Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tablet weaving traditional viking trims

SCA demos are a wonderful thing. They cause you to dig through your que of projects and decide which ones might be portable enough to trundle along with you and interesting to the general public. We recently had a demo at a local library, and not only did it encourage me to finish up my Skjoldehamn hood in a timely fashion, it encouraged me to start weaving trim for various things. I haven't tablet woven since I was a teenager, when I did it as part of a 4H project. My memory of that experience is somewhat hazy, other than that we used a backstrap style loom, and it wasn't very portable. The finished product from that was a belt that held up my Revolutionary war skirt for several years, and is now holding up my husband's Thorsbjurg trousers. Needless to say I'm far from an expert!

If you do any kind of early period work though, tablet weaving is indispensable. In various styles it is the single most common decorative touch to clothes, more common from what I can see even than embriodery. It also puts in showings as belts, fasteners, and later hose garters. Strap weaving in all its forms was an indispensable part of early fiber arts, but particularly tablet weaving. Our own idea today of what tablet weaving can accomplish is hilariously limited by period terms. Certainly repeating geometrics can be found, but there are a wealth of fabulous period finds, from geometric (normally not repeating, or if repeat several patterns) to solid colored bands decorated with soumak, a kind of woven in surface decoration rather like embroidering you wove, to full on brocaded patterns with animals and plants done with silks and metallics. Bands seem to be often stylistically simalar, but rarely be the same, as if weavers rarely reapeated patterns, instead seeming to view each new project as an opportunity to devise new combinations and patterns. This seems to be particularly true of the warped in geometric patterns.

There is a whole world of period tablet weaving to explore, and most of it is accomplished in very different techniques than modern tablet weaving. In fact it's not really "true" weaving at all, where warp threads go over and under, catching weft threads, but instead is warp twining, where groups of warp threads continously twist around themselves, and weft threads are caught between the twists. In that way it reminds me more of sprang than of actual weaving in structure. Finished it is far denser and stronger than a standard "over under" weave.

Most of the extant patterns are quite complex, and beyond my (very) novice skill level, but on of the bands found at the osberg ship burial (a veritable treasure trove of textiles and equipment, including a tablet weaving loom, and a half finished band still attached to warp and cards.) is a relatively simple repeating pattern of squares. I am indebted to Shelagh's website for both basic tablet weaving information so I understood exactly what was supposed to be happening, historical referances, and clear patterning instructions for reproducing the band.

The narrow Osberg band. 
The orginal osberg band was worked in two colors, but since i am planning on using much of this to trim the skoldenhamn hoods I recently made the boys, I made the borders in a third color so that the trim would stand out from the blue and white of the hoods. I used the same blue and white as in the hood, and added a red to form the borders. These are all colors popular and available in period, however, since I'm currently a great believer in using what is on hand (thereby relieving the crowding in my storage areas), only the white thread in this is wool. The rest is cotton, or cotton blend. Technically the whole thing should be done in linen or wool, or to be absolutely correct to the source, silk, but I haven't got cones of those sitting about. I would like to use handspun for a future project, but I'd also like to get the hoods done, and use up the cones of weaving thread I've got lurking in my studio.

The other complication of tablet weaving is how you tension it. Obviously you can use a backstrap loom and tie off to a immoveable object, but that leaves you somewhat imobile for the duration. Or you can work on an inkle loom, but that severely limits the length of warp you can use. Looking to period equipment, a loom was found at the osberg ship burial which is very similar to looms seen in later artwork: two uprights connected by a low bar. You tied off the warp to one upright, and the finished band to the other, and worked between the uprights, advancing the warp by untying and retying.
reproduction Osberg loom and lady tablet weaving from the book of hours, 1400-1410
 The obvious problem with this solution is that while it doesn't tie you in place like a backstrap, it's simply not very portable. It also takes up a lot of room in your home, which I frankly don't have since I already have a lot of equpiment (including a full size loom) shoved into a tiny studio and overflowing into other parts of the house. An internet search provided me with plans for a sort of modern box loom, where the warp and fabric are tensioned by being clamped between wooden blocks held by bolts. My husband (bless him) made this for me in less than an hour, and the whole thing cost about $10. It's portable, you can put it down to go referee children, and it doesn't take up much real estate. it may not be period (and it's always interesting to try period tools!) but it's much better for me!
My loom (Not the osberg band warp though)
I don't have a warping board of my own, so I measured this warp by the time honored "two chairs upended on a table" technique. Which works great when you don't need a super specific length. I just wanted a long warp, because if you're going to weave trim, you might as well weave a bunch. This ended up being something around 18 feet probably, considering it was a standard banquet table. I threaded the warp onto the tablets, tied the tablets up in a bundle (to keep them from getting tangled) and chained the rest of the warp. By "chaining" the warp (making it into a chrochet chain essentially, although you don't use a hook) you much decrease it's length, making it less bulky. More importantly, chaining keeps it from tangling, and since tablet weaving is not wound onto a back beam, this is important. With the warp all ready, I put it through the loom blocks, securing the starting end with a knot. Then I adjusted the tablets so they had the threads in the correct color order, and the threads going through the card in the direction as shown on the pattern diagram (in card weaving the threads can go through the cards L to R, or R to L, and this changes the pattern produced). I finished this the night before the SCA demo that I was warping for.

The next day when I started weaving I immediately realized that something had gone wrong, because the pattern was not looking even remotely like the osberg band! Review of the pattern graph revealed that I had threaded one card with the wrong colors, 3 white and 1 blue rather than 3 blue 1 white, and this was producing a totally different pattern. Since I didn't have the warp threads with me at the demo I decided to keep weaving in the "oops" pattern for the demo, and fix when I got home. I finished enough of the oopsie pattern to make a belt for one of the boys, then took out the two wrongly threaded white threads and replaced them with blue. The extra threads can't be chained with the rest of the warp, but are butterflied up to keep them from tangling. They could also be wound onto small pieces of cardboard to keep them tidy. I wove a few inches onto waste acrylic yarn, which can be removed later to give me enough warp to tie off the ends.

The only consistant problem I had after fixing my warping oops, was that I kept having weft knobs at the edge of the work. Everything that would keep normal weaving from doing this didn't work, so I shelved the loom until I could get help, since I didn't want to weave a whole lot more sub standard trim. I figured that it was some silly little detail I just didn't know about, and when I went to a recent SCA arts and sciences event took my loom with me. Thankfully one of the very experienced fiber artists there was able to help me figure it out. Turns out in card weaving rather than pulling the weft tight to the edge and then beating, you leave a loop at the end, beat, and then pull tight. This small tweak made my problem go away immdiately, and made my selvedges straighter. Sometimes you just need someone with experience to help you out!
see the weft bumps at the top edge? So untidy looking!
 Hours of weaving later.... I have finished trim! Ironing it made it consistantly flat, especially where I had reversed the cards. There are a number of options for finishing the ends if you want to leave a tassel (as for a belt) if you are not going to leave a tassel I suggest running a close machine stitch across the end of the band to keep it from fraying.
This is also the "oopsie" pattern.... 

You can knot the ends of the ties, but I don't like doing this as it makes the whole end of the band spread.
I much prefer to leave a long tail of weft thread, and then knot it across every group of four threads   (each card) makeing what looks like a strong backstitch across the end of the band. Then the excess weft thread gets woven back into the selvedge and clipped. 

All together a sucessful first return to tablet weaving. I have another band started, and even shared what I had learned at a recent arts and sciences meeting (hopefully getting more people hooked on it!) Hopefully I will be able to post the finished objects in an upcoming blog! (still have one more hood to finish up!) 

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