Selecting a Floor Loom
The discussions here will help you to know what loom features to look for in a new or used floor loom. We include comments from published weavers and weaving experts who are responding from their weaving experience and knowledge. The bibliography at the end will give you the opportunity to read more of what these authors have written. This section is not a discussion of brand names of looms or of evaluating the condition of used looms.
Contact us if you have questions about a used loom.
1. What do I want to weave?
Although other factors such as price and availability are often thought of first, deciding what you want to weave is the first and most important consideration in selecting a loom. Beginning weavers are tempted to purchase a loom without learning how to evaluate a loom for ease of warping and weaving, especially if someone nearby has one for sale. However, it is easy to learn how to evaluate a loom. Some loom features will make weaving easier and more pleasureable. This is especially important if you want to weave a lot of gifts or if you want to sell what you weave. In that case, comfort for warping and weaving should be your first priority. Read about these features here.
If you want to weave wide warps, you will need a larger loom. Some beginners are intimidated by a large loom. Large looms work better and are usually more comfortable than small looms, so you might want to borrow a loom until you have more confidence to select one.
If you want to weave place mats, table runners, small tapestries, scarves, kitchen towels, bags, shawls, pillow tops, fabric for garments, and small wall hangings, a 27″ to 40″ weaving width would be sufficient. However, narrow looms can sometimes be too short for comfort. The breast beam height should be at least 32 inches to give you leg space. If you are tall, read about comfort at the loom in the section “Comfort and Looms”. Remember, the depth of the loom should be at least equal to the weaving width.
If you want to weave baby blankets, tapestries, small tablecloths, bath towels, and small rugs, a four foot weaving width should be considered, and the depth of the loom should be four feet or more. Avoid a loom that folds, as a solid square frame will hold a tighter tension and the loom will last longer. A loom with a four foot weaving width may be more comfortable for weaving, as the breast beam may also be taller.
If you want to weave rugs and tapestries, larger wall hangings, blankets or tablecloths and multi-shaft weaves, you should have the largest loom you can find room for. It should have a four or five foot weaving width and it should have sufficient depth. The added depth is necessary for easy treadling and good sheds. You can throw a shuttle across a wide warp if you have a proper bench, a footrest for balance, and comfortable treadles. For wide warps, a hanging beater is preferable, as it will be heavy. A loom this size needs a solid square frame to hold a tighter tension across a wide warp.
It may be important for you to know if other attachments such as a countermarch, fly shuttle, double warp beam, sectional beam or drawloom equipment can also be added. This gives you the opportunity to develop as a weaver without having to purchase a new loom.
2. What type of loom should I get?
There are some weaves that are more challenging for a loom to accomplish. Open weaves and fabrics that don’t require a tight weave can be woven on most types of looms. Rugs, however, require a loom that is deep, will hold a tight tension and not move with each beat. Fuzzy warps such as mohair, brushed yarns and novelty threads can make it hard to open a clear shed. Warps that are closely sett, such as warp-faced or double weave can also be difficult for some looms. They require a deep loom that can separate sticky yarns. Widely sett warps that produce weft-faced weaves require a tight, even warp tension. Wide fabrics which you will beat into tight weaves and unbalanced weaves such as waffle weave, or summer and winter, require a deep loom and a tight tension. All of these weaves require more than a small loom can give. A counterbalance or countermarch loom will be a better choice for these weaves.
3. Loom Frames
Loom frames should be large enough to look sturdy and should be assembled with bolts and/or wedges instead of screws. Wedges allow you to easily tighten the loom as the humidity changes. Loom frames should be easy to assemble and easy to take apart for storage. A castle above the shafts will give many weaving advantages for threading, sleying the reed and for beating. Shafts which hang from a castle give you very quiet weaving, which ads a relaxing atmosphere to your weaving. A tall castle also gives flexibility in shedding types, for example, being able to change from counterbalance to countermarch or from jack to counterbalance. Some looms allow you to start with four shafts and counterbalance. Then when you have more experience, you can order more shafts and the countermarch. Later when you want more pattern capability, you can order a drawloom to add to your loom frame. And these changes can be made on the same loom you started with. You do not have to sell your loom to advance to more complex weaving.
A tall loom will give you a breast beam that is higher, and this will make you more comfortable.
4. Features to look for:
- A sturdy, deep frame
- Large diameter warp and cloth beams
- A sturdy, heavy beater
- Easy treadling
- A foot rest
- Large, easy to use ratchets and beam handles
- Adjustable bench
- Comfortable threading
- Knee beam
- Comfortable weaving
We can learn about looms by looking at the ones used in the past, when weaving was a necessity. Ken Calwell collected old looms and described them in an article “Looms From the Past”
“….what did the old loom have to offer? It is very heavy and strong. It does not ‘walk’, can take incredible tension. …the removal of six wedges permits it to be collapsed for movement or storage……The beater swings from above, can be raised and lowered, moved toward the weaver or away and is quite heavy. …it does not have the dead feel of an underslung beater and it encourages the development of a rhythmic motion. The harness is suspended from the upper rails and it, like the beater, can simply be lifted off, opening up the entire loom for the warping process. The heddles are string; quite easy on the warp and light to lift…pedals are hinged from the rear, increasing the power ratio of the feet…One of the great advantages of the old loom is the distance from front to back beam. More space is provided for the warp to stretch and adjust itself.”
Ken Calwell p.36, 37
Constance LaLena wrote about the production handloom of 150-175 years ago.
“There was a fairly long distance (five feet or so) for the warp to stretch between front and back beams. Warp beams were dressed with chain warps, thus the warp beam was smooth. The beater always swung from overhead and it was often, but not always, equipped with a fly shuttle. There was no shuttle race, unless there was a fly shuttle. The harness frames (shafts) had no sides, but consisted only of upper and lower sticks between which heddles of cord were placed. The shed action was of counterbalanced or countermarche type. Treadles were hung from a pivot point at the back of the loom….”
Constance La Lena p.30
Although there are many small looms made today, there are still many reasons why a loom with a castle has advantages.
“A large loom is easier to gate and to operate than a small one of similar design and quality. It is easy to get inside a big loom when tying up or adjusting the treadles…the warp can easily be set wider on the warp roller than the actual reed width of the cloth… and the heddles will not always be slipping off the ends of the heddle sticks…. As a large loom is heavily built, it can have various additional fittings such as a dobby, a fly shuttle, a second back roller, giving a greater capacity for more interesting weaves and experimental weaving.”
Mary Atwater wrote:
“The frame should ordinarily be longer from front to back than from side to side, to provide ample weaving space. If the frame is very shallow it is impossible to weave more than an inch or two without releasing the tension and winding up the web, which is a nuisance. Also undue strain is put on the warp when the sheds are opened.”
Mary Atwater p.32
“The frame of the loom must be strong, bulky, and heavy. The heavier the frame – the less noise because the vibrations are absorbed by the frame…”
S.A. Zielinski vol 2, p.8
Beams are usually made of wood and are laminated from more than one piece of wood to assure that they do not warp and are strong enough to withstand tight tensions and heavy beating. There should be enough space around the warp and cloth beams for long warps. Knee beams give added space for the knees so that you can sit close to the loom and avoid having to bend forward while weaving, even after many yards have been woven and wound onto the cloth beam. Here are some comments from Zielinski:
“The elbows at rest should be at the same level as the warp, it is to say the same level as the breast-piece….the feet should reach the treadles comfortably.”
S.A. Zielinski vol2 p. 25
“The knees should not touch the cloth beam, but the batten should be reached without bending forward.”
S.A. Zielinski vol 2, p. 26
Most large looms have ratchets on the cloth and warp beams. There should be many teeth on the ratchet for fine adjustment. Small and shallow looms need to have the warp advanced very frequently, so some have a friction brake on the warp beam. These friction brakes do not always hold well enough to use on large looms. With a large loom which has a hanging beater, one does not need to advance the warp so frequently. You can simply advance the beater. Ratchets should be on the outside of the frame for easy access and to keep the warp threads away from the ratchet teeth. The ratchet handles must be large enough so that the pawl is easy to release and the warp can easily be tightened.
Breast beams, back beams, knee beams and beaters should be easily removable for ease of warping and threading the heddles. Sectional rakes on warp beams should be removable so that you have a choice of warping methods. Using weights for beaming gives the weaver the option of beaming a warp without the need for help. Here are some comments on sectional warping:
“The advantage of sectional warping is that one person may perform the whole operation. The disadvantage – that the tension of warp may change from section to section, and that it requires an extra large bobbin-rack for fine weaving. The time required for preparing the bobbins, and for the beaming itself, is rather longer than in standard warping and beaming….Third, the difficulty of getting a high enough tension of the warp, so that it would not slip later on.”
S.A. Zielinski vol 5, p.29
“Generally speaking, whether winding bobbins or warping, the tension will be better if the yarn unrolls from the end of a bobbin or cone, instead of having spools turning.”
Robert Leclerc p.36
“In the case of the sectional system, unless more than 50 to 75 ends can be taken together this method is no more efficient than a warper’s frame…..Unfortunately, most sectional warp dressing apparatus offered to handloom weavers does not have provision for adequate tension on the warp ends, nor adequate distribution of that tension.”
5. Shafts and Heddles
A shaft can simply be two shaft bars, or it can be a rigid wooden or metal frame with string, wire or metal heddles. Rigid frames with sides are heavier, which is necessary for most jack looms. Rigid frame shafts usually stay in the loom even when not being used, since they are sometimes difficult to remove or put back into the loom and are cumbersome to store. Shafts should be easy to remove for beaming the warp and heddles should be easy to add or remove. Some looms allow the shafts to be attached at different locations for ease of threading and also for moving shafts as the cloth beam fills. Looms should allow you to make adjustments in the height of shafts for the best shed. Shafts without sides, make moving heddles much easier. They also make it possible to use heddles of a different size, such as long eyed heddles for more complex pattern weaving. Read about Texsolv heddles .
“A loom which can be easily set up to only the number of shafts required at that time would offer greater versatility to the weaver. Open-sided harness frames allow easy addition and removal of their cord heddles, …Threadings can also be easily ‘saved’ with open-sided harness frames, since the saved heddles-with-warp-threading can be slipped onto temporary shaft sticks, rolled up with the reed, and tied into a neat storage bundle.”
Constance La Lena p.31/
For weaving with fine threads and many ends per inch, you should use Texsolv heddles. They are made of polyester and are easy to move from one shaft to another. They are pleasant to hold for threading and do not make shafts heavy. Metal and wire heddles need to be installed with regard to whether you are right-handed or left handed and some are different on the top than the bottom.
According to Robert Leclerc, you can have up to 11 wire heddles per inch on each shaft, and up to 8 metal heddles per inch on each shaft without damaging the warp. Robert Leclerc p.9
6. About Treadles
The main consideration for treadles is whether they are mounted in the front or the back. Front mounted treadles take more effort to push down, but are necessary on most jack looms. This is because the jack loom treadles have to be pressed further down to open the shed.
“The back slung treadle has the force applied at the end, and the weight to be moved is near the centre, therefore.. (the treadle)…..needs only half the force. On a short loom with front slung treadles, the opposite occurs and the treadles nearer the pivot of the marches, which are again at a mechanical disadvantage, can be quite heavy to work. …. back slung are better if the treadles must be kept within the loom frame and the loom is short from front to back or narrow from side to side.”
For front mounted treadles…
“the spacing between the treadles must be wide enough to ensure that the weaver’s foot depresses only the single treadle selected. This means that on a loom with many treadles there is a wide spread from side to side, making the outer treadles difficult to reach.”
“Mechanical advantage in the treadles becomes important when a high warp tension must be used, as when weaving sticky warp yarns that need tension enough to make a clear shed.”
Weaving without shoes makes it easier to feel the treadles so that you don’t have to look at them to find the correct treadle. Rear mounted treadles move from side to side slightly, allowing them to move as you treadle. If they did not move this way, they would have to be farther apart to make room for your foot. If you want to have more than 6 or 8 treadles, it is better to have them mounted in the back. If mounted on the front, it would be necessary to mount them too far apart, or they would be too narrow for comfort.
The height of the treadles should be adjustable up and down, so that you can get the size shed you need. Setting the treadles low is more comfortable for treadling.
The tie up of treadles is usually done with cords so that adjustments can be made to the tie ups. Texsolv cord works very well as it simplifies the tie-up and is adjustable. Some looms use metal chains and wires. The chain can be noisy and the wires are not adjustable. And any unnecessary weight added to your tie-up means that you will be moving that weight each time you make a shed.
“Most sash chain is made of copper-plated base metal, usually steel, which not only makes the chain costly, but also quite heavy…sash chain is not smooth and soon wears grooves in the lamms from the constant movement.”
Fannin p. 72
7. The Beater
Beaters can be overslung (overhead or hanging) or underslung (attached at the bottom of the frame). A tall hanging beater gives you a wider swing, which is helpful for getting an even beat. Combined with adjustable placements on a beater cradle, you can weave 6″ – 10″ before advancing the warp. Large looms have overslung beaters as the beater is too heavy to use in the lower position. An underslung beater is usually too short to beat well for more than 2 inches.
“The pivoting of the batten in important. The overslung is stable, and is therefore sensitive to use, whilst the underslung being unstable falls forward onto the fell of the cloth and has to be held back for light cloths, an awkward and tiring movement to make. As the overslung swings forward the reed faces up towards the weaver, and the fell is visible; the underslung batten faces downwards… making difficult the weaving of any cloth which needs to be seen whilst being woven,…. there is some give in the overslung batten, which is better than the rigidity of the underslung, and the overslung is easier to remove whilst threading. The vertical adjustment of the overslung is easier and finer than that of the underslung, and has also the horizontal adjustment forwards and backwards so that the length of the beat can be maintained during the weave-up. The overslung batten can be much heavier than the undeslung and is therefore easier to use, the weight doing much of the work of beating up.”
“An overhead beater enables the weaver to establish a rhythm of weaving…that requires little effort to maintain….. Its own momentum does most of the beating of the fabric….By being able to move the beater backwards two or three times between cloth advances, the weaver has a greater probability of maintaining a perfectly even beat over the length of the loom’s weaving space.”
Constance La Lena p.30
Jack looms generally do not have a castle so they have underslung beaters. Jack looms and fly shuttles require that the beater have a shuttle race. It is helpful if the shuttle race is detachable. Counterbalance and countermarch looms do not require a shuttle race.
The beater should be easy to remove, adjustable in height, adjustable forward and back, adjustable for different heights of reeds and it should allow the reed to move sideways to center the warp. It should be very easy to take reeds out of the beater. This is important not only for changing to a different reed, but also for warping the loom.
Fly shuttles make weaving a wide warp more comfortable. They are usually put on looms which are 45″ or more in weaving width. They require a shuttle race for the shuttle to move on.
“For cloths over 42-inch reed width the fly shuttle is essential, but below this a skillfully used hand thrown shuttle is as quick and gives more control over the weft.”
Tovey p. 25
Benches should be adjustable in height and are often included with the loom. Attached benches were common in the past but are not as common today. If you purchase a bench not made by the company which made your loom, make sure that its legs of the bench will fit your loom and let you sit very close to the breast beam. If you need to lean forward to weave, you will not be comfortable.
The height to which you set your bench is determined by the height of the breast beam and your own height. The higher the breast beam, the taller the bench must be and the more comfortable you will be. If your loom is small and the bench is only about 20″ tall, your knees may be too high for comfort. You will need to use a pillow or pad the chair. If the bench is about 23″ tall, your knees will no longer be so high, and you will be more comfortable on the bench. If the bench is taller than 23″, your knees will be lower than your hip and this is the most comfortable position. With your knees lower, your balance will be better, your posture will be better and throwing a shuttle will be easier. Your bottom has enough natural padding for comfort when your knees are lower than your hips.
If you are tall, you may want a taller loom. If you already have a loom that is too short, you can try to put blocks under the loom legs to raise the loom. You can also put longer ties on the treadles to give you more leg space.
“The height of the bench or stool is of more importance than is generally recognized, and a comfortable position will make for quicker, more accurate, and less tiring weaving. The treadles should reach the fully open position (touching the floor) without having to stretch the legs too far, and the elbows should be just clear of the breast beam when the arms are at the sides. If it proves to be impossible to satisfy both these requirements, set the stool high enough for the elbows to clear the beam, and fix a length of wood under the loom to act as a stop for the treadles.”
The following bibliography will give you information about looms and equipment including some equipment not discussed here.
Atwater, Mary, The Shuttle-Craft Book of American Hand-Weaving, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., NY, l928, l975
Brassard, Francois, Leclerc Looms
Brown, Rachel, Spinning, Dyeing and Weaving, l980
Calwell, Ken, Handwoven Magazine, May 81, p.36-37
Collingwood, Peter, The Techniques of Rug Weaving, Watson-Guptill Publishing, NY, l969
Fannin, Allen A., Handloom Weaving Technology, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. NY, l979
LaLena, Constance, Handwoven Magazine, Sept. l984, p.30-32
Leclerc, Robert, Warp and Weave, Nilus Leclerc Inc., Quebec, l979
Straub, Marianne, Handweaving and Cloth Design, The Viking Press, NY, l977
Thorpe, Heather, A Handweaver’s Workbook, Collier Books, l956
Tovey, John, The Technique of Weaving, Scribner, NY, l965
Zielinski, S.A., Robert Leclerc, ed., Master Weaver Vols 1,2,6, Nilus Leclerc, Inc.,1979