Viking-Age Tablet Weaving

  

 

Material Sources in BC:

Silk:

Once you weave with reeled or spun silk, you'll never go back! I use Thin-Spun Silk or Very Thin-Spun undyed (natural) silk 50g skeins from the Silk Studio in Vancuver, Canada. 

Linen:

Some of my weaving is in linen or a combination of linen and silk warp ends. This has been recovered from several Viking-Age settlements throughout Denmark, probably to draw out the precious silk enough to complete bigger projects. This image shows open areas along both selvage borders, indicating a linen or help warp was used along each selvage that has now eroded (Geijer 1938):

 

I usually find linen at events through fibre merchants. I also found a fibre shop in Revelstoke, BC that carries inexpensive linen cones in natural and undyed linen: Talisman Fibre & Trading Company. Janet Pearson, the owner, is a very friendly weaver. All the linen she carried tends to be two-ply and about the right diameter for Viking-Age tablet weaving (0.25 - 0.33 mm).

Natural Dyes:

I usually get my dyes from Maiwa Prints on Granville Island in Vancouver, BC: they do ship to the states, or else I get supplies through events merchants or I grow my own. The quality of the dye stock at Maiwa is rich and consistent but the in-store staff are generally not knowledgeable about these dyes. For more information and tips on dyeing see Viking-Age Dyes.

Looms

These can be hard to find. Generally it involves bartering with a carpenter, building your own, finding one online or at an event. There are some key things to look for; a good sturdy design, the ability to alter the tension (Ie. a tension bar, clamps, etc.)., having one verticle side of the loom open or swing down makes it easier to warp. This loom was designed for me by Adam Fairmay from the Barony of Lions Gate, An Tir:

 

The first time I saw tablet weaving was at an event in 2001. It was trim being woven by the women who would become my laurel, friend and general cheering section: Mistress Yrsa Ketilsdottir (Yrsa's Wiki page).

Simply put, I feel in love with this form of weaving. The variety, the colours, techniques and designs from the Viking Age tell of a vibrant Northern culture and remind me of some of the beautiful First Nations designs on the west coast of British Columbia. I generally tend to concentrate on tablet weaving based on finds from Denmark and Sweden though I like to weave pretty much anything.

My weaving has evolved over time and is now generally done with 100% silk at a diameter of 0.25mm and hand dyed with natural dyes. I've focused on using dye material that have been confirmed from throughout several different Viking Age settlements and include; madder, indigo and woad, weld, cochineal (as a replacement for Kermes), bedstraw, etc. 

 This way I can experiment with dyeing, weave with silk and create patterns at an appropriate scale. Trying to dye with lichens from the same Genus as from the Norse tablet weaving finds is on the horizon.

Click here for historical tablet weaving patterns

Double-faced Technique

This method works well for recreating a variety of period decorative trims. The piece on the right is a typical piece from 9th century Birka. Several extant pieces depict two to three repetitive angular designs separated by crosses in saltire (the 'X's).

Other examples from Birka are designs set on diagonals like the following one made with silk in indigo, cochineal and weld:

The instructions and patterns for these designs can be found in the handout Introduction to Double-Faced Tablet Weaving Technique on the Class List and Handouts page.

Here is an example of using double-face and gold-brocading at the same time. This piece is made with silk dyed with indigo and madder and used real gold:

 

 

Tips for Double-Face Norse Tablet Weaving:

  • Work in silk not wool if you're weaving decorative trim. It's stronger, weaves more easily and gives cleaner, more defined designs. It also takes up dyes very well as well as being the chosen material for a lot of the extant decorative trim examples from the Viking period (not including tablet weaving used in conjunction with larger weaving projects).
  • Designs for Norse Viking-Age trim tend to be grouped by the number of cards required per design. For most of the patterns I've drafted from photos of extant pieces, the number of cards required is between 25 and 28. Once you have chosen a couple of designs you can alternate between them- you can also work with any number of designs as long as they have an odd number of rows to the drafting pattern (please see the  Introduction to Double-Faced Tablet Weaving Technique on the Class List and Handouts for more information on these techniques).
  • In terms of colour choice, there are a lot of options. Colour choices such as blue, yellow, green, pink, purple and red are all generally good. Please see Viking-Age Dyes for an overview of known dyes from this period.

Wire/Filé-Brocading Technique

This technique usually involves a warp and weft of one solid colour and an auxilary weft made of a precious metal; gold or silver. The vast majority of these finds involve drawn wire beaten flat and wound around a silk core (Filé) or simply a thinly drawn wire (30 - 32 gauge) as has been recovered from the Birka, Sweden settlement:

 
 
 
 
These two photos are of wire-brocaded tablet weaving recovered from Birka taken from Agnes Geijer's Birka III (1938).

This style of weaving involves a shuttle for the regular weft and another shuttle with a pointed front for the brocaded or 'auxiliary' weft:

After this photo, I've switched to small wooden tablets (4 cm x 4 cm) which is more appropriate for this type of weaving. The next step? Creating my own Filé in both silver and gold for the recreation of the Mammen cuffs. This plan has been delayed by my move to Cape Town from Vancouver. Hopefully I can find a way to try this out, if so- it will appear in my Latest Stuff section.

 

Combining Double-Face and Wire/Filé-Brocading

This has been a fairly involved experiment as I don't know any other tablet weavers attempting this (though I'm sure they are out there). This involves weaving using the double-faced technique with an auxilary weft woven in after each pick. It's long and involved but creates an interesting product. I got the idea from a photo from Geijer's book that clearly shows an example of this combination has been recovered from Birka:

This piece is about about 100 inches long and took many hours. The weave was dense enough that I had to use 1 yard of metal filé per inch of weaving. Sadly, I had to turn to imitation gold embroidery floss due to cost. 

Future Directions

I've been enjoying collecting Norse designs and drafting patterns to help spread Viking-Age patterns throughout the SCA. I'm thinking of collecting them all in a small book, for now a bunch can be found in the handout: Introduction to Double-Faced Tablet Weaving Technique on the Class List and Handouts page.

In additional, I'm examining how to incorporate working tablet woven borders and salvages and doing these on a number of different looms for edging woven fabric.

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