What is tabletweaving?

This is one of the oldest ways of weaving.


The technical side of tablet weaving.

Threads are stretched between two fixed points. This can be horizontal or vertical. As long as there is tension and a clear shed (the shed is the opening that appears just before the cards). Each thread runs through one hole on a card. Each card has 4 holes. But there are also techniques that work with 2 holes, 5 holes or 6 holes. The way in which the thread passes through the hole (from left to right, or from right to left) also determines the rotation of the thread in the fabric. This is called the S and Z direction. By turning the cards forwards or backwards, a pattern is formed in the fabric. With every quarter turn, a weft thread is passed through the shed and pulled in. This weft thread binds the fabric together. There are many different techniques within card weaving, you can find these under the heading "techniques".


Tabletweaving from Hallstatt, Austria. About 800-400 BC. Photo by Mervi Pasanen.

History and purposes

One of the oldest found remnants of tabletweaving are those from an old salt mine in Hallstatt, in modern-day Austria. The finds have been dated to the 8th to 4th century BC. This prehistoric piece of textile is particularly well preserved due to the high salt content in the fibres.

Throughout the world, finds have been made of tablet woven bands, weaving cards or even looms with the tablets still attached. This means that this technique of weaving was an important factor in our society. We see a clear trend in Scandinavia where tabletweaving was used extensively, both as a functional tool and for decorative purposes. In Western Europe, card weaving was practised in every class. The workers mainly made functional ties from cheaper materials such as wool and linen. The upper classes used more expensive materials such as silk and gold/silver thread and more sophisticated techniques. There have also been finds of pattern books from monasteries, so we now know that there are sources that nuns did tabletweaving. Tabletweaving had its peak approximately between the 5th and 13th century, after which it was less practised. Around the end of the 16th century, tabletweaving was hardly practised at all and more modern techniques gained the upper hand. Until the middle of the 20th century, it was a forgotten method of weaving. Until more and more tablets were found and people started researching what they were used for. In this way, people found out what this way of weaving entailed and gained more knowledge about the different techniques.

In the first centuries before and after Christ, tabletwoven bands were often used on a so-called "warp weighted loom". They served as a border around a coat or clothing. Later, tabletwoven bands were also used for other purposes, such as belts, garters, cuffs on chasubles and finishing touches on clothing.


Tabletweaving in the brocade technique with gold thread, 10th century from Dublin, Ireland.