12th – 16th Century Tablet Woven Brocade Class Notes and Handout

One of my favorite classes to teach is Brocaded Tablet Weaving in the 12th – 16th Centuries.  I bring handouts to the class, and when available, also use projectors to add to the class.

Both files are long, and use a lot of color, so I have attached them here for download.  Please feel free to share and use with accreditation.

Presentation Notes:

12th – 16th Century Brocade Tablet Weaving Presentation

Handout:

12th – 16th Century Brocaded Tablet Weaving Handout

 

Which loom to chose?

One of the more common questions among beginning tablet weavers is what loom to purchase or build.  Starting a new hobby with a $80+ investment can be a bit intimidating, especially if you just want to try it out.

Here are the looms I use in my preference order, along with notes about each.

Peg Oseberg Loom

1.  This is the simplest loom I use, and my favorite.  Its 2 vertical pegs, each a 6″ piece of a 1″ dowel, pushed into a board.  I have several board lengths from 24″ to 48″.  They’re incredibly portable and durable.  Using these is very close to the Oseberg-style vertical looms used throughout most of the SCA time period.

  • Using these does mean measuring your warp on a different surface.  I usually use chair legs on the table.
  • I hook a drawstring pouch over one peg to hold shuttles and thread when traveling or storing my loom.
  • These are wonderful for brocade or missed hole techniques because the cards rest on the surface of the loom and don’t twist around.
  • There is no easily adjustable tension.  For small changes I’ve twisted the warp around the peg a bit, or tucked something under the end of the threads to add a bit of tension to them.
  • Josefina Alfdis Nelson commented that she uses one like this too, with a great suggestion! But I tie a slip knot in the warp and tie it to the pegs with lucet cord. This lets me adjust the tension by tightening or loosening the cord rather than the whole warp.”

Inkle Loom

2.  The inkle loom was my first purchased loom, and its still a wonderful workhorse.  The style is entirely modern and there’s nothing quite like it used in SCA time period.  However, it is portable, very beginner friendly, and adaptable.

  • Warps can be measured directly onto the loom without a separate warping board.
  • A pouch looped onto the first upright can hold shuttles or threads.
  • Adjustable tension – enough said!
  • Circular warps or speed warps make setting up the loom fast.
  • The cards hang on the threads without a supporting surface, this can make them prone to unintended twisting or movement in lower tension setups.
  • The space between the front peg and the top peg on the front arm is your working area.  Depending on the size of the loom and your pattern, this can make dealing with twist frustrating as it will have to be pushed back over that peg.

Box loom

3.  There is some evidence of box looms like these being used late in the SCA period.  They’re also very portable and have a lot of easy tension adjustment.  However, they can be more of a challenge to set up.  (The um, unique, weaving here is courtesy of a very eager 4 year old.)

  • Warps must be measured separately before being put on the loom.  There is an album on my Facebook page (Libby Cripps) on how to warp up and begin weaving on this type of loom.
  • There is no where for tension to go, patterns must be reversed or twist neutral to weave.
  • It’s important to keep the warp neatly stacked up when rolling it onto the loom.  Uneven warps can cause tension issues later in the weaving project.

Oseberg style loom

4.  Oseberg style loom.  This type of loom is 2 upright poles with some kind of spreading base and feet holding them up.  Some illuminations show a center horizontal shelf as well.  The name comes from a Viking ship find that contained one of these looms, while the style continued to be shown in illuminations all the way into the 16th century.

  • Warps do need to be measured separately before being set up.
  • The larger size takes up more work space and is less portable.
  • Most of these today are designed to disassemble easily for transport.
  • The weight of the cards has a lot to do with the tension on this type of loom.  Loose tension can also make cards want to slip out of order and flip around to the outer side of the pack.
  • Loose uprights can also cause changing tension as one is weaving.
  • The weaver works from the side of the loom instead of the front, this is different than most modern setups and can be disorienting.

Board loom

5.  These type of board looms were one of the first I was introduced to.  They’re fairly simple to make – a 48″ board has several end pieces trimmed off of it, then stacked up and drilled through.  Carriage bolts are used to secure them.   The warp is threaded back and forth through the boards to hold tension.

  • Like the peg and Oserberg-style loom, these can hold warps of any length.  Excess can be rolled onto bobbins or chained crochet style.
  • Cards do rest on the board surface, making this easier to use for brocade or missed hole technique.
  • Advancing the warp or adjusting the tension requires mostly disassembling the loom and redoing the setup.   This can be time consuming.
  • Keeping even tension can be challenging.

 

Other Options

Warp Weighted:  One of the oldest styles of weaving is using weights, generally of clay or stone, to keep downward tension on a warp that has been attached to a fixed surface at the top.  This technique can accommodate any length, and does not require complex equipment.  I don’t have photos or use a loom like this as I have small children and dogs.  Dangling weights would be the coolest toy of 2019!

Courtesy of Ann Karen Gronbeck-Peterson, this is one style of warp weighted loom shown in later period illuminations.  She gave the following woodworking instructions:

This is about 4 feet tall, with the sides & bottom made of 1 X 4 lumber. It is about a foot wide, a couple of inches narrower than my shuttle, so that the shuttle can be parked in place when I’m not weaving. There is a piece of bark-on Silver Maple about 2 inches in diameter at both the top & about 6 inches up from the bottom. The top piece of Maple is fastened in place a couple of inches from the top; with 2 nails in each end of the Maple, through the side boards so that it is stable. The bottom piece of Maple is cut about 1/8″ shorter than the top one, & has only one nail through the board into each end; and to allow for winding on of finished weaving, a hole is drilled through one side of the board frame & into several spots of the end of the Maple for a pin to hold it from unwinding. I use a wooden clamp to attach the bottom board of the Loom to a 3-legged table which I made.

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Backstrap:  This is another no equipment needed way to try out tablet weaving.  Attach one end of the warp to your belt, and the other to a fixed surface.  (I used a stationary bicycle my first time!)  By leaning forward or backward you adjust the tension on the warp.  There are backstrap kits that add use bars to tie the warp onto with hooks to go over your belt.

 

 

Starting and Finishing Tablet Woven Bands (and some other hacks!)

On Facebook there is a wonderful group of artists called Historic Tablet Weaving.  It’s an amazing source of knowledge and inspiration.  One of the posts that pops up fairly frequently I see in several other band weaving groups is how to start or finish bands so that they don’t unravel.  I made these two videos:

Beginning Tablet Weaving

Ending a Tablet Woven Band

I hope these are helpful!

In addition, one of my favorite “hacks” is to deal with twist by warp weighting some of my cards in a pattern.  For example, Ram’s Horn is a commonly used pattern that has two cards that build up twist constantly, while the rest of the pattern remains twist neutral.  Warp weighting just those two cards allows me to continue to weave quickly, while easily handling any twist build up.

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12th Century Tablet Weaving: Inspiration and Creation

My favorite area of research is the late 12th / early 13th century in Western Europe, primarily France, Germany, and Italy.  I’ve got an incredible amount of close up photos and statuary for someone who’s not been lucky enough to visit those areas!

Just recently I stumbled on an incredible treasure, the Gospels of Henry the Lion.  Written sometime between 1175 – 1188 the book is INCREDIBLE (a few peeks are above!).  The pages are full of gorgeous full color illuminations and they’re simply breath taking.  I could rattle on for quite a while, but I’ll try to keep focused. If you’d like to check out more of the manuscript, it’s here:  http://diglib.hab.de/mss/105-noviss-2f/start.htm

I’ve had this stunning red orange overshot fabric set aside for a new bliaut, and this time I decided to weave trim for it.  As I have a small child, I wanted a more durable woven in pattern than an elaborate brocade, but still wanted to be true to the styles of the period.

Drawing upon the statues at Saint Loup de Naud (detailed photos below), I decided on a simple pattern using a mix of diamonds and diagonal lines.

Notes on color choice:  One thing many artists struggle with is creating images with up close and distant impact.  The single BEST tip I ever got was to take a photo of your planned colors in black and white.  If there’s clear contrast, your design will pop in color as well.

For this, I chose colors from the manuscript – a burgundy 2/20 silk from Eowyn De Wever and a light teal silk I dyed myself.   The pattern is 26 cards wide with a chocolate colored 2/20 silk border for contrast (personal aesthetic).

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I’ll use the trim along the neckline of the dress as well as the sleeves.

Squirrels and Birds and Rabbits OH MY! a Viking age animal brocade band

Elisenhof E-415 Brocade Tablet Woven Band

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Historical Basis:  Elisenhof was an 8th century settlement in northern Germany.  There are 254 textile finds from the area, mostly poor to medium quality.  The record of these finds was published in 1957 in Die Textil-Und Schnurreste Aus Der Frühgeschichtlichen Wurt Elisenhof by Hans-Jurgen Hündt.   To the right is a section of the photograph of the band.  Sadly, the band itself seems lost to history.

When examining these photos and drawings in the book it is apparent that a lighter warp was used with a darker weft.  The weft is thicker than the warp, and brocaded to create stylized animal shapes.  The band is about 14.5” long and varies between .5 to .7 inches wide.

The band has 20 pattern cards and no border cards.  The cards were threaded with tightly spun S threads.  The threads were incredibly fine, only .2mm thick (most sewing thread is about .3mm).   The band and brocade threads are wool in several shades of brown.

Of note, the band was attached to an interesting arrangement of tighter and looser packed threads along with a braid.  Also of interest is that there does not seem to be a supplementary or main weft, but the back of the band shows the brocade weft jumping back and forth across the band rather than always entering neatly from one side and using a second thread to hold the band together.

Tools & Materials:

In Period:

  • Dark copper brown and light brown wool spun at superfine thread weight
  • Tablet weaving cards
  • Brocading shuttle

My work:

  • Blue and White wool thread (Jaggerspun 2/20 wool) in tribute to Atlantia
  • Tablet Weaving Cards
  • Brocading shuttle
  • Inkle Loom

 

Notes:

Commercial fibers are generally spun in a S twist, but then plied (two fibers twisted together) in a Z or clockwise direction.  This neutralizes the twist and could be one reason bands made with commercially produced wool do not have the strong texture of the original band.  I was unable to source wool spun so finely in an S spun direction so used the smallest I had on hand.  This accounts for the size difference between the original band and mine.

There were no references to tablet weaving cards in the finds at Elisenhof, however from other finds such as the Oseberg ship and Birka trade city, we know that bone, leather, and wood tablets were all used in the 8th century.  I used wood cards on this band.

As with the cards, only speculation could be used to decipher what style of loom was used to weave a band with once it’s removed.  The Osberg ship find, also 8th century, contains a loom where the band is woven between two upright poles.  The inkle loom I chose uses a similar tension method, but with a horizontal orientation instead of a vertical one.  This wouldn’t change the weaving method or the finished project.  It may affect how often reversals are needed to handle tension or to push tension out the loose threads at the back of a straight warp.

Technique:

I began with Hans-Jurgen Hündt’s research as I had the book from a previous project.  The animal shapes in the diagram at the back were intriguing as was an all wool brocade band.

Also, in honor of Atlantia, I selected white and blue as my band colors.  Like the original I used a lighter background with darker brocade threads. The brocade weft in the original was triple ply to make it thicker than the warp threads.  I used doubled thread for my brocade weft.  As I wanted to keep the back of the finished project neater, I chose to add a border and supplemental threads to allow me to keep the brocade hidden in the middle of the band.

I warped 24 cards in pure white, wove a header, then used a fine shuttle to thread first the supplemental thread, then the brocade thread through each row.  When I needed to change threads, I ended the old and began the new thread on the middle of the back of the band.

 What went wrong:

               I chose to weave directly from the original drawing of the band rather than recreate the pattern into a more familiar style and work from it.  Though the drawing (included below) is incredibly detailed, it did still leave questionable areas where the notations did not make much sense from a weaver’s perspective.  Also the inclusion of broken threads made counting challenging at several spots along the band.  Unweaving wool is incredibly challenging as it really loves to felt when twisted into a tablet woven band.

Next time I’ll:

I enjoy the animals from this band and will use the pattern again.  However, modern aesthetic leaves me wanting to finish edges and tops so that they form smooth outlines and there are no uneven edges.  I will also probably use silk as it is my preferred weaving material. I also want to experiment with colors in brocade.  The dark blue brocade weft made the white look greyish where it passes in between the cards.  I’m curious to see if and when this color change will show through on different materials, thicknesses, and colors of threads.

 

Bibliography

Hansen, Egon. Tablet Weaving: History, Techniques, Colours, Patterns. Hovedland Publ, 1990.

Hundt, Hans-Jurgen. Volume 4 of Elisenhof: The Results of the Excavation of the Early-Historical Marsh Settlement at the Elisenhof in Eiderstedt 1957/58 and 1961 / 64. Long, 1980.

15th Century Tablet Weaving: Brocade and Pearl Placement

Continuing my research on the Cod. Pal. germ 551 I have a theory about the pearl placement as described in the first section of the book.

The first several patterns are described as roses, rosebuds, or little roses along with a “wecklein” for each which looks like a leaf or stem.  I don’t have a good translation for that word yet.

Most of these roses have lines describing where the pearls are to be inserted in the band, and these come in two very distinct fashions.

Type 1 reads like this:   Raise 9 tablets, take the 10th and place one pearl therein.

Very simple right?  The one note is that “raise above” means the warp thread on top, not the brocade thread.  Otherwise this is an incredibly simple description of where exactly to place the pearl on that line.

Type 2 reads like this:  Raise 3 tablets, and take 2 under and over 3 tablets and take 2 tablets and place a pearl therein.

This is a much more complex explanation and is what is the basis of my theory.  

The pearl-holding thread could also be a decorative element in the band.

 

In which case, I would take my brocade thread inside the warp for 3 tablets, over the warp for 2, back under for 3, and then place my pearl.  This would create an additional brocade thread on top of the warp.

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Page 2 Design

Evidence:  While there are no actual extant bands from this book (to the best of my knowledge) there are bands from the same time period that use multiple colors of brocade thread to create and accent patterns.  One example is the 15th century band on the chausible at the Ösmo church, Stockholm, Sweden.  (http://historiska.se/upptack-historien/object/95622-masshake-av-textil/).

Additionally, we see a very common standard of balanced patterns in embroidery, weaving, and trim throughout this period.  The patterns themselves are evenly balanced from side to side.  Ignoring the extra over and under steps results in a band with pearls lumped on one side and the other left blank.  While it can be erroneous to apply modern sensibilities to period taste, 180 pages of patterns in this exact manuscript show a preference for evenly balanced designs.

Current Steps:  I’ve been working to create a Rosetta Stone of sorts.  Many of the words and phrases are repeated throughout the manuscript and I’ve been slowly transcribing the handwriting, typed words, and translation as provided by Mistress Drea of Atlantia.  I’ve also begun drafting patterns keeping these revised thoughts about pearl placement in mind.

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Page 1 Translation

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Cod Pal germ 551: a 15th Century Brocade Pattern Book,Translation & Transcription

I am incredibly excited to tell you about a project I have been working on!  The Heidelberg University has scanned in a full German manuscript from 1471 that includes a treasure of brocade patterns.  Including patterns for beading with pearls!  The manuscript is in excellent condition, and the scans are very detailed.

Take a peak at the link below!  I had the book printed and spiral bound at Staples.  The original manuscript is about 7.5 x 10″ so only slightly smaller than the letter size paper used here.

Preview of the printed Cod. Pal. germ 551

When I first began researching this book I wanted to really “see” the patterns, so began by just transcribing them onto a graph style instead of the numbers format used in the book.  This allows us to see a picture of the design and is a method more commonly used today.  I went through the first 200 pages of the manuscript this way.  I printed graph paper, but then worked entirely by hand.  Here is a preview of those graphs:

200 pages of Cod. Pal. germ 551 patterns

I also wove a selection of the designs.  Initially I chose designs that were error free and repeated easily.  I sampled these using 60/2 silk dyed a dark blue with a 2/20 silk brocade thread in light gold.  I am using wooden cards, and a simple U shaped wooden loom.  The 15th century painting of a woman brocading in the Book that fist Jehan BOCAC de Certalde of the cleres and noble women, which he sent to Audice de Accioroles of Florence, Countess of Haulteville guided my selection of loom, cards, wooden weaving swords, and wooden bobbins.

 

brocade

This is one of the sections I have woven:

tablet

I had a theory that I had actually patterned the bands backwards – what I had charted as brocade was the ground threads and vice versa.  Through the assistance of Mistress Drea translating the German text in the manuscript, I was able to confirm my theory.

Meeting people who could help with the German text made this project even more exciting, and I decided to start again at the beginning.  Already I was recognizing patterns of words that repeated themselves and with an actual translator to help a whole new world of options quickly opened up.

My goal with the project is to end up with a hand written manuscript that is easily understood, and to the best of my ability, true to the intentions of the original writers.

 

As the book has pages that are lined and ready to be written on, I chose to also create a template page.  I created a lightly lined grid paper that was the same size as the original book, and offset to eventually allow for binding.  I began at page 1 with Mistress Drea’s assistance on the German language.  These are the initial results:

Each page contains the original pattern as written, including any miscounts or errors.  (I will admit these often evoke a chuckle of empathy as I have certainly had similar mistakes in my own pattern making.) To the right side I have made notes about the placement of pearls and any suggested pattern changes.  I will be continuing this project and adding pages to the blog as they are completed.

Meanwhile you are likely to find me in a position remarkably like this one (Thank you Mistress Brig for the photo!)45931285_718359625208720_6429065953299922944_n

Note:  Claudia Wollny, whose work I admire and deeply respect, has announced the publication of a book inspired by this manuscript.  Copies are available for preorder at this time, and I believe will be shipping to the US this week.  I began this project before her announcement, and we have been working separately on our interpretations of the original manuscript.  I’ll finish my work before ordering a copy of Claudia’s book.