Teaching tablet weaving

I’ve only ever been to one tablet weaving class, about 20 years ago. After that I used materials from various online sources and books to improve skills.  I still feel like a beginner, and hadn’t considered teaching tablet weaving before. So, when Catlin asked me to teach her, I felt honored and rather nervous in equal part.

Starter kit

I made a small kit for Catlin, that included items I use when working on a band:

TW-kit

  • tablets – about 5cm square, made from plastic chocolate tubs.
  • sticks – around 8cm long, cut from thick(ish) wooden bbq skewers. (They’re thicker than cocktail sticks). I use these at the very start of a band, to double-check threading and to help set the width.
  • leashes – 3 fingerloop braids, around 18″ in length, for attaching both ends of the warp to posts and securing the cards between weaving sessions.

I also gave her a handout – not for the class itself, but for the braid that she wanted to work on eventually.

The class

The session happened at a shire event, so we didn’t have a set time limit. This allowed for a relaxed approach, where I could demonstrate each step, and then Catlin could carry on on her own.   We covered:

  • How to wind a warp, and what can be used for this.
  • How to thread cards, either as you wind the warp or afterwards.
  • Attaching the warp to two fixed points (in this case , two pegs on an inkle loom)
  • Card orientation,  threading direction and setting up for horizontal stripes.
  • Starting to weave, and setting a consistent width from the start.
  • Tensioning.
  • Rotating the entire pack forward to create horizontal stripes
  • Advancing selected cards individually to move from horizontal stripes to diagonals.
  • Flipping all cards to untwist warp and/or reverse diagonals
  • Flipping half the cards to change the pattern from diagonals to diamonds.
  • Flipping individual cards to smooth out a line.

Catlin was working with quite a firm warp tension. This made flipping cards challenging at times. I honestly can’t remember if we covered rotating cards backwards as an alternative to flipping them. If I didn’t mention it, I should have!

Catlin’s band

After we’d spent a couple of hours or so playing with string, Catlin finished off the remaining warp on her own the next day, with no pattern to guide her. Below is an extract from a picture she took shortly after taking the band off the loom.

Catlins-band1-01Catlin maintained consistent tension throughout the piece, resulting in evenly sized diamonds all along it. The edges are uniform in appearance, with little to no weft showing. The width is pretty constant; there’s a tiny bit of variation (we’re talking mm), but that’s quite normal. The band has the characteristic ‘curl’ at the edges where she reversed/flipped all the cards at the same time. In a finished piece this effect can be reduced with a steam iron (especially on bands made of cotton).

Catlin did a fantastic job with this.  I’m looking forward to seeing what she tries next!

A scholars braid

Download handout

At Raglan 2017, Viscountess Lena the Red asked me if I would make her a band that was reminiscent of the braid for a free scholar in the Drachenwald Academy of Defence, and which reflected her preferred viking persona. At roughly the same time, Lady Catlin le Mareschale asked me to show her how to do tablet weaving, so that she could look at making fencing braids for early viking or similar personas.

After a little thought, and a chat at a shire meeting, I suggested a variation of the threaded-in version of Birka B22, first popularised by Carolyn Priest-Dorman.  B22 was originally a brocaded band; the sketch for it appears as figure b, on page 83 of Agnes Geijer’s “Birka III”.

Lena’s band

Lena expressed a preference for a dark background and low contrast, so I worked a test piece in black and darkish brown. Traditionally a fencing braid is worn on one arm. As the braid was destined for fighting kit, I suggested no 10 crochet cotton for the warp, which would still produce a relatively flexible band that could be tied round the arm or attached. I made enough for two cuffs, so that Lena could choose how to use it.

Bands for other ranks in the Academy of Defence

Having made Lena’s band, it occurred to me that all the different academy ranks could be represented using the same pattern. I started playing around with different colored threadings, and found a few possible variations for each rank above scholar. I didn’t weave each one, but I checked them all in GTT.

The handout

I wanted to create a document that I could give to Catlin after showing her the basics of tablet weaving. It should be able to help her start another project by herself, so it needed to go beyond just the basic pattern chart.  I thought back to when I was re-learning tablet weaving, and the things I found myself doing to help understand what was going on.   After some consideration, as well as the chart, I included these features:

  • Threading diagrams for each row: I drew these as little rows of tablets, rather than the usual vertical line of squares or lozenges. When I was learning, I found that this depiction helped me visualise things far more easily.
  • A row by row set of images:  I’d said to friends on a  number of occasions how useful it would be to see exactly how threads are supposed to sit after working each row. I included a set of images that concentrated on displaying how the threads sit where the unwoven warp meets the woven band.
  • Reversing instructions: when working this type of pattern before, I noticed that reversing after particular rows gave more pleasing results, so I included some suggestions.
  • Alternate threading suggestions: to demonstrate how different a band can look, depending on your color choices.  They’re also the suggestions for the various Academy of Defence ranks.

I hope Catlin and anyone else who uses this handout finds it helpful.

Resources

Birka III: Die Textilfunde aus den Gräbern, by Agnes Geijer (225MB pdf on Historiska Museet site).

Drachenwald Academy of Defence 
including Academy Charters & Bylaws (pdf).

Guntram’s tablet weaving thingy (GTT)

Viking-Style Tablet Weaving: Birka Strapwork Motif by Carolyn Priest-Dorman.

Ermine 1

Ermine1- thumbnail of pdf showing simple chart
Download pattern

Viscount Richard the Rampant was elevated to the Order of the Pelican at Drachenwald Spring Crown, and I made a couple of gifts for the occasion.  One was a length of trim depicting ermine points, to be sewn onto a cap of maintenance. The finished band was around 75cm long, and 23-25 mm wide (31 cards: 20 pattern cards, 11 border cards).

Planning, design & authenticity

The band needed to be narrow enough for hat trim. The threads had to be fine, allowing me to use enough cards to produce a sufficiently detailed design.  The main fabric of the hat was to be wool, so I decided this was a good time to try double-face on a 2/16wc wool warp. I used linen for the weft, to make life easier. (I’m not a fan of the ‘grabby’ qualities of wool thread.)

Duncan Kerr reassured me that the ermine points can be depicted in any direction; they don’t have to be perpendicular to the borders of the band. I used the image to the right as inspiration for the initial draft, and as Richard usually depicts a viking persona,  I added an Oseberg-style border on one side.

A wool warp and linen weft is in keeping with various tablet weaving finds, where the weft has disintegrated leaving the twined warp behind. The ermine points are not in keeping with a viking persona, but they are appropriate for Pelican regalia.

Testing

I used a backstrap setup rather than my usual warp-weighted system, because I was concerned my weights would be too heavy for the threads.

It took several trials to settle on the finalised pattern. I played around with:

  1. Turning border cards on alternate rows.
  2. Repositioning the dots,  and flipping cards from s to z position (and back) while working them.
  3. Elongating the point near the dots. It is this version that I chose to continue using.

During testing, I was having problems keeping the width consistent.  I found the wool warp to be much spongier than cotton, linen or high-twist wool, all of which I can control relatively easily.  To try and resolve this issue, I decided to check the width far more regularly when I started work on the actual band.

Weaving & finishing

Using a two-pack method, I started by working ~1 cm plain doubleface. Then I worked a motif followed by a 1cm plain section, continuing until the band was long enough, finishing with 4cm plain.  I switched turning direction on the border cards after every second repeat. Each motif + adjacent plain section took about an hour to complete.

I checked width every cm while using a weighted beater every other row. I wasn’t as worried about beating the weft in hard, because this time I wanted to take advantage of tablet weaving’s tendency to elongate a pattern. The regular width checks kept the width variation to within 2-3mm, but there were still a lot of width “wobbles” within the 75cm.

The finished band generally looked a lot more uneven than I expected. Wet finishing(1)  smoothed out most of the irregularities.

The charts

Three charts are included in the pdf. Just print the one you like, and have a go!

Ermine1- thumbnail of pdf showing simple chart
Download pattern
  1. Simplest: created in GTT, colors denoting background/foreground. I added a separate threading diagram.
  2. Another version from GTT: each row is represented separately; twist direction is shown on the pattern; you can also show turning direction, but I chose not to.
  3. A chart which shows foreword and backward turns only, with an outline of the motif superimposed on it.

Resources

Drachenwald:  Titles, Precedence, Forms of Address, and Regalia (8. Order of the Pelican)

Guntram’s tablet weaving thingy (GTT)

Handweaver’s Studio: 2/16 wc wool yarns

Mistholme: Pictorial dictionary of heraldry – Hat  (cap of maintenance)

Shelagh Lewins: The Narrow Oseberg Band (pdf)

Swicofil: Yarn count converter

Viking Answer Lady: Ermine Spots


1) Wet finishing: I hand-washed the band gently in lukewarm water with a mild detergent. I rinsed it thoroughly, and patted out excess water using a clean linen tea towel. I then sandwiched the band in a fresh linen cloth, and pressed gently with an iron. I took care to *not* pull on the band or otherwise stretch it while using the iron.

Double-face Cinquefoil

DuncanDevice3
The arms of Master Duncan Kerr, retrieved from the Drachenwald order of precedence.

Duncan Kerr was elevated to the Order of the Pelican at Drachenwald Kingdom University, and I made him a small gift for the occasion. The finished band was about 1.5m long, and 21mm wide (34 cards).  The colours and design were based on his arms.

Planning & design

The band had to be narrow enough to be made into a set of garters that could be finished with buckles and strap-ends already in stock. The threads needed to be fairly fine so I could use enough cards to produce a sufficiently detailed design.

Download pattern

This was my first time drafting and weaving a ‘standard’ doubleface pattern, so I chose to work with mercerised colorfast cotton.  I found that DMC Cebelia 40 was almost equivalent in size to 30/2nm silk, which is the thinnest thread I’ve worked with on large pieces.  The available colours in Cebelia 40 that were the closest match are #666 and #745.  I didn’t feel confident working with narrower thread while using a new (to me) technique.

I selected one of the cinquefoils from Duncan’s arms, converted it to a monochrome bitmap and imported it into GTT, where I started refining the details.  Unfortunately, try as I might, I could not produce a small detailed design that maintained the proportions of the cinquefoil as depicted in his arms.

arms
The arms of Baron Guntram von Wolkenstein, as a brocaded pattern. Retrieved from http://www.guntram.co.za/tabletweaving/docs/belt2003/belt2003.htm

I searched online, including on Guntram’s website where I found his article about a 13th Century tablet woven brocaded belt.  His design incorporated his arms as part of the brocade. I transcribed the outline of the cinquefoil from the brocaded pattern into a standard double-face pattern within GTT, and added the central piercing. The resulting design was still too wide for the number of cards I needed to use, so I reduced it as much as possible without losing detail.

Testing

2017-12-13_07.15.13

I wove a few samples, adjusting the pattern each time until I was happy with the result:

  1. The top petal was too big.
  2. Bottom two petals not the same shape as the top three.
  3. Petals as evenly shaped as possible without emphasising the slight size difference of the bottom two. Gaps between petals are all about the same width. Four gaps where the petals meet the centre now flare out v. slightly, like in Duncan’s arms, but the 5th gap doesn’t.
  4. Checking what the pattern looked like with the card orientations flipped from S to Z and Z to S. From a distance of 5 yards or more, it’s unlikely you’d notice a difference, but I still didn’t like the result.

The finalised pattern is based on option 3. It is 34 cards wide, comprising 30 pattern cards plus 2 border cards either side.

Weaving

While weaving the band, I beat as hard as possible using a weighted beater to reduce elongation of the motif. A similar effect can be accomplished with a thinner weft. I used a two-pack method, moving cards between foreground and background packs between picks. I kept the border cards with whichever pack was being turned forward at the time.

I started by working 3cm plain for attaching a buckle.  I then worked a motif followed by a plain section equal to the motif’s length, continuing until the band was long enough.  Each motif + adjacent plain section took about an hour to complete.  I finished the band with another 3cm plain for the second garter buckle.

Variation & authenticity

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 13.41.56
The arms of Norman Darci, retrieved from the Dering Roll: last line on page/membrane 2

Many people in the SCA incorporate heraldic devices into tablet weaving, but I was concerned about whether the adjustments I’d made to the motif were a reasonable variation from the original heraldry:

  • Comparing Guntram’s arms (as depicted in the Drachenwald OP) to the brocaded pattern he used,  suggests that rounding the points of the cinquefoil petals in a weaving pattern is an acceptable compromise.
  • A search of various digitised armorials shows that cinquefoils can be depicted as Duncan has chosen to, and as shown in the pattern I finalised.  Examples from the Dering Roll (amongst others) show that my version is reasonably authentic in its proportions, when comparing the size of petals to the centre of the flower .

Materials used:

  • Cotton would be an unlikely choice of thread in Northern Europe in the early middle ages. It’s possible it could have been used if the band was being made in southern Europe in the later middle ages, but I still think it would have been unusual.  I chose cotton because it is an easy thread to work with.
  • Wool, linen or silk are good choices for a more authentic band.

Writing up the charts

Download pattern

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to reproduce the cinquefoil chart in four different styles:

  1. Simplest: created in GTT, colors denoting background/foreground. I added a separate threading diagram.
  2. In the style of Linda Hendrikson’s charts. I found these to be the trickiest type of chart to interpret; trying to create a cinquefoil version helped me understand how they work.
  3. In the style that  Mervi Pasanen & Maiki Karisto used in Applesies and Fox Noses.  Although this chart takes up a fair bit of room, I thought it may be handy for someone who hasn’t done double-face before.
  4. A chart which shows foreword and backward turns only, with an outline of the motif superimposed on it. I’ve seen this style of chart attributed to Marijke van Epen. I haven’t read her work yet, but hope to in the future.

Resources

A 13th Century tablet woven brocaded belt – by Baron Guntram von Wolkenstein

Applesies and Fox Noses – Finnish Tabletwoven Bands – Maikki Karisto & Mervi Pasanen

Cinquefoile – Encyclopædia Britannica entry

Cotton is period? Really? – Lady Desamona Villani

The Dering Roll – (c.1270-1280) Heraldic roll/armorial held by the British Library

DMC Cebelia 40

“Double-Faced Tablet Weaving” – Linda Hendrikson, Weaver’s, Spring 1997, p. 38-41

Guntram’s tablet weaving thingy (GTT)

Phiala’s Stringpages: basic tablet weaving – including “double face weave”

SCA name query – Drachenwald order of precedence (OP)

Bridges Collection

The Bridges collection held by the University of St Andrews has been the subject of two projects, which explored different methods for producing 3D models of selected objects.  The objects in the collection are of Cypriot origin,  from various times including Bronze age, Iron Age and Byzantine periods.

Sixteen 3D models are in a collection on Sketchfab: https://sketchfab.com/bridges The three below are my favourites, because the diagonal and diamond designs can be reproduced easily in tablet weaving. Tablet weaving may not have been used in Cyprus in those time periods, but inspiration can come from any source!

Resources

Orion A

Tablet woven band, made using the Orion A pattern

Guy sitting at a desk staring at the stars. Detail from an anonymous German manuscript (circa 1450) held in the Crawford Collection at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.
Detail from a German manuscript (circa 1450)

Orion A is a pattern inspired by a conversation in the Facebook group “The Company of Thuban“. The Company was formed by people in Drachenwald (SCA), who are interested in the study of astronomy and astrology throughout history.

The pattern depicts a six-point star on a twill background, and it has a tubular border formed from the outermost three border cards. The star is based on those found in a picture from an  anonymous German manuscript (circa 1450) held in the Crawford Collection at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

Download Pattern
Download Pattern

I worked the sample in Häkelgarn 100 crochet cotton, colors 101, 121, 129, 130 and 134. I used two strands of standard sewing thread held together for the weft, so that the weft was less than half the thickness of  a single warp thread. This helped prevent the design from becoming too elongated. Each pattern repeat is about 32mm long. The band is an average of 30mm wide.

Weaving tip

Match the colour of the innermost border card in this design to the background colour chosen for the pattern section. This helps hide the wobbly line that can appear when the pattern area encroaches on border cards.  (The underside of Orion A shows a wobbly line where the white twill overlaps the black border card. On the topside of the band, that black border card blends with the main background, smoothing the join with the rest of the border cards.)

2016-07-23_16.48.38
Topside (left) and underside (right) of the band

I’m pleased with how this has turned out. It is the first four-hole twill pattern I’ve designed successfully.

All feedback is very welcome.

Just a few of the bands…

I looked up from the weaving and *how many* months had gone by??!! Two very large projects have taken most of my time over this last year. To take a break from those patterns, I worked on several shorter pieces.

Samples from Applesies & Fox Noses:

Trying out silk warps for the first time:

Playing with 2-hole designs:

Snartemo-style band: initial threading was Snartemo II, but then I started experimenting.
Snartemo-style band: initial threading was Snartemo II, but then I started experimenting.

And adding the finishing touches to a garment:

Decorating the seams and hems of an apron dress.
Decorating the seams and hems of an apron dress.

I’m in the middle of making diagrams and writing up. With any luck, there may a pattern or two in the near future 🙂