Persian Carpets and Heddle Rods and addendum

The first continuous string heddle I ever saw, was in Iran, (too many years ago!) on a carpet loom. I did ask how it was made, but it had been done by the man that set up the warp. It was very neat, with what looked like a row of chaining along the front so, years later, I was rather surprised at the loose and rather irregular heddles, that I saw on warp weighted looms that re-enactors were using or had set up. The vast majority of them were simply loops tied individually around every other warp thread. Knowing that there was a better way of doing it, I trawled the internet for pictures or better still, a tutorial, of the Iranian method. For ages I had no luck, and the best/only method I could find was the half hitch method. I tried it, and hated it. Perhaps it was just that the yarn I used was rather slippery, but I couldn’t see how the open half stitches were ever going to stop the loops from shifting around the rod, so I kept looking for a better method, and eventually found one. It’s actually drawn in Cloth and Clothing … and if you look carefully, it’s being used in at least one of the old films turned video too. Link to video

I’m not sure this is the same method as the Iranian carpet heddles, so I’m still looking for a good close up picture, and found a whole series of videos going into great detail about the whole process of carpet weaving, from selecting materials to finishing, but when the presenter gets to the bit where I’m expecting her to show how to do the heddle rod, she explains that you don’t actually need one! I did learn quite a lot about carpet weaving though, not least, a lot of weaving vocabulary in farsi.

It was only when I found a relatively close up picture of a heddle rod that the memories came flooding back though, and I finally understood (having seen the detailed videos) what my husband’s cousin had told me so many years before. The heddle rod is actually lashed to the frame, and I remembered thinking that was strange and asked Naimeh how did she use it. She told me, that it wasn’t really needed as long as she was careful putting in the thin weft. I could see that if she put the thin weft in too tightly that it would pull the two layers of warp together, but I couldn’t figure out how come she didn’t need to use the heddle rod to change sheds. Watching the videos, and having more experience of weaving I have finally realised that, due to the clever use of a shed stick, combined with the ingenious structure, the cross is permanently maintained just above the fell line, so that one warp is inserted below the cross, and stays straight, and the other is put in above the cross, and fed in and beaten down so that it zigzags wildly from front to back.

Even when the heddle rod is needed, it isn’t used like they are on a two shed WWL, or any other type of loom where the heddle rods are moved. It’s more like an inkle loom, you just press gently on the warp a little way away from the rod to clear the shed enough to get the weft hook into the shed. The realisation that the heddle rod really doesn’t move, makes me wonder if this was the method used in, say, ancient Egypt. Rather than lifting up and dropping the heddle rod, it would be easier to flatten and push the shed stick out of the way and then press down on a section of warp at a time while passing the weft through.

Well, I’m updating this post because I have just found a very nice article that very neatly dismisses my theory about the method of use of heddle supports in Ancient Egypt. It even mentions the permanently supported heddles of contemporary traditional weavers in Africa. Link to article.

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