Tablet Weaving

Knitting Needles, Drop Spindle, LoomTablet weaving, or card weaving, is one of those things that’s been on my mind as a major design endeavor for a while.  Mathematics, pattern recognition, a precursor to computing, and more: weaving is one of those skills with a host of other benefits for kids in terms of brain power and mindfulness.

Initially, I built a hardwood inkle loom.  This consists of a framework of five blocky pieces of wood, a complicated-to-cut tension bar, and five dowels.  It’s difficult to build, difficult to operate, breaks easily, is difficult to string correctly, and requires a great deal of technical know-how to operate well.   It’s also expensive — not a great project if the goal is to teach weaving; but a pretty good project if the goal is to teach some carpentry and measurement skills.  My initial report on the design is here; and the photograph also shows some wool I spun myself using the drop spindle… and later knit into a small scarf using knitting needles I made myself.  I mean, you can’t really go wrong here — this is an incredible Maker mastery set right here, and you’re teaching the history of textiles at the same time.

Tablet weaving The challenge has always been figuring out HOW to teach it, particularly weaving. A loom is not an easy thing to build.  Sure, you can build simple cardboard looms and make pocket squares or potholders, but that doesn’t convey anything like the sheer majesty of weaving — the technical prowess, the artistry, the cultural value inherent in the work.  And the inkle loom is complicated enough to build that it’s not easy to teach how to build it, and then teach how to use it, in the same after school program even over several weeks.

Enter the better Card Weaving loom, courtesy of Don’s design from the Loomy Bin.  At one end, a drawer handle mounted to a piece of wood with a couple of improvised clamps.  And at the other, a squared-off dowel mounted between two blocks of wood, slightly higher, with maybe an additional wire-wrap to act as a warp-spreading device.  The same design of clamp used at the weaving end is also used at the tension end.Tablet weaving I like this. It’s an efficient design, and it means that I can build and design other kinds of clamps and frames for the Design Lab that can be bolted on to workbenches and tables using this clamp design.  The more of them I build, and the more that are available, the more that students will use them in their own work. They’ll become part of the library of techniques we use regularly. Nice!

I wish I’d thought to take a photograph of the four clamps, the weaving end and the tension end together.  It would have made clear how easy it is to build this particular loom, and how easy it is to work through the various design elements. Mine isn’t as fancy as Don’s, at least not this model 1.0 — and I need to do a better job of designing the tension end and the clamps so they’re a little more beautiful. But it’s a good start.  And it’s not so complicated that I would mind building five or six as part of the Design Lab’s common equipment.

Tablet weavingThe next task, once I built the loom parts, was to string the loom.  I didn’t want to get fancy the first time out.  So I used large yarn; and rather than buying commercial-grade cards, I found some heavy Design Lab cardstock, a template of the right size and shape, and the printer.  Voila, cards!

Stringing the cards initially seemed complicated but in fact was not terribly so.  One string goes through each hole; two strings of one color and two of another.  For this one, I had four strings of gray on either side of my tablet band; the result, of course, would be a gray border on either side of my tablet band.  The middle four cards held two each of red and brown — colors not chosen for their beauty but their handiness.  I started with the brown strings in the two ‘front’ holes, and the red strings in the two ‘back’ holes.  As the cards are rotated, of course, the brown strings wind up in the two ‘bottom’ holes, then the two ‘back’ holes, and then the two ‘top’ holes before returning to the ‘front’ on the fourth pass.  Set them up as best pleases you, and one quarter-turn forward after each pass-through of the weft yarn, and the pattern of stripes emerges fairly rapidly.

Me weaving
The author at work, loom in front, digital loom in back.

And from there, it was fairly easy to get started.  I need to do better at laying out my strings so that they don’t tangle and twist across one another, I admit.  But this is a problem to solve in Loom 2.0 of this type; I still think I need to build three or four of these for the Design Lab’s regular equipment.

At the end of about 40 minutes of work, I had a fairly respectable bit of wool tablet-weaving completed.

Tablet weavingYou can see for yourself.  This is somewhere between ten and sixteen inches of tablet band completed.  Once the loom is set up (which is tedious in and of itself, I admit), the work goes fairly quickly.  I want to finish this piece, and then go on to another more complicated bit of work, with roughly the same arrangement of elements (side bands, two colors reversible on the inside), but using a more complicated pattern.

You can see, as well, my not-entirely-ideal solution to how to attach the tablet band to the loom; a very large clamp holding the knots together. This is a problem to resolve when I build loom 2.0, I think, although Don solves it in a similar way in his own design and working process.

In any case, I think I’ve ‘solved’ the weaving problem for the moment.  I need to make another few looms to this design, maybe add some felt to the bottom of the boards or ‘treat’ them with polyurethane or linseed oil or something; but in general I think that I can make a cool school program out of these looms, and teach some cool skills along the way.  It’s a start.

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