My creative SCA journey on stuff I make and research I do…mostly in fibers (wool prep, spinning, weaving, tablet weaving) and glass beads, but could also include costumes, camping, cooking, and any other creative things that strike my fancy.
If you are new to tablet weaving and would like a very easy pattern to start with, this is a great one. It gives you the opportunity to work on your tension, your selvedge and beating between throws, and getting a nice overall finished product without getting lost in the turning sequences.
As always you will thread the cards labeled S from left to right, and Z from right to left.
All cards will turn forward, throwing your shuttle after every quarter-turn, until the threads are over-twisted, and then you simply reverse direction until the threads become twisted in the opposite direction. It’s as easy as that!
This is a lovely 11th century piece with some half-turns included, which are indicated by the ovals inside the ovals.
· Humikkala is a little town about 20 minutes northwest of Turku, Finland. Built around 1490-1510, the Masku Church and surroundings represents one of the oldest parishes in Western Finland. dedicated to John the Baptist and St. Ursula. Next to the church is the Masku Museum, founded in 1974, which has a collection of finds from the local area. Near the church, researchers found an Iron Age burial ground. The Humikkala cemetery, called the “hill of corpses” is on a hillside next to the Masku church. There were 49 inhumation graves found here, and this fragment came from grave 32. Like others, this find is dated to 1000-1100.
· A note about the identification of finds at these anthropological digs. While I couldn’t find the specific item number for THIS piece, I did find one for another one in the neighboring grave. This item was given the code KM 8656: H32:18 ; KM is Kansallismuseo = National Museum of Finland; the number 8656 identifies the dig site for the Humikkala findings, H means hauta = grave, 31 is the number of the grave, and 18 is the object number in that grave. Having these identifying numbers helps a great deal when you are looking for more information from the museums that store these finds. This piece was actually found in grave 32 (H32), so we know that the item code would start KM 8656: H32… I’m still looking for the item number on this guy…but having that much information narrows down the search tremendously.
Sarkki, S. (1979). Suomen Ristiretkiaikaiset Nauhat. Arkeologian Laitos. Helsinki, Helsingin Yliopisto.
Sarkki was not a weaver and had a unique way to translating the textiles by trying to figure out how they were woven, and Maikki Karisto, co author of Tablet-Woven Treasures and Applesies and Fox Noses, took her drawings and created patterns from them. This proved to be challenging for Maikki and Mervi Pasanen; the pattern above is the result of that reconstruction.
I hope you enjoy weaving this piece as much as I did! It’s got a lovely texture to it and will be a gorgeous addition to your medieval kit!
I’ve had a number of folks asking me about my loom, how it was made, where I bought it, etc. The answers are: it’s an Inkle loom–a 19th century invention (so…not medieval at all), unknown maker, and I bought it second hand more than 20 years ago. I think I bought it before I had kids…and my eldest is 23 now.
However, I am here to give you plans, dimensions, photos, and all the suggestions for improvement if I were to make it again. The discussion will be in the video, but this is where I wanted to post all the drawings (for what they’re worth–it’s been many a year since I took drafting, and I am not a proficient woodworker, so your mileage may vary).
I hope you are able to translate these images and drawings into a loom of your own!
And when you find that this little guy isn’t enough for you…
This piece is one of my favorites, not just because it’s attractive and easy to weave, but it’s one of the oldest ones on record!
It was found in 1991 in the Kernverwasserungswerk part of the salt mine in Austria. The salty environment kills single-celled bacteria that would cause the decomposition of organic materials. It is currently housed at the National History Museum in Vienna.
The archaeologists determined that the date for the piece is somewhere between 800 and 400 BCE (before current era). You read that right–FOUR HUNDRED BC! So sometime between the beginning of the Etruscan civilization and the Egyptians overthrowing Persian rule, some iron age miner dropped some woven fragments in a salt mine in Austria. Or really, one of several miners who left behind at least six pieces of tablet weaving. The oldest of the woven pieces, HallTex 288, a band of simple blue stripes, dates back to 1500-1200 BCE, which is about the time of the super-awesome rule of Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt. Objects 43 and 136 are also made with simple stripes. The other pieces, 123, 152, and 186 have more intricate patterns with meandering lines, solid triangles, and diamonds.
After the piece was found in 1991, a pattern was designed to recreate this piece, which is called HallTex 152, and is an easy beginner pattern.
I will create it for you today in the colors to celebrate the Kingdom of Atenveldt! This one is the pattern I’m using–I’ll call it option 1:
This is option 2:
About 25 years after this piece was found, Maikki Karisto and Karina Gromer did a deep dive into researching the piece to see if the pattern was accurate. Looking at photos of the front and back of the extant piece, the weavers determined that this was more likely a skip-hole woven piece and did a number of test weaves before coming up with a new-and-improved pattern.
They determined that the yarns used are .4 mm, both Z and S plied wool. The extant piece is 12.5 cm long and 1.2 cm wide. The original colors may have changed a bit, but the salt in the mine helped preserve the colors quite well. They appear to be yellow-tan, brown and olive green.
First of all, card weaving and tablet weaving–same thing. The terms are used interchangeably depending on where in the world you’re from. It is a form of narrow band weaving using tablets to form a shed (the space between the top threads and bottom threads), and a method of weaving that can create complex patterns. This not only shifts threads from top to bottom, but twists them around each other creating a very strong woven band.
A Bit of History
The oldest woven piece was found in a salt mine in Austria between 1200 – 1500 BCE. This means it’s quite possibly contemporary with Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt. Several more pieces were found in that same salt mine–the atmosphere of which helped preserve the fibers–which date from 400-800 BCE. Many of them were very complex patterns and the details of these have been analyzed for thread size, twist, color and method of construction, so we know exactly how it was made!
Tablet weaving continued to be a popular way of decorating clothing and household goods until about the 15th century when people started using beads, gems, embroidery and precious metals as decoration.
Looms & Weaving Methods
There are a number of ways that you can do tablet weaving, and you really have to try a few (or all) of them to figure out which is best for you.
This is a favorite among many weavers–the ability to weave almost anywhere, as long as they have a belt and a stationary object to attach to. This could be a pole, railing, banister, door knob, heavy chair, a very patient friend, or even a stick that is held under your feet. If, however, you find that you need to set down your weaving to chase after small children or animals, this may not be a very convenient method for you.
The Oseberg loom was found in the Oseberg burial, dating to about 800 AD. It consists of two upright poles, about 3 feet high (1 m) set about 6 feet apart (2 m). There is a crossbar between them and your weaving is affixed between the two posts. You sit at a bench to weave. This is a beautiful image to see at recreation events–Norse, SCA, or even high Middle Ages. You can even design them to disassemble for transport to and from events.
If space is a consideration, you can make a modified version with simply a 2 x 4 and a couple of thick dowels. This sits on a table and can be worked just as easily. You may need to clamp it to the table to avoid it sliding around.
For later periods, the box loom was the way to do narrow bands. These are perfect for having a small loom that can be set on a table top or even on your lap. It has a warp beam (the back rod for the unwoven strings) and the cloth beam (the front rod, for the finished weaving). This warps up like many rigid heddle or floor looms and may require assistance to get the proper tension, or some very creative methods of adding tension to the strings as you warp them onto the warp beam–a stack of heavy books or a moderately heavy chair, maybe.
The Surfboard Loom
A poor cousin to the Oseberg loom and perhaps a first-cousin once removed to the box loom, this simple set up is another great option.
It can be built using a few simple tools and is small and portable.
This loom is the youngest of the bunch, presumably designed well after the Middle Ages (patented in the 1930s!), but it does act as both warping board and loom, keeps even tension and keeps threads organized. Of all the methods, this is my favorite, causing me the least amount of consternation and irritability. It is, however, limited on how long you can make each of your woven pieces. Most weave between 1 to 3 yards depending on the loom design…but don’t let that stop you…you can always design a bigger loom…
When three yards isn’t enough…
There are several options for weavers to look for weaving yarns. Here are some ideas for what to look for, and what to avoid:
Wool: Wool hairs are made with little barbs that snag each other to form yarn when spun. Different methods of spinning can give different final products. You can have a very light, fluffy yarn that is soft on the skin, but doesn’t have the strength to be warped; it’s best used as a knitting yarn. You can also have a strong, smooth yarn with a lot of strength, which would be great as a weaving yarn. This is all based on how it’s carded and spun. So wool can be a great option, but you should look for a strong worsted weight wool. If you have some wool lying around, give it a test-tug. If it snaps fairly easily, it will likely snap under tension while weaving and you will cry. You should also check to see if the yarn is really…grabby. I don’t know what the technical term is, but if the wool threads stick to each other like velcro, they will do this while weaving and it will require a lot of extra patience.
Linen: A plant-based fiber that is reputed to be very nice to work with. I haven’t actually used linen yet, so I can’t offer any good advice on that. There are lots of beautiful colors and the fibers are known for being very durable and having a lovely sheen. I will be placing an order for a couple spools, just to try it out, and there are a bunch of colors here on big cones.
Crochet Cotton: This comes in a huge variety of colors in a few different sizes. I’ve done projects in just about every size available, but my favorite–and one that is close to period-accurate–is the size 8 pearl cotton that comes in the little balls (I’m sure someone, somewhere has big cones of the stuff…still looking for a good source). Most craft stores have this in stock–Ben Franklin carries quite a number of colors. Be sure to check color numbers on the spools to make sure they match. I once got several balls of red, only to discover later that I had two different shades of red (I didn’t notice it in the store, but sure noticed it when I got home!).
Cotton Carpet Warp: The Maysville 8/4 yarns are heavier than the crochet cotton–by about double–but it makes a nice, robust weave. If you’re making a woven piece for a cloak, a bag, a guitar strap or a dog leash, this is a great material to work with. It has over 80 colors to choose from and the big spools are under $10 each, so you can do quite a number of woven pieces using just a few basic colors.
SILK: There is nothing bad to say about using silk! There are two sizes available from my favorite Etsy dealer; the 60/2 — a really fine thread — and the 20/2 — about the size of the size 8 pearl cotton. The silk has a luster and sheen that is unmatched by other fibers, it’s a dream to work with, and it’s strong! You can get large cones for $30 each or small 100 yard spools for $5. I got some of the small ones initially to see how well it worked, and within a couple weeks, was ordering cones. I won’t be using it for every project, of course, but for those special pieces, absolutely.
Cards / Tablets
Period cards were made from a variety of products including bone, horn, antler, wood, and leather. There are a variety of sizes that they came in, the Oseberg tablets being about 2 1/2″ (6.5 cm).
Most of the cards I use are of the 3 1/4″ (9 cm) cardboard variety–it’s what I learned on and what I’m used to working with, and several people cleaned out their craft rooms and their cards kept getting rehomed with me–which is great for when I teach classes! I have hundreds of them and don’t have a need to add to the collection. However, my husband just bought himself a 3D printer and has kindly printed some smaller 2 1/2″ (6.5 cm) cards that I’m going to try out. They might be a little thick–I prescribed the dimensions for them–the cardboard cards are about .6 mm each and these plastic ones are 1 mm. There are a few different designs for tablet weaving cards available on Thingiverse, including some Oseberg reproductions, so if you have access to a 3D printer–or know someone that does–maybe they can print some for you!
If you don’t have that kind of technology at hand, you can always make your own cards. You will need some heavy paper stock–like cereal boxes or cracker boxes–or even a deck of playing cards. Here’s a link to some instructions on how to make your own: https://www.instructables.com/id/Make-Your-Own-Tablet-Weaving-Cards/.
Reading the Pattern
There are a few things you need to be able to understand. Looking at the pattern, you will see the numbers–1 through 13. These are the numbers of cards–one for each column. Best plan to write numbers on the backs of each card, which you will need to reference for many patterns.
Along the side are the letters A, B, C, and D. This indicates what threads go into what hole on which card. For example, card 5, hole A is pink; hole B is black and so on.
S & Z Threading
This is one of the most disputed items–is S and Z…does it mean the direction of the thread or the direction of the cards? Well, as long as you know how the pattern’s notation is written, you can do it how you choose.
My method is this–if you have clockwise lettering on your cards, face it to the right. If your letters are counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise), face them to the left.
From there, the patterns I use this threading method:
There are a number of shuttle options–I’ve purchased belt shuttles (6″ to 8″ long with a tapered edge) & short stick shuttles, made shuttles from scrap wood in the garage, and even a wooden ruler I found in the school supply box. Use what you have and experiment to find what you like the best.
Warping the loom–at least for circular warps like on the Inkle loom–requires the ends to be tied together. I use a surgeon’s knot so that it’s secure and easier to untie if/when you make a mistake.
While it’s difficult to describe what a weaver needs to do for tablet weaving, I will note that I start with the shuttle on the left and the tail through the shed, hanging out to the right. This is just my personal choice as I try to finish weaving at the end of a repeat and put the shuttle under a piece of elastic so the shuttle doesn’t fall on the floor…which had happened about 12 too many times before it occurred to me to tether that sucker down.
So the shuttle is on the left, the tail is through the shed to the right with a long tail (5″ or more long). Turn the cards forward once, and throw your shuttle through to the right and bring the tail through the shed to the left. The cross-cross of this weft thread helps anchor the weaving. Turn the cards again, throw the shuttle, pausing to lightly beat the weaving. Do then you can start to tighten up your weft threads to draw the band together. Repeat the turns for 2 to 6 more times, depending on how well you like the look of the tension. This takes practice…
Begin the pattern with AD at the top. You may want to view the video for further instruction:
Flipping Your Edge Cards
One thing to note is that this pattern is a zero-twist pattern–that is, as you weave, you don’t build up a twist like some patterns do, forcing you to either untie and untwist, use fishing swivels, or weave the pattern in reverse to untwist the warp. In this one, the only cards that build up the twist are the border cards. This can be easily fixed by either reversing the direction of the border cards–backwards instead of forwards–or flipping the cards from Z to S or S to Z, and continuing to follow the pattern as before.
Thanks for joining me! I hope you’re enjoying your weaving journey. Feel free to drop me a note on the YouTube comments if you have any questions.
One thing that tablet weavers experience frequently is twist in the warp that builds up until *something* has to be done about it. There are a few options that a weaver can consider.
You can untie and comb out the twist and re-tie…but that can create some exceptionally bad tension problems.
You can use a warp-weighted system that will untwist your warp as you go, but that is somewhat less portable.
Or you could try using fishing swivels, which is fine for a shorter warp, but when you’re doing upwards of 7 yards, like I am for this project, chasing the twist through a dozen or more pegs means you need another plan.
I’m sure that there’s a term for it…mirror image weaving…flip card weaving…or…untwist weaving…but I’m calling it Weaving in Reverse! This method weaves out the twist while still maintaining the pattern. Sure, it has a small variation in it, but it’s virtually invisible at first glance.
Here was my first attempt at changing direction. It has…elbows. Sure, it works, but it’s not hard to spot. I wasn’t really happy with it, so I experimented a bit…
And this is what I came up with!
A virtually invisible…or at least excellently camouflaged…design!
And this is how it’s done. First, you’ll be weaving the pattern from bottom to top:
When you finish this sequence, weaving 1 through 8, loosen the tension on your warp a bit and flip all your cards–S will become Z and Z becomes S. Then retighten your tension on your warp.
Then you need to weave four picks of a transition, which are rows 4, 3, 2, and 1, in that order. You will only need to do this once.
Then weave the pattern from top to bottom–8 down to 1–and repeat. The white squares are still forwards; the grey squares are still backwards.
When your warp has twisted too tightly in the opposite direction, you can transition back. After you finish your 8-1 sequence, you will need to flip your cards again, and your transition sequence is picks 5, 6, 7 and 8…then start at pick 1 and proceed through to 8.
Give it a try! Let me know how it works for you! If you have any questions, of course, feel free to reach out and ask questions.
I had planned to do a woven piece in celebration of Atenveldt, but I had a commission to work on and it seemed perfect to do a video and blog post on another Birka tablet woven piece!
This one was found in grave 824 and is known as Birka 22. It’s a brocaded tablet woven piece that dates from the 8th to 10th centuries.
This piece was one of several that were found in graves from that time period.
There have been several threaded in patterns that have been around the internet (Pinterest) but they seemed rather complicated. I then found one from Maikki Karisto and Mervi Pasanen (of Applesies and Fox Noses fame) that is much more simple!
I used that layout and put it into the tablet weaving pattern generator that I use so that the pattern is consistent with the way I’ve been teaching it. I love this pattern generator–it’s easy to use, doesn’t require a download, and it’s free!
Remember, the white backgrounds turn forward–away from the weaver–and the grey backgrounds turn backward–toward the weaver.
I warped this one up with 20/2 silk as it is to fulfill a trade with a woodworker to made a lovely Monster Loom for me! It holds over 13 yards (I haven’t actually measured it out yet), and it’s very flexible for doing any lengths of weaving over 3 yards. This is great for those longer commissions that I sometimes get.
You’ll notice that there are several pegs that were missed, which would add 25″ of length for each vertical space, plus the zig zag around the upper pegs. There are 100 different ways for warping the thing, and two tension bars, so lots of options.
When you get doing, you can do each repeat of the pattern in about 2 minutes, which means in about 21 1/3 hours, I’ll be done. If I work 4 hours a day, I can get it done in under a week…we’ll see how long it really takes.
Welcome back! We’re jumping right into the next weave for the MIDDLE KINGDOM!
The Birka (or Björkö) digs are some of the most famous of Norse historical finds because they are SO PLENTIFUL and have items from all over Europe! Located 30 km West of Stockholm, this trading city was founded in 750 AD and was under the protection of the King of Sweden, whose home was just a couple miles away. During the 200 years the island saw trade activity, goods came from all over Europe, as far away as the Middle East, as evidenced by a silver ring from a Viking-era grave with an Arabic inscription from that era found in Scandinavia. They have also found rare items like Chinese silk, Byzantine embroidery, pottery from Rhineland, furs and antler combs from the Sami people in Finland and Russia, and a number of silver Islamic coins called Dirhams. The trading center at Birka closed rather suddenly around 960 AD, and trade activity relocated to Sigtuna, though the reasons for the shift are disputed. Some suggest that it may have been due to land rebound from the post-glacial period; that the topography changed significantly enough to make Birka difficult to access by sea. The complete collection of archaeological finds from the excavations on Björkö are held by The Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, and many of the artifacts are on display there.
Quite a number of tablet woven fragments were found in the excavations, including today’s project, known as Birka 12, grave find 735.
Many of the bands were done in a style known as brocaded card weaving, where precious metals were woven into the surface of the tablet weaving, creating a beautiful (and shiny) pattern. Some of the pieces have rotted almost completely away, leaving only the metal threads, which still bear the impressions of the patterns on top.
From these finds, designs sketched up as to what the patterns may have looked like 1200 years ago.
However brocaded card weaving is a very advanced form of weaving, and other tablet weavers have created patterns using the threaded in technique based on these designs. This is the pattern for the one we will be doing today. I have also added a lovely braided border on the edge for a little extra fun!
So get your 17 cards and either 2 or 3 colors of yarn, and let’s get warped!
Remember to face your clockwise-labeled cards to the right (counter-clockwise to the left) and thread according to the S and Z on the chart below (S through the left side of the card; Z through the right side).
Once your cards are all threaded according to the pattern, begin by turning all the cards forwards, throwing the shutting through the shed after each pick. Tighten up your weft threads after a couple of passes until the warp threads are snug against each other, but not misshapen.
Start your cards with AD at the top for this pattern (like most of them out there) and begin by turning your cards forwards–away from you– for four quarter turns.
Then separate your cards into two packs–cards numbered 4-8 slid towards you, and the rest of the cards away from you. Turn those cards in opposite directions (1-3 and 9-17 forwards; 4-8 backwards) for three quarter turns, throwing the shuttle after each pick.
Then change directions for those inner cards–1-8 and 15-17 will turn forwards and 9-14 will turn backwards for 3 quarter-turns. Once all the cards are in their ‘home’ position (AD at the top), repeat the pattern by turning all cards forwards 4 quarter-turns.
Then the border threads become over-twisted, flip the cards (so S becomes Z, and Z becomes S) and continue weaving as before.
If you want a bigger challenge, you can try the skip hole version, found in “A Simplified Guide to Historical Tablet Weaving.” by Dagný Svensdóttir and Bjorn Sæmundarson. I’ll be doing this one in An Tir colors! (As I do not yet have permission to publish the pattern, I cannot supply it here at this time.)
Every once in a while, you’ll present a woven bit with documentation and someone will say, “Uhhh…that’s not quite right.”
So that just happened.
Luckily, it was presented in a very respectful manner by an influential tablet weaver that I admire…so it’s all good! Thank you, Aisling!
The Ladoga bands appear to be *skip hole* woven, not 4 threads per card. Despite the archaeological sketches and patterns provided in the research, the pattern that was provided doesn’t match the findings. You can see in the text of the Academia.edu paper that it was woven on twelve 4-hole cards with 27 warp threads total. Yeah, 12 times 4 is not 27…. so clearly something was amiss from the beginning. However, unless you add a third thread to one of the cards, you’re not going to come up with an odd number… 12 x 2 is 24; the extra four threads are for border cards; each get 4 threads, which results in 28 warp threads. Perhaps the archaeologists miscounted, or there was some other error in transcription.
So I got back on the tablet weaving generator and worked up a pattern. I warped up my loom (while my German tablet weaving friend slept) and had the pattern and weaving underway by the time she was up and checking her email. She confirmed that I got the pattern right and I was delighted! (Although I later was dissatisfied with it and made a few more alterations…) The result is this new pattern:
The result is a very dainty band that measures just under 1 cm wide, even with this 8/4 cotton carpet warp.
Are you confused? Overwhelmed? Not ready for this pattern?
Don’t be cast down, dear weaver; the 4-threads-per-card pattern *works* and gets approximately the right design, but the technique is not period-correct. As a beginner, this is FINE…you get the same look while learning the ropes, but now you know that the period technique is slightly different…and more difficult, so don’t fret if you’re not ready for skip hole. You’ll get there…in this series, even!
The first episode of the YouTube video is in the final stages of editing (it was very long and complex for the Getting Started video–the next ones should come out much more quickly).