Looms! A family of two

So, here are my looms hanging out in the craft room. Also, you can see my dappled fuchsia walls in the background. I don’t believe I’ve blogged a pic of them yet…

Two different sized Ashford's Knitters' Looms sitting on a table with windows behind

I have now dressed the little loom and am enjoying myself doing some leno; a project that’s long been sitting in the wings.

The only difference – and slightly strange thing – with the little loom, is that it only has a single heddle kit. I’ve had the double heddle kit on the big loom so long I’d forgotten how different they are!

A visit from the loom stork…

It’s finally happened. The loom stork has visited and I haz a new loom!!

Not just a new loom, but a baby loom (half the size of my first loom). It’s unbelievably adorable, like a puppy or a baby lizard. Though I didn’t get it because it’s cute… I got it because it’s practical. My other loom is very portable, but large enough to be awkward in many situations. This little guy is super-duper portable.

Also, my projects often don’t utilise the width of my bigger loom. So, the baby will mean I can do my ordinary scarfs there, while leaving the bigger loom free for double weave and other fun stuff! Well, that’s the theory.

Who is the baby? Well, he’s another rigid heddle loom that folds up into a neat carry bag; known as the Ashford’s Knitters’ Loom. He’s just smaller (30cm/12″) than my other one (70cm/28″).

As someone once said to me, looms are herd animals. My herd has begun to grow! (Baby loom photos will follow…)

A family that shares

I’ve mentioned before that my mum is a yarn-crafter, but the great thing about my family is that even where our hobbies don’t overlap, we still have an appreciation of others’ interests. Point in case being that, on a recent trip to Japan, my brother took care to photograph a traditional loom he came across at an exhibition.

As if pictures of the landscape weren’t amazing enough I got to loom-geek for a few minutes!

A little present for myself

Do you ever buy yourself a present that you know you don’t need, but you just really want? This was me the other day. I bought myself a ‘vari dent’ reed.

This allows you to mix-and-match different spacings across the width of the reed. Of course, I have a rigid heddle loom so the point of this isn’t predominantly to vary the spacing of the warp, but to weave different size yarns. That sounds like a lot of fun to me!

And this is what the Ashford’s vari dent reed looks like:

A picture of Ashford's vari dent reed


Rigid heddle looms and two shaft weaving

As I dicussed in my post about what looms do, most looms have “shafts” that allow you to lift a specific set of warp threads when you need to.

The rigid heddle loom is a bit of a special case, because it acts as a 2 shaft loom, even though all it’s heddles are all linked together. How does it achieve this? Well, by having a reed with “slots” and “holes” as you can see in the pic below.

image of the reed from a rigid heddle loom

When you raise the reed into an “up-shed”,diagram of sheds the threads in the holes get lifted up to form the top of the shed. When you lower the read into the “down-shed” position, you pull the threads in the holes down to form the bottom of the shed.

The threads in the slots don’t really move – the slot allows the reed to move around them as it is lifted or lowered.

This allows you to do some fun patterns using plain weave and techniques where you manually manipulate different threads.

Generally, the plain weave patterns will be determined by warp and weft colour…LogCabin4a

…while the manual manipulation of threads gives you textures. image of my third sample on the loom

There’ll be a lot more to come on this!

One thing to keep in mind when looking at colour patterns for 2 shaft looms, is that not all of them will conform to a neat slot/hole/slot/hole pattern. It’s easier to explain this if you think of your slots as “shaft 1” and the holes as “shaft 2”.

In some cases, a pattern might require you to thread the reed:

shaft 1/shaft 1/shaft 2/shaft 1/shaft 1/shaft 2

You can do this with a rigid heddle, but it’s important to keep in mind that the reed partly determines the spacing of your warp threads, so if you start bunching too many threads into a single slot, you might hit a problem.

The alternative is to spread the threads over multiple slots, but skip the holes between them – again, assuming this doesn’t mess with your warp spacing (sett) too much. Skills to learn!

How does a loom work?

Different looms work a little differently, but here is the basic idea…

The warp threads run from a back beam (warp beam) which is a bar the warp is tied to at the back of the loom, to a front beam (cloth beam) at the front.

A the start of your weaving, most of the warp is wound around the back beam and, as you weave you, roll the back and front beams forward, so the cloth you’re creating wraps around the front beam.

On the way from back to front, each warp thread passes through a heddle and a reed.

The heddles are attached to different shafts/harnesses and these are attached (usually tied) to some type of lever.

Image of a table loom with all the parts indicated
This is an Ashford Katie Loom which is a type of table loom. This one has 8 shafts. You can’t see the shafts in this pic really, but they are behind the levers.

You move a lever with either hand or foot and this lifts a shaft/harness, pulling the attached heddles upward. This lifts the warp thread that runs through those particular heddles and creates the “shed” (sideways-V shaped gap) for you to pass your weft thread through.

Each lever will lift a different shaft/harness and so a different group of warp threads. The more shafts/harnesses you have, the more complex the patterns you can do because you have more variations in lifting different groups of warp threads.

My rigid heddle loom does the same thing, but without the levers, as the reed – with its built-in heddles – acts as two shafts in one. You manually raise or lower the reed to create different sheds.

Don’t worry if that’s not 100% clear. The rigid heddle will get a more detailed post of its own later! In the meantime, YouTube is a great place to find video of different looms in action.

A knitters loom by Ashford

Heddles, reeds and beaters

Loving words comes in handy when there is a bunch of new terms to learn. Weaving is a treasure trove!

I particularly like “heddle” because it’s fun to say. (Also fun is “raddle”, which I’ll talk about another time.) But what is a heddle, and why is my loom a “rigid heddle” loom?

Like the eye of a needle, the heddle is the part of the loom that holds the warp thread. Usually looks a bit like this:

Image of a plastic heddle






Or this:Image of  metal heddles




The heddle is what keeps one warp thread separate from another and, ultimately, what lifts a set of warp threads up to allow you to weave.

As well as passing through the heddle, each warp thread also passes through a comb like thing called a reed. This helps to keep your weaving tidy and – to some extent – image of a metal reedcontrol the density of the cloth. It does this by setting the spacing of the warp threads.

The reed, while a thing in itself, is also a part of the beater that you use to “beat” the weft threads into place. Usually the reed sits inside a frame of sorts so that you can easily pull the reed forward to beat the weft when you need to.

So, why is my loom a “rigid heddle” loom? Well, that’s because in this type of loom the heddle, the reed and the beater bar/frame are all together as one thing. How? Like this:

image of the reed from a rigid heddle loom

You can see the long “slots” are just like in a reed for other looms, but the solid area between each slot is a heddle (“hole”) and it’s altogether used as the beater. Very clever way to combine 3 things into one!

I’ll talk more about this type of reed when I get into the specifics of rigid heddle looms, but it has both benefits and limitations. So far, I’m just loving the benefits.

How a loom helps us weave

Here is a picture of a loom:

a matchbox loom

Yes, it’s a matchbox.

This was the very first type of loom I ever used, because when you work with seed-beads everything is on a small scale.

But what is the matchbox doing?


Well, it’s holding the warp threads in place and under tension, so that the person in the picture (that’s not my hand) can use a needle to pass the weft thread over and under the warp threads.

This kind of loom is basically a frame for holding the warp.

Of course, most looms do a lot more than this; importantly they allow you to sandwich the weft between two sets of warp threads, rather than manually feeding the weft over and under each one. This makes weaving faster.

The loom achieves this by lifting one group of warp threads to make a gap for you to pass the weft through.

In this image, you can see that the shuttle holding the weft thread is actually sitting in the gap between two sets of warp threads (that gap is called a shed). When that gap closes, the weft thread ends up under the top group of weft and over the bottom group, giving you the over, under structure.

rigid heddle loom with a shuttle in the shed

Another thing the loom does to help out, is to press the weft into place – this is called beating – which keeps the weft tidy and determining how closely the weft threads are packed into the warp.

How the loom achieves all this I’ll cover in another post, but before we finish, take a look at the image above and how the woven cloth wraps around the front of the loom. This is one more helpful thing, because that cloth beam, as it’s sometimes called, stores the cloth and keeps it out of harm’s way while you continue weaving.

Looms, looms, looms!

A post or two from now, I’m going to start talking about looms. There are all kinds of looms out there, but I want to focus on what I’ve found useful as a new weaver, which means I will focus on rigid heddle looms and shaft/harness looms.

As I don’t want to leave the other types of loom weaving out entirely, I thought I’d do a pictorial list. I’m sure I’ll have missed some, but these are the main types I’ve come across.

First up is a frame loom, though this is a small version of what is used for tapestry and sometimes rag rugs.

image of a frame loom

Then there is the pin loom, which makes squares with bobbly edges.

Image of a pin loom

The rigid heddle is the loom I use.

A knitters loom by Ashford

This is a backstrap loom. Makes the most sense when you see it in use!

image of a person using a backstrap loom

This is an inkle loom for making bands.

image of an inkle loom

Here is a tablet loom. Tablets are quite an old way to weave.

tablet weaving loom

Peg looms are a very old type of loom.

Image of a peg loom

A table loom, so called because it sits on a table.

image of a table loom

Floor loom – well, that’s just self explanatory!

image of a Julia Floor Loom