Rigid Heddles and Tablets on Same Band Warp?

Hi, all.  My SCA name is Aeruin, and I live in the West.  I'm a novice-intermediate inkle weaver who's tried tablet weaving once or twice (years ago) so I have a clue how tablet weaving works, though not much experience.  Despite my relative inexperience with band weaving, I'm offering a beginning band weaving workshop at a local event in a couple weeks, using rigid heddles.

In researching historical representations of band weaving, I've come across a few illuminations that puzzle me.  They show a warp stretched on a wide frame (typical scandinavian type, warp tied between two upright poles) with tablets, which are quite obvious, and *also* some sort of device which is spreading the warp.  [ As seen here: http://resources42.kb.nl/MIMI/MIMI_76F21/MIMI_76F21_014R.JPG  and here at the bottom center of the border : http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMINBig.ASP?size=b...  ]  The most likely device of which I know to do this would be a rigid heddle, though it's not clear from the art whether this is actually the case.  It looks more like a spindle of some sort to me.  Another illumination shows the warp wound around a bar attached to the page's border, running through what is clearly a rigid heddle mounted on a stand, then apparently through a set of tablets, the end of the warp held loosely, or perhaps having been dropped, as the weaver seems to be cutting a lock from another person's hair. [ http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg848/0565 ]

Am I misinterpreting what I'm seeing here?  Why would one run a warp through both a rigid heddle and a set of tablets?  The only point to it that I can see is to spread the warp a bit to perhaps make it easier to manipulate the cards, though my meager experience suggests it's easier to move the cards in unison if they're fairly close together and compact.

Can someone help me understand what I'm seeing?


Posted on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 16:37

This is a very interesting question.  But do remember, the artist may not have understood how the weaving was done.  In the German painting where it appears that hair is being cut, the band which is wound on the pole is the woven band.  So, she is sitting on the wrong side of the ridid heddle and the tablets.  And the warp she is holding would need to be tied to something.  Maybe the weaving is finished.  It looks like the smaller woman has the scissors.  I don't know what is the message in this painting, but you are right, you can clearly see the tablets and the rigid heddle being used together and a band has been woven.  I hope that you experiment with this and give us a report later. 


Posted on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 18:00

Don't underestimate the hand going up the habit in that hair cutting illustration - looks like the haircut is to keep the guy out of the skirt.

Note that the heddle like device is stationary, making it something to order the warp threads - in my meager attempts at card weaving, any slack in the process led to tangles and this "spreader" would keep things in reasonable order, especially if the weaver needed to lay down the cards for any reason - like an irritating "Minnesaenger" groping her.

This arrangement of devices would also allow the weaver to switch a long warp back and forth from tablet woven to warp faced rather easily.

Posted on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 17:41

PS - SCA is a nice organization, but in the real world it is preferable to use real names and locations.

Posted on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 18:17

Hi Sara,

You may have hit on the weaving question and the warp problem.  I hope that someone will experiement with this, using a frame to keep the threads separated and maybe easier to handle while weaving.


PS  I too saw that hand.  And the woman has bare feet.  I don't think that the subject of this painting is the weaving.

Posted on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 18:48

Hello all

I have been intrigued by illustrations like this for ages. I think the comments so far have hit on a couple of key questions: how much did the artist understand/care about the specifics of the weaving process, and what sorts of rhetorical devices was the artist using to tell a story that viewers at the time would have understood, but might be lost on us today?

That said, I have tried tablet weaving using warp spreaders ( home made, looks a little like a comb, wooden bar at the upper end that helps hold things in place with a small amount of weight) and found that tablet weaving with wool was about a thousand times easier. It did not make too much difference with silk, maybe even made things a little less stable, but there could be a lot of factors here.

So, the combination of rigid heddle and cards might be doing the same job, and, as Sara insightfully remarks, having the rigid heddle there could mean you have a warp spreader when doing tablets and a heddle ready to go for heddle weaving, and a way to keep all your threads in order as you move from project to project.

Those sort of roll-shaped pieces strike me that they could be a warp spreader and we are just not seeing the little rods or dowels or what ever that form the teeth and hold the threads apart. Or maybe they are just used to separate the warp, to open the shed up a bit?

An intriguing mystery, and worthy of a bit of experimentation!


Posted on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 19:05

Sorry about the name/location thing.  I didn't realize it would be an issue.  Mundanely I'm Carin, and I live in California, near Santa Rosa, about an hour drive north of San Francisco.

I had noticed the hand going up-skirt too - cheeky bugger! :D

Sara said "This arrangement of devices would also allow the weaver to switch a long warp back and forth from tablet woven to warp faced rather easily."  This is what I was thinking, but wouldn't the nature of tablet weaving make that the determinor of the weave pattern, regardless of what the heddle was doing?  Unless the cards were placed behind the heddle...which does seem to be the case, perhaps, in the hair cutting picture, as Joanne is right, it does appear that the finished band is what has been wrapped around the pole.  I'm not completely convinced that the warp would have to be tied at both ends though, as post-period box looms are tensioned by hand, having only one spindle, to hold the unwoven warp. [There's a YouTube video of one in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSntpr4KXZQ&layer_token=fa3e3e78c98408fb ] Could this be a representation (however inaccurate) of a similar weaving style in our period?  Ach, too much uncertainty!  Lol.

Thanks for the input, everyone.  I'll let you know if I find anything more out about this.


Posted on Sun, 02/10/2013 - 22:19

That rather naughty illustration is troublesome if you are taking it really literally, for instance, if that little sort of ponty round thing is a set of cards, and the threads go through the heddle after they go through the cards, what happens to the twist?

As per Sara's suggestion, you might be able to weave with the heddle at the far end of the warp, the one where there is weaving already, or either heddle or cards that the end where all the activity is happening in the picture?

One thing I have wondered, but never tried, is whether a set up like this might help in adding something like soumak. Wild speculation, that.

And then there is the question of whether those really are tablet weaving tablets? And if not, what is that?

Think at this point a little experimentation might yield greater insights?

Will be interesting to hear what you discover?


Posted on Mon, 02/11/2013 - 02:59

What I meant by being able to switch between tablet weaving and warp faced bands was that you could remove the cards from a long warp, weave plain warp faced using the heddle, and possibly rethread the cards - that way a long warp could be used for more than one type of band.

Also, just to clarify - that pictrure is neither an old religious manuscript nor anything textile related - it comes from a famous German manuscript listing the troubadors (Minnesaenger) of the time. Troubadors were singers of love ballads who amused frustrated ladies whose husbands were off to the Crusades and served as a substitute for one's partner - the stuff of classic opera plots.

I'd really not read too much into this in terms of textile processing.

Posted on Thu, 02/14/2013 - 04:37

Along those lines of misleading weaving illustrations... I captured this image at a well known heritage site in the US this fall. This was a wall-sized image. I puzzled over this depiction of weaving for a while, as I have never seen a loom quite like this before!

Posted on Thu, 02/14/2013 - 04:58

You CAN combine tablet weaving and loom weaving simultaneously. Canadian weaver Inge Dam is known for her work in this area. She studied very old textiles to determine how they completed borders that appeared to be tablet woven on loom woven fabric cloaks. She has really taken the technique to new levels, and her tablet work is not limited to the borders anymore, she can place elaborate bands where she wants.

There is some skill involved in selecting suitable fibers for doing this simultaneously, determining correct sett, and also weft placement, i.e. not every weft pic travels edge to edge. You also need a loom with a fairly decent distance beam-to-beam, as the cards fall behind the reed, infront of the castle. (You need space to get your hands in there and turn the cards in sequence with your treadling.)

When I tried this, I also found it helpful to raise the warp of the tablets higher than the rest of the warp for easier manipulation, and they were weighted separately, with much more tension on the card. If I had tried this on a deeper loom (like a floor loom), that may not have been as much of an issue.

I am not sure how this can be done on a rigid heddle, because as someone else pointed out, I think you would encounter binding of the cards by the slot and hole of the RH. (FYI, for the on-loom technique, all four warps on the tablet need to go through the same dent of the reed.) 

Hope that helps. If you make this work with a RH — please post — as we are all curious to see if it would work!

Posted on Fri, 02/15/2013 - 10:11


This is the SCA Weavers group, so I think most SCA members use their SCA Names here! Otherwise we'll never know when we bump into each other at events!

Thank you so much for posting here, it's great to see posting happening in this group.


Erica (HL Jahanara Vivana, Drachenwald :)

Posted on Fri, 02/15/2013 - 14:30

Hello all

On doing woven borders on knit or woven pieces, there are some really interesting "vintage" films here:


See particularly:


And this book includes instructions about how to do woven edges on knit pieces using a sort of string heddle set up:


The technique makes a really nice edge, just be a bit generous on the number of woven rows to knit rows to avoid curling.

There are so many ways to make bands, and so many things to do with them (in addition to the usual sorts of bands and garters we are used to, Frances Densmore recorded Anishinawbe people in Minnesota and  Ontario even using a rigid heddle to weave strips of cloth that they then made into rugs and mats!) I am sure it would be hard to record everything every creative person could have come up with.

Good luck with your research, and hope you have a great time with your projects!

Posted on Fri, 02/15/2013 - 17:25

Hi Kerstin,

Those kids look like they had fun.  But how was the band attached to the fabric for the bag?  The fabric looks like it is a purchased fabric.


Posted on Fri, 02/15/2013 - 18:34

The fabric is purchased, yes (but could of course be handwoven). The trick is that you first weave a couple of picks in the band (using a small rigid heddle), then you put one pick through the band (you will need to use a threaded needle as a "shuttle"), then put the needle through both layers of fabric, change shed and do another pick. Through the fabric (both layers) again, change sheds,  another pick through the band - and so on (kind of like doing a tubular weave/band). When ths purse is "sewn up" one side, go on to weave the band the lenght you want it. The begin the "weave-and-sew" again, until you are at the bottom of the purse. End with a few "band picks", and tie a knot. (If you want, this kind of border can be done over just one layer of fabric - for the opening of the purse, perhaps?)

- I have not tried this myself, but I have seen a couple of pouches made by Åsa (the author of the page), so I can say that with some practice it will make a very nice "seam"/embellishment.

Posted on Sat, 02/16/2013 - 01:35

Very similar to the technique used to edge knitting in the Icelandic knitting book. That used string heddles, and worked up very easily. A very little practice and you can have a really nice edge. I had been thinking the technique could make a nice finish for baby plankets, and since it has a sort of piping-look, maybe even a tailored look on a jacket?