A Brief History of Tablet Weaving

One of the activities I like to partake in for historical reenactment is tablet weaving. Used extensively in the Viking Age for decorative and functional purposes, tablet weaving has been around for centuries all over the world.

The origins of tablet weaving were initially attributed to the Ancient Eyptians. This was based off the discovery of a woven belt that was dubbed the Girdle of Ramesses, for the inked cartouche of Ramesses III on the artifact. This theory was further supported by the publication of the book Le tissage aux cartons et son utilisation décorative dans l’Égypte ancienne (The tablet weaving and decorative use in ancient Egypt) by Gennep and Jéquier [1]. That would have meant that tablet weaving existed circa 1180BC, if not earlier!

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The Girdle of Rameses. Image Source: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/collections/spotlight/rameses_girdle.aspx

However, this theory was dispelled when structural analysis by Peter Collingwood proved that the girdle could not have been created by tablet weaving methods. [2]

In any event, tablet weaving is still an ancient method of textile production. Archaeological evidence points towards bands made during the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Scandinavian region. They were usually used in conjunction with warp weighted looms used for textile production, and were mostly used to create borders and edges on woven fabrics. [3]

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A warp weighted loom. Image Source: http://awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/warp-weighted-loom

There are numerous techniques one can employ when tablet weaving, and in the area of Birka (arguably one of the best Viking dig sites uncovered), there have been excavated countless tablet woven bands employing a brocade technique (more on that in a later post). These bands were most likely used as edges for garments, and to provide decoration.

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Band 2 from Birka Grave 824. Image Source: http://www.shelaghlewins.com/tablet_weaving/Birka_twine/Birka_01.htm

Other bands have been found all over Scandinavia, such as the Snartemo band found in Norway, dated to the 5th Century.

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Reproduction of Snartemo band by altikh. Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/altikh/2064956045/

Unfortunately, because of the design elements of swastikas, Snartemo bands really aren’t doable in the SCA context.

I will be posting in a few days the technical aspect of tablet weaving, as well as an introduction to some of the techniques available.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

 

Resources:

[1] Gennep, Arnold Van, and G. Jéquier. Le Tissage Aux Cartons Et Son Utilisation Décorative Dans L’Égypte AncienneNeuchatel, 1916. Print.

[2] Collingwood, Peter. The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. McMinnville, Or.: Robin & Russ Handweavers, 1996. Print.

[3] Gleba, Margarita. Textile Productions in Pre-Roman Italy. Oxford: Oxbow, 2008. Print.

Överhogdal Tapestries

The Överhogdal Tapestries are a group of extremely well-preserved textiles discovered in Överhogdal, Sweden. While it’s not exactly close to Gotland (where my persona is from), it is from approximately the same period, and I like to use this as a basis for some of the motifs I use when tablet weaving. The tapestries are unique, in my opinion, because they depict both Christian and Norse mythology, reflective of the prominence of both religions in that era.

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Image Source: http://www.medievalhistories.com/viking-textiles-from-overhogdal/

The tapestries were found in the Överhogdal Church vestry in 1909, though they have been dated to between 800-1100AD by radiocarbon dating tests. The majority of the tapestry is made of a combination of hemp and flax, though the figures are embroidered with dyed wool.

At the bottom portion of the tapestry, you can see a small building embellished with crosses, representing Christian churches. The small rectangles of two colors represent people, worshiping Christ.

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Norse symbolism is also clearly visible, in the many eight-legged horses, representing Sleipnir, Loki’s child by the horse Svaðilfari, and Odin’s steed. In the center of the bottom portion of the tapestry, Yggdrasil, or the World Tree, is prominently displayed in a stylized manner.

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There are also portions of the tapestry that depict Viking longships, again packed with rectangular figures that represent people.

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Previous theories of what this tapestry could be depicting range from a march towards Yggdrasil, to the Christianization of the region Härjedalen. Most scholars now seem to agree that it most likely depicts Ragnarök, the series of events that would eventually lead to the destruction of the old world and the renewal of life with Líf and Lífþrasir, two human survivors.

Analyzing artifacts in their historical and iconographic contexts is important to learning how to accurately replicate anything. The motifs from this tapestry can give us an idea of what was aesthetically the “norm” during the period, and can mean the difference from good, accurately constructed reenactment, and one that is well, not so good. I personally don’t think I’ve gotten to that level yet with my garb, but I hope with the research I am currently doing, I will eventually get to that point where I can fully embody the traits of somebody from that period, because isn’t that what true historical reenactment is?

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA

 

Resources:

[1] “Viking Textiles.” Medieval Histories. 19 Oct. 2013. Web.