I’m enjoying teaching myself about tablet weaving, through some reading and a lot of trial and error. Over the past few months I’ve spent quite a while experimenting with ways to make sure that I’ve got the right tension on the warp. And after a few false starts, the very ancient idea of using loom weights occurred to me, and it seemed like a new solution!
The first method that books suggest for tensioning the warp is to gather the entire warp and knot it to a door handle or a hook on the wall, then attach the working end of the warp to a belt around the weaver’s waist. This backstrap method seems to be popular, but it has not worked for me. I like to be able to stand, sit or move away from the weaving without having it attached to me.
So the next thing I tried (Method Two) was to create my very simple loom from a board with a handle at each end. My intention was to gather up the warp threads and tie them to the two handles while I worked with the cards in between. The problem with this emerged fairly quickly. As I wove, the twisting built up behind the cards and the tension increased. I had to untie the warp at the back often to untwist everything, and then I had to re-tie the warp and try to make the tension the same again.
Method Three was something I came across in my reading. (I can’t remember where …) It was to tie the entire warp to a weight and hang this over the edge of the table I was working on. This way the tension did not increase with weaving, or even with advancing the weaving at the working end. However, the twisting still built up behind the cards. Using fixed fishing swivels for each card solved the problem of twist build-up, but didn’t have the advantage of using a weighted warp.
Then came my bright idea, I thought: Method Four!
I admit it seemed unlikely that I had come up with a new innovation in a craft that has been around for 10,000 years. But I decided that instead of using one big weight, I would try using a separate lead fishing weight for each card. In the end this was not heavy enough, so now I am using a metal ring for each card and I can attach as many weights as I want to each. Three 1-ounch weights per card seems about right. Now the twisting does not build up behind the weaving and the tension is steady for all the cards. Brilliant!
And then a few weeks after my inspired new discovery, I came across Luther Hooper’s book, Weaving with Small Appliances (Volume II) published in 1923. It is available now online at: http://www.cs.arizona.edu/patterns/weaving/books/hl_tablt.pdf And there on page 38 he suggests exactly the same thing. So of course I am not the first to come up with this after all. But it is still a great idea!