Rigid Heddle Weaving

Marcy Petrini

January 2019

I love plain weave, especially weaving it off with variegated, textured yarns, and I like to experiment with the color interactions. I can weave it on my floor loom, so investing in a rigid heddle loom didn’t seem to make sense, especially since I had bought one in the late 80s which for me turned out to be slower to dress than my floor loom.

But when I saw how quickly my friend and colleague Kathy Perito dressed her Schacht Cricket, I started to think that it would great to weave by the fire in the evenings, with a glass of wine and a cat or two, chatting with my husband. After talking with Kathy, this is what I asked Santa Clause:

  1. A Schacht Flip loom because it can be expanded to two heddles (in case I get ambitious) and it can also be folded
  2. A stand so I wouldn’t need a table, and I could transport the loom anywhere.
  3. A heddle of 12 dents/inch, for now, because I don’t have much yarn that I would sett more openly; with the Flip loom there is a choice of heddle sett.

The loom arrived and in less than 2 hours, it was assembled, placed on its stand, dressed, threaded and ready to weave! I must admit that a lot of the assembling was done by my husband Terry who has a tendency to take over (maybe because he knows I can be a klutz).

 I chose a bright green 3/2 cotton, which is perfect sett at 12 epi for plain weave. For weft, I found in my stash a fat textured, multicolored chenille yarn with a binder of black hair yarn around the chenille; the yarn, Trendsetter Yarns Savvy, wraps at 5 wpi, shown below.  



With a yarn that thick normally we would sett the warp more openly to accommodate the weft, but since this yarn is basically chenille, opening the sett wasn’t necessary. The conventional wisdom is to treat the chenille as if the fuzzy hair isn’t there, using the core as a guide. I have successfully sett chenille warps closely and I have knitted chenille with much smaller needles than the yarn size would seem to need, as it was recommended to me many years ago.

My sampler scarf was 6” wide with a warp two yards long; it took two hours to complete, including hemming on the loom at the start and at the end with the warp thread. The scarf was light and drapey, despite the fat weft and the dense warp.

I washed the scarf on my front loader machine on the “hand wash” cycle which I use for all of my handwoven scarves and shawls, including silk, even though the directions for the weft yarn say that dry cleaning is recommended. Coming off the washer, I didn’t notice any problems, but the scarf was very wet; since the weft is 62% acrylic and 38% polyester, I saw no harm in drying it in the dryer at very low heat.

The harm was in the disaster that ensued! Warp ends bunched and the weft inch wormed, as shown below:




Every mistake is an opportunity to learn. I didn’t think that the warp bunching was the result of the sett; I hypothesized that I didn’t beat the weft enough; the warp, then, had lots of wiggle room which was accelerated while tumbling in the drier. I think that if I hadn’t tumble-dried it, the bunching and inch-worming would have occurred with use – I have had that happen before.

Looking back at it, I did find it hard to beat with the rigid heddle, but since my natural beat is pretty hard, I didn’t think that the light beat was necessarily a bad thing. The weft beat is always related to the warp tension and, as I read and as confirmed by Kathy, it’s harder to keep a firm tension on a light-weight, portable rigid heddle loom than on a solid floor loom. On my floor looms, I adjust the warp tension according to the beat I want the fabric to have, but on the rigid heddle loom there isn’t much wiggle room.

But how do you translate the adjustment to make on the beat, given a soft tension on a light loom? Experience!

To prove my hypothesis that it was the beat that caused the problem, I put a new warp on the Flip loom, with the same yarn and woven with the same weft; this time I beat it with a tapestry beater. The fabric is a lot denser and not as drapable, but there is no inch-worming and minimal warp bunching after washing the same way.

For a true experiment, I should have dried it in the drier, but I was afraid that the fabric would become denser still. But it is pretty convincing that the beat was the culprit.




So, on warp #3, I am practicing my beat, trying to keep it even by measuring the ppi often. There will be a follow up report!

  Happy weaving!

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