First, let’s consider bead weaving in general. Bead weaving is much like fiber related weaving in that a piece of fabric of some kind is the end result. When weaving with beads, instead of fiber, you end up a piece of fabric made with beads. This beaded fabric can then be turned into a finished piece of jewelry such as this Venetian Sunset bracelet by Janice Parsons.
So, now what’s the difference between off-loom weaving and loom weaving?
With off-loom weaving, normally a single needle and thread is used. For a few designs, you might use two needles and two threads, but that would be the largest number of threads you would normally be working with. As you thread your needle through beads and weave them together, with off-loom bead weaving you are required to use your hands to hold the piece you are making, or you may sometimes be able to set the piece on a flat surface as well. However, it will often require that you pick up the piece with one hand and keep it stationary while using your other hand to weave the beads with the needle and thread.
With loom bead weaving, the loom provides a way to assist you in holding your work and keeping it in place as you weave, which is often why some beaders prefer a loom. Again, like a regular fiber loom, you have multiple threads in two directions – vertical and horizontal – as you work on a loom. The horizontal threads are the “weft” threads, and the vertical are the “warp” threads. Because you have the loom to keep your work in one spot, looms can mean you might work a little faster than if you did not use this extra tool to weave beads.
Ultimately, it comes down to a very subjective and personal preference decision on whether to use a loom or not when weaving with beads. Both work, and both can give you the end result of creating a finishes piece of jewelry.