A Belt for Gudrun

by Halima al-Rakkasa

Adventures in Weaving

Mistress Alicia tooks some photos of me setting up the second warp at the Stranded Mermaid Tourney in False Isle, July 2009. My thanks to her for her generosity!

As in many disciplines, a mock-up of some sort helps to determine materials, amounts, and techniques that may need adjustment.

Test weave the pattern with crochet cotton of similar density to the silk, any color, to ascertain number of tablets, control of threads, amount of take-up, and to note possible issues.

I usually tablet-weave in backstrap style, tying off the far end to something solid and the near end to my belt. Considering the way silk catches on everything even when it's being nice, I needed a more medieval idea to keep it under control. As much as I would like a tablet-weaving (TW, for short) frame (a floor-standing, free-standing open frame), I can't see that fitting into my tiny home. I found a 1x4 (which really isn't 1" by 4"), two L-brackets (the shelf brackets, though sturdier, are tapered, so the weaving would slip off), and some screws. After assembling, I pulled out the beam I use for sprangwork (two chopsticks glued together) for the far end (held in place by the far end of the weaving), and a small turnbuckle (from my junk box) for the near end (for tension adjustment).

I used some fine crochet cotton as a test; it looks very close to the thread size of the silk.

From knot to beam is 30"; using 15 tablets.
After two inches of weaving, the width is insufficient. Added another half-dozen tablets, partly because it needs multiples of 3 tablets, partly because it'll be close to the 50% additional width needed.

Waste is 7"; should be more to allow for initial weaving waste.
Calculated 23", which became 19" weaving. Lost 4" overall to take-up.
19"x3=57"... Minimum of 3 times needed... In this case, need to add about 20% to the desired length (23/19).

Therefore, project requires:

60" x 1.2 = 72"+ 8" = 80" long

Make it 84"; if there's extra, that's good.

21 cards
4 threads in each hole of two end cards
2 threads in each hold of remaining 19 cards
92 threads one color, 92 threads other color equals 184 threads

I reeled off the thread on a yarn reel that allows me to count threads as I go; each thread wraps from one end post, as many times around the reel as needed, to the other post. I loosely chain-hitched the resulting warp threads to keep them aligned together. Then I laid out my tablets like a book, picking up a tablet, threading it, and turning it like a page. When all the tablets were threaded, I used a big knitter's pin to hold them together. One end of the warp threads was knotted and fixed to the "loom". Then I spent a goodly amount of time combing the warp until all the threads were stretched out under even tension. To reduced catching and tangling, I used two large combs as spreaders, tying them into the warp.

Weaving proceeded without difficulty. The wood tablets worked well with the silk thread, which was a surprise to me, as I think of silk as annoyingly sensitive to any roughness. The twisting was an issue; instead of reversing (the original shows at least one change in direction), I took the time to periodically run the twist out the end of the unwoven warp.

Another issue was tension. Although I managed the tension of the warp with the turnbuckle (instead of weight or tied tension), the tension of the laid-in weft was more problematical. I could make a clean shed (space between the top half of the threads and the lower through which the weft is run), but the selvedges are more uneven than I like; I used a ruler to measure every few throws of weft, but I'd like to know how even it may've been in period. It may be that, if my work was just this, instead of only sparing a few minutes to an hour at a time, I could achieve more consistency. The result was, at least, within the dimensions I was working for.

This is my first attempt at weaving with silk. Considering that, I am satisfied with the result, outside of the selvedges and a couple of loose warps, as mentioned above. I have more silk from the dyeing... I think Mistress Gudrun needs one more girdle belt... and garters...

Addendum: I created a second girdle (belt/band) for Mistress Gudrun! This one is the wool-silk blend in indigo and cochineal (alum mordant) with a bit of heavy bombyx silk in indigo and cochineal, again using "Textiles and Clothing" from the Museum of London as my guide. All the tablets except the side-end tablets were threaded with two threads per hole, the outside with four per hole, but added, one tablet in from each side, a tablet of the bombyx silk as in item number 441 on page 137. I made one reverse overall.

I noticed that, on this piece, if I wove for more than an hour at a time, I would get into a pattern, a rhythm, so the time following the initial hour was usually consistent in weft tension. If I had to make some serious changes in the warp position, it took me some time to get the tension even again. I can see why tablet-weaving frames are either long, or the pieces are small.

Main reference, with help from Maiwa (dyestuffs):

Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 4 - Textiles and Clothing: c.1150-c. 1450; Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland; The Boydell Press; ISBN - 85115 840 4

Narrowwares, page 137, all references to the 14th century

For size:
356 Dimensions: 137 mm, w 30 mm...

For pattern of color:
449 ... has a small hole near its central axis perhaps for a buckle pin...
Warp: (i) silk, yellowish-brown, Z/S-ply;
(ii) silk, pinkish brown, Z/S-ply;
(i) and (ii) both used double except for the two edge tablets where the ends are grouped in 4s
Weft: silk, yellowish-brown, Z/S-ply, 14 picks per cm
Weave: 12 four-hold tablets grouped in three being threaded SSSZZZSSSZZZ. The tablets were threaded with the same two colours of silk inserted in corresponding holes and were continuously given a 1/4 turn in the same direction with the weft being thrown before each 1/4 turn. One reverse of pack occurs in fragment (i). The pattern is similar on both faces except for a reversal of the colouring....

For variant of pattern for belt #2:
441 Dimensions: fragmentary, w c. 18mm...
Weave: at least 36 tablets; 14 tablets on each side had two-hole threading and were given 1/2 turns forwards to produce a tabby weave, all these were threaded with worsted thread except for the second and third tablets in from each edge which were threaded with silk...

My thoughts on the weaving part of the project... Silk is not nearly so difficult to tabletweave as I expected; there was no appreciable snagging, and tension was less of an issue than some other fibres I've used.

The biggest challenge has been controlling the tension on the weft. When using heavy wools, cottons and acrylics, I've always pulled the weft very snugly; the silk (and the silk-wool blend) did not give me that option, especially so since the band showed every variance in weft tension. If one considers that every width of thread/yarn has a certain range of density it can fill or be compressed, the multiple fine threads presented a much greater overall range for compression. On the second band, I used a millimeter rule to measure every second pick (every two turns of the tablets).

This has truly been a grand adventure!

Dyeing with period dyes, all on my lonesome (I took a workshop on dyeing wool with onionskins, logwood, and St. John's Wort some time ago).
Dyeing with multiple natural materials over a relatively short period of time (fitted into "Real Life").
Over-dyeing. . . . Dyeing silk.
Weaving with silk. . . . Weaving to specifications beyond length alone.

Would I do this again? ... A cautious "You betcha!"