Card Weaving

kestrel is graciously sharing her woven artwork with us, and she’s taken the time to teach us about how this type of weaving is done. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s fascinating.


Card weaving (or tablet weaving as it’s also called) is a very ancient craft going back quite a ways. A very wonderful find was the Oseberg ship with two women buried in it. Among the many textiles found, there was also a loom with the warp still attached to the weaving cards. However historians believe card weaving is much older than this 9th century find. Card weaving was a technique people used to create very strong and sturdy as well as ornamental bands. Some of the very ornamental bands seen in religious textiles were created this way. 


Although I used to weave quite a lot, for whatever reason, I had never tried card weaving. I’d had to give up weaving (there was no room for my very large loom and I had to sell it) but recently I decided I wanted to weave again. My big loom was gone, but you don’t need much to do card weaving. 

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These are the tools I’ll be using: that big wooden thing is called an inkle loom, there is a boat shuttle for holding the weft yarn, a batten or sword for beating the weft tight, some cards and of course, some yarn. For this type of weaving, you don’t actually need a loom. You could also tie the warp threads to a stationary object like a door knob, and tie the other end to your waist and then lean back to tension the warp threads. But I had an inkle loom and thought, hey, why not use it? OK, let’s get started! 

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The warp threads are lying on the table in the front. I measured each one so they are all the same length. You use a warping board for this and it’s not as dreary as it sounds. This weaving will require 100 warp ends. What I’m doing here is threading the cards in the correct order for my pattern, and then winding the warp onto the loom. At the ends I’m attaching a piece of string, which I’m then tying to the start of the same warp threads. This makes each group of warp threads continuous, so that I can pull on the weaving as a whole and advance it along the loom. I worked out a path through the dowels on the loom that match my length of warp threads. If you look at the very left hand side of the loom, you can see the tension bar. This is so I can tighten or loosen the warp as I go along. 

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This shows that cards can be threaded two ways: from the front to the back, as the group already on the loom is threaded, or from the back to the front. Each pattern (or draft, as they call it) will indicate which way the cards should be threaded, and where each thread of what color should go. Cards can be made from anything flat and sturdy; these are professionally printed cards made from very stiff cardboard. People from a long time ago used very thin wood, bone, leather and so on. I have another set I made from an old deck of playing cards. I painted the edges of my cards a different color for every edge, and this helped me do the pattern correctly. 

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Now the warp is tightened up and all the warp ends are worked to the edge of the tension bar so I can start to weave. Tightening the warp turns it from a messy pile of string to something that is much more ordered. Also, my set of weaving cards only had 24 cards, but this was a 25 card design – so I quickly and easily made an extra card from an old cracker box. 

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A weaver’s eye view of the work in progress. The way this works is you turn the cards a quarter turn forward or back, as your draft instructs. For this particular pattern I was turning the main cards forwards 8 quarter turns, then back 8 quarter turns. My edges, 2 cards on each side, I turned continuously forward, making the edges look almost like knitting. I struggled with the selvedge on this but towards the second half of the weaving finally started to get a feel for the right tightness in the weft. 

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This is the end… my warp ends are right at the top of the last dowel, and I’ve run out of room to turn the cards and to pass the weft thread through the shed. I had to switch to a stick shuttle at the end, as my boat shuttle was too big and would no longer fit through the increasingly smaller shed. 

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A view of the shed. You can see it’s just not very big anymore. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Now I have a nice new band. A wonderful surprise was that the pattern was different on the other side of the weaving! I think that’s pretty cool. A band like this could be used for a guitar strap, a belt, a strap for a tote bag, edging on a coat… there are a lot of possibilities. If you had a band like this, what would you do with it? 

This was a lot of fun and I’m sure I’ll do more card weaving. It actually went pretty quickly, and I was surprised how fast it went. I thought it would be hard to remember the pattern and not make a mistake, but actually it was pretty easy and I quickly learned to “read” the pattern as I was weaving. Coloring the edges of the cards was a big help to me; I quickly learned where I was in the pattern by the colors on the edges. All and all a very successful experiment. 




  1. says

    That turned out very nicely. I like the simplicity of the equipment -- all of this could be easily built with a few screws, some wood scraps, and a sheet of cardboard. It is, in fact, giving me ideas on making ornamental “damascus” micarta.

  2. Jazzlet says

    Wow! I am deeply impressed, I find complex weaving almost magical and quite difficult to grasp. I would love to be close to you so I could come and watch to get a better understanding of how it all works to make the pattern, I undertand that twisting the cards changes the order of the warp threads, but my brain then goes bluggaluggle-erp. It works better when it can see things like this* in three dimensions.

    I think I would use some for an Alice band -- they are useful for holding the whispy hairs out of my eyes especially if I’m out walking. I might also use some to trim some of my single colour tops, I’ve been thinking I want a little more pattern in my clothes, and that I could get it by trimming some of my existing clothes with small patterned fabric, but actual braid like this would do a lovely job, this example also happens to be in my preferred colours!

    *Probably my favourite part of my favourite museum, the Pitt Rivers part of the University Museum in Oxford, is the ection on the making of cloth. The Pitt Rivers groups it’s exhibits by function rather than origin, so you can compare the different ways humans have developed to get to the same end.

  3. kestrel says

    @Marcus, #3: Um. I think that’s a piece of bog oak? But maybe I am mistaken. However, you are correct -- whatever that wood may be, I got the piece from you and then turned it into a weaving tool. Because why not have beautiful tools?

    @Jazzlet, #2: Weaving is super fun and in a more ordinary world not overwhelmed by a pandemic, you could probably go and see it demonstrated all kinds of different places. If you want to see it done, see if your area has a local weaving guild. Many places do. You could check at the local yarn shop; sometimes such places have bulletin boards or something similar announcing meetings and so on. In any event this is a very easy type of weaving, as I said you can literally tie your warp ends to some stationary object and the other end to your belt and weave away. Why not try it? There are some very nice books out there and this is not a difficult technique. I grant you that I’m an experienced 8-harness weaver; even so, this is my very first try at this, and it came out great and totally useable for adorning tops or making hair bands with!

  4. says

    I used to do some card weaving with nothing more than my metal bedframe and some beer mats with holes punched through. It’s a lovely design you have there, kestrel. But two questions:
    1: Is there anything you can’t do? Because you are sharing so many great things with us.
    2: Do you live in the TARDIS? Because you’re also running a farm and I’m amazed at the work you do.

  5. avalus says

    Very well done, looks great!
    A friend of mine does lots of card weaving, it is amazing watching her create.

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