Getting Started Weaving: What You Need as a Beginner

20 July 2022
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One of my greatest joys in craft is introducing other makers to weaving. As someone who came to weaving after being a knitter, dyer, and spinner, I absolutely love that weaving draws upon all the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired from the various fibre arts and crafts I’ve practiced. When I weave I feel complete—like I get to use my entire body and mind in the design and creation of cloth. It’s amazing. My passion and mission is to introduce other fibre crafters to this feeling of being able to use their yarns in a new way.

image description: a shot of a woman sitting at a large weaving loom; she is weaving stiletto heeled shoes

Felicia Lo, learning to weave on a Leclerc Nilus jack loom at Place des Arts in 2007. Photo credit Irene Weisner.

In weaving, one set of yarns (warp) are held parallel to each other under tension using a loom while a second yarn (weft) is interlaced through the warp threads using a shuttle, to create a cloth (web) on the loom. It sounds complicated, but weaving is actually one of the most accessible crafts you can try. With nothing more than a few strips of paper, you can create a simple weave and learn how threads interlace. Stepping up from that, you could use a piece of cardboard to create a loom to hold warp threads and then weave back and forth with a weft yarn threaded through a needle.

If you are interested in weaving longer lengths of cloth that could become scarves, shawls, or even yardage for garments, you will need a loom that can accommodate a longer warp. If you want to have more control over aspects of your handwoven cloth, like texture, pattern, firmness, drape, and sheen, you might need a more sophisticated loom. As well, you’ll need some form of weaving instruction to learn how to use the loom, and I highly encourage you to join a community of like-minded weavers who will encourage and support you in your weaving journey.

Weaving Looms and Space for Weaving

If you asked a dozen weavers what equipment you should start with, I’m sure you’d get a dozen different answers, from rigid heddle looms to floor looms. Any loom will help you weave cloth, but each one will also have its quirks and limitations.

With a rigid heddle loom, you can get started very quickly and be weaving within an hour. I will often suggest a rigid heddle loom for someone who is curious about the feeling of throwing a shuttle and making cloth. It’s also a fantastic way to weave samples of a new-to-you yarn and to quickly experiment with different ideas.

As you begin to explore weaving, you’ll no doubt discover the world of weave structures like twill, overshot, doubleweave, or lace. To weave those structures, you need to have more control over which warp ends are raised up to make the opening (shed) for the shuttle, and a multishaft loom will make this easier. You can also weave many of these more complex weave structures on a rigid heddle loom by using additional reeds and pickup sticks, but the process feels more straightforward with a 4-shaft loom.

If you asked a dozen weavers what equipment you should start with, I’m sure you’d get a dozen different answers…

image description: s small loom with a length of handwoven fabric in progress

Rigid heddle looms can get you weaving very quickly. Warping this little loom and weaving a sample took less than an hour, altogether!

Another great place to start your weaving journey is learning about weaving drafts. A weaving draft is a convention for documenting how looms are threaded, how floor loom treadles are tied-up to the various shafts, and in what order they are treadled. With a 4-shaft table loom, you don’t need to worry about tying up treadles—you can simply flip a lever to raise whichever shaft you need. It’s a fantastic way to clearly see what is happening with each warp thread. Starting with a 4-shaft table loom sets you up to explore more weave structures and you can easily expand into larger weaving widths or multishaft floor looms, if you desire.

Since I mainly weave on multishaft floor looms, my unabashedly biased recommendation is for new weavers to begin learning with a 4-shaft table loom. The process of dressing the loom (putting the warp threads on the loom) and threading the heddles of each shaft is simple and scalable; you use the same process whether you are using a 4-shaft or a 32-shaft loom.

Undeniably, weaving looms take up space. Your available space will be one of the first considerations that affects your loom decision. You might need to choose a small rigid heddle loom that you can tuck in a corner or even hang from a peg on the wall, or you might have a spare bedroom that can accommodate a sixty-inch-wide floor loom.

image description: a close up of a two colour woven fabric in place on a loom

Four-shaft looms allow you to create different weave structures like twill. 

Accessing Weaving Education

The practice of weaving textiles dates back to the Neolithic period (approximately 10,000 BCE to 4,500 BCE) with the development of agriculture and raising of domesticated animals. In every corner of the world, cloth is woven using different tools and techniques. As you might imagine, the variety of weaving skills, techniques, and weave structures is immense and globally diverse; it can feel overwhelming to figure out where to start.

As I was learning to weave, one of my challenges was getting a weaving education. I was lucky to be able to go to a fibre arts studio to learn in-person with an instructor and a room full of floor looms, but it was also an unsustainably long commute to get there each week. Another option for learning with a weaving instructor is going to a weaving conference or a retreat. Events like these might be held only once a year and sometimes involve several days travelling plus the cost of travel and accommodations. With a young family at home and a business to run, I found it difficult to carve out the time to go away for multiple days at a time.

image description: a large loom with a two coloured fabric being woven

Weaving a twill blanket with gradient hand-dyed weft yarn on a four-shaft counterbalance loom.

My only other option was to absorb as much knowledge as possible through old weaving books. Guild libraries often have collections of weaving books, but one of the challenges I’m running into now is that many of the more technical weaving books that are recommended reading were written in the 1930s and 1940s and are rare and out-of-print today—not surprising since they are nearly 100 years old! Plus, when you survey weaving books from different decades, weave structures are documented and described in different ways, making it a puzzle to figure out which book to follow.

My solution is a bit unconventional. Several years ago, I decided to create my own online video-based fibre arts school called the School of SweetGeorgia. Rather than travelling to meet weaving teachers and take classes at retreats, we now invite weaving (and other fibre arts) teachers into our SweetGeorgia Studio in Vancouver, and we film workshops so that everyone can have access to current weaving education taught by masters and practicing artisans. The School of SweetGeorgia provides in-depth technical education as well as project inspiration that is available 24/7, globally accessible, and on-demand. We started with courses about the basics of weaving to help anyone get started, but we are also continuing to build courses at different skill levels and focused on different techniques. Being able to look over the shoulder of an experienced weaver for a close-up view of what is happening on the loom is invaluable.

image description: a large weaving loom, with a two-colour fabric in progress

The same threading on a four-shaft loom can produce a wide variety of textiles, simply by changing the treadling sequence.

Joining a Weaving Community

When I started learning to weave, I remember reading about how weaving was a lonely and solitary practice compared to more social and portable crafts like knitting and crochet. Nope, you can’t bring your floor loom to a coffee shop to sit and weave with other weavers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have weaving friends.

In the past, weavers often worked together on the same loom, one person sitting at the warp beam passing threads forward to another person who would thread the heddles. In the fibre arts room where I learned to weave with other students, we could all be working on our looms together at the same time. Being in community with other weavers helps make the learning journey so much more enjoyable.

Finding weaving friends and a weaving community is often challenging, but joining the local weaving guild can be a great way to meet other active and experienced weavers. Guilds will meet regularly either in-person or virtually. With a very active family life, it’s nearly impossible for me to attend guild meetings right now, but for those who do attend, the experience can be very rewarding.

There are also many, many different online communities for weaving, but they seem to be hyper focussed. For example, there are online groups for “4-shaft Weavers” or “4-shaft Schacht Wolf Weavers” or “Leclerc Loom Weavers” or, more specifically, “Leclerc Mira Loom Owners.” Each group is so specific, I would be meeting weavers of that very narrow topic. I find that I only go to these very niche online communities to answer very specific questions that I might have; it’s not where I would go to meet or share with my weaving friends.

This is another reason why we built a community into the School of SweetGeorgia. The school is built around two things: content and community. The community discussion forums give us a place to talk about what we are learning, to share thoughts and ideas, and to simply hang out with fibre arts friends. Many of the members are also multicraftual makers who might knit, spin, weave, dye, or any combination of the above, and this gives an open and welcoming vibe to the conversations.

Learning to weave can be as simple as choosing a loom, finding someone to teach you, and becoming part of a community that will support you. It’s my goal to make each step easy and encouraging as you discover weaving. I can’t wait to see what you weave first!

Images by Felicia Lo unless otherwise noted.

Copyright © Felicia Lo except as indicated.

About Felicia Lo

Obsessed with colour and craft, my journey through knitting, sewing, spinning, dyeing, and the fibre arts have led me to weaving. I’m the founder of SweetGeorgia Yarns and the School of SweetGeorgia. You’ll also find me talking about making time to make things here on YouTube. Through Lo Meets Loom, I explore weaving from both personal and professional perspectives. I’ve been learning to weave since 2006 and started on a Leclerc Dorothy table loom. Soon after, I wove a blanket on a Leclerc Nilus jack loom and a rug on a Leclerc Fanny counterbalance loom. Working on these humble projects has brought me a joy that I have been trying to articulate and share ever since. Today, I weave on two Louet Spring countermarche looms, a Schacht Baby Wolf jack loom in cherry, a Leclerc 45″ Mira and a Leclerc 27″ Fanny counterbalance looms to explore interactions of hand-dyed yarn in handwoven cloth and teach all of these skills and crafts at the School of SweetGeorgia.

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