A rigid heddle loom is a loom that typically works by moving half the warp threads around the weft. The loom itself usually consists of some kind of frame that holds the warp threads steady and a movable shaft that holds the heddles. When warping the loom, threads alternate between passing through a heddle and passing through a space between heddles. This results in certain threads moving above the rest of the warp threads so that a shuttle carrying the weft threads can be passed beneath them, and then those same threads moving below the rest of the threads such that a shuttle can pass above them. Weaving with a single shaft in this manner will result in a basic weave pattern.
The defining feature of a rigid heddle loom is the shaft that holds the rigid heddles. Even without a frame, such a shaft can be used to weave fabrics by using tension to hold the warp threads in place. A rigid heddle loom may come with multiple shafts to create different densities of fabric. The number of heddles per inch, sometimes called dents per inch, almost exclusively determines the density of threads in the finished fabric, although the method used to weave can also have some impact on the fabric’s density.
It is easier to understand how a rigid heddle loom works when one has a firm grasp on what a heddle does. A heddle is essentially an eyelet set in a stick. When a number of these sticks are held firmly between two bars to create a shaft, this creates a number of spaces between the sticks, and makes it so that the entire set of heddles can be moved together. The threads that pass through the eyelets will be moved when the shaft is moved, whereas the threads that pass through the spaces will always stay in their original positions no matter the position of the shaft. Thus, by moving the heddles up and down, a weaving pattern can be made.
It is also possible to use a rigid heddle loom to make more complex patterns using sticks to pick up certain warp threads, passing different numbers of threads through the heddles, or even by using multiple shafts. As in all weaving projects, colorful patterns can be achieved by alternating colors in the warp or weft. While a rigid heddle loom does not have the capacity for complex patterns offered by some other kinds of looms, it is almost always less expensive, more portable, and easier to use than these more complex looms. For these reasons, rigid heddle looms remain extremely popular with beginning weavers who are looking to try out the craft of weaving without committing to more advanced looms.