I ended up with a small amount of money from my mom’s estate as a gift from my dad. She was a crafter so I thought she would appreciate me taking some of it to start a new hobby.
I was all into rigid heddle weaving research. I requested books from the library, started researching looms, joined Facebook groups despite loathing Facebook. I was ready!
Then I realized that there were no places near Baltimore City where I live that really have any supplies for any sort of weaving at all, much less rigid heddle weaving. Oddly, there is a yarn store across town that has giant floor looms for rent in a studio but they don’t have any smaller weaving items at all. I actually found that store to be very cliquish and didn’t really want to buy from them but I would have if they had anything!
If not locally, where do I buy my loom and supplies?
I soon realized that the yarn store I wandered into on a deserted main street about 5 years ago on a trip to Kentucky after visiting a small candy factory where I bought a rug hooking kit that took me until this spring to actually make, is a big name in loom shopping and weaving. Who knew? So I decided to order from the Woolery. They were so nice when we visited I figured they could get all my money.
But what loom do I buy? I soon found out that there isn’t as much information about looms and weaving as you would think. Many, many, possibly most websites and forums seem to assume that you already know how to weave and what you are doing when you are picking out a loom. Real comparisons were rare.
I quickly realized that the big names in Rigid Heddle Looms were my old friend Schacht, Ashford and Kromski. Schacht is US based but Ashford is based in New Zealand and Kromski in Poland. The availability of each seems roughly the same. I did notice that the stores that carried a small amount of rigid heddle items in my start did only carry the Schacht and the Ashford but I’m not sure if that is true nationally.
Schacht has a loom called “Cricket” that apparently was aimed at children initially but adults took to it as well. It seems like most of the focus at least at first in rigid heddle looms was for play or for sampling weaves that you would then make on your more complicated multishaft tabletop or floor looms. Then people started enjoying it for what it was and focusing on the rigid heddle loom for actual projects and becoming primarily rigid heddle loom weavers vs floor or tabletop weavers who dabbled in the rigid heddle. I got this impression from the plethora of “you know what, I actually like it” and slightly and oddly apologetic message board, website and blog posts about the RHL and the fact that there are very few books explicitly on weaving rigid heddle looms.
While doing this pieced together ragtag research I realized that most if not all of the Schacht and Ashford looms are sold unfinished. No thank you. When I get something I’m spending hundreds of dollars on I do not want to have to wax or stain it myself. This might not be true of you but I’m just not doing it. I know this about myself. It would be a real barrier to ever getting that thing out of the box and doing anything with it. It took years for me to do that rug hooking kit because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was worried it didn’t have enough yarn if I messed up.
Kromski it is! I did a cursory check to make sure the company hasn’t been mired in some sort of scandal and it came up clean. It also came with the most accessories of the looms as far as I could tell. The back doubles as a warping board to help you measure and prepare your yarn, a peg to help warp, shuttles to hold your yarn and a pick-up-stick to create designs as well as the basic heddle. The newest Kromski Harp Forte also came (unexpectedly!) with a double heddle block which allows you to use two heddles for more intricate designs and which used to be something you’d have to buy separately. I also liked that the Kromski was all metal and wood–no plastic cranks or pieces like Schacht and Ashford.
Now what size loom to do I get? Again, I found virtually no good, concrete aimed at complete novice weavers information.
Since the width is set, you can’t make anything wider than your loom without having to make it twice and stitching it together somehow. So a lot of scarves, narrow wraps, table runners and towels for your smaller 16 or 20 inch looms. The 8 inch is obviously even more limiting. Larger looms can make anything the smaller looms can but can also make wider items like blankets, wide wraps and even ponchos, wider fabric to cut to make bags, pillow cases, curtains etc. The loom mechanics are basically the same in both, the larger ones are just bigger. I couldn’t find a consensus on what was better for beginners and why. I had to rely heavily on the very good and detailed reviews people left on the looms on the Woolery site (I bet they are so good because so many people are in the same position I am of not being about find anything out online or in books and having to wing it). They were mostly pretty evenly divided between people who love the near lap capabilities of the smaller 16 inch looms and those who deeply wished they had bought a larger loom because they love it so much and don’t want to be stuck making scarves forever. A lot of the negative comments about the larger looms was how wide it was to weave on. I think, in my early 40s, I am on the younger side of weavers I’ve come across and the weight/mechanics of reaching 16 inches on either side of me isn’t an issue the way it might be for someone with more limited mobility.
All of the looms are fairly expensive and it is a huge leap of faith to pick one out, sight unseen and then be stuck with your choice. I ended up getting the 32 inch Kromski Harp Forte in Walnut. The walnut was in stock, a tiny bit more than a light wood version that seemed more common but beautiful. It really looks like a piece of furniture and a real piece of equipment. It was more expensive than getting a smaller loom but when you are already spending a few hundred dollars, the difference of about $50 wasn’t enough to sway me to go smaller. My thought was that if I ever wanted to make anything bigger (which I thought I’d might) I’d need the larger loom but I could also make anything of any smaller width I’d want on it. It does fold in half (even if you have a project on it) so while it is set up it takes up a fair amount of room but can be stored easily. Another plus is that if I want a smaller loom in the future, the outlay for that will be less than it would be to upgrade to a larger loom
The downside of the 24 or 32 inch loom is that you really need a huge table or stand to use it. I did get the stand and the too expensive storage bag which you can clip the stand to for storage and travel. Normally I think I would resist getting the bag but it does seem handy and as I said, I am buying this with money from my mom’s estate so I really felt like I could get whatever would make my experience a little more pleasant. I also bought the matching walnut heddles in the other available sizes in a moment of madness and thinking that I have a lot of yarn in various sizes that the heddle it came with can’t handle as you vary your heddle size to reflect the thickness of the yarn you are using–thick yarn–small number heddle.
What they don’t tell you– When you go to warp (string up) your loom before you can make anything you need flat craft paper or warping sticks to keep your yarn from getting bunched up on the back of your loom. I did not know this! No video I watched about picking a loom or supplies you need mentioned this and I watched dozens. You need plain craft paper about the width of your loom or wooden sticks (also the width of your loom) to get started. I don’t know about you but I don’t have rolls of random craft paper in my house or flat paper bags I can cut up just on hand. I couldn’t find it at Staples, Joann Fabrics or Michaels and we already know my local yarn stores don’t have much of anything. Order the paper or the sticks. I had to order some paper on Amazon (I can use the leftovers for steamed crabs) and then when I read that it is easier to warp alone using the sticks, I ordered two sets of them (not cheap!) from the Woolery. I have watched a video of someone using mini blinds as sticks but that sounds like a pain too. Do yourself a favor and order this when you get your loom so you’re not waiting to get started like I am.