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!

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]

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.

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.

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



[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.