What do I make with a rigid heddle loom?

The typical ‘first project’ on any loom might be something like a scarf or a table runner – a simple long, thin rectangle of cloth that needs no further work once it’s off the loom and wet-finished. Sometimes it’s hard to see where to progress to from there… And especially if you’re already a knitter or crocheter, making scarves is something you can already do so why invest in weaving equipment? Well, there are a few things you can make with a loom much more easily than with knitting or crochet.

This is such a versatile type loom too, and with some dedication there is a lot you can make with it. (Check out Amy D McKnight‘s work for some examples of how you can really push the limits with simple looms.)

Here are some of the projects that I’ve made on my rigid heddle loom, what I enjoyed about them, and what advantages or disadvantages there might be to making them with a rigid heddle rather than some other type of loom or another craft altogether.

Yes, you can easily make these using many other craft skills. What makes them enjoyable to weave for me, is using a variegated yarn and seeing the way the woven interlacement of the yarn completely changes the way the colours and textures turn out. Because you are not twisting the yarn around itself, you get to ‘see’ more of it in the weaving – it’s a really good way to use some beautiful hand-dyed skeins that will really show off the dye-work, and add variety and colour to your outfits.
For example here is a wrap I wove using Dyed by Hand Yarns‘ ‘Disco Fever’:

A rigid heddle loom on a wooden table with weaving in progress - using a yarn that is dark navy with short dashes of bright colours (pink, blue, yellow, green, orange). The coloured dashes criss-cross across the fabric. A boat shuttle is resting on top of the weaving.

And here’s the same yarn used in a knitting project (courtesy of foxlane on Ravelry):

In-progress pic of knitting a sock on small circular needles, the yarn is dark navy with short dashes of bright colours (pink, blue, yellow, green, orange) that come out as short speckles and squiggles in the knitting. The project is resting on a pale wooden surface.

The size and shape of each little colour splash changes, and because I used the same yarn in both warp and weft, I got all the random intersections and crosses of colours.
It’s a very different result and I find that fascinating to play with! I also love it when the colours in the yarn pool together in the warp or weft – this is also an effect you can play with on purpose by designing your project to a length or width that matches the colour repeat in the yarn.

I like using a rigid heddle loom for this type of project (something that’s only 1.5m – 2m long) as it can be very quick to direct-warp the loom compared to warping a table or floor loom, and you can weave each ‘row’ in seconds once you get started – I’m not the fastest knitter, so it would take me far longer to knit the same size scarf.

The rigid heddle may not be as easy to carry around as knitting, but for me it has a nice in-between portability – much much easier to travel with than a multi-shaft loom.

These are a small-ish size project, so you don’t necessarily gain a lot of speed by weaving here – you could certainly crochet or knit these.
In any craft though cushions are a fun way to play with unusual textures or small amounts of yarn like handspun or art yarn, because you can put all the fun bits on the front panel and then do a quick/ simple/ plain back (or even just sew the rest of the cushion from commercial fabric).
The following photo is a pair of cushions I made with a plain back and textured front (by inserting tufts of un-spun pink wool in with the weft).

Two handwoven cushions on a white & grey rug. The left cushion is yellow and pink, with bright pink streaks and dots of texture, the right cushion is pink and white with a fringe about 2/3 of the way up.

However, if you’re looking to learn some more advanced weaving skills, a cushion project is a great way to experiment with double-weave – that is, weaving two layers of fabric at once on your loom. By weaving the front and back layers joined up on either side (as a tube) you just need to sew up the open ends once wet finished and stuffed.

I’ve seen plenty of crocheted cotton shopping bags – very lightweight and easy to squish up when not in use. But knit and crochet stitches do have a stretch and cling to them (which can be very handy for clothing like a warm, snug jumper) that can make it hard to use as a firm structured bag.
Handwoven fabric though is great for making bags! And because you’re not wearing it on your skin you can use some of the sturdier and stronger fibres (not the super-soft expensive fine merino) to make good thick fabric. Also, where having a thicker fabric might be too hot for some clothes, that is not an issue with a bag. A floor loom might be better suited to making very firmly beaten fabric than a rigid heddle, but because you don’t need much fabric for a bag, it can be a quick project to use up left-overs or to work up quickly on a rigid heddle.
I had a thick sample piece of weaving I made from 8ply yarn – it was only 68cm x 24cm (~27″ x 9″) but that was enough to make a cute little messenger style bag. Because I fulled it quite heavily the fabric is very firm, though I think it could still do with a bit of interfacing in the lining perhaps. It also has a nice tweedy appearance and feel, especially with the checked colour pattern!

Small square messenger / satchel bag made of woven cloth in white with peach and pink stripes and checks, with a short fringe in the front flap. It's hanging from a brown strap with metal clips on a white door

Blankets & Rugs:
It’s a big, flat rectangle – time for weaving to shine!
Often the warping and threading of the loom is the most complex part and it can feel like it takes a long time but once you start weaving the rows fly by much faster than knitting or crochet – so the bigger/longer the weaving you do once that set-up is complete, the more payoff you get! This is all the more true for a multi-shaft table or floor loom.

If you’re interested in making lots of blankets and rugs a bigger floor loom could be a good investment, but don’t worry if that’s not within your budget, a rigid heddle loom can certainly handle a blanket project. Even if you have a narrow loom, you can weave a looooong strip then cut into sections and join them together for a wider piece. Or, you can move into double-weave /double-width territory, and weave a blanket twice the width of the loom! I have made several baby blankets and knee rugs on my 70cm (28″) Knitters Loom. The largest was 90cm x 130cm (35″ x 51″).

A cosy, warm, woollen blanket weaves up very quickly in 8 or 10 ply yarn. Alternatively, if speed is less of a goal, you can go for fine cotton yarn (laceweight or even smaller) and make a lightweight summer blanket, like this rainbow Log-Cabin project using Ashford 5/2 weaving cotton:

Tea Towels & Hand Towels:
These are fast becoming a favourite project for me because they are so useful. I tend to have at least two ‘active’ tea towels in the kitchen at any time, and one for drying hands at both the bathroom and laundry sinks. Because they need to kept clean I rotate through them often. I’ve seen crochet dish-clothes many times, but never a whole tea towel. For something that may see such heavy use, weaving means that it won’t unravel or ladder if you get hole in it, and it’s easy to darn and repair.

A plaid tea towel hanging from a hook in the corner of a kitchen, beside an oven, there is another tea towel hanging on the oven door with kiwi birds on it, and shelves with some pans and trays poking out.

I’ve had many people say to me “Oh no, that’s far too beautiful for drying the dishes” but you know what? I hate doing the dishes! Anything that can bring a little joy and brightness to the chores is a win for me! And every time I use my colourful and cheerful towels I get a little thrill from knowing that I made them myself.

I’ve also found that because they are a thicker fabric than the usual tea towels you buy in the shops, they work well for folding over your hand when taking hot things out of the oven, and protecting the benchtop when you put them down too.

For a free pattern for cotton hand-towels with video instructions you can check out Kelly Casanova’s “Wash Your Hands!” towels here.

Of course, the other thing you can do with a loom is weave meterage (aka yardage). Just a great big, long piece of fabric… You can then cut & sew that fabric into all sort of things!

I don’t have much sewing experience so that had limited my scope until recently… But 2020 had me to pulling the sewing machine out to make face-masks and since then I’ve been learning skills and improving my sewing confidence. I have a few woven pieces, both large and small, that I’m lining up in the sewing queue – I’ll be sure to share more details here when I get to them!

black & white photo of a very simple elna sewing machine, a piece of dark-coloured woven cloth, a tape measure and a pair of fiskars scissors

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