Friday, 15 July 2016

Celtic Art

Last December, I went to the British Museum exhibition 'Celts: Art and Identity'. It is a fabulous exhibition and is now in Edinburgh.     On the web site you can view some of the wonderful items in the exhibition.  I was particularly fascinated by the Gunderstrup Cauldron; an object that I had seen many times in books and at last, I could view the real thing.

The book accompanying the exhibition is comprehensive beautifully illustrated.

Celts Art and Identity: ISBN 978 0 7141 2835 1
Here is the back of the cover.

I have been interested in Celtic art for many years.  Many years ago, I fulfilled a long standing wish to go to Dublin and see the Book of Kells.  This wonderful book can now be viewed online.  .  Here is the link.

There is a special IPad app which can be purchased which has the entire manuscript in high definition.

Close up of the beautiful knot pattern in the Book of Kells.

 While I was in Dublin,  I bought a book about how to construct these wonderful Celtic swirling patterns.

This book was first published in 1951.  At the back of the book there are a number of pictures of items made in the 'Celtic' style.  One of them is a rug.

The Celtic Hunting Rug, designed by George Bain

The black and white photograph does not do justice to the complex design.  It was made by Messr.Qualyle and Tranter in Kidderminster. I thought that I recognised it. My Aunt had one in her bedroom and I inherited it when she died. 

Here it is.

The Celtic Hunting Rug

The centre pattern of the Celtic Hunting Rug

Isn't it wonderful. I love the swirling, sinuous patterns. It has pride of place in the centre of my lounge.

Celtic swirling patterns are very evocative. The interlaced patterns appear in many different art forms

Stone Carvings

This is the base of a cross from 800 CE in the Great North Museum in Newcastle. 
This base of a cross is highly unusual in that the name of the maker is carved onto it. 

 Book covers

In Durham Cathedral there is the shrine of St Cuthert.  St Cuthberts Gospel is the oldest intact European book.  It was made in the 8th century and is a copy of the Gospel of St John. When his coffin was raised in the year 1104, the monks saw a book of the gospels lying at the head of the board. This precious book is now in the British Library in London. 
For a short time, it was on display in Durham as part of a book exhibition.  It was lovely to see it returned to the place where it was found.

Here is a image of the binding. Click here to see the British Library details.

St Johns Gospel. The oldest intact European book from Durham.

Look at the beautifully designed leather cover.  The scroll work is lovely.

Ivory Carving

Knot and meander patterns were also carved in wood, bone and ivory.  Here is a lovely example from the Lewis Chess set.  They were probably made in Norway between 1150 and  1200.

Ivory knot pattern on one side of a King piece from the Lewis chess set. 

Do check out my Pinterest board on Knots and Meanders.

Weaving Knots and Meanders.

I enjoy translating knot and meander patterns into weaving drafts.  Knots and meanders occur so frequently in weave patterns. 

Here are two variations of interlacing.  One pattern gives the illusion that there are separate threads interlacing with each other.  The second pattern is more like a grid. The graphs for the two patterns show the difference in construction. 

Shading can be use to enhance the pattern.  Here the blue is lightest in the centre of the band and shades outwards to the darker colour.

Interlaced knot pattern.

Interlaced knot patterns occur in many cultures.  There are many variations of this motif in the Sámi tradition from Norway in Kautokeino.  This book is out of print but gives several variations.

Haugen, A (1987) Samisk Husfild I Finnmark, Oslo, Norsk Folkemuseum
ISBN 82-529-1073-4

Here is the band pattern for a single interlaced knot.  I am weaving this pattern on the YouTube video:
 Using the Sunna heddle to weave patterned bands.  There are 16 picks for the pattern repeat. Note that pick 16 has no pattern threads showing on the top of the band. Raise the heddle on the odd numbered picks and lower the heddle on the even numbered picks.  On the Sunna heddle there is a maximum number of border threads.

Here is a chart showing the threading if you are using a standard heddle or an inkle loom. The hole is for heddled threads on an inkle loom and the long slot is for the unheddled warp yarns. It is important to remember that the centre pattern thread is always threaded through the centre hole in the standard heddle - or is a heddled warp yarn on the inkle loom. Start threading in the cnetre and work outwards.

There are two background threads in between each pattern thread. This threading is also known as the Baltic threading as it is common to many countries.

Here the weft travels over two warp threads then under two warp threads. The base structure of this band is a variation of panama or basket weave. The background threads are threaded alternately through a hole and a slot on either side of a pattern thread. If the pattern thread is threaded through a hole, the background thread on either side of it is threaded through a slot.

The border threads have a different weave structure.  They are threaded alternately through a slot and hole and so weave warp faced plain weave.  You can have as many border threads as you like.

Threading chart for a standard heddle or an inkle loom.

For this pattern the knot motif is repeated with a blank pick in between each motif.  It is possible to design your own connecting pattern.

Chart for interlaced knot pattern
I hope you enjoy trying this traditional pattern.

My previous blog has been very popular and I have received many interesting replies to my questions.  I will be following up the information and publishing another blog on the subject of medieval and modern equipment later in the year.

Happy Weaving

Susan J Foulkes July 2016

Friday, 1 July 2016

Pinterest: Cataloguing the World

A Digital World.

Museums, Universities and Art Galleries around the world are engaged in digitising their collections. This gives unprecedented access for the public to view images and artefacts which previously were only available to those who could travel or academics.

I have always been fascinated by the legends of King Arthur and how the stories are embedded into the landscape in the UK. I used to give talks and lectures. I travelled throughout the UK to take photographs of landscapes connected to the King Arthur legends.  To illustrate my talks, I used these photographs but I also wanted some old illustrations.

The Bodleian Library at Oxford University has a magnificent collection of medieval manuscripts. All those years ago, it was not possible to view them in advance. I had to depend upon the catalogue description.  Then a form had to be completed and a cheque sent to get rolls of 35mm films showing some of the illustrations. The frames of the films could be cut up and mounted to be shown as slides. Here are three of the canisters and films that I purchased..

Some of my collection of Arthurian images from the Bodleian Library

How difficult it was.  Nowadays these images are available at the click of a mouse!  The problem now is how to keep track of different images in a logical way.

Over to Pinterest.   I love Pinterest.  The numerous images found on the Web can now easily be stored in a personal account.  Folders in your personal account can be public or private.  It is a visual bookmarking tool, not only for pictures as even videos can be stored. The original location of the image is stored with it so it is easy to go back to the original source.

With Pinterest, any niche interest can be catalogued and your own folder can be a source of inspiration for others.  Links can made between people with the same interests and resources can be added to your own stock of images from other peoples public folders.

I love weaving and I have always been fascinated by the images of early weaving.  At last there is a way to put all the images I have found into one place. The links to the original web site are there so I can follow up my search by looking for similar images in the original database.

For examples, medieval weaving techniques are illustrated in a variety of illuminated books in libraries around the world.  Now that libraries are digitising their images, it is possible to compare the weaving equipment used. It is like wandering through gardens of bright images!

Linking the past and present.

Medieval illustrations may not be entirely accurate but can be useful in showing how equipment was used. For researchers they are a mine of information. It is only now that these images in museums, art galleries, and Universities around the world can be easily retrieved and compared.

Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg,
Cod. Pal. germ. 848 Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift (Codex Manesse)
(Zürich, ca. 1300 bis ca. 1340
Take this image of a rigid heddle. It is the only medieval image that I have seen of a floor stand with a rigid heddle.  It is from a manuscript dated around  1300 to 1340.

I saw this image for the first time in a black and white line drawing in a book about tablet weaving. Seeing it in its original colours makes the equipment easier to understand. At the front of the picture a man is putting his hand up the skirt of a weaver who is about to hit him very hard with her weaving beater. However, ignore the humour and look at the image of the weaving equipment.

close up of the floor rigid heddle and back strap.

Here you can clearly see the woven part of the band, which has been decorated with a series of crosses.  On a number of illustrations of weaving, the woven cloth is often depicted with a pattern. The woven band is wrapped around a bracket at the side of the picture which may be part of a back strap. The warp ends in the rigid heddle are shown threaded through the slots and the holes.

The unwoven warp is clearly depicted as separate warp ends. Then on the the warp there is a five sided piece of equipment with six holes in it.  This may be a warp spacer but I have not seen one this shape.  Some tablet weaving looms of this period have a horizontal spacer to keep the warp ends from being tangled and to flatten out the warp for easier weaving. Look at my collection of images on my Pinterest page to see further examples.

The tall rigid heddle on a stand.

Here is a similar rigid heddle on a stand from the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.  There are two box looms next to it.
Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts, USA
This design of floor rigid heddle loom is not common in museums. The box loom with a fixed or moveable rigid heddle is more common.

For the floor stand and heddle, the warp could be stretched between two posts and the weaver could sit sideways to weave.  However, it is more usual for the weaver to have one end of the warp attached to a belt so that it could be 'weaver tensioned.'

The beater

In the medieval illustration, the women weaver has a weaving sword used as beater and also to help separate the warp in order to pass the weft through the shed. It would also be capable of quite a solid blow!

I have a wooden beater  similar to the one in the illustration.  It was given to me by an elderly weaver and I treasure it. It is not very heavy It weighs only 3.5 ozs but it is very strong. I polished it until it was smooth. I do not know how old it is.

The Medieval Box loom with a rigid heddle.

In medieval images, the usual image of a rigid heddle is one that is used in a small box loom.
Here is a typical box loom.

Eny Newe Kunstlick Moetdelboech: P Quentel, Cologne 1532 Metropolitan Museum of Art

The lady at the bottom left of the picture is seated at a table with a small box loom and rigid heddle. The heddle is free standing and sits on the warp.  The weaver has to raise and lower the heddle with one hand to make the two sheds necessary for weaving. In her right hand she is holding a shuttle.

Here is a close up of the image.

Close up of the box loom, rigid heddle and shuttle.  

The box loom has a warp beam on one end. The unwoven warp is wound around a lower beam so that a long band can be woven.

Here is my own box loom with a free standing rigid heddle.

A modern box loom for weaving narrow bands.

Look again at the main picture. The lady on the right is sitting almost inside a loom.  The warp is stretched across the loom horizontally in front of here and she has the free standing rigid heddle in one hand ready to lift or lower to make the shed.

Another box loom.

Here is another close up image of a box loom and a rigid heddle. Again the rigid heddle is free standing. 

Eny Newe Kunstlick Moetdelboech: P Quentel, Cologne 1532

Yet another box loom and large rigid heddle loom

There is another illustration of the large loom where the warp is stretched horizontally in front of the weaver. It is difficult to see but there is a circular 'warp spacer' on the weavers left side.  The person who engraved this image has not fully understood where the warp goes on the loom.

Ein New Modelbuch: Zwickau 1524
The man on the right has a large box loom which appears to be sloping upwards.  In the box loom are shuttles.  The unwoven warp is wound around a warp beam at the back and there are butterflies of yarn underneath. This would appear to be a more accurate picture of a loom.

A Tablet Weaving Mystery.

There are also many images of tablet weaving. The source of this medieval picture is not known.  For details see Arachne's Blog   If you find the original, do let me know.

Bow shaped tablet weaving loom

Look at the bow shaped tablet weaver in the left hand of the picture. This is the only image I have been able to find of this type of loom.

Here is a close up.

Close up of medieval portable tablet weaving loom

The medieval tablet weaver has the unwoven warp nearest to her.  The woven part of the band is on the furthest end of the loom, indicated by cross hatching on the woven band. The beater is placed to beat away from the weaver. This is not the usual way of weaving nowadays.  However, on warp weighted looms the tablet woven borders were always woven in this fashion, with the weft being beaten into place with an upwards movement.

Here is a modern version of the curved loom, although the weaver has not been weaving in the same way as the medieval image.

The original image was on Flickr but the link is no longer valid.

In the northern Sami community in Sweden, patterned bands are still woven in this manner by some weavers.  Here is an image taken from Vav Magasinet showing a weaver with the unwoven warp attached to her waist and the rigid heddle nearest to her body.  She raises and lowers the heddle and beats the weft in so that the woven part of the band is furthest away.  Of course this has many advantages.  The backstrap weaver does not need to stretch the full length of the warp when weaving.  For a tablet weaver, having the unwoven warp attached to the belt means that any overtwist can easily be adjusted when additional warp is needed.

Vav Magasinet 4/11 page 40

In the book Duodji Árbi Arvet:  Handicraft in the Sámi Culture, 2006, Sameslöjdstiftelsen Sámi Duodj, the suggestion is made that in the north of Sweden, this older weaving technique was maintained; this older technique being influenced by warp weighted loom weaving where beating the weft into place is done be beating away from the weaver. 

Bow shaped loom for a rigid heddle.

The medieval picture of a portable bow shaped loom for weaving with tablets is fascinating and as far as I know, unique. It appears to be tucked under the weavers left arm.

However, a painting from 1905 shows a young girl using a portable bow shaped loom with a rigid heddle.  She is weaving as she walks as well as looking after sheep and cattle, a good example of multi-tasking!

Here is a close up of the girl.

Young Girl Weaving. by Carl Larsson 1905
detail of the loom

I have not seem any other example of this type of loom.  There does not seem to be any in museums in Scandinavia although I might be mistaken. Museums do not have all varieties of looms and simple rustic looms like this one may be overlooked.

 I would love to try this type of loom.  I wonder how it is fixed into her belt?

Has anyone seen a curved portable rigid heddle loom like the one in the painting?

A Warp Band Lock.

When weaving narrow bands using my backstrap, I use a band lock.  This is not a new invention.

Here is my band lock.
My modern band lock.  The hooks clip onto the band around my waist.

An ancient Etruscan version

Here is an ancient Etruscan version.  It consists of two identical metal plates with a curved end.  The warp ends or the woven part of the band goes around the plates.  The string back-strap is wrapped around the band lock and is hooked around the curved ends. This holds the warp in place so that it does not slip. The weaving is tensioned by the weaver leaning backwards or forwards.

My drawing of the Etruscan band lock 

Here is a my drawing of a reconstructed Etruscan warp lock taken from the book given below.

 Lise Ræder Knudsen: The Tablet-woven Borders of Verucchio. In: Margarita Gleba and Ulla Mannering, Textiles and Textile Production in Europe from Prehistory to AD 400. Oxford 2012. 254-263.

  Lise Ræder Knudsen kindly gave permission for the photograph to be used in my blog.  Her article has a wealth of information about tablet woven borders showing the spacer and spools:
The Tablet-woven Borders of Verucchio. In: Margarita Gleba and Ulla Mannering, Textiles and Textile Production in Europe from Prehistory to AD 400. Oxford 2012. 254-263.  The picture is at page 261.

See also: Textile Production in Pre-Roman Italy by Margarita Gleba, 2008, Oxbow Books. page 151.   There are other drawings of similar Etruscan band locks in the book.

  Lise Raeder Knudsen has a wonderful web site about tablet weaving at

The assumption here is that the weaver would have the woven end of the warp through the band lock. However, there are no images of the Etruscan warp lock in use.

In Etruscan graves, bobbins and warp spacers were found.  The warp spacers are narrow rectangular objects with a series of holes. They are used to keep warp ends from tangling.  It could be possible to have a back strap tied with loose warp ends which then pass through a warp spacer and then the tablets. It would enable the weaver to untwist the warp ends from the tablets in a more convenient way. This method would need to be tried to see if it would work efficiently.

Comparing the medieval images of tablet weaving shows that that there are differences in the way the weaver places herself in relation to the warp.

Netherlands 1460
 Ludwig of Saxony 1490

The image on the left is from the  University of Glasgow and shows the beater and woven warp on the right.   The image on the right shows the woven warp and beater on the left (from the viewpoint of the weaver).

 For the full description of the images go to my Pinterest site.

If these two images are accurate,  they show that the weaver can weave by beating to the right, away from her or by beating on the left with the right hand so beating across her body.  Check out my collection of medieval tablet weaving images on Pinterest and you can see the differences.

A warp weighted loom with a tablet woven border.

Look at this picture of a warp weighted loom which I took in the Tuchmacher Museum in Bramsche, Germany some years ago.

Tablet woven border on the right hand side.

The tablet woven border has the woven part of the edging above the tablets so that the weaver beats the weft upwards. The unwoven part of the cloth is at the bottom. The unwoven warp ends for the border are wound onto smaller bobbins.
It is easy to see how when using a back strap the same position for weaving could be chosen.  Beating the weft away from the weaver and having the unwoven part of the warp nearest to the weaver.

Herodotus was a Greek historian born around 484 BCE.  He compares the Egyptian and Greek method of weaving in the following passage:

'…but the Egyptians in their manners and customs seem to have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind. For instance, women attend the market and are employed in trade, while men stay at home and do the weaving.  In weaving, the normal way is to work the threads of the weft upwards, but the Egyptians work them downwards.'   

Herodotus, The Histories, 2:35

Herodotus saw the normal way of weaving as working the weft upwards. This may also apply to tablet woven bands even when woven as a narrow band not just as a side border on a warp weighted loom.  The Egyptians were more technologically advanced as they used a ground loom with heddles and a heddle rod and spacer and an upright loom which had a warp and a weft beam with  heddles and a heddle rod.   Both these types of looms develop into the modern loom.

The warp weighted loom exists in a technological cul-de-sac as it is not capable of developing by increments into a more efficient way of weaving. However, tablet weaving is intimately connected to the warp weighted loom.  Unlike other forms of cloth making, such as sprang, it never developed independently outside of the warp weighted loom areas.

A loom mystery.

Here is another picture of a type of table loom. Unfortunately, no-one seems to know the book in which it was published nor the origin of the image. The book is in English as there is a part of the text visible at the top right hand corner. It looks like a medieval image rather than an artists impression.

Do you know where this picture comes from? The visible text is in English
so it has been used as an illustration in a book.

Take a closer look at the lady sitting at the table.

Is this an early depiction of an inkle loom?
Her left hand appears to be in the shed - the space in between the raised and lowered warp threads.  In her right hand there is an implement.  Is it a beater or shuttle?  It is hard to see.

The warp threads are shown as being separated into two layers.  The top layer appears to go over a peg on a post. Is this a depiction of an early type of inkle loom?  It is very frustrating not knowing where this image can be found as a clearer picture may answer some of these questions.


It is fascinating to see how ancient looms were depicted.  These images deserve to be examined more closely and compared to modern counterparts. Some surprising similarities and differences may emerge.

If you want to see more images, do check out my Pinterest site.  One image can lead to another one on someone else's pin board. I am sure that you will love the search. Enjoy your own wander through 'a garden of bright images'.

And a big thank you all the Museums, Universities and Galleries who are taking the time to digitise their collections and to Pinterest for providing a way for people with similar interests to share their finds. 

Susan J Foulkes   July 2016