A Timeline in Tablet Weaving

A Timeline in Tablet Weaving Figure 1
Figure 1

It started with those handsome Kivrim bands some Viking re-enactors used to decorate their clothes: Running Dog and Ram’s Horns from Anatolia.My idea was to place Kivrim where it belongs, around 1800 CE, and to look for the real Viking motifs and tablet weaving techniques from the Viking era, 800 CE–1000 CE. So I made a Tablet Weaving timeline, starting in 600 BCE with the Iron-Age bands found in the salt mine at Hallstatt, Austria.On the left side of a grey linen fabric, I sewed tablet woven bands with the times starting with 600 BCE. On the right side are the names of archaeological sites where tablet weaving has been found. In the center of the fabric are reproductions of prehistoric, historic, and modern bands (see Figure 1). To weave the reproduction bands, I first made my own drafts of patterns on squared paper with a pencil and a rubber eraser.

600 BC – 1 BCE

Starting on the bottom of the panel is a reproduction of a Hallstatt 3/1 broken twill in wool (Figures 2 and 3). Figure 4 shows a copy of another band from the archaeological finds from a salt mine in Hallstatt in Austria.

The next set of bands on the timeline are copies of Hochdorf tablet weavings. The southern German site of Hochdorf yielded several tablet woven bands: a 3/1 twill in two colors, a twill in two colors with one empty hole and a group of bands in 2-threaded technique. Dating back to about 475 BCE, these were discovered in a chieftain’s grave.

The blue and white piece on the left, 4th from the bottom, is made in thin wool and 28/2 linen with 68 tablets (Figure 6). Figure 5 shows details of this band with two threaded and two empty holes.

The original bands (small pieces and fragments) are woven in thin, handspun wool, horsehair and sometimes badger hair. My copies are thicker, woven in 20/2 wool and 16/2 linen. The copy of the Hochdorf band in twill with floats in three colours is coarser, woven in 8/2 wool to show the complicated way of weaving.

The Hallstatt and Hochdorf bands, decorations on the garments of Celtic chieftain, are archaeological finds from salt mines and burials. Some of them are woven with twelve tablets but there are also bands made with more than a hundred tablets.

1 – 800 CE

The next group of copies is from bands found in peat bogs and burials in the moors of Northern Germany and Denmark. The bands from 200 CE to 400 CE are simple, woven in linen and wool. Some are narrow, four or six tablets, used as a starting border for a warp-weighted loom but others are woven with more than eighty tablets. From Dätgen in Germany comes a 2/1 twill band used as a decoration on a sleeve. The pattern on this Dätgen band can be found in Karl Schabow’s Textilfunde der Eisenzeit.

After 600 CE most of my copies are based upon Scandinavian finds. From now on the finds are less fragmented, the weaving is complicated, and we know more about the colours. The “animal” band of Evebo in Norway and the band of Snartemo (Figure 7) with floats in four colours are not threaded-in and the tablets are turned individually. The patterns are in 3/1 twill, missed hole, double face, and brocading with an extra thread of colored wool, silver or even gold. The patterns from this time are not repeating and there are several different patterns in one band.

An exception is the Oseberg band (850 CE), which is threaded-in, with a simple regular pattern. A Viking re-enactor can use this easy to weave bands from the right period (Figures 8 and 9).

800 CE – 1000 CE: the Viking Age

Here are the right bands for Viking re-enactors.

The band shown in Figure 8 is a replica of the one found in a ship burial in Oseberg, Norway. The band was incomplete, with the tablets still attached.

At Birka, Sweden, a number of brocaded bands were found. One of those is woven in a missed hole technique (Figure 10).

Another band from the same century, but 5000 km away, comes from the ruins of a fort in Miran, in what is now northwestern China. This 3/1 twill features white lions on a blue background.

Returning from Asia to Europe there is a short band, showing a lioness eating a French fleur-de-lys, birds and a pig, all from the stole and maniple of Clervaux. To the right of this copy is my “signature”, a seahorse in 3/1 twill. The original band, made in very fine silk, is now in Arlon in Belgium. It is twill with trees of life, lions, deer, hounds and other animals, woven with nearly 100 tablets.

End of the 10th century

The end of the 10th century brings us to Mammen, Denmark (short pieces in 3/1 twill) (Figures 11 and 12) and to a kind of cable, a twill from Elisenhof in Germany, woven in two colours.

The band in red, blue and off-white cottolin is a copy of the Humikkala band, also in twill with some new patterns. Other bands from Finland are in

2-0-1-0, two threads and two empty holes per tablet as in Hochdorf bands. This kind of tablet weaving is still used in the Baltic region.

Next are Finnish diagonals from Kirkkomäki. These patterns are often incorrectly called “Egyptian diagonals,” because it was once thought that they originated in ancient Egypt.

1600 CE

The Jerusalem band, in two colours, double face with a repeating pattern that can be varied by changing the number of forward and backward turnings. The original starts with crosses, soon changing in flowers. The letters JERUSALEM on the original bands suggest “made in Jerusalem.” Perhaps the band was a souvenir from a visit to the Holy Land.

1800 CE

At last! The Running Dog and the Ram’s Horns. This tablet weaving looks complicated, but it is merely threading in, a clever use of four forward, four backward, while some tablets turn forward all the time (Figure 13 and 14). The original comes from Anatolia and even today the Running Dog is still found in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The nomads use the bands for packaging, decoration of their tents and horse and camel gear.

Modern bands

Next, come the modern bands, threaded in, turning four times forward, four times backward. Follow the timeline (Figure 1) to the yellow suns of Finland, the twill caracals of Persia and the narrow bands with figure-8 in thick and thin threads of Sulawesi tablet weaving.

I could have added bands from Tibet, made in Nepal and bought in Neumünster in Germany, or a copy of a sazigyo with birds, fishes, and lions with a message in Dutch. However, there is not room enough for all those various tablet weavings. That is why the timeline ends with a threaded-in pattern, turning four times forward, four times backward band, I designed in 2003, with Dutch girls wearing yellow wooden shoes, dancing arm in arm (Figure 15).

References

Collingwood, Peter.  The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. London, UK: Faber and Faber, 1982. ISBN 0-571-10829-6.

Hansen, Egon. Tablet Weaving: History, Techniques, Colours, Patterns. Højbjerg, Denmark: Hovedland Publishers, 1990. ISBN 87-7793-047-4.

Schlabow, Karl. Textilfunde der Eisenzeit in Norddeutschland. Neumünster, Germany: Karl Wachholtz Verlag, 1976. ISBN 3-529-01515-6.

Copyright © 2020 by Aartha Greep

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