This is my attempt at recreating the tablet-woven band used as trim on the bottom edge of the Royal Mantle made for King Roger II of Sicily.
The band was originally created as the trim on the bottom of the Royal Mantle of King Roger II of Sicily. The mantle was made in the workshops of Palermo and presented to King Roger in either 1133 or 1134. As Roger was crowned King of Sicily in 1130, this was completed at too late of a date to be used for his own coronation, however, it was used by Holy Roman Emperors as a coronation garment well into the 18th century. The decorative theme of the mantle depicts a palm tree and on each side a lion, the symbol of the Norman Hauteville Kings of Sicily, attacking a camel, which was a representation of the Arab world.
It currently resides in the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) in Vienna, Austria.
Length: ca. 485.0 cm
Warp: red, white, and blue silk
Brocade weft: “spun-gilt silver” around core of white silk
Number of tablets: ca. 55 (ca. 37 in center pattern area; 9 in each border)
tablets threaded in all four holes; 2 tablets red, 5 tablets white, 2 tablets blue, ca. 37 tablets 2 red and 2 white, 2 tablets blue, 5 tablets white, 2 tablets red = ca. 220 warp ends
tablets threaded alternating S and Z; holes with white threads set opposite holes with red threads in adjacent tablet, etc.
Center pattern: repeating knotwork motifs, swastikas, elongated “s” motif, diamonds, and other geometric motifs; tie-downs by red warp on front of band
Border pattern: straight line (‘stave’) divided at regular intervals (ca. ten rows) by a diagonal line
Gilt-silver thread first appeared on European textiles in the ninth century, and “spun-gilt silver” quickly became the thread of choice as its relative cheapness made it possible to use in greater quantities.
Silvia Aisling Ungerechts, a fellow weaving enthusiast, was able to visit the original piece in Vienna and was able to study the finished piece and take detailed pictures of the band and provide them to me, as well as providing me with additional information on the band itself. The band is very worn and making out the pattern was quite difficult, but Silvia believes that there are 41 pattern threads versus the 37 specified in the Spies book. Also, there are four motifs as noted in Spies, noted above, with each taking up a quarter of the band. I was provided pictures on the condition that they would not be published, which is why I cannot include them in this documentation. I was however able to create my own pattern based on the pictures, as seen on the left. Although commonly used throughout history, instead of using the swastika patterns I changed them to a stylized diamond due to modern cultural sensitivities.
How I Did It
My attempt to recreate this band was done on a box loom (a period style of loom) using 60/2 silk and silver-gilt metallic thread imported from Denmark. Although since I received new information on the band and revised my design, I am using two strands of DMC light gold embroidery floss. The ground weave was woven with the S-Z pattern which is the most common threading pattern used on brocade pieces. The tablets were all threaded in all 4 holes with tablets alternately threaded S and Z. They are then all turned as a whole in a single direction. This is what creates the classic “chevron” pattern which resembles knitting.
The method of brocading that I used was the one most commonly used in medieval bands, where the brocade weft dives to the back of the band at the end of the row between one or more of the outer cards. On the return pick it comes up from the back again between one or more of the outer tablets and starts its movement from within the main shed, moving to the surface at the first appearance of the pattern.
The changes I made were to increase the number of border cards by one on each side, for a total of 57 cards and revising the original design from containing swastikas to a stylized diamond pattern.
What I Learned
This is only my second band using silk and metallic thread. The ground weave is different than most brocades, having alternating red and white, making any irregularities in the weaving far more obvious than on a single-colored warp. The silver-gilt thread that I have is also very brittle and prone to having the metallic outside break at the slightest tension, exposing the core fibers inside. This is why I changed to using the individual threads of DMC embroidery floss for the second portion of my band.
At 57 cards, this is a much more complicated piece than my previous metallic brocade band. Adding to the difficulties was the fact that there are very few detailed pictures of the band to be found. I made efforts to contact the museum where the original is held to no avail. The original description in Spies states that the pattern contains “repeating knotwork motifs, swastikas, elongated ‘s’ motif, diamonds, and other geometric motifs” but as there was very little photographic evidence of this, so I chose to stay with the known pattern from the Spies book, consisting of a knotwork pattern for the first portion of the band. After learning more about the band from a fellow weaving enthusiast, I was able to come up with a pattern which is heavily influenced by the original piece.
Due to tension difficulty the first portion of the band is much wider than it should be, with the second portion of the band the width is closer to the size of the original piece.
Due to the extreme fineness of the threads as well as the amount of working of the threads that was required, I had multiple warp threads break during the weaving process, and due to the increased strain provided on the threads by trying to keep the weave tight, my ground weft thread broke multiple times.
Ecclesiastical Pomp & Aristocratic Circumstance: A Thousand Years of Brocaded Tabletwoven Bands. Spies, Nancy. Arelate Press, 2000.
Photo of Royal Mantle taken from http://www.kaiserliche-schatzkammer.at/en/visit/collections/secular-treasury/selected-masterpieces/