Tablet Weaving for Garment Trimmings

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An ancient and effective use for tablet weaving is as garment trimmings. Many weavers enjoy augmenting their handmade clothing with tablet woven bands. The topic recently came up on the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) Card Weaving e-list, it seems timely to review the technical issues involved in weaving for clothing.

Since clothing gets cleaned more often than most other tablet woven products, when contemplating weaving for clothing it is important to decide how the resulting band will be cleaned. Several choices present themselves. The band may be affixed permanently to the garment with the expectation that it will either visit the dry cleaner, be hand-washed or be machine washed along with the garment. Alternatively, the band may be basted to the garment with the expectation that it will be removed during the cleaning of the garment and, if necessary, cleaned separately.

This trim (red and yellow) is an interpretation of an 11th-century threaded-in pattern found on a woman’s clothing from Eura, Finland. It’s 2/16s ramie, mounted on sateen cuffs edging the sleeves of a yellow twill woman’s gown. (The weave is an interpretation because the people doing the analysis could not settle on an accurate depiction of the original; the weave that eventually was incorporated into the reconstructed garment set that’s currently traveling the country with the Viking exhibition is another “interpretation” and was chosen from several they wove up during the reconstruction.) This combination, a band mounted on a cloth that is then itself used as an applied edging, was a common method of edging outer garments in the early Middle Ages.

Special trims (wools, silks, brocades, and other long-float weaves, metallics, things dyed with natural dyes, etc.) perform best if basted onto the garment for removal during cleaning. This is often done with other forms of appliqué, and with fur trims. It does require dedication to maintain this sort of trim, but the effect of a special trim
can be truly spectacular, well worth the extra effort. For bands that stay attached during cleaning, it is important to consider the effect the cleaning method will
have on the band. Dry cleaning can do strange things to colors, particularly if natural dyes are involved. Hand washing is frequently the best choice, particularly for wool and some silks, so you might consider putting hand-washable bands only on garments you already intend to hand wash. For machine-washable clothing, pick machine washable fibers.

The trim above is blue and gray, we jokingly call the “were-weasels.” It’s a whimsical take on the 6th-century Norwegian man’s tunic trim from Evebø, Norway, which has some funny-looking 3/1 twill critters with humpbacks on it. This trim is silk buttonhole twist, and it decorates a man’s gray wool tunic sleeves.

Bands made of different fibers respond differently to machine washing. Generally speaking, the longer the fiber and the finer the yarn the better it will survive agitation. Accordingly, line linen bands often respond well to machine washing; some good-quality cotton will also (I’ve had especially good luck with Supima). Ramie tends to fuzz up a bit when washed; all vegetable fibers will fuzz up a bit when machine dried. Silk bands, on the other hand, respond less well to machine washing. Some types of fine silk will wash reasonably well, but any spun silk will tend to fuzz to some degree when machine washed. Bands made of wool can be machine washed very cautiously, but they have an enormous tendency to shrink and felt, even in cold water on a gentle cycle. If you’re never going to wash your garment trimming, no particular accommodations to a yarn’s colorfastness or tendency to shrink need be made. But the same cannot be said for a washable trim. Never try to weave washable trims unless you know the yarn is relatively colorfast! While it may be artistically appropriate to accept a certain level of fading in some naturally dyed yarns over the years, it can be heartbreaking to lose half the color
in a yarn during the first washing or to have half the darker color wind up staining the lighter color. accordingly, it’s a good idea to stabilize the color by washing the yarn beforehand, especially if you are planning a trim with two or more colors. While you’re at it, if you expect to machine dry the completed garment you can also preshrink
the yarn by putting it in the dryer at this point.

When planning the warp for a washable trim, you want to make especially sure to take-up and shrinkage into account. There’s nothing more disappointing than coming up seven inches short on your coat trimming! Accordingly, after you calculate your total warp length in your usual way, it’s a good idea to add an additional percentage to account for shrinkage. An extra 10% or 15%, depending on fiber type, gives an excellent cushion. To be safely washable, a trim ought to have done all its shrinking before it’s mounted on a garment. Before mounting it, wash and dry the completed trim using the method appropriate to the complete project. If the clothing is going to be machine washed and dried, then machine wash and dry the trim. If you have woven with preshrunk yarn, your trim will shrink less than it will if you have not woven with preshrunk yarn. Even a machine washable tablet woven band is a work of art. If you take care in planning and weaving it, a garment trim will keep its beauty for a long time.

Copyright © Carolyn Priest-Dorman

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