19 February 2015

Yes, But What Does That Mean?: A Synoptic Tablet Weaving Lexicon for Beginners

© Carolyn Priest-Dorman 2002-2003

A number of excellent instructional books are available for beginning tablet weavers.  However, they don't all use the same words to mean the same things.  Teachers of tablet weaving don't all learn from the same sources, either, so you can't avoid this problem simply by learning from gurus instead of books.  It can be very frustrating to learn one set of technical vocabulary and then discover that another instructor or book uses a different set! 

Among the influential sources for vocabulary in English are the works of Mary Meigs Atwater, Peter Collingwood, Candace Crockett, Russell Groff, Egon Hansen, and Otfried Staudigel (see bibliography).  Most other sources derive from one of these five.  This article is designed to compare and contrast the beginner terminologies used in these sources (with occasional references to other sources) in order to help you translate vocabulary from one version to another and, in the process, figure out what it all means.  It's aimed at beginners, so only some vocabulary terms are included.  Yet the included terms should suffice to get you off and started on your first few projects.  If you have trouble wading through all the terminology, just remember that you're, in effect, reading a dictionary.  Look up what you need and ignore the rest until you need it, and you'll get along fine.

Atwater's book is the oldest of the group (1954), and Groff's and Crockett's the second-oldest (original publications 1969 and 1973).  Most of the plethora of books from the early 1970s that include tablet weaving use vocabulary like either Groff's or Crockett's.  Collingwood's terminology is generally the most rigorous from the perspective of structural analysis, although Hansen's analysis of a few of the early techniques has turned out to be the more insightful.  Also, Hansen's terms are frequently shorter and punchier, making them easier to drop into normal conversation.  However, while Collingwood wrote in his native English, Hansen's terms were translated from the original Danish.  Sometimes the translations resonate, sometimes they don't.  Staudigel's terminology, the youngest of the group, stands Collingwood's on its head, for reasons that will become clear below.

A Basic Assumption – Most works on tablet weaving assume that the weaver sits at or near one end of the warp, looking toward the far end of the warp, and that the weaving proceeds away from the weaver.  This is not the only way to tablet weave, by any means, but it is the most common.  Accordingly, most sources leave unsaid this basic assumption.  Thus you will need to keep it in mind as a spatial reference.  Once you've internalized it, it will become easy for you to adapt this frame of reference toward the less common weaving orientations.

Direction the Cards Face – Commercial weaving tablets are generally printed on one side with letters for each of the four holes.  Many authors take the sidedness of tablets into account when explaining their setups, and it is critical to the success of their patterns that you follow their expectations.  However, there is even less consistency on this point than elsewhere.  Beginners, don't be discouraged if this paragraph seems confusing; just look for the author you need to know about and ignore the rest for now.  Now then, climb aboard and hang on!  Atwater says that the tablets should face right, with Card 1 on the far right of the pack.  Hansen agrees with this, but only for right-handed people; he says left-handed people should read his patterns upside down and backwards!  The Snows and Staudigel say that the tablets should face right, with Card 1 on the far left of the pack.  Crockett says the say the same thing, only mirrored: the printed side of the tablets should face the weaver's left, with Card 1 on the far right of the pack.  Groff says the tablets should face left, with Card 1 on the far left of the pack.  But Collingwood transcends the entire question, expecting you to figure out everything based on his very informative graphs and threading instructions.  If your mind works like that, it's a very liberating approach; otherwise it's unbelievably confusing!

Threading Direction – If you want a tablet to be able to turn in the way that is common to tablet weaving, then there are only two (opposing) ways it can be positioned on its four warp threads. These two possibilities are called threading directions.  See the left half of each illustration below for the two possibilities.  You will note that the two tablets are labeled in their centers with an S and a Z.  These stand for "S-threaded" and "Z-threaded."  The S- and Z-threaded terminology is extrapolated from international conventions for describing textiles, and was first popularized for use in tablet weaving by Collingwood.  It describes an unambiguous visual clue you can find for yourself by assuming the Basic Assumption position and then looking down at the warp.   The slant made by the thread as it goes through the tablet, viewed from above the warp, goes in the same direction as the stroke in the middle of the letter:  \ for S-wise and / for Z-wise. See the right half of each illustration below for examples.  [Note:  weaving would take place from the left or down side of each photo, with the unwoven warp stretching away toward the right or upwards.]

S-threadedS-threaded from above
Z-threaded from above

Many tablet weaving instructional books, however, use different words to describe these two possible threadings.  Confusingly, Staudigel also uses the terms S- and Z-threading, but he uses them to mean the opposite of Collingwood!  That is, he uses the terms to describe the appearance of the tablet (again, when viewed from the Basic Assumption position) rather than the direction the thread takes through it.  However, other authors (e.g., Hendrickson and Spies) who use the terms S- and Z-threading follow Collingwood's usage.  Groff and the Snows use "threaded up" for S-threaded and "threaded down" for Z-threaded. Crockett, on the other hand, uses L for "left-threaded" and R for "right-threaded."  This system works if you look at the face of each tablet; the preponderance of visible thread (to the left of center, or to the right of center) tells you whether the card is left- or right-threaded.  Peter Collingwood's mnemonic for "translating" his understanding of Z- and S-threading (as opposed to Staudigel's–are you confused yet?) to R- and L-threading is "SaLaZaR," i.e., S=L and Z=R.  Accordingly, Crockett's or Hansen's "left" threaded equals Collingwood's S-threaded.  Crockett's or Hansen's "right" threaded equals Collingwood's Z-threaded.

So here's a table of equivalents.  Keep in mind that it's Collingwood's terminology I have illustrated above, and you should be able to work out what you need.

Collingwood S threaded Z threaded
Atwood threaded Down threaded Up
Crockett Left threaded Right threaded
Groff threaded Down threaded Up
Hansen from the Left from the Right
Hendrickson to the Left to the Right
Snows threaded Down threaded Up
Staudigel Z threaded S threaded
Table of Equivalents

Alternately threaded – Tablets alternating Z and S (or S and Z!) threading across the warp; accordingly, each tablet will be threaded in the opposite direction from its two next-door neighbors.  Hansen sometimes calls this "back to back"  In other European writings it's sometimes called "threaded left and right in pairs."

Home Position – The position the tablets take before weaving begins, specifically with reference to which holes go "up" when viewed from Basic Assumption position.  Not all sources use the term, but often the ones that do so rely on designs in threaded-in techniques, i.e., Atwater, Crockett, Groff, and the Snows. Atwater, Groff, and the Snows call for holes A and D to be uppermost, with the tablets facing the right.  Atwater calls this "beginning position," and Groff calls it "beginning position."  Crockett calls for holes A and D to be uppermost, while the printed side of the tablets faces left.  Hendrickson, in her instructions for double-faced weave, calls for holes B and C to be uppermost.  Any translations of one person's patterns into other arrangements should take this into account; otherwise they won't look at all like the pattern draft.

Turning Direction
– Usually expressed as "forward" or "backward," or even F and B for short. Crockett uses "away" for forward and "toward" for backward.  Atwater uses "clockwise" for forward, and "counter-clockwise" for backward.

"Plain weave" – This term can be confusing because some of the less structurally sophisticated sources (e.g., Atwater, Crocker, Groff) talk about the normal or standard way of weaving as four forward, four backward.  But the weave structure of four-strand warp twining, continuously turned in a single direction, is what sets tablet weaving apart from any other type of band weave.  Accordingly, from within the context of tablet weaving "plain weave" defines this basic weave structure.  Outside the context of tablet weaving, however, "warp twining" is the preferred term, so as not to confuse it with potholder weaving! Also called "ground weave" by Hansen and "plain tablet weave" by Staudigel.

Threaded-in patterning – Hansen calls this "patterns as per diagram set-up."  Collingwood calls them "threaded patterns." 

That's more than enough for one issue!  Stay tuned for another installment in an upcoming issue.

Instructional Works Cited

Atwater, Mary Meigs.  Byways in Hand-Weaving.  Coupeville, Wash.:  Shuttle-Craft Books, Inc., 1988 [1954].

Collingwood, Peter.  The Techniques of Tablet Weaving.  London: Watson-Guptill, 1982.

Crockett, Candace.  Card Weaving, rev. ed.  Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1991.

Groff, Russell E.  Card Weaving: Complete Instructions plus 53 Patterns for Card Weaving or Tablet Weaving.  McMinnville, Oregon: Robin and Russ Handweavers, 1969.

Hansen, Egon.  Tablet Weaving: History, Techniques, Colours, Patterns.  Højbjerg, Denmark: Hovedland Publishers, 1990.

Hendrickson, Linda.  Double-Faced Tablet Weaving: 50 Designs from Around the World.  Portland, Oregon: self-published, 1996..

Snow, Marjorie, and Snow, William.  Step by Step Tablet Weaving.  New York: Golden Press, 1973.

Spies, Nancy.  Ecclesiastical Pomp & Aristocratic Circumstance: A Thousand Years of Brocaded Tabletwoven Bands.  Jarrettsville, Maryland: Arelate Studio, 2000.

Staudigel, Otfried, 1960-61. Der Zauber Des Brettchenwebens, or Tablet Weaving Magic:  Patterns from Oriental Countries and 25 Patterns in Plain Tablet Weave. Libri Books on Demand, 2001.

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This article was originally published in Issue 3 (August 2003)  of Knot Now, the newsletter of the Worshipful Company of Narrowworkers of the East Kingdom, SCA.  I have replaced the drawing in the original with photographs of a warped tablet, largely because neither my husband nor I could figure out whether one of us had drawn the original drawing.  I did not want to use someone else's work uncredited, hence the new illustrations.  

I don't have any notes on what the follow-up article was to contain; it never even reached the outline phase.

1 comment:

  1. Incredible article -- it really has helped me to sort things out!