Known in the USA as card weaving, tablet weave is made using a set of tablets or flat cards with 3 or more holes in them near the edges. A set of tablets could be anything from 2 to around 60 tablets. The tablets are usually square (a couple of possible Early Medieval triangular tablets exist). They are rotated to create the shed, so the weft tends only to show at the edges - the pattern is entirely warp faced.
Tablet weave is often used as a starting border on cloth made from a warp weighted loom or as a selvedge. It is distinctive from other forms of weaving as it has a twist in the warp noticeable even when threaded through only 2 holes to create a tabby weave.
This braid is used affixed to the edges of clothing to prevent wear, and was typically sewn edge to edge at the hems and cuffs but could also be used at the neck. Often this strong braid would be used to cover a seam or pleat and could also be used decoratively or used as a belt.
Tablet weaving by nature lends itself to complex patterns and can be made into brocade.
In some areas today differing patterns on tablet braid are used to signify clan or tribe affiliations.
As this method of weaving is global, be aware that some patterns may not be European in origin, the most often wrongly used is the Rams Horn pattern, which although striking is not from the correct geographical location nor time period for Vikings re-enactment.
Braiding was a method of non-loom weaving from very early times. Archaeological evidence of the tablets on which they were woven is scanty since they were likely to have been made of thin pieces of wood or hide, but a bone example was found in Kent, a bronze one at West Stow in Suffolk, and another at York.
Tablets were usually square with a hole at each corner. There were also circular ones and three hole triangular ones. Some types of braids used only two holes.
Tablet weaving produces a braid which is thick and flexible, and which can be patterned on both sides, the weft being concealed except at the edges. It is possible to produce geometric patterns, either running continuously or in a series of blocks. It has been suggested that early settlers may have used patterns peculiar to families or regions, but there is no evidence to support this. The very skilled could even create motifs of animals.
It was used to make girdles, cuffs, ornamental bands to be stitched on to garments and for integral borders of textiles. The braids would also serve as headbands, and some have been found woven with silks and decorated with gold and silver threads.
Braids were generally woven either in wool or linen, but luxury braids denoting high status and wealth were achieved either by embroidery on the woven braid or by brocading with gold thread during the weaving process. In the Early Pagan period brocading was executed with strips of solid gold beaten flat. In the Middle Conversion and Late periods gold strips were wound around fibres or horse/cow hairs. One find was decorated in soumak (wrapped) brocading, in two shades of red, two shades of blue, and gold foil wrapped around silk, and this example remains astonishingly bright today.
Gold work of this kind was probably used for edging garments at wrist, neck or skirt edge, and for decorating the ribbons adorning kings’ cloaks.
How to Table Weave
Credits: with thanks to Georgina Riall.