Ancient designs on the floor loom

I have warped up the loom in natural undyed white Shetland wool with a sett of 12 ends per inch, so it is a nice chunky proportion that weaves up quickly.  Initially, I tied it up in a simple 2/2 twill, for the herringbone variations and the basket weave.  The terms ‘herringbone’, ‘point twill’ and ‘chevron twill’ all seem to have been used by different people to refer to the same pattern:  a twill with periodic reversing of direction (either in the treadling or the threading through the heddles) so that it makes the diagonal line in the weave reverse.

I re-tied the treadling for the rippenköper, which needed a 3/1 twill, and this seems to have been a more uncommon design – historically a 2/1 twill for rippenköper was more usual.

4 weaves final

Going clockwise, starting from the top left, these are:  basket weave, herringbone stripe, rippenköper and small point twill.

Lise Bender Jorgensen has provided us with a tremendous resource in her book, North European Textiles to 1000 AD, and this is my source of information for everything that follows here:

Twill  is a weave where a diagonal line is formed in the cloth because the weft passes over and under more than one warp.  A 2/1 twill means it goes over 2 and under one.  A 2/2 twill has the weft going over 2, under 2.  After plain tabby, this is most common kind of weave, and the ‘floats’ in the weave add both warmth and drape to the cloth.  It has been found in some of the earliest examples of Iron Age textiles.

Herringbone stripe refers to a reversal of the twill in the weft at intervals.  It can also be described as a  ‘point twill’ or ‘chevron twill’.  Although these terms are often used to describe a reversal in the warp, Bender Jorgensen describes it as being a reversal “in one system”, so either warp or weft.   Examples have been found among the textile fragments in the Hallstatt salt mines, which date from the early 1st millennium BCE.

Basket weave has doubled warps and doubled weft, so that it looks like an over-sized tabby weave.  In antiquity, this pattern has only been found in Roman Europe and in the eastern Mediterranean, so it’s believed to have been brought to Europe by the Romans.

Half-basket weave has doubled warp threads and a tabby weft.  This weave was also strongly associated with finds in the Roman provinces and in particular with Roman uniforms.  The earliest example of a half-basket weave in Europe was found with a Roman legionary’s helmet in the Haltern fortress in Germany, dating to 9 CE.

Rippenköper is a different kind of twill variation.  It can be a 2/1 or 3/1 twill that alternates with a 1/2 or 1/3 twill to create an interesting textured stripe in the weft.  It was often a luxury textile, done in a very fine sett, and was a popular weave in the Merovingian period, in post-Roman Europe.  It was often a very fine monochrome cloth, in wool or silks.


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