To Shed or Not To Shed . . .
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When most people think of weaving beads they think of the most common method used today where you place the beads behind the warp threads and then sew through them over the top of the warp threads. On Mirrix Looms, we refer to this method as “weaving beads without the shedding device”. This way is actually not technically “weaving” beads because the definition of weaving is to go over and under a fixed set of warp threads.
Almost all bead looms you will find are geared to this very simple method of attaching beads to a fixed warp. The Mirrix Loom is the best loom for doing this because the most important quality of a bead loom is to provide even, tight tension so that you make sure to catch every bead when you sew through on the top.
But a Mirrix Loom also offers another method of weaving beads. This method we refer to as “weaving beads with the shedding device”
“But what is a shedding device?” you ask. The Mirrix shedding device was first designed to weave fiber tapestries. The device (which is connected to the warp threads with loops of string called heddles) lifts up half of your warp threads at a time to allow you to easily weave fiber without having to manually bring weft threads over and under the warp threads.
Weaving beads with the shedding device is done in a similar manner. The loom is warped with a double set of warp threads, each vertical thread being a part of a pair. One warp thread in each pair of two is lifted up by the device, so the beads can be placed between the two sets of warp threads.
Weaving beads in a manner similar to this (rather than the sewing-on-beads method) is not a new concept.
“Heddle Looms” for weaving beads were at one point commonly employed by some Native Americans. This loom style is very similar to the rigid heddle looms so popular today for weaving cloth. The heddle itself was made of wood or bark and is used to hold the threads of the warp. Every other thread of the warp goes through a small hole, while the others go through a slot and can be moved up and down to provide a space for the weft threads which are strung with beads, to be passed through.
Floor looms were also used to weave beads. Have you ever seen one of those gorgeous beaded purses produced during the beginning of the last century?
Here is a photo of the one I inherited from my Grandmother.
Because of the way floor looms intended to weave cloth function, there would not be a warp between every bead to hold it in place. Hence, between every row of woven beads on weft, there would be a weft woven without beads to keep everything neat and tidy.
So how does weaving beads with the shedding device on a Mirrix compare to weaving beads without it?
Weaving beads using the shedding device is the method we have found works best when weaving wider pieces for a couple of reasons: it’s much faster because you only pass your beads once through the raised and lowered threads and you don’t risk missing sewing through a bead which is easy to do. The shedding device is engaged in either the lowered or raised position.
You take your weft thread with beads through the “shed” (the space between the lowered and raised threads), making sure each bead sits between the warp threads. When you “change the shed” the beads are locked in place. Because there are two threads next to every bead, there is no need to weave an empty weft thread to keep the piece stable.
These images show what it looks like to weave in a row with the shedding device:
Bead weaving without the shedding device provides one set of warp threads and two sets of weft threads for every row of beads. Bead weaving using the shedding device provides two sets of warp threads and one set of weft threads for every row of beads. So both methods provide the same number of threads just balanced differently. We believe the shedding device method provides more strength since the doubled warp threads actually support the weight of the piece. This is especially true for larger bead pieces you intend to hang on a wall.
The downside of weaving beads with the shedding device is that loom set-up is more complicatd than without. We recommend that your first piece with the shedding device be a thin one, so you can get the hang of putting on heddles.
Weaving beads without the shedding device is very easy to do. You simply warp (you can even use our Easy Warp method), string your beads, place them behind your warp threads, and sew through over the top. It is fast, simple and great for quick pieces.
These images show what it looks like to weave in a row without the shedding device:
There you’ve got it, the two ways to weave beads on a Mirrix Loom. Which method is your favorite?
Want to weave beads with or without the shedding device on your very own Mirrix Loom? Click below to get a free loom recommendation!