Choosing the best textile weaving machine means choosing a piece of equipment that is compatible with the projects that you are planning to make, your level of expertise, your work space and your budget. There are four types of weaving machines or looms that can be used in the home: rigid heddle, jack, counterbalance and countermarch. These looms are classified according to their sheds — the openings between the lengthwise yarns that are used to dress the loom — and the number of shafts or rods that hold the heddles through which the yarns are placed.
If you are new to weaving, you could start with the simplest textile weaving machine: the rigid heddle loom. This two-harness loom is a variation of the frame loom, the earliest form of weaving equipment that was developed by humans, and the one from which all looms are derived. In the rigid heddle loom, the shed is formed by manually raising and lowering a single heddle bar through which the lengthwise yarns, or warp, have been threaded. In most rigid heddle looms, the heddle also acts as the beater during the weaving process.
The rigid heddle loom is the most basic textile weaving machine on the market, so you will find yourself limited to plain weaving patterns instead of more complex patterns. These looms, however, do come in weaving widths up to 32 inches (81.3 cm) and can be used to make fabrics, simple accessories and garments, place mats, pillow covers and small rugs. They are easy to set up, store and take to weaving classes. In making your purchase, choose a rigid heddle loom with metal gears and ratchets, because it will hold up better than one that is made of plastic.
If you have had some experience on a frame or a rigid heddle loom, or are a beginner interested in learning more complex weaving patterns, a jack loom would be a good choice. Jack looms have rising, hand-controlled sheds. This means that when the levers on the loom are pushed down, the warp threads go up. Table looms and small folding looms are jack looms. They come with four, eight, 12 or 16 shafts and are available in a variety of weaving widths.
As a textile weaving machine, a jack loom has several advantages. It is easier to use than a counterbalance or countermarch loom, is less expensive to buy and can be folded down for transportation and storage. A jack loom also is a good choice if you live in an apartment or have a minimum amount of space. Some jack looms can be noisy to operate because of their metal heddles, however, and their poor sheds and loose tension sometimes produce problems for weavers.
Counterbalance and countermarch looms are floor looms, and they are the most sophisticated of the textile weaving machines designed for home use. Floor looms have foot-controlled pedals that open and close the sheds by either raising or lowering the harnesses. Counterbalance and countermarch looms are faster and more rhythmic than table looms. With weaving widths as wide as 60 inches (152.4 cm), they also require more working and storage space, and they are significantly more expensive to purchase, even second-hand.
Between the two, a counterbalance loom is easier to dress and operate than a countermarch loom, making it a good choice for an ambitious beginner. Counterbalance looms are traditional American floor looms that come with as many as 10 shafts, with four being the average. Unlike a jack loom, a counterbalance loom has an excellent shed that allows the weaver to enjoy uniform tension throughout the weaving process. In spite of its size, it is easy and quick to operate and remarkably quiet.
Countermarch looms are distinct because they have both rising and sinking sheds. They are more difficult and time-consuming to dress than other textile weaving machines and should be purchased only by experienced weavers. In terms of ease of use, tension and treadling, however, these European and Scandinavian looms do offer the weaver the same advantages of counterbalance looms without some of the technical and operational disadvantages. In spite of the difficulties that arise when installing and maintaining them, countermarch, like counterbalance looms are smooth and quiet to operate.
The price of a textile weaving machine for home use is determined by the costs of the hardwood and metal materials, and the workmanship that goes into constructing it. When purchasing your new or previously owned weaving equipment, look for quality instructional materials, including manuals and video discs. Looms that are purchased from reputable companies will come with a warranty, and you will find that even companies that sell refurbished machines will provide you with a guarantee.