Better with Bobbins: Why You Need a Bobbin Winder

I became a much happier rigid-heddle weaver when I borrowed a tool from floor loom weavers: a boat shuttle and bobbin. Here's how to wind one well.

Anne Merrow May 26, 2022 - 4 min read

Better with Bobbins: Why You Need a Bobbin Winder  Primary Image

Closed bottom and open bottom boat shuttles. Photo by Liz Moncrief

When I bought my first rigid-heddle loom, the box included two stick shuttles. They were straightforward and could hold a lot of yarn. They were long enough to pass through the whole width of the shed.

I hated them so much. They were one of my least favorite things about weaving. Here's why:

  1. Winding them involved a lot of arm-waving. It reminded me of baton-twirling, except that if I missed a notch in the shuttle, I had a little jolt of annoyance and maybe wound the yarn around my wrist instead.
  2. I often managed to hook a warp thread or two when passing through the shed. The fact that I could snag one probably meant that I had a sloppy shed, but yanking it with a stick shuttle did nothing to help a wobbly warp end.
  3. When the shuttle emerged from the shed, I often had too little free weft, which made my fabric draw in (or gave me another chance to snag one of those saggy warp threads on the way back as I removed the pick, unwrapped more weft, and passed through the shed again). If I had enough weft, I had to juggle the stick shuttle as I adjusted the tension on the weft.
  4. If I finished a project and had weft left over, I had to do the whole arm-waving thing again to remove the yarn from the shuttle and clear it off.
  5. They're long and didn't fit nicely in my weaving shelves.

Now, there are plenty of reasons why stick shuttles are great: They pass straight through a shed from one hand to the other, they're simple as can be, and they don't require anything extra. If you don't want to buy accessories for your accessories, this is the tool for you.

But I wanted something that would feel nice in my hand and unspool just as much weft as I needed. If I finished a project and thought I might use the weftovers in another project, I wanted to be able to pop out that yarn and store it somewhere handy. I wanted a boat shuttle and bobbins.

It's true that boat shuttles can have drawbacks for rigid-heddle looms. Without a shuttle race (that nifty little shelf in front of the reed on a floor loom where the shuttle can ride along easily), it can be hard to pass the shuttle from one hand to another through the open shed. Sometimes the shuttle falls down between two warp threads onto the floor, and then I have to bring it back up through the right space to set it back on track. Taller boat shuttles might not fit in the slimmer shed of a rigid-heddle loom, so be careful to choose one with a low profile. Still, passing my boat shuttle from one hand to the other is one of my favorite weaving actions.

Susan Horton's Tips for Winding Better Bobbins

The directions that came with my bobbin winder are long gone, and I thought I'd been winding well enough until I test the post that Handwoven editor Susan Horton put together with some of her favorite tips with a video to demonstrate. This may be the second time a bobbin winder has made my weaving so much more delightful.