Weaving isn’t always fast.
It is actually pretty rarely fast.
That being said, some looms will help you to weave faster than others and for those that are a little more manual, we can “upgrade” them easily enough to work a little more for you!
This upgrade is a heddle rod and is perfect for simple frame looms and rigid heddle looms to expand the ease and speed of your weaving for different patterns.
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Manual vs assisted weaving
When you think of weaving, at least at the core of what it is, you may think of over, under, over, under. This is how you manually weave plain weave.
Manual weaving is when you physically move your weft yarn over and under your warp yarns with a tapestry needle, bobbin, or something similar. This method is usually the least expensive method because it does not require a “fancy” loom but also usually the slowest since it requires you to weave o ver individual warps at a time. It also means you are responsible for keeping your pattern as you do.
Manual weaving requires you to keep track of your pattern on a warp by warp basis, which may not be a big feat, but it may require some extra thinking. That being said, it also allows you to switch up your weaving pattern at any time with no extra steps. This is a fun experiment if you are looking for something a little different.
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What I am calling assisted weaving is weaving with any sort of shed system. As a reminder your shed is the opening that is created as your warps are moved up and/or down. This opening is where you can slide your tapestry needle, shuttle, bobbin, etc. This can be a big advantage because it allows you to interact with your warps as a whole instead of individually. This is both faster and doesn’t require you to keep track of your pattern warp by warp.
Keep in mind you still have to keep track of your pattern pick by pick, but it is still faster.
Why you would use heddle rods
While I have made no secret of my love of weaving on a simple frame loom, I also can not deny that having some weaving assistance is nice! Depending on what you are weaving and how much time you have to weave it, this assistance might also be necessary.
While you can always purchase a loom with a built in shed system, you may prefer a simple frame loom or it may be all you have. When this is the case, you are not out of luck because that is when heddle rods come into play.
Heddle rods are incredibly handy when you are weaving a pattern other than plain weave on a simple frame loom. They may take some extra time to set up, but they will save you a lot of time in the long run. Each heddle rod functions the same way as a harness on a floor loom.
If the pattern is really complicated this also helps cut down on the mistakes that may come up with the pattern.
Heddle rods do not only need to be used on simple frame looms, though. They can also be really helpful when weaving pick up on rigid heddle (like the image above), or just creating a second heddle when your rigid heddle loom does not have the set up for a second heddle (like the Schacht Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom.)
How to set up heddle rods
When setting up a heddle rod all you need is a sturdy yarn (scrap yarn if you have it), dowel rods (you could also use chopsticks, pencils, etc.), scissors, and tape (I like washi tape because it is easy to remove and can easily be color coded!) You may also want a guide, but I will get to that in a minute.
If you are using dowel rods then you will want to make sure they are wider than your weaving by at least an inch if it is a small weaving or more if it is larger. This will make sure that your loops stay on the rod and you can easily pick it up. I cut a long dowel rod I already head on hand with a small hand saw for this, but use what you have.
The general idea of a heddle rod is that it is connected by loops of yarn to all of the warps that you want to lift up for your pattern. Starting off with plain weave, this means that you will have a loop of yarn around every other warp yarn on one heddle rod and a loop around the other warp yarns on a second heddle rod.
It is important to make sure that all of your heddle loops are the same length so that your heddle rod works efficiently and is not wonky. One of the best ways to do that is by using a simple guide for cutting your loops. I like to use my EPI mini loom for this, but you can use anything that is the right size and rigid. Cardboard cut to the right size makes a really great guide too.
Wrap your yarn around and around your guide as many times as you need and then cut them all in the same place to create multiple loops of the same length. You also will need to make sure to tie your knots in the same place. I am using a simple overhand knot for these.
Take your first loop, fold it in half, and bring it around the warp that needs to be pulled up. Put your dowel rod through the two ends of the loop. Continue doing this for every warp in your pattern and then put tape on the first and last loop to keep them from sliding off.
If using washi tape you can use different colors to mark the different parts of the pattern or you can number them. Whatever works best for you.
For patterns other than plain weave you may need to loop your yarn around multiple adjacent warps at a time (You can see this in the rigid heddle image at the beginning of the post.) Keep this in mind when you are cutting your loops and make them a little longer if needed.
If your pattern is complicated it may help you to draw out your pattern on graph paper to follow while setting up your heddle rods. This way you can also mark off parts of the pattern as you go making it easier to not miss parts or duplicate them.
Continue this same process for every line of your pattern. For the plain weave pattern I am following in this post, I will have 2 heddle rods total.
Using a heddle rod
When it is time to weave with your heddle rods you will also need a pick up stick, ruler, stick shuttle, or another long flat object to keep your shed open. Just make sure whatever you use isn’t too sharp on the edges so you don’t fray your warp! For this reason I usually stay clear of metal rulers and opt for wooden options.
To create your shed you will want to pull up on the correct heddle rod until it creates a large opening. Slide the heddle stick into this shed and flip it up so that it holds the shed open for you to slide in your weft! Once your weft is positioned you can slide out your stick or flip it back down and use it to beat your weft into place.
Move onto the next heddle rod in the sequence and do the same thing!
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Using a heddle rod is a great way to expand your weaving options and make weaving complicated patterns on simple looms easier! While they take a little extra time to set up, the time they could save you during your weaving will most definitely make up for it.
That being said, it might be worth it to weigh whether or not creating heddle rods for a small weaving is worth it. Try it out and decide what works best for you!