Tablet-weaving on the edge of fabric creates a warp-faced binding that decorates and protects. Tablet-woven edging is a skill from medieval Europe, but it is still in use in countries where hand-woven goods are common, such as Peru and Bolivia, because it encloses and reinforces seams, finishes visible garment ends (like sleeve openings and buttonholes) and it can take any shape without rolling or puckering the fabric (like necklines). Where visible, it can be made very decorative and elaborate, with no more skill or time needed than for a utilitarian version—the method and materials are the same! The materials are portable and don't take up much space. The skill requires the same dexterity as hand-sewing but takes less attention than embroidery.
What are weaving tablets?
Tablets, or cards, are thin (0.07 inches thick) pieces of wood cut into small squares (1.6” wide), with holes drilled in each corner. Some examples in period are hexagonal or octagonal, with additional holes, but the easiest shape is square with four holes. Sometimes the edges are colored to help keep the cards aligned together correctly.
Each weaving is defined by how many tablets are in use, not by how many warp ends (individual threads) are being woven. Therefore, a “13 tablet pattern” using 4-hole cards requires 52 warp ends, each thread cut to the needed length for the warp of the weaving.
Many in the SCA substitute cardboard or heavy paper card-stock (playing cards, for instance) instead of wood tablets. However, the more flimsy the material of the tablet, the more likely the threads will catch under neighboring cards and bend them (always frustrating). Thicker wooden cards are simpler to manipulate, so long as the pattern doesn't call for too many of them.
How does tablet-weaving on an edge differ from regular weaving?
Can I document medieval sources for this technique to make my project into an A&S display?
Yes! Tablet weaving itself existed throughout medieval Europe, especially later in period. Starting in the 700s, everywhere that the Vikings touched one may argue for it as a “known technique.” In France, one humorous illumination depicts a lady weaving her lover's hair using tablets and a rigid beater (Codex Manesse, Cod. Pal. Germ. 848, folio 284r)... but don't try that at home.
Later, it is demonstrably used as a seam finishing. For instance, many pieces in the Baynard Castle textile dump from around 1330, England, include tablet-woven edges along seams and button-holes. From veils to sleeve-ends, from cloaks to cotehardies, this is a valid finishing technique for a European persona's garb after the 13th century.
Instructions for Tablet-Woven Seam Finishing
Variations and Advanced Steps
Bare Minimum Tools To finish a fabric edge with the fewest possible tools:
Luxury Tool To make the twisting problem never even occur, use bobbins AND fishing-lure spinners. Anchor the 4 warp threads from each tablet through a spinner before it feeds onto its bobbin, and rig the spinners to the rear upright so they can turn with each twist of the tablets. Rely more on your fingers to open the sheds fully and maintain correct tension if you use this option.
Flat Ribbon To make a flat ribbon on the edge of the fabric, instead of a tube around it, follow all of the steps to get weaving. Instead of running the needle under the warp to meet the fabric like step 11, weave back through the shed and THEN into the fabric. Stitch, rotate the tablets, throw the shuttle; rotate the tablets, throw the shuttle, stitch (weave, weave, stitch; weave, weave, stitch); continue.
Wider Ribbon To make your edging wider, without needing thicker yarn, simply add more tablets to the weaving, threading the same way.
Twill To make a chevron pattern in the edging, alternate the angle of the cards in step 3.
Farmer Shannon runs MSSF and keeps horses, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats, while living gluten-free & spinning/weaving for a hobby in the SCA.