Spinninglizzy's Weblog

Falling down the slippery fibre slope

Rigid Heddle: Weaving With Three Heddles

I’ve wanted to have a go at creating four-shaft textiles on a rigid-heddle loom ever since I brought home my Schacht rigid heddle more than a year ago.  As my Schacht (not a Flip) only accepts one heddle reed, it wasn’t until I got my 12″ Ashford Knitters Loom (AKL) that I’ve had the capability.

It took something like six readings of the first half of  “The Xenakis Technique For The Construction Of Four Harness Textiles”, by Athanasios David Xenakis, before I felt like I knew how to begin.  The first time I read through Xenakis’ book, I was completely befuddled and nearly abandoned the project.  At the second reading, I wondered if I were mentally deficient.  But, around the time of the fourth — or possibly fifith — reading, I began to understand the technique, which is actually very simple.  A hint: if you are feeling confused by the reading, it’s perfectly OK to skip past some of that and go directly to the description of the threading, if that is all you want.   The book is very comprehensive, and most questions I had were anticipated and answered.  On the subject of number of identical heddle reeds, Xenakis recommends three, although he maintains one could get by with two and a rod with doupe heddles.  But, beyond the assertion that doupe heddles would work, Xenakis does not give any details how to use them.

Because my heddle blocks could only accept two reeds, I had my LWS (local weaving store) special-order me two, in the finest size available, 12.5-dents per inch.  My reasoning was: three reeds may not fold compactly in the loom, I might have trouble with standing the third heddle up/down/at rest, and it would be easy enough to try with the doupe heddles first.

With that in mind, I wrapped some thin crochet cotton around the widest sword I had:


Mark one side of the threads as a reminder where to fold the string:


Fold the string at the marked points, and make a knot, leaving a loop large enough to fit over a heddle rod.


Please refer to Xenakis’ book for how to thread the loom (the time it would take me to write it up is time away from weaving!).  Ashford puts out a pdf file that details how to thread two heddles here, as does Schacht here.  Again, the reason I’ve gone with the techniques in Xenakis’ book is because I wanted to be able to methodically translate, set up, and weave some of the many drafts found in books of four-shaft patterns.

To make things easier on myself, I placed painter’s tape along the tops of the heddles, and marked off measurements; by ticking off the areas I had already threaded, it was easy to keep track of where I was, should be, or needed to go next.  Colour-coding a threading sequence also helped me to keep my place.

A view of the threading from the back with the doupe heddles at the bottom:


As to threading hooks, I used at various stages a regular hook, an ultra-fine spinning wheel orifice hook, and a long 11″ weaving hook.

I chose “Rose Path Project No. 1”, threading #1, treadle sequence IX, by Bertha Frey in Marguerite Porter Davison’s “A Handweaver’s Pattern Book”.  After all bouts were tied and adjusted, I wove a header, using compressed plastic bags for filler.


Unfortunately, I could not manipulate the doupe stick with doupes very well; the resulting sheds were not separating cleanly.  Then, I found that difficult as it was to create a shed by pulling up on the doupe stick, I had no easy way to create the reverse shed by pulling down on the doupe stick.  With the addition of two heddles in front to manipulate in tandem, it was too much for me to handle.  Perhaps it would be easier on a different loom than the AKL;   I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used the doupe heddles successfully.

Fortunately, I knew that my LWS had ordered extras of my heddle reeds when I placed my order, so I only needed enough patience to wait for the next morning for the third heddle, rather than the two weeks I had waited for the second.  Three heddles threaded:

The third heddle is a huge improvement over the doupe stick and heddles!  The difference in the cleanness of the shed, and ease of manipulation, is more than worth the price of the third heddle.

Did you note the angle at which the back beam sits up from the table?  That produces a better shed, and it is engineered by design with the addition of an L-shaped brackets (blue, shown below) on each side of the loom:

Because the heddle block only accommodates two heddles, there is nowhere to rest the third heddle.  Left to its own devices, it weighs down on the threads, creating an unwanted shed in “rest” position.  To remedy this, I propped up the third heddle with a foam bar inserted over the cross brace.  It’s nothing fancy, really, just some old white foam computer packing, cut into a strip about an inch thick, and just long enough so it holds itself in place by friction.

With the third heddle resting on it, the threads stay in neutral position.

I keep the foam bar in place at all times, even when the loom is folded with all three heddles sandwiched inside:

I had chosen some of my hand-spun wool for the weft, but when I took a last look before weaving, it needed some livening colour.

I pulled out my Mother MacKenzie Miracle (acid) dye kit, which was in liquid stock solution made before Thanksgiving 2008.

A few splashes of magenta, a heat-set in a crock pot, and the results:

Unfortunately, still boring.  More liveneing needed; another day’s wait to go back to the dyepot to add some chartreuse:

I had chosen my pattern with ease of threading and “treadling” in mind.  As a first project, I did not want to be bogged down with complicated and long treadling sequences, and so, mine has only two sequences, each repeating two tie-downs.  Really, only four positions of heddles to remember, and very easy ones at that.   The cloth in progress:

In the future, I will likely continue to choose patterns with simple treadle sequences, but will also likely try more complicated threadings.  It’s so tempting to finish off this scarf quickly at home, but I’ve purposely held off from doing so; I want to keep the AKL for use on the go, for something fun to do while waiting to pick up my son.    Now both of us are waiting for classes to start up again.


2 January 2010 - Posted by | Weaving | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I am so impressed, both with your accomplishment and your process. I had a similar experience trying to use books to figure out double weave. (I still haven’t “figured it out” but enough stuck that I managed to weave it). I’m interested in the Ashford rigid heddles. They look to be made of a different sort of plastic than the other brands I’ve seen, which seems to have strength issues. What do you think of them?

    Comment by trapunto | 4 January 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Trapunto, I had issues with the plast-icky look of the loom before I had a chance to use it, but that is long past. (I think the newer ones have a lovelier light green rather than blue.) The original heddle (7.5 dpi) that came with my loom is awful blue plastic, which I have no idea what genius thought up. Luckily, any of the extra reeds I’ve ordered are the normal translucent/whitish plastic. But, whether blue or white, the design was obviously thought out; the plastic around the heddle eyes is re-inforced and thicker. The eyes won’t pull out or shift very easily… well done, Ashford! The plastic of the heddle bars is soft enough to shift if you press on them with your fingers, but they won’t be affected by the pull of yarn. It’s softer than the abs-like plastic used by Schacht, but I think it might even be stronger than the plastic used by Kromski. So; no problems with strength issues!

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 8 January 2010 | Reply

  2. Wow, that is spectucular. I feel all dreamy just looking at it, hmmm some day I may be able to make something like that.

    I’m really new to weaving as well as to your blog. I’ve only done one project on my 4 shaft Ashford table loom. Although I have another utterly disasterous warping incident which really put me off.
    But your really giving me the thirst to go try something else. Good job the wax for to treat my warping mill has arrived.

    I must say that I really regret not finding you sooner as I am loving looking at the pictures you include and reading about what you are doing. Its really helpful (and I think I can just about hear my bank account scream).

    I’ve never subscribed before (your that good).
    Is it ok to put a link to you from my blog?


    Comment by SpyderGryphon | 29 January 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Gryph, Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s OK if you want to link to me. I’ve just read a few of your posts, and look forward to reading through more!

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 29 January 2010 | Reply

  3. Eeek,
    I don’t know if I should be excited or embarrassed.
    Just linked to you, thanks 🙂


    Comment by Spydergryphon | 29 January 2010 | Reply

  4. I’ve learnt some good stuff from your blog. I weave on RH and 4-shaft looms. How much paper do you use on the front beam? I’m thinking that after the bumps from the knots and header are covered, no more would be needed. I think I only use paper for the warp. My teachers (professional weavers) only need 3 shots of header, though I see many more on blogs. Any thoughts?

    Comment by Stephanie | 10 February 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Steph, Thanks for stopping by! I weave enough header until I arrive at the width I think the main piece should be. In the case of my RH loom, I wove more header to leave more for fringe.

      As for paper on the front beam, providing there are no bumps left, I don’t think you need to use more. If my cloth has a lot of texture, I try to put paper or sticks in-between as long as I can. In the case of this particular RH loom, I’m limited by the distance of the front beam from the loom supports, so I’ll use paper as sparingly as possible.

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 10 February 2010 | Reply

      • Thanks for your wonderful explanation and photos of weaving with 3 RH.

        I’m working my way thru-around-and-about the Xenakis Technique booklet. I’d like to try the small overshot pattern on p37. Any suggestions?

        Thanks, again, for sharing your expertise with the rest of us.


        Comment by Bettie Amiss | 30 October 2014

      • Hi Bettie,

        Thanks for stopping by! I haven’t used the Xenakis Technique in a while, as I find the threading from Book ‘Weaving With Three Rigid Heddles’ (find it on eBay) much more intuitive to convert 4-shaft patterns to the rigid heddle loom. I’ll try to dig out my Xenakis book to have a look, but it may take me a while to get back to you on that.

        Good luck!

        Comment by SpinningLizzy | 30 October 2014

  5. Brand new to weaving. Just had first lesson. Trying to decide on what size portable loom I should get. I’m considering the Ashford 12″ knitters loom that folds versus the Kromski 16″ that also folds.
    Plan to weave scarves, table runners and placemats.
    Any suggestions from experienced weavers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    Comment by Mara | 21 February 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Mara, Thanks for stopping by! I’m pretty biased in favour of both Ashford and Schacht looms over Kromski ones, especially after I found out that they have design features that create better sheds. I personally don’t care for the scroll-work looks of the Kromski, but that has nothing to do with function.

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 21 February 2010 | Reply

      • Thank you responding. Right now I’m leaning towards the Ashford knitters loom which is lightweight and easy to use. Since it’s only 12″ I know that I will probably get a larger one in the future. For now as a beginner I think a smaller loom will allow me to finish projects quickly before I lose interest.

        Comment by Mara | 23 February 2010

  6. Hello!! Inspired or what lol I was fascinated to read about your use of the third heddle for your Ashford Knitters Loom. I have been hooked on this little devil for over twelve months now have quickly realised just how versatil the AKL is – but three!! I can’t wait to try it. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. 🙂

    Comment by Rowena | 4 July 2010 | Reply

  7. Beginner Level Ridid heddle weaver. I have a question: At the part where you were folding the yarn over the sword, you said to fold in half and tie a knot. When do you cut the loops apart? Or do you leave them somehow all connected until they are knotted and on a rod?

    Comment by Becky R | 18 July 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Becky,

      I’m sorry this wasn’t clearer. When I marked the string along the edge of the sword, I referred to that mark as where to fold (when you unwind the string from the sword, the mark is to remind you where to fold again), then made a knot below that fold so the resulting loop can slide onto your dowell (doupe stick).

      I left my doupe heddles connected because it meant I didn’t have to tie as many. It’s perfectly acceptable to cut them apart (if you don’t mind having to make more of them), and is in fact much more convenient in the situation where you need to add another one in if you’ve missed using one on a warp thread.

      Welcome to the world of rigid heddle weaving!

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 19 July 2010 | Reply

  8. I am thinking of buying the Ashford Knitter’s loom but don’t know if I would be better with just the RH loom. I am new to weaving and your blog has given me a new insight thankyou!

    Comment by Cheryl Hanlon | 21 July 2010 | Reply

    • I have the AKL, plus 2 plain Ashford RH looms. You can’t go wrong with any of them. But, depending on your needs, the AKL folds and is easy to store and take along with you. I just spent 3 hours earlier today weaving on the AKL while my son was in his camp. I wanted to take the regular RH loom (because I preferred that project), but the AKL is just so much easier to tote about.

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 21 July 2010 | Reply

  9. Hi can you tell me where can i buy a dvd that will teach me how to double weave on a rigid heddle loom.i have a ashford rigid heddle loom.thank you and have a god bless day

    Comment by wilfredo | 2 September 2010 | Reply

    • Hi Wilfredo, I don’t know of any dvd specific to what you want. Do you understand the basics of doubleweave (on a regular loom)? If you understand that, then you can very easily adapt that to the rh loom with 3 heddles by using the book by Rev. MacKinney (found on eBay).

      I found the MacKinney book very easy to read, and it “maps” the 3 heddles to a 4-shaft loom very intuitively. Getting that text plus a dvd on doubleweave (for shaft looms) might be of help. As for doubleweave books, I’ve found the text by Paul O’Connor very helpful.

      Good luck with your project!

      Comment by SpinningLizzy | 3 September 2010 | Reply

  10. bless you for this blog post. literally no where can i find any other guidance on how to incorporate a 3rd heddle into a loom model that only has a single heddle + a second heddle block added on.

    Comment by k | 27 April 2016 | Reply

  11. Your blog post is STILL being read and referred to! We have a group on Facebook for Weaving With Three Heddles, and the members with Ashford looms were thrilled to find your post!

    Comment by Mary Berry | 5 June 2017 | Reply

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