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Hallst-Tb-Wvg-art - 11/29/14


"Hallstatt Tablet Weaving - Reconstructing and Recreating an Archaeological Find from the Hallstatt Era" by HL Czina Angielczyka.


NOTE: See also the files: card-weaving-msg, Inkle-Weaving-art, Stick-Weaving-art, Cloth-of-Gold-art, textiles-msg, weaving-msg, Hst-of-Velvet-art, Natural-Dyeng-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This article was first published in Tournaments Illuminated, issue 174, spring 2010.


Hallstatt Tablet Weaving -

Reconstructing and Recreating an Archaeological Find from the Hallstatt Era

by HL Czina Angielczyka


Tablet weaving is an ancient fiber craft which was widespread through Europe before 1600. Unfortunately, the origins of tablet weaving are unknown, and there are few archaeological finds to set an 'early date' for such weaving. While it is most widely known as a Norse/Viking tradition, there is evidence of its use in mainland Europe much earlier.


Several cultures dominated northern and central Europe before the Classical Age of the Romans and Greeks. One of these was centered in the area of Hallstatt, Austria. This Bronze Age Celtic culture flourished from 800-400 BCE, and they had contact and trade with all areas of Europe and the Near East. The Celts had a unique style of artwork and pottery, and buried their chieftains in ornate graves with goods imported from across Europe and the Mediterranean. The Hallstatt people also were experts at mining salt, and many of the archaeological finds from this era come from the debris left inside the ancient salt mines. The salt preserved these finds very well, including patterns and dyes in the fabrics.


Hallstatt Textiles: Technical Analysis, Scientific Investigation and Experiment on Iron Age Textiles gives information analysis about the wide range of textiles found in the salt mines. Included among the finds were three tablet-woven bands of wool. These bands were analyzed by Karina Grömer, who wrote about her experiments in recreating these bands (Bichler, et al. 81-90).


The Original Band


The original find was from the Kernverwässerungswerk salt mine in Austria. It was discovered in 1990, and is dated to the Hallstatt period, 800-400 BCE. The weave structure is "tablet woven" twill (Collingwood 208-232). It was woven on 21 tablets, with a warp of well-twisted z-spun wool. The example has three colors of wool: blue-green, brownish-black, and light olive-green. The weft is horsehair. The band was used as trimming ribbon for a sleeve, sewn with paired fine blue-green yarn. The width is 1.3 cm, and the circumference is about 22 cm.


Creating the Modern Piece


Each step for recreating the piece includes the known historical details, as well as modern interpretations and substitutions.


The Pattern


For recreating this example, the partial pattern provided by Grömer (Bichler, et al. Plate 16) was transcribed into an Excel file, and then the rest of the pattern was generated by hand. Using Excel makes it possible to analyze the pattern, and find transcription errors before weaving is started. It also allows a clean print-out of the pattern. For clarity of reference, instead of the / and \ marks, which are common to tablet weaving notation, I recommend using + and - to indicate forward and backward turns. These symbols are hard to confuse, and make it easy to reverse the weaving when necessary to make corrections.


In analyzing this pattern, it became clear that the Hallstatt weavers used advanced techniques for patterning. Twist buildup is an important consideration when tablet weaving, especially with spun fibers, like wool. The central pattern portion of the Hallstatt pattern is "twist neutral," meaning that all of the cards are twisted equally forward and backward through the length of the pattern of 72 picks. This makes it easier for the weaver, and can mean less loom waste at the end of weaving.


The only notation on threading the cards was to thread them in the "S" direction. The selvedges were all single color, with a stripe of the lighter color for contrast. The center section had four cards of dark background, then five of the lighter color, and then another four of the dark color. The selvedges of the original were of different number (five and three cards per side), and this was duplicated in the re-creation, as well.


Since there was no indication of how the original threads were oriented, it was necessary to use the pattern to determine the starting position of the cards. This was done by looking at the first two rows of the pattern, to determine which thread colors should be on top. The pattern was checked periodically during weaving, to be sure that the cards were still in the right position.


After two full pattern repeats, the selvedge cards were turned on their axes, changing their threading direction. This allows the next weaving section to remove the twist buildup from the strings. While the original did not indicate any change in the selvedge, the short length of the original piece (22 cm) meant that twist buildup may not have been a problem. In medieval weaving, the selvedge was often switched to alleviate twist buildup (Collingwood 119).


Wool Warp


The Hallstatt example was woven with dyed wool threads forming the warp of the tablet weaving. For re-creation, wool spun on a drop spindle is best suited for this purpose, as it can be very tightly spun and plied. I initially chose a commercial wool to get the correct thickness. It was "lace-weight" 100 percent white lamb's wool. This thickness (approximately .6 mm) corresponds with the thickness of the wools of the Hallstatt finds, which ranged from .2 mm to 2 mm (Bichler, et al. 29). The finished width of the re-creation is 1.7 cm, which makes it wider than the Hallstatt example of 1.3 cm. After purchase, the wool was dyed in a manner similar to that of the original sample; this process is detailed under "Dye and Dyeing Methods".


Unfortunately, the commercial yarn was not really suited to tablet weaving. While the threads were over-twisted and stretched during and after the dyeing process, they continued to suffer substantial wear and pilling as the weaving progressed. Though the beater was used to "clear the shed," the yarn still caught on the adjacent threads in the same card. This was especially true of the cards in the selvedge and the outer pattern cards. A few of the threads had to be repaired, and the final length of the weaving turned out shorter than originally intended. However, it was long enough for a pair of cuffs, the purpose of the original find.


After trying the lace-weight wool, a commercial "worsted" wool was used in a subsequent project. It was a thin 2-ply yarn and had a much tighter twist – but it still broke and pilled after a length of approximately two feet of weaving. Wool "rug warp single" yarn with no ply did weave up very well with no pilling. However, the yarn diameter was much larger than the original yarn so the finished band was considerably wider as a result.


Horsehair Weft


Horsehair was used for the weft in the original piece, but no background information was provided, and it is not known why this particular material was chosen. It is possible that it adds extra durability, which quality is useful at garment edges. In experiments with the reconstruction, the ribbon does not fold or crease along the length, but returns to its regular position. This means that it would not roll or curl when placed on the edge of a sleeve.


Since no specifics were given in the details of the find, I purchased a bundle of white horsehair (tail hair) from a local craft store. I didn't treat it in any way, although it may have been washed or otherwise treated prior to my purchase.


Weaving with horsehair is different from weaving with other textiles. It can kink and break if it is folded repeatedly in the same spot. Also, it doesn't "lock" with the warp threads the way wool, silk, and cotton thread does.


This means that if you pull the weft tight you can cause puckering in the already-woven section, and this can make it difficult to control the width of the weaving. However, because the hair does form a more permanent "bend" when switching direction, the weaving can be pulled out to widen areas that were pulled too tight. The horsehair at the selvedges tends to blend in, although it can be felt along the sides of the weaving. The difference in texture is noticeable.


The shorter length of the modern horsehair is another difference, as well. A purchased bundle of horsehairs containing hairs of approximately the same length of 13 in.–15 in. produces about one inch of weaving. Instead of knotting them together, overlap the old and new wefts in the shed, and pull tight.


When possible, weave the hair from the thicker end to the thinner end, although sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Even with "all white" horsehair, one end of the hair can be darker than the rest. This is generally not noticeable in the finished weaving. Leave the weft ends long until the weaving is finished, and then trim close with snips.


Dye and Dyeing Methods


Many of the textiles found in the Hallstatt salt mines were colored with dyes. These textiles were analyzed by various methods to try to determine the types of dyes used (Bichler, et al. 55-72). Unfortunately, while it is clear that the textiles were dyed, there is no indication of the dye methods used (Bichler, et al. 92). Evidence from other locations and time periods would indicate that both substantive and mordant dyeing were common techniques (Bichler, et al. 93), and that oak bark (tannin) and iron were both common as dyes and mordants used to produce browns and blacks (Bichler, et al. 58).


I would recommend reading up on dyeing methods before attempting this, but I had success in dyeing with both the tannin and the rust water baths. Start by measuring out into a skein all the yarn you will need for the project (plus extra for loom waste). Happily, with such small amounts of wool, a simple bucket will be sufficient to allow the fibers tomove freely in the dye liquid.


A tannin bath can be created by mixing water with wood chips, bark, and old pieces of vegetable-tanned leather in a large pot, and simmering on the stove until the water turns a dark brown –approximately 15 minutes to ½ hour.


Pour the liquid off into a bucket, add the wool to this "tea" and allow to soak overnight. Tannin baths are a common method of dyeing fibers brown, as well as a way to pre-mordant fibers, to help them take dye better. The result will be a light brown color.


After the tannin bath, separate out the portion of wool to remain brown (approximately one third of the total). Section the remainder of the wool into thirds and tie them off. To create the rust water bath, mix old pieces of metal with water and vinegar to create a solution of of iron salts (iron acetate and iron oxide). Iron salts react with tannins to create a very dark color. This is the basis for "oak gall ink" used in medieval manuscripts (Theophilus 42-43). The amount of time in the bath determines the extent of the reaction, and the color darkens with exposure to the air. Put all of the wool into the rust water bath for a very brief soak (about 5 minutes). Remove one third of the wool, leaving the remaining two-thirds to soak an additional 15-20 minutes in the rust water bath, which will turn the wool a much darker grey. All of the wool needs to be rinsed in cold water afterwards, to remove excess dyestuff.


The loom


There is no indication of the type of loom used to weave the Hallstatt example. Historical examples of looms for tablet weaving include the backstrap loom and the upright "fixed point" loom. The backstrap loom isn't a free-standing piece of equipment: the warp threads are attached to a stationary point (a tree, a chair, a ring set in the wall, etc.) and then the fell (woven area) is attached to the weaver's belt. Such weaving allows more control over the twist build up, but care must be taken to keep even tension on all of the threads to avoid mishap. Backstrap weaving is ideal for small lengths, and items having special needs – like adding tablet weaving to the edges of items, which is difficult (if not impossible) to do on fixed-tension looms.


The "fixed point" loom is an improvement on the backstrap method of weaving. The tablet weaving is attached to two fixed poles, and the weaving occurs between them. Such weaving has even tension, and it can be left in place between weaving sessions. Various manuscripts show such looms, often with the Virgin Mary doing tablet weaving. The remains of such a loom were found in the Oseberg ship burial, dated to the 9th C CE (Collingwood 17).


Since the type of loom used to weave the Hallstatt textiles is purely speculative, I used a modified fixed point loom, only it was turned on its side, so the weaving was similar to a backstrap loom. This design is very similar to a tool depicted in a Chinese statue from the same time period as Hallstatt (1 millennium BCE), where the weaver appears to be weaving backstrap, with a bar at the feet to provide tension (Barber 81). The weaving appears to be "continuous" with unwoven warp threads underneath the bar, attached to the weaver. While a connection between Austria and China would be tenuous at best, this is one of the few visual representations of the backstrap method, and is very suited to band weaving.


As an addition to the two beams for tension, an "S" hook was attached to the bottom portion of the warp (the unwoven part). An adjustable belt was attached to the "S" hook, and this was used as a stirrup to apply tension to the weaving. This method is similar to the drawing in Collingwood, showing a weaver using his leg to tension a long warp. Using this method allows the tension to be controlled easily, while still allowing the warp to be moved between the two beams (Collingwood 33-39).


The Tablets


Examples of tablet weaving cards have been found in wood, bone, antler, and leather. It is possible that metal and clay were also used. Cards need to be thin and fairly consistent in order to create the best weaving. The historical cards are in the 1-2" range, much smaller than most modern examples. Small, thin cards are an advantage when working with a wide warp, in order to keep it all in line.


I wove this piece using handmade leather cards, since they are thinner than the wood and clay tablets, and are gentler on the warp threads. Leather also has rigidity yet bending the leather during weaving does not cause creases or permanent deformation. There has been one example of a leather card found in Bryggen in Bergen, Norway, dated to the medieval period (Øye 78) and the supposition is that other leather cards just have not survived in the archaeological record.


You can make the reproduction cards using 3-4 oz. untreated vegetable-tanned leather (3/64-1/32" thick), although heavier ones would work as well. I cut each card with a special press and cutting die for consistency, but these can be carefully cut by hand. It is not necessary to boil the leather and I would avoid wax or other any surface treatment that could rub off on the warp threads.


Leather cards have two distinct sides – the smooth "grain" side, and the fuzzier, sometimes rough flesh" side. It is best to use leather with a smoother flesh side, because the fuzz can tangle in the threads. The two distinct sides are helpful when doing patterns that require "flipping" the cards to create the pattern: it is easy to tell which cards have been flipped, so a pattern draft isn't necessary.


Using vegetable-tanned leather for the cards allows decoration, as well. Stamping, carving, and painting are all medieval leather decoration techniques, and work well to customize the cards. You can also mark the end cards for this project as reference points during weaving. Since the selvedge cards continually turn forward, every four turns, the end card is in the "up" position, which can be indicated by a stamped design on the leather card. This is marked on the pattern with an "up arrow" so it is easy to keep track of your position.




A beater is used in tablet weaving to push the weft threads down and create a tightly packed weave. It is unknown what type of beater was used on the Hallstatt examples, but Grömer used a wooden beater for her re-creation (Bichler, et al. 86). A simple wooden beater can be used to tighten the weave. While it is also a weaving shuttle, the horsehair, being stiffer than yarn, doesn't require a separate shuttle, and can be pulled through on its own.


All in all, if you have the opportunity to try this project, I recommend it!




Barber, Elizabeth. Prehistoric Textiles: the development of cloth in Neolithic and Bronze Ages with special reference to the Aegean. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991. Print.


Bichler, Peter, et al. Hallstatt Textiles: Technical Analysis, Scientific Investigation and Experiment on Iron Age Textiles. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005. Print.


Collingwood, Peter. The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1982. New Edition: McMinnville, Oregon: Robin and Russ Handweavers, 2002. Print.


Øye, Ingvild. Textile Equipments and Its Working Environment. Oslo, Norway: Universitetforlaget AS (Norwegian University Press), 1988. Print.


Ræder Knudsen, Lise. "Tablet Weaving by Lise Ræder Knudsen – Verucchio." Tablet Weaving by Lise Ræder Knudsen. Web. Accessed 29 Jan 2009. http://www.tabletweaving.dk/?Research:Verucchio.


Theophilus Presbyter. On Divers Arts. (Ed. and trans. by J. G. Hawthorne and C. S. Smith). New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1979. Print.


Copyright 2010 by Cynthia Sebolt, <czinaangielczyka at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org