Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cardweaving - Longest.Post.Ever.

The cardweaving kits sold quite well at Abbey, so I thought I'd put the booklet up on the blog. The kit was primarily designed to teach the basics of cardweaving , from which you can move on to your own patterns or something more advanced like letters or figures (using other sites available on the net!). As you can see, the kit contained everything to get going straight away: cards cut out of cardboard, with holes punched in then and corners rounded off, yarn for warp and weft, a shuttle (also made of cardboard), a comb (to keep the width correct) and a 150 cm length of tape to use as a belt. If you're going to use these instructions to learn to cardweave, you'll have to get/make up all those things yourself - read through the 'booklet' here first so you get lengths and sizes right.

The cover of the booklet is a fabric made of cardwoven strips - half a dozen more and I'll have enough to turn it into a shoulder-bag!

This booklet is copyright - it tok me quite a while to get it all together and I'd appreciate it if you email me if you intend to use it in any other way other than to learn how to cardweave yourself.

Cardweaving is a very ancient form of weaving (dating back, at least, to the ancient Egyptians) which was extremely popular throughout the medieval period. It is also known as tablet weaving. Some historical references are : 1) the set of weaving cards found in the Viking age Oseberg ship burial, 2) remnants of card woven braid from an archaeological dig in London dated to the twelfth century, and 3) a late fourteenth century painting of a woman using a card loom. The commentary to the London dig suggests that the large amount of cardweaving found there indicates that it was a very common form of decoration for clothing etc. There are still some parts of the world that use card weaving for saddle girths (the strap under the horse’s belly) and belts or straps.

This is a quick and easy way of producing decorative, handmade braid. You can use wool, linen, or silk yarn, or embroidery thread, depending on the result you want. The basic tools needed are just a set of cards and the yarn, although there are a few other tools that make the process easier. This booklet is designed to teach you to card weave, from nothing to a very basic piece of braid; and I’ll add some more complicated patterns at the end.

The Cards
You will only need 15 cards to do the simple exercise in this booklet; but you will find more cards are necessary for more complex designs. The cards should be made out of a stiff material - traditionally bone, horn, ivory or wood was used, but stiff cardboard is fine for the beginner (after all, there’s no point in spending hours making bone cards only to discover you hate weaving!). The cards should be roughly 6cm square, with a hole in each of the rounded corners (see diagram at right). A hole through the middle is handy for binding the cards together when you’re not working so that they don’t get out of order. If you’re using something stiffer than cardboard it may be necessary to sand the edges and the holes so that the yarn isn’t cut by sharp or rough edges.

We will be using 8-ply wool for this exercise, as it is easy to come by and less fiddly than finer yarns. Cardweaving designs come out best in contrasting colours (e.g. green and yellow; red & blue; purple, orange and white; red, yellow and black etc) - we’ll use a ‘light’, a ‘medium’ and a ‘dark’ colour.

First, we need a threading pattern. This is, very simply, a grid which denotes the number of cards on one axis and the number of holes on the other axis. This pattern uses the fifteen cards you have, and each card has four holes, so the pattern grid will be 15 x 4, and we will need 60 threads (i.e. 15 x 4 = 60).

As you can see from the diagrams above, you start with a piece of graph paper and draw half your pattern. This is because the basic principle of card weaving is to turn the cards forward four quarter turns (whereupon you’ll weave what you’ve drawn) and then back four quarter turns (whereupon you weave the other half of the design - a mirror image). If we took it that the dark squares were blue, the medium squares were red and the light squares were yellow, then what we would end up with is a braid with a blue stripe along each side, and between them a line of lozenges that are red on the outside with blue centres, on a yellow background. If you examine the diagram and count the coloured squares, you will notice that there are 26 dark ones, 20 medium ones and 14 light ones. These are the numbers of threads of each colour that you will be using.

You next need to prepare your yarn. The yarn supplied in the kit with this booklet has already been measured, cut and tied. Given that the exercise you are doing is just to produce a sample of weaving, the pieces of yarn are only about a metre long. Because it is necessary to fasten the ends of the weaving to something, I find it easier to loop the threads (i.e. cut each thread to be 2m long and fold them in half giving a loop at one end). I have found that allowing 2m of yarn gives 1.5m of weaving - you need to allow the extra 50cm for knots at either end, for an unwoven length in which to move the cards, and the actual weaving takes up a bit, too.

The diagram below indicates how the pattern actually relates to the cards.

Card number 5 has been circled on the pattern and the diagram on the right shows how the individual threads are placed. Please pay particular note that the holes in the card are numbered in a clockwise direction (not left-to-right).

The image above is the threading diagram (D) - the / and \ symbols indicate how each card is to be threaded (i.e. \ indicates that the card is to be threaded from top to bottom - diagram A, and / indicates from bottom to top - diagram B. Threading follows the pattern - note where a series of \ marks are, the pattern goes the same way (e.g. cards 4-7). To distinguish which side of the card is which, I put a circle around hole 1 on one side of the card - this side, where the circle is, is now the top side of the card. I also mark the side of the card (see diagram C) so that when I am weaving I can keep track of the turns forwards and backwards

Tie the looped end of the threads you have to something solid (I use a nail hammered into a shelf) so that the loose ends hang down. Start threading up the cards, as indicated in the threading diagram, starting with card number 1. Thread it as indicated (take four ‘dark’ threads from the bunch and thread them through the card, top to bottom) and then lay it down face up. Thread card 2 and lay it face up on top of card 1. Make sure that the holes in each card are on top of each other - i.e. hole 1 is over hole 1, hole 2 is over hole 2, etc. Continue to do this until all the cards are threaded.

Now take the cards in one hand (so they don’t fall out of order) and all the loose ends of yarn in the other hand, and pull the threads tight against whatever you’ve fastened them to. You will notice that some of the threads are looser than others. It is important if you want the pattern to come out evenly that all the threads have as even tension as possible. As we are using wool, which has a certain elasticity, it will not be that difficult to achieve. Still keeping a hold on the loose ends, run the cards up the threads towards the fastened end. You will see which threads are loose. Keeping a good hold on the cards, let go off the threads and comb your fingers through them, pulling them tight, until you can see no more loose threads. Take hold of all the loose ends and pull tight and then run the cards back down towards you. You will doubtless find more loose threads, so repeat the ‘combing’ process. The loose ends of the threads are likely to be fairly tangled but all this to-and-fro-ing with the cards and the combing will eventually untangle everything. When the warp (the proper name for the bunch of threads you’re holding) is evenly tensioned and untangled to your satisfaction, tie the loose ends in a knot (keeping the even tension) and run a piece of twine (about 30cm) through the warp in front of the knot. This twine will fasten the weaving to your belt as you maintain tension on your weaving by leaning back away from what you have fastened it to. Finally, take the small comb and, moving the cards about 15cm up the warp away from you, place the comb in front of the cards so that its teeth are collecting the warp on the top and bottom and move it towards you up to the knot. This spaces the warp and ensures that the weaving will start off an even width.

To start weaving, take your shuttle (see the picture at the bottom of this page) and wrap around it the same colour yarn that will be on the outsides of your design (in this case, ‘dark’). If you use a different colour it will show at the edges - you may like to experiment with this effect later. Have about 25cm of yarn trailing from the shuttle and weave it through the shed leaving a 15cm ‘tail’ (see diagram 8). Use the shuttle to press (‘beat’) the yarn (properly called the weft) up against the comb, and then take the body of cards in both hands and turn them a quarter-turn away from you. Pass the weft back through the shed, beat the weft back, and turn the cards another quarter-turn away from you. Repeat this twice more (You will now have made four quarter-turns away from you), and the black stripe on the sides of the cards should all be up the top again. This indicates it’s time to change direction. Pass the weft back through the shed, beat the weft back, and turn the cards a quarter-turn towards you. Repeat these steps until you see the black stripe on the sides of the cards on top again. You have just completed one repeat of the pattern. Now, continue until you run out of weft. When that happens, just overlap the ends of the old weft thread and the new one (having wound some more onto your shuttle), and continue weaving. When weaving pieces longer than a metre, after a while you will notice that the cards are getting out of reach - pull all the cards along the warp until they are against the weaving, untie the weaving from your belt and make a slip-knot in it, pass the twine through the loop in the slip-knot, tie it back on to your belt and continue.

When you are coming to the end of the warp, and the cards don’t really have enough room to turn anymore, you’ve nearly finished. Cut off the weft leaving a 15cm ‘tail’ and cut through the warp threads at both ends, next to the knots. Now you have a choice - you can sew the weft ends into the weaving, or plait the warp (and weft) ends, or thread beads on them - it really depends on what you intend the weaving for. Obviously if it is to be braid on a garment, then you’ll sew the ends in, but for a belt you should use your creativity.

SHUTTLES are basically a tool to hold the weft, pass it through the warp, and in the case of cardweaving, beat back the weft. The shape is not important as long as the job is done - I find the shuttle shape below more convenient to use, and of a size of about 8x3cm.

Below are a few basic patterns. As you can see by the pattern on the far right, they can be combined to form a wider pattern. Theoretically it is possible to weave a 'belt' a metre wide but I wouldn't advise it unless you have a regular cloth loom to support the weaving. You will probably find that 5-7cm wide is within the range of comfortably being able to move the cards, but it is a matter of experimenting and finding your limits (i.e. how far your hands will stretch...). Rather than weaving a single belt a metre wide, it is easier to weave a series of belts around 6cm wide and then sew them together to form fabric. Another thing to try is to experiment with turning the cards more than 4 forwards-4 backwards. Try 8 or 12 forwards and backwards and see how it changes the pattern. Be sure to look on the net or in your local library for books on card- or tablet-weaving, as they will provide you with new and more complicated patterns and techniques.

Monday, July 13, 2009


The big day finally came - the group's first public show, at the Abbey Museum Tournament. We arrived there late afternoon last Friday and set up the tent, the carpets, the hangings, the lamps... as it was getting dark by the time that was done I decided to leave setting up the actual display until the following morning, so we set up the camp beds for the girls and left it at that. Dad had the good sense to book a motel room for the weekend, so we had dinner with him in the restaurant attached to it (Sam had the biggest eye fillet steak I've ever seen!) and then returned to the festival site to do some socialising.

I hadn't been to an Abbey tournament for about 5 years, and the difference in size was immediately apparent - this was going to be a HUGE event! The other thing I noticed was that there was a distinct lack of the bitterness and enmity between groups that used to plague the movement, and the general atmosphere was friendly and welcoming. We spent an hour or so wandering from campfire to campfire and chatting with folk - lovely to renew old acquaintances! - and then headed off to bed about 10ish...

Up early the next morning: into costume, setting up the display, grabbing pancakes for breakfast (the pancakes stall opened at 6.30am to feed the re-enactors, bless 'em!); Dad arrived a bit before 8 and helped set up and we were ready to go well before the public turned up an hour later.

We felt singularly honoured to lead the grand parade, as 'Brisbane's newest re-enactment group' (although it probably had more to do with the fact that I was scheduled to give a lecture on medieval textile production at 11 o'clock, shortly after the parade), and for the rest of the day had a steady stream of visitors to the tent, a lot of whom stayed quite a while, reading the display. I also ran a spinning class each day, which was nicely populated by about half a dozen people who seemed to get the hang of it and will probably turn out to be good spinners (with the ever-necessary bit of practice!).

We all took time out from 'tent-sitting' to have a wander around the fair, and the girls bought trinkets at the medieval market - stacks of stalls this year! - and had a good time. Dad was happy to watch the to-ing and fro-ing of the people - re-enactors and public - and answer odd questions about the display; the rest of us were more energetic and wandered around the place, but are paying for it today with sore feet and stiff legs - haven't done that much walking in ages!

Our little stall was a moderate success - didn't sell much of the medeival bits'n'pieces (wooden spoons, needlecases, odd bits of brass), but the cardweaving kits went very well - the kits are designed to teach the basics of cardweaving, and it seems people are interested in learning new skills, which is great!

I was very chuffed to receive so many compliments on the display - the nicest from Michael and Edith, who organise the Abbey Tournament and run the Abbey Museum; none of the other re-enactment groups displays in this way and I was trying something 'new' for the Brisbane re-enacment circle, so I'm glad (and very relieved) it was received so well. To explain: most groups set up a living history encampment, to show how people lived in the era they're re-enacting. They have tents, tables, campfires and such and they spend their time demonstrating skills of the period to the public: fighting, cooking, textiles, crafts, medicine... you name it. I've found, though, from doing this sort of re-enactment in the past, that the public are often unwilling to ask questions and will stand back and watch, and sometimes be puzzled about what's going on. My display, as you can see from the photos, is mainly textual with a lot of models about what the text is talking about. The display cover a variety of areas - Dad's Benedictines (the Public Service of the day providing education, medical care, record-keeping, and care of 'unfortunates'), textiles (including spinning, dyeing and weaving), clothing and cosmetics, food and utensils, games, music, medicine, and a smattering of other odd information. Where possible I include illustrations from the period, and models of whatever the display topic is talking about (a scale model upright loom, a medieval bed, crockery and so forth). The aim of this is to provide background knowledge of the period in easily-digestible, 18pt font chunks which will hopefully allow a greater appreciation of the living history seen in other encampments (some of the work that goes into these is incredible - hand-beaten pots, carved beds and tent-ends, beautiful costumes - an enormous amount of work!)

All in all, it was an enjoyable and gratifying weekend - now we just have to wash and repack stuff for the next show, History Alive, in just under two weeks....