Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Looms: A Review

Technically, I've been loom knitting since I was about 7. With a little googling around, I found the original Lisa Frank set that included a weaving loom and two knitting looms: a French-styled knitter and what LF dubbed a sock loom. I could never figure out how to make anything other than really long tubes using the basic instructions, but little did I know then that this formative experience would set me off on a long journey, leading me to finally open a side business and to teach others how to loom knit. 

As such, I wanted to introduce you to my looms, and give my two cents worth of opinion on your options, in case you'd like to start looming! All opinions are my own, and I purchased all of the looms below. 

Basic Looms for the Beginner

#1 choice for beginners: On the left, my first set of Knifty Knitter brand looms, bought at Wal-Mart many years ago. In the middle, the modern equivalent, Loops and Threads brand, bought at Michael's in 2015. On the right, the Hobby Lobby equivalent, also purchased in 2015. (In case you are wondering why I have three basically identical sets: I left the original set of looms at my parents house when I moved to Oklahoma, so I bought the middle set. While traveling for work, I got more or less marooned in a storm, and ended up purchasing the set on the right out of sheer boredom.) 

Why I recommend: At under $20 (usually closer to $10-15), these sets are so close to each other in design, that a quick search will give you access to literally hundreds of patterns. Each of these looms are large gauge looms, meaning that the space between the pegs on all of these looms is approximately 3/4 inch. This makes them particularly easy to work with for all ages, and those with arthritis or other dexterity issues. A large gauge also generally makes a loose and stretchy fabric, perfect for hats. 
The Knifty Knitter brand is no longer readily available, but you may find a set at a yard sale or online; it is also highly sought after in certain sizes (see Ebay). Loops and Threads set comes with all but the smallest loom shown here, which I purchased separately. The plastic of the Hobby Lobby set seems a little less firm to me, though I have not had any pegs to break. 
What you can make: A lot of things. I've mostly used these looms for scarves and hats, mainly to donate or gift. You can also make flat panels and blankets, but I prefer straight looms. 
NOTE: I DO NOT recommend the Boye brand currently available at Wal-Mart and other locations. Other people can explain why, but I'll just say that I think the peg design is difficult to work with, and I have not been satisfied with the quality of the construction.

 #2 choice for beginners: Knitting Board recently came out with the super large peg zippy loom. It comes in pieces of four pegs that can easily snap together to form either a straight loom for panels, or additional corners can be added to knit in the round.
Why I recommend: Super bulky yarn is very popular at the moment, and the zippy is perfect for using either bulky yarn or several strands of yarn together. Each zippy loom piece is under $10, and most projects I've made only require two pieces. Because it is so large, it's super easy to see stitches, making it the perfect loom to learn new stitches that can be translated to other looms. To be totally honest, I didn't understand how to do purl or other basic stitches until I watched a video using a zippy loom. Also, I've been AMAZED at how different yarn looks using a super large gauge.

More specialized looms...

 So you're ready to commit...
I love my large gauge looms, above, and I do most of my projects with them. However, recently I've become interested in doing projects with finer patterns, including cables. At left is my set of CindWood Looms, custom made to have 5/8 inch gauge. CindWood Looms are only available online, come in a variety of styles, including round, long, and afghan shapes, and a variety of gauges. You can also customize your peg color!

Why I recommend: My CindWood looms are made from MDF wood with nylon pegs- this means that these are looms are ultra sturdy, slightly heavier, and yarn glides over the pegs easily. This is basically the Cadillac of knitting looms, ya'll.

Why I pause: This set is made in the USA by a small company-it's not a mass made product, and the price reflects the care and quality of the product. I am so glad I bought this set, but I pause to recommend these looms, particularly to newbies, because this set cost over $50. Because it is not as readily available, patterns are also not as easily available.

Go Long, Baby-maybe for beginners: Sometime long ago, I bought a set of long looms from Knifty Knitter, left. Over the years, I think I've lost all but two. Recently, I bought the Loops and Threads loom, right, and the All-in-One loom from Knitting Board.


 Why I recommend: Long looms are great for creating either wide panels, or thick fluffy projects by knitting back and forth across the loom. This will create a more seamless, or less hole-y, look compared to the Zippy. Personally, I adore the Loops and Threads loom on the right. It is the right size to tote around for knitting on the go, and it handles bulkier yarns really well with it's wide gauge. The All-in-One is truly all-in-one because it is adjustable to either knit in the round or as a long loom.
Why I pause: Remember when I said that you can do flat panels on a round loom? The longer blue loom in the left hand picture can create the same width panel, within an inch, as the large yellow round loom (above-to the left). I've also found that many patterns can either be adjusted for a circle or a long loom, but that may ad a layer of complexity that is frustrating.
A set of plastic long looms can be more expensive than a set of round looms, for not a whole lot of pay-off in the range of projects that you can do. The All-in-One loom sells for around $40 retail, but can almost always be snagged with a coupon at JoAnn's or other craft stores for much less. I haven't completed a project on it yet, but I am impressed with it's construction and pegs- it's also a finer gauge and adjustable from socks to shawls and blanket sizes. That being said, the loom to the right was under $10.

And, in case you were wondering what those funny looking looms were... Afghan Looms, sometimes called Serenity or Infinity Looms, are s-shaped looms that are specialized for very large panels, mainly for blankets or shawls. Most importantly, you probably don't need a specialized loom to make a large panel, unless you are making a bed-sized blanket-but if you do decide to go big, know that many knitters have found these looms too large to easily tote around, and a little awkward to hold. I recommend sitting the loom on a flat surface, like a lap desk or table, to use.

On the left, I have a green Loops and Threads Infinity loom, and on the right, I have the Knitting Board Afghan Loom. I have a very strong preference to the loom to the right. The green loom has a larger gauge, meaning the cloth has larger holes and is looser. It is also made from more flexible plastic- these two factors made it even more difficult to maneuver the loom, and also made me doubt it's ability to hold a heavy panel of fabric without warping. The Knitting Board Afghan Loom is a finer gauge and is SOLID. I don't feel the same wiggle in the middle as I do with the green loom, and I believe in this loom enough to start my 365 day Temperature Blanket project on it.  


 Those are my thoughts on my knitting looms, thus far. My only strong opinions are on the afghan looms (Knitting Board > Loops and Threads) and on the circle looms (NOT Boye; biggest bang for your buck). Other than that, it really depends on what projects, designs, or patterns you are interested in tackling, and what your budget allows.
If you hold a loom for a few hours, you'll develop some strong opinions. If you have an opinion, please leave a comment below! Happy Looming!

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