Sunday, May 12, 2013

An Observation About Tablet-Weaving Patterns

Like many Americans, I first learned how to do tablet weaving from Candace Crockett's book, Card Weaving.

Crockett's book is a godsend to the would-be weaver in a number of ways. For one, if you purchase it new it comes with a set of pre-marked, 4-hole cardboard weaving tablets that are sturdy enough for many uses, so that if you decide tablet weaving is not for you, you're only out the amount of money you paid for your book and for the yarn. For another, the book is written in very clear language with good illustrations, so that it's pretty easy to learn the basic process from the book alone. Finally, the book includes a number of different, simple patterns for a new weaver to try.

As I learn more about the construction of historical tablet weaving bands, particularly those from the Migration Period and the early Middle Ages, it occurs to me that there is a big disadvantage to the Crockett book. That disadvantage is that it inadvertently misleads the reader as to the types of tablet weaving techniques that were common during the periods when tablet weaving was used in the West. One easy-to-spot consequence of this is the prevalence of the "Kivrim" or "Ram's Horn" pattern (images and tutorial here for those interested) that Crockett's book teaches and that a lot of new tablet weavers start with. It's a lovely pattern, but one doesn't see examples of it among Migration Period or medieval European finds.

What one does see in the early European finds are patterns based on short diagonal motifs, such as the Snartnemo II pattern I'm hoping to recreate. As I spotted more and more of such patterns on the Internet, I learned that many, if not all, of such patterns use what has been called the "skip hole" technique--i.e., they are woven with tablets that do not have threads in every hole.  The Lagore Crannog band that I struggled with is another example of such a band, and there are others, including, but by no means limited to, this band from Laceby, England, this band from 13th-14th century CE Estonia, and this band from 6th century BCE Hochdorf.   Although it certainly cannot be said that all ancient bands used a missed-hole technique (this band from the grave of 7th century CE Queen Bathilde in France did not, though a different band in the grave does), the missed-hole technique was much more commonly used in early European tablet-woven bands than  Ms. Crockett's book seems to imply.

I suspect that Ms. Crockett downplayed the use of missed-hole technique because her book was aimed at beginners and, as my experience of the Lagore Crannog band demonstrated, missed-hole weaving can be tricky because the cards are more likely to shift during weaving.  Given how many early bands use the technique, however, I think more SCA members and early period reeenactors should experiment with it. It's a great way to develop a feel for the type of band patterns that are "period" for those times and to generate trim that is appropriate and attractive for period costume.


  1. In good few early-medieval tablet-woven bands the pattern was created by brocading and the examples I'm familiar with use a metal thread, so it's even more complicated for beginners :-)

  2. You're certainly right about brocading, but that's a subject I don't feel confident even to think about, given my own limited expertise. :-)

    For those folk braver or more knowledgeable about tablet weaving in general than I, here's a site that gives reasonable good directions on how to do brocaded tablet weaving. There are probably others and some may be better than this, but this one looks like a good place to start:

  3. Actually, brocading is dead easy - you just have to get properly suitable metal thread (the one usually offered in shops is too thick and too stiff) and be willing to count a little. But the weaving itself? Thread the tablets all with the same colour, alternating s and z threading for ease of tablet turning, and turn into one direction for a long while, just concentrating on your brocade pattern. Dead easy. Go and try it, you don't even need a metal thread to start with, you can use a differently coloured warp thread. Double it up for good coverage, and you are good to go.

  4. I should try something, but I've been having trouble finding motivation lately. I have no problem brocading with a non-metal thread--in fact the band on the Kostrup apron dress appears to have been woven that way.

    Probably I'll start the Snartnemo II piece first, but thanks for your advice!

  5. Having played with the Snartnemo II piece (using that very website) as my second ever tablet weaving project, I agree that missed-hole is a little tricky but by no means unachievable for the beginner (and I used sticky wool, too!).

    My advice would be to not backstrap it if you can help it and be very careful about how you leave the tablets when taking breaks as even when tied they can shift a quarter turn and ruin the pattern very easily. I have seen one set up which looked very good - it used an inkle loom and a long, narrow piece of wood running parallel to the working section of the warp, supporting the tablets.

  6. Hi, Panth! Welcome!

    I no longer do backstrap because it hunt my back too much and it was difficult to put the work aside when I wished. As for the shifting, I've learned in doing the Lagore Crannog band how easily that can happen with a missed-hole pattern. I am still working out what method of stabilizing the tablet works best for me, but I usually fasten the tablets together with one of those black metal clips (not very period, but effective). When I start it, I'll post about it. Thanks for your suggestions.

  7. Completely off-topic, but I saw this and thought of you straight away!

    Elvyra Pečeliūnaitė-Bazienė 2007. Natūralūs dažikliai, nustatyti I-XII a. iškastinės tekstilės fragmentuose _Lietuvos archeologija_ (30) 2007; 81-96.

    It's an analysis of textiles from the 1-12th centuries in Lithuania, for traces of dyes, and their chemical composition. Lots, and lots, of indigo was used on wool, by the looks of it!

  8. Hi, pearl! Good to see you again.

    I didn't think it was possible to tell whether indigotin, the component in indigo and woad that dyes things blue, came from an indigo plant or a woad plant by testing archaeological textiles for dye. I wonder if the article really means to say that the indigo plant was used, or just to say that indigotin (which is a component of both indigo and woad) was found.

    If the early Lithuanians really were using imported indigo to dye high-status clothing, that's big news! The news is almost as big if they were importing dyed-in-indigo wool cloth from further east. I wish I could read Lithuanian!

  9. Hadn't found the English summary when I wrote my last comment about the Pečeliūnaitė-Bazienė article. The speculation about whether a plant that does not contain indigotin might have been used to dye fabric blue in Lithuania is interesting.

  10. I shouldn't post so late at night - I was meaning indigotin, not indigo-the-plant.

  11. No problem. But I found it interesting to learn that the woad plant was rare in Lithuania at the time--I hadn't known that before reading the abstract.