Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Necessity is the mother of all invention

I am regularly asked if I can make a particular item - from a photo usually. Often, I can figure out what needs to be done, but sometimes I know that it is simply not 'do-able' using the sort of equipment available for someone who works from home.

This is especially the case with ribbons. So many very elaborate ribbons of the 18th, 19th and 20th century were created on mechanised ribbons looms - those with elaborate patterns used various types of drawloom set-ups, finally culminating in the Jaquard loom. The cost and size of a drawloom these days makes it quite impossible - particularly the size - besides the point that drawlooms which are available are for cloth, not ribbon. (yes the larger looms can be used for ribbon, but doesn't it seem silly to take up all that space to weave something a couple of centimetres wide!)

Most books/articles which deal with decorative ribbon weaving tend to discuss pattern warps or wefts, with a few discussing pick-up techniques. Counting and picking up individual warp threads is fine if you want to do non-repetitive designs such as lettering, but is terribly time-consuming when you want a pattern repeat - which after all, is what most historic ribbons involve. So I thought, why not use string heddles to bring up the decorative warp threads in a pre-determined order?

I did consider using my small table loom (designed for small pieces of cloth). However, without tracking down new reeds, etc, the placement of the warp threads is too far apart for ribbon weaving. So I decided to experiment with my small inkle loom.

So, step one. A complicated contraption of string heddles, sticky tape,cardboard and coffee stirring sticks! But it did work, and as I got into what I was actually doing, I'd say it was quicker than brocaded tablet weaving. But adjustments needed to be made - including having more selvedge warps in order to keep those neat and tidy. (My first ribbon - worsted wool - below, you can see what I mean about the selvedges)

The biggest 'problem' is that inkle looms/band looms do not have anything to support the groups of strings, which can mean that they tangle, or you raise the warp in the wrong order because they are difficult to 'find'. So, an adaptation was needed - but not something permanent which would render the inkle loom useless for 'regular' weaving.

Mark II. Still cardboard, tape and coffee stirring sticks - and a big bulldog clip to keep the holding frame attached to the top bar of the loom. Tidy groups of warps now. - (for anyone who saw the pics I originally posted, they've now been removed as I'm looking to get Mark III properly prototyped and protected. So my legal eagle friend advised me to remove them!)

So long as the heddle strings are as tight as possible, the warp threads do draw up quite well. Now to practice some more. And to find a better method of attaching the contraption to the top bar (a bulldog clip and tape is hardly professional!) so that I can get these put together as add-ons for anyone's inkle loom (I already know someone who should be able to make the components for me). It'll need testing on my large band loom (the top bar of which is a different size).

As for the weaving? Alot of practice still needed! I'll need to get quicker, but it should open up alot of possibilities for decorative ribbons and fringe. There are of course limitations, some designs won't be able to be worked simply because the space on an inkle/band loom will only allow for so many heddle groups, but experimenting will be fun - even if it's only creating a twill weave ribbon!


  1. It looks super complicated, good luck with experimenting!

  2. Anonymous6:59 pm

    Well done! I look forward to seeing what else you produce.

  3. Good god. Are you going to patent your little invention? Talk about clever!

  4. Anonymous12:28 am

    You are incredible
    You have and still never cease to amaze me

  5. Gina-that ribbon is aboslutely divine- I LOVE it!!!


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