During the Finnish Iron Age and Middle Ages, tablet weaving was an art that was highly valued. Lots of different tablet woven bands have been found in Finnish Iron Age burials and the skill that they show is astounding. Tablet-woven bands were used in many different ways as belts, garters, decorative trims, and hair accessories. I started tablet weaving about six months ago and have since progressed from simple bands to fairly complicated ones. I don’t think I can be described as a beginner anymore but I still have a clear memory of the things that I found difficult when I started. So here are some tips for anyone that is starting their tablet-weaving journey.
This post contains affiliate links.
My video on YouTube
On this video I go through my weaving journey and show how to read the pattern, how to hold the tablets and how I have set up my loom.
My tablet-weaving kit
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to start tablet weaving. Many skillful weavers use tablets that they have cut from milk cartons or any sturdy cardboard. However, if you want to splurge on a pretty hand-made kit, I can recommend this one I bought from Etsy.
This kit has 24 wooden tablets that are thin, smooth, and beautifully finished. The shuttle is slim and has shaped edges that are perfect for beating down the weaving. The copper safety pin can hold all the tablets in place when you want to have a break from weaving.
The last item is a board with swivels that can be used to fasten your warp. The swivels turn and take out the twist from your weaving. I’m on two minds about this last item. The twist is annoying in some patterns as it builds up and eventually restricts your weaving. If you don’t use swivels, you have to open up the whole warp and detangle your warp once in a while.
However, using swivels work only if you stretch out your whole warp. Considering you are making a belt that is 3 metres long, that takes a lot of space. Mervi Pasanen, one of my weaving gurus, told me also that the swivels may open up the twist in your yarn and weaken your yarn. I can’t really say that I have noticed this but I found the long warp so annoying to work with that I gave up the swivels for now. This still may be a brilliant tool if one makes shorter tablet-woven bands or has space for the long warp.
If you watched my video, you may have noticed that I ended up marking the corners of my tablets with different colours. For that, I used permanent markers. The different corner colours help a beginner but they are also a good tool for checking out that you have completed a complicated chart correctly and have finished with all the tablets in the starting position. Of course, nothing beats checking your weaving while you are weaving!
I have learned all my tablet weaving from the books and videos of Maikki Karisto and Mervi Pasanen. Maikki Karisto has developed a good system of marking down the pattern that shows the direction of the “stitches”, the number of turns and colours better than a simple rectangular grid that people have sometimes used.
For a beginner, a good book is Applesies and foxnoses.
If you want to get deeper into Finnish Iron Age style bands, I recommend the book Tablet-woven treasures:
I have the Finnish edition of the book and I love it. It has pictures of the actual grave finds and the authors have done an enormous work studying the archeological finds and making them into patterns that are now available for everyone in the book.
This latter book goes much deeper into different techniques used in Finnish bands and their finishes but still has all the necessary information for beginners. The patterns range from simple four forward, four backward starting bands for very difficult ones with techniques that the authors have had to reconstruct from studying the archeological bands in great detail.
The yarn for tablet-weaving
The warp in Finnish Iron Age bands is usually wool. The weft can be wool or some sort of plant fiber such as linen. The yarns used historically have been very thin. In fact, the yarns I use are still a bit too thick.
My wool is Wetterhoff Veera that is TEX 55×2. It has been developed for weaving and it has lasted well the friction from moving my tablets. It also has a great selection of colours. Currently, you can’t order this yarn directly from the online shop outside Finland, but you need to contact the manufacturer Wetterhoff directly for them to arrange the shipping if you live outside Finland.
Some bands that I have woven recently
This is the first band I wove. I later wove another band with the same pattern in order to have enough to trim my Iron Age dress.
Then I moved into a slightly more complicated band where groups of tablets were turned in different directions:
At this point, I decided to go for it and jumped into a much more difficult pattern. I think I spent a day fighting with the pattern until I finally figured out how to read the yarns and stitches and thus how to check my weaving on the run. Still, the first few rounds of this pattern required a huge amount of concentration!
The belt for my Iron Age costume is the most complicated pattern I have woven and it is also one of the longest bands I have made. It took me six weeks to weave it, although, I didn’t weave every day. On average, I managed to weave one pattern repeat per day but there was a day when I managed four. My concentration was the limiting factor: when I started getting tired, I started making mistakes which led me to spend more and more time fixing those mistakes.
After finishing the belt, I wove two simple bands to be used to trim my peplos dress. These only took about two days each.
I hope you found this post interesting. See you soon and happy sewing, weaving, and crafting!