Tablet weaving

There was another kind of weaving that was generally done as a home craft. It didn’t produce swathes or bolts of fabric, but its importance can’t be downplayed. In tablet weaving, also called card weaving, the weaver’s quick hands produced dense, colorful straps and belts.

Tablet weaving didn’t need a loom; it could be done anywhere as long as the weaver could tie one end to her waist and the other to a table, post or even tree. A few inches’ wide warp of colored yarns stretched from waist to post. At arm’s length, a set of thin wooden cards clustered along the warp. These tablets had four or more holes in them, and each warp thread ran through a hole. By turning the tablets in groups, rotating them forward or back, the weaver could raise one corner’s holes and threads to the top, then to the underside, then to the top again. It was a very simple way of raising and lowering warp threads in a repetitive pattern.

The tablet weaver kept several balls of colored yarn nearby or wound onto small wooden shuttles. Usually, she had several colors going at once, requiring three or four shuttles to take turns ducking between warp threads. The work moved quickly, since the strap was never more than a few inches wide, and often less. There wasn’t much thought involved, since the tablets turned by rote patterns, backward and forward, and then a different set backward and forward. Weaving in red, blue, yellow, white and black, the weaver made diamonds, stripes, starbursts and checkerboards.

Tablet-woven straps were the decorative touches on most clothing. They were stitched around the hem, sleeves and neck of ladies’ gowns. It was faster to weave a decorative strap than to embroider a solid border of the same size, and the woven strap was stronger and helped the hem hold up better. Tablet-woven belts were good for light use, though leather was needed for storing tools and weapons. Ladies could wear tablet-woven belts, called girdles, to hang their small purses, keys or even small prayer books.

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