Friday, September 18, 2009

Introduction to the Mirrix Loom

The Mirrix Bead Loom Experience

You’ve heard the name Mirrix before or maybe you’ve just encountered it for the first time on this Web site and you are wondering, first of all, why should I use that much of my bead money to buy a loom?  Or you’ve always used non-weaving techniques (peyote, brick stitch, stringing, etc.) to produce your bead art and you’re wondering why you should even think about weaving beads.  Maybe your first and last loom (that you spent $10 for) taught you that bead weaving didn’t produce the high quality work you have been able to achieve through other methods.  I know mine did.  Just trying to warp that loom and get all those little strings under even tension was enough to persuade me that bead weaving was not my cup of tea.  In fact, I gave up beads all together and turned to tapestry (which lead, ultimately to the invention of the Mirrix Loom because I wasn’t happy with the available tapestry weaving equipment).  In the last year I have rediscovered beads and the absolute joy of weaving them on the Mirrix Loom.  I will use this space to answer some of your questions and concerns and to address some of the many ways that the Mirrix Loom can be used for bead weaving.

You’ve heard the name Delicas before.  Are you aware that Delicas were designed for bead weaving?  Since the best beads to use for weaving should be consistent in size and shape and have a nice large hole, Delicas, which are all these things, are clearly the superior bead for weaving.  They also come in about a zillion colors, yet another strong advantage for using them.  Yes, they cost more than other beads, but the results that you will get with Delicas fully justify the extra money you pay for them.  With the perfect bead loom and the perfect bead for weaving you are well on your way to creating a stunning work of art.

The Mirrix loom has many distinct advantages over other bead looms.

·      It is made of metal:  hollow square aluminum, copper tubing and threaded steel rods.  This provides strength and a guarantee that your Mirrix Loom will never warp or disintegrate over time.  With a little copper polish your Mirrix Loom will always look and act brand new. 

·      It sits in a vertical position and therefore eliminates those pesky neck aches you get when bending over a horizontal loom.  It also allows for better viewing of your work in progress.

·      It provides incredible tension and strength.  All those little strings (referred to as warp) will be under the same amount of tension during the course of weaving your piece no matter how wide or long it is.  When you cut your piece off the loom, if you have used consistently sized beads, your weaving will be flat and even.  It will not buckle, a common complaint about bead woven pieces.  You can also use wire as your warp on a Mirrix Loom because of its strength and because wire will not mar your loom’s surface.

·      It comes with three springs for different size beads.  Any of our eight springs can be substituted for the three that normally come with the loom.  The springs are just that:  springs.  The spaces in the spring divide your warp.  To determine what size spring you need, calculate how many beads you will have in a linear inch.  The larger Delicas (11/)) seem to work best with the size 14 spring, for example.

·      It can be used for bead weaving, tapestry, a combination of the two, or wire weaving (using wire as your warp instead of a material made of fiber such as nymo).

Traditional bead weaving is just one of many ways of using your Mirrix Loom.  The smallest Mirrix Loom (The LaniLoom) can be used only in this way because it lacks the shedding device, an option which I will address later on.  All the other Mirrix Looms can be used both in the traditional manner of bead weaving and using a method that is more like tapestry weaving.  Let me address some of the advantages of the Mirrix Loom when employing the traditional method of bead weaving:

·      Setting up the Mirrix loom for traditional bead weaving is fast and simple once you get the hang of it.  At first warping the Mirrix loom might seem a little daunting just because it will be new to most of you.  With a little patience (and maybe some phone counseling with me) you will no longer dread the usually dreadful act of warping your bead loom. 

·      Because the warp is put on the loom in a semi-continuous manner, there will be a layer of warp about one and a half inches behind the layer of warp you are working on.  For wider pieces, this can cause difficulty.  Getting your hand in between those two sets of warp to hold your beads in place while sewing through them with your needle might not be feasible when a piece is more than four or five inches wide.  This is where the second warping bar comes into play.  It eliminates that back layer of warp so that your hand is unencumbered and you can weave, if you dare, a piece 29 and ½ inches wide (maximum weaving width on the 32 inch loom).  Or, we now have the add-on bottom beam, which makes the distance between the front and back warps significant enough to get your hand behind those warps for traditional bead weaving.

·      Traditional bead weaving is really very simple.  Your imagination is all you need to create a stunning work of art.  Some people use the Mirrix loom to weave split bead necklaces or other pieces that do not fit into the rectangular format.  There are numerous good books that speak about these techniques.  The Mirrix loom is a great tool to do any and all beading weaving techniques on.

Weaving using a shedding device is the other kind of weaving that can be accomplished with the Mirrix loom.  This method has rarely been used because only one other loom (which is now out of production)  has enabled it.  That being said, I must note that many or most of the beaded bags woven during the 30s were actually woven on traditional weaving looms.  Further explanation of what this technique is follows:

To understand this kind of bead weaving you must first think like a weaver of cloth.  Get out of your head, for a moment, all your pre-conceptions of bead weaving.  The technique you think of as bead weaving is not really weaving at all.  It consists of placing your strung beads behind and in between the warp (the threads that are attached to your loom) and then sewing through the beads on the top of this layer of warp (this is where the Delica’s big holes really come in handy).  The act of weaving is defined as going under and over warp threads with weft (the equivalent of the string on which you have strung your beads).  This second technique of weaving beads employs exactly that method.

“So how do you do that?  Sounds impossible!”

The Mirrix looms ranging in size from 12” to 32” wide have a “shedding device” that lifts every other thread when it is rotated.  The shedding device is attached to the warp threads with “heddles” which are circles of string that can be attached after the warp is put on your loom.  Imagine a V where the two sets of warps separate and meet.  The beads are placed in this V.  When the “shed,” defined as the space created between the raised and lowered warps, is changed, lifting the alternate set of warps, the beads are locked in place.

There are many advantages to this technique of bead weaving:

·      You do not risk not sewing through a bead because you do not sew through the beads.

·      You can use larger needles (easier to thread and more stable to use) because you only have to string the beads and not sew through them again.

·      Your weaving time is speeded up because you only have to place your beads and not sew back through them.

·      The resulting fabric is denser, more like the fabric you get from peyote or brick stitch (but about twenty times faster to make!).

·      You can use some more advanced tapestry-like techniques (which I will get into later).

·      If you do not cut your piece of the loom, the warp threads will be continuous and hence, because there is no risk of piercing your warp with your needle, you can pull that warp all the way through creating four finished edges. 

If you’ve imagined this scenario in stunning detail you might have come up with one big, pressing question:  If you raise one set of warps won’t that mean there will be a warp, a bead, a space, and then a warp instead of a warp, a bead, a warp, etc.?  You are correct.  Therefore, when setting up the Mirrix loom for this kind of bead weaving you must put two warps where normally there is one.  The raised set of warps will then resemble the warp for the traditional kind of bead weaving and you will be placing a bead between each raised warp, making the fabric sturdy and weaving easy. 

But don’t the warps show, especially if there are two of them between each bead?  No, they don’t.  The fabric is in fact tighter and less warp shows than in the traditional kind of bead weaving.

What about this idea of using tapestry weaving techniques?  I have discovered that weaving long strings of beads using the shedding device is difficult.  You are placing the beads not only between the warps but also in the shed, the space between the two layers of warps.  Your hands cannot get into that space to hold and adjust the beads before changing the shed.  So what is the solution to stringing and battling four hundred beads (that will also want to sag in the middle, really messing you up)?  Tapestry technique requires that you weave only short distances with your weft, maybe at most three inches.  This same thing can be applied to bead weaving.  Rather than have just one string of beads that you are weaving in, you can use several, one for every few linear inches of weaving.  You weave in one string of three inch beads and then the next and the next.  These short strings of beads are easy to deal with and will fall gracefully into the V without any problem.  Weaving a piece 29 ½ inches wide is indeed possible and not even difficult.

Now what if you used a bead spinner device to pre-string hundreds of beads on those individual wefts instead of picking up each bead one by one!  Suddenly the idea of creating a large masterpiece seems possible.  Even doing this for a small masterpiece makes sense.  Other advantages to pre-stringing your beads are:  1) you can easily fill in solid color areas, 2) you can randomly string beads for a pointillism effect, 3) you can reposition where each string of wefts begins and ends so that color areas can be blended together emulating some traditional shading tapestry techniques.   Actually, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Have you ever thought about combining tapestry and bead weaving?  Can you see where that would now be possible?  Is your head now spinning with ideas? 

In thinking about bead weaving as an art form that goes beyond jewelry and amulet purses and other smaller objects, one must address the issues of weight, warp material, hanging possibilities.  Those beads weigh an awful lot and a lot of those beads weigh a ton, so in thinking about your large bead piece you need to address what kind of warp will be best suited for your work and how will this piece hang while being suitably supported?

I have been dreaming up answers to these questions, which will be posted as I make discoveries. Your solutions are always welcome as well.

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