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Beginners Guide to Tablet Weaving

~How to draft and create patterns using the forward/back


By Viscountess Caoimhinn and HL Aine
(MKN Zoe McDonell: walkazon@hotmail.com
& Sally Mennill: chassegalerie@yahoo.com)


Tablet weaving is one of the most diverse and widespread forms of weaving in the
world. It was found in almost every European, African, South American and Asian
culture with the earliest known evidence coming from Egypt nearly 3000 years ago. In
the SCA, tablet weaving can be used in one form or another to embellish garb for almost
any culture and place. There are many forms of tablet weaving, with the forward/back
method being a good introduction to tablet weaving while still allowing the weaver to
express creativity in both colour choice and pattern.

Outline of Class Topics:

1. How tablet weaving works
2. How to draft a pattern
3. How to warp up
4. Steps in the weaving process
5. Problem solving

1. How tablet weaving works

There are two types of weaving threads; the warp and the weft. The warp strands
are the strong vertical threads which sit on the loom through which the tablets are
threaded (see Figure 1). The tablets (or cards) are threaded onto the warp threads as the
threads are being secured on the loom, or however you are securing the warp, such as
from a belt to a door knob. The tablets are then aligned (more on this later) and turned as
one unit. After each quarter turn of the tablets, the weft thread is passed through the shed
(see Figure 2) securing the weaving as you go along. The loom is considered warped up
when all the warp threads have been put on.

Figure 1: The four components of tablet weaving include the WARP and
WEFT strands which are woven together to form the weaving, this is
done by turning TABLETS containing four WARP threads and passing
the WEFT through after each quarter turn, the WEFT is the thread wound
around the SHUTTLE.


Figure 2: The triangular area between the weaving and the tablets is called the shed. The shed is where the
shuttle containing the weft is passed through.

How the weaving is actually made:
There are four strands per tablet and as the tablets are turned, individual four-
stranded cords are formed (see Figure 3). New cords are formed on each quarter turn on
the tablets and are open like a Y back to the tablets. By passing the weft threads through
the shed, the cords are brought together into one unified woven structure creating the
tablet weaving:

Figure 3: A close-up of the tablet weaving structure is formed from individual cords (4 in this example).

2. How to draft a pattern
Its a good idea to start tablet weaving with a relatively low number of cards until
you feel more comfortable with the process. Lets begin with a pattern requiring 12
tablets. Start by taking your stack of 12 cards and labeling each hole on a tablet with a
letter from A to D like this:

Now onto the drafting:
You will now need graph paper, or you can make your own with a ruler. Create a
grid that has 12 columns and four rows and label it with numbers across the top and the
letters A to D in the following way:

You can use up to four colour different colour strands per tablet. Each square in
the grid represents a warp thread you will place through a specific hole in a specific
tablet. For instance, the four squares in the 1 column represent the strands that will go
through the A, B, C and D holes in you first tablet. Once you choose your pattern and
weave four quarter turns, the weaving should look exactly like the pattern in this 4 by 12
grid. But because our weaving process involves turning tablets four times forward and
then four times back (more on this later), our grid can be expanded by four more rows
with the pattern mirrored horizontally on itself like this (mirrored between the two D

The weaver can now create a pattern using a grid that is 12 by 8 squares with the
understanding the pattern is going to mirror itself above and below the mirror line
exactly. For instance, lets say we want to make some trim that looks similar to this:

We can see that the pattern is repeating itself in an open diamond formation with
a simple border. You can now fill in your grid, adding a border and recreating the
diamond border. In this photo, the weaving was done with more than 12 tablets, but we
can make a similar design:


As you can see, the pattern is exactly mirrored above and below the mirror line.
So to get a diamond pattern like this, your original 4 by 12 grid needs to look like this:

This pattern now tells the weaver to have the four holes in the 1
tablet warped
with blue strands, three white strands in the second tablet (in the A, B and C holes) with a
green warp strand in the D slot, the 3
tablet needs to have white strands in the A, C and
D slots and a green strand through the C slot, etc.
There are a great many patterns that can be accomplished in this manner. The
weaving in the next example is not mirrored on itself but is achieved by turning all the
tablets in the same direction for the entire length of the trim (this type of weaving is more
challenging because cording will form on the other side of tablets and needs to be
untwisted: a lengthy and frustrating process).

Chevron patterns like this one require an odd number of tablets to make sure the
point of the chevron is only on one tablet (in this case the green and yellow points are
achieved on the 6

There are huge variations in patterns that are possible with the
forward/back technique and there are good websites out there with
programs that let draft patterns online. Google tablet weaving patterns
and youll find lots of information. For example, a good free software
package can be found at: http://www.guntram.co.za/tabletweaving/ .

3. How to warp up
You do not need a tablet weaving loom to start weaving. Tablet weaving can be
done by attaching the warp to an anchor point such as a door knob and your belt. I used
an upside-down ironing board for my first year of weaving.

Now that you have the pattern all ready to go, you need to pick up some strands to
weave with. Wool is a popular choice in the SCA (and there are a lot of wool examples in
period) but remember that your warp will be under a lot of stress and tension during
weaving and your strands need to be strong. If you can snap a strand apart using your
hands with little effort, this is probably going to snap during weaving and cause issues. I
love to weave with silk though it is more expensive (almost all Viking-Age tablet
weaving was done in silk). A local source for silk is on Granville Island
(http://www.silkweavingstudio.com/findus.html). They sell commercially, hand-dyed and
undyed silk strands. You can also use crochet cotton, sock yarn- basically anything with
enough strength to the yarn.
So once you have your pattern drafted and you have an idea of how much
weaving you want to make and have picked out your colours you are ready to warp! Now
is when I make up a model strand. A model strand is the length you want all your warp
strands to be for your project. I take a piece of yarn, tie it to my anchor point, put it
through a tablet and tie it off at the other end (be it on a loom or a belt, etc.). I now know
exactly how long each strand needs to be. I then take this strand and use it as the length
model for every warp strand.
Look at your pattern:

Start with tablet #1. Cut four blue pieces of yarn the length of your model strand
and tie them to your anchor point. Your tablets must now be threaded. Unless you are
using a pattern that specifically tells you how they should be threaded, the rule is to
alternate on what side the threads should be put through each
tablet. In other words, your tablets should alternated S, Z, S, Z, S,
Z for all the cards. S and Z refer to whether the strands go through
the front or back of each tablet:


Start with S on your first tablet and thread them like this:

Keep going with each tablet, looking at the grid pattern you made up to see which
colour strand goes in which hole, alternate with each tablet the side the warp strands go
through and try to tie each strand so that the whole warp has the same tension. You want
a good, tight tension for your warp, this allows your tablets to turn without any tangling.
As you weave, the tension will increase so have a plan as this happens; you can move
your chair closing to the door knob, use a tension bar (a wrung that can be moved to
change the tension on the weaving) if you are on a loom, etc.

4. Steps in the weaving process
a) You should now have a sturdy warp in front of you with your tablets sitting
together in one pack. Turn each tablet to make sure the A D holes are at the
top (level with the top warp strands). Well start with four forward (away)
turns of the tablets.
b) Take whatever colour your outside colour is on your two outer most tablets
(tablets 1 and 12) and wrap a bunch onto your shuttle (say 3 meters), this is
your weft (or use a different colour but it will show on the sides of the
c) Tie the end of the weft off at the section of warp nearest to you. Bring your
weft threads across, leaving a two - four inch loop on the far side to pull tight
after the next tablet turning.
d) Align the deck all together with the A D holes up.
e) Hold the deck in your off hand and turn them 1 quarter turn away from you
(the C D holes should now be up).
f) Place your shuttle within the shed and beat the weaving by pulling the
shuttle evenly towards you and rocking it backwards and forwards slightly
twice at the interface between the shed and the weaving. You want a firm,
even pressure to ensure an even weave. I use both my hands for the rocking
motion. Then pull the loop you left on the far side tight afterwards.
g) Pull the shuttle out the other side and leave the same-sized loop on the other
h) Now give the deck another 90 turn forward (the B C line should now be
up), keep using the same motions with your hands to build muscle memory
and use the same shuttle technique as above.
i) Keep turning and bringing your weft across until the A D line is once again
at the top and then start turning the deck towards you (turning backwards).
j) You want to change the direction of weaving (forward or backward) every
time the A D line is at the top. I keep track of which direction I am weaving
in by turning a pencil tip forward or backwards or shift a penny, or whatever
system works for you. Having a visual cue to the direction can be very useful
when your mind wanders

5. Problem solving
How much warp to use: Measure out how much tablet weaving youll need for a specific
project and always warp 20% more than that amount. This is for two reasons- one, youll
always need more room to turn the tablets than the finished product and small amounts of
warp are taken up each quarter turn in the weaving process which slowly eats up and
tightens the warp.

Snapping a warp strand: Easy to fix! Take out the old strand and note the colour. Now tie
off a new strand in the same colour at the end of the warp, put the strand through the now
empty hole in the tablet in same alignment as the other strands and pin the new strand to
your weaving on the underneath side. Keep weaving normally and the strand will
naturally get woven in, cut the tail underneath the weaving after you have securely woven
in the new strand.

Running out of weft: When your weft is low, pull it across the shed, cut it and leave a 6
inch tail. Wrap new weft around your shuttle, pull the shuttle thru the shed in the same
direction, this time leaving a tail on the other side of the weaving. Keep weaving
normally and after weaving a couple of inches, cut off the two tails:

Sounding good at Events (getting some of the vocab down):
Warp: Individual strands of the warp are called warp threads or warp strands, the
entire mass of warp threads is called the warp. The weft is only ever called the
Pick: Each pass of the weft is called a pick.
Brocaded tablet weaving: When an additional weft (auxiliary weft) is used to
create a pattern visible on only one side of the weaving. During the Viking Age,
precious metals such as silver or gold were used: this is called Metal-brocaded
tablet weaving.
Wefted-faced Tablet Weaving: When a design is visible on only one side of the
Double-faced Tablet Weaving: The pattern is created by warping tablets with two
or more colours per card, aligning all cards in the same orientation then proceeding
to shift individual cards in opposite directions per quarter turn.
3-1 Twill Tablet Weaving: The pattern is created by warping cards with two or
more colours per card, cards are then aligned with every second card shifted
forwards by 90. Weaving then proceeds as per the double-faced technique but
drafting the pattern unit and the finish product are distinctly different.
Shed: The shed is a triangular structure formed between the tablets and the weaving
through which the weft is passed.

Figure 4: Examples of Viking-Age tablet-weaving from the Swedish town of Birka (Geijer 1938).

There are a number of good reference books on tablet weaving, the best still being Peter
Collingwoods The Techniques of Tablet Weaving:

Also useful:

TWIST (Tablet Weaving International Studies and Techniques) group, there is also an
SCA sub-group through them: http://www.weavershand.com/

There are a number of articles on tablet weaving specific to each time period and culture-
many can be accessed through the internet with a little digging.

Good luck and happy weaving!!!


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