Over the past couple of years, I’ve been asking many of you in this fibre arts community about what struggles and challenges you face. We talk about time and the challenge of making time or finding time to make things. But another big resource that is a challenge is how much fibre arts equipment costs… especially weaving equipment. I have talked before about getting started with weaving for free. With nothing but a piece of cardboard, you can make a simple frame loom and see if the idea of weaving captures you. But what do you do if it does capture you? Maybe you want to make giant wall hangings or shawls or dishtowels. Whatever you want to weave, it’s unlikely that you will want to weave on a cardboard loom for the long haul. At a certain point, you are going to want to invest a little in the direction of your craft… so that’s what we’re talking about on today’s episode of Taking Back Friday.
Today, I want to talk about how to buy a loom. I recently went through the process of buying a new loom and so I wanted to lay out my thought process and considerations and maybe it will help you with your own decision making process.
So when I began the process of buying a loom, I did research the different loom manufacturers to see what was available. I already have looms from Schacht, Louet, and Ashford, but I also did some research into other loom manufacturers like Glimakra, Harrisville, Leclerc, and AVL. I wanted to see who makes jack looms, who makes countermarche and counterbalance looms, and who is making dobby looms. Who makes affordable and accessible looms? What kind of support is available for the looms. My goal was not to find a fancy loom to lust over… because loom lust is real… but how do I find the right loom for me and my needs.
As I mentioned last week, we are getting a new studio and in this new studio will be a separate fibre arts studio where I’ll be setting up a new loom for teaching. My needs might be different than your needs, but mainly, I needed a loom that is a multi shaft loom so that I can teach different weave structures, a floor loom so that I can be efficient, and a relatively affordable loom so that my teaching can be accessible. I wanted to get a loom to teach weaving so that anyone can look at what I make and say, “I can do that. I can get that loom and I can do that.” The loom that I chose is also a loom that you can frequently find on Craigslist or other marketplaces, so it’s accessible.
So I think the decision making process for buying a loom is guided by two things: your desires and your limits. Know yourself. Know your limits. At it’s most fundamental, it’s about balancing your wants and your needs. And my advice here is to first know yourself and then know your limit (and play within it).
Whenever people email me to ask what loom to buy, I find that I always start by asking “what do you want to weave?” And then the question after that is, “how much space do you have?” And “how much do you want to spend?”
In January 2006, I began taking weaving classes at Place des Arts as a complete and utter beginner. I didn’t know the difference between warp and weft. But within moments of winding a warp and throwing the shuttle, I was hooked. Five months later, I ordered a 44” wide 8-shaft floor loom from Louet in Holland and I was going around telling people that I was going to become a weaver.
I absolutely understand that not every person who dips their toe in the waters of weaving is going to jump in with both feet and buy a brand new 45” wide multishaft floor loom. At the time, there were a lot of things at play in my life, including celebrating a milestone birthday which caused me a lot of anxiety, disruption, and soul-searching. I was going through a spiritual awakening which included (among other things) starting down the path of becoming a weaver. So I know my situation might be unusual.
It’s more likely that you’re curious about weaving and cloth that can be made on a loom. Maybe you’re a knitter and you have tons of yarn stashed up, and maybe you’ve heard that weaving can use up yarn stash more quickly than knitting. In any case, you likely want to TRY weaving and PLAY with the process to judge the results and see if it’s something you’d like to pursue.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to try a bunch of 4-shaft table and floor looms (including jack looms and counterbalance looms) before I decided to buy my own. I had that opportunity to try and play. If you don’t have the opportunity to borrow equipment, the next best thing is to buy your own equipment.
What do you want to weave?
Even if you haven’t done a ton of weaving, there are bound to be fabrics that appeal to you. Spend some time gathering photos or samples of things that you find yourself enamoured with. Maybe you’re in love with rep weave placemats or maybe you love warp faced scarves or maybe you are intrigued about weaving a weft-faced rug. Whatever it is you find yourself interested in, follow that trail and ask weavers what kind of equipment they used to get that result.
At that time in 2006, I was inspired by many weavers who were working with fine silk yarns. It became my goal to create things like handwoven scarves and shawls that had been woven from fine silk yarn that had been dyed using natural dyes. That is what intrigued me in 2006. And so, in order to weave the summer winter weave structures and double weave projects that I envisioned, I needed at least an 8-shaft loom. At the time, I also had successfully woven a big wide mohair blanket and loved the process, so I knew I wanted a wider loom to accommodate wide blanket or shawl warps. I chose to go with a width that would fit in my house.
Your weaving interests and needs might change with time.
After I had babies, I became entranced with weaving baby wraps and luckily the loom I had could accommodate the wide warps.
Now, my interests have evolved again and I have a deep curiosity about weaving rugs. Following that trail, it’s led me to considering counterbalance looms that have a big, heavy, and very solid frame. And so, I ordered a 45” wide Leclerc Mira counterbalance loom that will arrive in a few months time. This new loom only has four shafts so I’m not planning on weaving a lot of complex weave structures on it. But I’m mainly looking for a sturdy and efficient loom for weaving mostly plain weave.
I think it’s very important to start with understanding your desire. A lot of people who reach out to me will lead with the fact that they live in a small apartment or they don’t have money for a multi shaft loom but I feel like making choices based on circumstances will leave you feeling dissatisfied with the results. If you really want to weave wide woolen blankets but you say you only have space for a 10” wide rigid heddle loom, then you’ll always feel like you are not equipped to weave what you want, even if that 10” rigid heddle loom is perfectly awesome.
Of course, there are always workarounds… like you could weave a bunch of strips and sew them together to make a wider blanket. Of course. But if the weaving doesn’t scratch your initial, deepest desire, then it will always feel temporary and like a compromise.
Once you know what you want to weave, you’ll be able to follow the trail to find the specs for what you need. Rugs need solid and sturdy looms that can take a hard beating (literally).
Think about the kind of fabric that you want to weave. Do you want to make shawls or scarves, dishtowels or placemats, curtains or yardage for sewing clothes? Do you want to weave rugs or blankets? Do you have a particular weave structure that you’re interested in? Like rep weave or double weave or jacquard? Is the fabric wide? Is it narrow? What kinds of yarns do you need to use to make that cloth? Is it wool which is very elastic and stretchy? Or is it cotton or linen which has much less elasticity? Does the cloth need to be beat firmly like a rug or rep weave? Consider if you want to weave for production, like you need to weave yards and yards of fabric very efficiently and ergonomically. Or if you are weaving the occasional scarf in your free time.
What are your constraints?
The second thing is to know your limits. What are your constraints? Is it space? Is it cost? Is it time?
How much space any particular loom takes up is relative to the size of the room. A table loom that sits on a dining table designed for 2 people is going to be impractical and feel suffocating. The same table loom placed in a large living room that used to hold a grand piano will feel positively miniscule. It’s not about the loom or the size of the loom. It’s about how much space you have left after the loom.
- Looms that take up less space: small frame looms, small rigid heddle looms, table looms, floor looms that fold up (like the Leclerc Fanny or the Schacht Baby Wolf).
- Looms that take up more space: larger rigid heddle looms on stands, table looms on stands, floor looms that have fixed frames (like the Leclerc Mira), wide floor looms.
Smaller doesn’t mean less capable. We’ve woven on small 15” wide table looms , but they can also be larger like the Schacht 20″ or 25″ table loom. These table looms come as 4 or 8 shafts. We’ve also been playing with the Ashford table loom in the studio and it’s beautiful… it comes in 16″, 24″, and 32″ widths with 4, 8, or 16 shafts. The possibilities are really endless. So there’s no need to get a floor loom if you don’t have space for it.
Cost is all relative. Generally smaller, less complex looms will be less expensive. As looms get more features and functions like stands or multiple shafts or sectional beams or computer dobby systems, those features will increase the overall cost of the loom. Finer or stronger woods might increase the cost. There are looms that you can get for less than a hundred dollars and other looms that run tens of thousands of dollars. There are plenty of looms that cost more than my first car. But just because it’s fancy or expensive doesn’t mean it will be the right loom for YOU. Remember to go back to your initial thoughts about what you want to weave. The new Leclerc Mira loom that I ordered is not an expensive floor loom, relative to the other floor looms on the market, but it is hopefully exactly what I need for the kind of weaving that I want to do.
One of the things that holds people back from trying weaving is hearing stories about how long it takes to warp a loom. Personally, I’ve come to love every part of the entire weaving process… (ok, except twisting fringe… I don’t like that very much at all). So winding a warp, threading heddles, sleying the slots of the reed… I enjoy every single bit of it.
I guess, it’s kind of like, if a knitting pattern is asking me to cast on 800 stitches, I kind of go… ugh… But it’s about the same as having to warp a loom with 800 warp ends. I guess I’m a bit intimidated, either way. In any case, if the thought of the length of time required for the warping process is holding you back from weaving, then perhaps you will be drawn to the simplicity of warping with a rigid heddle loom. You can get a rigid heddle loom warped and be weaving on it within an hour as opposed to sometimes taking weeks to get my floor loom warped. But again, that’s me and my schedule. If you have plenty of time available to you, maybe warping a floor loom is not a big deal.
Think about how much you need instant gratification and if you might be more product driven or process driven. I often feel like a rigid heddle loom is faster to get going and get weaving, but once I’m actually weaving on the rigid heddle loom, my movements are much slower. So while it takes me longer to warp and set up a floor loom, my weaving movement is faster. So maybe it all evens out in the end.
One more thing to think about is your own body and the sensation of how you interact with the world. I’ve just recently started to make connections about this idea. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes crave certain sensations? Like some people really like crunchy things or chewy things as opposed to mushy things. For me, recently, I started baking sourdough bread during the pandemic and I remember why I love baking bread… that feeling of kneading and pushing dough, it’s a kind of sensation that feels so satisfying. I remember the same feeling for drafting fibre for spinning and also for weaving. I love the feel of moving the beater on my loom and throwing the shuttle back and forth. It just feels good to my body. Even though it’s still weaving, the action of a rigid heddle loom just feels different to me. The action of weaving on a frame loom just feels different. Not bad, just different. And I understand that for myself, the sensation that I enjoy the most is this feeling of moving the beater.
Other things to consider include:
- is it a loom that is new or used? If it is used, can you still contact the manufacturer for replacement parts? For support?
- is it a loom that requires more than one person for the warping process? Or is it something you can manage on your own?
Understanding what you want to weave and what kind of equipment is necessary is the first step. Then figure out what kind of equipment fits within your constraints.
What are the different kinds of weaving looms?
So with all these questions and considerations I’ve mentioned, I’m trying to help you figure out what you want to weave and then consider the kinds of looms that would help you get there. As a rough guide, I’ll explain what looms I have been using and what they are good for.
Rigid Heddle Looms
These looms are feature a device called a “rigid heddle” which does double duty as a reed (which spreads the warp ends out to the right density) and a beater (which pushes the weft yarn into the cloth being formed). Rigid heddle looms are generally smaller in size and often portable. They can sometimes be folded for storage or for transport.
We have a number of rigid heddle looms from Ashford and Schacht at the studio that I’ve used for teaching. We have the Ashford SampleIt looms which come in a couple different widths and I have a larger Flip loom from Schacht. They are all great for weaving scarves, shawls, and lightweight kitchen towels, table runners, and placemats.
A jack loom is a type of multishaft loom. You’ll see in many of my videos that I have a Schacht Baby Wolf 8-shaft floor loom (in beautiful Cherry wood) which is a jack loom. With a jack loom, I push the foot treadles which activate the shafts and the selected shafts and warp threads will go up, leaving the other warp threads where they were.
The Baby Wolf has a 26” wide weaving width making it good for all of the same things as the rigid heddle looms, but it’s also wider for weaving scarves. You could also weave a double weave blanket on the Baby Wolf. It’s just a very versatile and beautiful loom. It’s light enough that I put it on a little rug and actually slide it around my living room to wherever I need it. I can weave on this while I watch TV and I’ve seen people put this loom on casters and wheel it out to their back yard or porch in the summertime.
Other jack looms include the Leclerc Nilus, Leclerc Compact, Harrisville floor looms, and Schacht Standard floor loom.
Countermarche looms work with a combination of rising and sinking shafts. Basically every shaft is tied to a treadle in such a way that it either goes up or or goes down — it doesn’t rest in place. My 45” wide Louet Spring 8-shaft floor loom is a countermarche loom which means that every time I push the foot treadle, I activate the shafts and the selected shafts and warp threads will go up, but all the other shafts and warp threads will go down and so that makes a shed opening that is huge and way bigger than the jack loom. It also applies even tension on both the upper and lower warp threads which can be helpful to making a smoother, more even cloth. I find this useful when I’m working with yarn that is less elastic, like cotton, linen, and silk. So I generally make my wool projects on the Baby Wolf and then reserve things like silk scarves and shawls for the Spring loom. Projects that need thinner, finer yarns go on the Spring.
As an example, the Schacht Cranbrook is a countermarche loom. Toika and Glimakra all make countermarche looms as well.
The loom that I ordered for the new studio is a 45” wide Leclerc Mira 4-shaft floor loom which is a counterbalance loom. Counterbalance means that a pair of shafts are connected to a pulley. So when one shaft goes up, the other shaft that it is connected to it will go down. So, again, you’re getting that big shed, but it operates with this mechanical advantage of the pulley and so it should theoretically take less effort to treadle. So, theoretically the benefits would be the big shed, the even tension on upper and lower warp threads, and easier treading. But the compromise is that it can be more challenging, but not impossible, to weave unbalanced weave structures like 1/3 twill. I also selected the 4-shaft option for the Mira loom, so I’m limited to weave structures that can be woven on a 4-shaft loom. Again, more shafts means more complexity for weave structures, but also more cost.
As you can see, asking what loom to buy is like asking how long is a piece of string. It all depends on you, what you want to weave, and what it will take to get you there. It’s a balance of size, complexity, and cost, and there are lots of things to consider. I hope these points might help you find your way to the loom that was meant for you.
I’d love to hear if you have a weaving loom and what your thought process was like for choosing your loom. And if you have any advice for new weavers about what to buy, I welcome you to share your thoughts and suggestions with us in the comments here.
Download our guide to weaving equipment
This little guide is just about the absolute basics of what you need to get started with weaving. You’ll need the loom of your choice to hold your warp yarns under tension and then a shuttle to carry your weft yarn. That’s basically it, plus a few helpful accessories. Download our guide about getting started with weaving looms and you’ll get the PDF and be subscribed for more news from SweetGeorgia.