Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom

About: I enjoy tinkering with electronics, handcrafts, remote-control planes and 3D printers.

It started with an old bag in the attic.

Then it was a pile of wood.

Finally it was a sophisticated fabric making machine: a loom.

Weaving is simple. The warp is the vertical strands and the weft is the strands that are passed under and over the warp in a horizontal direction. However, with a loom, this process is sped up considerably. The main characteristics are:

  • A heddle - holds one of the threads
  • A shuttle - a device holding the weft yarn.
  • A shaft/harness - holds many heddles and can move them all at the same time.

I started with an old German school loom, possibly from the 1960s. I found it in a bag in the attic, but it was fairly simple to setup. Technically, it is classed as a "Rigid Heddle Loom".

If you want to follow along with my plucky adventure into making something with this loom, you don't necessarily need the same model. If you have wood lying around, you can easily build a square frame. Then the rigid heddle can be sourced from the internet. One thing to remember if making your own loom is that the ends of the frame must have a means to rotate and hold the ends of the warp.

Alternatively, looms can be bought from Amazon, Ebay etc., though be prepared to relinquish the grip on your wallet.

Step 1: Materials

After obtaining your loom from an attic, Ebay or your workshop, you need to gather your materials:

  1. Yarn - any type will do, possibly wool of a thicker variety
  2. Shuttle - this is as easy as cutting two big slots on a long piece of wood and sanding it a little
  3. Tweezers - very helpful for threading the heddles
  4. Scissors - very helpful for general scissoring
  5. Think length of wood - this is good for pushing the newly woven strands together and creating a nice even look to your fabric

Step 2: Setting Up the Loom

Wind your shuttle with a suitable amount of yarn.

Take off the back edge of your loom. Judge how far you want your fabric to stretch and loosely fix the yarn up and down until you have reached your desired width.

With the easy bit done, prepare for wool in your mouth, a bent back and a clumsy feeling of numbness in your fingers. Take the lengths of yarn off the loom and bundle it up. Secure one end to the front edge of the frame and twist the other to a fine point. Pass the entirety of the bundle through one heddle and secure on the detached far end of the loom.

Now pass the entire bundle through the gap in the heddle and fix some of it to the front edge. Repeat this back and forth process until you have half of the warp through heddles and half through the gaps.

Roll up the excess on the back edge of the frame and screw back in place.

Step 3: Weaving Time!

With a fearsome sword(a shuttle) and a mighty steed(a loom), you plunge heroically to battle(i.e. you start weaving).

  1. Fix a little bit of the yarn on the shuttle to the front edge of the loom.
  2. Lift the harness, that holds all the heddles, to an up position. Move it back and forth till you can see very clearly the warp in the heddles and the layer at the bottom in the gaps.
  3. Plunge the shuttle across the warp.
  4. Then move the harness to a low position. Shake it back and forth unti you see the clear definition of the strands.
  5. Pass the shuttle back.
  6. Repeat the above process until you run out of yarn

If at any time the weft (the stuff on the shuttle) becomes loose or doesn't look right, use your trusty length of wood to push it into place.

Step 4: Finishing Up

Now that you have used up all of the yarn rolled up on the back of the loom, You can cut the loops at the end of the fabric.

At each end, there should be some scraggly-looking bits. You can easily tie these up with spare yarn into small bundles, called tassels. Roll them betwixt your fingers for a nicer aesthetic.

Step 5: The Finished Product

I only made a small length of fabric, but it came out well. This could work as a scarf for a child's teddy bear or even as a decorative clothes hanger covering.

Rigid heddle looms have the disadvantage of only being able to make "plain-weave" items. However, with a teaspoon of imagination and a gallon of determination, you can apply the principles above to anything: scarves, table runners, coasters, pennants, bunting, cushions, tea towels and so on.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this through. I hope you soon begin your first forays into weaving on a loom!

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