Getting started with tablet weaving #4

Like loom weaving, tablet/card weaving has a shed into which you pass the weft. The shed is formed by the gap created between the top two threads and bottom two threads in each card.

diagram showing a tablet and shed

Now here we are looking at the shed from the side and I’m showing just one card for clarity. The weft is passed through the gap in the threads closest to the weaver.

If you’re a loom weaver, you’re probably thinking that this is all fairly familiar and that’s right. The principle is the same.

But what happens when you rotate your tablet/card? Let’s look at that:

diagram showing the shed change in tablet weavingYou can see the threads that make up the top and bottom of the shed change slightly as the holes in the card/tablet are rotated. So in the first image the top of the shed is made up of the threads from the D&A holes. After the tablet is turned, the top of the shed is made up of the threads from the A&B holes.

Bloopers #1

So this post is all about mistakes. Weaving presents a great ability to make mistakes, simply because a lot of the different types of mistakes will only show on the other side of the fabric; the side you can’t see without turning the loom over!

You’ll notice that I’m so sure there’ll be more mistakes to show in future, that I’ve marked this post as just #1? Well, that’s partly because of the kind of mistakes I’ve made so far – most I didn’t see at all until the cloth was off the loom.

Here are three bloopers:

image of three scarfs showing errors

On the left you’ll see some super long floats. This is the “back” of the scarf and the floats were caused be me screwing up my treadling order (the order I was lifting “shafts” in).

In the middle is a straight pattern stuff up, which I probably should have seen as this is the front of the scarf!

On the right is another back-of-scarf problem. This time the pattern got messed up because my shed wasn’t clean. As I ran out of warp my shed got a little messy and I ended up using a pick-up stick to tidy it up.

So, I think that another benefit of a rigid heddle loom is that you can turn it on its side and take a peek at the underside of the web. Now I just need to remember to do it before I wind forward!

Another thing I learnt (though really it’s just common sense) is to not weave patterns when tired.

Playing with pick-up sticks

Pick-up sticks, or pattern sticks, are a neat way to do patterns using floats or supplementary weft. On rigid heddle looms they’re a way to introduce a whole range of different patterns and textures, including making “lace” and things like waffle weave.

So, what are pick-up sticks in weaving? A flat stick that is wide enough to give you a useable shed, when inserted between warp threads and turned on its edge. Though my first pick-up stick was a spatula! (I was impatient to try the technique.) And many weavers repurpose stick shuttles for this.

Pick up stick
Pick up stick

Generally you put your reed/heddle into a down-shed and then slip the stick under the desired slot threads behind the reed/heddle (e.g. under every third thread). You then alternate weaving normal tabby picks and pattern picks where you put the pick-up stick on its edge to create a shed. There are plenty of videos online showing how to do this, so I won’t go into it too much, but here are a few pics to give you an idea:

image of a pick up stick inserted between threads
Stick inserted under the desired threads behind the reed.
Image of a pickup stick in use
Stick turned on its edge. This should be hard up against the reed to get a good size shed in front.

It is very easy to miss a thread when using pick-up sticks and I found it helped to put a piece of stiff paper – in a contrasting colour – under my slot threads, so I could see them clearly.

Some people actually pick up in front of the reed/heddle (easier to reach), turn the pick-up stick on edge to create a shed and then insert a second pick-up stick into the shed behind the reed/heddle, finally removing the first pick-up stick.

I must say it makes me nostalgic for the more commonly known kind of pick-up stick!

the game of pick up sticks

Fuelling a shuttle

image of the space shuttle in spaceI miss the shuttle. It was such a cool and technologically wonderful part of human endeavour! So I’m using this post about a different sort of shuttle, as an excuse to put up a pic and give it a little love.  🙂

And now to those other shuttles… I use stick shuttles with my rigid heddle loom and, I may have mentioned I work with knitting yarns. This poses the question; how much 8ply can I and should I put on my shuttle?

Well, in answer to the first part of that, I’ve discovered I can get an entire 50g ball of cotton – approx. 106 metres – on my big shuttle (56cm).

image of a stick shuttle

The second part of the question can be answered with another question; how deep is your shed? I could just squeak that shuttle through the shed, so it worked out well.

image of a weaving shed
This is the warp for the second “spot” scarf

Pity I didn’t take a pic of the shuttle in the shed… ah well.

I guess the final consideration for me in loading up my shuttle is that I don’t want too many joins in my scarfs, so I’ve tried to get as much on as possible! Also why I’m using my big shuttle even though I’m weaving much narrower pieces than that.

Of course, I’m also weaving without a pattern here so I don’t ever know how much yarn the scarf will take. My last scarf, I ran out within about 15cms of the end, which was quite amusing.

Picking and throwing boats and sticks

Over the last couple of posts I’ve talked a lot about warp. In this post I want to come back to weft and give it some overdue attention.

For a start, how do we get our weft through the shed? Well, you might remember this picture where there is a “shuttle” sitting inside the shed waiting to be used.

rigid heddle loom with a shuttle in the shed

The shuttle is like a bobbin or reel of yarn that you wind yourself and then for each “pick” (row) of weft, you move it through the shed.  So, yes, I was making a pick pun with the title of this post.

There are two basic shuttle types. The one above is a “stick shuttle”. You wind the yarn around it and unwind a enough for a pick or two as needed.

If remembering to unwind a bit of yarn before you put it through the shed, isn’t your thing, then you have the boat shuttle. These have a reel/bobbin inside them and the yarn comes off it as required.


You’ll notice the boat shuttle is quite compact. This is part of the reason weavers also use the term “throw” for a pick / row of weft. You do actually need to throw it through the shed on a wide piece of fabric.  So, yes, I made pick and throw puns in my heading for this post! 😉

Whichever type of shuttle you choose to use, you may have just one for a project, or you may have two (or more!) if you’re changing directions/yarns/colours in the weft.

By the way, each row of weft can also be called a “shot” of weft. What is it with weavers and having 4 names for everything?!

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 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.