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Beginning Inkle Weaving

Manual for a collegium class taught by Catherine Willoughby (April Woolery) in Winter’s Gate (Fairbanks, AK) Spring, 2001

Because it was meant to accompany a class with interactive instruction, this manual will be most useful to those who have done some inkle weaving themselves or can ask others who have experience. It is meant as a reference and memory aid to those who have done weaving in the past, but may have forgotten some important details.
A beginner can certainly self-teach, but in that case I would suggest using the Helene Bress book Inkle Weaving as a more complete reference.

What is an inkle loom? Some useful definitions

"An inkle loom differs from other looms in that it has a continuous warp, which is wound directly onto the loom without the need for any separate warping, and the sheds for weaving are made by taking alternate threads over a peg [heddle bar] and pulling them down with a leash [heddle]...Its other feature is a tension adjuster to give control of the warp tension throughout the work." 6

Definition of terms

heddle
sometimes referred to as a "leash," 8 a heddle is one of a set of cords that are looped over the upper set of warp threads. Pulling on the heddles pulls the upper threads down, allowing the weaver to change the shed. Word origin: probably from Middle English helde, Old English hefeld, (Old Norse hafald,) related to Old English hebban which means to lift. 9
heddle bar
on a loom, the bar to which the ends of the heddles are secured.
selvedge
on a piece of fabric: the finished edge that will not ravel. Word origin: probably from the Old English words self ecg for "self-edge." 10
shed
the space between two (or more) sets of warp threads through which the shuttle is passed during weaving. Word origin: from the Middle English sheden, which means to divide or separate. 11
shuttle
in this case, a flat piece of wood that has the weft thread wrapped around it. It is used to "shuttle" the weft thread back and forth through the warp sheds during weaving, and so to form the weave.
tensioner
on these looms, the tensioner is a wing-nut assembly attached to the front bar. It is loosened as necessary to keep an even tension on the warp threads during weaving.
warp
the threads that run the length of a loom. In inkle weaving, there are two sets of warp threads: one with heddles and one without (called “free” warp threads). The warp threads show on the surface of a finished inkle band. Word origin: Old English wearp, related to Old High German warf (warp,) and Old Norse verpa to throw. 12
weft
sometimes called the woof, the weft thread crosses the warp to form the weave. The weft is first wound onto the shuttle to facilitate passing it through the shed as weaving takes place. Word origin: Old English wefan, to weave, related to Old Norse veptr (weft.) 13

 Drawing of an inkle loom 1. Heddles
2. Heddle bar
3. Shed
4. Shuttle
5. Tensioner
6. Warp threads
7. Weft thread


Getting started

Materials

In order to do inkle weaving, you will need the following:

  1. an inkle loom
  2. a shuttle
  3. heddles
  4. suitable yarn in sufficient quantity
  5. scissors
  6. a yarn-darning or large tapestry needle (bodkin,) or a crochet hook (for finishing the weft ends)

Heddles

A heddle is a piece of cord or string that is looped over the upper set of warp threads: it holds them in place and allows the weaver to change sheds so that weaving can take place. (The upper set of warp threads are the ones that go over the top bar of the loom: see the section on warping the loom.)

 Drawing of a bowline knot
A bowline knot ( After a diagram by Smith) 14

Since the heddles are in constant contact with the warp threads, you should make them out of a light, smooth, strong cord or string. Trawling line works very well for this. Trawling line is not the same as monofilament line. It is woven out of fine nylon threads. It is also fairly slick, so one should use a good, non-slipping knot, such as a bowline knot, to tie heddles made from trawling line.


Heddles should all be the same length, so that your warp threads will be even when heddled. You will see how important this is in keeping the shed nice and even as you begin to warp your loom. Luckily, there is an easy way to get the heddles to be all the same length, and it is built right into your loom. Simply loop your heddle cord around the heddle bar and the top bar of your loom and tie it off firmly. Presto! You now have a heddle that is the perfect size for your loom. You have been supplied with 30 heddles for this class, and that should be plenty for now. However, you now know how to make more if you want to make a really wide band in the future.

Choosing a suitable yarn

The best yarns are strong, fairly smooth-textured, multi-ply yarns. Worsted-weight wools are great, as are cottons. Cottons tend to produce finer, sharper patterns than wools. Acrylics will work, but they will be harder to use. Acrylic threads tend to catch and snag when repeatedly pulled past each other, (and inkle weaving is accomplished by repeatedly pulling the threads past each other!) Plus, acrylic yarn looks and feels like, well, acrylic yarn.

Lighter threads can be used, as well. Crochet cotton, both regular and heavy weight, #3 or #5 perle cotton, and six-strand floss will all work nicely and make very fine, intricate patterns. Six-strand floss is the same thing as regular cotton embroidery floss. I have read that it can sometimes be found in one pound cones, which are much more economical than the little skeins. (I have yet to find it in one pound size, but I keep hoping…)

Linen has been used to make inkle bands since the Middle Ages. It is non-elastic, so make sure that you have plenty of room for take-up on your tension adjuster if you use it. It will also fray more easily than cotton or wool, so practice first on the easier stuff. Linen is also more sensitive to humidity than other fibers: it becomes more brittle when dry. If you have difficulty with fine linen thread, try running a humidifier or boiling some water near your work area to make the thread more pliable. Good linen thread types are 10/5, 10/3 and 10/2.

I should explain what those numbers mean. Yarns are often typed using a numbering system. The first number indicates the weight of the thread, the second is the number of plies, (strands,) in the yarn. The smaller the first number, the heavier the thread. For example, #3 perle cotton is heavier than #5. The #3 is numbered 3/2, meaning it is #3 weight cotton, two strands. Number 5 is 5/2. Note that in Canada, the numbers mean the same thing, but are reversed, so that #3 perle would be listed 2/3.

Yarns that are poor choices include single-ply yarns, handspun yarns, (unless the spinner is experienced and can produce a tight, strong yarn,) nubbly yarns or any yarn with an uneven texture, and angora or hairy-textured yarns. Angora-type yarns are very soft and silky, with long ends of fibers that fluff out of the main twist of the yarn. These fibers catch and hold each other as they are pulled past each other. They "grab" like Velcro, causing knot-like fiber clumps to form on the threads. These as well as the textured yarns and single-plies also tend to fray and weaken. Fraying can lead to broken warp threads, which must be spliced. It ends up looking bad.

Space-dyed yarns can be used, but inkle-weaving with these seems to yield sporadic results. Sometimes it looks good, sometimes it doesn't. Space-dyed yarns are those multi-colored skeins that are often found in craft stores.

Patterns

Now you decide how your finished band will look. Inkle patterns are produced through the placement of the warp threads when you warp up your loom. The order that the threads are put on determines the pattern in your band.

Today you will learn how to do what is called "plain" weave on your loom, but don't let the name fool you. All it means is that you won't be doing any pick-up techniques to manipulate the threads as you weave. You will be doing a basic over and under weave, but you will be able to incorporate a pattern into your band, either fancy or plain. All you have to do is decide what pattern you want and place your warp threads accordingly.

Plainweave inkle patterns are limited in one respect: there are only two "rows" of pattern that repeat over and over through the band. Because of this, patterns like stripes or checks are particularly suited to inkle weaving.

It seems that everyone who writes inkle patterns out has a different way of doing it. These systems are called "pattern notation," and care must be taken to be sure that you understand an author's system of notation, or else you will end up warping your loom wrong and come up with an unexpected pattern.

As you will see in the warping section of this handout, warp threads are wound onto the loom in pairs. One thread goes over the top bar and is heddled, the next goes under the top bar and is left unheddled, or free. The two sets of thread, heddled and free, form the pattern that will be seen on the surface of the band once it is woven. As I mentioned before, pattern notation varies, but it always differentiates between the heddled and free threads. In my case, I show the heddled threads above, and the free threads below, since the heddled threads go over the top bar, and the free threads under it:

pattern for a plain, white band

The "w" would be the color of the yarn, in this case, white. This would be the pattern for a plain white band. There are fifteen threads in the band: eight heddled and seven free, so this would be a fairly narrow band.

You can just warp your loom all in one color and weave a plain band, but that gets boring. Adding different colors and patterns is part of the lure of weaving. When trying out a new pattern, I have to just trust that the notation is correct, and it is always a bit of a thrill to see the pattern taking shape as I weave.

Horizontal stripes (in white and green) look like this:

pattern for alternating stripes

Note that to make a wider band, you just carry the pattern on for the desired width, always beginning and ending with a heddled thread, as this holds the work secure and keeps the tension even. The maximum width for these looms is about 60-70 threads total (both heddled and free) for worsted-weight yarn.

Some more patterns:
Green with a white vertical center stripe:

pattern for a center stripe

A single "square" of green surrounded by white:

pattern for squares

Checks in white and green:

pattern for a checker squares

By combining these patterns, you can create a huge variety of trim, belts, etc. It is a good idea to have a solid border on either side of your band. Since the weft thread shows at the edges, solid borders allow you to match the weft thread color to the edge color, making a much neater looking band.

Warping and Weaving

Warping your loom

On an inkle loom, the warp is continuous: that is, it is wound around and around over the bars of the loom to form a sort of convoluted circuit15, but is still free to be pulled along over the bars (advanced). If you can't advance your warp, that means that you have done something wrong. If this happens, you will find that you are only able to weave a few inches in the short space between the front bar and the heddles.

To make sure that the warp is free to move, be sure to follow the warping instructions:

1. Loosen the tensioner and set it in the middle of its slot while you are stringing the first and last warp threads. (If using a non-elastic yarn, such as linen, skip this step.) For all of the middle threads, readjust the tensioner to its fullest extent. The difference in tension positions will cause the two end warp threads to be tighter that the others and will help to keep the edges of your band neat and even. 16

 Heddled warp diagram
Diagram of threading path for heddled warp threads

2. The first warp thread should be heddled, and so will be threaded over the top bar. Follow the diagram for the correct thread pattern. When you have made the circuit and returned to the front bar, tie the end of the yarn to itself - not to the bar! The yarn must not be tied to the bar, or you will not be able to advance your warp. 17 After it is tied, you should put the heddle on the thread, securing the heddle ends by looping them under the heddle bar.


 Free warp diagram
Diagram of threading path for free warp threads

3. Warp threads are usually paired: one heddle, one free, so the next thread will be free; that is, not heddled. Run this thread under the top bar and do not put a heddle on it. Other than the top bar, this thread will follow the same pattern as the first thread. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you need to change colors.


 Square knot
Square knot or sheet bend (Smith)

4. When you need to change colors, tie in the new color thread to the end of the first thread. Use a square knot and tie in at the front bar, which is where all of the threads should begin and end. Now you have two threads to deal with: color #1 and color #2. Warp color #2 as usual, and when you change back to color #1, twist the two threads together at the front bar to keep the tension even. Be sure to twist every time you change colors so that the threads are secure and even. Follow the same procedure for adding more colors. When you are finished with a color, tie that thread off to the next thread to be warped. Again, use a square knot.


5. To finish warping, be sure that your last warp thread is over the top bar, like the first thread was. This last thread will not have a paired free thread with it. As you did with the first thread, set the tensioner at half tension when you tie off this last thread. Once you have tied the thread off, set the tensioner back to full extension, so that all of your warp threads are nice and taut, (though you should still be able to lift them to create a shed.) Check to be certain that your tension is fairly even (other than the two end threads,) and that the whole warp is free to be pulled forward around its circuit of pegs (bars.)

Loading the shuttle

There are several different types of shuttles. We are using small belt shuttles, which are a variation of stick shuttles. The difference is that, unlike stick shuttles, belt shuttles have a beveled edge to use for beating the weft down to make it uniform. 18

shuttles: empty and full of yarn

To load your shuttle, tie a small loop at the end of your weft yarn. Secure the yarn to the shuttle by passing this loop over one of the "horns" on the non-beveled edge of the shuttle. Proceed to wrap yarn between the notches at either end, wrapping around the length of the shuttle. I usually wrap until the shuttle can only just fit easily through the shed. When you have enough yarn, clip the end off, leaving several inches dangling from your shuttle.

Plain inkle weaving is usually done using the same thread for the weft as you used for the edge warp threads. However, there is no rule that you must always do this. I like to use a lighter weight thread for the weft, since it minimizes the "bumpiness" at the edge of the finished band. The only really important thing is to make sure that the color of the weft matches the edge warp threads.

Weaving

At last, the fun begins: you are ready to weave! With your right hand, reach behind the heddles and push down on the free threads (the ones that run under the top bar.) This will open a shed between the free and heddled threads. Run your shuttle through the shed in front of the heddles (this is also called a "throw.") Note that you always run the shuttle in front of the heddles. Leave a "tail" of weft thread hanging out: it should be at least as long as the width of your band.

Now use your hand to push up on the free threads. This will cause them to lift and create a new shed through which you may pass your shuttle. Pass your shuttle back through, then pull that weft tail in along with the weft that you just threw so that the weft tail is not hanging out any more. Change sheds again and beat the threads down to tighten them. The weft tail is now woven in to your band and will not work its way loose. 19 Having beaten the previously woven threads, pass the shuttle through. Be sure to keep the weft tension even at the edges. It will tend to form little loops if it is not pulled snug at each pass.20 You do not need to pull it too tight. Keeping even tension throughout the band is more important than having a very tight band. A band that is too tight will be stiff and look puckered. After a few rows, your tension will even out and your work will look much more uniform. You should also be careful to beat the threads a bit each time you change your shed. This will keep things snug and even.

In plain weave, you just continue on alternating sheds until you have only a few inches of unwoven weft remaining. When you are almost out of room to change sheds, get your big yarn-darning needle or a small crochet hook. In the second to the last shed, pass your shuttle through, then lay the needle or hook in the shed and leave it there. Change the shed around it, pass the shuttle through the new shed, and cut off the weft, leaving about a foot of thread hanging off. Thread this through the needle or catch it on the hook, and pull it through the second to last shed. This is a nice, neat method presented by Lavinia Bradley in her book, Inkle Weaving. 21 Bradley specifically states that one should never darn the ends of the weft into the finished piece, although Helene Bress (who also wrote a book called Inkle Weaving,) says that the ends should be darned in! 22 I usually use Bradley's method as it is neater, but Bress' method works if one is careful not to pull the weft too tight.

If you run out of weft thread on the shuttle, or if the weft thread breaks, simply reload the shuttle and pass the new weft through the same shed as the last of the old weft. (There will be two weft threads in this one shed.) Be sure that you pass both threads through in the same direction. "Change sheds and beat extra hard. Clip the ends short. The splice will hardly be noticeable." 23 Bress is right about this - it is almost impossible to see if you do it right.

Splicing a broken warp thread is more straightforward and unattractive: broken warp threads must be knotted, and the knot will show. Use a square knot or some other knot that will not slip. My advice is to avoid breaking warp threads, if at all possible.

Finishes24

How you choose to finish your inkle band depends on how you plan to use it. A band woven for trim is more useful without a long fringe of warp threads, while a belt or favor can be improved by a well-finished fringe or tassel. Various treatments for different uses include:

Braiding - Ends can be joined into one or more three-strand braids. The ends should be knotted or wrapped to prevent them from coming undone.

 Cording diagram
Cording (After a diagram by Snow)

Cording - Many ropes are made using this technique. Take two small groups of end threads and twist them (separately,) in the same direction. Then twist the two together in the other direction. Finish the end with a simple overhand knot.


Decorative knotted ends
Overhand knots (Snow)

Knotting - Simple overhand knots can be used to secure the ends, either with the ends left free for a fringe or with rows of knots like macramé.


Sewing the ends - This treatment is good for inkle bands that are to be used as trim. First cut off the long, fringe ends. Then either roll the end back on itself to hide the raw ends, or fold a piece of cloth or bias tape over the cut edge. Secure with a simple overhand stitch.

Rolling cut ends under and sewing down securely
Rolled and sewn (Snow)
Folding fabric around the cut ends to package them
Packaged and sewn (Snow)

Tassels - Wind "as much yarn as you want in your tassel around a...piece of cardboard cut to the desired size. Cut one end and tie the bundle in the middle to hold it. Then take the unwoven ends of the weaving and divide them in half. Set the bundle of cut ends between these two groups of unwoven ends and square knot them around it. Whip around the knot to make the ball end of the tassel and clip all the free ends..." 25 to make them even.

Steps in making a tassel
Making a tassel (Snow)

Wrapping or whipping - In both of these techniques, a piece of yarn or cord is wrapped around a bundle of warp ends to secure them. The differences are in the way the ends of the wrapping cord is secured. Also, wrapping is more rigid than whipping. (See diagram for details.)

Whipping to secure thread ends
Whipping (Snow)
Wrapping to secure thread ends
Wrapping (Snow)

Using inkle bands as trim

Blanket stitching edges to secure
Blanket or buttonhole stitch (Snow)

Cutting trim

I have read that a good way to keep ends from fraying is to wrap the band in Scotch tape before you cut it. 26 The tape serves to keep the ends together. However, I have tried this and cannot recommend it. It is not necessary, and removing the tape causes the ends to fray more than they otherwise would. Instead, cut trim only when you are going to use it, and blanket-stitch the ends to prevent raveling.


Sewing

When you sew down an inkle band as trim, pass the needle through the weft loops at the edge of the band. It may be hard to differentiate the weft from the warp threads along the edge at first, but it gets much easier with practice. Using the weft loops will prevent distortion of your woven pattern and keep the band looking neat. For this reason, it is best to hand-sew inkle and other woven bands.

Raw, (cut,) edges of trim should be blanket stitched to keep them from raveling. 27 If you can, "hide" the cut ends in a seam. If you can't do this, turn the ends under themselves to hide the cut edge and sew down firmly.


Copyright April Woolery, 2001



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