String Heddle & Heddle Rod Tutorial for Rigid Heddle Looms
String Heddle & Heddle Rod Tutorial
by Christine Jablonski
We recently published the Huck Lace Rigid Heddle Placemats, which is a warp float rigid heddle project. This pattern requires two pickup sticks to create the alternating warp floats. The issue with using multiple pick up sticks on warp float patterns is the sticks do not slide past each other, and so the weaver is required to remove and replace the second pickup stick with every repeat. For a short project, like a border or a placemat, it is not a big deal, but on a longer pattern, like a table runner, it can get tedious.
In light of this, someone asked if it was possible to use string heddles and a heddle rod instead of the second pickup stick. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, if you weave the pattern as a weft float project, instead of a warp float project.
I will show you how to make string heddles and a heddle rod, and how to convert a warp float pickup stick pattern to a weft float pickup stick and heddle rod pattern.
Using this 2up/2down pickup pattern as an example, you can see how the first pickup stick (“A”, behind) cannot move past the second (“B”, in front) when it needs to be brought forward to the heddle, so the weaver must remove and replace B on every repeat. (See photo 1)
By making string heddles and a heddle rod, we can solve this problem.
- To make string heddles, use a spare rigid heddle as a template, tie a loop of smooth yarn (I use mercerized cotton) with a very sturdy knot and clip the ends. Make enough loops for the pickup stick “B” pattern. (See photo 2)
- With pickup stick “A” inserted in pattern and pushed to the back beam, insert pickup stick “B” in pattern and turn on edge (See photo 3)
- Lay a string heddle under the “B” pattern strings and loop the ends onto a dowel or knitting needle, or even another pickup stick. (See photos 4 & 5)
- Continue across until all of the “B” pattern warp threads have been looped onto the dowel with the heddle strings. Secure the heddle strings with an easily removable tape such as Washi tape or blue painter’s tape. (See photo 6)
And that’s it for making string heddles and a heddle rod! Easy Peasy!
Converting a Warp Float Pattern
Now you will have to convert the warp float pattern to a weft float pattern. Warp float patterns use the pickup stick to create a pattern shed with the heddle up, but two sticks inserted for their respective patterns cannot slide past each other (go ahead, try it—I’ll wait). However, weft float patterns use the pickup stick turned on edge with the heddle in neutral. When we need two pattern sheds, a pickup stick and a heddle rod do not interfere with each other, allowing us to create two pattern sheds.
Let’s look at the original pattern in this example:
- Pick 1: down
- Pick 2: heddle up, pick up stick A slides forward to the heddle
- Pick 3: down
- Pick 4: heddle up, pick up stick A slides forward to the heddle
- Pick 5: down
- Pick 6: up
- Pick 7: down
- Pick 8: heddle up, pick up stick B slides forward to the heddle
- Pick 9: down
- Pick 10: heddle up, pick up stick B slides forward to the heddle
- Pick 11: down
- Pick 12: up
Breaking down this pattern, we have warp float sequences (picks 2-4 and 8-10) separated by tabby sequences (picks 5-7 and 10-1). To change this to a weft float pattern, the pattern picks must happen with the heddle in NEUTRAL, which essentially serves as a down shed, and requires us to reverse the heddle positions for the tabby picks.
So the weft float version of this pattern looks like this:
- Pick 1: up
- Pick 2: heddle NEUTRAL, pick up stick A turned on edge (See photo 7)
*note: even though the heddle rod is resting on top on the “A” warp threads it does not interfere with the pattern because the “B” warp threads are not under tension
- Pick 3: up
- Pick 4: heddle NEUTRAL, pick up stick A turned on edge
- Pick 5: up
- Pick 6: down
- Pick 7: up
- Pick 8: heddle NEUTRAL, raise heddle rod (See photo 8)
*note: make sure stick “A” is pushed to the very back
- Pick 9: up
- Pick 10: heddle NEUTRAL, raise heddle rod
- Pick 11: up
- Pick 12: down
If you lay these two sets of instructions next to each other, you can see how they are opposites (but still float sequences separated by tabby sequences), which means that when weaving, you will see the backside up (weft floats) and if you were to look underneath, you would see the original warp float pattern. (See photos 9 & 10)
Want to try this technique? Check out the Huck Lace Rigid Heddle Runner.
I’d like to give a big shout-out to the ever gracious Yarnworker, Liz Gipson, who nudged me in the right direction after some frustrating experiments with this project.
Here is a link to a blog post she wrote about this very topic some time ago: https://yarnworker.com/geeking-out-on-the-details-pick-up-when-to-weave-which-float/
About Christine Jablonski
In addition to being GIST's Operations Manager and Wholesale Director, Christine is a weaver and exhibiting fiber artist. She scampered down the rabbit hole of rigid heddle weaving several years ago as a way to use up her knitting stash and never looked back. In addition to very practical cloth woven to adorn home and body (tea towels are her favorite home linen projects to weave), Christine also weaves conceptual works that explore themes of mood and memory, strength and fragility, and often reflect on the current political and ecological landscape. Her work is held in private collections across the country and is shown regionally in New England galleries. To see more of Christine's work, check out her Instagram.