Making the Box Loom

Written by Alice Rotsztain for Portland Textile Club. Thanks to our sponsors for Plarn Lab: Scrap PDX and Make+Think+Code@PNCA.

This tutorial will show you how to make the Box Loom, a cardboard-box loom made from trash, featuring a rigid heddle.

image of the box loom
The Box Loom with a rigid heddle. Made for Plarn Lab with help from Make+Think+Code@PNCA.

First, Find the Right Box

The most important step of making the Box Loom is finding the right box.

  • You will need a sturdy, reinforced cardboard box with the right proportions (shallow in depth) and hinged with flaps.
  • Because the Box Loom uses a rigid heddle (a tool that greatly speeds up your weaving), you need a strong support to ensure the up-down motion of the heddle doesn’t compromise your warp tension.
  • Make sure there are folded flaps on your box:
    • This extra layer of cardboard is needed for the proper support.
    • In addition, it’s the flaps where you’ll be attaching the loom teeth to with brass brads.
  • The box also needs to be shallow, otherwise, the clearance for your weave will be off. Using a deep box will require cutting into the sides of the box; this ends up compromising the structure.

Any of these boxes below will work:

The box you use will determine the size of your loom and which set of loom teeth to use. The easiest box to find is a shoe box, however, since the box size determines your weaving area, if you want to weave larger pieces, try to find the biggest box you can. Kitchen frying-pan boxes work well; you can try asking a supply store for one.

  • If your box is either a shoe box or small reinforced mailer, use the 4″ set.
  • If your box is a kitchen pan or larger consumer electronic box, use the 8″ set.
  • Measure the width of your box before you cut your loom pieces.
  • You need a minimum of 10″ width for the 8″ teeth and 6″ width for the 4″ teeth.
image measuring box to 6"
6″ is the minimum width for the 4″ teeth set.
image of measuring a box to 10"
10″ is the minimum width for the 8″ loom teeth set.

Cutting the Loom Pieces

I cover in detail the process of laser cutting in the Tablet Loom tutorial. Read those instructions first (Cutting the Loom Pieces until the Assembly section).

Download this laser cut illustrator file or this PDF template for hand cutting (BoxLoomHandCutTemplates). Follow the specific instructions written in each of the files.

If you’re paying for laser-cutting service, edit the cut file to take out pieces you don’t need to save on costs. If you’re only making one size loom (4″ or 8″), remove the other set.

Customizing the Box Loom

Most of the same ideas from the Tablet Loom apply here. One additional thing worth mentioning is that laser cutting the teeth and heddle in wood is a great option for the Box Loom.

  • The heddle is where most of the wear will happen, and the part that has the most impact on your design.
  • Designing different teeth and heddle sets will give you more weaving options–keep in mind the teeth and heddle are a set (they need to be spaced in parallel to work properly).
    • You can mix and match materials (such as cardboard teeth with wood heddle), but you cannot mix different size heddles with teeth.

Assembly of the Box Loom

Assembling the Box Loom is more involved than with the Tablet Loom, and you’ll need to pay attention to careful placement. But, once you start weaving with the heddle, I think you’ll appreciate the extra work involved.

You’ll need the following supplies:

  • eight no. 4 (1″) brass brads (like these)
  • the cute pieces for the loom teeth and rigid heddle
  • masking tape
  • a ruler (not shown)
  • an X-Acto knife or box cutter (not shown)
  • a pen for marking (not shown)
  • a sharp point for poking holes in your box (not shown)

BoxLoomTeethParts.jpg

Assemble the Heddle

Find the two heddle pieces, and stack them together in the following pattern: a series of long slits alternating with short holes (picture below).

image of the heddle pieces
Stack your heddle pieces in this pattern.

Fasten the 2 pieces together with one brass brad per corner; set this aside for later use.

Setting up the Teeth

Stack With Intersecting Grain

TeethStack

  • Organize your loom teeth pieces so that the corrugated cardboard grain is as follows:
    • The bottom piece should have the grain running up and down.
    • The top piece should have the grain running left to right.
    • This order provides the maximum strength to support your teeth against the pull from the warp threads.
  • Insert your brass brads through the holes in each set of loom teeth to make sure the teeth align correctly. Set aside.

Position the Teeth on the Box

  • Open your box up so that the side flaps that are normally folded inward (to support the sides of the box) are revealed.
image of the box opened to revel the flaps
The box is opened with the flaps revealed. Note the arrows that show the placement of the loom teeth in relation to the top edge of the flap (where the crease is).
image showing teeth fastened to box
This angle shows how the bottom of the teeth are aligned to edge where the flap meets the top face of the box.
  • Take one set of teeth and center on this side flap, aligning the bottom edge of where the teeth cut-outs end to the top edge of the box (picture above).
  • Use a pen to mark this position where the holes in your teeth are.
  • Then, use a sharp point to poke 2 holes in the box flap where you marked.
  • Fasten the loom teeth to the flap with 2 brass brads. Direct the legs of the brads facing outwards from the interior of the box. When the flap is refolded, the brass legs will be sandwiched between the flap and the side of the box.
image showing how teeth are fastened to the box with brass brads
Top face view of the box shows that the teeth are fastened to the flap with the brad legs facing out. When the flap is tucked into the box, the legs will be hidden in the side of the box.
  • Next, do the same process with the second teeth, on the opposite side of the box, but with one important adjustment.
    • The second teeth should sit slightly higher than the first (photo below); Align the holes in the teeth as close to the flap crease as possible, keeping enough room to fit the brass brads in the flap.
    • When you fasten the second set, what you’ll have is the front teeth approximately 1/2″ lower than the back teeth.
      • This angle is important for the shed made by your heddle.
image of loom teeth positions
(Top) The first set of teeth are lined up to the top edge of where the flap meets the box top. (Bottom) The second set of teeth are positioned higher than the first ~ 1/2″ higher.
  • Take your ruler to check that the two teeth (front and back) are parallel.
    • If needed, correct your teeth position before moving on.
  • Refold the flap to check your teeth position. It should be centered on the box with the teeth of the loom sitting flush with the top edge.
  • NOTE: When you fold the flap back up, check to see if there is enough room for you to place both layers of teeth in the flap.
    • This is ideal for the durability of your teeth, but with some boxes there isn’t enough space between the side of the box and the flaps to fit both layers.
    • If the teeth are too distorted in angle, it’s best to use only one layer.
      • You want an angle that approaches 90 degrees; a slight angle outwards is fine, but not so much that it’s closer to 45 then 90.
    • If only using one layer of teeth, choose the set with a vertical grain (flutes in cardboard up and down).
image of the box refolded.
Refold the flaps, and check the teeth placement and fit of the angles. The teeth should be close to 90 degrees from the box top.
  • Once you finalize the teeth position and fasten your brads, take a piece of masking tape and cover each of the brad legs to keep them from shifting during use.

Cut the Weaving Window

  • Once you have both sets of teeth fastened to the box, use the ruler to draw a straight line on each side of the box face, lengthwise, from the back teeth to the front teeth.
    • One on the outer-left edge and then on the outer-right edge; these are your guidelines.
    • Depending on how much room you have left in your box, use this guideline to draw your window.
    • You want to leave a minimum 3/4″ lip all around the edge of your box for support.
    • Make sure the window leaves a small gap to either side of your heddle.
      • Depending on your box, this may be as small as 1/16″. This is fine, you just need a tiny gap so that your heddle can move through the window without friction.
    • Mark your final window lines and using the X-Acto knife cut out the window.
      • Test this out by placing your heddle in the window space, and checking to see if the heddle moves in and out of the window with ease.
image of the box loom after installation
The finished Box Loom with teeth in place, cut window, and with warp threads and heddle attached (next steps).

Setting Up for Weaving

See the instructions for setting up the loom for the Tablet Loom. Follow those instructions, skipping the section on the shed stick. Instead of a shed stick, this loom uses a rigid heddle.

Once you are done with warping and loading your needle, continue below.

Connecting the Rigid Heddle

  • Once you have checked and adjusted the tension on your warp threads, so they are even and taught, remove the brass brads to separate the 2 heddle pieces.
  • Take the bottom piece and slide the warp threads into the cut notches.
  • Holding at a 45 degree angle, take your top heddle and sandwich it over the warp threads, so that the teeth of the heddle trap the threads in the slots.
  • Fasten the top 2 corners with brads.
  • Flip your heddle, in parallel with the window, in order to insert the bottom corner brads.
  • Flip the heddle forward, so you can reach the bottom brad legs to secure.
  • Make sure all 4 corner brads have their legs positioned, up and down, to avoid snagging the warp threads or side of the window.
  • Your heddle should be suspended in the middle of the loom window, being held up by the warp threads.
image of sequence to install heddle to warp threads
Follow this sequence (bottom) to install your heddle into warp threads.

Test the Rigid Heddle

  • Move the heddle position so that it is in the (upper) back third of the weaving window, closer to the back-teeth than the front-teeth.
  • Push the heddle down into the weaving window, so that its center is below the window opening. Check to see that a clear shed (gap) is created, enough to pass your weaving needle through, in front of the heddle.
  • Next, pull the heddle up, so that the center of the heddle is above the weaving window. There should be another shed, but this time with the opposite set of warp threads coming up.
  • You will weave with this up-down motion of the heddle, passing your needle through the shed each time to complete a row of weaving.

This video demonstrates the motion (just imagine a box frame around the heddle for your loom).

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it! You’re now ready to weave plarn on the Box Loom.

If you need a refresh on basic weaving, go back to the Tablet Loom tutorial and watch the videos posted at the end of that article.

Happy Plarn Weaving!

Check out more tutorials: Getting Started with Plarn in Textiles, Making the Tablet Loom, and Making a Spindle, Cord Makers and More.

Beyond Basics: Weaving with Pickup Sticks

For advanced users, the addition of pickup sticks can be used with the Box Loom to create more complex patterns. This is an advanced skill, which we won’t cover in this tutorial, but know that it is possible with this loom.

The following video does a pretty good job in explaining how pickup sticks work with a heddle loom.

 

 

 

 

Loom Inspiration

The Box Loom was inspired by the following looms:

The backstrap loom introduced the idea of the suspended rigid heddle.

 

 

 

The 2-piece, quick-threading, rigid heddle was inspired by these fab looms:

  • Dan Chen’s Fab Loom which was in turn inspired by Samantha Bittman and Eric Clapp’s Fab Loom
  • Bittman and Clapp’s Fab loom (video below)

 

Cardboard-box looms showed me that it would be simpler to use an existing box rather than build the base.

 

 

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