Make a DIY rigid heddle loom

On Wednesday, we learned how to make a miniature frame loom for weaving small pieces. Frame looms can be made in many sizes, from coaster size, right up to looms a metre or two in height, such as Navajo looms. You can make a DIY frame loom from various materials – a cardboard box, PVC tubing, a dollar-store picture frame, wood, and so on. But frame looms can be quite laborious to weave on – before each pass, we have to separate alternate warp threads by picking them up with a ‘shed stick’ (the triangular space between the raised and flat warp threads is called a ‘shed’). This is fine for small pieces, but can be very slow for larger pieces.

One way of speeding up the process is called a heddle, a mechanism to automatically raise or lower warp threads. The lowest-tech approach to this is to tie strings round alternating warp threads, which are then looped round a stick. Lifting the stick pulls up one set of warp threads.

Today we’re going to make the kind of heddle you will see on most commercial handlooms, a reed or rigid heddle. Commercially-made hobby looms run from $100 up, but I’m going to show you how to make a perfectly usable rigid-heddle loom for just $2.

You’ll need:

  • A wooden picture frame, the biggest and sturdiest you can find at the dollar store. I found an A3 size wood-framed corkboard.
  • Plastic sheet – it needs to be rigid enough for you to raise and lower the heddle without bending too much, but not so strong that you can’t punch a hole in it. I used the cover from a pvc binder, again from the dollar store – you could also use plastic from margarine or icecream tubs, or if you’re lucky your picture frame may come with a protective plastic sheet.
  • Craft knife and mat, and/or scissors, ruler and pen for marking
  • Cardboard
  • Hole punch (if you don’t have a hole punch, you may be able to make the holes by hammering a nail through the plastic, though this will leave some sharp edges that you’ll need to trim or sand)
  • Strong glue – I used dollar store rubber cement as it sticks plastic well
  • dowel, scrap wood, chopstick or knitting needle to use as a shed stick

Remove everything from the middle of your picture frame, leaving only the frame. This will be the main part of your loom. Measure the width of the inside of the frame.

From your plastic, cut a piece about 15-20cm high, and 60-70% of the width of your frame across. Cut into 1cm strips, and punch a hole in the centre of each strip large enough to get a yarn needle through.

Cut two strips of cardboard, 8-10cm high, and the width of your frame across. Score the centre so you can fold them in half neatly. Apply a layer of glue to one side of a cardboard strip and lay out your plastic strips with about 3-5mm gap between them. Add more glue over the top, fold the cardboard so the strips are sandwiched firmly between the cardboard, and press flat until dry (I stuck mine in a heavy book). Once your strips are set firmly in place, glue the other folded cardboard strip across the other end of the plastic strips. You have a heddle reed!

Warp your loom by wrapping yarn around the frame end-to end. Alternate warp threads should go through the holes in the strips (use a yarn needle to thread them through) and through the gaps between strips. It can be quite a fiddly process, it may help to warp with several shorter lengths of yarn. Now you can raise or lower alternate threads by pulling the reed up or down.

If the sides if the frame are making it fiddly to weave by lowering the threads, you can use a shed stick under the threads which run through the slots in the reed – you can leave it in place. Now you can raise one set of threads by raising the heddle reed, and the other by lifting the shed stick.

You may find it helps if you wedge or clamp the far end of the frame under something, e.g. the edge of a table – this means when you raise the warp you aren’t pulling the whole loom up with them.

If you have any plastic left over, you can cut out shuttles to make your weaving even faster.

8 thoughts on “Make a DIY rigid heddle loom

  1. Wow, that’s very resourceful to be able to make your own loom. I don’t think I could make my own but yours looks like it turned out great!

  2. That looks absolutely brilliant! I don’t know if I’m brave enough to try and make my own but at least I now know how. I love to make weaving products but my loom was damaged by my little boy recently and I don’t really have the money to replace it.

  3. Thank you SO much~! I am dead broke but have all the items, (or reasonable facsimilies), that I can make this loom! I so want to experiment with weaving and YOU just made it possible!! Going to get started right now!

  4. “If the sides if the frame are making it fiddly to weave by lowering the threads, you can use a shed stick under the threads which run through the slots in the reed – you can leave it in place. Now you can raise one set of threads by raising the heddle reed, and the other by lifting the shed stick.”

    What great ideas you have. I had a small loom about the size of a potholder in the third grade. It was the beginning of a lot of fun. If I ever do more weaving, I will use what you have suggested above. it should make it so much easier.

  5. Do you have ideas on how to make a small navajo loom for children attending a weaving demonstration and short talk about Native American culture.
    We are a non-profit group and funds are limited. Age group should average 6-8.

  6. GREAT idea about the plastic. I’ve been looking at various looms and this will solve the final problem that I had. “I can take it from here, thanks!!”
    With this in mind I think I’ll be weaving up some nice trim for myself in no time :-)

  7. pretty cool loom, could it possibly be used for card weaving? awesome explanations. cheers

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