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Rob Dunster Ceramics


Rob Dunster logo
Rob Dunster logo





My wife has been a practising weaver for many years and as a result my experience as an engineer has been brought into play to make various items of weaving equipment. Most of these have come about as a result of commercial equipment being less than satisfactory, either in terms of design or quality. I aim to produce things that are well made, well engineered, and finished in a manner appropriate to their use and place in a domestic environment. The design process involves paying careful attention to the required functionality, being ready to make multiple prototypes and listening to users.



     Inkle Weaving

Inkle Looms


Inkle looms are used for making braids up to approx 10cm in width. Whilst being simple devices, complex work can be produced on them, and the braids have more applications than might be thought:




2 Inkle braids with a bag made from inkle braids.



My design of floor Inkle loom builds on experience of using a pine loom that had some deficiencies, notably with the use of wooden threads & nuts on the pegs which are difficult to do up tightly, stick, and wear badly – a classic case of inappropriate use of material; what is needed is metal. Other aspects of the design could clearly be improved on in detail, and the loom be made of nice hardwood rather than pine. The result is this:



Floor Inkle Loom in Sycamore.



All of the pegs are removable, and feature steel screws working into hidden captive nuts. Pegs have a generously sized base that sits flat onto the loom frame, providing strong, rigid and accurate mounting. They also have a ridge at both ends to prevent the warp falling off when it is moved. Warp tensioning is done by a simple sliding mechanism, that again uses steel components and large hand grips. By providing multiple mounting points for the pegs, and, if required, extra pegs, long and wide warps (up to 5 metres long by 10cm wide) can be accomodated. The loom can also serve as a warping frame for use in producing warps for other styles of loom. Careful attention is given to a smooth polished finish on all components. All screw heads, and other steel components are hidden. All components are generously sized to provide a solid and long lasting loom. The loom is 58cm long by 82cm high, with 15cm pegs.



Pegs showing steel thread mounting working into hidden captive nut, sliding tensioner, screw cap.



Pegs can be removed & the loom stored flat, with a peg storage device if required:



Assembled loom and flat storage option.



Table inkle looms are more popular than floor looms in many quarters, although they cannot deal with warps of as great a width or length. My take on table looms incorporates a tensioning mechanism based on a racheting paddle. This is easy to manipulate with one hand, and unlike a sliding one, does not need the loom to be held in place during tensioning. This is not an issue with a floor loom, but can be very awkward on a table loom. Lack of, or inconsistent, tension is a common problem with inkle weaving. The ratchet mechanism is also easy to use for anyone with poor strength in their hands. These looms are 75cm long by 30cm high, with 12cm pegs. The maximum length / width of warp that can be accomodated is 3 metres by 5cm.




Table loom in use & detail of ratchet mechanism.




Inkle Shuttles & Pick-up sticks


Inkle looms do not require a huge range of accessories to operate, but shuttles, beaters and pick-up sticks are essential, and their design is important in effective use of the loom. 2 styles of shuttle are available, each in 2 sizes. This allows both for personal preferance, and size relative to the thread and warp in use. Likewise a range of pick-up sticks and thin beaters are available in different design & sizes. The use of these to manipulate warp, delineate sections, produce fringes etc. is crucial to the weaving process, and having them sculpted correctly makes them a pleasure to use rather than something that just does the job.




Inkle shuttles, beaters & pick-up sticks.





Drop Spindles


Making spindles started off when a friend asked me to make ceramic discs of specific weight & size to make a drop spindle for spinning very fine thread. This is tricky in clay, but easy in metal, so I did some thinking about how to achieve the required ends irrespective of convention – and came up with these:




Spindle with takli bowl,spindle, detail of spindle in drop mode.



Thhese spindles are 25mm diameter by 26cm long, and weigh 12 grams. The weight on a flywheel should be at the edge, not the centre in order to maximise spin time for a given weight. Hence these have a brass ring with a light wood centre. The spindle itself must be straight, not warp, & not break easily – a big ask in wood or metal, but easy in the carbon fibre used. Metal would be OK, but puts weight where it’s not wanted, and keeping the overall weight down requires considerable care that pays off in having a spindle that spins for long periods. Conventional spindles are either drop or takli (supported in a bowl) – however, careful design of the hook means this one can do either. Bowls for Takli use are fun to make and are individual, each with a unique glaze.




On a visit to Japan, we saw some small silk shuttles, used in weaving extremely fine silk. I made some in that pattern, then I went on to larger, more conventional ones for use with hand floor or table looms. All are side feed shuttles, in 3 styles, fine silk ones (18 or 20cm), larger boat style with curved ends (30cm), and a 26cm asymmetric one that works well in restricted sheds. These are all made from a single solid piece of wood, Sycamore, Ash, Oak or Walnut, and particular emphasis is placed on the finish of the wood in order to give an easy action to the shuttle. There are two type of quill – brass telescopic sprung or a lifting type held in place by a high power magnet. All shuttles come with a matching wood bobbin.



18,20,26 & 30cm shuttles, details of 18cm silk shuttle in dark oak.




Making process


I use a combination of hand & machine tools – whatever is appropriate for the job. Japanese pull saws & laminated steel chisels, western planes, belt sander, router, pillar drill, lathe. Why Japanese saws? Because they cut on the pull, the blades are very fine, so they don’t waste wood, leave a nice finish, and are both accurate & efficient to use. Japanese chisels, being made of laminated steel, have a much harder edge than even the best Western ones, and will both take, and retain, a razor edge – but need care in use, they can chip or break if you drop them. The pegs and various dowels are turned on a metal turning lathe – with tungsten carbide tools to a tolerance of +/- 0.1mm. The wood I use is sourced locally, or in some cases re-cycled from scrapped furniture. Some care is required with some wood with ‘wild’ grain – things like burr walnut or Elm, less because they are difficult to work, but as they are physically unstable over time, and are hence used as veneers in quality work- a shame in view of their appearance, but an instance of functionality being the overriding concern. My preferred material is Sycamore, (an unusual wood in furniture terms), Beech, Ash, or Oak. There is no great functional difference between these, they are all about the same density, and are hard, tough & stable. Sycamore has more grain pattern variation, and can have a nice ‘cats-eye’ or ‘shot silk’ effect in places. Ash has a longer, straight grain, rather more white in colour, and like Sycamore has a fine, closed grain. Oak is darker in general, shows patterns from medullary rays, and has rather more open pores which make it somewhat harder to finish. All of the new wood I use is bought as rough planks, and worked from that – most looms, in fact, come from one large plank, and so are not only from one tree, but one part of one tree. The wood is finished by plane, then scraper, then cellulose sanding sealer & microcrystalline wax polish. No stain is used. This gives a good finish that is robust, and ages nicely- ie the areas that are handled get shinier, rather than getting tatty & scratched. It’s also capable of being repaired- these are all things I think of as important.


Turning a shuttle bobbin