Advanced Tablet Weaving

Four Decorative Techniques

Colin Severne, OL Class at the Collegium Caidis, September 2000

Double-faced double turn tablet weaving I usually just refer to this technique as “double faced” because that’s the way I learned it. Other weavers will call this “3/1 repp” (a reference to the ribbed structure) or “doublefaced double-turn.” Regardless of the name, this is a technique which lends itself well to a variety of pattern uses, including lettering, knot work, and simple representative graphics. The basic unit of design for this technique is a thread which floats over 3 shots of weft and is tied down by one shot; because of this, the “pixel,” or basic design unit, is elongated, and special care must be taken to accommodate this long shape when designing. I prefer to use a computerized graphing system, and set the graph unit to a 3:1 rectangle. The surface is fairly durable, and much stronger than brocade, which should be considered when making ribbons, trims, or belts which will receive a great deal of wear and abrasion. During the time period of the SCA, this technique was not as widely used as 3/1 broken faced twill, which is a technique I have never actually used, and won’t be able to answer any questions about, but Peter Collingwood goes into great depth about it in his Techniques of Tablet Weaving. To begin: The warp is set to the HOME position, so that all white threads (or the background color) are to the front (closest to the weaver), and all the black pattern threads are to the back (furthest from the weaver). Weaving in basic 2F/2B progression will yield a band of solid white. Before beginning any pattern section, I like to weave a few shots of background; this can be skipped if you are doing a pattern which will need to join to another piece for trim work. Once you have the basic weave down, make sure that you have your cards in the home position (see above) and then look at your pattern, and begin separating your pack of tablets into two packs. The pack furthest from you will be the pattern pack, and the pack closest to you will be the background pack. Turn the cards in the background pack 1F, and the cards in the pattern pack 1B. This should cause your background area to remain white, while your pattern area becomes black as the black threads are brought to the fore. Beat and weave this shot, and then turn the packs one more turn in the same direction as you just did (1F for the background, 1B for the pattern) and beat and weave. Now, your cards are in what I call the “anti-home,” position – the black threads are all to the front, and the white threads are all to the back. Any time you are in either the home position, or the anti-home position, you are able to change cards from pack to pack. BE CAREFUL NOT TO SHIFT CARDS AT ANY OTHER TIME. I also like to watch my shuttle… if you began with the shuttle on the right, you will end up with it on the left after the first shot, and then back on the right after the second shot. Any time your shuttle is on that same side, your cards should be in the right position to shift packs. Depending on your pattern, it may be easier to bring all the cards back into one common pack, or it may be easier to just shift individual cards. Either way, you simply follow your chart line by line. I like to use a pin on my pattern, to keep my place. You will notice that if you have the cards all threaded in one direction (either S or Z) that when you weave the plain background, the weave will be straight, but when you shift to pattern color, there will be an angled stitch. An alternative way to set this warp up, is to alternate cards across the warp, threading one S and the next Z (or flipping them so that they alternate). This will produce a plain weave which looks like a knit, with the threads making V shapes across the warp; some weavers prefer this look. This weave is reversible. Lettering will only be legible with a mirror, though!

Icelandic Double Weave This technique produces a true double cloth. Each turn of the tablets will create two sheds, necessitating two shots with the shuttle. If you weave in plan weave (no pattern changes) you can make a cloth which is “hinged” on one side and opens out, or you can create pockets in the weave. With two shuttles, you can actually create two fabrics at once. If the weave is patterned, the pattern threads link the two layers of cloth, making for a very thick, sturdy textile. This will proceed very much like the double-faced weave, with one major exception: the cards are turned on their corners. Begin by turning the cards in the same home position as before. Turn the cards one eighth turn backward (that is, tip the pack onto its corner), so that there is a white thread on top, a black thread on bottom, and one of each in the center. Weave the top shed, weave the bottom shed. Now, turn one quarter turn forward, so that again there is a white thread on top, and a black thread on bottom. Weaving this in plain weave with one shuttle, making a circular path each time, will result in a fabric tube. Weave several passes in plain weave to get accustomed to working with the double shed; it can be tricky when it comes time to change packs and work on a pattern. To work a pattern, you separate into packs as for double-faced weave. In the background pack, continue bringing up the white thread – one turn forward, one turn back. In the pattern pack, turn the opposite direction, which will bring the black threads from the center up to the surface, and take the white thread to the bottom. Changing cards from one pack to the other with this technique can be a little challenging… pay attention to the threads on the top hole of each pack, and make sure that when you switch from one pack to the other, you make the cards match up with their new packs. This weave is not one of my favorites; I much prefer double-face or brocade for producing graphic patterns.

Brocade: The essence of brocading is a supplemental weft floating over selected cords and being tied down by other cords to produce a pattern. There are several ways to achieve this effect. I prefer to use the tablets to manipulate the threads, other methods involve using a pickup stick or special leashes tied around the cords. Some historical pieces, especially ones which use gold for the brocade, are designed with a technique called throughbrocading; this means that the brocade weft goes all the way through the band, appearing on the back at any point where it is not showing on the front. The brocading I do is called surface brocading; this means that the supplemental pattern weft goes through the main shed when it is not on the surface of the band. This produces a one-sided pattern. It is possible, although not easy, to produce a pattern on the back of the band which differs from the front. This is not a historically supportable technique. To begin with brocading, you need to have an even weave, preferably of a solid color or very simple pattern to avoid distracting from the brocade. I like to use the solid color double-face background weave for my brocade backgrounds, because it creates a nice solid appearance and supports the brocade well. Bind your supplemental weft into two or three shots with your main weft, to anchor it firmly, and then begin your pattern. Make a shed and pass through the main weft, leaving the supplemental weft to the side. To select the shed for brocading, push the tablets that will be brocaded over (the pattern pack) away from me up the warp, and put your index finger through the main shed. Then, turn the tablets of the pattern pack with your free hand, two turns forward. If you have difficulty with using both hands like this, you can use a pencil or a stick to hold the place instead of your finger. Place a second finger (or stick) above the first, and you will find that you have trapped all the threads of the pattern pack. Now, turn the pattern pack two turns backward, releasing the twist. These tablets have essentially done nothing – they have just idled, going forward and back with no weaving – but they have surrendered their threads. Pass the brocading weft through the shed, making sure to go above the threads you have captured. Turn the main shed, and beat, and you are ready to repeat for the next line. This technique uses a pixel (basic graphic unit) which is approximately one and a half times as long as wide; it allows for a lot more graphic complexity than brocade. If you choose to use square graph paper to graph your brocade patterns, be aware that they will elongate somewhat in the weaving process. Brocade can be done with multiple colors; you simply use additional shuttles of weft, and repeat the selection process for each color. It is not fast, but the effect is striking. In order to achieve the appearance of a solid area of color, it helps if your brocade weft is slightly fuller than your main weft. This will allow it to “belly out”, or spread over the area above the shot of main weft, and appear more attached to the bars of brocade weft on either side of it. I find that using multiple strands of brocading weft is helpful; if I am using a size 10 crochet cotton, I typically use cotton embroidery floss with all six strands, pulled apart and then wrapped together, to eliminate the twist. Multiple strands are especially helpful when the brocading fiber is very fine, as in the case of many metallic threads.

Egyptian Diagonals This is a beautiful technique, but the historical support for it is entirely conjectural. It is referred to as Egyptian, because it mimics the diagonal patterns seen in many bands (which would appear to be belts) in Egyptian paintings. No extant pieces exist which would support the idea of these bands being tablet-woven. Set up the warp by rotating the cards so that the first one has A in first position, the second card has B, the third C, fourth D, fifth A, and so on across the warp. When woven straight forward, this will result in diagonal lines which slope to the upper left; when woven straight backward, it will result in diagonals sloping up to the right. To create the diagonal-bordered shapes, separate the cards into packs; one pack will turn backward only, the other forward only. A wide variety of effects can be achieved, ranging from diamonds to Celtic-looking key patterns. If you wish to make a sloping diagonal border between two sections, move two cards every second turn from the one pack to the other. Moving the cards only on every other turn will maintain the whole warp in the A-B-C-D pattern, which is essential to the technique’s overall attractiveness. The sections which are turned all one direction will have a tendency to curl, especially when the twist of the tablet cords agrees with the twist of the yarn. You may wish to place a border of plain weave, or tablets turning in one direction consistently, on either side of the diagonals to maintain a flat even band.