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Exploring the Differences between Countermarch, Counterbalance, and Jack Looms

  • 11 min read
Weaving on a floor loom (Image credit: Schacht Spindle Company on Instagram)
Weaving on a floor loom (Image credit: Schacht Spindle Company on Instagram)

Looms are essential tools in weaving, allowing fibre artists to create intricate textiles and beautiful fabrics. Countermarch, Counterbalance, and Jack looms are all types of floor looms, each with unique characteristics and operating mechanisms. Each type has its own set of advantages, disadvantages, and unique characteristics that cater to different weaving styles and preferences.

This article explores the differences between Countermarch, Counterbalance, and Jack looms, shedding light on their mechanisms, applications, and the artistic possibilities they offer to weavers.

What is a Countermarch Loom?

A countermarch loom is a type of floor loom commonly used in weaving. It is characterised by a specific mechanism for raising and lowering the harnesses (shafts) and warp threads. The countermarch system ensures balance and even tension across the warp, allowing for greater control and flexibility in weaving intricate patterns.

Spring 2 Countermarch Loom by Louet  - Thread Collective Australia
Spring 2 Countermarch Loom by Louet (Image credit: Louet)

In a countermarch loom, each shaft is connected to two sets of cords or lamms – upper and lower. Every treadled connection is pulled when a treadle is depressed, meaning there is no chance of the tug on the pulley not bringing up the other attached shaft(s) evenly. This design gives the weaver precise control over the warp threads, enabling the creation of complex designs and patterns with ease.

Countermarch looms are a top choice among weavers due to their versatility and exceptional control. These looms seamlessly blend the rising and sinking movement of Counterbalance looms with the Jack loom's capability to open any shed, whether it's balanced or unbalanced. Renowned for their adaptability, countermarch looms are particularly favoured by skilled weavers. Nonetheless, it's worth noting that setting up these looms can be more intricate compared to other types, demanding meticulous attention to the tie-up process.

Advantages of Countermarch Looms

1. Even Distribution of Tension Across Warp Threads

    • One of the key advantages of countermarch looms is their ability to ensure an even distribution of tension across warp threads. This feature consistently produces high-quality textiles, as each thread experiences uniform tension, resulting in a well-structured and aesthetically pleasing weave.

2. Excellent Shed Control for Complex Patterns

    • Countermarch looms excel in shed control. With looms that have a one-way shed, there is a difference in tension between the top and bottom layers of the shed when it is open. On gauzy fabrics, the difference may be negligible, but on firmer fabrics such as table linens, this becomes noticeable. As no dip in the warp path occurs with countermarch looms, floating sheds do not happen. This evenly tensioned shed is desired by weavers of all levels and can provide the necessary security for weavers to produce more intricate and complex patterns.

3. Versatility in Weaving Various Fabrics

    • Countermarch looms are prized for their versatility in handling a wide variety of fabrics. Whether the weaver works with fine, delicate materials or robust and textured fibres, the even tension control and shed capabilities make Countermarch looms suitable for weaving diverse fabrics, expanding the range of creative possibilities.

Disadvantages of Countermarch Looms

1. Complex Tie-Up Process

    • While offering advanced features, Countermarch looms come with the disadvantage of a more complex setup and tie-up process. Weavers must meticulously arrange and connect each harness to every treadle to achieve the desired shed control. This makes the initial preparation more time-consuming compared to simpler loom types.

2. Requires More Effort in Manual Operation

    • Operating countermarche looms sometimes requires weavers to put in additional effort during the weaving process. When the rocking motion of riding the beater is learned, weaving rhythm on the countermarch loom becomes a fluid motion that is easy to maintain for longer periods. Weavers may find the tension adjustment more demanding than other looms as they generally utilise a ratchet and pawl system that requires the weaver to stand up and manually adjust to advance the warp and tension appropriately. This manual operation can be physically demanding, especially compared to the relative ease of use in some automated or simpler loom mechanisms. Weavers need to be prepared for a more involved weaving experience, which may not be suitable for those seeking a more straightforward workflow.

3. Regular Adjustments Needed

    • These looms require regular adjustments to maintain tension and shed, which can disrupt the flow of weaving.

In summary, Countermarch looms offer balanced tie-ups and easy adjustability, making them popular among floor loom weavers. However, potential challenges such as the complexity of tie-ups and the need for regular adjustments should be considered, as they may impact the overall user experience, particularly for beginners or those seeking a more straightforward weaving process.

Examples of Countermarch Loom

Countermarch looms come in various sizes and configurations, and they are produced by different manufacturers. Here are examples of Countermarch looms from well-known weaving loom brands:

  1. Louet Spring 2 Countermarch Loom: The Spring Countermarch Loom by Louet is known for its versatility, ease of use, and quality construction. It comes in 90cm and 110cm weaving widths to accommodate different project sizes and has 8-shaft and 12-shaft options.
  2. Glimåkra Standard Countermarch Loom: Glimåkra, a Swedish company with a long history in loom manufacturing, produces the Glimåkra Standard Countermarch Loom, available in various weaving widths from 100cm to 160cm. This loom is celebrated for its robust construction, smooth operation, and the ability to handle complex weaving patterns.
  3. AVL A-Series Production Dobby Loom: AVL, an American loom manufacturer, produces Countermarch looms like the Production Dobby Loom. These looms often come with advanced features like dobby mechanisms, WiFi and USB connectivity, and even built-in pattern storage, allowing for the creation of intricate and large-scale designs.

What is a Counterbalance Loom?

A Counterbalance floor loom is a type of floor loom used in weaving, characterised by its specific mechanism for raising and lowering warp threads during the weaving process. In a Counterbalance loom, the shafts (also known as harnesses) are connected, usually over pulleys. Shaft #1 is typically connected to shaft #2 and shaft #3 to shaft #4, though other combinations are possible on some Counterbalance looms. The shafts tied to each treadle are pulled down by the treadle, but their connected shafts automatically go up. The treadling is very light, and the tension is even on both raised and lowered warp threads.

Standard Counterbalance Loom by Glimakra - Thread Collective Australia
Standard Counterbalance Loom by Glimakra (Image credit: Glimakra USA)

In the modern era, Counterbalance looms continue to inspire textile design through potential innovations. They are ideal, in particular, for rugs and linens and all 4-shaft weaves with balanced tie-ups. Their enduring legacy combines tradition with modern relevance, making them valuable for both weaving enthusiasts and those interested in traditional crafts.

Advantages of Counterbalance Looms

1. Efficient and Quick Treadling

    • Counterbalance looms excel in providing smooth and quick treadling, enhancing efficiency and reducing labour intensity in the weaving process.

2. Versatility Across Textile Types

    • These looms offer versatility in weaving various textiles, accommodating materials ranging from delicate silk to robust wool, making them a traditional tool used globally for producing high-quality fabrics.

3. Weight Lifting Capability

    • Counterbalance looms can lift a broad spectrum of weights, accommodating lightweight yarns to heavier materials and enabling weavers to create diverse textures and patterns.

4. Can withstand high tension.

    • These looms enable the application of substantial warp tension, a crucial factor in rug weaving. They accommodate both elastic warps, such as wool and cotton, as well as non-elastic warps. Although the shed might not be flawless during unbalanced weaving, certain looms like the ones from Leclerc address this issue by incorporating a shed regulator.

Disadvantages of Counterbalance Looms

1. Maintenance Challenges

    • The intricate mechanisms of Counterbalance looms require regular upkeep and repair, leading to potentially higher maintenance costs compared to other loom types.

2. Higher Initial Cost

    • The complex design and construction of Counterbalance looms may result in a higher initial cost when purchasing, making them more expensive than other looms.

3. Manual Operation and Slower Speed

    • Counterbalance looms may not be as productive as other types due to manual operation and slower weaving speed, limiting the quantity of fabric produced within a given time frame.

4. Patterns can be limited by design

    • Unbalanced sheds (one shaft vs three) can be tricky to make (though there are workarounds for some Counterbalance looms).

In summary, Counterbalance looms offer advantages such as efficient treadling, versatility across textiles, weight-lifting capability, and enhanced versatility through attachments. However, they have drawbacks, including maintenance challenges, limited pattern options, higher initial costs, and slower weaving speed. Weavers must weigh these factors to determine the suitability of counterbalance looms for their specific needs and preferences.

Examples of Counterbalance Loom

Counterbalance floor looms come in various designs and configurations, and different manufacturers produce them. Here are examples of Counterbalance floor looms from well-known weaving loom brands:

  1. Leclerc Fanny 2 Counterbalance Loom: The Fanny Loom by Leclerc is a popular 4-shaft Counterbalance loom that comes in 90cm, 115cm, and 150cm weaving widths. Widely utilised across North America and globally, these compact and sturdy looms are appreciated for their comfort during extended weaving sessions. With a solid design enabling the weaving of various fabrics, including rugs, the Fanny looms provide a versatile and comfortable weaving experience.
  2. Glimakra Standard Counterbalance loom: A sturdy and well-constructed loom based on traditional Swedish loom design. You can use it for all kinds of weaving. Its open-side frames allow you easy access for threading and tie-up. The Standard is a very versatile loom. You can start with this basic model, with 4 shafts and 6 treadles with a Counterbalance tie-up. As your interest in weaving develops and your knowledge increases, you can add a countermarch with more shafts and treadles to your Standard.
  3. Glimakra Julia:Glimakra Julia is a small yet powerful loom that's perfect for apartments. It's compact, quiet, and easy to use. With a 26" weaving width, it can be moved through doorways while fully assembled. The hanging beater is gentle on your hands and shoulders, and it conveniently stays out of the way. The loom includes a beater cradle for efficient weaving, and the elevated breast beam provides more leg space and comfort during treadling and tie-up.

When selecting a Counterbalance floor loom, it's essential to consider individual preferences, weaving requirements, and available features. Different models may have unique characteristics, so weavers should choose a loom that best suits their needs and the type of weaving projects they plan to undertake.

What is a Jack Loom?

A Jack loom is another type of floor loom. The term "jack" refers to the lifting mechanism used in these looms. In a jack floor loom, each harness (or shaft) is attached to an individual mechanism called a jack, which is responsible for lifting the warp threads.

Jack loom by Ashford - Thread Collective Australia
Jack floor loom by Ashford (Image credit: Ashford)

The operation of a Jack floor loom involves the use of foot pedals or treadles. When a treadle is depressed, it activates the corresponding Jack, causing it to lift certain shafts and warp threads. This mechanism allows for a versatile and flexible shedding pattern, enabling the creation of intricate designs and complex weave structures.

Advantages of Jack Looms

1. Versatility in Patterns and Designs

    • Jack looms provide weavers with a high degree of flexibility in creating patterns and designs. The individual lifting mechanisms, or jacks, allow for a wide range of shedding patterns, enabling weavers to produce intricate and complex designs in the woven fabric.

2. Ease of Operation

    • Jack looms are known for their user-friendly design. The operation involves using foot pedals or treadles to control the lifting of the warp threads through the jacks. This ease of operation makes Jack looms suitable for weavers of various skill levels, including beginners.

3. Portability and Space Efficiency

    • Jack looms are often more compact and lightweight compared to some other types of floor looms. This makes them portable and easy to transport, which is advantageous for weavers who may need to move their loom for workshops, demonstrations, or changes in workspace.

4. Adaptability for Workshops and Demonstrations

    • The portability and ease of use of Jack looms make them ideal for workshops and demonstrations. Weavers can easily showcase their skills in different locations without the need for complex setups, contributing to the popularity of jack looms in educational and communal settings.

5. Quick and Efficient Treadling

    • The jack mechanism in these looms allows for smooth and efficient treadling. Weavers can work at a comfortable pace, leading to increased productivity during the weaving process.

6. Individual Control of Shafts

    • The individual jacks give weavers control over each shaft, enabling them to experiment with various weave structures and patterns. This level of control contributes to the versatility of Jack looms.

Disadvantages of Jack Looms

1. Limited Shed Height

    • Jack looms may have a limited shed height compared to other looms. This limitation can affect the ease with which weavers pass the shuttle through the shed, especially when working with thicker yarns or complex patterns.

2. Looser Warp Tension

    • One issue with Jack looms is that they often have looser warp tension compared to other floor loom types. This can lead to problems like skipped threads, uneven edges, and difficulty achieving a tight weave, especially when weaving rugs. Weavers should know these tension-related challenges when using Jack looms for their projects.

4. Potential for Uneven Shedding

    • If not set up and adjusted correctly, Jack looms may experience issues with uneven shedding. This uneven shedding can impact the quality of the woven fabric and may require careful attention during the setup process.

Jack-type looms offer advantages such as versatility in design, user-friendly operation, portability, and efficient treadling. However, they have limitations, including potential shed height restrictions, looser tension, complex adjustments for new weaves, and even a dependency on treadling skills. Weavers should consider these factors when deciding if a Jack loom suits their needs.

Examples of Jack Loom

Jack looms are produced by various weaving loom manufacturers, and they come in different models and configurations. Here are examples of jack looms from well-known weaving loom brands:

  1. Schacht Mighty Wolf Jack Loom: The Schacht Mighty Wolf is a jack-type floor loom with a weaving width of 91cm (36 inches), known for its versatility, compact design, and ease of use. It is suitable for various weaving projects and is often preferred for workshops or smaller spaces.
  2. Louet David 3 Loom: The Louet David loom, which comes in 70cm, 90cm and 110cm weaving widths, employs a sinking shed system, which is a mechanism that ensures balance and even tension on the warp threads like a countermarch loom. However, like a standard jack-style weaving loom, the David also has a singular tie-up.
  3. Ashford Jack Floor Loom: Ashford, a New Zealand-based company, produces an 8-shaft jack loom with a 97cm weaving width. It features a large rising shed and a built-in race in the bottom beater to ensure a smooth weaving process.
  4. Leclerc Nilus II Jack Loom: Leclerc, a Canadian company, offers the Nilus Jack Loom, which is available in weaving widths of 90cm, 115cm, and 150cm. Known for its reliability, the Nilus loom provides weavers with the flexibility to handle various projects and provides weavers with the ease of leg treadling multi-shaft design.
  5. Schacht Standard Floor Loom: The Standard Floor Loom by Schacht is an example of a versatile jack-type loom featuring an underslung jack mechanism to raise the loom shafts. It comes in 91cm and 114cm weaving widths and is often used for general weaving.
  6. Leclerc Colonial v2 Jack Loom:The Colonial loom stands as Leclerc's top-tier jack loom, featuring significant upgrades from its first version. Its remarkable adaptability makes it suitable for general weaving purposes or any specific requirements envisioned by inventive and creative weavers.

When choosing a Jack loom, weavers should consider the weaving width, portability, features, and ease of use to ensure that it aligns with their specific needs and preferences.

Wrapping Up: Different Looms, Endless Weaving Adventures

To sum it up, exploring Countermarch, Counterbalance, and Jack looms opens the door to a world of weaving possibilities. Each type has unique strengths and things to consider, making them suitable for weavers with different preferences and skill levels. Whether you prefer the precise control of countermarch looms, the straightforwardness of Counterbalance designs, or the versatility of jack looms, there's a loom out there to match your creative ideas. As looms continue to play a vital role in textile arts, understanding these differences helps weavers make choices that enhance their craft, adding a layer of appreciation for the intricate dance between design and technique.

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