Monochromatic Twist Patterned Apprentice Belt

About the Band:

This past Pennsic I had a discussion with my Laurel about our student-Laurel relationship.  She asked if I would like to change from being her student to her apprentice, and I was overjoyed and said YES!   Being a tablet weaver, was tasked to make my own apprentice belt.   This presented a challenge to myself as it involved both free-reign creativity and a very limited color spectrum, due to apprentice belts traditionally being green. 

Then it came to me, a technique I have been wanting to learn for a while, monochromatic twist patterning!  With this technique, a person can create a subtle design or pattern that shows up due to how light is reflected off the different twists of the threads.  This is an advanced tablet weaving technique, as any error, missed thread, or incorrect turn of a card will show. 

I wanted to combine texture (what I will call checkerboard) with lettering.  Not only can you see the checkerboard pattern, but the structure of the weave creates a really interesting texture when you feel it.  The lettering motif is repeated 4 times, as that spacing seemed to work well aesthetically on the band.  The text on the band says “Aut Viam Inveniam Aut Faciam”.   This is a famous quote by the Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca, and means “If I cannot find a way, I will make one”.  I came across this phrase while looking online for phrases in Latin, and felt it completely fits my attitude when it comes to creating and crafting. It highlights my abundant tenacity, and “make it work” style, and I think anyone who knows me would agree.   

Historic examples: 

Monochromatic twist patterning is a period technique, and I took inspiration from both the “Philip of Swabia” belt and a piece informally known as the “Nomine” band.  Historically, these bands were made in silk, likely using size 60/2 (similar to sewing thread), as silk reflects the light best and has the most amount of shine to help see the patterning.  

The Philip of Swabia belt (11th-12th century) woven in silk, prominently shows a single color checkerboard pattern, along with multicolored diamond brocaded areas.   I recreated the checkerboard pattern and the feeling of the diamond shaped brocade by slowly fading in and out of a solid background by weaving a chevron into the pattern as a border to the plain background for the text motifs.

Belt of Philip of Swabia, German, 11th-12th c.  Historisches Museum der Pfalz; D. 334 via Collingwood p.117

The “Nomine” band (9th-10th century) is also made of silk and shows lettering across the band. Interestingly enough, there is an error in the weaving that can be seen in the first “N” where it looks like a card was turned in the opposite direction then intended, leaving a visible line.  Although you can see it more clearly from the picture taken from the back of the band.    

Materials:

I used:   Used In period:
20/2 silk thread   60/2 dyed silk thread
Commercially dyed green weaver could buy dyed silk, or can dye on their own using a combination of yellow and blue dyes, like indigo, and weld or tumeric.
68 Mat board tablets                                  wood, bone, leather, possibly pasteboard
Modern double sided wooden inkle loom   backstrap, box loom, oseberg, warp weighted
Bone Shuttle/beater   wood, bone, may have separate sword to beat warp.  
Final width: 2 inches wide   Variable widths
Fringe twister done by hand  

Since I was making this belt for myself, and wanted a band of about 2 inches wide, I used 68 cards(60 pattern cards, 4 border cards each side) made from mat board and the warp was made from 20/2 commercially dyed green silk.  Historical finds of post 10th Century tablet weaving cards have been limited.  According to Nancy Spies, “it is probable that many tablets after the tenth century were made from less substantial materials such as pasteboard, but no archaeological evidence remains since pasteboard disintegrates”  (Spies p.93).  In period a green color could have been achieved by using indigo (blue), weld (yellow), and turmeric (yellow) among others (Website, “Rosalie’s Medieval Woman”). Purchasing dyed silk rather than making your own is plausible in period, but the color may not have been as vibrant.  Due to the length of the warp (180 inches or 5 yards), I used a modern style inkle loom to secure my work.

I worked on this band intermittently from late August through mid-October, and I wove at an average rate of 2 inches per hour.  The final length of the belt is 82 inches, going up to 90 total inches once the fringes are included.  The weaving time alone was approximately 41 hours, not including a few hours to warp and also a few to finish the fringes, bringing the final work time for this belt to between 50 and 60 hours.

Monochromatic Twist Patterning Technique:

What makes monochromatic twist patterning unique?  Using the same thread throughout the band, and getting a design purely because of how the light is reflected off the fibers as the cards are manipulated.  This is accomplished by all the tablets being threaded in the same direction, either S or Z (standard tablet weaving threading), and as you follow the pattern, some cards are turned forward and others backward creating the pattern you see.  There are two main methods of doing this.  I used the two pack method.  I separated out the cards that would turn forward and the ones that would turn backwards, and turned each group together.  The one group method you continually turn all the cards in the same direction, but you flip their axis (from S to Z or Z to S)  which creates the pattern you see. (Collingwood p. 119)

Creation of the band:

 I started this project by figuring out how long of a belt I needed, then added length to the warp for experimentation and test runs of certain areas.  The extra length was also used to gauge the weaving to see how many rows I would need to complete to make the checkerboard look square (10 cards wide by 6 rows long). Tablet weaving tends to elongate shapes, and in order to approximate the look of a pattern, using a rectangle block versus a square one will help you get a more accurate picture of what the weaving will look like.  I also needed to measure how many rows or large blocks I would need versus the length of the text.  After figuring out how many rows would make a square, I also figured out how many rows I would need for each text motif and the spacing of the band, plus length for the twists at each end of the band.  In all I warped my double sided inkle loom for a continous warp of 180 inches, well beyond what I would need, but I would rather have too much warped then run out of length.

 The next step was to create the text, which posed many challenges.  I based my letters off of the font “Humanist Bookhand” found in Linda Herdrickson’s book, “Please Weave a Message”. She based these letters on the script from the 14th century, and later it was used in the 15th century as a model for type.  Even though these letters were graphed as a pattern, they were made for a different technique called double face double turn, where each line is woven twice.  I was able to use the general forms of these letters as inspiration and a guide, but did have to make multiple adjustments as to not create long floats. I think the font looks quite interesting used in this technique, and looks almost like an outline, making it easier to read.

Other issues with this font were that there were no capital letters graphed, and since it was created for the double face double turn technique, the spacing between letters and words needed to be adjusted.  Even though these were added challenges, it gave me a chance to research and look at period examples of the script, and create my own patterns for the capital letters.  I ended up adjusting the spacing between letters to 3 rows and 9 rows between words. Another consideration I had to address was the vertical spacing of the text.  In Linda Hendrickson’s book, the letters are on a graph that leaves room for the letters that go below the text line, such as g, j, p, q, and y, and letters that go beyond the main text block like b, d, f, h, k, l, and t, as well as my created capital letters.  Since I knew that all my letters stayed above the text line, if I left the center of my letters in the center of the band, the letters would be weighted towards the top of the band, with a large open area under the text.  If I moved the letters down to the bottom of the text area, the band would be weighted towards the bottom of the band.  What I ended up doing was to bring the text between the bottom and middle of the text area, and to elongate the letters slightly.  I think it gives the band a nice balance, and even though the text is not “centered” in the middle of the band, it is more pleasing to the eye.  These challenges were all new to me, and gave me a new perspective of how to make an aesthetically pleasing band.  Seen in the example from the “Nomine” band, the letters go from border to border, but I felt that it would not be as easy to read in that format. Having the negative space around the letters makes them much more noticable.

Twisted fringe:

The way I finished the band was to create twisted fringe on each end of the band from the existing warp and weft threads.  The method of twisted fringes and threads have been around at least since biblical times, and are even mentioned in the 4th and 5th books of the Torah (Fox, p. 949).  They are called “twisted threads”, and “tassels”, and are used on the corners of the Jewish prayer shawl (Tallit).   Fringes were also used on garments from ancient Mesopotamia, and can be seen on the remaining statues and art.  It is not a large leap to think that tablet woven bands could have also been made with decorative twisted threads at the end.  They are easy to make, and help secure the ends of the band to prevent unraveling.  They are also an effiecient use of the threads that would have been otherwise wasted, without adding other costs like beads or metal springs, and shows another skill of the weaver. 

After using the beginning of the band for gauge and practice, I put wood spacers between the warp for three rows.  I then started to weave.  I did this again at the end of the band, so that the twists would be the same length.  I feel the twists create an interesting and tidy way to control the free ends.   Twists are not difficult to achieve, but do take practice to make them look as similar as possible.  To make twists, you take two groups of threads (in this case 4 threads each) and twist them in the same direction till they are taut.  Then tie an overhand knot at the end of the two groups of threads.  When you let go of the tied threads, they twist around eachother in the opposite direction, making your actual twisted end.  For my band, I used a contraption called a “fringe twister” to help mainatain the consistancy of the twists, and also decrease the time needed to make them.  Mine attaches to a table (although not all fringe twisters do), and has allagitor clamps to attach your groups of threads to.  You attach the thread groups to two clamps, turn the handle a certain amount of times (about 30 for this band), carefully remove the twisted ends and tie an overhand knot at the end, and let go!

What I would change: 

In all, I am very happy with how the belt turned out.  The only part I could see needing adjustment would be something that is hard to tell while weaving, and concerns the constant tension of the band.  Through out the band, many of the tablets are turned in the same direction, and with that continual turning in the same direction it builds up what is called “twist”.  This increased twist increases the band tension which can elongate the overall weaving.  It is a fine balance though, because you have to be careful to not loosen the tension too much or the weaving will appear lumpy and loose.  You can only really see this effect if you line up the text blocks next to each other.  When wearing the belt, or looking at it in one horizontal row, you would not see the difference at all.

Even though I used period inspiration to make my belt, I did not originally intend to enter it into a competition.  If I had, I could have used my box loom, with wooden cards, and I could also have used 60/2 hand dyed and spun silk to increase my authenticity score.  But seeing as it was a surprise to enter it, I don’t think the modern adjustments I made influenced the end product, besides the color probably being more vibrant.   

Conclusion:

This belt is a combination of a few period influences.  I am happy to have been able to create such a beautiful piece for myself.  I had been wanting to learn monochromatic twist patterning for a while now, and I feel that creating this pattern/motif band really helped me understand the structure and method to this technique.  I am happy with the final result and will wear it proudly.

Bibliography:

Collingwood, Peter.  “The Techniques of Tablet Weaving”  New York. Watson-Guptill, 1982.

Fox, Everett.  “The Five Books of Moses: A New Translation With Introduction, Commentary and Notes”  Random House, Inc.  New York, 1997.

Hendrickson, Lisa.  “Please Weave A Message”  Portland, OR.  2003.

Spies, Nancy.  “Ecclesiastical Pomp & Aristocratic Circumstance: A Thousand Years of Brocaded Tabletwoven Bands”  Arelate Studio, Jarrettsville, MD.  2000.

Website: “Rosalie’s Medieval Woman” “Medieval Dyestuffs, Dyeing & Colour Names” https://rosaliegilbert.com/dyesandcolours.html

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