Translating a 2 or 4 harness draft to a Rigid Heddle Pick Up String Heddle Plan...and execution!

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Sisababe wrote
on 26 Dec 2012 7:06 PM

I would love to use my Rigid Heddle to weave some of the great patterns I find in Handwoven. I have Betty Davenports book "The Weavers Idea Book" and have looked at some videos on YouTube but just can't seem to put it all together. I think the top row of these drafts have to do with the set up of the warp and pick sticks or string heddles and the vertical rows of the draft with the picks, but I can't decipher the actual set-up and motions on a rigid heddle..What do those numbers and boxes really mean! I would love to know how to read these drafts so I can use the patterns for a four harness loom on my rigid heddle loom. Do I need two rigid heddles on my loom for these patterns?  Do I set up the string heddles in the neutral, up, or down position? Then,  do I weave using just the string heddles to create sheds or do I move the rigid heddle up and down as well as the string heddles and how does these actions translate from the written draft?  Understanding how to read these drafts and translate them to the rigid heddle loom would make reading and using the patterns in the Handwoven magazine much more fun for those of us with only rigid heddle looms. Handwoven does not contain many patterns for the rigid heddle weaver...Please help!

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Lynn Tedder wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 4:34 PM

Hi Sisababe,
Theoreticallyyou can weave any 2-shaft pattern in Handwoven, because the rigid heddle loom is essentially a 2-shaft loom (one "shaft" consists of  the threads through the slots, and the other, the threads in the holes). However with one rigid heddle, you are limited to setts of 5, 8, 10, or 12 ends per inch, so if the project uses finer threads and a sett closer than 12 epi, you will need to adjust. It is possible to weave on the rigid heddle at "double density," using 2 rigid heddles that are the same size, to get 16, 20 or 24 epi. The Weaver's Idea Book has some good information about how to do this. But if the pattern specifies anything closer than 24 epi, you are pretty much out of luck, unless you can adapt the pattern to heavier threads.

Weaving 4-shaft patterns on a rigid heddle is more problematic. Because shaft looms and rigid heddles work fundamentally differently, you can't take just any 4-shaft draft and translate it directly to a rigid heddle using a certain number of rigid heddles, or substitute string heddles or pick-up sticks. Bronson lace, for example, requires only only 1 heddle and a pick-up stick to easily weave patterns that are a lot more complex than anything you can do on a 4-shaft loom without pick-up. With 2 rigid heddles the same size and some pick-up sticks, you can weave doublewidth fabrics, complex patterns in Summer and Winter, and 3-shaft twills (the "jeans" twill and 3-shaft point twill). 

4-shaft twills and structures that are derived from 4-shaft twills, like overshot, and shadow weave are a good deal more complicated to thread and weave on a rigid heddle loom, although it can be done. These structures take three rigid heddles the same size, plus pick-up sticks (and optionally, string heddles) to weave. It's not a simple or easy-to-understand process, but the best book on the subject is the long out-of-print The Xenakis Technique for the construction of four harness textiles by David Xenakis (Golden Fleece Publishing, 1978). I notice that a few copies are available online from used dealers on Amazon, so it's not impossible to get. And the upside is, if you can get through this book, you will understand both how to read shaft-loom drafts and how to translate them to the rigid heddle loom.

As it happens, I wove only on a rigid heddle loom for the first two years of my weaving life, and The Xenakis Technique is how I learned to read shaft loom drafts. I do have to say, though, if weaving a lot of twills is in your future, you might think about acquiring a shaft loom at some point. Warping and weaving twills on a rigid heddle can be a slow, complicated process.

Lynn Tedder



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CarolineA wrote
on 27 Dec 2012 5:45 PM

If you don't mind totally ditching your rigid heddle, you can weave most multi-shaft patterns on your loom using string heddles and setting them up as shafts. It is possible to weave a 4 shaft twill with two or three rigid heddles as shown in the Xenakis book, but its very complicated and not for the faint-hearted or beginners.

I use the same techniques as are used by backstrap weavers on my knitter's loom, and set the string heddles up in exactly the same way as the shafts are used in the weaving draft. It does take much longer to weave, but the results are lovely. If its something you are going to want to do all the time. I would recommend hiring or purchasing a 4 shaft loom, but for the occasional project, or if time is not a problem, it can be done on the loom you currently have.

The best resource for backstrap weaving is

While most of her weaving is warp-faced, she has woven projects in Shadow weave, Rosepath and Twills, and she provides some good links to other resources.

Also, if you go through the archives at there are back copies of out of date weaving magazines where some patterns have been successfully converted to rigid heddle weaving, These articles and patterns are free of copyright so you can download to your hearts content. Some of the weavers who worked between the wars and just after WW2 were very ingenious in how they found, rewrote and adapted new patterns for everyone to enjoy.

Hope this helps. You can do far more with a rigid heddle loom than people would have you believe, and its great fun pushing the boundaries.

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Sisababe wrote
on 28 Dec 2012 6:56 AM


Thank you so much for taking the time to write this very detailed and comprehensive explanation! What you have outlined makes perfect sense and I appreciate your suggestions. I think I will stop trying to push my rigid heddle loom so much and just enjoy the wide variety it can easily do. Maybe I will look into getting a 4 harness loom too!


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Sisababe wrote
on 28 Dec 2012 7:00 AM


Thank you for your great suggestions and explanations! I appreciate it. I will check into the resources you list and will also take up your suggestion of renting some time on a 4 shaft. That will give me an opportunity to "try before I decide to buy"!


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