Date of this Version
From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).
Tablet weaving is a structurally intricate, flexible art indigenous to pre-industrial Europe and northwest Asia. It has been used to reinforce the borders of woven textiles as well as to create sturdy, often decorative bands used as strapping, belts, a variety of garment trimmings, and ecclesiastical vestments. To some extent the history of tablet weaving can be correlated with the history of costume.
There are no known early written sources describing how to tablet weave, although a few sources make reference to an art which may be tablet weaving. Historical depictions of tablet weaving are few, and most are fraught with ambiguities. While a few precious pieces have survived the ravages of centuries in sheltered collections, the most reliable information about the methods and uses of early tablet weaving still comes from the discipline of archaeology.
Origins of the Technique
Two thousand years ago, in his Book 8 of his Natural History, Pliny credited the Gauls with the development of a specific type of weaving: "Plurimis vero liciis texere quae polymita appelant, Alexandria instituit, scutulis dividere Gallia. [Truly Alexandria introduced weaving using a lot of threads that they call 'polymita,' Gaul dividing with little shields.]"l Experts differ over the meaning of the term "scutulis," offering two possible interpretations. It is clear that the word means "little shields," but whether the little shields refer to weaving tablets or to checks on the face of a textile is considerably less clear. John-Peter Wild once suggested that it might mean both tablet weaving and a checkered fabric or tartan, but later stressed the tartan interpretation. Peter Collingwood seems to support the tablet weaving interpretation. Some have since tried to credit the Egyptians with the invention of tablet weaving, on the basis of a single unusual band. However, Collingwood's careful structural analysis of the so-called Rameses Girdle disproved the notion that it was tablet woven.