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What is a Heddle Loom?

By Terrie Brockmann
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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A heddle loom, also called a heald loom in some regions, is a weaving loom that has heddles in a harness. Weavers frequently refer to this heddle assembly as the heddle shaft or harness, which controls selected warp, or lengthwise, yarns. The term heddle loom usually refers to any type of loom that has heddles. A heddle loom may be as simple as a primitive backstrap loom or as complex as a commercial power loom.

There are several types of heddle looms. Weavers often rig backstrap, inkle, and various floor looms, including manual and power looms, with heddle harness assemblies. By using heddle looms, weavers generally are able to weave cloth faster and easier because the heddles simultaneously lift selected warp threads to allow the weaver to quickly slide the shuttle holding the weft through the opening, or shed. Without the heddles, a weaver needs to manually weave the weft between the warp threads.

Normally, harness styles for the heddle loom are either rigid or suspended. Beginners usually find the rigid style to be easier to use. This loom uses slots and holes in a reed-like panel that alternates vertical slits with holes instead of using suspended string or wire heddles. The rigid style lessens the chance of tangling the warp.

When the weaver raises the harness, the harness lifts the warp yarns in the holes, thereby forming the upper shed. Conversely, when the heddle is lowered, the threads in the holes move down below the threads in the slots to form the lower shed. A weaver passes the weft yarn through the sheds, thus creating cloth.

The suspended heddle harness uses string, wire, flat steel, or Texslov heddles in a harness assembly. These heddles have rings or loops through which the warp is threaded, thereby enabling the warp threads in the heddles to be moved up and down. Even though these heddles can tangle or break during the weaving process, many weavers choose to use them.

Weavers can create intricate, colorful fabrics using heddle looms. Some complex weaves, such as the leno weave, require specially designed heddles; other weaves, including elaborate tapestries and brocades, are possible on heddle looms using standard heddles. By adding more harnesses to a loom, a weaver can accomplish complicated weaves, such as double-sided cloth. Frequently, heddle looms have one to four harnesses.

Historians have discovered evidence that Asian weavers used the heddle loom earlier than 2,000 B.C. Heddle looms are used universally in modern times. Generally, weavers regard the heddle as one of the most important developments in loom-based weaving because it makes weaving faster and easier.

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