Tape Weaving Class

Posted in travel, weaving by tchemgrrl on October 1, 2012

While at the fiber festival, I took a class on tape weaving and thought I’d share some of what I learned.

I have an inkle loom but have only played with it in a somewhat dilettante fashion, so I was interested to see other techniques for making warp-faced bands, and to learn some relatively simple ways of making lovely patterns. Beforehand, I wasn’t even sure what the difference between inkle and tape weaving was, so I was coming at it from a pretty raw beginner perspective. It turns out that from the perspective of what comes off the loom, they’re very, very similar–so much so that the teacher had several books on inkle weaving for perusal, because the existing tape weaving literature is so limited. (Key quote from the teacher: “We know that these types of woven tapes were incredibly common, historically, but there’s very little written about them. In some ways, their commonness is why. Would you write a book about toilet paper holders giving detailed descriptions of how to refill it when it’s empty?”)

The tape weaving itself was an interesting process. The tape looms we used mostly looked similar to these ones. The warp is wound around the little squirrel-cage, for whatever yardage length you want. It’s then threaded through the little holes and slots in the wooden piece that sticks up.

If you’ve made a potholder on one of those little square looms that I saw in every after-school class growing up, you know how laborious it is to individually weave your way up and down through individual, tensioned threads. So looms take that laborious step away through various clever tensioning mechanisms on the warp threads. On the tape loom, threads going through the little holes can’t move, but threads going through the vertical slots can slide up and down. If you lift the whole tape upwards, the threads in the slots are above those in the holes, and you can pass your weft through the space. If you push the tape downwards, now the threads in the slots are lower than those in the holes, and you can weave back in the opposite direction. It’s a clever construction, easy to understand and operate, and with the feel of so many other historical tools of having been perfected through many generations until it’s practically part of our cultural DNA to go through the steps required to make bits of fabric. It feels right, almost instantly.

To evenly weave the tape, you need to put some tension on the system, and to put tension on the tape, you simply pull on it with your hand. This was actually the part I liked least; by the end of the two hour class my hands were pretty tired. I don’t know if I’d actually buy a tool to do something that is so unergonomical for me (when thinking about how I’d modify the design to be easier on the hands, I realized I was reverse engineering a backstrap loom without actually knowing anything about such a loom except that it involves some kind of back strap.) But it does have some advantages over the inkle, in that a band can be made of any length. On an inkle loom, your warp wraps around the little pegs once, and only once, so you can’t make anything longer than that. It works great for shorter lengths like bookmarks but if I was looking at the edging on an adult sized sweater it’d be nice to make an unlimited length. In looking online I did find some manufacturers that have a built-in tensioning mechanism on a tape-like loom, so I may look into that at some point.

Anyhow, it was a fun, educational class. I didn’t think that it really hooked me, but then I found myself looking at rigid heddle looms. So maybe it did.


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