I was fortunate enough to spend 5 days in Ghana studying weaving with Kwame, a weaver from the Ewe (pronounced “ehh-way”) tribe.Â Kwame had 29 years of experience under his belt, and was a great teacher!
Weaving on the Ewe kente loom felt very different from weaving on a European-style loom, although if you look closely the parts are quite similar. The main difference I noticed was that instead of sitting in front of the loom, I was actually sitting inside the loom, with my abdomen right up against the front beam. Instead of sitting up straight, I stretched out my legs to reach the coconut shell (I suspect the loom may have been a little too large for me), and instead of pressing down on the treadle with my foot, I pulled it down by flexing my foot down, pointing the toe. (The motion was not unlike treadling a spinning wheel.)
It took me awhile to adjust to not having a fixed beater. I was accustomed to a European-style loom (my Baby Wolf in particular), where the beater is fixed at 90 degrees to the fell. With more degrees of freedom, I quickly found myself beating the warp in unevenly, resulting in a convex fell (bulging out in the center). It took two or three feet of practice on simple plainweave to get it under control.
The Ewe weaving I was taught used two pairs of shafts, one white pair which was used to weave pattern, threaded 1-1-1-1-2-2-2-2 (i.e. “plainweave” except with four threads in each heddle) with groups of four threads in each heddle, and one blue pair, which was threaded with single threads in a plainweave pattern. Each thread passed through both pairs of heddles. Given the threading and the sett (which I haven’t measured yet, but the thread we were using was roughly the weight of sewing thread), the plainweave sections came out as a balanced weave (equal parts warp and weft showing), while the pattern section, having 4 ends in each heddle, came out weft-faced, with no warp showing.
Kwame showed me several supplementary-weft techniques, which I’ve shown in the photos below. These, and a dizzying array of plaids, stripes, and bars, form the basis for the Ewe weavings I’ve seen. The techniques are relatively basic, and could probably be learned in a day or two by an experienced weaver. The magic of kente comes in being able to weave each pattern section so that it lines up precisely with the strip next door when it comes time to sew everything together. That takes experience and great skill.
You can read more about my experiences in Ghana in the Ghana section of my travel blog.