Since I have woven extensively on the TC-2 jacquard loom as well as on various shaft looms, I occasionally get asked about the differences between them and which I prefer to use.
The short answer: the TC-2 is great for weaving imagery, playing with anything structure-related, and exploring two-color stripe patterns. Shaft looms are great for producing flawless cloth, complex colored stripes in more than two colors, and quick projects on short warps. I see their capabilities as complementary. They do different things. Neither is superior to the other, and I wouldn’t want to give up either.
Since most weavers considering a TC-2 are already familiar with shaft looms, I’ll talk primarily about the TC-2 and how it differs from shaft looms – both pro and con.
The TC-2 has infinitely more imagery and structure design power
The primary attraction of the TC-2 is that you can easily weave any interlacement of threads that you like. This makes it fantastic for imagery and also for exploring shaft-hungry weaves.
It also, if you wish, allows you to weave any shaft-loom draft without rethreading. This is a HUGE boon if you are weaving samples of different structures, though it’s not generally the main reason people buy one. I often use this capacity because I teach, and this enables me to design and weave lots of structural samples very efficiently.
I love my TC-2 because I can do things on it that you simply cannot do, or even imagine doing, on a shaft loom. For example, my piece “Bipolar Prison” is triple weave, using 23 different structures, and imagery:
You can’t do that on a shaft loom.
The TC-2 “thinks” differently
Designing for the TC-2 is very different from designing for a shaft loom. With a shaft loom, design is always shaft-focused: what can I create within the limits of the shafts I have available?
With a jacquard loom, you don’t pay attention to shafts (there aren’t any). Instead, you use a “paint by numbers” approach. You create a design in multiple colors, one for each weave structure you want to use. Then you use software to replace all pixels of the same color with a “pixel” of the weave structure that corresponds to that color.
Using this method, you can do designs in shaded satins with just a few clicks of a mouse, or a design in double weave with layer interchange in just a few more clicks. (Etc.)
The TC-2 then weaves the “image” you have created. Each line of your image corresponds to a pick in the weaving. For any given pick, if a pixel is black, the warp thread rises. If a pixel is white, it remains down.
The “paint by numbers” approach is extremely powerful, but it is very different from shaft-loom design, so you have to rewire your mental habits and “design reflexes” to create jacquard designs. It’s a significant shift and took me time, mental effort, and practice to get right.
The design software used is also different, and has its own learning curve. Many people use Photoshop, but I use Arahweave, which was created specifically for jacquard design and is much more powerful. It’s also correspondingly more expensive; I paid over $2,000 for my version of the software. While I think it’s worth every penny (it allows me to create more complex designs and greatly simplifies the design process), it’s also a significant expense, especially when added to the cost of a TC-2.
Quirks and limitations
The TC-2 has limitations that are not obvious until you start weaving with one. Here are the ones that I’ve found; there are probably others I don’t know about because it hasn’t fallen into my area of exploration. (Also, if you have solutions to these limitations, please let me know; I’m eager to hear about them!)
The TC-2 has heddles in modular units
Unlike a shaft loom, where you can add or subtract heddles and move them about freely, the TC-2 has heddles that are fixed at top and bottom, placed in “modules” of 220 threads each. Each module is 14.5 inches wide, giving a density of 15 threads per inch.
To get a wider piece, place two modules side by side inside the loom. To get a denser sett, place one module behind the other.
This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but this setup is responsible for most of the quirky limitations of the TC-2. Here’s why.
Sett is controlled by “casting out” ends
Because the heddles are fixed at top and bottom, you cannot change the sett by resleying. The threads must run parallel from the front to back of the loom, or the heddles won’t rise properly.
How do you change the sett, then?
You cast out threads. Just leave the extra threads down, so they don’t weave into the fabric. If the threaded density is 30 ends per inch and you want 24 ends per inch, cast out (leave down) 6 ends per inch and weave with the remaining 24 threads.
Warp stripes are dicey at best
Casting out threads to achieve the correct density means that the TC-2 does not generally work well with stripe designs where you need a precise number of threads in each stripe. Casting out threads makes development of the stripe design too tricky; you not only have to wind the stripe pattern but also add in “dummy” threads that will be cast out later.
(There is one exception – two or three color stripe designs can be done, but require considerable mental gymnastics and a warp set up for double or triple weave.)
Weft stripes with lots of color changes can also be challenging, if the stripes are not perfectly regular. The loom driver software allows you to set weft colors manually, but is not set up to do complicated color sequences. There is a workaround using Photoshop, but it is not 100% dependable.
Waste is a thing
Because you change the sett by casting out threads, and because the starting density is a multiple of 15, some thread sizes inherently cause a great deal of waste. For example, the sett for 8/2 cotton in a balanced weave is 18 for plain weave. To weave it, you need to use two modules, one behind the other, for a maximum sett of 30. Then you need to cast out 12 of those 30 ends (40% of your warp!) to get the right sett for plain weave.
This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point: there is quite a bit of waste when working with some setts on the TC-2. As a result, I tend to use threads and structures that require close to the maximum density, i.e. that require a sett that is close to a multiple of 15.
(Your mileage may vary, of course. If you’re comfortable with more waste, more power to you!)
The tricky part with this method is that you cannot resley to get greater density than the maximum sett. So if you have four modules stacked front to back, 15 ends per inch apiece, you start with a sett of 60 and can only decrease from there.
In theory, you can simply rearrange the modules if you want a higher sett. In practice, this is a fraught process, because…
Jacquard looms are a real pain to thread
Because the TC-2 has heddles fixed at top and bottom, you cannot simply push heddles from side to side as you would on a shaft loom. The heddles are on long springs, which gives you some space to work in, but by and large threading is a long and finicky process. I thread a shaft loom in straight draw at 11 threads per minute. I thread my TC-2 at less than two threads/minute. The threading position is also not terribly comfortable (for me; your mileage may vary).
The good news is that you can always tie on a new warp at the back of the loom, so you don’t have to rethread with every warp. The bad news is that tying on is also a long, through less error-prone, process. I recently acquired a tool, the Mesdan fisherman’s knotter, that has made it much speedier.
Because it’s such a pain to thread…
Changing the maximum sett is not done lightly
To change the maximum density of threads, you need to rearrange the modules in the loom. This means rethreading. I avoid rethreading whenever possible, which means I really, really don’t like to change the arrangement. This in turn leaves me “stuck” at a single maximum density.
The obvious thing to do in this context is to create a warp with the maximum possible density, to give yourself the most flexibility. However, this isn’t a great solution either, because…
Every heddle must have a thread, all the time
Unless you want to rethread your next warp, you must thread up every single thread in the column of modules. That’s because removing threads from heddles forces you to rethread, and having loose, unused threads next to working threads is an invitation to tangling.
So if you have 6 modules in a column, for a sett of 90 (I often use this for double weave), you must wind, beam, and tie on all 1,320 threads. Every time. There is no such thing as a “quick and easy” warp on the TC-2, especially at denser setts. You cannot throw on a quick 8” scarf and weave it off in a weekend.
It also means that there are drawbacks to the higher densities – you can use a greater range of setts, sure, but it makes winding and tying on a much lengthier process.
As a result, I (and many jacquard weavers I know) generally put on very long warps, especially as the warp density gets higher. I rarely put on a warp of less than 17-20 yards.
A bonus: Multiple projects at once
The good news about thread density is that – if your loom is wide enough – you do not have to settle for just one density! You can have multiple densities, and in fact multiple projects, on a single loom.
Shaft looms are typically made of wood, which warps. So on a shaft loom, you put your project at or near the center of the loom.
The TC-2, on the other hand, is made of steel. No way is that baby going to warp. It won’t even notice.
So on the TC-2, you can put a project off-center easily. This means that you can set up one column of modules at 90 epi and another at, say, 30 epi – assuming your loom is at least two modules wide. If you do this, then you can weave one project at 90 epi, and a different project at 30 epi. If you have two warp beams, you can have the loom beamed, threaded, and sleyed for two projects at once! You can only weave one project at a time, but this gives you far more freedom.
I happen to have two warp beams on Amazing Grace (my 3-module-wide TC-2, named after Grace Hopper), so I am setting up to weave velvet at a density of 90 epi, one module wide, AND a warp for samples and artwork at 60 epi, two modules wide.
(This is a great argument for getting two warp beams and a wider loom, if you are thinking of purchasing. You need to have enough heddle kits for all the densities at once, but you only need to purchase enough control modules for the max number of modules you will use in a single project. This is handy because the control modules are the really expensive part!)
That’s all I can think of for the moment. I love love love my TC-2! But Amazing Grace, as amazing as she is, does have her quirks, and they are different from those of a shaft loom. So – if you are considering purchasing one – know all this before you buy.