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