5 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before Buying a Rigid Heddle Loom

by Doroteja

Weaving is something I’ve wanted to learn for a very long time. This Winter I bought myself a 60 cm Rigid Heddle Loom from Ashford, and with the help of books and online tutorials, taught myself the basics of weaving.

In a spirit of weaving, learning a new fiber art and my loom journey I wanted to share with you 5 things I wish I would have known before buying a rigid heddle loom. Things, I wish someone would have told me before buying my first weaving set.

It probably would not change my mind about buying a loom and learning how to weave, but it would help me understand what I’m getting into.

Just one small thing before I start. I posted a short vlog on YouTube sharing my current weaving routine and making two beautiful shawls. You will be able to see everything from threading the loom to weaving and finishing the project. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Studio Vlog – Weaving Shawls With A Rigid Heddle Loom

When weaving, the cloth is created when threads that run lengthwise, called the warp, and the threads that run side to side also called weft, interlace. The most basic weave structure is plain weave, also known as “over one, under one”. It is a very basic structure that new weavers usually learn first.

But there are a couple of things that are nice to know even bore you start weaving or even before you purchase your first loom. Let’s dive in!

1. Size – It Actually Matters!

Rigid heddle looms come in a variety of sizes. From tiny little looms that offer just 10″ or 25 cm of weaving width, all the way to large rigid heddle looms with a weaving width of 48″ or 120 cm.

You can always warp a thinner piece on a larger loom, but it’s much more challenging (still doable) to warp a larger piece on a smaller loom. But that doesn’t mean you have to go for the largest one available.

I was deciding between a 24″ or 60 cm loom and a 32″ or 80 cm one. In the end, I picked the 60 cm one. And I have to say; I am quite happy with my choice. Now I see that 80 cm would be way too big for my small studio. This one I can hang on the wall, and when I am not using it doesn’t take a lot of space.

But it really comes down to what you want to make. If you are totally new to weaving and fiber arts in general, and you are not quite sure weaving is something you want to invest your time into, go for a smaller loom and upgrade overtime if needed. The same goes if you’re going to make simple, small things, like kitchen cloths, narrow scarves, or items that don’t need a lot of fabric, like purses.

On the other hand, if you already know your main goal is to work on large pieces like blankets, you will probably go for a wider loom or even the wides one available on the market. But don’t forget, it has to fit into your working space. With other words, you need enough space for your loom and yourself to coexist in the same room.

I went for something in between. I can make everything from small items to wider shawls and mini blankets. And I hope, one day, I will be competent enough to teach you what I know and hopefully share some tutorials and interesting projects that I can make with my new rigid heddle loom.

2. Price – It Can Get Expensive!

The market for fiber arts can be overwhelming, and with that, it can be hard to know where to start and which loom to get for the price you are willing to pay. Especially if it is to be your first ever loom.

I picked Ashford rigid heddle loom because of its availability and the company’s philosophy to respect nature, work ethically and ensure sustainability.

But there are many loom companies and loom types to choose from. And yes, the prices may vary, but what I wasn’t counting in when I was buying my first loom and starting my weaving journey were all the accessories and add-ons I will spend my money on later.

The price of a loom is a straightforward thing. It might vary between shops, but you know how much you are paying for a piece. The accessories are a totally different story. And they are not cheap either. I wish someone would have told me that.

Let me explain. My rigid heddle loom came with one heddle, two shuttles, two clamps, one warping peg, and a threading hook. I use all the accessories all the time. Don’t get me wrong; they are a great beginner set. However, you will need more of each very soon.

More heddles. I will go more into detail later in the section of this blog post called “Heddle Is A King!”. All you have to know for now is that the rigid heddle is like your knitting needle or crochet hook.

You have to use the right heddle to meet the gauge. Or use the heddle according to the yarn weight you want to use. It’s the same as if you would buy a new crochet hook, but a very expensive one. And don’t forget, you can usually fit two heddles (same size) into one loom. With two, you will be able to make more complex patterns and fabric/weave, but it will also cost more.

Sooner or later, you will be aware of items that are not essential but nice to have, like a stand for your rigid heddle loom or warping frame. Those are all nice to have and will make your work easier and faster. But the cost can be quite high.

One last thing I want to mention here is how some people call the loom. You would probably never guessed it, but it’s a “yarn eater”. It sounds funny, but it’s true. Looms eat up a lot of yarn which can be great if you have some extra yarn in your yarn stash. But let’s be honest. We all do!

However, in case you don’t, yarn shopping is always a fun thing to do. Yet, so easy to get over the budget!

3. Tension Is Extremely Important

As it is with every fiber art, tension is also very important when weaving. Most of the things that go wrong in weaving are usually in one way or another related to uneven tension. The warp threads running lengthwise and weft threads running side to side are creating a web of yarn, and with that pulling in different direction creating tension.

If just one thread is pulling too hard or is it too loose, the tension shifts. This can be seen as uneven edges or larger spaces between the lengthwise running threads.

Uneven tension at the beginning of your project is something that you shouldn’t be worried about. As you continue weaving and adding layers of thread, the tension will even out across the warp, and everything will look as it should.

One of the things that might help you with the gauge is knowing what makes a good warp and weft yarn. The yarn that is good for the warp and weft should be:

  • strong (the stronger your yarn, the easier your weaving will be)
  • smooth (is more forgiving if you thread the threads too closely together)
  • optimal stretch (the yarn with a little elasticity will self-tension, the yarn with too much elasticity will make your project much smaller once you take it off the loom)
  • softness ( very important if you are making shawls and blankets)
  • thickness 

Another great way to keep your tension even are warp separators. The warp separator can be a wood slat, cardboard warp stick, sushi mat, or even a large piece of paper. I use large pieces of thick paper. You can see them in the video. And they work very well.

Another thing I use is an empty shuttle or pick-up stick. What I do is once the loom is threaded, I put my heddle up or down. It doesn’t matter which way, as long as it isn’t in neutral. And I put the stick behind the heddle between the threads into the opening. Once it’s there, I push the stick all the way back on top of the back warp stick. That makes the tension nice and even and the opening bigger.

But the most important thing you can do to make your tension nice and even is to practice.

4. It Has Its Own Terminology

Oh yes, the terminology. As with every other fiber art, weaving has also its own terminology. You have to learn how the parts of the loom and parts of the fabric are called to understand the instructions. Even the most basic ones.

I have to be honest, as non-native English speaker I still struggle with that. I am not quite sure if that’s just a new vocabulary for me, or is it something everyone needs to learn.

WARP

In short, the cloth is created when threads that run lengthwise, called the warp, and the threads that run side to side also called weft, interlace.

ROLLERS

The loom is the whole thing. My loom has two rollers, the front and the back roller. Both can move and will help you adjust the tension.

REED or HEDDLE

Every rigid heddle loom has a reed. The reed can also be called a heddle. The heddle raises and lowers. No matter, up or down, it creates a shed or opening for the shuttle to pass through. It also serves to beat the thread into place.

SHUTTLE

It is a tool carrying the yarn through the opening. It can be as simple as yarn butterfly, a flat stick with notches cut out of each end (I call them little alpacas because they remind me of alpaca heads. I always say I am wrapping the yarn around the shuttle and between the alpaca’s ears.), or boat shuttle for faster weaving. I prefer the flat stick shuttle. It is inexpensive, holds a lot of yarn and it’s easy to work with.

I wish I would have known that when I was buying the expensive boat shuttle that I don’t even use.

However, I purchased a few additional flat stick shuttles just so I can have varieties of colors and use more yarn weights at the same time. It saves me a lot of time and yarn. And that is because I don’t need to wrap and unwrap the yarn from the same shuttle over and over again.

5. Heddle Is A King

The cloth is created when threads that run lengthwise and the threads that run side to side interlace. That is the same with every loom. No matter what size or shape. During the weaving process, the weaver lifts or lowers the warp threads to form an opening called a shed. Then the weaver pushes the weft through that opening using a tool called a shuttle.

There are several different types of weaving looms with different features. However, the process is more or less the same with every loom you use, with the exception of frame looms where the length of the threads that run lengthwise is set (photo below) and there is no additional tool to separate those threads to create an opening.

top view photo of two person s hands weaving

For the rest, the process is simple. The heddle selects the threads the loom raises or lowers. This makes an opening for the shuttle to pass through.

The heddles on a backstrap loom are usually created by a string wrapped around the stick.

The heddles on a shaft loom are usually placed on shafts (mostly wooden frames) and are metal, string, or wire. Those are usually perfect for more complex patterns.

wood hand wooden design

The rigid heddle loom has a heddle with holes drilled into a rigid material, which is nowadays mostly plastic. The biggest difference between the rigid heddle loom and the rest of the looms is in how the heddle is used. It acts as a warp spacer and a beater. The heddles (the pattering device) are combined with the beater and reed (the spacing device). And this is a defining characteristic of a rigid heddle loom.

As I’ve mentioned before, heddles at rigid heddle loom are like crochet hooks. You have to use the right heddle to meet the gauge. Or use the heddle according to the yarn weight you want to use. Different yarn, different heddle.

And you will need a couple of different ones if you want to use different yarn weights or learn how to work on more complex patterns.


Those are my 5 top tips I wish I have known before I purchased a rigid heddle loom. Those tips would not change my mind but would be helpful to know what I am getting into.

Remember, fiber arts are supposed to be fun. This is an amazing world of yarn, colors, and creativity. There is no right or wrong way, just may be an easier or a harder way. Eater of those, it’s always yours to choose. Enjoy!

Leave a comment down below, letting me know if any of that was helpful to you!

Have a lovely day, stay safe and well, and happy weaving! Bye!

1 comment

Kath Snow July 4, 2021 - 12:32

Thank you so much for every valuable word, absolutely 100% information, written with clear understanding.I am a 98 years young attempting my weaving journey following a glorious craft life and you have made the way most enjoyable and helpful. Keep up your good work, and encourage the craft. Very explicit you. Deserve a woven medal. Kath Snow.

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