Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom: Discover the Full Potential of the Rigid-Heddle Loom, for Beginners and Beyond

Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom: Discover the Full Potential of the Rigid-Heddle Loom, for Beginners and Beyond

by Syne Mitchell

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Rigid-heddle weaving is simple to learn, is easy to master, and offers a lifetime of possibilities to discover! Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom covers everything rigid-heddle weavers need to know about the craft, from the basics — how to select a loom, set it up, and get started — to a wide variety of fun techniques that yield beautiful results. Begin by exploring a variety of weave structures, including finger-manipulated laces, tapestry, and color play with stripes, plaids, and multicolor yarns. Then move on to more complex designs and irresistible projects, from pillows and curtains to bags, shawls, and even jewelry. Explore warp-face patterning, weft-pile weaving, weaving with fine threads, woven shibori, shadow weave, and the textural effects you can create with different yarns and with wire and conductive thread. Everything you need to know is here, with fully illustrated step-by-step instructions to ensure success.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603428514
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 11/14/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 229,313
File size: 62 MB
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About the Author

Syne Mitchell, author of Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom, teaches rigid-heddle weaving nationwide at conferences and private workshops. She is the host of the podcast, Weavecast, that features interviews with weavers and other artists from around the world.


Read an Excerpt


Welcome to the WARP SIDE

WEAVING IS ONE OF THE OLDEST FIBER TECHNOLOGIES, with a history that stretches back to the dawn of civilization. Woven cloth is fragile and doesn't last as long as stone arrowheads, so samples of ancient weavings are rare, but tools and images of weavers crop up in archeological finds, and on rare occasions, a precious fragment of fabric surfaces. In 2009, a team led by two Harvard professors working in the Republic of Georgia uncovered the oldest remnant of woven cloth found thus far: a 34,000-year-old piece of linen.

Whether spinning predates weaving is a mystery. Did ancient peoples twist plant leaves into cordage first, or did they begin by weaving baskets out of flexible branches? My guess is that spinning and weaving grew up together: one village learned to weave baskets, another to spin, and groups exchanged skills with each other through trade and intermarriage. In any event, you are about to embark on a textile adventure that has kept humanity warm and protected for endless generations, one that provided baskets for carrying food and clothing to protect against the elements, and that created houses to live in and burial shrouds for the grave.

The Magic and Mystery of Weaving

There are two components in weaving: warp threads and weft threads. The warp threads run lengthwise through the cloth, and the weft threads run side to side. During weaving, the warp threads are held on the loom under tension, and the weft is inserted ("thrown") by the weaver.

Cloth is created where warp and weft interlace. The mother of all weave structures is plain weave, also known as "over one, under one." This is the weave structure that many of us learned when we wove strips of colored paper together in kindergarten. But there are countless other ways to combine warp and weft. For example, by floating the weft over two threads in the warp you can create half basket weave. Or you can shift the threads so the floats move over by one each time you throw the shuttle and create a twill.

Now that you've got an idea of how cloth is made, you are only beginning to touch what I call the magic and mystery of weaving. Be careful! Many folks who try weaving get bitten by the weaving bug and soon find themselves weaving off warp after warp. I know because I'm one of them. What started as a class taken on a whim soon became an obsession that has guided and enriched my life in unexpected ways.

Why, in this age of big-box stores and cheap clothing do so many people weave? It's a question I ask myself regularly, and that I've asked other people who've made weaving their life's work or avocation. Answers vary, but it also comes down to the simple fact: weaving is fascinating.

My own reason for weaving is this: it makes my whole brain happy. There is analytical puzzle solving to delight my left hemisphere, and colors and textures galore to tickle my right. It's an art that can be as simple or as complex as you like. Three-year-olds can weave, but it's also an art form that's so rich and full of possibilities that you couldn't possibly learn it all in one lifetime.

Weaving is full of surprises, the way colors interact on the loom, for example. The tiny dots of warp and weft combine to create new, unanticipated colors. Even weavers with decades of experience can make new discoveries. The cloth changes when you take it off the loom's tension, and again after it's washed (known as wet-finishing). Something flat and lifeless on the loom might suddenly pucker into a deep waffle weave. It's this challenge and sense of discovery that keep me coming back to the loom. There's a profound sense of "what'll happen if ...?"

On the other side of the spectrum, weaving can be therapeutic. Studies with stroke patients at the University of Maryland in Baltimore have shown that rhythmic, repetitive actions that alternate using your left and right hands improve how the two sides of your brain work together. I wove a simple plain-weave fabric while recovering from jaw surgery, and found it a soothing release from pain and worry. During World Wars I and II, army hospitals used weaving as occupational therapy to help injured soldiers recover. Many of those men went on to weave a vocationally, spurring the weaving boom of the 1950s. From cloth woven in the dawn of civilization, to the woven T-164 Teflon fabric that protected Apollo astronauts on the moon, to the unimaginable future, weaving is an integral part of human civilization.

Old and New Looms: from Simple to Complex

The first question students ask me in beginning classes is "Why is it called a rigid-heddle loom?" To answer it, you first need to understand what a heddle does. On any loom, heddles select the threads the loom raises or lowers to make an opening, or shed, for the shuttle to pass through. On a back strap loom, heddles are usually created by string wrapped around a stick. In a shaft loom, heddles are usually either metal, string, or wire and are placed on shafts to make it easier to pick up complex patterns. On a rigid-heddle loom, the heddles have holes drilled in a rigid material (traditionally wood or bone, now more commonly plastic) that also acts as a warp spacer and beater. This, then, is the rigid heddle of a rigid-heddle loom. That the heddles (the patterning devices) are combined with the beater and reed (the spacing device) is the defining characteristic of a rigid-heddle loom.

Rigid-heddle looms have been found in archeological digs dating back to Roman times. The Museum of Antiquities of Newcastle University and Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne has in its collection a Roman rigid heddle that was made of bone slats bound together at the top and bottom with sheet bronze. One of the simpler looms to build (you can create one with wooden craft sticks and a bit of creativity), they have been, and continue to be, used all over the world.

What Kind of Rigid-Heddle Loom Should I Buy?

This is a question that I get asked all the time. The answer is: it depends. I've used several models of rigid-heddle looms in my classes, and they all have their pros and cons. People come in all shapes and sizes, and they weave in different ways, so the model of loom that's best for me might not be the model that's best for you. My advice is to test-drive a few looms and see what feels right. It's worth noting that although the Schacht Flip is the only rigid-heddle loom with a second heddle block built in, other companies offer second heddle blocks as add ons.

Ashford Knitter's Loom. This was the first rigid-heddle loom to revitalize rigid-heddle weaving. It's a great lightweight travel loom. The plastic gears are surprisingly strong, and it holds good tension. The 12" model fits under the seat in front of you on an airplane. The downside to this loom is that the lightweight wood does have a tendency to dent. It's the trade-off for being lightweight, and doesn't affect the weaving at all. (Ashford also carries a wider loom.)

Harrisville Easy Weaver. Sold as kids' looms, prewarped and ready for weaving, these are actually quite functional rigid-heddle looms. Their main limitation is their narrow weaving width.

Schacht Flip. This is my favorite loom for using multiple heddles during weaving because it's the only rigid-heddle loom with a second threading slot, which makes it easy to thread multiple heddles. I use the Flip as my teaching loom because they are bulletproof. I have four teaching looms that I've tossed in my car for years, banging them together, and they look as good as the day I first took them out of the box. They hold good tension, and the frames are sturdy and won't flex. The downside to the Flip? They're heavy compared to other looms.

Schacht Cricket. The Cricket is a tiny, nonfolding rigid-heddle loom. I believe it was first marketed to kids, but grownups found it sturdy and a low-cost way to get into weaving, and they snapped them up. The benefit of the Cricket is that it is small. You can weave during car trips (passenger side only!). I've fit one in my roll-on suitcase by putting it in first and packing clothes around it. The downside of the Cricket is that because of its small size, there's not much room behind the heddle for patterned pickup work.

Glimakra Emilia. The metal gears on this loom from the Swedish manufacturer Glimakra enable you to get a firm tension. Early versions had a pin placement that would cause the loom to fold during weaving if the tension was firm. The location of the pin was moved in subsequent versions.

Kromski Harp FortÉ. This loom incorporates a warping board into the back of the loom, which is nice to have but not as essential as when the loom first appeared, due to the popularity of the single-peg method of warping (see Warping with the Direct-Peg Method). It's a beautiful rigid-heddle loom, with turned-wood components and a curved frame. On the downside, I find it a bit lightweight for the strong tension I like to weave with; the frame can flex. Older versions of this loom had issues with the brakes slipping during weaving, but this has been fixed in newer versions.


Get Set to WEAVE

ONE OF THE WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT WEAVING is how easy it is to create your own designs. With just a few simple techniques, you can pull yarns from your stash to make custom creations, or wander a yarn store confident that selections in your basket will be enough yardage of the right kind of yarn for your next project.

The first thing you'll need is some idea of what you want to weave. Do you want a soft, drapey scarf? An absorbent dish towel? Gauzy curtains? Super-sturdy fabric for a bag or upholstery? The materials and methods for each one of these differ; you have to know your final destination before you can map your way there.

Most often, what you'll weave on a rigid-heddle loom is yarn: thick yarn, skinny yarn, fuzzy yarn, smooth yarn. But we'll see in later chapters that you can also weave nontraditional materials such as fabric strips, paper, metal wire, and even plants from your garden. For the moment, however, let's talk about yarn. It's good to know the basics before you experiment with the wild stuff.

Choosing Yarn

Warp and weft are the most important part of the weaving process. You can weave without a loom, but you can't weave without yarn (or other suitable materials). The warp is what you put onto the loom. The weft is what you put on a shuttle and throw through the weaving shed. When you look at cloth with the selvedges on the right and left, the warp threads run vertically and the weft threads horizontally.

Because the warp and weft yarns are what cloth is made of, it follows that you have to select yarns that have the same properties as the cloth you want to weave. There is no technique or weave structure that will let you make a next-to-the-skin soft scarf out of a wiry rug yarn. Pick yarns that already embody the qualities you want in your cloth. Want a soft and cushy scarf? Worsted-spun Merino wool is a great choice. A hard-wearing and absorbent dish towel? Put down the Merino and embrace cotton or linen. Become a fabric detective, and look at the cloth around you. You can learn much from the fiber choices of industry.

Planning and Weaving a Sample Scarf

In the pages that follow, I describe what you need to consider for your first weaving project, as well as instruction on how to wind a warp, thread the loom, and get started weaving. So that you can practice as you read, I suggest that you obtain a skein of worsted-weight yarn similar to what we used for this beginning project, with approximately 110 yards in 50 grams, and warp your loom and weave along as you read, section by section. By the time you get to the end of the chapter, you'll have woven a scarf, with a final measurement of 8" × 72".

What Makes a Good Warp Yarn?

There are urban legends floating around about what you can use to warp a loom. You'll hear people say you can't warp with handspun, or singles yarn (yarn with only one ply), or fuzzy yarns, or yarns that stretch, or yarns that are completely inelastic, or yarns that snap if you tug them hard between your hands, which is frankly damn nonsense — I've woven with all those yarns as warp. If you can get it on your loom and open a shed, you can weave it. What is true is this: an easy and reliable warp yarn is strong and smooth, and has some give and a balanced twist. Read on for what all of this means.

Strong. Strong warp threads will not break during the abuse that is weaving. You can put them under too-tight tension, abrade them with the heddle, hit them accidentally with your shuttle, and they hold together. The stronger your warp yarns, the easier your weaving will be.

One common test of a potential warp yarn's strength is the snap test. Grab either end of a section of yarn and snap your hands apart sharply. If the warp yarn survives, it'll be strong enough to weave easily. An even more important test is the drift test. Take one end of the proposed warp in each hand and apply even, slow, tension. If the yarn stretches and then stops, it's a good warp yarn. If it stretches and keeps stretching to the point that it pulls apart, use it as weft. Do not wind a warp with a yarn that drifts apart: heartache and madness will ensue.

Smooth. Smooth warp yarns, such as cotton, silk, or worsted-spun wool, slip past each other easily when you open the shed. This makes them more forgiving if you thread them too close together on the loom.

Some give. Getting even tension over the warp threads is one of the most important things to accomplish when you're setting up your loom. A warp thread that has some give will self-tension to a certain degree and make up for small tension irregularities you've introduced. Too much give, on the other hand, can make for a fabric that seems to weave well on the loom but shortens dramatically when you take it off tension and the warp relaxes. If it shortens too much, there may not be room for the weft in the cloth and it will ripple and wave. (Of course, this can be a lot of fun if it's the effect you're striving for.)

Balanced twist. To be a knowledgeable weaver, you have to understand yarn construction. Yarn is the stuff cloth is made of, after all. Nearly all yarn is created by taking short fibers, staggering their lengths, and twisting them together to make a long, continuous yarn. (The exceptions to this yarn structure are extruded yarns, such as synthetic polymer yarns, and reeled silk.) This creates a singles yarn that, because all the fibers are twisted in the same direction, has a certain amount of potential energy. If you took it into space and let it go in midair, it would untwist until it was again a poof of fluff. Back on earth, if you tried to wind a warp with it and let go for an instant, it would kink and knot back on itself in a nearly insoluble tangle. To take away the pent-up energy of the singles yarn, spinners ply two singles together in the direction opposite from the way the singles were spun. This balances the twist to create a yarn that can safely be left alone on a table without snarling.

What Makes a Good Weft Yarn?

Weft yarns live a pretty soft life. The requirements for them are much more forgiving than for warp yarns because they're not under tension, so they don't have to be as strong or as smooth as warp yarns. Unabused by the weaving process, they just hang out on the shuttle until it's their turn to go into the shed: all they need to do is fit through it and hold together long enough to be locked into place by the warp. If they're a bit weak and fragile, the strong warp is there to hold them together. In addition to fitting through the shed, however, an easy and reliable weft yarn is also flexible enough to turn easily at the selvedges.

Although the weft is playing a lesser role in the strength of the fabric, it still lends its qualities to the finished cloth, so pick a weft that complements your warp. Crossing a silk warp with wiry wool yarn will not make the lusciously soft fabric you're wishing for. (That scarf would likely outlive you, however, not only because of its strength, but also because no one would ever wear it.)

Flexible wefts are the norm, but as you will see in chapter 7, you can even weave with completely inflexible wefts.

Planning Your Width and Length

Things on the loom are not as large as they appear! Aspects of weaving such as loom waste, draw-in, and take-up each affect the finished size of your project. If you don't take them into account when planning a project, your finished cloth will be smaller than you intended.

Loom Waste

Loom waste is the simplest to understand. This is the section of warp at the beginning and end that you can't weave, either because it's used to knot the warp onto the loom or because it stays behind the heddle. The amount of loom waste is dependent on the type of loom and the technique you use to attach the warp to the loom. One of the benefits of weaving on a rigid-heddle loom is it generates very little loom waste. Whereas a standard floor loom might have a loom waste of a yard or more, the loom waste on a rigid-heddle loom is typically less than 12".


Excerpted from "Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Syne Mitchell.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Welcome to the
Warp Side
The Magic and Mystery
of Weaving
Old and New Looms:
from Simple to Complex
A Quick Tour of the
Rigid-Heddle Loom
What Kind of Rigid-Heddle
Loom Should I Buy?
Winding the Warp On
and Threading
Warping the Loom
Threading the Holes
Tying onto the Front
Preparing the Weft and
Beginning to Weave
Winding Weft Yarns
Spreading the Header
Get Set to Weave
Choosing Yarn
Planning Your Width and Length
Sett for Success
How Much Warp?
How Much Weft?
Measuring the Warp
Using the Warping
Board Method
Warping with the
Direct-Peg Method
Get Your Weave
Thing Going
Making the Shed
Finding Your Beat
Advancing the Warp
Removing Your Woven
Fabric from the Loom
Tech Support: When Things
Go Wrong
Tension Problems
No (or Teensy) Shed
Diagonal Fell Line
Selvedge Problems
Fabric That’s Too Dense or
Too Loose
Broken Warp Threads
Unweaving and Cutting Out
Getting the Perfect Finish
Securing the Weft
Wet-Finishing Your Fabric
Dealing with Warps That
Go Wrong
Removing Warp for
Future Replacement
Weaving Ugly Things
Color Theory in
a Nutshell
The Courage to Make
Colors Sing
Designing Warp-Wise Stripes
Designing Weft-Wise Stripes
Designing Plaids
Using Painted Skeins Cleverly
Slow & Fancy
Weave Structure Basics
Brooks Bouquet
Spanish Lace
Danish Medallions
Clasped Weft
Tapestry Weaving
Weft-Pile Weaves
Fast & Fancy
Floats as Design Elements
Weaving Spots
Supplemental Weft Inlay
Doup Leno
Double Your Heddle,
Double Your Fun!
Fine Cloth with Two Heddles
Theo Moorman Technique
Three-Heddle Adventures
(1-2-3-4) SAMPLER
Converting Four-Shaft
Weave Drafts for Use with
a Rigid-Heddle Loom
Textural Effects
& “Wild” Yarns
Elastic Yarns
Do-It-Yourself Yarns
Crazy-Skinny Yarns
Fuzzy Yarns
Weaving with Wire
Going Further Outside
the Yarn Box
Creating eTextiles
Woven Shibori
Shadow Weave
Beads and Baubles
Loom Maintenance
Unwanted Holiness
Loom Assembled Incorrectly
Loom Out of Square
Split Wood
Missing or Broken Brake
Removable Back Rods
It’s Cloth . . . Now What?
Weaving Fabric to Wear
Tools for Sewing Handwovens
Working with Narrow-
Width Fabric
Assembling the Pieces
Further Reading
Online Resources
Metric Conversions

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