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Trims & Embellishment
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Demonstrations>Trims and Embellishment>Cardweaving

Cardweaving Made Easy -

Cardweaving or Tablet weaving is a very ancient technique. According to the Museum of London text, Clothing and Textiles, it was an art 'practiced in England as least as far back as the Iron Age'. The same text goes on to catalog several items dating from the last quarter of the 14th century and one from the first half of the 15th century. Tablet weaving appears to have been used for girdles, braids, garters and belts through the first half of the 15th century. Candace Crockett's book, Card Weaving, shows a photograph of a sixteenth century French tapestry which depicts cardweaving in progress. The weaving is strung between two columns and appears to be figured or brocaded.

I highly recommend Candace Crockett's book, by the way. I was given it and twenty four cards for Christmas one year; with in a day I had produced my first piece of cardweaving. This particular demo is focused mainly on getting you over any fear you might have of the process. Please do not expect to be able to card weave after reading it! I am by no means an expert on the subject... but it is a really great way to make straps, belts and trim... and it is cheap compared to some other processes.

Getting Started -

The right equipment makes all the difference. Cardweaving can be accomplished without a loom. All that is required is that the warp threads be kept at a steady tension. It's far easier and somewhat more portable to weave on a loom but it is not necessary. The only things really necessary for card weaving are the cards and a beater/shuttle for carrying the weft thread through and beating it down.

Cards can have two (producing an Inkle type of weave), three, four or even six holes. It is these holes that help produce the pattern for the weaving.

I weave on a loom by preference. When I first started, I used a belt and hooked my weaving onto a door knob. This worked but left something to be desired when I wanted to get up and leave. Since then, I've tested all kinds of looms and settled on a small, portable inkle loom. They are relatively easy to find and somewhat inexpensive. They are also easy to make. Other looms, specifically made for cardweaving can also be found. Robin and Russ Handweavers in MacMinville, OR has a great selection. The loom shown in the following photos is from there and is highly recommended by two out of three apprentices.

Drafting the Pattern

Card weaving is drafted using a graph structure. Graph paper is handy but drawing out a simple graph is just as good. The pattern tells you how to thread each of the holes of the cards and which way the cards should face after threading. For instance, if you are using four hole cards, your graph will be four squares high. If you are weaving a band twelve threads wide (which is actually quite narrow), your graph will be twelve squares wide. The illustration above is a pattern for just such a band.

The way to read the above pattern would go like this: Card 1 is threaded from right to left - front to back - all holes (a, b, c, d) black, card 2 is threaded right to left; all holes white. Card three is threaded right to left, first hole (a) brown, next three holes (b, c, d) white, and so on. This particular pattern will produce the the illustration below if the cards are turned four times forward and four times back.

Warping Up

The draft of the pattern also lets you know just how cards you'll need to warp up for and how many lengths of each color you'll need. For example, for the above pattern, twelve cards will need to be warped up with twenty lengths of white, fourteen lengths of brown, six lengths of yellow, and eight lengths of black. To get these numbers, you simply count the squares of color.

The mechanics of warping up is my least favorite thing about card weaving. It is vitally important that all lengths be the same length. I suggest following Candace Crocket's advice and purchasing two C-clamps. When these are attached to a long table, they make an excellent and removable warping board. Simply wrap the thread around the 'warping board' until you have the right number of threads for the pattern. Do each color separately.

At this point, you will want to get out your cards and number them at the top. Begin to thread them, paying close attention to which way the threads are supposed to be threaded in (from back to front or vice versa... see above). After each card is threaded, knot that card's threads together. Once all the cards are threaded, slip a rubber band around them to keep them in the right position and to keep them threaded. Take the knotted warps from the individual cards and knot them all together so that you have one giant knot at the end of the warps. Attach this to your loom's beam and gently comb the warp threads out. Remember to keep that rubber band firmly in place on the cards!

After you've combed out the warp, knot the other end and secure it to the other loom beam. If you're using an inkle loom, the procedure will be slightly different. I like to secure the two ends together with a heavy duty rubber band, after I've wrapped them around the inkle bars. This gives me the ability to move the piece around the inkle bars as I am weaving. It also allows for the rubber band to maintain tension on the entire piece. If you are using a cardweaving loom such as the one shown in the photos below, the loom itself will maintain the tension for you.


After all of the above, you are now finally ready to weave. This is the simple and fun part. Card weaving is all about numbers of times the cards are turned. In the above pattern, the rows are four in number. In order to achieve that pattern, you will put the weft thread through the warp and then turn the cards away from (or towards) you and repeat this procedure four times. Then you will turn the cards in the opposite direction from before four times... and so on and so on. There are some patterns that get complicated. For instance, some of the interior cards are turned in the same simple manner but the exterior cards will turn forward two more times than the interiors, etc.

The most crucial thing about weaving is getting the edges to stay straight and nice. The trick to this is to never pull the weft thread tight until after you've turned your cards. Then you pull it just tight enough against the outside thread to hug it.


It doesn't take much to finish the ends of a piece of card weaving. You can either zig-zag across it or fringe it out a bit and tie the weft thread to one of the warp threads. Card weaving doesn't really unravel easily.


The uses in period were as many as there were requirements for a strong strap. I use wide, heavy cardweaving for belts for early period and central Asian clothing. I also card weave thin straps for ties for my late period garb.

Below is a step-by-step pictorial of card weaving...

The loom, warped up and ready to go. Slipping the weft thread through the 'shed' (the space between the warp threads).

Cards get turned.
  Weft thread has been pulled through and the beater is used to set it into place.
The beater. It does dual duty as the weft thread bobbin and as the beater. The loom logo.

This is my huge inkle loom, with all the bars but one removed. Theoretically, this thing will warp up around five yards.
These are the cards that come with Candace Crocket's book. These are around five years old and are holding up just fine.
  I purchased these cards, made from thin veneer about three years ago.
This is my smaller inkle loom. This is portable and very light weight. This is the moveable beam that can be used to adjust the tension.
This is my beater bar which I cut from a piece of craft wood and shaped as was necessary. I think it probably cost me all of about fifty cents and two hours of time to make.  

There you go! Happy Cardweaving!

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