Choosing the right shuttle when starting your next weaving project can make or break your experience — and sometimes affect your selvedges too! In this article, I’ll be sharing some of the things I consider when choosing what shuttle to use as well as explaining the differences between stick shuttles, boat shuttles, and more.
If you’re brand new to rigid heddle or shaft loom weaving, the shuttle is one of your most important tools. Tapestry weavers don’t tend to use shuttles as frequently — they’re more likely to need weaving needles or tapestry bobbins. When it comes to weaving on a rigid heddle or floor loom, the shuttle is a tool to help you efficiently pass your weft through the shed. There are several different styles of shuttles that you might like to try.
A stick shuttle is a long flat rectangular piece of wood with a notch at either end; this notch is what you wind your yarn around. Most manufacturers include one or two stick shuttles with their rigid heddle looms, but weavers who use narrow table looms or are doing techniques such as inlay may also like to use a stick shuttle.
The stick shuttle is passed through your shed from hand to hand. Stick shuttles come in a variety of lengths, but I generally recommend using one that is 1-3” longer than the width of your project. If it’s a lot longer it becomes inefficient to pass it through (you need extra wingspan!), while if it’s too short you end up having to reach through your warp to grab it.
The next step up from a stick shuttle is the boat shuttle. It offers several different features from a stick shuttle — and it needs a couple of extra pieces of equipment too.
The boat shuttle is a long and narrow rectangle. Unlike the stick shuttle, which is flat, boat shuttles hover around 1” tall, with an interior hollow that holds a plastic or wooden bobbin that holds your yarn. A small slit in the side of the shuttle lets yarn unwind from the bobbin during weaving.
Weaving with a boat shuttle is faster and more efficient than with a stick shuttle because instead of passing it from hand to hand, you throw it through your shed from one hand to the other. The bottom of the boat shuttle glides across the weft without snagging or catching. This makes boat shuttles excellent for weaving wide widths and with floor looms where you treadle with your feet to change sheds and wish to weave at a faster pace.
Some boat shuttles have open bottoms and others have low profiles; some are longer and others shorter (Gist sells two lengths: 11.5” and 14” long). What you choose is mainly personal preference, though if you’ve invested in bobbins of a certain size or profile, be absolutely certain they fit your chosen shuttle and winder!
Boat shuttles need two extra pieces of equipment to use: bobbins and a bobbin winder. You cannot wind yarn efficiently onto a bobbin by hand — it would take forever and the tension would be uneven, which affects how the yarn rolls off the bobbin (and thus your weft and selvedges). Bobbin winders handily clamp to a variety of surfaces so they’re easy to put away when not in use.
There are many other types of shuttles that you might like to try in your weaving practice — here are a few I’ve used or come across:
Okay, but which shuttle do I choose?? Here are a few things I would consider when picking a shuttle for your next project or if you’re curious about investing in a new tool.
Weight: Shuttles from various manufacturers weigh differently, which might help or hinder you depending on the project. A short and heavy shuttle, for example, may fall through a lacy project like the Cafe Table Runner, while a light and long one may not have enough heft to pass through a wide warp.
At the end of the day, when you’re sitting down at your loom to start your next project the choice of shuttle is highly personal. What feels right to you is the correct shuttle to use! In practice, I find myself using a variety of shuttles depending on the project or loom.
With my table loom, I mostly use stick shuttles or one of my two short and narrow Japanese shuttles, because I only have 15” of weaving width and a narrow shed; weaving fast and efficiently isn’t always possible when I have to lift and lower shafts with toggles either (especially when the draft is complex!).
On my floor loom I use standard boat shuttles. I have two shuttles and oodles of bobbins, which I find completely adequate for all of my needs. I have a rag shuttle and a ski shuttle (I found that one at the thrift store once!) and a double bobbin shuttle, though I use it infrequently. I’ve tried an end feed shuttle, but I didn’t like winding the bobbin (it takes a slightly different technique) and I didn’t find it improved my selvedges at all — time, practice, and feel helped me do that.
Many weavers want to know when it is the right time to upgrade from a stick shuttle to a boat shuttle — and sometimes the best way to know is to try! Borrow a shuttle from a friend or a guild and see if you enjoy using it and it helps you weave. With so many variations on type, size, and shape, the right shuttle for one project may not be the right one for the next. Do you have any questions about Gist’s shuttles? Send us an email before purchase and we’ll help you choose the right one.
Amanda Rataj is an artist and weaver living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has developed her contemporary craft practice through research-based projects, artist residencies, professional exhibitions, and lectures. Subscribe to her studio newsletter or follow her on Instagram to learn about new weaving patterns, exhibitions, projects, and more.