There are a number of reasons tablet weave into existing fabric. For instance, you can finish edges of dresses, to combine lining or facings with the outer fabric (sturdy and decorative). You can use it to piece fabric together, described with many types of embroidered bags. In both of these cases, a needle and thread form the weft, and the tablet weaving essentially forms a tube around the raw edges.
You can also use tablet weaving to create a selvage onto fabric. It makes a nice finish, and more handily, allows you to apply the finishing techniques from warp-weighted woven fabric onto store-bought fabric. Satu Hovi, for instance, describes this as one of the steps in faking the finished look of an iron age Finnish apron. That is the application I am describing here.
The process is quite similar to how a piece of fabric woven on a warp-weighted loom would be finished. Hoffmann describes this process at length in her warp-weighted looms book (which is totally worth hunting down). At the end of the weaving process, the warp of the cloth would be used as the weft of the tablet weaving, with threads of the cloth’s warp taken through the tablet weaving shed, the cards turned, and taken back through the shed a second time and then trimmed, making a very tidy end to the weaving. Alternatively, this tablet woven edge could also be used to attach the spirals found in Finnish iron age shawls, or the fringed edges found in numerous shawls in northern iron age Europe (Collingwood has some nice photos of these).
I have found the best way to do this is an ad hoc loom with the warp stretched over a table. This allows the fabric to lie flat on the table and makes it easy to pull the fringe through the shed. Less fabric wrangling.
The tablet-woven edges in the Finnish iron age textiles are typically produced during the weaving process. As with other warp weighted weaving, tablet weaving is used to set up the warp (see Hoffman for descriptions of this), and then also used to finish the final edge once weaving is complete. In the Finnish finds of the crusades era (that’s Baltic crusades, you Jerusalem-focused folks), these selvedges were likely woven using cards oppositely threaded with two threads. Because this makes an edge that isn’t attractive or particularly solid, I threaded the bordering cards with 4 threads (also described in the Sarkki thesis of awesomeness). A threading diagram would essentially be a border card, 2 cards threaded A-C, two threaded B-D, 2 cards threaded A-C, two threaded B-D, and a final border card. These cards can all be threaded in a S or Z fashion, as long as all are identical. I liked using JaggerSpun Maine Line 2/20 worsted wool thread, which closely matched the weight of my fabric threads.
The scan is Figure 9 from Seija Sarkki’s thesis on crusade-era tablet weaving in Finland. “Kangas” means fabric and these sketches show the finishing tablet woven edges on some finds from eastern Finland. That brick-like look comes from the diagonal threading on the cards. The diagonal-looking yarns on her diagrams denote where fringe was attached (the middle two sketches)
Now you need the weft for the tablet weaving. This comes from creating fringe from the edge of the fabric you are going to finish. Grab a tapestry needle and scissors and a pile of patience. You want about 2.5 or 3 times the width of the selvage you are going to weave. That’s a lot of careful removal of threads.
The number of threads you use in the weft per turn of the cards depends on the density of the cloth, the thickness of your tablet weaving warp, and how hard you beat the weaving inbetween turns. Each set of threads will be used for two turns.
I ended up using a set of tweezers to help pull the weft all the way through on the second turn for each. I tend to use all sort of items as beaters when I weave- in this case, closed embroidery scissors worked quite well. Either as you go, or at the end, you trim off the excess fringe (which of course takes some care).
How to deal with the edges and all that extra warp? In the case of the Finnish aprons, these threads have a built in use: they get braided and strung with metal spirals. Otherwise, they could be finished in any number of ways. The most elegant solution is probably to simply weave them back into the selvage with a needle.
Here is the finished edge for an apron I made last spring…
I am not sure what I might apply this particular technique for other than my iron-age Finnish garments, or for finishing warp weighted loom projects (when I finally build that loom). I would love to weave a shawl with the lovely finished edges, spirals, and fringe.
- Collingwood, P. (1982). The techniques of tablet weaving. London, Faber and Faber.
- Hoffman, Marta. 1964. The warp-weighted loom: studies in the history and technology of an ancient implement. Studia Norvegica No 14. Universitetsforlaget.
For this kind of edging on Finnish garments specifically:
- Lehtosalo-Hilander, P.-L. (1984). Ancient Finnish Costumes. Helsinki, Finnish Archaeological Society.
- Lehtosalo-Hilander, P.-L. (2001). Euran puku ja muut muinaisvaatteet. Vammala, Euran Muinaispukutoimikunta.
- Sarkki, S. (1979). Suomen Ristiretkiaikaiset Nauhat. Arkeologian Laitos. Helsinki, Helsingin Yliopisto.