Introduction to Threads in Tablet Weaving

• ❑ Introduction
These notes are still evolving, as I gain more experience with the various threads I am playing with. The inspiration for this class was a desire to learn more about the fibers I have available to me, and an interest in finding others who are equally curious about the possibilities for tablet weaving that surround them.
▼ ❑ threads — how does each handle differently?
The thread you choose as warp for your project, needless to say, is the most critical feature affecting the look and feel of the final product. Cardweaving is a warp-dominated weaving style, which means that the warp thread controls the color, the pattern and the weight of the band being produced. I haved seen bands produced from threads as fine as sewing thread, or finer. I have also seen bands produced with yarns thick enough to qualify as rope, which produced bands heavy enough to be used as saddle girths for horses.

Thread sizes are usually given as a ratio, showing the size of an individual ply (as compared to a standard size, which differs for each fiber) and the number of plies in the thread. The standards for the main fibers are:

Size 1 cotton: 840 yds in one pound
Size 1 linen: 300 yds in one pound
Size 1 wool: 560 yds in one pound
Size 1 silk: 497 yds in one pound

As the size number goes up, the strands get proportionally thinner: a size 10 thread is one-tenth the diameter of a size 1 thread.

No matter what size thread you choose, look for these qualities: 1) strength — to withstand the hard beating used in cardweaving, 2) smooth surface — to keep threads from catching on each other or on card surfaces when the cards are turned, 3) resistant to fraying — to stand up to the wear placed on them by the edges of the card holes, and 4) tightly plied — so that the twisting of weaving won’t unply them completely as the project is woven.
▼ ❑ cotton
Cotton is usually the first fiber most weavers work with. It is strong, wears well and is available in a wide range of colors and sizes. I regularly use 10/2 cotton thread (4,200 yds per pound), and find that it makes a 2 inch wide belt with 60 cards.
▼ ❑ mercerized
Given a choice between mercerized and unmercerized, choose mercerized. The threads will be much smoother, and usually have a better sheen to them, making the final band look better in the end.
• ❑ What is mercerization?
“Mercerization is the treatment [of cotton thread] in caustic alkali which increases the strength of the thread, increases its dye absorption, and adds gloss.” — The Weaver’s Book, Harriet Tidball, (1976, c.1961) New York: Collier Books, p.12.
• ❑ unmercerized
Unmercerized cotton is somewhat harder to work with than mercerized, but is still a good choice for cardweaving. I have found that 8/4 carpet warp, which is unmercerized, is excellent as a first thread for teaching, as it is tough enough to stand up to any tension that can be put on it.
▼ ❑ linen
Linen is another excellent fiber to use for cardweaving as, like cotton, it doesn’t stretch. I have woven with linen several times, and have had little trouble. My favorite weight is 30/3 linen, though 20/2 is an equivalent size and much easier to find.
• ❑ wet-spun vs. dry-spun
Linen is commonly spun wet. This method allows the gummy lignin between the fibers to be softened, and better incorporates the stiff ends of the fibers into the thread. Wet-spinning also strengthens the thread, as flax is one fiber that is strronger wet than dry. Thus, wet-spun linen is much to be preferred over dry-spun, as the threads will be smoother, and have a better gloss.
▼ ❑ silk
Silk is an excellent fiber for cardweaving, and quite a few of the cardwoven bands that have survived from period are silk. The fibers are long and straight, and can have a wonderful luster to them.
• ❑ bombyx and tussah
Bombyx (cultivated from the Bombyx mori silkworm, and white) and tussah (from wild tussah silkworms, and tan) are both very long-fibered and strong for their size. They are used for the most lustrous threads, and take dye very well, producing bright, vivid colors.
• ❑ noil
Silk noil thread is made from the leftover fibers after the raw cocoons have been processed. It is usually much more nubby and thick, and while useable for cardweaving, will not produce the same luster as bombyx or tussah silk. It is also somewhat fuzzy, so may have problems with fibers catching on each other.
▼ ❑ wool
Wool is a fiber that was commonly used in period for cardweaving, and many wool bands have survived. It tends to be a stretchy fiber, however, and care must be taken to avoid tension problems while you weave.
• ❑ worsted v. woolen
Of the two types of wool thread available, worsted is the smoother, and thus better for the purposes of cardweaving. Worsted thread results from spinning using the worsted method — spinning from combed fibers that are drafted without any twist, and with all the noils removed. Woolen thread results from an entirely different spinning method — the carded fibers are drafted with a twist being added. Worsted threads are fairly dense and strong, relatively smooth, and resist abrasion. Wool threads, on the other hand, are fairly light, soft and fuzzy, insulate well, and have a nice loft and feel.

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