Brocaded tablet weaving is a good place to start experimenting with the “fancier” tablet weaving, tablet weaving with designs added later, not resulting from the threading of the cards themselves. The brocade is added by using a second, supplementary weft — a weft that is not integral to the structure of the tablet-weaving itself. This weft is placed on top of the woven band, and can be in any pattern the weaver might desire, so long as its threads are tied down at reasonable intervals. Any design that can be graphed out can be brocaded, and quite often designs meant for other fiber arts forms are easily adapted.
There are many surviving examples of brocaded tablet weaving from period — most have metallic brocading thread, which does not deteriorate as quickly as nonmetallic fibers do. Often, the only part of the band remaining is the metal thread, and the nonmetallic band must be deduced by what has been left behind. Most nonmetallic bands that have survived are bands that were covered by metal brooches or pins, so that the metal protected the band.
Of the nonmetallic fibers, protein-based fibers (e.g. silk) tend to survive better than cellulose-based fibers (e.g. linen). One study comparing bands produced with more-expensive imported materials (silk) vs. less-expensive locally-produced materials (linen) found that the silk survived much better, and that often the linen fibers were completely deteriorated, while the silk survived. (This study also found that the silk fiber was used much more sparingly, with bands being made with as little as 16% silk vs. linen — the linen was used on those threads that would be hidden by the metallic brocading weft, while the silk was used on threads that would remain visible.)
As we have seen in the historical examples, often the warp thread of a band has not survived because a less expensive fiber was used in that part of a band. Both linen and silk warps are known in period, and are good choices for a warp, as they produce a smooth surface that can be easily covered by the brocade weft. Cotton warps are not seen in period, as cotton was not commonly seen as a weaving fiber in the northern areas where tablet weaving is most commonly found. It is now often used in reproduction bands, taking the place of linen, in particular, because of its cost and ubiquity.
Threads: Weft — Both Ground and Brocade
The ground weft of a brocaded band is usually the same as the warp thread, particularly the threads at the edges of the band. The ground weft is integral to the structure of the band, but is usually intended to blend in, and not be a visible part of the pattern.
The brocading weft, on the other hand, is specifically chosen because of its visible effect on the band, and some consideration needs to be made as to the size and thickness of the thread because of this. Too narrow a brocading weft will not cover the warp well enough to give a distinct pattern, but too thick a brocading weft will cause the band to have areas that are wider at the brocade pattern than between the patterns.
For other considerations of material and equipment, please see Warping Cards for Cardweaving.
The pattern for a brocaded band can be anything you might be able to imagine — anything you can graph can be brocaded. Some care should be taken that any time the brocade weft is on top the band, it should be secured periodically, so that over-long floats don’t develop that might snag and pull during normal use.
Brocading is customarily done on a plain, smooth background, created by threading the tablets in an alternating Z and S pattern, and then turning them continuously in one direction. The idea is to produce a flat surface that doesn’t distract from the brocade itself.
Starting the Brocading
The band is begun by weaving the first inch or so using only a ground weft, so as to set the width of the band. Once the band is well started, the brocading weft can be added. Normally, it is laid under the surface (i.e. through the same shed as the ground weft) for a row or two to secure it within the band. Once secure, the brocade pattern can be started.
Turning the Brocade Weft
Once you are ready to start the actual design, you need to decide where you are going to treat the brocade weft, and particularly where you are going to turn the weft along each line of weaving. There are several possibilities, each of which gives a slightly different effect to the band.
At the edge
You can turn it at the edge of the band, as you turn the ground weft. This is certainly an easy way to handle it, but it has the handicap of leaving the brocading thread visible along the edge — often not what is desirable for the band, as thicker threads and many metallic threads will not turn smoothly, leaving loops behind. This method is best used when brocading with a soft thread, such as silk, which turns more smoothly.
One to two tablets in
You can choose to turn the thread one or two tablets inside the edge of the band, taking the brocading weft to the back between the tablets, and bringing it back up at the same point for the next line of the pattern. This leaves a small line of thread (resembling a running stitch) visible on the back of the thread, and produces a nice smooth edge to the band. This is, by far, the most common method seen in period bands.
A variant of this method sometimes seen in Period is to have the brocade weft come to the front of the band one to two tablets in from the edge, instead of dropping to the back of the band. This produces the “running stitch” effect on the face of the band, instead of the back.
Wrapping around the edge
Another possibility is to wrap the brocading weft around the edge of the band — taking the weft down under the band at the edge of the pattern, but bringing it up and over the edge of the band to begin the new pattern. This produces a pattern that extends to the edge of the band, which can be desirable, but the weft can wear away, as well. There is only one known example of a period band with this sort of edge.
Turning at the edge of the pattern
And yet another possibility is to turn the brocading weft at the edge of the brocade pattern. This can be the most efficient use of a possibly-expensive brocade weft. This method is most often seen in period when there is more than one brocade weft in a row, so that one weft goes to (or near) the edge of the band, while the other stays only in the area of its pattern.
Possibly the most spectacular effect in brocading is to have the brocade weft pass all the way through the warp, producing mirror-images on either side of the band. This is usually seen in bands where the intent is for both sides to be visible.
Tying-Down the Brocade Weft
Not only are there different ways to treat the brocade weft at the edge of the band, but there are also different ways to tie down the weft as it passes across the band. It can be passed under one warp thread from a tablet, which can be used either as a part of the pattern or can be nearly invisible, depending on the color of the ground warp. (This is the most common type of tie-down seen in period bands.) It can also be passed under two threads, for a more distinctly visible break in the line of the brocade. And tie- downs can also be arranged either diagonally or vertically, depending on the needs of the pattern.
The path of the brocade weft through the warp.
A Summary of the Weaving Steps for Brocading
1) Open a new shed in the band.
2) Beat firmly to tighten previous weaving line.
3) Take shuttle with ground weft across to opposite side.
4) Bring brocade weft to surface at chosen point along new weaving line.
5) Using pick-up stick, pick up threads where brocade weft is to be hidden under warp threads, according to pattern.
6) Take shuttle with brocade weft across to other side, through the shed cleared by the pick-up stick.
7) Take brocade weft back to back of band at chosen point.
8) Turn cards one quarter turn forward, closing weaving shed and opening new shed.
Note: Beating on an open shed will not tighten the brocade weft. Closing the weft by turning one quarter turn forward and then beating will tighten the brocade thread and help make the pattern being woven more distinct.
Anna Neuper’s Modelbuch, transcribed and edited by Nancy Spies with Ute Bargmann, (2003) Jarrettsville, MD: Arelate Studio, 56 pp. A transcription of the patterns from an early 16th century book of brocading patterns, originally written by a 70 year old nun from a German convent. An excellent source for some beautiful geometric brocading patterns.
Collingwood, Peter, The Techniques of Tablet Weaving, (1996) McMinnville, OR: Robin & Russ Handweavers, 320 pp. The bible of tablet weaving, this book goes into great detail on all aspects of tablet weaving, with diagrams of thread position and movement for many different techniques. Not for the beginner, but needed by anyone who has advanced beyond the stage where this much detail might frighten them off.
Hansen, Egon, Tablet Weaving: History, Techniques, Colours, Patterns, (1990) Højbjerg, Denmark: Hovedland Publisher, 135 pp. A book covering both 3/1 twill tablet weaving and brocaded tablet weaving, giving both a catalogue, with reconstructions, of many well- known bands, and patterns for weaving those bands.
Osebergfunnet : bind iv, Tekstilene, ed. by Arne Emil Christensen and Margareta Nockert, (2006) Oslo : Universitetet i Oslo, 401 pp. The book on the textiles recovered from the Oseberg ship burial, covering both the tapestries and the brocaded tablet woven bands found. In Norwegian with an extensive English summary at the back.
Spies, Nancy, Ecclesiastical Pomp & Aristocratic Circumstance, (2000) Jarrettsville, MD: Arelate Studio, 315 pp. An excellent source for information about brocade tablet weaving, covering its history, weaving technique with patterns of many medieval brocade bands, and a very complete catalog of medieval tablet woven bands, organized by museum.
Müller Christensen, Sigrid, “Examples of Mediaeval Tablet Woven Bands”, pp. 232-237 in Studies in Textile History, ed. by Veronika Gervers, (1977) Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 371 pp. A short description, with pictures, of several fragments of brocaded tablet weaving.
Textiles and Clothing c.1150 c.1450, ed. by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland (1992) London: HMSO, 223 pp. The chapter on “Narrow Wares” covers several brocaded tablet woven bands that have been found.