Weaving on an Inkle Loom
There are a myriad uses for narrow inkle bands: trim, ties, straps, laces, etc.
If you're inkle weaving for the first time, this article will help you get started. More experienced weavers will find the list of project ideas at the end full of enticing possibilities.
Though designs vary, an inkle loom typically has two upright beams and one bottom beam. Several pegs are set into these beams. One of these pegs carries string heddles which attach to every other warp-thread. These make it possible for you to open an up shed and a down shed. There will also be a device for tensioning the warp, usually either a peg that slides along a slot, or a flat paddle that rotates.
(Editor's Note: You can see examples of two types of inkle loom in the article Inkle-loom Shoelaces.)
Inkle looms produce warp-faced bands in which the warp completely covers the weft, except for one "stitch" at the side of the band.
To illustrate how to use an inkle loom, let's create a simple rainbow-colored strap.
- Inkle loom
- Belt shuttle or ruler to beat the weft in. (Another option is to use sanding paper to bevel one edge of a stick shuttle.)
- Tapestry needle to aid in weaving in warp ends. (optional)
Shetland 8/4 wool from Harrisville Designs, in the colors: red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, violet, purple.
[Editor's Note: You could also weave this in 5/2 perle cotton, or any strong, smooth thread.]
Warp six threads of each color in the order listed above. (48 threads total.)
Shetland 8/4 wool in black.
Making String Heddles
Before you can warp your inkle loom for the first time, you must make string heddles.
Use something that does not stretch, and which is smooth enough to let the warp threads slide through with a minimum of friction as the warp advances. Some good options: cotton rug warp, mercerized cotton, or linen.
Make a tight loop between the top two pegs of the upright in the middle of the loom, and knot it.
For extra strength, I use a surgeon's knot to tie my string heddles. It's like a square knot, but with an extra twist on one side.
Cut the ends off the knot, leaving no more than 1/4-inch dangling. Make half as many string heddles as there are warp threads in your planned project.
Each heddle should be a separate loop; don't leave them connected between knots. When you've finished, slip the string heddles off the loom.
Warping the Loom
Before you start warping, set the inkle loom's tension device in the position that gives you the longest warp path. As you weave, the warp will shorten due to take up (ie: having to bend over and under the weft) and you will loosen the tension device—either sliding the peg in or turning the paddle—to keep the weaving tension even.
You thread the warp onto the inkle loom in a continuous loop. Begin at the front peg, and bring the warp thread all the way along the bottom and around the backmost peg.
Next, wind the warp back and forth between the pegs along the bottom of the loom and the back upright, moving upward from the back bottom corner peg. For a long warp, wind around every peg, for a shorter warp, skip some pegs.
Bring the first warp thread over the top peg of the center beam, and tie it back onto itself with a square knot—you only need to tie a new knot when you begin, change colors, and at the end of warping. Make sure you don't tie the warp to the loom, since you will be pulling the warp forward around the loom as the weaving progresses.
Take a string heddle, slip an open loop of it onto the second peg down on the central upright, toss the other end over this first warp thread, and tuck the other end of the loop onto the lower peg on the front upright. The loop of the string heddle should come up over the upper warp thread, and pull it down at an angle.
Continue around, following the path you created with the first warp. Do not place a string heddle on the second warp thread. Non-heddle threads go under the top peg on the front upright (shown above).
Continue warping in the same path, alternating heddle and non-heddle threads. Tie on new threads with a square knot as you change colors, and on the last warp thread.
As your warp grows, all the warp threads should lie in a plane, do not let the warp threads pile up on each other on the dowels, as this will create uneven tension because some threads will be longer than others.
Beginning to Weave
You can use a stick shuttle to carry the weft, or you can make a butterfly skein made on your hand in a figure-eight around your thumb and pinkie, tied at the middle.
Put your hand on the non-heddle warp threads and press down to make the "down" shed.
Think about whether you want your band to have fringes, and if so, leave that much space between the beginning of your weaving and the knots at the front of the loom.
Pass the weft through the shed.
In this first weft pick, leave a tail of the cut end about six inches long. You'll tuck this into the second pick to keep the weft from unraveling when you cut the band off the loom.
Now pull the non-heddle warp threads up to create the up shed.
Note with glee how the heddle threads stay in the middle, making these two sheds possible. In inkle weaving, the heddle threads are anchored in place and the non-heddle threads move to open the two sheds.
Beat the weft that you threw in the previous step down, using a stick shuttle, ruler, or even your finger.
I enjoy the hands-on feel of beating my shed with my hands on an inkle; but there are also many shapes of stick and belt shuttles—often hand-made in beautiful woods—available for inkle weaving.
Advancing the Warp
Keep alternating the sheds and beating in weft until the woven part of the band gets up to the heddles. At this point you need to stop, loosen the tension device, and pull the warp forward so that the woven part slides forward and out of your way. The whole warp will rotate along its path on the loom, which is why it was important not to tie the warp to the loom while putting the warp on.
After you've advanced the warp, re-apply the tension. You'll likely find that you need to change the position of the tension device from where it was before you moved the warp, because the warp will have shortened during the weaving because of take-up.
A Tip for Securing New Weft Threads
Pass both the tail and the working weft across this second shed, change to the lower shed again, and again, tamp down with your finger or shuttle all the way from before the heddles to where the live thread crossing lies. Cross the tail and working weft again, and then leave the tail dangling; you'll trim it close to the selvedge after you take the band off the loom. Add new weft threads in this way; and you never have to knot the weft.
One of the most common errors is to weave the first few inches either a little too loose or way too tight.
You should tug the weft tight enough that all the warp ends nestle close to each other, without overlapping (too tight) or showing the weft between them (too loose.) The band pictured at the right shows a nice, even, weave.
Another common beginner's error is an uneven or angled beat—make sure to open your shed and beat in your weft perpendicular to the warp threads.
Try to keep your beat even during the weaving. Each pick of weft should take up the same amount of warp. If the warp floating over the weft is longer and looser than the other rows, beat more firmly. If the warp floating over the weft looks shorter and bunched, beat looser.
An even beat, good selvedges, these are muscle-memory skills that will become second nature with practice. So if your first inkle band is a bit uneven and wobbly, don't fret...you will improve on the next one!
You can adjust gently as you go, and notice whether you pull tighter on one side or another so you can even things out and make parallel rows.
You can finish off the ends of an inkle band by hemming, tying overhand knots, or simply letting the warp ends hang loose. (Weave the last weft end back into the band to secure the end as you did at the beginning of the band.)
Some folks find that using a tapestry needle with a big eye is the easiest way to weave the weft end back in, at either end of the band.
What can you make?
- Guitar/Mandolin straps
- Luggage ties
- Formal neckties
- Jacket facings
- Needle cases
- Cell phone cases
- Striped coats and vests: sew many inkles together!
- Purse and bag straps
- Purses and bags themselves
- Morris-dance bell pads
- Placemats and table runners (by weaving strips together)
- Prize and honors ribbons
- Costume pieces
- Belly-dance belts
- Fringes (leave weft loops on one side)
- Laces for shoes—or lingerie!
- Byways in Handweaving by Mary Miegs Atwater
- Inkle Weaving by Lavinia Bradley
- Inkle Weaving by Helene Bress
- Textiles and Clothing : c.1150-c.1450 by Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Pritchard, Frances, & Staniland, Kay (shows medieval box-looms)
- The Gilmore Loom website's history page
- LeClerc's English-style inkle loom
- Weaving Inkle Bands by Harriet Tidball
- "Inkle-Woven Shoelaces" by Brianna Lancaster
Ruth is a second-generation weaver and fiber artist. She lives, gardens, and is gleefully setting up a woodshop in Redwood City, CA with her partner Lise M. Dyckman. In addition to spinning, weaving, and basketry, she messes about with various combinations of beading, camping, writing, singing, and playing fiddle for dance. You can learn more about Ruth and her art at her journal site.