Saturday, 27 June 2009

Planning a Portable Loom for Tablet Weaving

I commute to work so a lot of my craft-related stuff gets done on trains and buses. I knit, crochet and sew things; I do naalbinding and embroidery. Regrettably, I've had to leave my tablet weaving at home, because I haven't been able to find a portable loom that works for me. Backstrapping is not an option since I don't like being tied to my work and it doesn't suit my style of weaving anyway. I already have two inkle-style looms made after Toli's design, but they are too large and heavy to take with me on public transport...and impractical as I usually don't use a continuous warp. They are also conspicuously modern and I would like something that looks at least slightly historical. So a couple of weeks ago, I finally started looking around for sources and inspiration for constructing a portable tablet weaving loom of my own.

Medieval sources for tablet weaving looms are usually limited to contemporary illustrations which typically show the warp tied between two upright post, sometimes connected with a crossbar, as in these images:

I already have one of these posts-and-crossbar-looms, which I like a lot, especially for complicated work. But it certainly isn't portable enough to use on a bus!

There are also images of box looms, but they seem to be associated with rigid heddles or tapestry weaving rather than tablets:

(I'm not sure it's a loom in the top right image. It looks more like a bobbin winder to me, but it's small and box-like so I included it anyway...)

Looking at the more recent history of the box loom, it seems that Norway is the home of handy weaving contraptions. A quick search in Norsk Folkemuseum's collections came up with these 19th (?) century treasures:

For more of these wonderful little looms, go to and search for "båndvev"! You'll get a few pages of rigid heddles and weaving tablets as a bonus if you do!

Going back to the medieval illuminations, there's also this mystery loom:

It surfaced about three years ago on the SCA Cardweaving-list at Yahoogroups, but no one ever found the reference for the manuscript it's taken from (as far as I know). The image comes from a German book (see reference below) and appears to be an ad for a forthcoming publication about illuminated Gothic books (it's a "Probebild aus dem für 1932 in Vorbereitung befindlichen Band Gotische Buchmalerei". The bow-shaped object certainly seems to be used for tablet weaving - the woman holds her hand in a proper tablet-turning position and is using the beater like a pro! - but the actual design of the loom is left pretty much to the imagination.

Except for this "bow loom", there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of visual evidence for small and portable medieval tablet looms. But I still need one. So, giving up most pretenses of making something that's actually historically accurate, I've settled for a solution that I believe will work for me - a generic-looking box loom with a twist. I hardly ever work on only one project at a time and want to be able to change warps quickly and easily in mid-project - a procedure that doesn't work very well with box-loom roller beams... So I've decided to have "double" guide beams on my loom, mounted on top of each other in vertical slots in the sides of the loom. This allows them to move apart a little so they can be used to lock the band/warp in place without using the roller beams. I made this prototype to test that there wouldn't be any slippage:

It's not pretty, but it works perfectly, even with a slippery silk warp!

I used wooden toilet paper holders for the sides and a spice rack for the bottom part - unofficially I call it the "bog loom" (short for "bog roll holder loom"...) ;-p! It works fine as it is, but I want a nicer-looking, slightly larger version with roller beams too, one that I can use as an ordinary loom as well as for tablet weaving. My woodworking skills are virtually non-existent so I need to get someone to help be with this... In the meantime, I'll make do with my prototype and weave my way to work and back again!

(btw, I've sent in the proofs for my NESAT X article about Eric of Pomerania's Belt now, so hopefully it will be in print soon! And I will give a presentation about the belt at Medeltidsveckan in Visby, Gotland - see this link for more info in Swedish).

References and inspiration:

Swarzenski, H. 1931. Vorgotische Miniaturen die Ersten Jahrhunderte Deutscher Malerei. 2nd edition, Karl Robert Langewische Verlag.

Wyss, Robert L. 1973. "Die Handarbeiten der Maria". In: Stettler, M. & Lemberg, M. (eds). Artes Minores: Dank an Werner Abegg. Bern: Verlag Stämpfli & Cie, 113 - 188.

SCA-Card-Weaving at Yahoogroups, messages posted 2005-10-24 - 2005-10-27.


Karen Larsdatter's Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture:

Soper Lane:

Toli's inexpensive inkle/cardweaving loom design:

Making a Boxloom:

Lynn the Weaver's Lucets and Looms:


Racaire said...

Thanks for sharing :)

Tablet Weaving Blog said...

¡¡Fantastic post!!
My english is not very good, but it´s apears very interesting and looks very nice.
Great job!!

Tina said...

Jag gillar hur du bygger en vävstol utan att snickra! Verkligen kreativt - och den verkar verkligen bra! Hur lång är vävstolen (om man ska kunna ha den på bussen, menar jag....)

Arachne said...

38 cm. Kryddhyllan som blev botten var ursprungligen 40 cm lång, men jag sågade bort sidorna och satte dit toapappershållarens sidor istället...

Den framtida väven ska nog bli lite längre, runt 45 cm - det funkar fint att balansera i knät. 50 cm börjar däremot bli för långt att släpa med sig på bussen.


The length of the loom is 38 cm and it fits neatly in my lap. The future version of it will be a little longer, about 45 cm. At 50 cm it would stop being usable on the bus...

Jonas said...

Great post! You may not know carpentry but you sure know how to solve problems :). Tror jag ska bygga en liknande sak...

cathyr19355 said...

Great post! You have given me some new ideas about where to get a tablet weaving loom for myself. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I love your lateral thinking. Great alternative loom design. I'm itching to make one for myself, but one question - where did you get the toilet roll holders from? I can't find anything that sort of shape!
Thanks! :)

Arachne said...

Apparently, oiled oak household thingies are all the rage in Sweden at the moment - including toilet roll holders. I bought mine at one of those furniture/home improvement shops that compete with IKEA with trendy, but reasonably cheap products:
My bog roll holders are not featured on their homepage, though...

Arachne said...

And I had to cut up a broom handle to get two beams for each holder - they only had one "beam" when I bought them...

Anonymous said...

If I may ask, how do you attach the thread to the "rollers"? It does not appear that you tied the thread.

Great design!

Anonymous said...

Hello Viktoria, I am back home from Eindhoven and googled to find your blog. I hope you wil make at least one entry about the "spindle from hell" soon.

Love Harma

Arachne said...

Anonymous: The band and the warp are held in place by going round the roller beams like an S - not further attatchment needed! The more you pull at the ends, the tighter they are held in place.

Arachne said...

Harma: I'm trying very hard to forget the Spindle from Hell... It haunts me at night and I wake up in a cold sweat...

But the stroopwafel one - that's a thing that might just catch on...

Carl said...

You said you need help with woodworking. What do you need? I may already have an idea that may work for your needs.
Party On

Gesche Johanna said...

Hello Viktoria,
a friend of mine is working on a design of a portable loom, but in my humble opinion yours is much nicer and more comfortable to work with.

Thank you for sharing. I hope you don´t mind if he will make a similar one for us, too.
We are beginners in tablet weaving but in summer often on medieval markets where inkle looms are not really appreciated.

I can´t wait to practise with my linen.

I wish you a nice day (from sunny Germany)
Gesche Johanna

Sarah Paine said...

Hi Arachne

Using your pics as a reference guide, my hubbby has made me a very similar looking loom, and I've currently got it threaded up for the first time :)

I love the simplicity of the design, and the only problem I have is in keeping the tension even - keeping it tight isn't a problem, but keeping the tension even across the threads is trickier. Getting to grips with it though :)


Sarah Paine said...

Hi again :)

I do have another problem with the loom - wastage at the end of the woven piece. I find that to keep the tension and still to be able to work that I am wasting a good 2 feet of thread at the end of the weave as there simply isn't enough to wrap around in the S shape and still allow me to tension it. I'm beginning to think a ratchet type system might suit me better (I'm still working on a smallish loom for everyday use, I'm not keen on the two post types that I see).. but I don't need to worry about authenticity as I'm doing it for roleplaying not re-enactment. I used to use a floor standing inkle loom, but found having to untwist the warp tricky when one end is tied to the other (non continuous) in a warp-faced design.

Sarah said...

first what a beautiful name you have Arachne..
wonderful blog..
mona & the gaffer girls

Arachne said...

Sarah: it does take a bit of effort to get even tension across the threads... My portable loom is too short for a warp spreader to work properly, I sometimes use a warp cross with lease sticks instead.

Tying a band or a piece of string to the end of the warp as an extension is one possible way to solve the tensioning and waste problems. The extension would wrap around the beams instead of the warp or you could simply tie it around the beams while you weave the last bit. I don't know how well it would work, though...haven't tried it myself.

Katrinshine said...

Thank you for this interesting blog!

Phil said...

I'm quite new to tablet weaving so I need a lot of stuff spelled out. Can you show how you built the loom and how to warp and tension it? I'm having a hard time imagining how that's all done. There is a great website called that would be the perfect place for such a post. Thanks.

Arachne said...

Phil: like it says in the post, the loom is simply made of two wooden toilet paper holders nailed to either end of a flat piece of wood (the spice rack...). Add an extra dowel to each holder, and the loom is complete.

I make a separate warp off the loom and then attach it by wrapping it in an S pattern round the dowels. If you take a closer look at the picture of the loom with the band in it, you can see how it's done. To tension it you pull on the finished band/unwoven warp.

There are lots of pages out there that explain how to prepare a warp for tablet weaving, this one for example:

Another great resource for tablet weaving tutorials is:

rekha said...

Unrelated to tablet weaving which I was searching but noticed you are from Sweden. I have a book on knitting mittens and written in Swedish. I had hoped to translate on google but significant words are not translated. Would you be prepared to help?

Arachne said...

There's a knitting-specific wordlists that might be useful to you:
You can change the languages and get the list in French, Spanish, Portuguise, Estonian, Czech, Islandic and Italian too.

Are you on If not, I recommend it! They have a lot of groups and forums that are devoted to helping with translations of knitting patterns. Several are specifically Scandivavian and very helpful!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, belatedly, for this post. I shamelessly copied your design and, with a couple of modifications, it has enabled portable weaving! I may actually get done with my latest project in time!