One of the things that I love most about rigid heddle looms is their versatility—adapt the heddle, and they can work like other looms. Add a second heddle, and you’re working with a 3-shaft loom. Use the heddle differently, and you can weave the warp-faced bands associated with the Inkle loom. Switch to a variable dent reed, and you’re creating fabric with multiple setts.
For this tote bag, we’ll use the Variable Dent Reed on the Cricket Loom to create amazingly textured cloth. We will also use a section from the reed by itself to create warp-faced bands for the bag handles.
- Warp and weft yarn: 100% cotton worsted weight (#4). I used Peaches & Crème Cones (674 yds/14 oz cone) in Emerald Energy Ombre for the bag warp, strap warp, and strap weft, approximately 470 yds (I had a little left on the cone when I was done. How much you use will depend on what variable dent sections you decided to use.) and White for the bag weft, approximately 165 yds (I bought a cone but one of the smaller skeins would work!)
- Lining fabric: I used 2 fat quarters of 100% cotton fabric in colors that complemented the warp and weft yarn
- Sewing thread to match lining fabric
- 15″ Cricket Loom
- 15″ variable dent reed
- stick shuttle
- belt shuttle
- 4″ spring clamp
- tapestry needle
- sewing needles
- fabric pencil
- measuring tape
- press cloth
- sewing machine (optional)
Finished size: 1-1/8″ inches wide x 48″ inches long (24″ for each strap)
Weave structure: warp-faced plain weave
Number of warp ends: 29
Warp length: 2-1/2 yards (includes loom waste and take-up)
Width in reed: about 1-1/4″
Finished size: 12-1/2″ inches wide x 13-1/2″ tall excluding handle, 25-1/2″ tall including handle.
Weave structure: plain weave
Number of warp ends: Approximately 204—this will vary depending on which segments of the variable dent reed that you use (see below for my configuration).
Warp length: 2 yards (includes loom waste and take-up)
Width in reed: 13-3/4″
Make the Strap
- Position a 12-dent or 10-dent heddle section of your variable dent reed on the cross brace of the loom, as shown in Figure 1. You will need something to hold up the section as you warp. I used a spring clamp, which is wide enough and heavy enough to keep the section stable.
- Warp the heddle section using the direct warping method. Once you’ve threaded the slots, the warp will hold the heddle section in place, so you can remove the spring clamp.
- Wind the warp onto the warp beam.
- Tie your ends onto the front apron bar. Keep all the ends close together so that you are able to achieve a warp-faced weaving, as shown in Figure 2.
- Push the heddle section to the back of the loom.
Note: I used a 12-dent heddle section, which has 29 holes and slots, for a wider strap. If you are having trouble getting the yarn through the slots and holes, use a 10-dent section with 23 holes and slots—the strap will just be slightly narrower.
- Wind the belt shuttle with weft yarn.
- Put the heddle in the up position to open the first shed.
- Weave a pick—at this point, you can leave a 6″ tail at the selvedge.
- Place your heddle in the down position. Beat the previous pick using the tapered edge of the shuttle.
- Weave another pick of weft, pulling the weft tightly so that the warp ends bunch together and cover the weft.
- Place the heddle in the up position. Beat the previous pick using the tapered edge of the shuttle.
- Weave another pick of your weft, pulling the weft tightly so that the warp ends bunch together and cover the weft.
- Continue weaving in warp-faced plain weave until the strap is 48″ long.
- Cut your weaving off the loom. Weave in all weft tails.
- You’re weaving a warp-faced fabric for the strap. The heddle section has a close sett to keep the warp ends close together. Use it only to change sheds; do not use it to beat.
- Use the tapered edge of the belt shuttle to beat. You DO NOT want the warp threads to be spread. You will know that all is right when you can see the weft threads only along the sides of the band, not between the warp threads.
- Measure the width of your band frequently, or eyeball it, to make sure it stays consistent.
- Advance the warp when you get close to the heddle blocks. The warp will begin to spread out, making the band wider and causing the weft threads to show.
Make the Bag
- Set up your variable dent reed. I used the following heddle sections (shown in Figure 5):
- 10 dent
- 5 dent
- 8 dent
- 5 dent
- 8 dent
- 10 dent
- Warp using the direct warping method. Thread the sections as follows, from left to right:
- 10 dent: sley normally (1 thread per slot and per hole)
- 5 dent: sley with 4 ends per slot and per hole
- 8 dent: sley normally
- 5 dent: sley 4 ends in each hole and 2 ends in each slot
- 8 dent: sley 6 holes with 2 threads; sley remaining slots and holes normally
- 10 dent: sley 3 holes with 2 threads; sley remaining slots and holes normally
- Wind your warp onto your loom.
- Tie your ends onto your apron bar in one inch sections.
Note: If you use a variegated warp and want the colors to pool in a particular way, you can change the heddle sections and/or the threading given above. The white weft will show up more wherever the warp is more widely spaced. Set up your loom and warping peg for direct warping, and see how the colors line up as yarn comes off the cone. You can easily take the top off the variable dent reed and put in a different heddle section, or you can change the threading in a section, to change how the colors appear.
- Spread the warp using the project yarn or scrap yarn of a similar size.
- Measure a tail of weft 4 times the width of your weaving. Leave this tail at the selvedge on the side of your dominant hand: if you’re right-handed, it’s at the right selvedge.
- Weave 1 inch of plain weave.
- Hemstitch using the weft tail.
- Weave in plain weave, with a firm beat, until the cloth measures approximately 35″ long.
- Hemstitch the end of your weaving.
- Remove the fabric from the loom. Correct any errors. Weave in tails.
- Trim the warp at each edge close to the hemstitching.
Note: There will be puckered areas of the fabric, especially in the areas woven with 5-dent segments. That is normal in a fabric where the sett changes. Washing and pressing will fix these puckers.
- Wash the bag fabric, the strap, and the lining fabric by hand in hot water.
- Allow the fabrics to air dry or use a dryer set on hot until the handwoven fabrics are slightly damp.
- Press the dry lining fabric to remove wrinkles and creases.
- Lightly steam the bag fabric if necessary, using a pressing cloth between the bag fabric and the iron, to remove puckers. Let the fabric air dry until it is completely dry.
- Fold the bag fabric crosswise with its wrong sides together. Join along the selvedges with whip or mattress stitch, using your warp or weft yarn (Figure 9). Turn the bag inside out.
- Cut the warp-faced band in half for the two handles. Each handle should be 24″ long. Place one handle on the wrong side of the bag, with the cut ends at the top of the bag and the loop at the bottom. Pin the handle ends about 1″ below the top of the bag and 2″ from each side of the bag—see Figure 10. Pin the second handle on the other side of the bag, positioning it to match the first handle. With sewing thread, sew all four handle ends in place, taking care not to stitch through both layers of the bag.
- Turn down the top edge of bag about 1″, going over the cut ends of the handles (see Figure 11). Whipstitch this edge into place with sewing thread.
- Fold the handles up and use sewing thread to tack the handles in this position (Figure 12).
- Measure two pieces of cloth from your lining fabric that are 1″ taller and 1″ wider than the bag. I added an inner pocket, stitched to the right side of one of these lining pieces.
- With right sides together, sew the lining fabric around the sides and bottom with a 1/2″ seam allowance—you can sew by hand or by machine. Leave the lining top open. Press the seams.
- Turn the lining right side out. Tuck the bag, wrong side out, into the lining, as in Figure 14. Match up the bottom corners and line up the bottoms of both pieces.
- Fold down the top edge of the lining so it sits 1/4″ below the top edge of the bag—see Figure 15. Carefully hand-stitch this folded edge to the bag fabric.
- Turn the bag right side out. You’re done!
Amy McKnight is a fiber artist living in Lexington, NC. She enjoys creating all manner of textiles from clothing to wall hangings. Amy is at her best teaching people how to create and has taught thousands of people the basics of sewing, weaving, and fiber art through in-person classes, social media posts, and videos. You can find her on Instagram.com: @amydmcknight