On March 29th, the Barony of Ben Dunfirth hosted Ealdormere’s Arts and Sciences, Spring 2014 Faire. It’s an opportunity for the Kingdom’s makers-of-all-the-things to come out and share what they have been working on. This is the first year that I have attended A&S and I was blown away by the talent shown by the populace, on such a diverse range of topics! We had painters, weavers, leather workers, embroiders, textile junkies, musicians and so much more.
I recently had trouble with the tablet weaving loom I was using. When I decided to built a new one in a more period style, Master Daffyd suggested that I document the process and enter it in A&S. Below is a copy of my documentation.
So then, I built a loom
by Einar Inn Austrifara Josepsson
I have recently discovered that tablet weaving can be a rather mentally therapeutic activity for me. To date, I have only attempted simple patterns with the entire stack of tablets turning as one unit so there is comfort in the simple rhythm and my brain can go into sleep mode (mostly). Through liberal application of brute force, I have managed to damage my original loom. I could have easily made another using tougher materials but that’s not really how my mind works. Knowing that there had to be a more difficult process, I set out to find it.
And I did.
What have we got here?
This is a tablet weaving loom, based on the loom components found as part of the Oseberg burial find. It is not intended to be a replica or recreation.
How did he do that?!?!
For the construction of this loom, I relied on modern tools and woodworking techniques. For me, the process was less important than the need for a functional loom.
I began with a 4 foot length of 8/4 kiln dried ash. I found some anecdotal evidence that the original was made from alder but as they say, “the jury is still out on that”. Ash seemed like a good choice for a few reasons: it is readily available to me, I’ve worked with it before (different woods behave in different ways when put to the tools) and because while ash is very strong timber, it also has some flex to it (which should serve well under the tension of the threads). The uprights were milled out and turned on my lathe. Like the original, I made them approximately 3 feet long. Where I varied the design the most was with the length of the loom. On the advice of Master Rufus of Stamford, I made sure the longest pieces would fit inside the trunk of my car so I could break it down and transport it to events. So, I made the two horizontal pieces 4 feet long.
The base was made by attaching the feet to the lower crosspiece via glue and wood screws; the uprights insert into holes drilled in the feet. (The original does not share how this had been done. It is reasonable to assume some form of sliding dovetail or lap joint was used, possibly reinforced with pegs). The cross bar is secured via through mortise and tenon joints on each end. I made the crossbar a little longer than it ought to be for 2 reasons. Number 1, I did not want to use any wedges or pegs to secure it to the uprights (too much work and they could go missing) and number 2, the uprights fit a tad loose into the holes in the feet. By making the crossbar a little longer, it forces the uprights outward, creating pressure where the uprights join the base. This results in the uprights locking into the base. The tension/compression between the uprights and the cross bar help ensure rigidity in the loom.
At this time, I am undecided as to how I want to decorate or embellish the loom. Except for the portion of the uprights which will be in contact with the threads, I have not attempted to sand or finish the surface of the wood in any way (the uprights have been sanded to 400 grit sandpaper, with no finish applied). The rest of the loom will host some knot work patterns, carving or paint as time and ambition present themselves.
The tools used in the construction were: various power saws, wood lathe, drill press, mortise and paring chisels, a variety of measuring/marking/layout tools, my mp3 player (music is essential) and band aids (2 of them).
Yeah, but is it period?
In 834AD, human remains and a variety of grave goods were interred at what is now known as the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg, Norway1. Among the grave goods were a variety of textiles, including 52 threaded tablets used for weaving. They were attached to uprights of a weaving frame. Below is an artists rendering of how the loom might have looked.
As stated previously, the loom I build is shorter in length than the original. The feet are of a different design as are the embellishments to the base.
That’s all very nice but WHY did you build it?
Very simply, because I damaged my original loom. Here it is…
As you can see in the 2nd picture, the base of my loom has bent. The result of this is that the threads no longer stay in tension very well. This happened for 2 reasons: # 1, plywood was not the best choice of material and # 2, I applied too much pressure to the clamping mechanism. Besides its flexibility, another problem with the plywood is that the bolts going through the clamp block had stripped and were turning freely on their own. This resulted in me needing both hands to simply tighten the clamping mechanism and THAT meant that I no longer had a free hand to tension the wrap in a consistent fashion. I don’t believe any of this would have happened if I had been a touch more delicate while clamping things down in the first place.
All of this brought me to question if there was a style of loom that did not rely on any sort of clamping device to secure the threads. My intense attraction to being comfortable plus my tendency to be easily distracted made me feel that a back-strap loom was not the best choice for me. Also, I discounted an inkle loom because I knew it was not a piece of period equipment and thus, not terribly suitable as a possible A&S project (besides, every kid has one of those).
When I saw pictures of and read a bit about the loom found at Oseberg, I was intrigued. I wasn’t sure how the threads were attached to the loom however, I knew it was done without any kind of mechanism. This appealed to me greatly. Further research and discussion with other weavers led me to know I could shorten the overall length of the loom so it would be portable yet still highly functional.
Now I had a type of loom with no moving parts, that was portable and of a period design. So, I went with it.
But, where does the woe and strife come into the story?
I ran into 2 difficulties with this project: measurements and documentation.
Most of the woodworking I do takes place at my lathe where I have been known to say, “Measurements? What are those?” Very little of my work requires taking or transferring accurate measurements. Wood joinery (the fitting together of two or more pieces of wood to create a new shape) requires that measurements be taken and accurately transferred to multiple pieces of wood. I am horrible at this and that is why I had a tough time cutting the mortise and tenon joins for the cross bar. I actually messed up the first cross bar so badly that a second attempt was required with a fresh piece of wood. On top of that, it had been quite some time since I had worked with wood outside of my lathe. My skills with those tools had greatly diminished.
The second true difficulty I had was in the write up. As the song says, “I’ve not tried to research, since my high school days” and I found to process very stressful. I do not have a great deal of books on my shelf related SCA pursuits. My local library is either void of what I need or I lack the research chops to find it. This leaves the internet and asking other people for help. The internet, of course, holds loads of information but I rarely know if what I’m reading is good source or not.
The great thing about Scadians is that they love to share what they know or help you find something. The trouble is that I’m not great at asking. Call it anxiety or a lack of social communication skills. Either way, it is a very real problem.
The other part of research and documentation that troubles me is the writing of it. When I try to write in a professional, scholarly fashion I fail miserably. I switch between 1st and 3rd person , mix up my verb tenses and generally make a hash of it. The best writing I do is when I write like I speak (though with fewer expletives). It’s usually easy to read and understand which is great for most readers but, not very research-y. This too worries me.
The biggest thing I got out of this project was the knowledge that there are good people around me who are willing and eager to share what they know. It also reaffirmed that I feel better when I am making things and for a variety of reasons, I haven’t felt like doing that lately. I am also reminded that we each have very different experiences and skill sets and that what I find second-nature or intuitive, others will have never considered (and vice verse). Remembering this will serve me well whenever I writing about my work.
The next step in terms of my weaving will be learning how to warp up my thread, secure it to this loom and quite frankly, see if this loom will make my weaving easier or not. If it does not, well, there’s always another A&S competition and this one will make for some nice, decorative tent pegs. I am quite certain that I will rebuild my original loom so that I can have multiple projects on the go at once.
1Durham, Keith. Noon, Steve. (2002). Viking Longship Osprey Publishing ISBN 1-84176-349-7