shafts meant better weaving.

As I added looms to my collection (one with as many as 32 shafts), I soon learned that more shafts do not mean better weaving. Craftsmanship, successful designs, appealing color interaction, suitable fabric textures—none of these is dependent on the number of shafts on a loom. More shafts do bring some design advantages, especially when moving from four to eight, but the advantages decrease proportionately as the number of shafts increase. The greatest advantages occur when moving from two shafts to four, not as great when moving from four to eight, even less when moving from eight to twelve, and so on. Basically, more shafts allow fancier twills and more pattern blocks.

A weaver with a four-shaft loom can take great joy in its infinite pattern potential; just leaf through Davison and Dixon and check out all the drafts for overshot, laces, and twills. This is sometimes not enough consolation, however, when you want to weave a project in Handwoven that requires eight shafts, and you only have four.

Many of these projects are likely to be woven in twill (for towels, blankets, runners, clothing, etc.). The good news is that you can reduce most multi-shaft twill designs to four shafts. The sacrifice is usually in float length: Twills on more than four shafts allow longer floats and more varied float length. Even so, you can weave similar pieces on your four-shaft loom using the project instructions.

Reducing twills: Method 1

To do this, first think of twill threadings as circular, progressing in a direction, either 1-2-3-4 (clockwise) or 4-3-2-1 counterclockwise.

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