A 14th Century Tabletwoven Fillet

This fillet was my entry in the 2002 Drachenwald Arts & Sciences Competition. I do not have a picture of the entire fillet yet, but this rather bad scan shows the major motifs. The image is slightly larger than life-size; the actual width of the fillet measures between 13mm and 15mm.

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Design and Weaving
Technical Data
Appendix A: Pattern Details
Appendix B: Period Pieces
Judges' Comments


I have been fascinated by the motifs on the stole of St Donats, Arlon, Belgium (Collingwood 1982, p282; 12th century) for quite a while, but only a few months ago gathered up the courage to try my hand at 3/1 broken twill. I decided that a short piece such as a fillet would be a good item to try first, and combined some of the ideas I had from the stole with heraldic images, which due to their stylized nature lend themselves almost naturally to this style of weaving.

Some of the earliest finds of patterned 3/1 broken twill date to the 6th century (Collingwood 1982, p282). For the next several centuries the items found exhibit increasingly complex motifs, well-known examples being the Maniple of St Ulrich (10th century) and the Stole of St Donats (12th century). In some cases the broken twill patterns are enhanced with brocading, and although this produces some stunning results I decided the combination of twill and brocading would be a bit beyond my scope at this stage.

The use of tabletweaving in various items of apparel is well-documented. Spies provides an excellent overview of the uses to which bands were put (Spies 2000, Appendix A), and there are historic finds of tabletwoven headbands and fillets. Her analysis was conducted only on brocaded bands, but it is entirely plausible that less wealthy folk would have used bands that did not contain expensive metal thread in a similar fashion.

This is borne out by the finds of non-brocaded tabletwoven girdles and fillets in a number of places in England (Crowfoot et al 2001, p130-133). The authors make specific mention of six bands woven wholly from silk, 'produced in double-faced weave'. Four of these bands are dated to the 14th century and two to the 15th, and were apparently used as either fillets, girdles, or spur leathers.

One of the 14th century bands was definitely used as a fillet; the fragments found were still attached to a false plait of hair. This band was woven plain-faced, with a solid colour on each side. Another of the bands was woven with a double-faced lozenge pattern, and from the photograph the fourth band looks like it might be a type of hopsack with vertical stripes in alternating colours. (See Appendix B for a photo of the bands).

I got excited for a moment with the third band because the catalogue summary states that it is 'a double-faced weave with a diagonal twill effect'. Unfortunately a close examination of the photograph reveals that the structure is clearly a basic double-face with a solid colour on each side, not a 3/1 broken twill.

However, although I have not found any direct evidence of fillets woven in 3/1 broken twill, the existence of fillets woven using the closely related basic double-face method leads me to believe that it is not unreasonable to assume that someone, somewhere might have made a fillet in broken twill. I have thus attempted to reproduce such a fillet using patterns and styles that would have been common in 14th/15th century Anglo-Norman England.

Design and Weaving
Design: All designs are my own, based on period motifs and styles; more specific information for each pattern can be found in the Pattern Details appendix. I created them using my tabletweaving software (Guntram's Tabletweaving Thingy); the design time ranged between 2 to 4 hours for each motif. I chose an uneven number of tablets so that the central geometric pattern would be mirrored evenly about its axis.

Material: Silk was a favourite material for those who could afford it; it was both lightweight and strong. The fillets described by Crowfoot et al were woven with quite fine silk thread, with 22 to 26 picks/cm; I used 60/2 silk as a close approximation thereof (▒18 picks/cm).

Tools: A simple warp-weighted loom, a wooden beater and shuttle, and cardboard tablets.

Method: I used the one-pack method for broken twill described by Collingwood. I wish I could say that was because I think it is the proper period method (well, I do think that), but actually I used it because it seemed the easier one to learn. (And to be quite honest, I have not yet adapted my software to deal with the two-pack technique, so I can only generate patterns for the one-pack method).

Weaving: Due to utter absent-mindedness I threaded all tablets Z instead of S, but fortunately it was easy enough to adjust the patterns with my software. Including warping, the whole weaving process took approximately 20 hours.

Finishing: As can be seen from the texture, I started and ended the fillet using the basic double-face method. These ends are intended to be either cut off or sewn under when it comes to finishing the fillet. I have intentionally left the ends loose so that it easier to display the whole length of the band. Once I have decided who to give the fillet to, the ends will be trimmed to the correct length, folded over and sewn together to prevent fraying.

Um, Errors. Um.
Twill direction: When I designed the first set of patterns I did not realize how the change in the twill direction would influence the pattern. Thus for the first half (the right side) of the fillet the twill direction of the background warp reverses itself on the left side of most of the motifs, and there are clear marks where I idled tablets or made double turns to return the tablets to their starting position so that I could start the next motif. Also, the twill lines in the solid parts of the animals are not consistent but vary between S and Z twill.
Weaving errors: There are a couple of small weaving errors; counting from the right (the side on which I started):
1. In the first tree, at the top of the trunk.
2. In the first bird, in the head and in the wing. I lost track of the tablet positions and had to make some hasty adjustments.
3. In the second lion there is a gap in the front leg.
Band width: While I would not exactly call the 2mm width variation an error, it is nonetheless a touch more than I could have wished for. I had not worked properly with such fine thread before and it took me a while to adjust to it.

Technical Data
Warp 60/2 silk; red, blue, white
Weft 60/2 silk; red
Width varies between 13mm and 15mm
Length 615mm
Tablets 37 four-hole tablets:
3 selvedge tablets on either side, alternately S and Z threaded. The outer two tablets have been threaded with red silk in all holes, and the inner tablet on each selvedge bears blue silk in all holes.
31 pattern tablets carrying blue silk for the background colour and white silk for the pattern colour, all Z threaded.
Patterns Various creatures alternating with trees and a geometric pattern in the centre of the band, all in 3/1 broken twill.

Appendix A: Pattern Details
All pattern were designed specifically for this band by myself. I reversed each of the animal patterns so that they can face either way, but I have included only one version here due to space constraints. Full details of the patterns can be found on my website http://users.mweb.co.za/e/ec/eckie/tabletweaving/.

Note: Well, this being my website I won't show the pattern details here but just give a link to each pattern.

1 The line patterns show the turning sequence for the tablets, beginning on the right hand side and working towards the left. The tablets must be threaded for the one-pack method described by Collingwood.
indicates a forward turn and a backward turn.
2 I used a horizontal rather than the usual vertical orientation of the patterns here to conserve space.
3 Although I wove the band using Z-threaded tablets (by accident more than design), I decided to provide the patterns for a S-threaded warp, this being the more commonly used method.
4 All images except for the heraldic pictures were produced by my software.

Lion Design time: ▒4 hours
The original idea came from a section of a 8th/9th century band with a border of lions (Collingwood 1982, Plate 166, p285). I also looked at some brocaded animals for ideas, notably the lion on a 11th/12th century chasuble attributed to St Wolfgang (Spies 2000, p120). I played around a bit and eventually decided to try and create a lion couchant as depicted in period heraldry.
I was not entirely happy with the first one I wove and made some small alterations to the head for the second one (on the left side of the band). The pattern below is for the second lion.
Get the GTT pattern here.

Bird Design time: ▒2 hours
This bird is based directly on one of the motifs in the stole of St Donats, Arlon. (Collingwood Plate 173, p292). This is the pattern for the bird facing towards the right.
Get the GTT pattern here.

Dragon Design time: ▒4 hours
I tried to produce a heraldic dragon statant with this pattern. Again the first version was not quite satisfactory and I made some changes to the head and tail. This is the pattern for the improved version.

Get the GTT pattern here.

Tree Design time: ▒2 hours
This tree was vaguely influenced by the various tree motifs on the stole of St Donats, but the final result turned out somewhat different from the trees on the stole.

Get the GTT pattern here.

Geometric Design time: ▒3 hours
This pattern is based on the geometric patterns in the stole of St Donats. I would have liked to produce a close replica of one of the motifs, but due to the size constraints I settled for a loose derivative.
Note that I have not fixed this pattern yet - the twill direction at the end is the opposite of the start.

Get the GTT pattern here.

Appendix B: Period Pieces

Stole of St Donats, Arlon

Origin: Belgium, 12th Century
Material: Silk
Type: 3/1 Broken Twill

Source: Collingwood, Plate 169 (p288)

English Silk Bands

Origin: England, 14th Century
Material: Silk
Type: various double-face
Pattern Tablets Width
A lozenge 33 or 35 12mm
B plain 12 8mm
C weft-wise stripes 12 no data

Source: Crowfoot et al, p133

Collingwood, P. The Techniques of Tabletweaving. London 1982.
Crowfoot, E., Pritchard, F., Staniland, K. Textiles and Clothing: 1150 - 1450. London 2001.
Hansen, E. Brikvævning. H°jbjerg 1990.
Spies, N. Ecclesiastical Pomp & Aristocratic Circumstance: A Thousand Years of Brocaded Tabletwoven Bands. Jarretsville 2000.

Judges' Comments

This is a compilation of some of the judges' comments, together with my response.

Comments My Response

I would have liked to know some more about the colours you chose.
Excellent documentation, covers all you want to know except that I would have liked some more information on colours normally used and the choice of colour.
The blue is a little iffy.
Looks like this was a concern of all the judges. It is not apparent in the scan, but the blue is actually quite bright, with a touch of turquoise. (My scanner is really bad at picking up colours). With hindsight I have to agree that the blue is not right; I think a better period colour would have been a darker, more heraldic blue.

What is 3/1 broken twill? With this I mean that sometimes you were a little too advanced :) but hey, you squeezed it in on three pages. Next time I'll use a smaller font. :) Yes, I probably should have given a brief structural description.

I gave you slightly lower points because I was unsure of whether or not the threading should have been S instead of Z to be entirely correct. I'll keep that in mind; I should probably have been clearer on the fact that both S and Z twill were used in period.

It would be interesting to know how easy or difficult you found it to be using silk thread. I love this question. :) Silk is my absolutely favourite material; it is light but very strong, does not stretch, there's virtually no abrasion from turning the cards, and of course it is perfectly period.

I'm sure you're right about someone using the 3/1 twill in a fillet somewhere but... no examples... True, no examples. I feel fortunate though that I came up with a fillet in doubleface at all; research into historic tabletweaving is a rather esoteric subject. Examples of period finds are not too extensive, and most bands that have been found were brocaded - it is usually the metal that survived, rather than the fabric itself.

The points are a bit lower because of the use of a computer generated pattern.
The use of a computer program pulls it down a bit but it's certainly time-saving. :)
Hm, I think I have to argue this point. The patterns were not generated by a computer, they were generated by me; the software is simply a tool that makes the design process a little bit easier, much like typing out the wording of a scroll before doing the actual calligraphy. Designing a pattern is the same whether it's done on a computer or a piece of paper; the main advantage of doing it on a computer is that playing around with the pattern and making changes is much easier.
Also, since I wrote the program myself, it is based entirely on my own knowledge of tabletweaving, thus any help provided by the program is of my own making.
If that won't convince any judges, then I guess I'll have to live with lower scores. :)

Occasionally maintained by
Eckhard Gartz.
Last modified 5/5/2004.