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Floating Selvedges and the Rigid-Heddle Loom

My standard advice for managing selvedges is, whenever possible, place selvedges in a slot. This puts less strain on the selvedge threads and allows you more freedom to pick them up with your shuttle. If necessary, you can weight them using an S-hook or similar object. 

By placing the ends in a slot, you are creating similar conditions to a floating selvedge. This is a term that comes from the shaft loom world. A floating selvedge is threaded through the reed, but not in a heddle hole (the reed and heddles are two different parts on a shaft loom, but they are integrated on a rigid-heddle loom).

Floating Selvedges on a Shaft Loom

When the selvedge is free from a heddle hole, often called an “eye” on a shaft loom, it floats just above the warp. When the heddles are engaged the selvedges don’t move and lay in the middle of the shed.

It is tied on the front beam with the other ends, but can either be packed on the warp beam or weighted independently from the rest of the warp and left hanging off the back, just like you would do so when fixing a broken warp end.  This setup causes the selvedge to rise above the other warp ends when the heddles aren’t engaged or appear to “float”, making it is easy to scoop with your heddle in a different order from the established shed.

Side View of a Floating Selvedge on a Shaft Loom

When the selvedge isn’t threaded in a heddle, it sits slightly above the other warp ends when in neutral. When a shed is engaged, in this case the heddles are rising, the selvedge end says put and appears to float in the middle of the shed.

This free-form end is essentially baked into the rigid-heddle loom with our superpower slots. However, because of the nature of the slot/hole construction, the selvedge won’t sit in the middle of the shed, it will either align with the top or bottom layer of the shed.

Side View of a Slotted Selvedge on a Rigid Heddle Loom

A schematic of a slotted selvedge on a rigid-heddle loom. In the rigid-heddle world the slotted ends will align with the other slotted ends. If the heddle is put in the down position, the ends threaded in the holes would be pushed below the slotted ends and the selvedge would continue to be aligned with the slotted layer.

Threading a Slotted Selvedge

Sometimes a threading ends or begins in a slot and it is only necessary to add a single additional selvedge. If you make these slotted selvedges the same color or value as my weft, which will help mask any wonkiness at the edges. When working with multiple heddles, it is helpful for the selvedge to be threaded in its own slot in the front heddle. It doesn’t matter if the hole next to it is threaded. Because these ends don’t float in the middle of the shed, this bit of extra space will make it easier to manipulate them. As the yarn travels to from the rigid-heddle to the cloth beam, the gap won’t be noticeable.

Here is an example of a two-heddle standard threading with slotted selvedges.

Tips for Managing Slotted Selvedges

  • I prefer to pack the slotted selvedge onto the beam so it is tensioned with the rest of the warp and will advance with the warp as I weave. The selvedges can be weighted if needed. The case for not beaming them is that they are easier to replace if the selvedge breaks, but in this set up the friction on them is so minimal, I’ve found the cons outweigh the pros.
  • If you are using a pick-up stick, slide over the selvedges so they aren’t engaged with the stick. 
  • When weaving, a general rule of thumb is to go over the entering selvedge and under the exiting selvedge. This offsets the interlacement at each edge, although how you manage the selvedges can be structure dependent. 

Heddles Up!


5 thoughts on “Floating Selvedges and the Rigid-Heddle Loom”

  1. Thank you that makes so much sense when a person thinks about. (My issue is thinking it out:)

  2. Thank you for your very helpful suggestions. I have a couple of your tapes and books that I have referred to man times!
    Any suggestions on purchasing a 4/8 shaft floor loom?

    • Glad it was helpful. I’m really not in the shaft loom recommending mode. I’d suggest you visit a local shop or or call a shop that sells online and talk to them about your needs. Some online sellers that are very knowledgeable are Gist Yarn, Halcyon Yarn, Yarn Barn, Eugene Textile Center, and The Woolery. If you are in any online groups they could be helpful, too, although you may have already taken that route if you are!

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