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Thailand, Laos and the Textile Track – Heddles

vertical heddles

Vertical heddles in Ban Haabtai village of the Tailue, North Thailand. Pattern rows are stored in the heddles with fine sticks.

Well I started with the previous post using the spinning of Thailand/Laos as a feature but now it’s the heddles.If you are a weaver you’ll be bowled over by the heddle overload in these countries.  Heddles are strings (in this case) which have an eye or loop of some sort allowing a weaver to pick up specific warp threads according to a pattern. The heddles here are quite complex and have many ‘rows’ of weaving pattern stored to create beautiful and regular patterns with an extra supplementary weft to enrich the ground fabric (this is often plain weave).


Here vertical heddles are at the bottom and are merely pieces of string rather than fine sticks to designate each row of lifts.

Most often we see heddling that is horizontal but I really went to Laos to see the unique vertical heddles. Here you can see each row of pattern held by sticks but they can also be with just pieces of string. Each row is pulled down and a weaver’s sword placed between the selected wefts for the row and woven. The pattern stick is transferred to the heddles underneath the weaving and stored until it is ready to start reversing the pattern and taking the bottom sticks for every row, weaving and transferring to the top.  It is totally ingenious.

Weaver Kay Faulkner

A lovely shot of weaver Kay Faulkner weaving on a loom with horizontal heddles – maybe 40 pattern shafts with 2 shafts for plain weave.

I expected to see these vertical heddles as the only ones in use, but I also encountered horizontal heddles which would be similar to something I would use, if inclined! You can see noted Australian weaver Kay Faulkner weaving on this type of loom near Luang Namtha in Laos.

heddles and weaving

A set of heddles on one side only – for supplementary weft patterning

Even more unusual, to my eyes, was partial pattern horizontal heddles. I mean why set up heddles right across the weaving just for the sake of symmetry?

Seeing mastery of weaving at this level is exhilarating. The looms are so ‘can do’ with a series of sticks and strings. I really wanted to sit with the weaver all day…even to make her cups of tea and soak in it. But then I would still be there getting in the way and the tour must go on.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Absolutely fascinating! I don’t quite understand how the vertical heddles work but I do like the simplicity of how these looms create such complex weaving!

    February 15, 2015
  2. Meg #

    Not sure what you just explained to us, but I’m glad you enjoyed your trip. Maybe you can come over and show me. Anything to enhance the limitation of shaft numbers.

    February 15, 2015
  3. Meg, yes the coming to see you part will happen but not sure if I can extend your shafts!

    February 15, 2015

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