Awidie (Heddle Pulley)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Across much of West Africa, weavers make use of loom, foot peddle, and heddle pulley combinations to weave simple or elaborate single strip textiles and cloth. An example of such a loom is that used by the Akan to create elaborate kente cloth for chiefs, royalty, and for the wealthy. The strips of cloth created are stitched together to produce wider pieces of fabric.

A basic single strip loom is made of one horizontal bar connected to two vertical supporting bars. These bars are attached to a single heddle pulley via a rope that runs through a hole at the top of the pulley. Rope is then passed through the bottom spool of the heddle pulley; the top and bottom ropes elevate the heddle pulley allowing the weaver to pass cotton yarn through the pulley. Finally, the pulley is attached to a foot peddle. When the peddle is pressed, the heddle lifts and lowers the yarn allowing a shuttle to run horizontal weft yarn through the vertical warp thread.

Both functional and aesthetic, Akan awidie heddle pulleys are sometimes carved because it is believed that the weaving process "requires divine guidance and protection"2. The creativity the weavers display in the complex patterns created is believed to be a sign of supernatural enlightenment. Some sources1 also point to the fact that because weaving was done in public places, carved pulleys would have once been used to advertise the skills of the carver and as such garner him future business.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of two pieces:
    • Spool (often lost)
    • U-shaped spool support
      • Hole on top of heddle pulley
      • Embellished with akua'ba heads, hands, stools, masks, animal forms (including birds and equestrian figures), and abstract / geometric motifs
      • Most common representational pulley depicts head of akua'ba (sometimes abstracted into a disk with geometric patterns
      • Some have Kulango style heads
      • Spool marks found where spool and support meet (due to weaving friction)
  • Some pulleys have string, raffia, shells and beads attached
  • Some pulleys very delicate (probably used to weave a single piece of cloth)

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