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Inkle Weaving in History




The Loom











The inkle loom, although not itself "period" to the time study within the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), is a useful tool for producing "period style" strips or bands of hand-woven warp-faced cloth or ribbon. The inkle loom, as we know it in the United States today, is widely accepted as a tool imported in the 1930's from England where it is reported to have been invented somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries. It is used within the bounds of the SCA because it is portable and convenient for inkle and tablet weaving. The strips that we can weave on the inkle loom, called "inkles", are period in style and function. Shakespeare mentions inkles three times in his works. The earliest is in "Love's Labours Lost" (Act III, Scene I) which was written about 1590. Costard says,

"Now will I look to his remuneration. Remuneration! O, that's the latin word for three farthings: three farthings -- remuneration -- 'What's the price of this inkle?' -- 'One penny.' -- 'No, I'll give you a remuneration:' why, it carries it. Remuneration! Why, it is a fairer name than French Crown. I will never buy and sell out of a word."

The second instance of the word "inkle" appearing in Shakespeare's works occurs in "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" (Act V) which was written about 1608. Gower says,

"Marina thus the brothel 'scapes, and chances into an honest house, our story says. She sings like one immortal, and she dances as goddess-like to her admired lays; deep clerks she dumbs; and with her needle composes nature's own shape, of bud, bird, branch, or berry, that even her art sisters the natural roses; her inkle, silk, twin the rubied cherry..."

The third occurrance of the word "inkles" in Shakespeare's works is in "The Winter's Tale" (Act IV, Scene IV) which was written about 1610 to 1611. The character referred to as "servant" says,

"He hath ribbons of an the colours i' the rainbow; points more than all the lawyers in Bohemia can learnedly handle, though they come to him by the gross: inkles, caddisses, cambrics, lawns: why, he sings 'em over as they were gods or goddesses; you would think a smock were a she-angel, he so chants to the sleeve-hand and the work about the square on't."

This type of weaving has been around for centuries. In early times, these narrow strips were used as belts, headbands, bag handles, or straps to tie and support things. When sewn together, the strips could be turned into bags for gathering and carrying. These strips were also used aesthetically to decorate clothing. An inkle-woven strip has even survived from the first century AD. The actual origin of the style of weaving referred to as "inkle weaving" seems to have originated in many areas of the world, wherever textile arts have developed. For many centuries, this type of weaving was done on looms such as the bow loom, the forked-branch loom, or the back-strap loom.

For those familiar with Tablet (or Card) Weaving, inkle weaving is similar to producing a tablet-woven band using just two holes in opposite corners of the card and rotating in such a manner: one-half-turn forward, one-half-turn backward, repeat.

© 2000-2005Tracy DeGarmo