Card weaving, also known as tablet weaving, is a method of producing
narrow textiles such as straps, belts and trim. Most card woven bands are
very strong and sturdy. Card woven bands can range from simple and easy to
elaborately patterned and very time consuming. I'll focus on the easiest
types, but I will tell you where to find out more about the more
complicated types of card weaving.
The oldest known reliable evidence for card weaving comes from about
400 B.C. Several cards and some card woven material was found at an
archeological site in Spain. In period, card weaving was most highly
developed in northern Europe, especially in Scandinavia, and was also used
by the Anglo-Saxons. Many medieval pieces were ornate silk ecclesiastical
vestments, or wrist and head bands brocaded with gold or silver, but others
were much simpler. These may have been used as belts or straps. Card woven
borders were sometimes woven into larger textiles. This helped to set the warp
spacing and provided sturdy selvages.
Cards can be made of thin sturdy cardboard, or even thin wood. The
material must be smooth enough that it won't catch the yarn. An easy set of
weaving cards can be made from an old set of playing cards. Index cards also
work, but aren't very sturdy. What ever the material, the cards should be
cut into squares about 5-6 cm on a side, and a hole punched in each
corner. Make sure the holes are smooth and nearly round, or you will
have trouble turning the cards. It also helps to round the corners.
A wide range of yarns work well for card weaving. Whatever you choose
must be fairly sturdy. The warp (the yarn strung thru the cards) will be
under a lot of tension and friction, so it can't be anything fuzzy or easy
to break, although fuzzy yarns can be used in the weft. I've found that
cotton crocheting string works well (and is cheap and easy to find) but
embroidery floss can also be used, or any sturdy yarn.
The first step (after making cards, finding yarn and picking a
project) is to cut the warp. The length of each warp string should be the
intended length of the finished piece plus 20% for take-up, plus 50 cm for
room for the cards, starting and ending knots, etc. This is important, so
I'll repeat it:
warp length = 1.2 x final length + 50 cm
One warp yarn will be strung through each hole in every card. A card can be
strung from left to right (Z-threaded) or right to left (S-threaded), but all
four holes must be strung in the same direction or the card won't turn. When
you look at the cards from above, the yarn will be on a slight diagonal,
either in the same direction as the middle line of a Z, or the same direction
as the middle part of an S. It's probably easiest to tie each set of four
warp yarns together after you thread a card. When all the cards are threaded,
tie a big knot at the beginning and the end to hold everything together.
The weft is the yarn that is passed back and forth between the warp
threads, and holds the whole thing together. It will normally only show at
the sides of the band. Take a fairly long piece of string (but not too long
or it gets unmanageable) of the same color as the strings in the edge cards,
and wind it around a shuttle or make in into a butterfly. Now you are ready
Tie the far end of the warp to something sturdy, like a doorknob or
a chair. Either hold the other end or attach it to your belt. The cards
should all be in a pack with one set of edges flat towards you. Pass one end
of the weft through the shed, which is the gap between the warp threads in
the top holes of the cards and those in the bottom holes. Leave about 2 cm or
so sticking out of the weft. Turn the entire pack of cards one-quarter turn,
either forward (away from you) or backwards (towards yourself). The direction
depends on the pattern. Pack the new shed towards yourself, wither with your
finger or something smooth and flat, like the back of a knife blade, and pass
the weft through again. Don't pull the weft all the way tight yet- leave a
little loop sticking out. Now repeat the following steps:
- Turn the cards.
- Pack the shed.
- Tighten the previous weft shot just to the edge of the band.
- Pass a new weft shot through the shed.
Continue until the band is the length you'd like. Easy, isn't it?
Trim can be cut into lengths and sewn on, as long as the ends are
firmly sewn down. For straps or belts, you can leave extra and make tassels
or braids, or hem the ends. Or for a belt, you may want to attach a ring to
one end. Just don't forget to take the cards off!
Now that you know the mechanics of card weaving, you probably want to
know how to make neat patterns, right? The easiest type of pattern is the
threaded-in pattern, where the design is created by threading different
colors of yard in the same card, and all the cards are turned in the same
direction. These patterns are not medieval! Most period patterns involve
some amount of individual manipulation of the cards.
Any of the references at the end can give you more suggestions about medieval
Card weaving projects are usually set up from a pattern. The
conventions I use are similar to those used by Collingwood and other
authors in this area. Each hole in the card is given a letter to
identify it. You don't need to write these on the card unless you
really want to, but it is useful to mark to top of each card in some
way. Most commercial cards are marked. Looking at the card from the
left, the letters are:
A pattern will show the order of the cards, what color weft to string
through each hole, and the threading direction, and can be drawn quickly on
graph paper, with each column of four squares indicating the four holes of
one card. A \ below a column indicates that card is S-threaded, and a /
indicates a Z-threaded card. The following sample pattern would be for four
cards with dark threads in their B holes and light threads in the remaining
holes. The left two cards are S-threaded, and the right cards are Z-threaded.
O O O O D
O O O O C
X X X X B
O O O O A
\ \ / /
Here are a few sample threaded-in patterns, and descriptions of the bands
they will produce.
Notice that for a Z-diagonal stripe to have smooth
edges on the front of the band, the cards must be S-threaded and turned
forwards. If S-threaded cards are turned backwards, a smooth S-diagonal
stripe will result. The opposite is true for Z-threaded cards: if turned
forwards, they will produce a clean S-diagonal. This effect is caused by the
twisting together of the four threads in each card. Patterns with no diagonal
lines usually work best with alternating Z and S-threaded cards.
More Complicated Patterns
One of the most common individual card manipulations is the twist.
Simply rotate a card around its vertical axis. This changes the threading
direction of the card as well as the color position. (Note: In some cases
twisting the card is equivalent to turning it in the opposite direction. A
Z-threaded card turned forwards will produce the same twist as an S-threaded
card turned backwards, but the color pattern may not be the same with a twist
as a reversal.) One pattern I really like is kivrim, which makes a spiral design.
Double Face Weave
This is the simplest weave that allows you to make patterns that do
not depend on the threading of the cards. Nearly any two-colored pattern can
be made using this weave- pictures, letters, even Celtic knotwork.
Set up all the cards with two dark threads in the holes nearest you
(A and B) and light threads in the far two holes (C and D). The cards should
alternate S and Z-threading. The basic double weave sequence is: 2xF, 2xB.
This turning sequence will make a band that is all dark on the top and all
light on the bottom.
To switch colors in one card, simply twist that card
when it has two different colors in the top two holes (the dark threads are
in A and D, or in B and C). The card or cards twisted will now make a portion
of the band with a light surface and a dark back. Having control over the
color of each individual card allows you to weave any pattern that you can
draw on graph paper, as long as each color change is a multiple of two
squares long. This restriction is because you can only change colors in the
first and third card positions in the sequence, and not in the second and
fourth (twisting will have no effect on color position.)
This document is borrowed and adapted from Phiala's Tabletweaving Page:
The adapted version may be found at
Collingwood, Peter. 1982. The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. Watson-Guptill
Publications, New York. Some historical information, lots and lots of
techniques. The most important card weaving book!
Hansen, Egon. 1990. Tablet Weaving: History. Techniques. Colours. Patterns.
Books for Craftsmen, Inc. Petaluma CA. This book is a good source for advanced
techniques and historical information. It is difficult to decipher and
definitely NOT a beginner's book. Don't bother unless you are serious and
are prepared to spend many hours deciphering pages full of colored dots.
It's out of print now anyway.
There are a number of papers describing medieval tablet-woven pieces in