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 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|
|My loom (Not the osberg band warp though)|
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!|
|This is also the "oopsie" pattern....|
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!)