(For practical instruction on how to make your own basic cardboard loom, click here.)
I have added this page for anybody interested in my own weaving processes, to explain which looms I use personally, and why.
N.B. This page is not intended as a comprehensive overview of tapestry looms available. However, I have written a couple of posts in my blog (still not comprehensive, but reasonably thorough!) with links to additional looms, so you might want to check them out here.
There’s not a particular kind of loom that I can say I like best. I’m constantly experimenting and discovering new things to weave on; and whatever loom I choose for a particular project tends to be my favourite loom, at the time. I’m inconsistent, what can I say? But there are probably 3 kinds of loom that I use the most frequently:
1. The Cardboard Loom.
In many ways, this is the most practical type of loom. It’s certainly the easiest way to weave a pouch or bag (see D.I.Y. Weaving: Play Your Cards Right Loom or Ragbag Loom for instructions). It is also the best thing to use if you want to weave to a specific shape or size. Cardboard looms are economical, and in fact, usually cost nothing, as they can be cut from almost any bit of packaging lying around the house.
Cardboard looms are ideal for times when you are travelling, as they take up next to no space and are as lightweight as they come. They are great for both weaving on a bus or train, or in a doctor’s waiting room, but also if you are on holiday and realise you have otherwise brought no weaving materials with you. Use a hairclip as a needle and you can weave on a plane, too!
I most frequently use a cardboard loom when I am weaving a piece to fit a particular-sized aperture. Although you can remove weaving from a cardboard loom, if you leave it in place, it can make framing much easier, too, as your piece has a firm backing. It’s also one of the most time-saving framing options possible to weave directly onto the board backing of a picture frame. Your piece is guaranteed to fit the aperture, and you don’t even have to cut it to size, first! You will need to remove the glass for it to fit, but I always think it is a shame to conceal the texture of weaving behind a solid surface, anyway.
The biggest drawback to cardboard looms is the inability to regulate tension, but in most cases, if warped carefully, this does not pose a huge problem. Inserting a shed stick is usually sufficient solution – depending on size of piece, a cocktail stick, pencil, or piece of folded card are more than adequate.
It is possible to use a card or board loom for much larger pieces, too. The only reason I don’t is that I simply don’t have access to larger pieces of good, firm card. The larger the piece, the more rigid/sturdy the board needs to be. Foamboard, available from art stores and some stationers, is an ideal base to weave on – very lightweight, too! – but unless I happen to have some lying around, it does negate the re-purposing ethic, somewhat.
2. The Frame Loom.
Frame looms come in a wide range of sizes, from 4″x 6″ (or smaller) up to maybe 2′ x 3′ (or larger). You can make your own frame loom from a picture frame or artist’s stretcher frames, because you literally do only need the frame itself, in order to weave. If you are the ‘handy’ type, there are no limits to the size of frame loom, as you can piece together exactly the size you need to meet your requirements. Click here for instructions (by somebody else!) to build a basic frame loom, or here for a re-purposed frame loom with nails added.
Whether re-purposing a picture frame or constructing your own, I recommend looking out for mitred or otherwise reinforced corners. Although it would be an interesting experiment to weave on a trapezium instead of a rectangle, you also run the risk of a non-reinforced frame collapsing under the strain of the warp, before you have finished. Take care!
Notches always make warping easier, but they are not essential, and you can space the warps evenly by other methods, such as a simple row of twining before you begin weaving. Alternatively, hammer nails along the shorter edges of your frame at regular intervals, or even hand-carve your own notches!
I, personally, am quite unequivocally not ‘handy’. I want to spend my time weaving, not building. The frame looms I use are approx. 6.5″ x 9″ (weaving area), and intended for children, so come with nice, evenly spaced notches (you can buy one here: I’ve used both frames on this page, and prefer the smaller, but it does depend on the project). Many frame looms of this type come with a shed (or heddle) bar, which can be helpful, but only really if you are weaving in straight rows.
So what are the advantages of a frame loom over a cardboard loom? Well, they are sturdier, for one thing, which may or may not make it easier for you to hold (they are not quite as lightweight, size depending), but certainly makes them more resilient on the sad occasion of an accident. Because of this solidity, you can pull the warp more firmly around the notches, and create better tension than with a cardboard loom. A big bonus in terms of branching out with more creative weaving techniques (ie beyond plain weave) is that you also have access to the reverse of the weaving – see pic above right.
3. The Bead Loom.
When most people think of bead looms in terms of tapestry, they think of the Mirrix (Little Guy or Big Sister). These looms are actually designed for tapestry as well as beadweaving, and have a sophisticated, apparently easy to warp shedding device. I have only heard good things about Mirrix looms, and would love to try one, but they are way out of my budget; and all of the less expensive bead looms I have tried give great results, anyway.
I have a couple from Beadlooms.com – the 6″ x 10″ and the 10″ x 16″ (the largest loom I currently own, aside from the forever de-constructed floor loom). These are lovely sturdy looms, with a solid base, that can lay flat on your lap or table, but stand equally firmly when rested on one of the shorter ends. The working area is designed to tilt away (or upwards, if you prefer working flat), making it a very versatile construction, and practical, as the tilting will help you avoid back strain while weaving.
I use a beadloom for miniature projects, when I want a more finely spaced warp. A cardboard loom will not withstand notches much closer together than a quarter inch, and you need the warp to be secure. It is possible to double-warp a frame loom, so that there are 2 warps to each notch; but the beadloom offers by far the greatest versatility, with the coil warp bars guiding placement as finely as you like.
I am as likely to use a bead loom as a frame loom for a small wall hanging, usually warped approx. every 3 warp coils. The greatest advantage of the beadloom is the ability to regulate tension in the warp, with the scroll bar at either end. I am more likely to use a bead loom for a larger piece, for this reason.
Card/board looms will always win my vote when it comes to bags. Although I love decorative needlework, practical sewing, along with carpentry, is one of my horrors. I find the whole process of stitching along seams tedious, and a waste of time, when I could be weaving. Boardweaving a bag negates the need for any sewing at all, and I look in bewilderment at any book that recommends weaving 2 halves then sewing them together. There’s just no need!
Card looms are also my only choice for shaped weaving (see right) and fitting to apertures. Yes, you could weave a piece on a ‘proper’ loom, then mount it in a frame; but the board backing makes it much easier to get the right size, much easier to mount, and requires no additional effort in removing from the loom. You might, very fairly, call me lazy.
Let me repeat: you might, very fairly, call me lazy. One of my prime motivations for using the frame loom is ease of mounting. If I warp the loom straight up and down, around the notches, then weave as closely as I can to top and bottom of the frame, once finished, all I need to do is slip the notches off the frame. Why knot a tassled fringe, if you don’t have to?! The little loops remaining at top and bottom of the pieces can then simply be slid onto a length of dowel/branch/whatever you prefer (see Pebbledash, above left). The easiest wallhanging EVER! Of course, being me, this is not a hard and fast rule, and I will also sometimes wrap the warp all the way around the back of the loom and fasten off with long tassles, anyway. I did say at the top of this page that I was inconsistent…
And then I use beadlooms for finely worked miniatures, or larger pieces. As mentioned above, it is perfectly possible to use a board loom for large pieces if you have access to a large enough piece of board, or a frame loom, if you are handy enough to make your own custom frame. I do not and am not (and let me reiterate once more, I am lazy). I also sometimes use the medium-sized beadloom where on another day I might use the frame loom. It really just depends on my mood.
Oh, I guess you might ask me what I would do if I wanted to weave something larger than 10″ x 16″? Well, there are options. A large piece of work does not have to consist of one single piece, and my first inclination would be to construct a piece out of interlinked panels, worked individually on smaller looms, but when combined adding up to a larger sum total. Otherwise, I suspect I would buy a piece of A1-sized foamboard and work on that. My least inclination would be to opt for a frame loom, although that would offer most versatility in terms of sizing options.
I must confess that in order to be prepared for the prospect of weaving larger pieces, I am tempted to buy a Glimakra adjustable tapestry frame. This is the most economical loom of its type I have thus far come across, in addition to which it is freestanding, and has an integral tension bar. This is something on my really-quite-likely list, for the New Year.
I headed this section of with the word ‘Conclusions’, so perhaps it’s about time I drew one. So hold onto your hats, and don’t expect anything too revelatory. In my carefully considered opinion, and although there might be a particular loom I err towards in certain circumstances, I think it would be fair to say that most of the looms, in most cases, are interchangeable (for me). Does that help at all? Oh well. The end.