Brocading: a glimpse of the past
By Iris Verhoeven


When you think of shimmer, brocaded patterns quickly come to mind: gold or silver thread on a silk background. Brocading is a beautiful tabletweaving technique characterised by the use of a second weft thread, in addition to a thin base weft, which is placed on top of the fabric. With each pick, threads from the base weft are selected and pressed down. In these places, the second weft thread becomes visible, forming patterns.


Finds have surfaced showing that this technique was used as early as the early Middle Ages, and various cultures have used it. The technique peaked during the time of the Vikings, in the 9th and 10th centuries, and peaked in the 14th and 15th centuries, after which it was largely replaced by lace and embroidery. The first finds of brocade tabletweaving date from the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon periods. It is striking to note that the finds from roughly the 6th to 10th centuries all come from north-western Europe. Unfortunately, we cannot trace exactly where the technique came from.


A tabletwoven band made with sparkling silver or gold thread was made to stand out. Think of 15th-century church vestments, 6th-century headbands, or decorations around the sleeves of a 10th-century tunic. From this we can conclude that the buyer of the tabletweaving band in question was wealthy. Indeed, the material costs were considerably higher than those of a tabletweaving band without silver or gold thread. So only the higher ranks could afford such a product.



So the preference for silver and/or gold wire as a second weft thread is clear. Three different types of metal thread were used for this purpose: a flattened metal thread, a flattened metal thread wrapped around a silk core thread, or a drawn metal thread. In some cases, the brocaded tabletweaving band was flattened with a hammer after completion so that the metal thread stood out even more. Silk was a first choice for the ground fabric; after all, it lends itself perfectly to tabletweaving as it is very strong and can withstand the friction of tablets well. Silk also dyes well in different colours, much better than wool, and even many times better than linen. The silk used was of high quality, imported from Byzantine and Arab silk spinning mills. In the Middle Ages, Italy also became an important source of silk thread.

The first finds: the bands from Kent
In Kent, a county in England, Anglo-Saxon graves dating from the 6th century have been found in several places. At one of these sites, in the village of Sarre, there is a cemetery where several women's graves have been found. The fourth grave contained a brocaded, flattened gold thread that appears to be the remnant of a brocaded tabletwoven band. The gold thread lay near her right wrist, an indication that it was once the hem of a sleeve or bracelet. Because fibres decay quite quickly in certain types of soil, only the top layer of the band, the brocaded layer, was recovered from this find. The pressure points on the gold thread show what the pattern looked like as a whole. The tutorial and video below describes how to weave this pattern yourself.


More shiny bands
Over the centuries, there have been wonderful finds of brocaded bands. A few examples are 9th century Maaseik (Belgium), 10th century Mammen (Denmark) and 14th/15th century Deventer (Netherlands) bands. The Maaseik bands are extra special because they are woven using 2 techniques at the same time. Namely the twill and brocaded technique. The twill technique is known for its ability to form taut diagonal lines, which in the Maaseik bands is woven in two colours; yellow and red. Over this, a gold thread is brocaded. The bands from Maaseik can be viewed in the treasury of St Catherine's Church in Maaseik, more information and the church's opening hours can be found at
The binding from Mammen is brocaded with gold and silver thread. The alternation of the two metallic threads creates a striped effect. This tabletwoven band was used to decorate the sleeves of probably a cloak.
The brocaded tabletwoven band from Deventer is a beautiful example of a diamond motif, which was especially popular in the Middle Ages.

Anna Neuper's pattern book
In the Middle Ages, a 70-year-old nun called Anna Neuper lived in the St. Clares convent in Nuremberg (Germany), who wrote a book in 1517 containing 78 tabletweaving patterns that used the broaching technique. This book is hugely special because it is one of the few books in which tabletweaving patterns are written down. Anna's way of noting patterns was remarkably simple: a long line when the second weft thread passes over the ground weave, a short line when it passes under it. Remarkably, in the short introduction at the beginning, Anna is honest about not having been able to weave all the patterns herself too due to her old age. She encourages readers to correct any mistakes as they see fit. In 2003, Anna's handwritten book was translated into modern patterns by Ute Bargmann and Nancy Spies.


Anna Neuper's Modelbuch - Nancy Spies and Ute Bargmann ISBN097189601-1
Ecclesiastical splendour and aristocratic framing - Nancy Spies ISBN0-615-11681-7
The techniques of tablet weaving - Peter Collingwood ISBN0-517-10829-6

Broaching with tabletweaving, a 6th -century pattern from Kent, England


The ground weave from Kent, as described in the article above, consists of 12 cards. All cards are threaded with 4 threads of the same colour. The orientation of the cards is alternating / and \ pointing to the position of the card as seen from above.

Materials used
- 60/2 silk thread for warp and base weft - Venne Colcoton
- Gold thread (22k gold) as second weft thread -

To practise this technique, it's best to start with cheaper and easier to work with materials first. For example, take 8/2 cotton for the basic weft, sewing thread for the basic weft and DMC thread in the colour gold for the second weft.

The second weft thread should be thicker than the base weave, using a thicker thread or several threads together.


Read the pattern from bottom to top. Each block represents the threads of one card. For a red block, the second weft thread should go under the threads, for a yellow block, the second weft thread should go over the threads.


Start by first weaving several centimetres into the basic weave by turning all the cards a quarter turn forward and striking the basic weft. When you pull the basic weft through the jump, don't pull it all the way but leave a small loop.


Then start weaving according to the pattern above. You work with the threads in the top layer of the shed. Using a needle, pick up the threads from the cards marked with a red block.


Place the second weft thread under these threads.


Turn the cards all forward.


Using a shuttle, press the threads into the shed.


Tighten the loop of the base weft and continue with the next line of the pattern.
6. Now repeat steps 2 to 6.


The step-by-step weaving of this tabletweaving pattern can also be viewed via the following YouTube video:


Source references:
Crowfoot, E. and Chadwick Hawkes, S.E. (1967). Early Anglo-Saxon gold braids. Medieval Archaeology 11. Vol 11, pages 42-86.