Saami bands Posted on 17 Feb 00:18 , 0 comments

J.Sandberg McGuinne

Who said you couldn’t add pearls, pewter wires and silver feathers to your woven bands?


Weaving, both as a necessary task to produce bands for belts, backpacks and details on Saami dresses as well as an art form, has traditionally speaking been seen as a woman’s task. Until I started weaving, this was also the case in my family; whereas my aajja (grandfather) focused on passing on traditional skills related to hunting, fishing and the making of knives, my aahka (grandmother) and tjidtjie (mother) were always the one who worked with textiles and woven bands. But while this division between men and women as far as our traditional handicrafts go to a certain degree still remains today, I am far from the first Saami man to weave bands and I hope that I will not be the last one to do so.

In this blog post, I’d like to talk about heddles and share some tips and tricks in order to help you get going with your own weaving. Over the next couple of months, I will add more and more posts to this homepage and with time I hope that it will function as somewhat of a repository for patterns, weaving ideas and other inspiring things to help you on your way to become a weaver.

Weaving on rigid heddles is a technique dating back to the 1st century AD, and woven bands have been used throughout Saepmie for at least a 1000 years. It is thus not surprising that different patterns have emerged all over our ancestral homelands. The bands from the southern parts of our areas are generally fairly straight-forward, and woven with a simple plain weave technique, whereas bands from the north can be woven both with picked pattern threads and with a supplementary warp.

Using a normal heddle, you could pick pattern threads as well, but as soon as you start using more than 7 or so pattern threads, the Sunna heddle makes your life a lot easier than the standard heddles.

Now, as you might have already figured, you need a rigid heddle if you want to weave a Saami band. Heddles come in all kinds of materials, and whilst bone heddles are stunning, they’re heavy and expensive and wooden heddles tend to be harsh on your warp threads. Depending on what type of band you’d like to weave, StoorStålka has produced a number of different types of heddles in a light-weight acrylic glass to make the weaving easier and less complicated, regardless of whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned master weaver with year’s of experience.

Standard heddles

The standard heddle works with all bands, whether you’re doing a plain weave or picking a pattern, but they’re generally speaking  perfect for e.g. laska, a traditional decoration band used on the hem of a South Saami woman’s dress from Vualtjere in the south to Geavtse in the north. These heddles can also be used when weaving lissto, i.e. traditional hemline decoration bands from the Lule Saami area.

Sunna Heddles

The Sunna heddle is specifically designed to be used when weaving North Saami bands. The extra slots on the heddle are for the pattern threads – they should be thicker than the warp – and seeing as they form a layer of their own in the heddle, it’s easy to weave picked patterns, as the only thing you need to remember is that you should be lifting your pattern threads, rather than trying to remember which thread was which when weaving with 13 pattern threads or more.

Sigga heddle with supplementary warp threads.

The Sigga heddle was designed for weaving Ume Saami and Lule Saami bands. Normally supplementary warp weaving is something that takes a lot of practice and which generally feels both time-consuming and hard, but with this heddle, the supplementary warp forms its own layer between the primary warp threads. In the future, I will post a video showing you exactly how much easier this makes my life, than the traditional method which, to me at least, involves a lot of cursing under my breath.

So. Now that you’ve got yourself a heddle, the next task involves choosing the yarn – 4-plied wool yarn is the best thing to use, and colours like blue, red, yellow, green and white are the most common ones amongst the Saami. When warping the heddles, I recommend using a threader as this speeds up the process of warping considerably.

When warping, there are some things to remember; if the pattern is for a laska, it’s generally written from left to right, but despite this, the best thing to do is to start from the middle and work towards the sides. Another thing to remember is to thread the uttermost threads through holes in the heddle, rather than slots, as this will create a stronger band which is less likely to break whilst weaving it.

The width of a band is individual and really only depends on how hard or how loose you pull on the weft, as well as the thickness of the yarn you’re using. I recommend pulling hard and weaving thin, strong bands, but this is really up to you.

If you’re weaving a shoeband, make the woven part no shorter than 5ft for a woman and around 6ft for a man – the length, of course, is once again individual, but these are good guidelines to follow. When warping, always add 40 centimetres to the ends of the band, as well as 4 inches per woven metre, in order to account for mistakes and the band shrinking whilst weaving it.

I think that’ll be all for tonight, don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

Johan Sandberg McGuinne @STOORSTÅLKA