Tablet weaving

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Tablet-weaving (also called card weaving) is a great way to make sturdy, woven bands of braid. These bands were used in period for straps, belts, braids for costume, bookmarks and ecclesiastical accoutrement. Tablet weaving can produce relatively complex designs and can also be made using a brocade technique. Unlike inkle weaving, tablet weaving is not a warp-and-weft woven fabric but rather a twined material.

Tablets in period were made of metal, bone or ivory, wood, or leather, and typically are square with a hole in each corner through which pass threads in either a left-to-right (S) or right-to-left (Z) direction. In period, tablets were also sometimes warped using only two adjacent holes, emulating weaves created using four-harness looms. Modern tablets are usually thin, sturdy cardboard or thin wood. The fabric being woven is formed by turning the tablets in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.

The technique involves a set of cards threaded with (usually) four threads through the holes in the corners (6 is also known in period). The end of the threads are held tight and form the warp of the weave. The cards are turned a quarter-turn at a time, with the weft thread passing through the shed (or gap) between the upper pair of threads and the lower pair. Each card thus twines the four threads around each other and this twine is held in place by the weft. Tablet weaving is an easier form of weaving to start, as it does not require a loom to learn, however a loom will help maintain tension and to get up and down from your weaving easily. You can see some detailed manuscript pictures of period tablet weaving looms at http://www.kb.nl/vh-cgi/vhoverview.pl?Iconkeywords=73A354*&iconView=IMAGELIST# or http://www.larsdatter.com/weaving.htm

Tablet-weaving is a warp faced weave, which means that the warp threads are what makes the surface-pattern. This pattern can be fairly complex depending on a several styles of tablet weaving, and the pattern is made up through the effect of:

  • threading of the cards (both the direction of threading and also what colours are in each hole)
  • turning the cards (forwards, backwards or any combination thereof)
  • "twisting" the cards (turning the card on its vertical axis to swap the colour that's on "top")
  • Adding a supplemental weft (brocading) to create a pattern
  • occasionally embroidery or beads were added to a band to enhance surface decoration

These bands can be extremely decorative (including intricate surface decorations in gold gold thread or silk threads called brocading), or intricate double sided patterning such as double face weave and 3/1 twill. These bands were probably the major way of decorating clothes in early period.

Tablet-woven braids are very strong and resist abrasion/wear. They can be (and were) used as belts, baldrics, straps, decorative trim or edgings etc.

There are many people who can teach the basics of this art, so ask around, as it really helps to have a person to set you on your way.

A great website for the basics is on Phiala's string page: - http://www.stringpage.com/tw/tw.html

Have a look at the other tutorials there, as they go into great depth about how it all works. There is even some great info on how to do some of the advanced stuff like 3/1 broken twill.

A number of articles relating to tablet weaving can be found here, here, here and here. One of the more comprehensive sources of information on tablet weaving including medieval references is a book called The Techniques of Tablet Weaving by Peter Collingwood; it is based on visits to museums with collections of tablet-woven materials along with other research and has a rather exhaustive bibliography.

Also consider the groups:

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