Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Knight’s Belt Tablet Woven in the Style of the 9th Century Augsburg Cingulum

Q: What Could Be More Stressful Than Weaving in Pure White?  

A: Making Gifts for Laurels

A Knight’s Belt Tablet Woven in the Style of the 9th Century Augsburg Cingulum

By Lady Elanna of House Marchmount

About a year ago, the household of Sir Aelwyth the Grey began a project to make him some new garb.  As my husband is one of his squires, I was asked to weave him a new knight’s belt.  This presented several challenges.  First, Sir Aelwyth, in addition to being a member of the Chivalry, is also a member of the Order of the Laurel, and an excellent artisan.

Challenge One:  Make a gift for a Laurel.  Yeah, not stressful in the least.

Challenge Two:  By SCA custom and sumptuary law, knight’s belts must be pure white.  So, I had to find a way to weave something interesting in one colour, something I had never done before.  When I went through my mental catalogue of one-colour tablet weavings I had read about, I kept coming back to the Augsburg cingulum, a 9th century church vestment and one of the most famous period examples of tablet weaving.  Despite its fame, it’s a bit hard to find good pictures of this piece – it’s housed in the Diocesan Museum in Augsburg, and the only picture of it I could find online is a brief glimpse in a museum video, narrated in German[1]. However, it is discussed in both Crockett and Collingwood, who give pictures and descriptions of the technique[2].

Figure 1:  A part of the Augsburg cinglulum.  The band is woven in red silk thread, and the letters are worked by changing the direction of the twist. Plate 77 from Collingwood, 1982.

The cingulum is woven in only red silk threads.  The letters of the inscription show up strictly through reversals of twist.  Collingwood explains: “[T]he background consists of cords twined in one direction, while the letters with their heavy angled serifs, consist of cords twined in the opposite direction.  This makes for a very subtle inscription, which is only revealed by the way the light is reflected from the cords, see Plate 77.  At intervals along these late-ninth century bands, the twining direction of all the cords is reversed, presumably due to the accumulation of twist in the warp beyond the tablets.[3]

Making patterns using weave structure not colour? Cool trick!  I totally wanted to try this technique.  It’s clear even from the less-than-optimal pictures I had seen that it is the lustre of the silk threads that brings out the woven-in inscription.  Which brings me to:

Challenge Three:  Sir Aelwyth is a vegan.  No silk for him.

This explains my choice to weave this belt in cotton.  While not a period fibre for either Sir Aelwyth’s time period (14th century Welsh) nor for the 9th century German cingulum, I felt that I had a better chance of achieving the lustre required with mercerized crochet cotton than I did with either wool or linen. 

Now, what to ‘inscribe’ on the band?  For this, I used Sir Aelwyth’s heraldry.

Figure 2:  An interpretation of Sir Aelwyth's heraldry[4].

I was worried that pine trees and leaping stags might show up less well than the bold capitals woven into the Augsburg cingulum, but I figured it was worth a try.  I decided to design a leaping stag that I would weave facing both directions, separated by a conifer.  The band would progress as follows: right-facing stag – conifer – left-facing stag, and then repeat.  Between each repeat, I would engineer a reversal of the whole pattern to neutralize the twist, as Collingwood stated was done in the Augsburg cingulum[5]

I decided to pattern these elements on 2×1 graph paper.  There is no reason that the cingulum technique requires a two-pick progression, but I chose to do it this way in case I ever wanted to use the same patterns for double-faced weave, which does require colour changes to occur over two picks[6].

I set about designing the stags and tree.  It quickly became evident (yet again) that I cannot draw, even on graph paper.  Lord Pelayo de la Lanza de Hierro and Lady Arndis took pity on me and made the patterns I had designed actually look like trees and stags.  I’ve included the patterns with this documentation. 

**The design help of Lord Pelayo and Lady Arndis was significant to the aesthetic of the finished product and should be accounted for in judging this piece.**

The weaving itself was not particularly difficult, save for the two challenges outlined below.  The patterns were designed for 43 cards, and I added 2 additional cards on either selvedge to act as a border.  I circular-warped 47 cards for a 3-yard warp all in white mercerized cotton.  The weft was the same fibre.  I first turned background and border cards continuously forwards, and pattern cards backwards.  Each pattern rectangle was 2 picks.  I wove 4 picks between the first stag and the conifer and between the conifer and the second stag.  After the stag-tree-stag motif, I wove 6 picks forward, then 6 picks backwards.  I then started in again on the first deer, this time with background cards turning backwards and pattern cards forwards.  At the end of the motif, I reversed again.

The actual weaving of the piece lead to two additional challenges:

Challenge Four:  Trying to hide it from Sir Aelwyth.  I get a lot of weaving done at events, so I sort of had to stalk him to figure out if he was attending.  I did show him the band last Pennsic, before it was finished. 

Challenge Five:  Weaving in solid white.  I haul my loom with me to all manner of events, in cars that routinely carry armour as well.  I even brought the band to Pennsic[7]. Keeping dirt of the project was a challenge.  In addition, I often like to weave while drinking beer or red wine[8] and was constantly scared of spilling.  I managed to keep it clean during the weaving process, through some sort of divine intervention, or blind luck.  Weaving in solid white also made it difficult to see mistakes.  This is both a blessing and a curse, since it was difficult to unweave mistakes, but those left in are subtle.  (Fun Game!  Find the stag with three hind legs!)

I had a love-hate relationship with this project as it progressed.  Sometimes I thought it was working quite well, and others I found it far too subtle.  It had a lot to do with the sort of light I was working in at the time.  In addition, any small tension issues obscured the motifs.  Because of the degree to which tension affected the pattern I decided to do something I have never done with a finished woven band:  wash it myself.

Challenge Six:  You know that band you have been painstakingly weaving, pattern line by pattern line, for months?  Throw it in the giant scary washing machine.  With soap.  On ‘Hot’.  Go ahead.

I know, I know… loom weavers have to get used to this scary concept.  Wet finishing is an integral part of the weaving process, there’s ‘magic in the water’, etc., etc.  But tablet weavers don’t typically have to do this.  I have taken no small joy in gifting woven bands to people, making the actual sewing and washing of said bands their problem. 

But, I thought that the washing should settle the threads, evening out some of the subtle tension issues and bring out the pattern more.  The cotton should stand up well to washing, I told myself.  So I held my breath and did it.

And… it worked.  The pattern popped a lot more.  The threads settled and the tension inconsistencies evened out.  Hooray!

Overall, I am reasonably happy with how this band turned out.  If I were doing it again, I would have waited to start the pattern until all the threads and the width of the weaving had evened out, since that first stag is a bit squished.  However, I will likely either snip off that deer or it will be covered by the findings, so it should affect the overall aesthetic of the belt very little.  All it requires now are findings, which I will leave to Sir Aelwyth.

I would like to try this technique again in silk to compare how the natural lustre of the silk fibres affects how the pattern shows.  It is a fun technique, and convenient for things that need to be one solid colour.  I may weave myself a protégé belt using this technique.

On to the next challenge!
Photo by Master Eirik Andersen.

Photo by Master Eirik Andersen,


Collingwood, Peter, The Techniques of Tablet Weaving (McMinnville, Or.: Robin & Russ Handweavers, 1996)

Crockett, Candace, Card Weaving, Box Rev Su edition (Loveland, Colo: Interweave, 1991)

‘Middle Kingdom Order of the Chivalry’ <> [accessed 6 April 2015]

Neue Blickwinkel Erleben - Film Über Das Diözesanmuseum, 2013 <> [accessed 6 April 2015]

[1] Neue Blickwinkel Erleben - Film Über Das Diözesanmuseum, 2013 <> [accessed 6 April 2015].  The cingulum can be seen beginning at 1:55.
[2] Candace Crockett, Card Weaving, Box Rev Su edition (Loveland, Colo: Interweave, 1991); Peter Collingwood, The Techniques of Tablet Weaving (McMinnville, Or.: Robin & Russ Handweavers, 1996).
[3] p. 119.
[4] ‘Middle Kingdom Order of the Chivalry’ <> [accessed 6 April 2015].  Note:  This link also contains a picture of Sir Aelwyth with hair.
[5] p. 119, quoted above.
[6] I have since learned that, at least with the weight of my beat, double-faced patterns are best drawn on 2.5×1 graph paper.  Live and learn.
[7] Where Maîtresse Lucrece de Montsoreau made constant reference to this project as ‘medieval toilet paper’.  This was a perk, not a challenge, however.
[8] This offers its own significant challenges, depending on the complexity of the weave.  Since these are not specific to this project, I do not outline them here.

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