This article is the second of a two-part series on how to buy used weaving looms. If you missed our first article, it discussed three questions that I like to ask myself when looking for a loom and shared a few places where you might find used equipment.
Now for the fun stuff! Let’s say you’ve found a nice looking loom and you’re going to take a look at it - what should you be looking for? To get a few different perspectives on this, I’ve asked some friends for help - Arianna Funk (who you might be familiar with from her free Gist patterns!), Christine Jablonski from Gist, Megan Samms of Live Textiles, and Alec Sutherland of Haut Beau were all very generous in sharing what they look for in a loom and some of the helpful things they’ve learned along the way. I’ve divided our tips into three different sections to help you organize your thoughts.
Brand: Knowing who made the loom can be very helpful in the event you need to replace something right away or down the road. While a one-of-a-kind homemade or antique loom is certainly beautiful, you may need to have custom parts made or an understanding of how looms work to make repairs - whereas with a LeClerc loom, for example, parts are still easy to order brand new.
Looms aren’t indestructible, and some projects are tougher on your loom than others - Alec noted that “you may find yourself needing to replace parts like pawls, brake circles” when it comes to rug weaving, for example. Knowing the brand can also make it easier to figure out how old the loom is, which Megan notes can “give you a good idea of fair market value.”
Bring a friend: Looking at a new loom is exciting and it’s useful to have a friend with you to temper the excitement and bring a bit of realism into the process. A weaving friend is ideal, but someone who knows nothing about looms can be just as good - they can ask you critical questions to get you really looking - and thinking - about the loom.
Budget: If you have a good idea what you’d like or this isn’t your first loom, Arianna suggests to get the best you can afford. It’s worth the extra upfront cost to buy what you really want and not settle for something else!
These days, many loom manuals (even old ones!) can be found online and downloaded, but it’s always nice to see instructions or paperwork included in a sale. Christine told me that she kept the original box and instructions for her first Cricket loom, which “made it way easier to ship and imparted a sense of caring for the equipment” when she sold it. Having built a loom from only a diagram of a related, but different, loom, I can certainly second that having some sort of paperwork is a real bonus!
Everyone I asked said the same thing - that it’s great to buy a loom that has lots of other equipment that comes with it, like reeds, warping frame/mill, raddle, shuttles, bobbin winders and so on. Alec mentioned that “you can often find bundled deals, and sometimes that is more convenient and cheaper than buying all of that equipment yourself.” Megan said that she insists “on being part of the package is at least one reed and if it’s possible, a raddle. If those pieces are present, a warping system can be constructed or made up, shuttles can be sourced and you’re ready to weave.”
This bears mentioning again because, while you might be able to fit in a larger loom, equipment costs are higher if your loom comes without other parts. Arianna notes that “the wider your loom, the more expensive buying extra reeds, sticks, etc will be. Same with extra harnesses, you will probably in that case need to invest in lots more Texsolv, for example. Not necessarily super expensive but something to think about.”
Take good pictures: Take good pictures when you’re taking the loom apart, full stop! Even if you think you’ll remember how it looks and fit together, looms disassemble into piles of wood very quickly, and parts can become very strange looking. As Christine said (and I echo) - ask me how I know.
Bring tape, blankets, and other moving equipment: Masking tape can be very helpful to mark matching joints or tape down loose pieces that might rattle, like heddles. Blankets can wrap sensitive pieces like the brake or harnesses. Wrapping things up well before you move them can save you hours of untangling or resetting later.
Tools: Bring basic tools with you so that you can quickly and easily take pieces apart to fit them into your car. You’ll usually need a wrench, screwdriver (bring a few sizes and types just in case), and a rubber mallet for recalcitrant parts.
Transportation: Most looms disassemble into smaller parts or pieces, which makes them easy to bring home in the average car, either in the back or strapped to the roof. However, if it’s not possible to disassemble your new loom, it might be good to rent a trailer or small van to move it in one piece.
Set up: Once you’re home, bring your loom to the space it’s going to live, even if you can’t set it up immediately - those pieces are heavy, you don’t want to have to shuffle them around too much. Store things flat or upright and make sure nothing is leaning on more delicate parts, like harnesses or reeds, that might bend them out of shape.
“Additional things that are not essential but useful in my opinion. I’ve modified one of my looms to be even sturdier. Some 1/8 inch steel plates run the length of my breast and back beam underneath and on the side facing in towards the loom. They are screwed into the wood - this helps reduce the flex on the beams when I am tensioning the warp for beating. I find a sectional warp system quite useful. A weighted rug beater is useful. I have fly shuttles on both of my looms, which are nice to have, but not completely necessary.” - Alec
“Like many people, I started with a 15” Cricket but quickly got to the point where I wanted to weave wider. But being mindful of cost I thought I’d be really smart and buy the 15” Flip, so I’d only have to buy one additional set of heddles. In theory, that worked, because I could weave wider by weaving double width, but was limited to plain weave. If I had it to do over again, I would have bought the 25” Flip as my first loom purchase, and the additional heddles as my budget allowed.” - Christine
“In my weaving life, purchasing a second hand loom has been a wonderful experience. All of my looms have been second, third or fourth hand. I love knowing the story behind them and I love the patina created on a loom from a long thread of weavers; welcoming a previously used loom into my studio makes me feel more connected to the continuum of weavers who wove before me.” - Megan
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.
This post is the second in a series introducing you to common weaving structures. You’ll find many patterns in Gist’s pattern collection that feature twill structures, and, like plain weave, it’s another foundation weave that has a lifetime of new and exciting combinations to explore.
If you are looking to try out a new art form, or if you are a multi-shaft or rigid heddle weaver interested in exploring another facet of the weaving world, this blog post introduces the equipment and yarn you'll need to get started with tapestry weaving.