Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tablet Weaving... Also Known as Tablet Heaving

I like order. There! I admit it!

I took to rigid heddle weaving like a duck to water because it's so damn orderly. Everything perfectly in its place. There's a beauty to that.

But eventually, if you're going to leave your comfortable nest and stretch your wings into greater authenticity, things will get messy.

That's what my first attempt at tablet weaving has been. Messy. Now, I kept it as gloriously ordered as I could, but in the end I did spend some time screaming verbal... let's call it encouragement... at a rather stubborn section that did not want to cooperate.

Okay, I may have had to seriously restrain myself from heaving it out a window.

But I didn't start there. I actually started moving towards greater authenticity in my trim weaving by going to the local weaving store: White Rock Weaving. I wasn't sure what sizes/types I'd need, so I relied heavily on the staff recommendations. In addition to some 5/2 pearle cotton I wanted to play with, I bought three ounces of Hammersmith 100% virgin wool and two kinds of 100% flax linen by a brand called Fibra Natura.

Rigid Heddle Weaving with Wool

The first new fibre to test out was wool. To sum it up in three words: It breaks. Often.

It's possible that this was just a problem because of the specific wool type, but every foot or so the weft would break on me. That's not horrible, but when one of the warp threads actually broke I was more than a little verbally abusive to it. In the future, I'll try to get a more finely spun wool... if that's possible.

Dyeing and Rigid Heddle Weaving with Linen

After the frustration of the wool came the relief of the linen. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I wasn't able to get my hands on a natural blue dye. RIT to the rescue!
For another length of my white linen, I decided to try one of the natural dyes from the dyeing workshop I attended last January at Runs with Scissors, Plays with Fire.

I took a couple tablespoons of Jake's turmeric and put them into two disposable tea filters. I didn't want the actual spice to get out and gunk up my yarn, and I was very pleasantly surprised that they worked so well.
The weaving store only had a small selection of colors - I didn't realize that the blue I dyed (the remnant is shown in the middle of the wooden spool) was nearly the exact same color as the company's Regata (#103)!

The turmeric yellow is shown here on the end of the wooden spool, and is so bright it's nearly neon!

And, finally, here are the three lengths I've woven with a rigid heddle. The left two are what remains after I finished my last apron dress project. The turmeric-dyed yellow and white looks like an albino python!

I thought there would be a little more contrast between the two, but if I remember correctly, turmeric is one of those dyes that fades with light exposure.

Card/Tablet Weaving with Cotton and Linen

And, finally, we come to the pieces I wove today as I experimented with tablet weaving. The pattern I used came from "Forward Into the Past: Beginning Tablet Weaving."

The green and white piece came first, while I figured out how to set up the loom and move the cards. I chose a 3/2 pearle cotton because I'm trying to phase it out of my collection. I've been really gravitating towards the finer yarns lately, so I figured it would do well for a potentially throw-away piece.

The design I chose was a repeating chevron pattern that used six cards at a time, for a total number of 24 threads. I cut them to only two yards, because that length allows me to get a feel for a project but isn't long enough to feel terribly wasteful if things don't go terribly well.

I learned a lot of things from this project: 1) How the threads at the end will wrap around each other as you weave, 2) That as cool as the diamonds are, the "X" designs are just as necessary, and 3) Counting things is very, very important.

I tried to put those lessons to their best use with the blue and white piece. Instead of letting my design go straight to the edge, I added a single color card to both sides. I was also very careful to count the numbers of chevrons between each element, in order to keep things balanced, even, and not to wound up at the back.

Since I figured this piece would eventually be attached to a neckline, I decided to go ahead and make it like I meant it: Enough length to be used in a garment and with an authentic fibre content. I decided to go with the linen.

I had no idea at all what I was in for. In case you don't know, the movement of the turning cards is a whole heck of a lot more intense on your threads than a nice, simple rigid heddle. I generated a small flurry with all the linen fibers coming off this project! Let's just say it's not good for those of us with allergies and leave it there.

When I switched from 3/2 pearle cotton to linen, I was expecting a much thinner profile. With all the threads turning and moving through the project, the band itself is about twice as thick as what I'd make on a rigid heddle. I figured the thinner fibers of the linen would keep it a little less bulky, but it' still pretty thick. I think I'll have to find an even finer linen if I'm going to make something that can go around the neckline of an undertunic or underdress.

But that being said, I'm still pretty proud of myself. I taught myself how to do a simple tablet-weaving pattern - and completed two small projects - less than 24 hours after receiving my cards in the mail!

The last project I did used a period method, with period fibres, and period colors. It's the most authentic trim I've ever made, and while it was incredibly frustrating at times, I do look forward to making garb that is even more authentic.

I still love my rigid heddle, and while I am not going to be putting it aside, I do see myself adding projects like this one to my future queue... especially with Steppes Artisan coming up!


Ewing, Thor. Viking Clothing. Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, Inc. 2006.

Gl├Žsel, Nille. Viking Dress Garment Clothing. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2010.

Schweitzer, Robert. “Beginning Tablet Weaving.” Forward into the Past. 2 April 2011. <>

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