Recently started tablet weave with teaspoon-beater

I first tried tablet weaving not long after joining The Vikings, and really didn't get on with it. I came back to it a few years later, and got on fine, doing some reasonable stuff in hardy linen thread (though it was a little on the thick side) and some that was pretty-good-if-I-say-so-myself in Appleton's Crewel Wool (which is uneven, weak, and snaps all the time!). Then, with moving house and Real Life I'd not done any for ages, but recently I've made moves toward starting again.

If you don't know what tablet weaving is, it's a way of making "narrow-ware" .i. fabric tape or ribbon. Longitudinal threads ("warps") are run through holes in the corners of square cards ("tablets") and secured at each end all at the same tension (or as close as you can get). The "weft" (crosswise thread) is wound around a thingumy for ease of handling (the "shuttle") and passed in the gap between the upper and lower layers of warps (the "shed") leaving a little loose loop on the old side. Then the tablets are turned to trap the weft and create a new shed, and a "beater" or "weaving sword" (I use the handle of an old, cheap teaspoon) is used to firm up the new weaving to the weft before the weft is drawn tight. Then you "throw" the shuttle again, turn, beat, draw, and keep repeating...

So, it was at a show at Corfe Castle that I was reminded of the existence of somewhere I'd been semi-aware of, The Handweavers Studio on Seven Sisters Road by Fisc. She also told me of what seemed like the Holy Grail, woollen thread that is fine enough for authentic weaving, in period-achievable colours, even along its length and strong enough not to snap all the time, "hard spun" wool (I think she said this is done by spinning it wet?) available from The Handweavers Studio. She also forced me to accept a handful of nice little cards...

Hardly a week later, as luck would have it I was at a seminar in London for work, and Seven Sisters Road is only a couple of stops beyond St Pancras, so nature took its course and I came away with a quantity of wool and a bit of cotton too for experimenting without wasting the good stuff.

At the same time, I was privileged to have half an eye on the development of some excellent guidance on tablet weaving and narrow-wares being produced for use within The Vikings, though unfortunately given work and renovation pressures I was unable to pay as much attention or contribute as I might have hoped. One of the key points is that the majority of "woven in" tablet weave isn't really right, and "double face" is much better.

"Woven in" is where the pattern is made by threading warps of certain colours in a certain configuration, differing across the cards, and then turning the cards a set number of times forwards and backwards to make the tape or ribbon (this is usually referred to as the "band" or just "the tablet weave").

For "double face" all the cards have the same colours in the same holes, normally a background that matches a border of a couple of all-the-same-colour cards at the edges, and a second colour for the pattern. You then always turn the cards twice in whichever direction they need to go, and turn different cards forward or back so that their background or pattern colour rises to the surface of the band, thus making the pattern.

A couple of weekends ago now, I sat down in one of the deserted upstairs rooms in our wreck of a house, and for the first time ever warped up for double face between the legs of our camp table. As I hadn't warped up anything at all for at least 18 months, this was not as much easier than warping up for woven in as it should have been. I'd come up with a pattern of crosses to try, which helped me to get my head around the rising/falling forwards/backwards mindset of double face, and then began to experiment with getting other designs, though the narrow width of the band (I was only using 10 cards, and it's quite fine cotton) was fairly constraining. A picture of the result's below. It's not the best in the world, and thanks to the smallness of the table I was weaving under not quite long enough to use as a hat band as I'd hoped, but I think it's quite cool and it was a useful learning experience.

Finished band (and my mandolin)

As you can see, you can make a number of different and interesting patterns, and there's the potential to do a lot more than I managed in a short, narrow first attempt, and it's really fine - the woolen I have is a very similar thickness to this cotton.

For comparison, some woven in tablet weave in heavier linen which was the best I'd found for not-breaking previously. It's reasonable smart, but doesn't really come close for fineness and though clear and distinctive its single, set pattern is less interesting than double face has the potential to provide:


Woven in tablet weave after the style of Snartemo II

This woven in "M" pattern is based on a find from Snartemo and is fine to use and can be done only using two holes per tablet for faster/easier warping up and less chunky finished weave, and I'd still do it or something like if for long pieces, but for properly posh stuff double face has to be the answer and offers more interest. There's less to go wrong with warping up (note the detailed warping notes in the above picture), and if something goes wrong in the weaving I found as I got near the end of my test piece I could see how to "back up" and undo mistakes, which is notoriously challenging and can lead to very-wrong-looking issues if woven in goes wrong. I think the process of showing/hiding the pattern helps to develop an better understanding of how the weaving actually works, which has got to be good.

And if its anything like as good as the cotton for weaving with, hard spun woollen will also certainly be a pleasure to work with - the other problem with the linen is I really needed a different, thinner thread for the weft: you can see weft ends that're too fat to come tight in the woven-in picture, which shouldn't really be there. Despite lack of practice and uneven tension, this was less of an issue when using finer thread all round.

So if you want to be one of the cool kids around the camp, get down to The Handweaver's Studio and consider learning double face.