Thursday, May 3, 2007

Inkle Weaving

So I have this purse. I like everything about it except the strap. The strap is regular old i-cord, except that in a moment of genius I made the i-cord purl side facing out. I think I did this because I made the bag purl side out so I thought the i-cord should match. What I ended up with was a ridiculous strap with all these ridges in it that I hate. The strap is also too skinny, it is time for a new strap. Enter the Inkle Loom.

Inkle weaving is something that dates back to my childhood (really it dates back to something like the 17th century, but who's counting?). Every other summer my family and I would spend a week at an old mining camp in the Cascades that the Lutheran Church owns called Holden Village. It's a pretty crunchy place and several trips in a row I took a class and made something on the inkle loom. The nature of the loom limits you to strips about 3" wide or less, so really I made belts and funny hair bands. The point of it all is that at an early age I learned this skill and sort of got it into my head that you can only make basically useless things in garish colors on the inkle loom. This was further cemented when I worked at a summer camp a few years ago and they did inkle weaving with a selection of primary colors (think the small box of crayola crayons). Don't get me wrong, I love primary colors, but if that's all you have it can seem a bit limiting. Not to mention that basically the only book on the subject was written in the 70s, with some delightful color photos.

Despite my inkle upbringing I've had it in the back of my mind for some time that the inkle loom would be a good way to make purse straps. I guess I just never really did it, until a couple days ago. Since I don't have cones and cones of cotton on hand (the only stuff I've ever used on an inkle loom) I dove in with what I do have that matches my purse: a lot of leftover Jamieson and Smith and Rowan Harris Tweed (now Rowan Scottish Tweed) from various Fair Isle ventures. I also went to a LYS and bought some Jamieson and Smith off a cone for on $2.20 an ounce. Let me tell you, if you want to experiment and don't want to invest a lot of money, buying yarn off the cone is the way to go. Then I set to designing, I tweaked a design in the book slightly and set to warping. In all my cleverness I didn't take any pictures during the warping, but you basically wrap one strand at a time and either put it through a heddle or make it open depending on the pattern. When you are done with one color you break it and tie on the next using a square knot.

Thus you are able to go from this:

To this:

Then you weave. This is pretty easy, you *push the warp up to create a shed, beat your shuttle down and pull through, push the warp down to create another shed, beat your shuttle down and pull through, repeat from *. This simultaneously creates a warp facing fabric and exhausts my knowledge of weaving. There is a very good tutorial here for those interested.

Push warp up, beat shuttle down and pull through

Push warp down, beat shuttle down and pull through.

My first few rows always look a look a little wonky, but that sorts it out soon enough.

Soon you have the beginning of a new purse strap.

When your weaving gets to where you can't make a shed anymore you simply pull the warp around until you have plenty of empty warp and your woven material has moved around through the loom. This tutorial is significantly better than the one I just gave and if you are interested in more detail you really should go there.
I quickly learned why cotton is the medium of choice for inkle weaving teachers (or the ones I had anyway), it is a strong slippery yarn. Every time you push your warp up or down half the strands pass through the other half, so sticky yarns (like Jamieson and Smith) that are so good for Fair Isle because they felt easily and the ends don't slip out on steeks and such, are not so good for weaving of this sort. I seem to be managing okay for this project, but for my next one I think I'll try some smoother yarn, and maybe a little more contrast between colors. Did you see all three shades of purple in there? Yeah, me neither.
My loom is a Schacht Inkle Loom. I don't know where I got it and I honestly couldn't pin down a year of purchase if I wanted to, but I would venture to say it's been around my house for 10 years or so.
Anyone interested in trying weaving but doesn't have room for a huge loom should try this, while you are limited on size it is a great way to explore weaving and all it's possibilities. I have to admit that while I enjoy knitting immensely I have never really thought of it as theraputic, maybe because I am generally not a stressful person. Weaving though, what zen! I didn't think I was terribly tensed or stressed out or anything unusual when I started weaving this, but man, a few passes of my shuttle and I felt very calm and zen and like I could go on forever. I may have to pull out that lap loom I have hiding in the back of the closet somewhere. (Why all the looms you ask? Very supportive parents who also enjoy some fiber arts.)

1 comment:

Heather said...

Very cool!
I'm trying to figure out how to warp my new-to-me Inkle Loom so I can do Card Weaving on it too...but this was really helpful to see just in general.

All the best,