Over the last year, I’ve gone from occasionally dabbling in weaving to being full on obsessed. I’ve experimented with a lot of different types of weaving, which means I’ve bought and used a lot of different looms. This means I’ve developed some strong ~opinions~ about looms and how beginner friendly they are. So in this post I’ll give you my take on what the best weaving loom for beginners is. I hope it will help you figure out where to start on your own weaving journey!
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Most weavers, including myself, start out with frame looms. They’re the most intuitive to set up and even quality looms can be bought for under 100$. Mini looms and lower quality looms can be found in the 40$ and under range easily. However, there are two big issues with frame looms: warp tension and time.
Understanding how loose or tight the warp should be was one of my biggest challenges as a new weaver. And it’s the sort of knowledge that can’t easily be transferred via video or writing. While the other types of looms here allow you to adjust the tension throughout the weaving process, basic frame looms do not. A too loose or too tight warp can make weaving difficult.
The set up of a frame loom also makes it a slower process. While the looms below use various methods to create a shed (opening for the shuttle to pass through), frame looms usually don’t have a good method built in. There are some methods for creating a shed, but those tend to be pretty rudimentary. So in most cases you’ll end up manually weaving the weft in and out of the warp a significant part of the time. This may not be a big issue if you’re weaving decorative tapestry or 3D pieces, but significantly slows things down when trying to weave functional textiles.
If you are going to start with a frame loom, I recommend choosing a smaller one. A mini loom is a great way to try out weaving without committing to a project that will take months. My favorite is still my Flax and Twine hand held mini loom (similar loom available on Etsy). I’ve also recently been working on this Geometric Tapestry Kit from Crafter which is also a great introduction to weaving. It comes with this travel loom, that is great if you don’t have a lot of storage space When you start feeling like you need more space or want to do more complex projects, look into the other types of looms below.
Rigid Heddle Loom
Rigid heddle looms have become very popular in recent years and it’s not hard to see why. These looms are compact and portable, but able to weave much larger pieces than frame looms.
They’re also relatively affordable. Rigid heddle looms vary from about 150$ to 500$, with most falling around 250$ to 300$. Larger looms, looms that can fold, and higher quality looms usually cost more. It’s also possible, if you’re handy, to build your own. Either way they’re an investment, but not unreasonably so.
While there is a bit of a learning curve to getting the warp on, the actual process of weaving is very easy. Weaving on a rigid heddle loom is much faster than on a frame loom. Because the loom uses a cloth beam and a warp beam to wind finished fabric and extra warp threads, finished pieces can be much longer than the length of the loom.
The biggest downside in my opinion is that you need a wide variety of different reeds to weave at a lot of different setts (thread densities). Reed price varies depending on the loom type and width, but for my 16” Ashford each read is about 40$. So, even having a few different reed sizes can really add up!
The other major concern with rigid heddle looms is that, in their basic form, they can only do plain weave. You can get a 2/1 twill with a second heddle, but it can’t support the complex weaves that 4, 8, or 16 shaft looms can.
However, there is still a whole world of weaving to explore on a rigid heddle. I highly recommend buying a copy of Inventive Weaving on a little Loom by Fiona Daly. One of the major criticisms of rigid heddle looms is that they aren’t versatile enough, but this book really shows how you can make the most of this relatively simple tool.
I got my start on rigid heddle looms through Crafter’s Premium Rigid Heddle workshop. While I have mixed feelings about the Ashford loom that comes with the kit, the other materials are gorgeous and I use the scarf I made from the kit regularly. Crafter also just released an advanced rigid heddle workshop which is on my “want” list!
Tapestry Loom or Tensioned Frame Loom
Another direction to consider is a tapestry loom. These look similar to frame looms, but provide various mechanisms that allow you to adjust the tension of the warp throughout your project. They also usually have some sort of shedding device to make weaving go faster.
The downside of these looms is the cost. With the exception of the Miurix Saffron Pocket Loom, most tapestry looms will run a couple hundred dollars. These are definitely for someone who is looking for a long term craft, not just a one-off toy. The cost is also the main reason I don’t have one in my ever growing loom collection yet. But one of these days I’ll likely end up getting either the Schact Arras or
If you do find yourself drawn to tapestry weaving, The Art of Tapestry Weaving by Rebecca Mezoff is a great book to get you started. I borrowed it from my library twice before finally breaking down and purchasing my own copy to have for reference.
If you find yourself interested in weave structures and more complex pieces, a table loom is a good place to start. Even if you think you’ll eventually want a large floor loom (and I know I do!) investing in a table loom first is a smart move. Many experienced weavers keep one around for experimentation and sampling when they’re planning projects for their larger loom. Additionally, if you plan on taking or teaching workshops, a small table loom can be moved much more easily.
Price is the major barrier with table looms. Expect to pay somewhere between 700$ and 1300$, depending on the size, brand, and features you want. If you want a breakdown of the different options on the market right now I recently wrote about how I chose my 8-shaft table loom. Personally, I ended up going with the Woolhouse Norah 8-shaft table loom and I couldn’t be happier.
The other barrier to starting with a table loom is that learning how to dress the loom (put on the warp) can be a bit overwhelming. As much as I love online learning (and this Craftsy class is a pretty good introduction for both floor and table looms!) I found that I needed an in-person class to get started. If you do go with a table loom, find a local weaving school or guild to help your get started. Once you’ve got the basic concepts down, I really love Learning to Weave by Deborah Chandler and The Handweaver’s Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon as references for self-study.
Things start to get really interesting when you move into floor looms. Some types, like jack looms, operate in nearly the same way that table looms do. Other types of floor looms use different mechanisms for raising and lowering the heddles. These looms can be as simple as a basic four shaft countermarch and as complicated as a giant draw loom.
The big downsides to starting with a floor loom are space and price. You’ll need to be able to move all around the loom in order to dress it, so it’s not something you can just cram into a corner. Floor looms also are some of the most expensive looms, though this varies widely depending on the type and size. A secondhand 26-inch jack loom can be found for a few hundred dollars, while a new coutermarche loom is can easily run into the thousands.
In general, I wouldn’t recommend buying a floor loom for a new weaver. But if you happen to have access to one, there’s no reason you can’t start there. Again, Janet Dawson‘s Craftsy class can help get you going, but I still highly recommend taking a few lessons at an in-person weaving school or guild.
There are an unknowable number of different specialty and traditional looms of widely different degrees of approachability for newbies and cost. Think about what kind of things you’d like to make and research what sort of looms are used. For example, if you like the idea of weaving small, complex pieces, an inkle loom or tablet weaving may be right for you. Or if you’re looking to revisit your childhood, maybe look into a potholder loom.
I’d also recommend looking at techniques that you may have a personal connection to. Your cultural heritage may connect you to a tradition of weaving or the region you live in may have an established group of artisans practicing traditional weaving. Learning traditional weaving techniques is a great way to connect with that heritage and preserve culture. Plus, you’ll benefit from a built in community and access to teachers.
While most weaving is done on looms, some small projects don’t need one at all. There are some beautiful project ideas in Anne Weil‘s book Weaving Within Reach that don’t require any sort of loom. Or consider a project that uses strips of fabric to weave a pillow cover. Additionally, if you’re interested in no-loom weaving, you may want to explore basket weaving. This is a great fit for anyone who is intrigued by weaving, but wants to explore more 3D forms.
Weaving without a loom can be a great way to get started because you don’t have the upfront cost of a loom and you don’t need to store it when you’re done. However, it’s difficult to produce really fine or complex work without one.
The best loom for a beginner weaver is going to depend on interest, budget, and location. For weavers interested in wearable and practical pieces, I’d recommend starting with a rigid heddle loom. Spend a year or so exploring the possibilities with that, then decided if you want to move on to a multi-shaft table or floor loom.
For those who are more drawn to tapestry and decorative work, start with a small frame loom. You’ll want to explore different materials and techniques on this inexpensive first loom before moving on to a more expensive, adjustable tension tapestry loom.
And don’t forget to explore the options for classes, guilds, and ways of learning in your area. You may just find a people willing to share knowledge (and tools!) related to a facet of weaving you never would have considered otherwise.
Do you weave? Or have you recently bought a loom? Let me know in the comments or over on Instagram!