One of the most common questions from friends and strangers eager to start weaving is how to buy a used loom. I’m always happy to help, but I never have a straightforward answer, which is perhaps a bit disappointing for someone looking for me tell them exactly what to get! But what works for me may not work for you, so in that spirit, I’ve compiled a few questions that I like to ask myself when looking at second-hand looms and where I like to look.
This article barely scratches the surface of buying a used weaving loom, so in part two I’ll be asking some weaving colleagues to share with me their top tips when looking at a loom for sale - keep your eyes peeled for that one coming in a few weeks.
1. What do I want to make?
When someone asks me about buying a loom, I usually like to enquire what they want to make. What you can make on a given loom is primarily limited by two factors: size and how many shafts/harnesses that they have (more harnesses = greater complexity in structure/pattern). Having an idea of what you feel excited about making can really help narrow your options down. For someone that wants to make scarves, small towels, or other narrow objects, a rigid heddle or table loom might be the perfect tool. If you know you’d like more flexibility to work in structures like twill or doubleweave, or make wider items like blankets or yardage, a floor loom might be a better fit. It’s hard to know what you want to do when starting though, so it’s always good to ask yourself…
2. What size is practical for my home/my body?
There was a time when I lived in a teeny studio apartment and was dying for a loom - but in retrospect, I probably would have had to sacrifice my dining table to fit it in (and I totally would have if the right one had come along - but that’s maybe another blog post!). Thinking about what size of loom is going to work in your living situation is an important question to ask yourself - looms tend to take up more room than you think. Some looms are solid objects, while others, like the Baby Wolf, can fold and can be tucked away (or put into the car to bring to workshops or the cottage). You may have a spare corner of a living room or a disused bedroom, but in shared accommodations, your roommates may not welcome a huge loom taking up space.
Another good thing to ask yourself is: will this loom work for my body? We’ve all got different needs and abilities, and it’s important to really think about what your body needs to be comfortable. I’m just shy of 6’ tall, and I know from sitting at different looms that the height of the breast beam seriously affects my comfort and ergonomics, so making sure that a loom accommodates my legs is key. An acquaintance once sent me a loom listing they were really excited about, a 60” jack loom that was being offered at a great price. My first impulse was to be excited too, but then I paused - with a jack loom, you’re lifting the harnesses with your feet, and would I really want to be lifting 2-3 60” long wood and metal shafts every time I pressed a treadle? That’s heavy enough even without the added weight of thread! My acquaintance passed on this loom - which I think was a good idea for them. And this tale brings me to the next question…
3. What loom type suits me?
There are four main types of used looms that I commonly see for sale in Canada and the US: rigid heddle, counterbalance, jack, and countermarch looms. Beyond these four looms you’ll also see tapestry looms, dobby, and other weaving systems - but as this is article is geared towards the basics, I’m keeping the list simple. Each of these different loom types accomplishes the same task in a slightly different way.
But how do you pick between these four? What’s ‘the best’? That’s where the three questions come in handy. If you know you want to weave lots of rugs (which need strong equipment!), a small folding loom may not have the rigidity and strength you need. Or maybe you have knee or leg issues, and the gravity-assisted shed of the counterbalance may help keep you comfortable and healthy. For the most part, when it comes to floor looms counterbalance and jack types are the most common because they’re the most flexible when it comes to the type of projects you can make and very easy to learn on. ‘The best’ is ultimately what works best for you - and it may take you a loom or two to figure this out!
Depending on where you live, there may be a lot of resources to help you buy a used loom.
The best place to start is your local weaving guild. Not only will you connect with a group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable weavers, but most guilds offer classes or courses where you’ll be able to try out different looms (and nothing beats taking a loom for a test drive). Weaving guilds also have great for sale bulletin boards, and buying a used loom from a weaver can be a great way to get a well cared for tool.
In America, the Handweavers Guild of America affiliate guild directory can help you find a local guild to connect with.
In Canada, the Guild of Canadian Weavers breaks things down provincially.
I’m Canadian, so I like to look at Kijiji, a national online classifieds site - you may have a local or state-wide equivalent that you can look at, such as Craigslist in the USA. Ebay and other similar online auction sites are also a great way to search long distance. I work at my local yarn store and we sometimes have people asking for looms or for a place to post a for-sale ad, so it’s worth it to start your search close by.
Homestead Weaver also has a regularly updated North-American for-sale and wanted ads where you can find looms, spinning wheels, and other tools.
Buying a used weaving loom is exciting! But if it’s your first loom or you don’t have a lot of experience, it’s hard to know what exactly to look for, so for my next article we’re going to dive into the nitty-gritty of buying a used loom. What’s a deal breaker? What IS a deal? What should you do about missing parts or rust? Click here to read How to Buy a Used Loom: Part Two.
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. Her textile focus of the material and conceptual nature of vernacular, everyday objects used for the home and body; her work (and weaving patterns) are available at her website, and at Guildworks, or by commission.