© 2000 Carolyn Priest-Dorman
The last time I wove some motifs from the 13th century Scottish seal tag described in Audrey Henshall’s “Five Tablet Woven Seal Tags,” I was struck by some design properties they all shared. The motifs are 28 tablets wide; they were all designed in blocks of four tablets in a turning sequence of seven sets of two. This can be represented in shorthand fashion on a square grid consisting of seven rows of seven squares each. Further, all the Scottish motifs shared radial symmetry, and all the lines were orthogonal rather than the more typical diagonal lines of tablet woven square motifs (e.g., the Snartemo V motifs). The orthogonal lines show up very neatly due to the warp being entirely threaded in one direction rather than alternating from tablet to tablet.
Recently, I was looking for something in Brigitta Schmedding’s Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz when I rediscovered several other textile examples of square motifs with radial symmetry and orthogonal lines. There is something about these motifs that looks extremely ancient to me! With the TWIST sample exchange in mind, I began doodling to test the limitations of the design. Since the sample exchange was supposed to be for relatively narrow bands, I kept my designs to the proportions of the original and used a 49-square grid. Soon I think I will have to try reproducing some of those elaborate Swiss designs from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; it will take a grid of at least 15x15 blocks.
On a seven-by-seven grid using radial symmetry, it is fairly hard to avoid repeating the Scottish designs or designing out-and-out swastikas, but I did my best. They’re far too basic to be “original,” of course, although I wasn’t looking at any other sources while I designed them. Here are the four designs I liked the best; I call them the Whirlpool, the Cross-and-Boss, the Running T, and the Well.
The motifs need to be squared carefully (my samples are not all carefully squared, due to unexpected time constraints). Also, my experience weaving these types of motifs shows that using smaller yarns minimizes the effect of the feathery weftwise color changes. They’re especially breathtaking in Size A sewing silk, which makes them pretty much identical in size to the Scottish piece of my original inspiration..
Henshall, Audrey. "Five Tablet-Woven Seal-Tags." Archaeological Journal 121 (1964), pp. 154-62.
Schmedding, Brigitta. Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz. Bern: Schriftern der Abegg-Stiftung, 1978.
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This document was originally prepared to accompany my work in a tablet weaving sample exchange in Spring 2000 sponsored by TWIST (Tablet Weavers' International Studies and Techniques). It is also available at my old website which is currently frozen. (I am considering my options for recreating and updating that site.)
The original samples were woven of 20/2 Czech linen.