Not So Rigid Weaver

Musings on weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom and beyond

Frugal Buyer's Guide for Rigid Heddle Weavers


So you've bought or are thinking of buying a rigid heddle loom, and are wondering what accessories to get? Here are my thoughts as a "frugal under-buyer" a year into my weaving journey on what tools and accessories you should buy soon and what you can hold off on to save more money for yarn (or anything else!)

Absolute Basics #

Most new rigid heddle looms come with the basic absolute necessities, if you're missing any of these you'll want to address that right away!

  • The loom
  • 2 Stick Shuttles
  • 1 Rigid Heddle, usually 7.5-10 DPI
  • Warping Peg and clamps
  • A threading hook

The warping peg and clamps can be substituted with a warping board, and you can live with one shuttle for a bit.

Tools you'll probably want soon #

These are the tools you might consider ordering with your loom, or for your second or third project.

High Priority Tools
  1. Darning or Tapestry Needle(s)
    This is the one thing I think really should be added to the standard box! Many projects particularly with a fringe are finished using hemstitching along the edge and a suitably thick yarn needle is extremely useful. Many people like a bent tip needle for this purpose but it's not a requirement. You can do a knotted fringe without it or hem items like towels on a sewing machine, but hemstitching is used for many finishes. I ordered a plastic tapestry needle with my loom because it's what the store I ordered from had, but it's quite large, and I later got a set of metal needles. Often needles come with a few different sizes, but one thing I learned is that the sizing of needles depends on what kind of needle it is! I think I ended up taking a couple scraps of yarn to a fabric store one day to find some suitable ones.

  2. Scissors and/or Shears
    You'll want a decent pair of larger scissors for cutting projects off the loom, and a pair of small scissors to cut threads are also useful.

  3. Pick Up Stick
    Pick up sticks are used to add texture to rigid heddle weaving. A dedicated pick up stick isn't a complete must but it's very handy. There are many things that can be used as a substitute: An empty stick shuttle, a ruler, a paint stir stick, but the pointed end is a little bit easier to use. I ended up getting one that was a bit too wide for my loom - the store listing advised going slightly longer than the weaving width, but it turns out Ashford makes a 17" for the 16" Rigid Heddle loom, and a 16" for the 16" Sample-It which is a little narrower inside the frame, so I now have a sanded down 17" and a 14" stick.

  4. One or two different sizes of rigid heddle
    Some people go all out and buy every size of heddle that comes with the loom, and I went the other direction of buying a lot of yarn to work with the 7.5 DPI heddle that came with my loom. In retrospect, I would suggest buying one or two sizes fairly early on based on what kind of projects you want to make; but you can always buy these while ordering yarn for a project! I find 10 and 12/12.5 DPI heddles come up the most in projects in books and magazines, particularly for towels, scarves, placemats, etc., while blankets are more likely to use 5 or 7.5/8.

  5. Extra stick shuttles in a few different sizes
    Most looms come with 2 shuttles about the weaving width of the loom. While that covers the basics, a lot of projects use 3 or 4 different yarns (or even more!). It's also useful to have different sizes of shuttles as if you are doing a narrower project it's easier to work with a shorter shuttle, and even quite a short shuttle is a lot easier to work with than a yarn butterfly or improvised cardboard shuttle! I would suggest picking up 1-3 additional shuttles in smaller sizes a few inches apart. I've ended up with one each of 6" (more for band weaving), 10", and 14" shuttles, in addition to the 2 18" shuttles that came with my loom. I may pick up a 12" if I order from somewhere that carries that size! You can skip this if you want to try out boat shuttles.

  6. Rotary cutter and cutting mat
    It's much easier to cut a straight fringe with these tools than with scissors, but less important than having a decent pair of scissors! I bought a small 18" wide mat given that my loom is 16", but if I were to do it again I might go a size up.

More situational accessories #

These accessories come down to what kind of loom you have, and what kind of projects you want to do. You'll probably want some of them.

  1. A stand
    My loom is a little 16" Sample-It that I can use in a variety of positions including on my lap, on a table, against the edge of a table, etc. and I have not felt the need for a stand, but I know people with larger and heavier looms are often much more comfortable with a stand, though it is a personal choice.

  2. Yarn Swift and Ball Winder
    A yarn swift and ball winder are really helpful if buying yarn that comes in hanks (also frequently referred to as skeins), and unnecessary otherwise. Hanks are a method of yarn organization that is useful for dying, so hand dyed yarns almost always come this way, and it's generally associated with 'premium' knitting yarns. You can see how I dealt with them before I got a yarn swift in my post Dealing with hanks of yarn. The yarn swift and ball winder are so much easier!

    The yarn swift holds the hank of yarn and lets it spin around while being wound onto something else, be that a ball, or warping directly from the swift, or winding onto a shuttle. A ball winder works with a yarn swift to quickly wind the yarn into an easy to use ball; however this is less important with weaving than it is for knitting as you can warp, or wind onto a shuttle directly from a yarn swift, though the ball winder is helpful for dealing with leftovers or if you're warping multiple colors from hanks. It can also be helpful for winding yarn off of a cone in order to double it, though if buying mainly for this purpose I'd suggest looking at a bobbin winder for weaving as they're more designed for use with finer yarns. These are things you'll need infrequently and can perhaps borrow from a knitting friend when needed.

  3. Warping Board or Mill
    Direct warping is a quick and easy way to get started, but some projects do lend themselves better to indirect warping and it can take up less space. It's not something I've bought yet a year into weaving, but, I will eventually! A warping board is a board with pegs in it for winding a warp, while a warping mill is more of a rotating tower that you wind the yarn around. Warping mills are mostly for really long warps more typical of floor loom weaving but there are some smaller tabletop ones available and some prefer the ergonomics of the mill over a board. A couple models of loom have a built in warping board option with holes for pegs on the back, and even if you need to buy the pegs separately it's much cheaper than a standalone warping board.

  4. Sewing machine
    If you're making a lot of hemmed items you may want a sewing machine. A lot of finishing instructions are written assuming access to a sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch. If you prefer to hand sew there's always a way though!

  5. Boat Shuttles, Bobbins, and Bobbin Winder
    These tools go together, though, I've seen ways of rigging up an electric drill as a bobbin winder. I haven't gotten in to boat shuttles on my rigid heddle loom though I did use them when I wove on my grandmothers table loom as a child. Boat shuttles allow for faster weaving particularly on wider looms and with finer yarns. My understanding is on a rigid heddle loom you want to look for a fairly slim boat shuttle as the sheds are smaller than on most floor or table looms, and that they work better with some rigid heddle looms than others.

Accessories I don't suggest buying right away #

These are some things beginners sometimes jump into that I suggest holding off until you have a specific project in mind and know what you're getting into.

  1. Double Heddle Block and multiples of a size of heddle
    I would suggest getting a few projects under your belt before thinking about using double heddles, and trying a double heddle project at one size before investing in more than one second heddle. Also make sure before buying a double heddle block that you actually need it for your loom - many models now come with built in double heddle blocks but have parts available for older models. In terms of which heddle to get for a first doubled project, 10DPI seems like a good option if your goal is to pursue finer projects, as a sett of 20 EPI is perfect for the weaver's staple of 8/2 cotton, and can also be useful for a light weight blanket as a double weave project; while if you're interested in double weave for blankets 5 or 7.5/8 would be good options. Sometimes I see used loom listings where someone went out and bought 2 of every size of heddle and most of them have never been taken out of the packaging!

  2. Variable Dent Heddles
    Variable dent heddles are much more expensive than standard fixed heddles. Some beginners buy them thinking it's a universal heddle, but they are really more intended to enable projects working with different setts, e.g. major differences in thickness of warp yarns or spacing. They don't typically come with enough pieces to do anything close to full width at one size, and not all manufacturers sell the segments separately. They wind up being a fairly expensive niche tool that you may or may not ever want to use.

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of what to buy with your loom or soon after, and what to wait on!

Check out Not So Rigid Designer, my online weaving software for rigid heddle loom weavers!