The “humble” rigid heddle loom can do so much, as I hope the pictures above show. A beginner is most definitely what I am at the time of writing, as I have been weaving for only over six months on the rigid heddle. Hence there may be a lot missing from the info below.
However, with my bewilderment with terminology still very fresh in my mind, I thought I might save other beginners some grief by collecting what I know below. I dived into three heddle weaving almost straightaway, from my very second project (pictured above), so the list below also includes resources for weaving with three heddles, as well as four shaft drafts.
Which rigid heddle loom?
We’ve got to start from the beginning, right? I got my 16″/40cm SampleIt as part of the “Ashford complete weaving kit“, which was issued around Christmas but seems to be available throughout the year. On the plus side: it is a bargain, and it comes with absolutely everything you need to get going, including two extra reeds, even 200g yarn for your first project, two pickup sticks, Rowena Hart’s “The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving” – check the full details in the link. I think it is VERY good value for money. On the downside: it is shorter than other looms, so at the very least you have to advance the warp more frequently, and fitting three heddles is more finnicky than on a full sized loom; although smaller than standard rigid heddle looms, it does not fold, so if you travel you need a full size luggage (dimensions are not compatible with hand luggage if you fly). Unlike several other brands, the bottom does not double as warping board. Still, it is very cheap as a bundle, and works perfectly if you are not sure whether you’ll enjoy weaving, since it sets you up to get the most out of it.
The most common brands and anyhow those I researched are Ashford (SampleIt as entry level, Rigid Heddle Loom as standard, Knitters’ loom folds), Kromski (Presto as entry level, and Harp Forte, which folds, as standard size) and Shacht (Cricket as entry level, Flip as standard. Both fold), all available in the UK.
Interesting fact: Ashford rigid heddle loom heddles fit the Cricket of same width.
All these manufacturers have very clear instructional videos on their webpages.
When researching what loom to buy, I found this blog post very clear and useful. For your first loom you’d be probably shooting in the dark: you won’t know until you start what is that you like, and what catches your fancy – I got into sewing at “granny age” because of my rigid heddle loom!
Things to consider are the obvious: budget, and what you want to do with it, which will determine the weaving width you want. Bear in mind that a larger width requires larger space to the side to manage the stick shuttles (boat shuttles are also used successfully by some, but the lower tension in rigid heddle looms as compared to multi shaft looms, and the lack of a race, mean that unless the yarn is really fine, the boat shuttle will end up on the floor quite often!). Also, larger room may require investment in a dedicated stand, as weaving with the loom on a tabletop may be quite uncomfortable/unwieldy.
In my (admittedly very limited) experience knitting yarn works perfectly well, in fact that is all I’ve been using on my rigid heddle loom. Just be careful with what you use as warp yarn: strong (so that it won’t break with all the abrasion from the reed dents going back and forth) and smooth (so that warp threads don’t stick together and give you a clear shed) is key for warp yarn. For weft you can use absolutely anything you like.
How to weave: learning from books
The following, which I have, seem to crop up again and again when discussing rigid heddle loom resources:
“Inventive weaving on a little loom”, by Syne Mitchell. This one starts from the very beginning, with the first three chapters taking you step by step into weaving and what could go wrong. It is great on three heddle weaving and how to translate drafts for shaftt looms to the rigid heddle loom. I learned about the latter on other sources thoug (see below). Available also as ebook.
“The Weaver’s Idea Book” by Jane Patrick assumes you have a little confidence with your loom already, e.g. you’ve done your first project on it, in the sense that it starts in earnest with weaving. It is one of those books that will really take you to another level if you go through it cover-to-cover (which I haven’t done yet, though). It has absolutely everything, and it will take you from absolute beginner to super expert. It is also full of projects for each technique. Available also as ebook.
“Handwoven Home”, by Liz Gipson aka Yarnworker is project base: with each project you learn a new technique, and there are also knowledge chapters at the beginning that cover the basics of weaving. Since each author has different preferences, having more than one text to teach you the basic is I think no bad thing. Available also as ebook.
“The Handweaver’s Pattern Directory”, by Anne Dixon. A four shaft loom, or a rigid heddle loom with three heddles, has “only” 14 possible sheds. Yet with threading and threading these can be combined to one’s heart’s content, and over 600 patterns are contained in this book. It is a must have, full of illustrations with both draft and the cloth produced. Only available as physical book, but the spiral bound and hardcover make it quite handy to look up.
How to weave four shaft drafts on the rigid heddle loom
A substantial section of chapter 6 in “Inventive weaving on a little loom” is devoted to three heddle weaving: this opens up all four shaft possibilities, including twills, lace, overshot and double weave. There are limitations, in that to avoid cross threads it may be just impossible to weave some patterns using the full width of your loom; and some patterns in overshot patterned double weave will just not be doable because of the way in which warp threads have to alternate in the heddles. However, there is no risk of running out of things to do for a very long while!
My introduction to three heddle weaving however came from this and this blog posts, which opened my eye to the fact that even the short Ashford SampleIt loom I owned could fit three heddles – so I will be forever grateful to
Then I read the free pdf The Xenakis Technique for the Construction of Four-Harness Textiles on a Rigid-Heddle, by David Xenakis. Very entartaining too, as the author has a somewhat meandering language, so if you are trying to get straight to the point this may not be for you.
What is certainly worth the (little!) investment is the excellent and crystal clear Weaving With Three Rigid Heddles, by Reverend David B. Mckinney, available easily as ebook. This covers everything, including converting drafts for three heddles, weaving a sampler, and even doing double weave. With a little patience the Rigid Heddle Loom can be incredibly rewarding!
How to weave: learning from instructional videos
I also find Amy McKnight exemplarily clear. She is still growing her webpage, but is also quite present on Facebook.
Finally, another source of knowledge are the webpages of the various manufacturers: they’ve got typically videos and blogs to get you going and exploring. My most frequent go to is Ashford, including their blog, where you will also find projects. Weft Blown, one of my favourite shops, has a blog with concise but extensive information, here.
How to weave: learning from projects
Besides’s Liz Gipson’s book mentioned above, if you sew (and even if you do not) you can also keep going as you are on plain weave but creating with yarn you have to play with texture and try some of Sarah Howard’s patterns (no affiliation, just a very satisfied customer – I think I’ve only not bought four or five of them), which are designed specifically for the rigid heddle loom in mind (I also have a 16” rigid heddle loom, and made this on it – sorry to brag, I still cannot believe I did that! My first ever sewing project was another of Sarah Howard’s pattern, turned into this skirt.)
And then of course the “obvious” sources of projects: magazines! Handwoven magazine in particular always has some Rigid Heddle Loom projects, but once equipped with the knowledge to weave 4 shaft patterns, there are loads of such projects there too!
Learning from the net
If you landed on this page, you were possibly surfing the net – it is where I found all the above! Let me just add a couple of more places you may want to check out, again specific to rigid heddle loom weaving:
Ravelry’s Rigid Heddle Looms group (you must be a Ravelry member)
Facebook Rigid Heddle Loom Weaving group (private group, you must have a Facebook account).