We have been getting lots of questions from folks wanting to try out new crafts now that most of us are spending a lot more time at home. We're excited that lots of new fiber artists are going to enter the world! Since we're getting so many questions we decided to make a series of blog posts with some basic info to start you off with several different fiber craft disciplines! This week we're going to cover: Rigid Heddle Weaving!
A rigid heddle loom is an ideal choice to economically learn to weave. The name is derived from the structure of the heddle. A heddle functions to raise or lower the warp threads. A rigid heddle is a fixed panel that moves the warp threads as a group, as opposed to individually thread movement like a wire or Texsolv heddle. A rigid heddle loom is the equivalent of a 2-harness loom, it will allow you to weave light work, such as placemats, dishtowels, scarves, shawls or fabric for clothing. Rigid heddle looms cannot support the tension required for projects like rugs.
At The Woolery we often recommend rigid heddle looms to newbie weavers who want to jump into weaving but don't want too large of an investment in a new hobby. Rigid heddle looms can be very small and affordable, and are perfect or giving weaving a test drive! The skills and techniques developed on a rigid heddle loom are all transferable to other types of looms, including the larger table and floor looms.
Choosing A Loom
When selecting your rigid heddle loom there are a few things to keep in mind.
Weaving Width - This is the maximum width your projects can have. It is not something that can be changed later on and is set in stone from the moment you purchase the loom. Remember that you can always weave narrower than your maximum weaving width, so it's safer to go with a wider loom to make sure you have enough versatility for the types of projects you want to weave.
Second Heddle - This is another thing you need to think about in the beginning because some rigid heddle looms have the ability for a second heddle to be added and some do not. The second heddle has two functions. It can allow a rigid heddle loom to mimic a four-harness loom. It also can allow a weaver to use the finer cotton weaving yarns more commonly used on floor and table looms.
Space - If you are limited on space you might want to consider a loom that can be folded so as to take up even less space than a standard rigid heddle loom.
Wood Finishing - Some looms are sold with unfinished wood. We highly recommend that you finish unfinished loom wood before working with your loom. If you don't want to bother with wood finishing, pick a loom that has finished wood.
Available Heddle Dents - The dent size of your rigid heddle determines how far apart your warp ends are going to be and also determines the size yarn you can use. Certain brands have a larger amount of sizes available. If you already know you want to use Laceweight or small yarns you might need to take this into consideration. If you are not already attached to a certain size of yarn, then you don't need to worry about this.
Most of the other differences between rigid heddle looms are going to superficial personal preference type options such as; brand, visual style, and wood type.
- Schacht Cricket Loom - The Cricket Loom is compact, capable and cute! It comes in both 10" and 15" weaving widths. Both options come with everything you need to start your first project in the box. There are floor stands available for both sizes of this loom. The loom comes with an 8 dent heddle (suitable for Worsted Weight) and 5, 10, and 12 dent heddles can be purchased separately. There is NOT a 2nd heddle option for this loom. This loom is made of unfinished maple and apple plywood and comes unfinished.
- Ashford Knitters Loom - The Ashford Knitter's Loom is lightweight, collapsible, and portable. It comes fully assembled and finished. There are 3 available weaving widths, 12", 20", and 28". There is a floor stand available for all three sizes. It comes with a 7.5 dent heddle and you can get additional heddles in 2.5, 5, 10, 12.5, and 15 dent heddles separately. Ashford rigid heddle looms offer the most variety for dent sizes. It comes with everything you need for your first project except yarn. It even comes with the 2nd heddle blocks so you can install them and have the capability for two heddles right away. If you don't need your loom to fold or care about the wood being finished look into the Ashford Rigid Heddle loom as it has most of the same features (but does come in different weaving widths).
- Kromski Harp Forte - If you are into a more traditional style of elaborate turned wood features, the Harp might be the loom for you! The harp is available in two different finishes a light wood and walnut. There are four available weaving widths, 8", 16", 24", and 32". It can fold for a smaller storage profile. The loom comes with a 8 dent heddle and 5, 10, and 12 dent heddles can be purchased separately. It comes with a 2nd heddle block option. There is also a floor stand available.
Most looms we carry come with all of the necessary bits and bobs to get started weaving, but there are some additional items you may wish to purchase to expand your weaving journey.
- Pick Up Sticks - These allow you to create additional sheds in your weaving to create more elaborate patterns. We do not recommend them for your first projects, but after you have a couple projects under your belt it might be something you want to explore.
- Fringe Twister - This tool helps you twist perfectly even fringe every time. It's definitely not 100% necessary but will make your life much easier if you're going to be making a lot of projects with fringe.
Warping can often be the process of weaving that scares away beginners, but we promise it's not scary! All of the loom models we recommend here come with booklets with instructions for warping that particular loom. There are also very helpful YouTube videos available:
You can use almost any yarn on your rigid heddle loom as long as you are using the correct heddle dent size. Here are some options that are particularly good for beginners as they can be woven with the heddle that comes with your rigid heddle loom.
Omega Sinfonia - This is a 100% Mercerized Cotton, 6 ply yarn. It comes in balls of 218 yards. This is a sport weight yarn so it's a little smaller than you would normally weave with on an 8/7.5 dent heddle, but that's okay your project will just have a little bit looser weave!
Brown Sheep Nature Spun Worsted - This is a 100% Wool, 3 ply yarn. It comes in balls of 245 yards. We know you will love the feel of this 100% U.S. grown and spun yarn.
Handspun Hope Organic Merino Yarn - Certified 100% organic wool yarn is hand spun and dyed in Rwanda by the ladies of Handspun Hope. It comes in 185 yard skeins. Handspun Hope is a certified member of the Fair Trade Federation.
Rigid Heddle Weaving Books
While YouTube is a fantastic resource, sometimes nothing can beat a quality book.
- Weaving Made Easy by Liz Gipson - Author Liz Gipson give you the tools to make working on a rigid-heddle loom a joy in this revised and updated version of her much loved book. Added to this edition is step-by-step instructions on how to set up your loom in twenty minutes or less, finishing tips, and two new projects, as well as more headers to make it easier to find just the tip you are looking for to make your weaving time more enjoyable.
- Inventive Weaving On A Little Loom by Syne Mitchell - This essential guide explores the full capabilities of trigid heddle looms, covering all the basics and offering an amazing array of projects. Crafters will be thrilled by the possibilities: satisfying tapestry and transparency projects, bead weaving and e-textiles, and dramatic effects using simple finger-manipulated techniques. Adding a second or third heddle allows for more complex weaving, such as overshot, shadow weave, and very fine threads
- Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving by Rowena Hart - International weaving teacher, Rowena Hart, shows how you can create exciting, beautiful garments and crafts - all on the simple two shaft rigid heddle loom. In the book she guides you step-by-step through the many techniques, showing just how easy it is to make your woven creations come alive through color and texture.
What types of projects can I weave on a rigid heddle loom?
There are so many creative things you can do with a rigid heddle loom! The most common types of projects are scarves, placemats, dishtowels, or shawls. You can also weave fabric and then sew it with other fabrics to create garments or bags. You are limited by the weaving width of your loom so if you were wanting to make something very wide like a blanket you could only achieve it by sewing together multiple panels of fabric. We recommend playing with plain weave (just standard back and forth weaving, no fancy patterning) and then maybe branching out to try some different techniques! We have a blog post, Rigid Heddle Texture Infusion that details how to make a plain weave scarf using some fun different yarn textures!
We also carry some kits that are great for rigid heddle looms!
- DJE Timeless 2 Tea Towel Kit - The reason things become "a classic" is timeless appeal and usefulness. Woven on one warp, this classic plaid and striped towel kit (1 towel of each design) features The Woolery's Bluegrass Mills Hemp yarn. The hemp yarns make a super absorbent fabric with great body, durability and just a touch of shine. With the warp already wound, this is a fast, easy weave for all experience levels. You will need two 8-dent heddles.
- DJE Crossroads Infinity Scarf Kit - Utilizing two sizes of hand painted Tencel combined in two color and weave patterns, this design is reminiscent of the patterns created as roads intersect on maps and the landscape. The scarf has lovely shimmer and a luxurious drape.
- DJE Bloom Scarf Kit - Featuring Mountain Colors hand-painted 4/8's 100% merino wool and two variations of leno lace weave, this kit celebrates spring foliage colors. Wet finishing the scarf makes the yarns bloom, creating a super soft, cuddly scarf that is light enough to wear indoors, yet warm enough for snuggly comfort outdoors.
It is important to note - You cannot make rugs on a rigid heddle loom, only rug shaped objects. A rigid heddle loom cannot stand up to the high level of tension required to make a durable rug. This means that any "rug" you create on the rigid heddle loom will deteriorate very quickly to use and be more of a "rug shaped object" than an actual useable rug. If you try to jack up the tension on your rigid heddle loom you will cause the loom to bend out of shape and become damaged over time. If you are insistent that you want to weave rugs you're going to be looking at a floor loom, not a rigid heddle loom.
We hope this is a good jumping off point for your in your rigid heddle weaving journey and we can't wait to see all of the beautiful hand woven projects you create!