I started tablet weaving
when I joined my first reenactment group a few years ago. The plan was
to make just enough for my Viking outfit and leave it at that. Then
came the fateful words, "Could you do some for me?" and I've been
weaving ever since.
Like most people, I started with simple patterns where all the tablets
are turned in the same direction at the same time. Althought the
patterns look good, they essentially repeat themselves over and over
again like these:
The pattern above shows two of the easiest motifs to work with:
diamonds and waves. It gets a bit boring just repeating the same
pattern over and over again but the result is very effective.
The piece below makes use of the natural colours of wool straight from the sheep:
Looking for new ideas for patterns, I came across the Yahoo card
weaving group (card weaving is American for tablet weaving) run by The
Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). I quickly discovered that there
were all sorts of different ways of doing tablet weaving and that the
most impressive stuff was done by turning individual tablets in
different directions. I was so impressed by one piece (Guntram's
Dragon's Breath pattern) that I tried working out how it was woven. As
it happens I got it wrong (using 33 tablets instead of the original 20
that Guntram used) but its one of the most popular pieces that I have
woven. This is in mercerised cotton.
The pattern still repeats itself but at least the tablets don't all go
the same way at once! I eventually figured out how the original was
woven. This one uses an entirely different colour scheme using
naturally dyed wool:
The colours are, working from the outside: walnut, no mordant; weld,
copper mordant; weld, alum mordant; onion skin, alum mordant and
madder, alum mordant.
This is, according to some writers, a fairly modern technique using two
colours. However, I have seen a report on a piece with a similar weave
structure from the 5th Century B.C.
The background is fine
diagonal stripes with the pattern made by turning chosen tablets in the
opposite direction. The patterns can be changed at will and can make
your eyes go funny:
This example is in fine worsted using 40 tablets. The next piece
changes the rules slightly as I've altered the colours part way across
the band. This is the first piece I wove using wool that I'd dyed
myself. The colours are: Brown, walnut, no mordant; pink, madder with
alum mordant and yellow, dyer's broom, alum mordant.
Double face weaving
I like this method because
you get the same pattern on both sides with the colours reversed. Some
of these methods give a good pattern on one side but not the other. The
basic technique uses two colours to give a variety of patterns and even
writing. I made this piece for a 4th century Roman outfit:
and on the reverse:
If you look carefully, you will notice that the edge of the pattern
isn't quite as sharp on the reverse as it is on the front.
An advantage of double
face weaving is that you can weave pretty much any design that you
wish, so long as you use enough tablets. These two photos are from the
same piece and are woven in 60/2 commercially dyed silk.
This weaving uses
four colours and mixes long and short floats to create rather
psychadelic patterns. To the best of my knowledge, the technique is
from Migration Period Scandinavia. It uses a mixture of long and short
float (the bit of the thread that lies on the surface) to create
geometric patterns. This one is in 60/2 silk. The thicker lines that
make up the pattern can be made with any of the four colours.
A variation of this technique uses three threads of background (gold)
and one darker thread per tablet. This time, the patterns are made
entirely with the darker thread.
used square tablets with only two threads in diagonally opposite
corners; in this case blue and pale gold. The pattern is taken directly
from an Iron Age find at Hochdorf and dates from the Hallstatt
period. I wove this in 60/2 Shantung silk, which is about the same as a
fairly fine sewing thread.
I particularly like this method because its brilliant at doing knotwork:
Of the techniques that I've tried so far, I found this the most
difficult. Oddly enough, it is just as much trouble to weave the
background as it is to weave the pattern. However, the method has the
merit of producing a very complex pattern with a very small number of
tablets. I refer to the style as Hallstatt because this is where the
pattern below comes from. The method is also called 3/1 broken twill.
This piece is woven with a soft-spun wool which I hand dyed: Border -
walnut, no mordant; Green - Weld, alum mordant overdyed with indigo;
yellow - weld, alum mordant