Saami bands

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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 supplemantary warp.

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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 years 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!

Veasomem suehpedh – To Weave a Life

*In the Vualtjere dialect of South Saami, the word for warping and weaving a band is the same as the word for the birth of reindeer calves. 

Looking back, it’s easy enough to say that I come from a line of weavers, so perhaps it wasn’t all that strange that a part of my own reconnection with my maternal culture would involve me picking up a rigid heddle, in order to try to recreate a woven band that my late mother had left me when I moved to my first own home at the age of eighteen.


Band woven with a mix of wool and handspun pewter wire. This band is based on a hemline decoration band from Árviesjávrrie.

The rest, as they say, is history.

At the time, being a teenager far away from home — a liberating and simultaneously scary feeling — I didn’t care much about the band, and having been raised away from Saepmie for a large part of my childhood, my Saami heritage was something that I back then had grown accustomed to not pay much attention to. Indeed, it would take a long time before I actually bothered trying to learn the art of band weaving at all, though I in retrospect could say that band weaving in many ways has become a major part of my personal decolonial process.

Weaving roots me, it’s a part of my culture, and I feel the presence of my ancestors each time I warp a rigid heddle, or let the shuttle fly back and forth, creating bands meant to decorate dresses, hats and walls or work as straps for backpacks and rifles.


My grandparents in Dearna

Now, despite the numerous woven bands and tapestries at home, it never dawned upon me that they were physical manifestations of an important family tradition, something that connected me to my ancestors. Being a man, I guess I had subconsciously internalised the idea that weaving is something that women should do, and for a long time I consequently focused on making guksieh and knives; my grandpa was eager to teach me, and I preferred the smell of the fire in the smithy to what back then seemed like the epitome of boredom, i.e. my grandmother’s baskets full of yarn meant for all kinds of textile handicraft projects.

God, have I changed my opinion about yarn since then!


A three-pick pattern band in the making. These bands are commonly found in the Ume and Lule Saami areas of Saepmie.

When I was 20, I moved to Scotland, and it was here that I started to think seriously about my own identity. My mother had recently passed away, and I’d severed all contacts with both my dad and stepdad, so in a way, I guess I felt lost. I am Scottish and Saami, but it was not really until I found myself in Scotland, where being Scottish was the norm, that I started to reflect upon what being Saami really meant to me. Even though I did not grow up as a reindeer herder, nor with the language – I tried to get lessons in secondary school, but to no avail – I still was Saami, and very much so, and being Saami was and still is something of great importance to me.

I did however grow up with yoiking as an ever-present yet often silenced soundtrack, and my summers where spent living off the land in the Arctic, fishing charrs, laying nets and collecting cloudberries under a never-setting sun. There is a twin birch where our summer house stands; we treated it as a guardian and a sacred companion, and often put brass rings and reindeer antlers on its branches. I don’t think I ever reflected over why, but all those and many other things are distinctly Saami to me. I grew up with myths and norms firmly rooted in the Saami community and realising this, I started to look more and more into my own family, finding Saami hermits, spiritual men and handicrafters aplenty.

Together they all inspired me into looking further into my family’s handicraft history.


Hemline decoration band from Árjjepluovve. This band is going to adorn a njálmmefáhtá, a traditional unisex outdoor garment, and was made for a Pite Saami woman.

I started weaving after having attended a crash course in Máláge, arranged by the ever brilliant StoorStålka. Attached to a flag pole, and looking like a demented man, I wove two metres of wobbly blue upon black. My first band was a disaster, but I still keep it, as a reminder of the first step towards something which I now do because it fills me with both inner peace and joy.

Bringing the band home to my grandparents, my grandmother took one look at it, told me to weave some more, and when I’d made my first decent band, she handed me a set of old, handwritten descriptions of woven decoration bands; some being Swedish bands, some being Saami.

Being South Saami, I mostly weave laskah, traditional hemline decoration bandsfaahtelhthinner decoration bands – and juvvieh, a type of woven belts that aren’t as common today as they used to be say 200 years ago. Nowadays most people tend to wear pewter wire embroidered belts instead, but I like the woven belts; they feel more understated, yet beautiful to me.

Having been bitten by the weaving bug, I don’t just weave South Saami bands though, but I’ve learnt to pick patterns as well, commonly seen on North Saami bands. I figured, why stop learning when I’ve found a traditional hobby that excites me?

Weaving is, contrary to my first misconceptions, something both fun and rather easy. Getting even, strong bands takes some time and practice, but that in itself is not something negative. On the contrary; being a part of your weaving, you have to calm yourself down, and with time, the act of weaving becomes almost meditative.

My favourite part about band weaving is on hand the progression of the band; a miniature version of life itself from start to finish, and on the other hand I like the fact that I become an active part of my own weaving when using a rigid heddle. I do not simply weave, but I am in essence the loom as well.