Monday, 4 April 2016

Nigerian Narrow-Strip Cloth Loom

Overhead view of loom in storage mount. Photograph by author.

Loom R.0040 is an interesting and dynamic ethnographic object both visually and culturally. It is a double-heddle and treadle loom predominately used by males to create narrow-band cloth in an incredible range of designs, colors, and significance. Although it has little associated documentation, it comes from a rich cultural heritage found in Western Africa. Research into this heritage has shed light on how the loom was used and by whom. The narrow-strip weaving technique is a unique tradition that has been passed down for centuries and has created some of the most intricate textiles in the world. It is hypothesized that it was more practical for a nomadic lifestyle; then when people settled, the practice was maintained. The preservation of Loom R.0040 is a small part in preserving a way of life.

There is very little associated documentation for Loom R.0040 other than it is likely from the Hausa region of Nigeria. Since the archaeological finds made during the 1960s, there have been many studies on the weaving traditions in West Africa allowing for an in-depth understanding of the cultures and traditions associated with weaving. Through this research, bits of Loom R.0040’s mysterious past can be puzzled together.

The fact that the loom is almost complete is impressive. However, the loom’s condition is delicate and needs better environmental conditions if it is going to last a significant amount of time. The threads are fraying, the leather components are splitting and flaking, and the wood components are cracking.
Detail of heddles. Photography by author.

This type of loom is used to weave long, narrow strips of fabric that would be cut into sections and the selvedge edges sewn together to make a wider textile. The loom is composed of a long shaft that the strip cloth is wound around, the beater comb, heddles, and treadles are then delicately attached by the warp threads of the unfinished end of the cloth. The shuttle for this loom has been lost. The shaft is made of wood and is approximately 98 centimeters long. The twelve centimeter-wide strip cloth is wound around the wooden shaft to a depth of six centimeters. The majority of the cloth is white with two sets of blue-dyed warp threads creating a double-striped pattern running down the middle of the piece. The materials that were used to make the threads cannot be confirmed without a full microanalysis, but considering the popularity of cotton and indigo in the region, these are the likely raw materials used.  

Photographs by author. Do not use without authorization. 


Hecht, Ann. 2001. West Africa: Narrow-strip weaving. The Art of the Loom: Weaving, Spinning, & Dyeing across the World. London: The British Museum Press.  Pp: 80-99

Kriger, Colleen E. 2006. Cloth in West African History. Oxford: AltaMira Press.

LaGamma, A.. (2009). The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design without End. African Arts, 42(1), 88–99. [Online][Accessed 25 March 2016] Available at:

Landi, Sheila. 2002. Textile Conservator’s Manual. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. [Online][Accessed 29 March 2016] Available at:

Loom. The Ethnographic Collections Catalogue. [Online][Accessed 18 March 2016] Available at:

Roy, Christopher. 2011. Men's and Women's Weaving In Africa: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria. YouTube. [Online][Accessed 27 March 2016] Available at:

Versloot, Anne (ed.) 2014. Assessing Museum Collections: Collection Valuation in Six Steps. Amersfoort: Cultural Heritage Agency. [Online][Accessed 27 March 2016] Available at:

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2015-16), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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