In this article we will talk about two types of weaving tools that were used in the Viking Age, as well as around the world. Different cultures have different designs specific to their community or tribe, but the techniques are still the same. Two common types of weaving, mostly referred to by their techniques, are called Backstrap Weaving and Tablet Weaving. There are a few different names, depending on who you are learning from, or the techniques you will use. These techniques can also be interchangeable, depending on what you have and what you are doing.
The Viking Age began in 793 CE with the Viking attack on the monastery, Lindisfarne, and ended in 1066 with the Norman conquest of England. Contrary to popular belief, not very many women fought alongside their male counterparts. Most women were tasked with the responsibility of running the homestead. It wasn’t unheard of for a woman to take up a sword to protect their land, or to go fight or on a raid. But for the most part, running the homestead was a vital role and there were up to at least one hundred people living at the home. It was more of a community, with all sorts of crafters, artists, workers, farmhands and slaves. It was no small task, and weaving was one of those vital tasks that had to be done as well. In fact, so much so, that the longships and longboats would not have sailed without the work that women put into weaving their sails. Approximately 3 years would be put into weaving one mid sized sail. It was around this era that tools for weaving started to become a necessary commodity.
Warp- the threads on a loom over and under which other threads (the weft) are passed to make cloth
Weft- the crosswise threads on a loom over and under which other threads (the warp) are passed to make cloth
Heddle- one of a set of looped wires or cords in a loom, with an eye in the center through which a warp yarn is passed before going through the reed to control its movement and divide the threads
Shuttle- a wooden device with two pointed ends, used for carrying the weft thread between the warp threads in weaving
Tablet weaving is usually set up with two long pegs. The width is about the size of a fist. You stretch your spun fiber around these pegs to tighten them and make a warp. In very basic terms, you weave the weft onto the warp and turn the tablets with each pass. You would follow a design template or can make up your own. Some tablet weavers have a tablet loom, for much larger projects.
Backstrap weaving is where you have a heddle and thread your spun fiber through the slots. Some heddles are small, for smaller or finer work, and others are mid sized and even very large. A lot of the time the warp threads are attached to something on one end, and the weaving end is attached to your belt, or a belt made for the weaving style. Each pass you make, you either pull up on the heddle or push down to lift the pattern threads. The longer your project gets, the more you wrap it around your belt to keep the tension as well as keep your work neat and tidy.
My favorite heddle is the double heddle, it has slots and small holes in the slats. This makes it easier to separate the weft and the warp.
Both of these techniques and methods are easier with a simple shuttle. It’s a flat piece of wood or horn (plastic or metal for modern times), that has notches on each end. You simply wind your thread around it, and it keeps things nice and tidy. You don’t want to wrap too much, though. You have to pass the shuttle over and under the warp threads to create your pattern.
www.norwegiantextileletter.com- two double heddles with shuttles.
“Backstrap Loom Weaving”
Tablet weaving loom
“Bone tablets for tablet weaving from the grave offerings in the Oseberg Ship burial.”
Mar. “Viking Women: Weaving History and Progress.” LENNY, 26 July 2018, www.lennyletter.com/story/viking-women.
“Backstrap Loom Weaving by Jim West.” Fine Art America, fineartamerica.com/featured/backstrap-loom-weaving-jim-west.html. Accessed 24 June 2022.
“Osberg.” Osberg, 31 Dec. 2013, users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/Oseberg.html.
Haraldsen, Ulf. “Mini Oseberg Loom.” Blogspot, 24 June 2022, ulfharaldsen.blogspot.com/2012/07/mini-oseberg-loom.html.