Creative Weaving on a Rigid-Heddle Loom

Full Disclosure: I have a 24-harness 45″ wide loom that takes up most of a room. It’s tall and sturdy—in fact, I like to joke that if that big earthquake ever hits here in Southern California I’m hiding inside it. What that big loom isn’t, is flexible and portable. It is quite large and because I tend toward inertia, it might prevent me from ever relocating. Just the thought of figuring out how to move it is tiring. As for flexibility, I guess you could say being able to change tie-up and treadling sequences using a computer is an advantage but it isn’t the loom I look to for sampling and experimenting. Flexibility and portability are two attributes I associate with the rigid-heddle loom, and I think they are what make them such a popular tool in weaving. Their portability is easy to describe: rigid-heddle looms are looms that travel easily from room to room and from house to house. I’m pretty sure that someone at some point has brought one in their carry-on bag and woven on their way across country. Having met my husband on an airplane, I can only imagine the conversations that could start.

Flexibility is what makes them the loom I often reach for when I have an idea in my head that needs to get out. From seeing the rigid-heddle projects in Handwoven, at my local guild, and on the internet, I know I’m not alone. The ease and speed of direct warping allows for a quick start up and gets the weaver to weaving faster than other looms. I believe for many of us, having that shorter time commitment up front allows more freedom of expression.

This free-form overshot technique is perfect for the rigid-heddle loom

This free-form overshot technique is perfect for the rigid-heddle loom

That freedom of expression can be seen in the beautiful Mermaid Scarf by Lisa Rayner on the cover of Handwoven November/December 2015. Without the ease of pick-up the rigid-heddle loom affords, that scarf might never have been woven. Because the loom works well with knitting yarns, many projects that would probably be difficult to weave on a harness loom have come to be, such as Judy Pagel’s Classic Caplet featured both in Handwoven May/June 2015 and in the book Simple Woven Garments that uses Brooks bouquet and a fingering weight yarn. Finally, and not to blow my own horn, I can tell you definitively I would never have thought of doing the little inlay squares on my towels that were in Handwoven September/October 2014 if I hadn’t been working on a rigid heddle loom and “playing around.”

My advice: learn your looms’ strengths. Use your multiple-harness looms for what they are intended for and look to your rigid-heddle loom for the freedom of expression it allows. And when that earthquake hits, join me in my loom, with your rigid-heddle loom.

–Susan

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