Things I Never Knew and Now I Know Why

I was putting a warp on my loom today and began to ruminate about the words that weaving has taught me. (I have no idea why my brain does this) How did we get words like “heddle”.  How about reed and dent.  What is the origin of a “warp”. Where did they come from and why, oh why, do we still use them?

The latter question is simpler to answer. History. Weaving is an ancient art. It began (according to everything I have read) somewhere around the 6th-5th millennium B.C. The experts think it started somewhere in Asia with silk.  I will have to trust them on that one.

But ancient history makes for tradition. And tradition is why we use the weird words. To me it feels like a different language. A way to discuss the making of fabric or cloth in words that all people who do that work will understand.

The words that we still use to describe parts of the loom are from the Middle Ages. For instance, a heddle (that is a metal rod with an eye where a warp thread is passed) finds its origins in the Old English “hefeld” meaning a chain. It is related to Old Norse hafald and the Middle Low German hevelte.

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The little metal thingys hanging down in the middle of the loom are heddles.

The word “warp” is defined as threads running lengthwise in a fabric. It comes (the etymology gurus say) from the Old English wearp, the Proto-Germanic warpo-, the Middle Low German warp, the Old High German warf, and the Old Norse varp. Some family tree for a little bitty word. (the threads in the picture above make the warp)

The etymology of the word reed makes more sense. The reed is the comb like contraption on the front of the loom that keeps the threads in line. It got its name from the matterial that ancients used to make it. Reeds. Hammered them into thin little needles that were held together my other, unhammered reeds.
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Threads going through the reed

Today they are made of stainless steel. They come in a variety of  “dent” widths. A dent is simply the hole created between the steel ribs. On this one no one seems to know if it came from the French for “tooth” or from the old English for hollow. Ponder that for awhile. It will make you crazy.

But right now I have to get back to my loom. The warp is calling.

I have a warbling warp.

Categories: entymology, heddles, History, reed, Ruminations, Uncategorized, warp, Weaving


  1. This is fascinating….thanks for showing us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There will be more. I have a tartan to make! Stay tuned!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I saw one of your previous….such beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So cool! I never thought much about the etymology of these words — nor had I ever heard the word “heddle” before. And your work-in-progress is stunning! Thank you for this feast for both the mind and the eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy your writings now as much as our conversations all those years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kinda the same thing! Sitting in your shop with you is one of my favorite memories.


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