The longest warp

I’m working on a tablet woven band in pure silk at the moment, and it reminded me of another project I undertook a couple of years ago.  Lena and I had hatched a plan for some trim for new garb. We’d both measured the neckline, cuffs and lower hem of an existing tunic,  and agreed we’d probably need about 4.5-5m of trim to decorate all of those edges.  I then wandered of into the wilds of the internet in search of a pattern that was  viking-related, looked authentic from a distance, and wasn’t brocade. (I wasn’t feeling confident enough to try *that* just yet).

I found Mervi Pasanen’s interpretation of Birka B21, a twill version of a brocaded original. Mervi’s version utilises half turns,  has small mirrored ‘S’ shapes in a minor repeating motif, and two larger motifs one of which I think of as a “toothed S” .

Pattern adjustments

  • I swapped the pattern color scheme to dark on light, and re-sketched the threading diagram with this in mind. The bands Mervi includes in her blog post have the motifs in a lighter color against a dark background, as does her pattern, and I kept getting confused. Redrawing the threading took care of this, and I noted my changes to the border cards at the same time.
  • I altered the border card threading to make best use of available thread. I had only just enough thread if the amount used was exactly the same in both colors.
  • I decided to use 3 repeats of the minor motif in-between each toothed S, ignoring the swastika motif completely.
  • When I printed out the pattern, I realised I was having issues following which cards to turn forward and backward. (Hey, I was relearning back then!)  The pattern is quite clear on the matter, but at the time, I found it really helpful to color the background in in each row where specific cards turn backward.  It made it easier for me to follow.
  • I also marked a few rows which had easy ‘watch-points’ to spot – places where motifs came to a point, or where an edge color change happens. These became the rows where I would stop for a break, because it was easier to find where I was when starting again. ( I don’t mark a pattern each time I stop, and I don’t advance a ‘row marker’ after completing each row, as I find those techniques slow me down too much.)

Thread and calculations

  • I decided on 30/2nm silk for the warp, and linen for the weft.
  • Taking into account the 5m needed for the finished trim and my average warp take-up, I calculated that I’d need about 8m of warp to guarantee producing enough trim.

Winding the warp and setting up

Below, you can see my rather Heath-Robinson idea of a warping board: one coffee table, 4 C-clamps and 2 Ikea pot-lid holders. The torn bits of paper near the warp pegs were placed after every 10 threads had been wound on.

warp threads wound onto a board

Setup was going to be warp-weighted:

  1. Once I’d wound all the threads needed, I added little choke-ties every 12-18 inches and cut the warp ends. This produced something a bit like anchor/dmc stranded floss, which is bound in paper, and you can pull on one end without ending up in a tangled mess.
  2. For each card: I threaded them individually. I then added a 1.5oz weighted leader thread to one end of the warp threads,  and wound most of the warp  onto a bobeez bobbin. I secured the other end of the warp in a carabiner.
  3. Once all the cards were threaded, I secured the start of the warp to the front edge of a chair, and carefully placed the weights over the back of the chair making sure threads from different cards weren’t crossed.
  4. I then turned the cards forward four times, placing a bbq skewer in between each turn – this helped set the width at the start.

The whole setup process took forever – ok, a couple of days. I was moving slowly, taking breaks, and being rather cautious because this was the first time I’d set up a silk warp. Finally I was ready to weave!!

A little side-trip

I had very few metres of silk left after winding the long warp. Moments of practicality & inspiration struck – wouldn’t it be a good idea to do a short test piece before diving into working on the really long warp?  I got the books out, and realised I’d have just enough to make a length of one of the small ‘S’ motifs from Applesies and Fox Noses.  I produced a piece of trim about 1.5m long, ~7mm wide. Again the borders varied from the pattern as printed, so that I could use as much of the remaining silk as possible.

narrow trim in black and white thread


Back to the main band

After a break, I started working on the long warp. It went a lot more smoothly than I was expecting, if a little slowly. After working about a metre of warp, I was averaging 90 minutes to cycle through the 3 minor repeats and one major motif. This *really* bugged me! I ended up taping the pattern to the chair close to the warp, so that I could flick my eyes between the cards and the paper without turning my head. I then tried focussing exclusively on the pattern, and turning cards without looking at them. After working like this for 2 metres, I had reduced the average time to about 60 minutes.  Naturally, I made mistakes, and those took time to correct. Still, by the time I was nearing the end of the warp, I was working more consistently and with fewer errors.

the start of the long band

Speaking of the end of the warp, it was such a good feeling seeing the leader threads appearing from the bobbins. They’re the bright blue threads below. You can only see one or two here at the edges, because the border cards took up thread more quickly than the pattern cards.

threads over a wooden bar

I had an occasional issue with the outermost border cards, either forgetting to turn one, or turning it too often (you can see the effect viewing the band edge on). The silk was showing signs of wear, so I didn’t want to risk unpicking up to 12 inches to correct something that wouldn’t be noticeable once the trim was sewn to a garment.

several metres of trim coiled into a shell shape.

I am really pleased with the final result. The finished band was 6.1m long and about 16mm wide. It took a few months to complete, working at it on and off in between other commitments.

Where did the trims end up?

They were a gift for Master Richard the Rampant upon his elevation to the Order of the Pelican. Her Excellency Lena the Red made a red wool tunic, and used both the test piece and the wider band to decorate the neckline and cuffs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.