Big and Small: Using Two Rigid Heddles for Two Densities

We receive frequent questions about what structures can be woven on a rigid-heddle loom. Here’s Jane Patrick, former Handwoven editor and author of The Weaver’s Idea Book to tell you about a technique she’s been exploring to create mixed-density scarves using two rigid heddles.

I’ve been weaving a lot lately with knitting yarns for my new scarf book that Interweave will publish in June of next year (Woven Scarves eBook by Jane Patrick and Stephanie Flynn Sokolov). Working with friend and colleague Stephanie Flynn Sokolov, my coauthor, we’ve been experimenting with many unlikely candidates that I don’t know that I’d dare to try on my floor loom. Somehow it seems we can get away with more on the rigid-heddle loom; perhaps it’s because there’s a shorter distance that the yarn needs to be supported, or maybe it’s because the yarns are not under as much tension as on a floor loom. Thus far, for warp (you can about weave anything in the weft,) we’ve successfully tried a felted roving, yarns with tendrils, and thick and thin woolies, to mention a few. And man, oh, man, is there a plethora of great knitting yarns out there that just want to be woven!

Using Two Rigid Heddles: Threading the first heddle.

Threading the first heddle.

Along the way, I’ve also been revisiting two-heddle weaving using different- sized yarns for two densities. I learned about different densities a few years ago on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. The backstrap weavers attached sections of flexible heddles made from finishing line to the backs of their rigid heddles as a way to create areas of higher warp density. Using two rigid heddles gives the same effect and is easy to do. Though you can weave with two heddles on most rigid-heddle looms, it is easier if the loom is designed for two-heddle weaving. (I used the Flip loom from Schacht here.)

Threading the second heddle.

Threading the second heddle.

For this example, I used knitting yarns from Mango Moon. The warp is a combination of a ribbon yarn from Crystal Palace alternated with 2-ply merino wool (Bulu) in dark blue and white. The weft is a softly textured novelty yarn, Bueno, from Mango Moon blends. I measured 18 ends of ribbon on a warping board and then made a warp chain of these. Then I measured the blue and white Bulu together on the warping board for a total of 64 yards (32 of each color). I made a warp chain of this.

Two 5-dent heddles yielded sections threaded for 5 epi and 10 epi, perfect for my intended yarns. I tied the warp chains to the front of the loom and threaded the heddle starting with Bulu, threading 2 blue ends and 1 white end in the slots and 1 white end in the holes for a total of 16 ends. I then carefully laid down that warp cross and picked up the ribbon and measured 1 end in a hole and 1 end in a slot for a total of 6 warp ends. I repeated this pattern until all warps were threaded, ending with Bulu.

The weaving underway.

The weaving underway.

After threading the first heddle, I threaded the second heddle (see illustration). When threading two heddles, it is important to begin correctly. Starting at the right side (working from the back of the loom), find the slot in the unthreaded heddle that corresponds to the threaded heddle and then move out to the side 1 slot. Begin threading here. Remember always that the three threads in the slots in the threaded heddle will be placed slot, hole, slot in the unthreaded heddle. You’ll place the hole thread in the same slot as the last of the three slot threads. When you begin with the next three threads, one will go into the same slot with the last two, and so on, so that there are always 3 threads in a slot. To keep my dark and light threads alternating, I threaded the white thread from the slot in the first heddle into the hole in the front heddle.

When you thread the ribbon yarns, place a hole thread and a slot thread together in the next slot. You’ll notice that a hole is skipped. This is as it should be.

Once you have the heddles threaded and the warp wound onto the back beam, you’re ready to weave. You’ll just use the heddles together and weave up, down, up, down for plain weave. To create a float pattern I wove as follows beginning after a down shed: heddle II up, heddle I down, heddle I up, repeat.

TIP: A keeper string can help you tame crossed warp threads. 

TIP: A keeper string can help you tame crossed warp threads. 

If you find that the threads are crossed behind the heddle and this is causing yarns to hang up on each other, place a “keeper” string across the back of the warp. This keeps the crossed threads at the back of the loom away from the heddle. To do this, open the shed and insert a smooth string into the shed behind the heddle. Change sheds and weave the string back through this shed and tie the ends together. You’ll need to occasionally slide the string to the back as you advance the warp. (I learned this handy little trick from the good folks at Yarn Barn in Kansas.)

If you’ve never woven with two heddles before, you might check out my book, The Weaver’s Idea Book, chapter 5, that talks about threading and weaving with two heddles. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Happy weaving,
Jane Patrick

Originally posted on August 15, 2012. Featured Image: Photo by George Boe. The pattern for the Classic Houndstooth Placemats is available in Easy Weaving with Little Looms 2017.

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