Blankets in Tabby

I have warped up the loom now for two blankets in double weave, so when they’re off the loom they will be twice the width of my reed.  This project was inspired by a family holiday last summer to the Island of Mull in Scotland.  I went into the Ardalanish Weavers mill and shop in the south of Mull.  Years ago I visited them to buy yarn for weaving a McLean tartan, but today they don’t carry tartan colours any more.  Now it’s all the natural wool straight off the sheep, in a huge variety of browns, greys and cream.  I’ve added a stripe of a beautiful blue dyed Shetland as well for accent.  These blankets will be woven in tabby (also known as plain weave) that mainstay of ancient textiles from the earliest records.

tabby blanket

Tabby Weave

It appears from the archaeology that people have been weaving cloth for as long as they have had a reliable source of wool or linen – so from the earliest introduction of agriculture.  The first image of a loom of any kind comes from a ceramic dish dating to the pre-dynastic Badari culture of Upper Egypt, in the 4th millennium BCE.  This appears to be a ground loom, in other words one where the warp is simply pegged to the ground.   But according to Elizabeth Barber In her book Prehistoric Textiles, earlier signs of weaving have been found.  There are impressions on clay of plain weave – the simplest weave structure – which have been discovered in two Neolithic site in northeast Iraq: Jarmo from nearly 7000 BCE and Tell Shemshara from the 6th millennium BCE.

Lise Bender Jorgensen, in her encyclopedic Textiles in Northern Europe to 1000 AD, writes that based on archaeological finds, tabby (plain weave) was the only weave in the Neolithic period, with the introduction of twill appearing with the Urnfield period of the late Bronze Age in central Europe, roughly 1200 BCE.

And although weavers have gone on to create a nearly endless variety of complex weave structures, tabby continues to be a staple for many purposes since it is stronger and lighter than most other weaves, and can be woven with just two harnesses … or even with the simple technology of a rigid heddle loom.


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