Potholder Loom: Basics and Beyond
For many of us, our first experience with weaving is with the humble potholder loom. But after you've woven that first potholder and mastered the basics, what's next?
The good news is, you can use this simple loom to explore a variety of color effects.
Best of all, each sample is also a beautiful and functional potholder. Which gets your samples out of notebooks and into the kitchen where you can be inspired every day.
Here are some fun explorations you can do on a potholder loom.
All of the variations in this article use the following tools and supplies.
- Potholder or similar frame loom. (Shown below is the Harrisville Designs Metal Potholder Loom.)
- Long metal weaving hook
- Crochet hook, size K (optional) for finishing
100% wool loopers.
Loopers are created by taking a tube of knitted fabric and slicing it—in much the same way as you would a loaf of bread—into a series of loops.
For this project, I used the loopers sold by Harrisville Designs. They're specially designed to fit their potholder loom.
You can sometimes buy huge bags of loopers that are created as waste by the commercial sock industry. When using these, however, some loops will fit on your loom and some will not.
My advice? Don't try to force ill-fitting loopers onto the loom. You'll get frustrated and perhaps even bend the loom's teeth. (Or in the case of plastic looms, snap them.) Instead, save too-small loopers and chain them together for weaving or knitting into rugs.
Potholder loopers are typically available in either cotton or wool. For projects that will actually be used as potholders, I prefer 100% wool loopers because wool is more insulating than cotton and self-extinguishes when exposed to flame. (Which perhaps tells you more than I'd like you to know about my culinary skills.)
Potholder looms are weaving in its most basic form: a simple frame holds the warp in place while you manually weave the weft over and under.
To warp the loom, stretch a looper vertically from the bottom to the top of the loom, catching it around the opposing pegs on either end of the loom. Continue until all of the vertical pegs are filled.
The warp will look dense on the loom. If you're weaving to create a potholder, this is what you want. A dense fabric will better protect you from heat.
Note: If you're weaving to create something other than a potholder, you can experiment with using every other peg in the warping and weaving.
Push the weaving the hook through the warp, alternating over and under every other loop. Put a weft loop over the first peg and use the hook to pull the loop through the warp.
On the next row, put the hook through, this time going under any loops that the previous weft shot went over, and over any loops the previous weft shot went under.
Continue weaving rows, alternating which loops are over and under, until there are no free pegs left.
If you have problems with the ends of the loops popping off the pegs, you can wrap rubber bands around the edges to hold the ends in place.
To finish off the potholder and take it off the loom, crochet the edge loops together. You can do so with the weaving hook (as shown) but I find that a size K crochet hook gives me better control.
The last loop is used to hang the potholder with. You can either tie a knot in it to prevent the crocheted edge from unraveling, or pull it through the crocheted edge a second time to secure it.
In weaving, the colors of the warp and weft interact closely. Where they cross, they can visually create a new color. This is especially true of fine cloth, where the intersections are small. It's analogous to the way dots on a printed newspaper picture blend together to create the impression of more colors than are printed on the page.
The magical thing about weaving is that you often can't predict what two colors will look good together. There are always surprises. To "test drive" color combinations, weavers will often create a color gamp.
A gamp is a woven sampler with several different variations incorporated into the cloth. The variation might be the weave structure (as in a twill gamp) or in the yarn's color (as in a color gamp.)
The pixel size on a potholder loom is big, so you won't get the intimate color blending that you would with a finer cloth, but it is still fun to see how different warp and weft combinations look together.
You can create a color gamp with as few as two colors, or as many colors as your loom has pegs.
In the sampler below, I warped the loom with nine colors: 2 blue, 2 indigo, 2 cyan, 2 green, 2 yellow, 2 orange, 2 red, 2 magenta, 2 violet.
Weave across the warp with the same nine colors to complete the gamp.
You can see that the solid colors form a diagonal across the gamp. Looking at the gamp you can see which warp-and-weft color combinations appeal to you, which is useful for planning the next project: color-and-weave.
Color and weave is a fun technique in which you can create complex-looking cloth using simple weave structures.
In color-and-weave you vary the placement of colors in the warp and weft to create color patterning that is supplemental to the underlying woven structure.
For more information about color-and-weave designing, see Barbara Walker's article: Woven Ratios.
Below is a pattern called log cabin, woven with a six-end repeat. I chose a six-end repeat, because six divides evenly into the 18 pegs on each side of my loom. If you have a loom with a different number of pegs, you can alter the size of the repeat to fit your loom.
You can see the pattern alternates between dark (A) and light (B) threads, occasionally throwing in either an doubled light or dark thread to change the direction of the pattern lines from horizontal to vertical or vice-versa.
The pattern I used below is: A B A B A B B A B A B A A B A B A B. You can play around with color the number of repeats between doubled threads to create your own designs.
To complete the potholder, weave the weft in the same color order as the warp.
Another popular color-and-weave pattern that can be woven on a potholder loom is pinwheel. In this pattern, a regular pattern of doubled threads crossed by another pattern of doubled threads to create a pattern reminiscent of a child's pinwheel toy.
The pattern used in the warp below is A A B B A A B B A A B B A A B B A A. The weft is woven in the same color pattern.
I use painted warps quite a bit when weaving scarves or cloth for garments. I love the way the dye blends together like watercolor paint to create new colors.
One day I had the thought: why not bring this color technique into my potholder weaving?
The basic technique for painting loopers for potholder weaving is as follows:
- Warp the frame with light-colored loopers. White will give the brightest colors, but overdyeing yellow gives a nice effect as well.
- Using a stencil brush, stipple dye onto the loopers. Make sure to saturate the point where they attach to the loom pegs.
- Remove the loopers from the loom and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Steam the loopers to set the dye, or otherwise affix the dye according the the dye manufacturer's instructions. Be sure to follow all safety precautions for the dye you are using.
Painted warps are shown to best effect when woven with a single color of weft, in a dark color such as maroon, navy, or black.
This is just a taste of some of the fun variations you can weave on a simple potholder loom. You can also weave with yarn instead of loopers, play with weave structures beyond plain weave, piece items together into larger textiles, and much more.
Here are some links to additional things to do with a potholder loom. Noreen Crone-Findlay, in particular, has many great resources for potholder looms available on the web.
- Noreen Crone-Findlay's website with wonderful information and patterns for the potholder looms
- Instructional You-Tube videos by Noreen Crone-Findlay
- Weavagarumi, an eBook on how to weave cute stuffed animals on the potholder loom.
- Wooden potholder loom.
- Cotton loopers from Cotton Clouds
Syne Mitchell is an adventuresome weaver who's always up for trying a new method of interlacing fiber and yarn. She believes you can find something fun to do with any loom, no matter how humble. She blogs about her personal adventures in weaving as WeaveGeek.