Tablet looms have some interesting properties. Firstly, they are very
very old – our neolithic ancestors invented them. Secondly they
are quite straightforward to make and weave but form an extremely
complex structure that incorporates both weaving and braiding (and one I
haven’t managed to simulate correctly yet) – they are also the only form
of weaving that has never been mechanised.
I’ve learned to warp tablets very much by trial and error, so I expect
there are many improvements possible (please let me know), but as I had
to warp a load of tablet looms for the weavecoding workshop in Düsseldorf last
week, I thought I’d document the process here.
The first thing you need to do is make the tablets themselves from
fairly stiff card. You need squares of about 5cm, and holes punched out
from the corners. Beer mats or playing cards are good, I’m just using recycled card here. It saves a bit of time later if you can get the holes lined up when
the tablets are stacked together – but I’ve never managed to do this
very well. A good number of cards to start with are 8 or 10, fewer in
number are easier to manipulate and use less yarn – if you don’t have
much to spare.
The second step is to prepare the warp yarn. You need four separate
balls or cones of wool – it’s easiest to start with four different
colours, although you can make more patterns with double faced weave
(two colours opposite each other on the cards). Fluffy knitting wool
works fine but can catch and be annoying sometimes, cotton is better. In
order to help prevent the yarn getting tangled together which is
probably the biggest problem with this job – it’s a good idea to set
this up so the yarn passes through the back of a chair with the yarn on
the floor like this – it restricts the distance the balls roll as you
pull the yarn.
You need two sticks you can easily loop the warp over, I’m using a cut
broom stick clamped to the chair here. The distance between them determines
how long the final woven band will be, a metre or so is good.
Next you need to thread each of the four warp threads through the
corners of the tablets – each thread needs it’s own corner so be careful
not to mix them up. If the holes line up you can do them all at once,
otherwise it’s one by one.
Here are the tablets with all the corners threaded.
Now we tie the threads together looped over the warp stick furthest from
the yarn, this knot is temporary.
Hook the other end of the warp over the stick on the other side, and
leave one of the tablets half way along. Loop it back again leaving
another tablet – go backwards and forwards repeating.
I can never manage to keep the tablets in order, and usually end up with a mess like this – don’t panic if you get a similar result!
When you have done all of the tablets, quickly check that every warp
pass has a card associated with it and then cut the first knot and tie
the last warp threads to the first.
This gives you a continuous warp, which is good for adjusting the
tension. Group all the cards together and arrange them so the colours
are aligned – rotate them until the same colours are at the top and the bottom.
This is also a good point to check the twist of the tablets so they alternate in
terms of the direction the threads are coming from. This is quite
difficult to explain with text but these images may help. It’s basically a bit easier if they are consistent when you start weaving, then you can see how changing this alters the patterns as you go.
You can actually reorder and flip the tablets at any time, even after
starting weaving – so none of this is critical. It’s handy to equalise
the tension between the warp threads at this point though, so grab all
the cards in alignment, put some tension on the warp and drag them up
and down the warp – if the loops at either end are not too close this
should get the lengths about the same.
Once this is done, tie all the tablets together to preserve their order
Then tie loops of strong cord around both ends of the warp.
Then you’re done – you can pull the ends off the sticks and start tablet
As I needed to transport the tablet looms I wrapped the warps (keeping the upper/lower threads separated) around cardboard tubes to keep the setup from getting tangled up. This seemed to work well:
If you find one of the warp threads is too long and is causing
a tablet to droop when the warp is under tension, you can pull it tight
and tie it back temporarily, after weaving a few wefts it will hold in
The two most important things I’ve learned about weaving – the older the
technique the more forgiving it is to mistakes, and you can never have
too many sticks.