Knitty: little purls of wisdom

spacerI've used every style of loom there is, but once I met the rigid-heddle loom I found my muse. She's accessible, portable, versatile, and so easy to set up that she allows me to iterate through my ideas quickly making it more likely that I will remember my head smacks and less likely to repeat them.

This column is for knitters (and other fiberists) who will appreciate the speed at which you can crank out cloth, use up your stash, and teach your yarn to do new things. The gross motor movements of weaving are a nice break from the intimacy of knitting without sacrificing the feeling of handwork.

To the loom, knitters, to the loom!

Yarn Lovers Meet the Rigid-heddle Loom

Yarn, yarn, yarn, yarn, yarn. That is what we all have in common. We adore yarn, but the way you and I work with it may differ. As a Knitty reader, you most likely make yarn go loop-de-loop. As a weaver, I make yarn go over-under.

beauty shot

a rigid heddle loom

I am a huge fan of the rigid-heddle loom (one is shown above). It uses yarns you already have, and it is is portable, inexpensive, and versatile -- a loom any knitter could love.

I get a lot of questions about exactly what is a rigid-heddle loom. It is the perfect blend of functionality and simplicity. Working on this loom likens to the handwork of knitting, while giving you the efficiency of the loom without the complicated set up.

How the Rigid Heddle Loom Works

Below is a rigid heddle. It is compised of a series of plastic heddles that are held rigid. The heddles are the pieces with the hole in the middle. Between these heddles are spaces reffered to as slots. When you thread the loom, you place yarns in the slots and in the holes. The yarns threaded in the slots can move freely, and the yarns threaded in the holes are fixed. This yarn collectively is called warp, and the act of dressing the loom is called warping.

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rigid heddle

Manufactuing technology has allowed loom makers to create better -- and cuter -- looms more effeciently. The particular loom I'm showing you in this article is called a Cricket manufactured by Schacht Spindle Company. Manufacturers such as Ashford, Kromski, and Glimakra make many variations of the rigid-heddle loom using different names such as the Knitters Loom (Ashford), the Harp (Kromski), and Emilia (Glimakra) because they don't want the loom to sound hard to use or boring. They are all still rigid-heddle looms because of the ingenious nature of that particular part.

Below is the rigid heddle placed in the a frame designed to support it. These two parts -- the rigid heddle and the frame -- make up the loom. The frame is comprized of the heddle block in the middle of the frame that supports the heddle as it is placed in different positions. The warp is tied to the beam via apron rods which are secured to the beam with an apron cord. A brake mechanism allows you to keep the yarn taut and to advance the warp as you weave. These simple innovations were revolutionary in their time.

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rigid heddle loom

When you lift the rigid heddle up, the yarn in the holes are pulled above the yarn in the slots. The opposite happens when you push the yarn down, creating two sheds -- the space between the hole threads and the slot threads where you place the shuttle (see photo below). The yarn you weave with is wound on a shuttle, passed through a shed, and then pressed into place with the rigid heddle. You then change the rigid-heddle's position -- either up or down -- and pass the yarn back through, pressing that yarn into place. This is sequence is repeated over and over again and it is what we think of when we say we are weaving.

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heddle up [left]; heddle down [right]

This basic construction is called plain weave. With a simply designed pick-up stick, you can pick up the slot threads -- remember they can move freely -- and create a lot more patterns, but that is for a future article.

The 64 Million Dollar Question is how do I get the yarn on the loom? It is way easier than you think. If you have a few minutes to spare, I'll show you!

This is a slowed-down, beefed-up version of my Warping in Less Than Three Minutes video. This version is available to Knitty readers via the link in this article. (If you go to Yarnworker's YouTube channel you will see the more stripped-down version.) It is a bit tongue and cheek, and it is meant to show you how easy it is to warp the loom. If you have recently purchased a loom, the manufacturer should provide you with more information on this method, called direct warping, or you can check their website for a manual.

As the saying goes, you have to be warped to weave.


That my yarn-loving friends is rigid-heddle mechanics 101. Next issue, I'll talk about how to select yarns for the loom and we will weave our first project.


designernamespacer Liz Gipson is a lover of yarn and that from which it comes -- namely the mills and fibe- bearing critters and plants. She is the author of the newly revised Weaving Made Easy and has two DVDs Slots and Holes: Three Ways to Warp a Rigid-Heddle Loom and Life After Warping: Weaving Well on your Rigid-Heddle Loom

She recently lanched Yarnworker, a source for indepentantly published patterns and know-how for the rigid-heddle loom.