Cardweaving, as a fiber art, is one of the easiest and least expensive crafts to take up. No major outlays of cash are necessary for materials, and beautiful weaving is possible with a minimal amount of practice. Most classes, however, teach how to do the actual weaving ‐‐ very few take you from the point of a pack of cards and spools of thread to the point where you have a warp of threads set up, a weft of thread wound onto your shuttle and are ready to start weaving. That is the ambition of this page.
Before you can even think about warping your cards, you have to consider what you need in the way of materials. We will review the choices possible in what cards to weave with, what thread to warp the cards with, and what loom to weave the band on.
Cards can actually come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Cards that have survived from period are usually much smaller than the cards we see, today. Four‐holed cards are easily the most common, but cards with three and six holes are also used, occasionally. eight‐hole cards have been found. For some patterns, four‐hole cards are used, but not all the holes are threaded.
Some considerations for your cards; whatever their shape and whatever the material they are made of, they are going to wear on your threads to some degree. Make sure the edges of the holes, as well as the card surfaces where the thread rubs, are as smooth as possible. You must, ultimately, regard cards as expendable objects ‐‐ they will get worn, and cardboard ones will get bent. As they wear, they will get rough, and will begin to rub your threads, causing the thread to wear and break. Plan on cardboard cards only lasting for a few projects, at most.
Cardboard cards are the most common cards around. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to find. Some people make their own cards by taking a deck of playing cards, cutting them down and punching holes in each corner. Personally, I prefer purchasing pre‐made cards, particularly the ones with the ʺfifthʺ square hole in the center ‐‐ I have a stick specially made to fit that hole, which I use to keep my cards in order as I store and transport them.
There are now generally available two different sizes of wood cards. I have purchased both, and want to be sure you know the differences. The larger ones are 85mm (a little over 3 1/4 inches) square, the size of a normal cardboard card, and approx. 3mm thick, fairly thick in comparison with cardboard cards. For all their size, they are fairly light, and are made, I believe, of Italian poplar. Surprisingly, they eventually discolor when they are out in the light being used ‐‐ in my collection, it is easy to see which ones were out and which were hidden away from the light.
The smaller cards are 38mm (1 1/2 inches) square, and 1.2mm thick, much smaller and thinner than modern cards, and much closer in size to the cards found in various archeological sites.
Leather, ivory, bone, horn, etc.
All these materials are documentable as being used to make cards in period. Of these, leather is the most common, and some leather cards are available, usually as custom orders from leather workers. You might want to consult with some of your local artisans, to see if they would be interested in trading a belt or some trim for leather or horn cards.
The thread you choose as the 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 have 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:
- strength – to withstand the hard beating used in cardweaving
- smoothness ‐‐ to keep threads from catching on each other or card surfaces when the cards are turned,
- resistant to fraying ‐‐ to stand up to the wear placed on them by the edges of the card holes, and
- tightly plied ‐‐ so that the twisting of weaving wonʹt unply them completely as the project is woven.
Cotton is usually the first fiber most weavers work with, although its use in period is doubtful at best, since cotton as a fiber was generally the height of luxury. 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.
You will see cotton described as either mercerized or unmercerized. Mercerization is the treatment of cotton thread in a caustic alkali, increasing the strength of the thread, its dye absorption, and adding gloss. Given a choice, choose mercerized thread when you can. The threads will be much smoother and will weave more easily, and they will usually have a better sheen to them, making the final band look more polished.
Unmercerized cotton is somewhat harder to work with than mercerized cotton, 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 is another excellent fiber to use for cardweaving as, like cotton, it doesnʹt 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.
You will see linen labeled as either wet‐spun or 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 stronger 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 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 (cultivated from the Bombyx mori silkworm, and white) and tussah silk (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.
Silk noil thread, on the other hand, is made from the leftover fibers of silk 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 the fibers catching on each other.
Wool is a fiber that was commonly used in period for cardweaving, and many wool bands have survived to the present day. It tends to be a stretchy fiber, however, and care must be taken to avoid tension problems while you weave.
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. Woolen threads, on the other hand, are fairly light, soft and fuzzy, insulate well, and have a nice loft and feel.
In the most basic sense, a loom is the structure that holds the warp while it is being woven. Cardweaving normally produces narrow bands, rarely more than a few inches across, so it is adaptable to a wide variety of looms. The ones I am listing here are merely the ones I have used, or am otherwise fairly familiar with. I will start with the most basic, and move up in complexity.
Backstrap weaving could be thought of as off‐loom weaving, in that the ʺloomʺ is the warp itself, a strap or rope to attach the warp to a fixed point away from the weaver, and a strap or belt to attach the warp to the weaver, or to a fixed point near the weaver. Backstrap weaving is extremely portable, in that all the weaver needs is to find a point to attach the far end of the warp, and weaving can occur anywhere. It is, perhaps, the lowest‐cost loom available, and is a very good way to start cardweaving with very little investment. However, it is also a challenging way to start weaving, and becoming proficient at it takes a fair bit of work ‐‐ true of any craft, actually. In this case, the main problem often is reestablishing an even tension on the warp, with each new set‐up. Even tension on the warp is essential for a good band, so the constant shifting in tension that backstrap involves makes it hard to get the best results the first time you attempt it. Practice always improves control.
Board with posts or C‐clamps
The next most simple loom consists of a long board, and either two posts or two c‐ clamps ‐‐ one at either end of the board ‐‐ that the warp can be stretched between. It is portable, can be almost any length needed, and enables the weaver to leave the warp under tension all the time. It also allows for adjustments in tension as the weaving takes up thread.
Small belt loom
A small belt loom is another good way to hold your warp under tension, while making your weaving more portable. Belt looms vary as to how they warp up, but all are useful. A typical belt loom consists of two rollers held upright, holding the warp under tension between them. One roller holds the unwoven warp, while the other holds the woven band.
Medieval upright loom
This style of loom takes the ʺboard with upright postsʺ concept even further. It consists of two upright legs, with a board inserted between them. This is a documentable period style of cardweaving loom ‐‐ there are pictures and tapestries from period that show cardweaving set up on a loom of this type. The size of the loom makes moving it with warp on difficult, but taking the warp off and putting it back on is fairly simple, so carrying the whole set‐up to events is easy.
Warp‐weighted looms actually present several possibilities for cardweaving. It is possible to make the usual bands using a warp‐weighted set‐up. It is also possible to incorporate cardweaving into the starting edge for a larger weaving project, turning the weft of the cardweaving into the warp for the regular weaving project. The latter is a documentable period practice.
The inkle loom, though out of our period, has been widely adopted as a loom to do cardweaving on. It allows a longer warp than some of the other portable looms, and is very portable for taking projects to events to work on. I have used both table inkle looms and floor inkle looms. I tend to prefer floor inkle looms, now, since I donʹt need to bend over nearly as much to reach my weaving.
When looking at inkle looms for cardweaving, make sure you get a solidly made one, preferably of hard wood. Cardweaving puts much more stress on the loom than normal inkle weaving, and lighter looms will give up the ghost fairly quickly under the strain. I have seen posts on an inkle loom that gradually squirted out the opposite side of the loom, due to all the tension placed on them. The tension bar, particularly, needs to be very solid, and constructed so that the threads of the nut/handle do not strip out immediately. Plan on replacing the tension bar at least once or twice during the lifetime of the loom.
Now that we have thoroughly considered the materials that go into the projects, letʹs look at the patterns that can be used. Patterns can be generally grouped into three types: threaded‐in patterns, double‐faced patterns, and more advanced patterns, such as 3/1 broken twill and Egyptian diagonals.
Threaded‐in patterns are usually the patterns that people begin with, and many people stay with these patterns. The cards are twisted as a group, with the pattern depending solely on the order of the colors of the threads in each card. The patterns can be either regular (repetitive) across the pack of cards, allowing for threading several cards with the same pattern of threads, speeding up the threading process. Or they can be irregular, and require that each card be threaded separately.
Warping for doublefaced patterns is very regular, as the warp consists of two light threads being threaded opposite two dark threads. These 2/2 threadings can be made fairly quickly, if need be. The pattern results from manipulation of the individual cards.
Some of the advanced patterns, such as Egyptian diagonals, are still 2/2 threadings, like the double‐faced patterns. Others are four different threads, as with the ʺSnartemoʺ patterns, but each card is threaded with all four colors. Again,the patterns emerge because of the manipulation of the cards, as well as the positioning of the colors at the ʺstartingʺ position.
Alignment All the threads for one card run through that card in the same direction, so that the card can be turned during weaving. There are two ways the threads can pass through the cards. Normally, the cards are aligned parallel with the warp, so that each warp thread makes a small zigzag through the card. This zigzag can either have a right‐bend followed by a left‐bend (like a Z ), or a left‐bend followed by a right bend (like an S). This is referred to as “S” or “Z” threading. If the threads in a card are bent like a Z, the card is Z‐theaded. If they are bent like an S, the card is S‐threaded.
The alignment of the threads is important in the look and structure of your finished product, so it is important to note alignment directions that might be given on your pattern. Cardweaving is, essentially, the making of a series of variegated 4‐ply ropes, with the weft holding all the ropes together. The act of twisting together the threads gradually introduces yet more twist into the overall structure, and the twist is passed on to the larger structure of the band, causing bands that are all s‐threaded or z‐threaded to spiral gradually. Smaller sections of s‐threaded and z‐threaded clusters also can show this twisting, resulting in small bumps and dimples in the band. Many designs are set up specifically to combat this twist, by having the threads alternating in their alignment, S and Z. Others may be set up with all the threads deliberately aligned in one direction, and may actually specify flipping cards to switch them from one alignment to the other. The patterns, too can be affected by the angle of the twist of the colors. Some lines may wind up jagged, due to threads being angled opposite to their neighbors, while other patterns can create smoother lines, thanks to several cards being angled and twisted together.
Now that we have gotten through so many of the preliminaries, the actual warping methods are almost going to seem an afterthought.
The ʺstandardʺ method of warping involves threading each card separately. There are, in fact, several variants that can be added in: one is measuring and cutting the threads for each card as you warp that card versus measuring and cutting all the thread at once, then threading each card. The other point of variation involves whether to thread the cards and just lay them in an organized pile or to actually warp them onto a loom. For threaded‐in patterns, cutting the thread and warping individually makes a certain amount of sense, especially if it is a pattern that changes with each card. Regular, repetitive patterns in threaded‐in patterns can be handled by measuring out all the threads for a particular card pattern, then bundling the threads for each individual card for warping after all the different patterns are cut.
One variant of standard warping that can be useful, particularly on double‐faced patterns, is warping each individual card separately onto a loom (inkle or otherwise), and placing a fishing‐lure swivel at the point of the knot for the thread ends. This will allow you to work out the twist that regularly builds up in double‐faced patterns, due to all the manipulation of individual cards. It adds work at warping time, but saves a lot of work and tension problems while weaving. I have been using this method for several years.
10‐minute speed method
The 10‐minute speed method is most often used for patterns that have all cards warped alike, though you can cut threads and tie other threads on, if you have a particular threaded‐in pattern youʹd like to achieve with a speed warp. To do this, your cards are put into a pack arranged in whatever positioning might be necessary for you to achieve the warp pattern you want. A loom or warping board/space is set up, and the threads are run around the resulting circle, with cards dropped at the appropriate locations. It is much faster and more efficient than most methods of warping. I will confess to not using it very often simply because I use fishing lure swivels so much of the time for my double‐faced patterns.
I hope this page has been helpful for you to understand a bit better the choices you need to consider as you plan and set up your projects. If you are new to card weaving, you will probably be following the charted out patterns you find, and will only need to choose the threads you will use to create your warp. Later, you’ll want to create patterns of your own, and you’ll need to look at how the threading of the cards affects the look of the patterns. Experiment with different threadings, whenever you have a chance, so that you have some hands‐on experience with the effects that are possible. Have fun weaving!
Candace Crockett, Card Weaving, (1991) Loveland, CO: Interweave Press.
A very good book for beginning card weavers. Excellent illustrations, and very good descriptions of basic card weaving. Start with this book, if at all possible.
Peter Collingwood, The Techniques of Tablet Weaving, (1996) McMinnville, OR: Robin & Russ Handweavers.
This book has long been the bible of tablet weaving, going into detail on all aspects of tablet weaving types, with diagrams of thread position and movement for many different techniques. Not for the beginner, but valuable for anyone who has advanced beyond the stage where this much detail might frighten them off.
Maikki Karisto and Mervi Pasanen, (2013) Applesies and Fox Noses: Finnish Tabletwoven Bands, Salakirjat: Tallinn Raamatutrükikoda.
An excellent introductory book for tablet weaving, with plenty of progressively more challenging patterns plotted out, to keep any tablet weaver busy for quite a long time. Finnish/English.
Claudia Wollny, Tablets at Work: The Book of Basic Tablet Weaving Techniques, (2019), Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler; Claudia Wollny Edition.
At 703 pages, this is the new book for anyone looking for every detail they might need to learn about tablet weaving. Very complete and very readable, once you become used to the charting of the patterns. German/English.
The Weavers Hand: <http://www.weavershand.com/> From the page: “An information page for weavers! Specifically for those interested in Tablet Weaving, Kumihimo, and Ply‐splitting, but peruse the links if your interests lie elsewhere.” ‐‐ a great collection of links for card weaving, certainly worth an afternoon of browsing.
Phiala’s String Page: <http://www.stringpage.com/> ‐‐ another good collection of links, with the added bonus of some very good handouts explaining card weaving, 3/1 twill, card weaving theory, and threading tablets.
Textile Resources for the Re‐enactor: <http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/textileres.html> ‐‐ Thora Sharptooth’s site is an excellent place to visit for any SCAdian fiber artist ‐‐ great content, thorough bibliographies, and plenty to explore.
White Wolf and the Phoenix ‐‐ <http://whitewolfandphoenix.com/index.html> : Card weavers, with plenty of card weaving books, wooden cards and supplies for fellow card weavers. Tell them I sent you ‐‐ no connection, except as a friend and satisfied customer.
Earth Guild ‐‐ <http://www.earthguild.com/> : an excellent commercial source for cards, threads and supplies.
The Woolery ‐‐ <http://www.woolery.com/> : another excellent commercial source for cards, threads and supplies.