About 30 years ago, I started to explore inkle weaving with the goal of giving respect to a weaving technique that was considered, at that time, to be unchallenging. I started inkle weaving by experimenting with color play and simple threadings. My work progressed as I tried different techniques: combining thread sizes; trying various edge finishings; and adding texture with beads, tassels, feathers, or anything else that caught my fancy. I soon discovered that inkle was my weaving love.
Some threadings allowed for pick-up techniques, which make use of pattern threads and background threads, and a second set of heddles expanded my design options further. Inkle bands constantly challenge me to improve my spinning and to try something different while building on past projects. Over the years, I have become more successful with the yarns I design and spin for projects I have in mind.
Oh, My Word!
Handwoven magazine had an article on letter pick-up (Ann Brophy, “Letters from an Inkle Loom,” May/June 1999, pp. 38–41) that started me on yet another aspect of inkle weaving: creating text. Using only my handspun, I started weaving name tags, then short sayings with humor or an uplifting message. The bands have become longer and longer over time, up to 21 yards or more. During the COVID-19 shutdown, they became a way to journal my experience.
One of the first lessons the bands taught me was the importance of color. Our typical reading material is presented with a light background and dark letters. This seems to work best with the bands. Color value is also important. It doesn’t matter how different the background and pattern colors look. If their values (on the gray scale) are close, the band will be hard to read because the words will fade into the background. To check color values before weaving, look at your yarns through an 8-by-10-inch red plastic sheet. Other easy ways to check gray scale are to create a black-and-white image on a copy machine or use a camera (such as the one on your phone) to take a picture with a black-and-white filter.
The next thing the bands taught me about was my preferred fiber choice. After raising 500 silkworms one year and spending a lot of time at my spinning wheel, I now turn to silk as my fiber of choice. A smooth, compact yarn of 100% bombyx or tussah silk makes a great background. I sometimes also use a light-colored blend of silk with another luxury fiber. Consistent, smooth blends of dark-colored wool and silk or other luxury fibers are good choices for the letters. The wool lets the yarn bloom a bit for nice solid letters, and the silk adds the luster that I like.
Jeannine challenged herself to design a warp with three lines of text.
Twist was yet another lesson. A soft-spun yarn tends to blur letter lines. I spin worsted and go for a hard twist of 45 degrees or more. My fingers tell me when the twist is what I want. The resulting singles have soft corkscrews when the tension is relaxed. If sampling a new blend, I suggest spinning a tight ply that will show letters clearly when woven.
While homebound during COVID-19, I looked for something new to try with the bands. I thought it would be fun to weave my vaccination QR code. The code pattern needed 29 pairs of warp threads. A pattern pair consists of a light background and a dark, heavier pattern thread. Since the QR code would be square, it would take only 29 pattern wefts to weave the code, leaving a lot of warp on the loom, so I decided to add some lines of text.
The wide band challenged me to design two lines of letters that would, together, require 30 pattern pairs of warp. I needed to transition from 29 pattern pairs of warp for the code to 30 pattern pairs for two lines of text. To make the band easier to read, I also wanted to separate the two text lines with four background warp threads. The extra border threads would allow me to shift pattern threads while maintaining tension integrity. Aquilina Castro, a weaver from Peru, taught me how she repairs a broken warp thread (see Resources). Using this technique, I was able to weave the code, then move background and pattern warp threads to weave two lines of text.
The QR-code band inspired my next challenge: a warp with three lines of text. No warp threads would have to change during the weaving, but the pattern draft would need careful attention so that all three lines would start and stop at the same place. The saying could be longer but not so long that it couldn’t be read easily and not so wide that my loom and hands could not hold and manipulate individual threads. After the planning and setup, I found it was great fun to weave.
Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. It doesn’t matter if I use my bands in other projects or not. They have already become a touchstone to memories reminding me of a time, a place, or people.
See More of Jeannine’s Amazing Bands
- “But What Are You Going to Do with All Those Bands?”
- “Vest of Voices: Inkle Woven Bands by Jeannine Glaves”
More Resources for Inkle Weaving
- “Spinning for Inkle Weaving,” by Kate Larson
- “Luxury Laces,” by John Mullarkey
This article was first published in Spin Off Winter 2023.
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Jeannine Glaves has been spinning and weaving for a long, long time and has received numerous awards and recognitions. She feels handspun, handwoven bands are the natural way for her to journal. Creating and teaching is her way of paying rent for her time on earth.