I recently treated myself to a new toy.
An Ashford Inklette loom.
This diddy little loom is deigned for the weaving of narrow bands that you can use to make bookmarks, bag or guitar straps, belts, trims for clothing, and so on, and so on. You can even sew them together to make other items like phone cases and purses.
So why an Inkle Loom?
I have been looking to get into weaving for quite a while now. I bought myself a heddle and some weaving tablets a few years ago at a reenacters fair (nope, not a reenacter) along with my first drop spindle. I did try out the heddle and the weaving tablets on a make shift backstrap loom a improvised – which involved being tethered to the bathroom door of the studio flat I was living in at the time, so not the most practical! Ideally I would like to weave fabric that I can use in dressmaking projects, which is obviously not something I’m planning on doing with the Inklette, However as I am limited to space in my current house, not to mention budgetary constraints, Inkle weaving seemed to be a good fix. The looms are relatively compact and affordable. Or at least the table top ones are, I imagine the large floor versions I have seen in photos online are a bit more pricey! In addition, since the weaving is narrow it is quick – I have spent 3 hours actually weaving over 3 days and am about a quarter of the way through my first project (Ashford reckons that the Inklette has a warp length up to 1.8 meters) which is pretty good for a beginner, in my opinion. Yes it took me 3 hours to warp it, but still.
Why an Ashford Inklette?
As far as I can tell there seem to be two main producers of looms and spinning wheels, Ashford and Schacht. To the untrained eye there appears to be little to distinguish the two brands. If you are an experienced spinner or weaver feel free to comment below on what the differences are. My local spinning and weaving store (yes they do exist), Freya Jones Spinning & Fibrecraft is an Ashford stockist and I wanted to support small businesses and have someone relatively close by that I could contact if I needed support. Freya runs weave and whine sessions at the shop in Stoke Mandeville, which is about half an hours drive from where I live. So, the decision between the two brands was fairly simple. I then had to choose between an Inkle Loom and the Inklette. Both looms are pretty portable, but the Inklette is much smaller and about half the price. There is about a meter difference in the warp length, but for now the smaller loom suits my purposes as a learner.
Why are they called Inkle Looms?
Inkle is an old English word, as far as I can tell, meaning band or ribbon. Inkle looms make bands and ribbons.
Where do Inkle Looms come from?
Good question! I have asked the hive mind of the internet and opinions are somewhat divided. Some people are under the impression that because it is more common to see tethered weaving and box looms that they are a modern invention. Several places claim that inkle looms came about as part of the Arts & Crafts movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. Others believe that the loom type itself is likely to be much older, with the Arts & Crafts movement reviving it as a tool.
Whatever the case the style of weaving these looms produce is old. Inkle bands are believed to have been used by the Vikings to decorate their clothes, tie up their bundles and swaddle their babies. Shakespeare even references inkles in some of his plays (referring to the bands not the looms). A quick Google search will give you more examples of inkles throughout history and in literature. Today inkles are popular with Viking reenacters to add authenticity to their period clothing, but they can also be seen in non-historical contexts such as in a guitar strap.
What distinguishes an Inkle from a Braid?
Simply put an inkle is a woven band, whereas a braid involves plaiting like you would do in your hair. A braid involves three or more strands that are passed over each other in turn so that they become intertwined and twisted together, almost parallel to each other down the length of the strands. Weaving involves the interlacing strands or strips together that are perpendicular to each other. The most obvious example of this is a simple basket weave where one strand goes over, under, over, under a series of other strands at right angles to it. Inkles use the same side to side approach, however they are what is called warp faced. More on this later. Braids and inkles can have very similar applications but their construction, and therefore texture, is different.
Structure of an Inkle
As mentioned above an inkle is referred to as warp faced. The warp is the long strands that are wrapped around a loom under tension. Warp dictates how long the weaving will be. In a typical basket weave both the warp and the weft (the cross strand) can be seen as they go over, under, over, under. Inkle weaving is different. The warp strands are seperated into two layers and the weft passes under one half and over the other simultaneously, the layers of warp are then swapped over enclosing the weft ready for its return journey. The only place the weft can be seen on a finished inkle is on the edges.
So how do we use an Inkle Loom?
Funny you should ask! You can learn alongside me!
Once I finish my current project I am going to be working from The Weaver’s Inkle Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon as well as Card Weaving by Candace Crockett to develop my skills, along with any other resources I find on this here interweb thing, which I will be tracking both here and on my YouTube channel. So invite you to get hold of or (if you’re handy) build your own inkle loom and join in on the fun!