Handle Those Heddles
Inkle looms are relatively simple in their design. They simply hold the warp tight and the heddles which keep half of the warp immobile. This allows you to quickly create a shed to weave through. It seems simple enough, then you realize this would be much easier if you were an octopus. The Inkle loom is one of those looms you have to make your heddles for, they don’t come pre-made, and this is often a gray area that creates some confusion. I thought I would take a quick moment to talk about how I make and use my heddles and what works for me.
In a Facebook group that I
Lurk belong to and occasionally contribute, I see the same heddle questions pop up. What do I make my heddles with, how long do I make my heddles, and do I use single or double heddles? I prefer to use size 10 Crochet Cotton, the cheap one – which ever one that is at the time. I use white so I don’t have to worry about color rubbing off. It tends to be slick and I find the yarns and threads I weave with, slide through it effortlessly. I’ve used thicker threads, but they’re noticeably bulkier, and that only adds frustration to the warping process. The size 10 is strong enough. I accidentally used a crochet thread that wasn’t cotton, and we’ll see how they hold up. I can say right off the bat these are fuzzier than the cotton. However, I’m withholding judgement until they’ve been used more.
Making the heddles is a fairly simple if menial task. I find the top peg that all the heddled yarns will go over (the one the open threads will run under) and the heddle peg (the peg the heddles will attach to). This is the length I make the heddles. Ideally, the heddles, when folded over will be half this length. I’ve seen a video from Schacht that makes longer heddles. I initially made my heddles to their specs, and it created too narrow a shed. It was a lot harder to create a clear shed, complicating the part of the weaving that should be rhythmic and meditative. I cut for one heddle at at time, cutting them all at once makes a bigger mess and doesn’t save any time. I take the crochet cotton around both pegs and snip it so I have enough tail to comfortably make some knots. First, I make a surgeon’s knot – left over right twice, then right over left (or a square knot with an extra turn on the first half). I find the extra wrap or pass on the first half of the knot helps keep it from sliding. Next, while leaving the heddle around the pegs, I tie the tails in an overhand knot and place it next to the surgeon’s knot. The extra knot helps keep the knot from sliding. I clip the tails to around 3/8 inch, and leave the heddle on the peg and continue to the next.
I use a double heddle. I didn’t realize this at first until someone sent me a PDF on Inkle weaving asking me which I prefer. With a double heddle, the yarn to be heddled doesn’t have to pass through the heddle, instead the heddle wraps over the warp with both (heddle) ends secured to the heddle peg. I find this much easier than trying to fit a ball of yarn through a string heddle while keeping tension even, at the same time. To use the double heddle, place the heddle onto the heddle peg, then run the warp to be heddled up over the top peg. Next, bring the heddle up between the the last open thread and the one to be heddled, then wrap in over the top of the yarn to be heddled and slide it onto the heddle peg. Now the yarn is heddled and you can continue to take the yarn around its warping path
How many heddles do I need? The sarcastic answer would be, “more than you think.” It’s assumed that you’ll warp your loom beginning and ending with a heddled yarn, as most find this selvage easier to manage. With that assumption, you will need heddles for half of your warp plus one. If you’re going to warp for a weaving that has 80 warp threads total, then you would need 41 heddles, but I would make at least 50. Extra’s are always handy, sometimes they break, or a knot comes undone, or two of them tie themselves into a knot when you aren’t looking – making both of them unusable. If you plan to use this loom a lot, I would make 100. I like to keep them in a Ziplock sandwich baggie, marked with the loom they go to. Each loom should have its own heddles, unless they’re identical. Another question that pops up is: Do I make new heddles for each project, or how many times can I use them? Use them until they look like they wont make it through another weaving. If I had to make new heddles every time, I probably would have moved right past Inkle weaving. Taking the time to make your heddles well and even pays off as soon as you create your first shed and make your first pass/pick. Make them right the first time and you can use them until they wear out.