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protegee_belt
Summary Description:  The belt you are examining here is a tablet-woven belt, made of a warp 60 cards wide of 30/3 weight wet-spun natural linen.  The thread was purchased from Robin & Russ Handweavers, and the two shades of yellow are their “Light Yellow” and “Orange Yellow”.  The cards were threaded with alternating S and Z threading and were warped onto an inkle loom to ease portability.  Fishing swivels were used to facilitate removing built-up twist on the threads.  The weft used was the lighter yellow linen thread.  The three edge cards on each side were treated as selvedge, and were constantly turned in the same direction -- these cards were threaded with four threads of the same color. The 54 central cards were threaded with two light and two dark threads each, and the pattern was created using double-face plain weaving.  The pattern for the belt is included.

My protegee belt laid out straight so that the wording is visible My protegee belt folded to show both front and back.

The Historical Context:
Tablet weaving has been practiced since ancient times, and some of the earliest preserved fragments of tablet weaving, such as those found in the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, are small scraps protected by metal belt buckles and strap ends.  Early examples can be found of double-faced weaving (see Stettiner, 1911, as cited in Collingwood, 1996, p. 13), and there are many examples of double-faced weaving, both in plain-weave (Henshall, 1964; Crockett, 1991, p. 16) and twill (Collingwood, 1996, p. 210; Crockett, 1991, p. 16).  Tablet-woven phrases are equally common, both in brocade (Crockett, 1991, p. 15), and double-faced plain weave (Crockett, 1991, p. 16), and double-faced twill (Collingwood, 1996, p. 210)  Surviving tablet weaving samples can be found in several fibers:  wool (the most common, with many citations possible), silk (Collingwood, 1996, p. 150, 210; Crockett, 1991, p. 19; Crowfoot, Pritchard and Staniland, 1992, pp. 130-138; Henshall, 1964), and linen (Crowfoot, 1954, 1956).  This belt was designed to blend with my persona, which is 12th century Gaelic, though it would be typical of many times and places within the medieval period.

The Belt:
The Thread:  The thread used for the belt is 30/3 wet-spun linen.  I chose linen for my belt because I wanted a thread that was both strong and smooth.  Tablet weaving requires a very smooth thread — the threads must constantly rub against each other during the weaving, and any roughness to the yarn will cause snagging and difficulty in clearing the shed for weaving.  A strong thread is also required — tablet weaving places a great deal of tension on the threads as each card’s threads are twisted around each other during the turning of the cards that produces the pattern of the weave.

The 30/3 size thread was chosen to allow a finished width of 2 inches, and was a good compromise allowing the desired thread strength and detail.  A finer thread would have allowed greater detail (more cards and more picks per inch), but at the cost of thread strength and belt width.

The specific colors for the belt were selected to provide a good contrast, so that the pattern would be highly visible. While commercially dyed with modern dyes, the colors could have been achieved with period dyes.  The bright orange-yellow is easily achieved by dyeing with onion skins — the longer the skins are allowed to simmer, the brighter the color obtained.  The light yellow could have been achieved with any number of natural dyes — yellow is one of the most common colors obtainable by natural dyeing.  (See some of the examples shown on the color plates in The Colour Cauldron and A Dyer’s Garden.)

The Pattern:  The pattern woven is a combination of several elements, some created specifically for this belt and some I have used in an earlier belt.  They were graphed out using PatternMaker, a cross-stitch pattern program available for the PC. The printed versions are somewhat worse for the wear — please keep all liquids away from them, as the ink blurs dramatically whenever it gets wet.

The knotwork pattern was adapted from pattern #278 on Co Spinhoven’s Celtic Charted Designs, with the spacing adjusted to fit on a 54-card-wide pattern. The knotwork pattern serves as a place to knot the belt without blocking any of the main pattern.  I wanted the phrase I was weaving to be completely visible while I wore it, so needed the “space-holder” at the beginning.

The alphabet used for the main part of the pattern is greatly adapted from an alphabet found in Marcus Caiaphas of York’s Alphabets.  Most medieval examples of lettering on belts are done in Roman capitals, but my persona is Celtic and I wanted to use the Celtic half-uncial alphabet to play on this.  I needed an alphabet that was both large enough to fill the 54-card-wide pattern area and clear enough to be read from a distance.  Spacing was the trickiest part of the pattern, as I had to adjust it several times to achieve the length I wanted — a phrase that would fit exactly around my waist, but wouldn’t be caught up within the knotting of the belt at either end.  Previous experience allowed me to estimate how long the pattern would weave out, and I measured several times as I was weaving to check my estimate.  Putting the belt on for the first time, however, was still an unnerving experience, as I realized the length was exactly right.

The knotwork dragons are adaptations and amalgamations from several sources, including Celtic Charted Designs and a design I first saw on the cover of Weaver’s issue no. 8.  I had used this pattern before on another belt, which contains three repeats of the pattern, so I knew approximately how long it would weave to.  I also enjoyed this particular pattern, and wanted to use it on this belt to further play up the Celtic aspects of my persona.  As I plan to be wearing this belt for quite a few years, I wanted it to have designs I enjoyed on it.

The final design on the belt, the tower, is the major charge on my liege's arms.  I felt it a suitable design to finish the belt.  Originally, while plotting out the pattern, I had also graphed out the major charge from my own arms to weave as well — a cross avellane — which is printed on page 8 of the main pattern.  I dropped it as a part of the belt, however, since I judged it unnecessary and it would have made the belt too long for it's intended purpose.

Weaving:  I chose to warp this belt onto my inkle loom in order to facilitate its portability.  During medieval times, tablet weaving was done either on back-strap looms, warp-weighted looms (particularly when the tablet weaving was being incorporated into the edge of a larger piece of cloth), and the warp was stretched between two fixed vertical posts. (See the illuminations from two Books of Hours in Collingwood, 1996, p. 31.)  Modern necessity and a desire to be able to weave in any location where I might find free time dictated the choice of the inkle loom, since I didn’t want to restrict myself to only one location, and don’t have a good spot available to permanently set up a vertical loom. One handicap to tablet weaving on an inkle loom is that much more tension is placed on the loom than with regular inkle weaving.  Several points on the loom — the tension bar and the warping pegs, in particular — suffer under the strain.

The cards were threaded in alternating S and Z pattern in order to produce a smooth belt.  Weaving threaded all S or all Z through the cards results in a belt that will tend to curl and warp in one direction or the other.  The orange and brown tablet woven sampler is included here to show this phenomenon.  It includes several sections which curl the entire width of the strip, as well as two areas (an X pattern toward one end, and a diamond pattern toward the center) that show cards threaded S and Z in sections, as opposed to alternating each card.  Note the dimpling that results.

I have been using fishing-lure swivels on my warps, to aid removal of the twist that builds up during weaving of a non-symmetrical pattern.  Symmetrical patterns — patterns that are based on turning all the cards in one direction together for a certain number of turns, then reversing the direction and turning the cards until the built-up twist is worked out — don’t have to worry about the twist that builds up in the warp threads. Double-faced weaves, however, are based on moving individual cards, and twist can easily build up to the point where the tension can no longer be held evenly on the warp.  The fishing-lure swivels allow me to work the twist out, and keep my tension more even — especially important for selvedge cards, which always turn the same direction, and thus build up twist more rapidly than other cards, which are reversed on a fairly regular (if, unfortunately, not an even) basis.  It also allows me to weave a longer belt, as less is wasted by twist take-up in the length.

Care was taken to assure proper tension on the weft thread, with measurements taken frequently to assure a consistent width of 2 inches for the finished weave.

Finishing:  The starting end of the belt was specifically woven with enough plain weave before the start of the pattern area to allow the belt to be sewn onto a 2-inch ring.  I decided on this style belt as having a fringe at both ends of the belt would have required the centering of the woven phrase, and might have made the belt too long. The belt was cut off the loom, then several rows were unwoven, both to allow me to run the weft thread back through a row, to better secure the end, and to allow me to use the weft thread to sew the belt onto the ring.

The fringe at the end of the belt was created by cutting each tablet off individually. The four threads were then over-twisted individually, then allowed to twist back together, and two threads were knotted together to hold the twist.  Cutting each tablet individually allowed me to keep the fringe even, and to insure I was twisting the correct four threads together each time.

The small gold ring hooked into the weaving at the ring end of the belt is a token given me by my liege, and was added after the belt was complete.

Bibliography

Baines, Patricia (1989), Linen:  Handspinning and Weaving, London:  B.T. Batsford, Ltd.

Buchanan, Rita (1995), A Dyer’s Garden:  From Plant to Pot; Growing Dyes for Natural Fibers, Loveland, CO:  Interweave Press.

Collingwood, Peter (1996), The Techniques of Tablet Weaving, New York: Watson-Guptill (first edition 1982, reprinted 1996).

Crockett, Candace (1991), Card Weaving, Loveland, CO:  Interweave Press (first edition 1973, revised edition 1991).

Crowfoot, Elisabeth (1983), “The Textiles.” The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, ed. Rupert Bruce-Mitford, vol. 3, part 1, pp. 409-479, London: British Museum Publications Limited.

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland (1992), Textiles and Clothing, London: HMSO.

Crowfoot, Grace M. (1954), “Tablet-woven Braid from a Thirteenth-century Site.” The Antiquaries Journal, v. 34 (3-4):  234-235.

Crowfoot, Grace M. (1956), “Fragment of Braid, with Centre in Warp Pattern Weave and Two Tablet Twists on Either Side.” The Antiquaries Journal, v. 36 (3-4):  188- 189.

Dean, Jenny (1994), The Craft of Natural Dyeing:  Glowing Colours from the Plant World, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Great Britain:  Search Press, Ltd.

Eng, Brian (ska: Marcus Caiaphas of York)(1995), Alphabets:  A Selection of Patterns Suitable for Double-face Tablet Weaving, n.c.:  n.p.

Grierson, Su (1986), The Colour Cauldron:  The History and Use of Natural Dyes in Scotland, Tibbermore, Perthshire, Scotland:  the author.

Henshall, Audrey (1964), “Five Tablet-Woven Seal-Tags.” Archaeological Journal v. 121:  154-62.

Spinhoven, Co (1987), Celtic Charted Designs, New York:  Dover Publications, Inc.

van der Hoogt, Madelyn (1990), “Double Two-Tie Unit Weave for Supplementary Warp,” Weaver’s vol. 2 (4): 32-37 (issue no. 8).

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