Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Making my own Rigid Heddle Loom

As you know from my last post I've recently discovered weaving/looming/twining! My beautiful frame loom has so far given me 10 rugs, 8 of which became Christmas gifts. In the process of working on the rugs our oldest grandson made a request for himself...he wanted a rug to look like the American Flag! Oh boy, I wasn't quite sure about it at first, but the more I thought on it the more I also thought I could pull it off. I wanted to try and keep it as true to life as possible of the original flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes. The stripes were really pretty easy to manage, it was that "field of blue" I had some trouble with, trying to tie off evenly at each section. It wasn't perfect but the grandson was sure happy with his rug. It was a pretty thing and he told his parents he didn't want to walk on it, he wanted it hung on his bedroom wall.
If you read my last post you also know I had discovered the various kinds of looms and was in the process of attempting to build my own rigid heddle style....and....WE DID!! Pulling up various brands of looms I decided to draw out my pattern based on a couple different models. I couldn't seem to find exact measurements anywhere, so in truth I was eyeballing it as I went. My prototype was a pretty thing, hubs had some cedar boards in the shop for me to use, but alas it wasn't as workable as I liked or as it should have been. I tried to leave off a couple of parts/pieces that I really didn't think would be missed....they were!! I was able to weave a small section, but I knew immediately it was not going to be something that would provide what I wanted for the long term. You most certainly need the warp beam AND the cloth beam and you definitely need the apron bars at both ends!
Those gears on the sides? Yep, you need those to, in order to get a better control over your tension and lock it down. Your cuts have to be right and your heddle the correct width or the sheds you get won't give you enough working room....or if like mine, you get a great upper shed, not so great lower one! ;) It was a learning process and with all that was learned I went forward with the next build...much better...not perfect, but definitely workable! It is this latest model that I've been playing with these past couple of weeks and I tell ya....IT'S FUN!!! So far I've played with weaving plastic grocery bags, plastic dollar store tablecloths, and recently I've woven a couple of table runners using four strands of various yarns I had on hand. I needed practice in tension as well as keeping the side true and's a lot harder than you might think it is. The plastics turned out well in straightness, the first yarn trial not so much! My second yarn trial turned out much better as I had a better idea of what to expect in the now graces the youngest daughter's entertainment center top and she thinks it looks just fine! ;) 

 The biggest problem in designing and making your own rigid heddle loom is in the reed dents...I've yet to figure out a way to make a homemade dent that will be as close as those with a purchased loom. Again, when making the first one, I "eyeballed" what I thought looked to be a good spacing and used popsicle sticks for the reeds. It works great, however, I can't get a very tight weave with it. It will work great for bulky yarns or other heavy warps, and it works with the actual rug warp, just not as close and tight as I need it to it was on to fixing that dilemma!

Over coffee one morning I was expressing my displeasure with our resident carpenter/inventor (our son!) over the width of said reeds. Several ideas were tossed around, including using plexi-glass and a saw blade width to get what I wanted in spacing. Later, hubs attempted this for me with a piece of scrap he had....wouldn't work as the cuts were not smooth enough for the threads/yarns to be passed over. So we went back to the tried and true popsicle sticks! Son and I laid several out on the table one morning and discussed the idea of cutting pieces to use as spacers, then turning the sticks sideways. By cutting two separate length of pieces I could get the eye and the slot and I decided to give it a try. While at work that day, good ol' hubs took a handful of sticks to the shop and whacked me out several one inch and two inch pieces, to which I came home and began gluing them together. It didn't take me long to realize I wasn't going to get a long enough slot, so back to the shop he went and cut some 1/2" pieces. I've worked for the past couple of weeks trying to get all these little minute pieces glued and clamped together and then sanded smooth for dipping. They look good, are definitely closer in dent size and hopefully will work well once the son gets my cross pieces cut to fit them into. I do know though, they are still not as close as they need to be in comparison to a retail designed reed, but I'm sure
hoping they will do what I want them to do for the things I'm wanting to remains to be seen.

Now most people might think I've went to an awful lot of trouble (and am possibly crazy!) to do all this when I could have just as easily went out and bought this set up for myself. Well, that's not quite true...the equipment, materials, tools, and other things involved in learning to weave are NOT cheap! It is not something you can afford to try and if it doesn't catch your fancy, just say "oh well" least it's not for me! This "trouble" would have cost me several hundreds of dollars to purchase and that just isn't something I have to toss around for a hobby, whether I stick with it or not, so....where there's a will...there's a way...and this was my way!!! ;) It will never be cookie cutter perfect, nor do I hope to become a talented weaver, but I've loved the learning of new things and I have a real love for the "old ways" of doing this is just another one of my quirks that may stick around for many years or pass in just a few. Either way I can say I've tried it and liked it! And thankfully the son and hubs is right there with me and indulge my longings and creativity, otherwise I'd never get to enjoy what I do! The
combination of minds around here makes for endless possibilities with little to no investment costs...that makes it even better! :) At present I have about $17 invested in the loom, including the price of a box of craft sticks for the reeds...not too shabby, considering the same thing would have cost me right around $300 to purchase just for the loom!
Hubs likes to add his own brand of inventiveness to the fray. It was his repurposing of several items to add to the loom that made it work better and to be built metal closet rods for the cloth beams. When I needed a loom hook in order to pull my warp threads through the reed, he heads to the shop with a steak knife in hand and proceeds to make me a handy dandy looming tool!! That little item right there saved me $10 plus shipping!! He came up with a pretty inventive idea for a stand as well using an old metal deck chair frame that was on it's way to the dump. Now I can set on the couch and weave while he watches (sleeps!) tv!! ;)

Today I am currently enjoying a snow day from work and am getting ready to warp up that lovely little loom to try out some more yarn for another table runner for my kitchen. I've almost completed two new rugs on the frame loom for the kitchen as well, so figured might as well make something to match on the island counter! By this time next year I may have discovered a whole new "something" to learn, but right now I'll just let the snow fly and enjoy both of my looms and the products they're allowing me to produce!