Not So Rigid Weaver

Musings on weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom and beyond

What size of loom do I need to weave ___?

When I was deciding on a loom, I found it was hard to figure out what size of loom I needed to weave the kinds of things I was interested in - 16” seemed big enough for placemats, but some sources suggested at least 20”. So I looked up a bunch of patterns and came up with this list of common weaving widths, aka, the size of loom you need to make the item.

The finished width of a piece will usually be smaller than it's width at the heddle, due to draw-in (which occurs during the weaving process) and shrinkage (during wet finishing). The exact amount of this will vary by weaving techniques and materials. As an extremely rough rule of thumb, that is often 10-20% of the width.

Here are some items commonly woven as one piece of fabric and a range of common sizes for patterns, presented in rough order of minimum weaving width. The small end may be a bare minimum and smaller than ideal - for example, the towels I can make on my 16” loom are about in line with my smallest commercial towels, but most towels are a bit larger.

Description Typical Weaving Width Range
Bracelets, Bookmarks, etc 1-2”
Coasters 4-5”
Small Pouch - pencil case, make up bag 6”+ (2 pieces), 10”+ (1 piece)
Cover, e.g. small notebook or e-reader 6-10”
Decorative Wall Hangings / Tapestry Varies
Small purse, clutch, etc 8”-12”
Wash Cloth, Dish cloth 9”-12”
Pot Holder 7-12”
Most Scarves, cowls, etc* 7”-16”
Table Runner 10-20”
Napkin 10-24”+
Placemat 15-16”
Towels (e.g. tea towels, dish towels, hand towels) 15-24”
Tote Bags 14”-24”+
Pillow Cover (e.g. throw pillow) 17-24”
Shawls and wider scarves* 12-30”+
Bandana 24” (adult)
Small Rug, e.g. bathmat 24”+

*Note that there’s a lot of overlap in what people call a scarf vs a shawl.

Now, does this mean it's impossible to make an item on a loom that is too small? No, though this will work better for some items than others. Larger items can be made out of multiple pieces of fabric joined together, or, with two heddles, it is possible to weave double width fabric, though the fold is often visible. Or you could weave some fabric and use it as an accent with a commercial fabric backing or border, e.g. on a bag or a pillow.

Blankets range widely in size and are commonly woven in multiple panels. As one panel, a 15” loom could make a small security blanket or lovey for a baby, a 32” loom could make a baby blanket for a stroller, while a 48” could make a lap blanket or a narrow throw. But you can make a blanket out of any size loom, it's just a matter of how much piecing together you'd do. For example, the Cabin Blanket by Purl Soho uses a 10” weaving width to weave a blanket out of 5 panels. But if you want to weave a lot of blankets and don't want to be spending as much time piecing them together, a 20”+ loom could do a 3 panel throw or a two panel baby blanket, while a 30”+ could do a 2 panel throw.

Clothing is another category of things people might make with weaving. I am not a sewer, but in Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom Syne Mitchell mentions that many standard patterns can be made with fabric 15-20” wide; this would imply a weaving width a bit larger. There are also patterns out there with handwoven fabrics in mind; there are some inventive designs making use of quite small looms, up to things like a Poncho or Ruana which often use closer to 24” weaving width, but could be pieced together from smaller strips as well.

One other consideration is that it can be awkward to set up and weave at the maximum width and many people like to stick to items that are about ½-1” narrower.

For any other items you might think of that aren’t on the list, just keep in mind that the finished size of the cloth will be smaller due to draw in and shrinkage, often around 10-20%, though this varies by material, weave structure, and desired finishing - felting wool, for example, will make it much smaller, while acrylics don’t tend to shrink as much. And of course items that are sewn together will often require seam allowances.

If you'd like to follow a particular project on your loom that isn't quite wide enough, for example to turn a 20” towel pattern into a 15” towel, there's usually ways to make it narrower - reducing the number of repeating sections, making each one a bit narrower, or cutting some elements out entirely. There's a more in depth explanation, using some multi-shaft terminology but the concepts are the same, in Reducing Warp Widths to Fit Your Loom.

I hope this helps you figure out what size of loom you need!

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