Monday, 11 July 2011

What I'm Up To

As Genevieve put it, "just what you need: another sedentary hobby to take up the spare time you don't have", or words to that effect.

I have been reading Crowfoot, Pritchard and Staniland, Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 recently. Something I found striking was the ilustration (fig. 134 on p. 161) of braid being directly tablet-woven onto the edge of a garment. (I'd put in a link to Google Books, but the figure doesn't show up at all well online.)

The illustration shows four square tablets holding the warp and a needle and thread providing the weft as well as attaching it directly to the fabric edge.

Most people reading this will have seen my blue wool gothic gown lined in burnt-orange silk. I habitually wear my belt over my kirtle but under my gown, and so use a vent (as seen in various 14th Century examples) to access my chatelaine and beads and things. I've never properly finished that vent (is there a name for that vent?), so I made that my first tablet weaving project.

I bought an ash tablet weaving loom from Dennis Riley of Sheffield. Like 14th Century tablet weaving looms, it is two uprights (each a yard long), two crosspieces (likewise a yard long), a hemp cord and tensioner to balance the tension of the warp, and a couple of pegs to keep things from slipping off. I bought walnut cards from Gunnar Karro of Tartu, Estonia; as well as two thin shuttles. Gunnar also makes cards in other woods, and I'm thinking of getting some in a light wood to use for the border cards, or for cards that are meant to turn the opposite way from the rest of the pack.

I've since noticed that 14th Century illuminations show weavers using these looms with a raddle to space the warp opposite the shed and a great big sword beater instead of a tidy little shuttle to beat down the weaving. I'm currently designing both to be executed by woodworker Michael Williams of Sheffield.

The thread I used was medium-weight silk from Patricia Wood. I'd bought some of her thick silk at the bead shop in Covent Garden, and as you can see from the illustration I managed through some email discussion to match the colours pretty closely.

It was a bit awkward to get a very heavy garment alongside the weaving (the dress weighs 2.2kg, partly because of the weight of fabric and partly because of the weight of 60 lampwork bead buttons), and I had to start with the loom laid over on its side. For the weft I used a chenille needle and with each stitch sewed the blue fashion fabric, the silk noil interlining and the silk taffeta lining (here acting as a facing) together before weaving it through the warp. It was hard work to get it all together, weaving one side in a sprawled position on the floor, and the other side with the loom upright, and the dress heaped over one of the loom's posts.

Because the braid was integrated with the dress, once I finished the edging for the vent I still had a dress attached to my loom. So I continued to weave braid, but without integrating it, to finish off the warp. As I did this my tablet-weaving skills improved and I made a lot fewer errors and didn't leave the weft thread showing nearly so much.

Now that I wasn't attaching it to the dress, rather than using a chenille needle to hold the weft I was using one of Gunnar's shuttles. I discovered that while the shuttle's straight edge was good for beating down the weft, the shape tended to get hooked onto the warp if I wasn't deucedly careful. After peering again at the illuminations I noticed that the Virgin Mary (and it always seems to be the Virgin Mary who's doing the tablet weaving) doesn't use a shuttle. She generally seems to use a bobbin. The antique shop in my village has lots of old hardwood lacemaking bobbins for 50 pence apiece, and the lady let me have four for £1.50 so I'll have some bobbins to use instead.

Just now (in fact this very minute) I'm dyeing some wool yarn with madder so that I'll be able to weave some garters, and some tussah silk yarn too. I've also found some other sources of dyed silk and worsted weaving yarn here and here (I've discovered the hard way while fingerloop braiding that knitting yarn doesn't stand up well to tension).

Thanks to Lady Katherine Weaver for her support and inspiration! Also see this blog. Also see the Soper Lane website.


Jahanara said...

Fantastic! What a great project and fabulously executed! Thank you for sharing not only a wonderful project, but such in depth explanation!

Anonymous said...

Having popped over from the Soper Lane website (and also being in the process of reading through the London Textiles book), it's great to see someone actually attempting those beautiful tablet-woven borders.

As for the 'vents' you mention, I've usually heard them called fitchets.