An inkle loom is a small, portable loom used to weave narrow items, like patterned bands and trim. The origin of the word "inkle" is disputed, but probably derives from Dutch or French, and in English means ribbon or tape. An inkle loom can be a floor loom, but is more commonly a tabletop loom, made out of wood with dowels attached to the wooden framework to hold the warp threads. It is operated manually, though not with foot pedals like some larger looms, and the warp threads are controlled by hand to create an opening called a shed for the weft thread to pass through. An inkle loom is often used for beginner weaving because it is a small, sturdy loom that is easy to set up and use, and is also relatively cheap to buy or make.
Wood is the most common material used for inkle loom construction. This loom commonly has a flat base with three uprights forming the framework and dowels attached to the uprights for holding the warp threads. One of the dowels is adjustable and functions as a tension device to keep the warp taut. Items produced on the inkle loom are usually 4-5 inches (10-12 cm) wide, and at least 5 feet (1.5 m) long. This loom is ideal for weaving items like braided linen tape, belts, ribbons, and straps.
Important parts of the inkle loom are the warp, the heddles, the weft, and the shuttle. The warp is the threads or yarn attached to the loom, commonly made of cotton or linen. These are attached to the loom with loops of plain cotton string called heddles. The weft is the yarn drawn through the warp to create the woven items. It is attached to a shuttle and is then passed back and forth through the shed, or opening in the warp, as the warp threads are alternately raised and lowered by hand. A ruler or dowel is used to beat or press in the weft to create the patterned fabric being made.
The current type of inkle loom was first built and used in the early 19th century, but similar looms have been used at least since the 16th century. The word inkle is even used in one of William Shakespeare's plays. In spite of its simple construction and ease of operation, an inkle loom can be used to produce quite intricate patterns, replicating, for example, South American, West African and Celtic designs.