Beginner Weaving

August 21, 2018
Beginner Weaving Workshop

Right from the Start — Getting Some Advice on Buying a First Loom Can Help a Weaver Make a Good Decision.

The advice in this article will be purely my opinion, based on information that I have gathered in buying and using looms, helping my students buy looms, and seeing their reactions to the decisions they made. Ultimately, choosing a loom is a very personal decision, because intangible factors enter into the equation. Consider, for example, ergonometrics: what may be a comfortable weaving position for a tall weaver, may not be a comfortable position for a short one. Some weavers care about the aesthetics of the loom because of where it will be placed in the home. Others are interested only in the mechanics and not in the type of wood used in manufacturing.

In my classes, I give students the guidelines discussed below. Since there are exceptions to every point, we also have the opportunity to discuss these guidelines and we talk about loom possibilities when one becomes available, or when the time comes to commit. I have even made “loom house calls” with my loom-doctor husband Terry Dwyer, who built my first loom nearly twenty-five years ago (still happily in use), and who maintains the looms at the weaving studio of Chimneyville Crafts where I teach weekly classes.

Ideally, every weaver has a trusted teacher, mentor, or friend who can help in the decision process. Trying a loom before buying is very important. If a guild is not available to help with that service, HGA's Convergence® and other conferences are a great place to comparison shop.

My philosophy for a first loom is that it should be as easy as possible to use — “bells and whistles” can come with a future loom. Weaving is a slow process, and it is composed of many steps, each of which requires different skills. This can be daunting to a beginner working alone. It is far better to get a good, versatile loom without extras so the weaver can get started and proceed easily. I have seen too many looms purchased by beginners not ready for them. The loom then sits idle because a little something went wrong, or something a bit more complicated was required to proceed — something that would seem pretty trivial to a more experienced weaver. If there is too much uncertainty to a step — for example, changing the tie-up in a countermarch loom — the weaver wants to wait for when there is more time, when she is not so tired, when he can get help from a friend…. That time never seems to come.

All of my recommendations arise from this philosophy: buy a good, versatile loom, start weaving, experiment, get lots of experience, put lots of warps on, and try different techniques, different fibers, and different structures. Do not be stifled by the loom. Preferences will become apparent and will determine what loom to buy next. Most of all, do not think of this first loom as the ultimate dream loom. Doing so will only frustrate you and paralyze the process. For any weaver who weaves long enough, there usually is a second loom, which may come as a replacement for the first, or as an addition to it, depending on the weaver’s space, finances and personal circumstances.

Types of Looms

The two best choices for beginners are jack or counterbalance floor looms. Weavers argue as to which is better: jack looms tend to be easier to use and they easily accommodate uneven tie-ups; counterbalance looms form better sheds because the counterbalanced shafts separate against each other, but for this reason, unbalanced weaves are usually harder to weave. In general, the choice between a jack or a counterbalance loom depends on what the weaver is used to. Ideally the weaver can experience weaving on both kinds before making a decision.

Counterbalanced loom

Position of the harnesses in
balanced treadling on a
counterbalanced loom
with 3 down and 1 up

Jack loom

Four-harness jack system

All illustrations are courtesy of Rachel Brown, from The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.

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