I know tablet weaving is old, but it was still very cool to see a fragment of a tablet from the Viking period in the Orkneys. It’s made of bone and, though broken, still quite lovely!
Like loom weaving, tablet/card weaving has a shed into which you pass the weft. The shed is formed by the gap created between the top two threads and bottom two threads in each card.
Now here we are looking at the shed from the side and I’m showing just one card for clarity. The weft is passed through the gap in the threads closest to the weaver.
If you’re a loom weaver, you’re probably thinking that this is all fairly familiar and that’s right. The principle is the same.
But what happens when you rotate your tablet/card? Let’s look at that:
You can see the threads that make up the top and bottom of the shed change slightly as the holes in the card/tablet are rotated. So in the first image the top of the shed is made up of the threads from the D&A holes. After the tablet is turned, the top of the shed is made up of the threads from the A&B holes.
This is a terrible photo for colour accuracy, but shows the latest of my experiments in tablet weaving. It’s quite narrow (6mm) and the cotton is a bit shiny, so it’s a little hard to photograph well.
In my description of how the twisting of the warp yarn works in tablet/card weaving, I mentioned it created a warp-faced weave. In this sample you can make out just the odd spot of dark weft showing through the purple and teal warp (that’s what the colours are supposed to be!). All the rest of the weft is hidden inside the twists.
This was created by having three holes in each tablet/card threaded with the purple and one teal. During set up I turned each card so that the teal thread was one position further away on each card, as this gives you the > shape as you weave (called chevrons). The teal thread on each card is only visible every four picks/four turns.
The direction of the chevrons was altered by changing the direction I rotated the tablets in, starting by turning them away from me and then turning them toward me. It’s a bit lumpy where I changed direction, so I still haven’t gotten that quite right! Still, I like the result in such pretty thread.
Now I probably started these posts on tablet/card weaving backwards and this should possibly be the first thing I should have covered… but well, I started with the practical set-up stuff first instead!
This post is about the basic concept of tablet weaving, which is that turning the cards causes the warp threads to twist around each other like you’re making cord. By pushing a weft thread in place between turns, the weft is captured and held in place by the twisted warp.
The twisty nature of it is what makes it a different way of weaving. It also means it is largely warp-faced (the weft is hidden by the warp) and dense because of the twists.
The quirk of this style of weaving – at least to this weaver! – is that I think you can grab some cards/tablets and a set of instructions / pattern and just get going. Of course there’s a lot more you can learn about how it all works, but it struck me as being dead simple to get started with!
There are a few different ways you can warp your tablets/cards, but it doesn’t hurt to thread one card at a time and get a feel for working with the four holes and your colours.
If you are warping for a pattern, remember to keep the colours in the right order as you move around the holes in the tablet (e.g. black, black, red, red), but remember that you can rotate the card at the end to ensure the right colours are at top and bottom. Essentially it’s the order that matters when you warp!
You can start with as few as eight cards/tablets, but many patterns ask for more.
Once you’ve warped, you need to adjust the cards in two directions. First which card are angled to the left or to the right (more on this in a future post). Generally you want at least the outermost card on each side to angle a different way to the ones in the centre. Two is even better, but obviously that depends on how many cards you’re working with.
Why do this? Well, it stops your finished weaving from twisting in one direction.
Then you might need to rotate them toward or away from you to get the colours you want on the top. If you’re doing something simple, like a stripe, you can just align the cards so two of the same colour appear in the top two holes, but you might offset them to create chevrons, or something even more fun!
This is your starting position.
So, once you’re all lined up and you’ve got the ends of your warp tied and under a bit of tension, you can pull those tablets down toward where your hands are and start to weave!
Now, in tablet/card weaving the cards will all be edge-on like in this picture here. The shed is made by the top and bottom holes closest to you and it’s always a good idea to clear the shed with your fingers before passing the weft.
You can tie your weft thread into a little butterfly if you don’t have a shuttle and, like in any loom weaving, you just pass it through the shed and then you change the shed. I beat after changing the shed, because the shed is quite open so the weft can spring out again otherwise!
To change your shed, you rotate the cards a quarter turn away from you.
This means the hole that was on the top, closest to you, moves to being the hole on the top at the back. (In the diagram A would move to D’s position.)
In coming posts, I’ll talk about how the shed change works and how the angle of the cards affects the direction your threads are twisting in – yes there will be diagrams! Before that though, there’ll be a short post just on the way that tablet/weaving captures the weft (that’s a nice easy bit).
In some ways, tablet weaving is the simplest thing in the world, because you just need some yarn and a set of tablets/cards. You can tie the ends of your warp to pretty much anything and you don’t need a shuttle for your weft. You don’t even have to buy cards/tablets if you have a hole-punch and some cereal boxes.
Your tablets/cards should look like this:
And they shouldn’t be too small or too large, but there’s a fair range of usable sizes. You need to be able to turn them comfortably and you don’t want your shed to yawn too wide, but online I’ve seen them as big as a DVD (actually made from a squared off DVD/CD) and as small as a credit card.
What you do want is to have them as smooth as possible. You don’t want the holes or the edges snagging or cutting your yarn/thread.
Next you need to pick something to tie one end of your warp to – remember it’ll need to hold position under tension – and traditionally the other end would be tied to your belt while you stand/sit and weave.
Choose some yarn. You can use almost anything from sewing thread to chunky wool, but to see what you’re doing clearly and get used to turning the cards/tablets, it’s probably a good idea to start with something like a 4 ply knitting yarn.
Then you warp. I’ll cover this in the next post!
I’m still tablet weaving. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun.
It is also inhibiting my blogging through sheer distraction…
I kept mucking up the pattern, but it was still entertaining!!
Guess what I got for xmas? Wooden tablets for tablet weaving (also called ‘cards’). I don’t have a picture of me clutching them tightly and grinning like a fool, but that’s a good description of how happy I was!
For those not familiar with this type of weaving, it’s very simple, very portable and very, very old. Generally done using a backstrap (i.e. the warp is tied to a fixed point and to the weaver) and creates bands. The bands have been found in archaeological sites as belts, straps and edgings on garments, but they have about as many uses as you can think of for a narrow band.
I tied my warp onto my loom (took the heddles out) so I could try it with familiar tensioning and here is the first attempt:
This band is about 1.5cm wide and done with 2ply cotton. As you can see I was messing around trying things, including part of a pattern on the right. It’s those type of patterns that are part of the attraction!
You might wonder why I haven’t gone and gotten an inkle loom if I’m interested in making bands, as that’s what they’re for, but I have to admit it’s not the output that interests me; it’s the method. Partly because I like history…there’s one famous Viking archaeological find that actually contained tablets on a warp, so I’m attracted to this fascinating continuity of history in doing tablet weaving.
It’s also a technique that is structurally very different from loom weaving. The result is a warp-faced, dense fabric with a lot of potential for geometric patterns. Mind you, you can weave tabby/plain weave using tablets if you want.
Obviously, I’m going to be weaving and posting a lot more tablet weaving bits and bobs!