Origin of Inkle Weaving?



Dear Friends,

Does anyone know how the loom came to be called "inkle"? Or anything about the history of the loom?  I am demonstrating at aour 4th of July block party, someone is sure to ask!


XO Gail & Fog


Posted on Mon, 06/28/2010 - 22:33

Band weaving is very old and the looms used in the 19th century and earlier are now called tape or band looms and can be box or paddle tape looms.  The word inkle refers to narrow woven bands and there is some debate about when that word or derivations first showed up.  But the modern inkle loom as we know it is a 20th century invention and was developed around 1930 in Germany.

I have a couple of inkle books from 1960 and 1970.  They can't agree on when inkle weaving first started and on what an inkle loom is.  The author of one book calls the modern inkle loom the American inkle loom while calling the traditional band loom an English inkle loom.  Mary Atwater was the first to order an inkle loom from Germany and she had it shipped by boat to the US sometime in the 1930s (I think)..  Because the internet was not available way back in those dark ages of the 60s and 70s the authors could only write what they thought was correct.  It wasn't practical to travel to other countries just to verify history.

According to Mary Atwater, the directions included with her inkle loom stated that the inkle loom was for simple band weaving only.  She successfull proved that patterning could be done on it.

You might want to try googling Band Weaving and Tape Weaving to find out more about the early history of weaving narrow bands or ribbons which had so many uses.

Just in case you are interested, here is a link to Mary Attwaters book "How to Weave on an Inkle Loom" first published in 1941.


Posted on Tue, 06/29/2010 - 06:16

     Mary Atwater imported her first inkle loom from England. In Byways in Handweaving (published in 1954) she writes that such looms were “used in days of old in England . . . I think the first one to reach the United States was probably the one sent me some years ago from England . . . “

     In Inkle by Evelyn Neher (published in 1974), there is a picture of a traditional English floor-model inkle loom, which was at that time still being manufactured by the master craftsmen in the famous workshops of Douglas Andrew, Ltd., The Craftsmen of Canterbury, Dane John Old Monastery, Canterbury, England. 

     According to the Oxford English Dictionary, inkle is defined as “a kind of linen tape, formerly much used for various purposes” or “the linen thread or yarn from which inkle is manufactured . . .” 

     The oldest inkle quotation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1541: “For a pece of brode yncull for gyrdyllys.” Another, from 1567, describes white inkles: “With baskets . . . on their armes, where in they haue laces, pynnes, nedles, white ynkell.”

     Inkles were also woven in colors. In Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, written in 1611, one character says, “Hee hath Ribbons of all the colours i’ th Rainebow; Points . . . Inckles, Caddysses, Cambrickes, Lawnes.” In the 1686 London Gazette a lost announcement was placed, seeking “. . . a parcel of Papers, . . . wrapt and bound about with Red Incle.” A description from 1781 reads, “His shoes were . . . ty’d with strings of a purple colour, . . .but whether ribbon, or inkle I know not.”

     Scotland was a center of inkle manufacture. In 1845 a Scottish publication claimed that “Glasgow was the first place in Britain where inkle wares were manufactured.” And the same publication noted that, “In 1732 Mr. Harvey brought away from Haerlem two inkle-looms.”

[All quotes except for Atwater quotes are from Oxford English Dictionary, Second Ed., Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, p. 984.]

Posted on Tue, 06/29/2010 - 13:54

The term 'inkle' was used in England to refer to band weaving of all kinds and was traditionally done on a box tape loom.  Here is a link to a picture of a woman weaving on an 'inkle' loom.


We now refer to these looms as tape looms and the loom that was invented in the 1930s as an inkle loom.

Other parts of Europe including Scandinavia called looms and process of weaving a narrow band by different names and often looms were paddle looms tensioned by back straps.

When you demonstrate ask your audience what they would do if there were no zippers or Velcro.  Then point out that in the old days someone would have had to carve those buttons and what about shoelaces.  Also since there was no Walmart to buy clothes from, every household probably either wove or purchased cloth to hand sew (no sewing machines) clothes.  Because clothes took such a long time to make and were expected to last a long time, tapes/bands were used to hold up skirts and pants and for shoelaces and to close shirts and blouses.  A gathered skirt that can be loosen or tighten can fit a number of women even when a woman was pregnant.

I have demoed 'promitive' crafts and have found it interesting to watch 'the light go on" when people realize how common clothes are as compared to what was around in the 1800s or earlier where most men would have probably had two sets of clothes, one for working and the other for church and to be buried in.