Ergonomics in Tablet Weaving


Photo 1: Barbara May demonstrates good posture as well as
tablet weaving at the Handweaving Museum at Rupperath,
near Euskirchen, Germany. Photo: Matthias May

In our so highly civilized world, aching backs, necks and shoulders are a woe from which many people suffer because, while earning a living, they use their bodies in a one-sided way. This holds true for a wide range of occupations, from bricklayers to ladies’ hairdressers to dentists, who distort their necks to peep at the ravages in their patients’ mouths. The following suggestions are
meant to save tablet weavers from occupying a place on the list of such sufferers.

In the more than 65 years I have been tablet weaving, I have observed many of my students starting to weave in a most damaging posture. I feel obliged to share my benevolent advice on a wider scale and to postulate a few facts.

Tablet weaving is a handcraft, not an eye craft Very often beginners, in their first joy and fascination, tend to gaze constantly at the marvel which comes about as they turn the tablets. This, however, is not necessary at all. For once all tablets are in their correct position, they must be turned with the hands, by which process the twisting of the warp threads occurs in the desired
way, whether the weaver looks at them or not. Weavers who insist on keeping their spine parallel with the warp will rather soon feel acute pain in the neck. Therefore the first rule to remember is:

Keep your neck straight and
look down at the tablets as little as possible, for
you won’t improve the texture by looking at it.

How to turn the tablets

It was a fault that I did not include the following paragraph when I first wrote about this subject. I do so now after seeing, in an introduction into tablet weaving, a drawing showing a hand with the fingers closed around a pack of tablets. This, dear reader, you should never, never do when turning them. Keep your fingers straight instead, so that you touch the tablets at their edges. For,
by bending the fingers or closing them around the tablets, you unavoidably press them against each other, increasing the friction between tablets and warp and making turning unnecessarily difficult. Therefore:

Keep the ends of your fingers straight.

Keeping the width and producing smooth edges

The experienced weaver who has developed his own way of proceeding is asked to pardon me for writing the following which, however, may be helpful to others.

After you turn the tablets, put the weft loosely into the shed, turn the tablets again and then beat the shed. When you have done that, the weft which first lay loosely is now straightened and will stick out at one side, where it forms a tiny loop. The correct way to remove that loop is to press it between the index finger and thumb of the one hand and to pull with the other hand on the free end of the weft until you feel the loop disappearing. Having done that, you can grip both edges of the band, one in each hand, and move them slightly away from each other to widen the band again, in case you have pulled at the weft too strongly.

While doing all that, you can sit up straight and smile to the admirers standing around you. Even without admirers, it certainly is easier to weave a smooth edge by feeling what you do than by looking at it. For with your eyes you can’t possibly notice it if the width diminishes by the fraction of a millimeter each time that you put in a new weft.

About beating the shed

Though some weavers prefer to beat the shed with a thin beater, the opposite has some arguments in its favor. As the shed does not open freely because some threads stick to each other, these must be forced apart, which is done more easily with a thick beater than with a thin one. If you are so fortunate as to own a loom, then press the beater against the shed as is shown in the
accompanying picture, where four fingers of each handhold either end of the thick beater while the thumbs grip some part of the loom. In this way the force for beating the shed comes from your hands without burdening arms and shoulders, allowing you to keep weaving for hours without strain.

Photo 2: Note how I grip the loom to apply pressure with my hands rather than my shoulders. Photo: I.Dittler, Dreieichenhain.

About backstrap weaving

Although a great many women in various places all over the world have practiced and still do practice backstrap weaving, the majority of them do not live in houses with telephone and electric doorbells which might interrupt their leisurely occupation at any unsuitable moment. Still, I do not recommend ‘backstrap’ to modern tablet weavers for other reasons. If you have no loom and no fixed points in your home between which to fasten the warp chain, tie one end to the back of your chair and the other end to some heavy piece of furniture. In that way, you adjust the tension of the warp with your chair without feeling the constant strain on your back. Furthermore, it is important to do the weaving in your lap and not ten inches or more away from it, which would force you to bend forward with adverse effects on your spine. Theoretically, you can tie the far end to a brick which you let hang out of the window. This method guarantees a constant tension on the chain.

Photo 3: Ten year old Julia, granddaughter of Aartha Greep, weaves on a floor-standing loom. Although her handspun and handwoven costume prevents her from straddling the loom, Julia sits with good posture. Photo, costume, and most bands
on display: Aartha Greep.

Using a tablet loom

Having designed two tablet looms, a floor-standing model and a table one, I couldn’t possibly say that they are no good. The only trouble with them is that they, like so many other things, cost money.

My floor-standing model is developed from the floor-standing inkle loom but, unlike the latter, it is solid enough to withstand stronger tension of the warp. With the help of a movable
beam and an elastic rope, the tension adjusts nearly automatically. It is good for weaving lengths between 2.8m and 10m (if you use a sufficient number of dowels).

Photo 4: My table loom for tablet weaving. The extra dowels, shown unused here, may be used to wind a warp up to five meters long.

The table model can take between 2 and 5 meters, but I do not recommend beginning with the maximum length, as with greater length it is more difficult to adjust the tension. With both types, it is possible to weave without straining back or shoulders. For this purpose, the standing model should touch the chair of the weaver.

With the table model, the end should be placed on a low table or a second chair so that the weaving again can be done at the height of the lap.

One of the satisfied owners of a table model had a stroke of genius by putting a double-length dowel in the first hole of the long beam as is shown in Photo 5. In this manner, the loom is kept firmly and the weaving can proceed at the ideal place. I prefer to place one end of the table model on a lower table or on a second chair, again so that the weaving can be done at the height of the lap.


Photo 5: My table loom modified to help keep the loom in optimal weaving position.

Further recommendations

One need not be a tablet weaver to benefit from the good effects of walking. If you feel some strain in your shoulders or, better yet, before you feel strain, do some walking, swinging your arms strongly. In addition do some other exercises with your shoulders, neck, and arms, lifting them sideways until the backs of your hands meet above your head until you feel relaxed again.

Having said all that, I wish you much pleasure with tablet weaving.

Copyright © 2002, 2015, 2020 by Otfried Staudigel

Published in: