Not So Rigid Weaver

Musings on weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom and beyond

Why I love small rigid heddle looms, especially for beginners

Rigid heddle weavers seem to be of three thoughts when it comes to what loom size a beginner should get.

Go big, go small, or go for the middle.

I am firmly in the ‘start small’ camp.

I believe that no one loom is the best for every project or situation, and if you fall in love with weaving, you will get other looms eventually; and I think that it’s easier to fall in love with a small rigid heddle loom than a bigger one. Small rigid heddle looms are easier to use, cheaper, and overall less intimidating than big looms, especially for a beginner. And if you don’t, a small loom is less of an investment, of both money and space!

I started with a little 16” Ashford Sample-It. It was my only loom for about a year and a half, and it’s still the loom I reach for most often now that I also have a 24” Ashford Rigid Heddle Loom. I looked up the width you needed to weave a bunch of common projects, which I expanded into my first blog post, and figured I really wanted to be able to at least do placemats, and that I’d want the 15-16” looms for that. 10” would have been too small for the things I was interested in weaving, but 16” has been great! The 16” is just so easy to move around, while the 24” is big enough I have to be careful through doorways; I usually warp in my basement but weave upstairs and I need to be really careful taking it around the corner up the stairs!

I frequently see advice to beginners looking for their first loom along the lines of “get the biggest loom you can afford and have space for, you can weave a smaller project on a bigger loom but can’t weave a bigger project on a smaller loom”. I disagree with this perspective; I think that you should get the smallest loom that will keep you interested for more than a few projects.

It’s easiest to weave on a loom that’s big enough for the project, but not too big, and I think beginners should start with some smaller projects to get the hang of things before putting on a big warp. Smaller looms are less of an initial investment, and many accessories like heddles are also much cheaper. Smaller heddles are lighter and easier to manipulate, especially when your project is small. And this is doubly true if you’ve got shorter arms or shoulder issues.

And you can do a bigger project on a smaller loom. You can sew panels together, or you can, if you’re up for a challenge, weave double width with 2 heddles and pick up sticks. You can make it nearly invisible, or, you can turn it into a design feature. And for really big things like blankets, even if you buy the biggest loom you can you may be piecing things together for an adult sized blanket.

A big advantage of rigid heddle looms is the fact that they are lightweight and portable relative to the weaving width, and the little ones benefit from this the most. You can travel with it, take it outside, take it to a class or workshop, and just generally use it if you want a simple plain weave project - or to do certain kinds of designs with pick up sticks that your shaft loom can’t. They can also be great to lend to people interested in trying weaving!

If you stick with weaving long enough, you’ll probably end up with more than one loom, and before you start you don’t necessarily know what direction you’re going to want to go with your weaving. I think a small rigid heddle loom is a great starting point that makes a great companion for many other styles of looms, including a bigger rigid heddle loom! If you decide to go in the direction of a floor loom, for example, you’re more likely to find a use (and space!) for a small rigid heddle loom than a big one - “I got a floor loom and don't have space” is a common reason I see people selling larger rigid heddle looms. If you decide to stick with rigid heddle looms, it can be nice to have more than one project on the go - or have a loom you can lend to a friend interested in trying out weaving.

Now, if you’ve caught the weaving bug on something like a frame loom, inkle loom, or pin loom, then, perhaps you’ve got small covered! And if you have a designated spot to weave and don’t plan on moving the loom around much, a mid sized 24” or so loom has some advantages, and if you really, truly want to focus on blankets right from the start and don’t have many small things that interest you, then perhaps consider a larger loom. And, as noted at the beginning, there’s lots of different opinions out there, and while there’s plenty of people who tried a big rigid heddle loom and decided it’s too big, there’s also people who love them! But I think for most people, erring on the side of too small for their first loom is the better choice. You can always get a bigger loom later!

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