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The loom: humanity's first machine

It could easily be said that the loom, a symbol of creativity, is the first machine of mankind, used for the design of houses (tents) and clothes. It is still essential today for the manufacture of rugs. In Tunisia as in Morocco, the assembly of the loom is done according to a certain ritual accompanied by traditional songs. It is indeed a central element of many homes in which a specific place is dedicated to it.

Principles of the loom

For the manufacture of Tunisian and Moroccan rugs, there are two types of loom: the high heddle loom (vertical) and the low heddle loom (horizontal). They both follow the same principle of keeping the warp threads taut and parallel, always at the same distance. Traditionally, looms are made entirely of wood. However, some craftswomen now use metal looms, especially for the production of margoums. The looms are used to make rugs, but also blankets or various garments needed for the bride's trousseau.

The low heddle loom (horizontal)

The low heddle loom is parallel to the ground and almost in contact with it. It is used by nomads because it is easily transportable and can be dismantled easily, even when work has begun. To assemble this loom, the warp threads are stretched between two crossbars and tied every other time to the heddle bar. The woven rugs cannot exceed the size of the loom. It is possible to produce narrow strips of about 40-80 cm, which can be joined together to form larger pieces. However, frequent dismantling and reassembly of the loom at low heddles means that the rugs are often deformed.

Low heddle loom (horizontal) - © Jordan River Foundation.

The high heddle loom (vertical)

The high loom, on the other hand, is used by sedentary populations in towns and villages. It is fixed and has solid structures that allow the rug to be made in one go. It is composed of two vertical posts and two horizontal bars (beams). The frame is thus formed by the uprights and the beams on which the warp threads are stretched. The upper part is called the "sky" beam and the lower part the "earth" beam.

High heddle loom (vertical) in a house in Kairouan, Tunisia.

The high heddle loom is the one used to make the rugs we present on our site (kilims, margoums, Beni Ouarain, Azilal...). The weaving is entirely done by hand, without shuttle or spindle, with only one essential accessory, the weaving reed. The craftswoman works seated on the floor in front of the loom, always at the same height, and the woven part of the rug is rolled up on the lower beam as the work progresses.

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