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Curious About Rigid Heddle Looms? An Interview with Ria Koopmans

Ria, our Guild Secretary, enjoys weaving on both shaft and rigid heddle looms. In this interview, she shares her wisdom on rigid heddle weaving and her own weaving journey.

What kind of rigid heddle loom do you own?

I have a Schacht 25" rigid heddle loom. It is an old model which I bought in the mid-1990s. I bought a stand with it that, in principle, would allow for longer warps but I ended up never fully installing that feature. While the loom is fine, the stand is not very stable. They carried that model only for a very short while before pulling it off the market. In retrospect I realize that I would never put warps up that would require this extra length, but oh well! The loom is somewhat different from newer Schacht models, and does not allow for double heddles, which I don't mind, because I have shaft looms if I wish to work more complicated patterns.

What do you like about rigid heddle looms/weaving compared to shaft or other types of looms?

I like both rigid heddle and shaft loom weaving. They each have their strengths and weaknesses. That said, with a rigid heddle loom I feel more involved with the weaving because you do much more hand-manipulation on an rigid heddle loom. Rigid heddle looms also tend to be more accommodating to hand-controlled patterns which, at least in my experience, are much more of a hassle on shaft looms. Just look at all the amazing patterns in Jane Patrick's The Weaver's Idea Book! It bothers me that many people do not take rigid heddle looms seriously, as though the number of shafts equals skill. Just look at weavers in South America and Southeast Asia and the amazing things they produce, often not even with the relative support that an rigid heddle frame offers! Dressing a shaft loom may be a lot of work, but once you have that done the weaving is much more mechanical. In many ways rigid heddle looms, and backstrap looms for that matter (just a bunch of sticks!), require much more skill to produce a good end product.

What is your favorite item that you’ve made on a rigid heddle loom, and why?

While I have made all sorts of things, my all time favorite piece continues to be a small tapestry purse. I fairly recently also made a small vest out of a piece of cloth I wove on my RH loom, in a window-pane pattern of two novelty yarns (it was posted as a show-and-tell on the Guild's facebook). That, in fact, illustrates another strength of rigid heddle looms. They are much more accommodating to yarns you might not want to use on a shaft loom, like knitting yarns. Rigid heddle looms tend not to have as tight a tension as shaft looms, so if a yarn is not too stretchy you can use it on an rigid heddle loom, while on a shaft loom the tension would stretch it so tight it would deform the final product too much.

Is there a project you’d like to be able to do in future on your rigid heddle loom, and why?

Actually, my current project is a perfect example. I am weaving a pattern from Betty Linn Davenport's Hands On Rigid Heddle Weaving. I used that book to teach myself back in the 1990s, and had woven that particular pattern back then, but didn't really know what I was doing at the time, so the final result was rather disastrous, way too tightly beaten and with loads of draw-in. When the project is done I will do a show-and-tell of it with both pieces to illustrate the learning process.

What attracted you to weaving?

Fiber Arts have always interested me. My mother was an active crafter (although her favorite technique was cross-stitch embroidery, which I never much took to), so I was exposed to hand crafting early on. I sew, knit, crochet (a little), spindle spin, etc. Way back in the 1970s, while still in the Netherlands, I took a fiber art workshop, which wasn't really very good because the instructor tried to cover way too much and consequently didn't cover anything very well. The exposure was however enough for me to follow through afterwards on some of the techniques covered, and  the one thing I had liked best was weaving. Ironically, during the workshop we spent more time on assembling our own looms from scratch than on actually weaving. I kept that loom for years, though I never did get around to even finishing that first project, and when I moved to the US I had to do away with it.

What do you like about being a member of the NYGH?

When I first visited an open house of the Guild I was very insecure. I "only" had the one RH loom, and like so many people thought that didn't really qualify me as a serious weaver, but I was greeted and encouraged so kindly that it inspired me to get more serious about my weaving. What seems to set our Guild apart from many others is that we welcome everyone regardless of skill level and loom type, though I must add that this is hearsay, and I have never visited other guilds. I'm sure there are plenty of them that would be equally welcoming. At any rate, becoming a member and attending the monthly meetings was just what I needed as an incentive to start taking my weaving more seriously. I have made tremendous progress since then, learned a lot, and developed many new skills, which I wouldn't have on my own.

Thank you, Ria, for sharing with us! And for those of you who are thinking of buying a rigid heddle loom, Ria brings up several good points:

She notes that her loom stand is not very stable, and I noted other people with the same problem when I attended a rigid heddle weaving workshop at the Mid Atlantic Fiber Association's 2019 conference. Half the participants in my workshop complained that their looms were wobbly on their stands. So if you are thinking of purchasing a loom with a stand, test drive it before you buy.

Ria mentions that her loom doesn't allow for "double heddles" - what does this mean? Some rigid heddle looms can support two heddles instead of just one. This allows you to weave even more types of structures than using a single heddle and pickup sticks allow. (Note that this still allows for a lot of structures!) One example of the benefits of using 2 heddles is double weave, a structure that allows you to weave double the width of fabric on your loom.

She references The Weaver's Idea Book written by Jane Patrick, the former editor of Handwoven Magazine. At my beginner weaving class, I was told that if you only ever purchase one book on rigid heddle weaving, this is the one!

Ria points out a major feature of rigid heddle looms: "They are much more accommodating to yarns you might not want to use on a shaft loom, like knitting yarns." Falling in love with yarn is often the lead-in to weaving, but shaft looms generally require weaving specific yarns. Rigid heddle looms, particularly the Ashford Knitters Loom, can accommodate a wide range of yarns including handspun and novelty yarns.

And finally, Ria states that our Guild welcomes everyone regardless of skill level and loom type, and this is absolutely true!

For those of you who have never tried weaving on a rigid heddle loom, give one a try! Often considered to be "beginner" looms, rigid heddle looms can do almost anything a multishaft can do, plus they are less expensive and more portable. The NYGH has a 10-inch Cricket (with 5, 8 10 and 15 dent reeds) and a 24-inch LeClerc (with a 6 dent reed) available to rent for our members (click here for details) - another reason to join the NYGH!


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