Lessons learned from Birka

by Sabine Ringenberg 

 For the last couple of years I was tempted to get the Birka patterns right. Metal thread for the brocade sounded too good to let it be one of the projects I never start. So when times got really tough I thought to distract myself with precisely this. I put on my threads and.... Now, wait a minute. There was this piece of information that there had to be a S-Z-threading if you wanted to do a brocade... But the guy I got the patterns from told me, all tablets had to be threaded in the same direction....? Ok. My golden rule: never believe books, always believe people. So I got the cards all threaded in the same direction and off I went... Now, wait a minute! It did not look right till I used a wheft that was one tenth in width of the warp. But now: off I went.




You can see on the upper right side that there was still a struggle with the rhythm of brocade and wheft, remembering to put the brocade underneath the side tablets, but it got better line by line.

Then I made a very common mistake: I started doubting myself. I was wondering if not the book was right in the end with the SZ-threading of cards, flipped them over at the end of the pattern and had a look at the result. It looked cheap, it looked unclear and the pattern lost a lot of its glory. Can this be right?

I decided against it, weaved back, flipped again and went on with all cards in one direction.

One of the main problems with brocades appeared after 10 cm. The treads got so twisted I could hardly go on. At this point I got a usefull hint from my friend and collegue Sonja, die Wollhex, who told me the best point in the pattern to change turning directions is the one with the most brocaded threads. Try that. It works nicely. 

Now the belt is finished and I consider the project a success - not because it turned out the way I wanted it, but because I have learned a lot from the "mistakes" I made. First of all there is the question of threading. 

I was wondering why the books say to thread the tablets for brocades S/Z, but the person who gave me the pattern was threading them all in the same direction. I have noticed that if you all thread them in the same direction the pattern comes out nicely, like you would think it to be: looking upper class and elegant. BUT: naturally, turning the tablets for about 10 cm gives a twist to the whole belt, that is reversed when you change turning direction, but leaves a wavey structure to the belt as a whole. The guy who gave me the pattern was doing it  on a weight loom, not on a frame or a belt.... That might be worth a try. 

Also I would very much like to get scientific information about the threading of the find itself. We have some modern adaptions of the birka patterns, also some of them on the internet, reconstructing parts not in brocade, but weaving in blocks.... So what is the original threaded like? And if it is threaded in one direction, was it done on a weight loom? Or does anybody have a clever solution to avoid the waves in the belt?

If I have done something not ideal, I would like to share that with you, so you can avoid that mistake. So - if you do brocade, do not beat the wheft too heavily, especially not if you have used to metal threads to cover up better. The metal threads will move under one another and the effect will be lost.

It is very important to get a precise tension of the material during the entire weaving length. Very difficult if you turn in one direction. The technical part of the process like pulling in the wheft or the metal thread is much more difficult than the actual weaving pattern to follow.

Literatur suggests 6 border-tablets. I used two. Not enough. You will have part of the metal sticking out in the back and you will see it from the front, if you do not use enough border-tablets. 

And that is my list of mistakes. I would be happy if you found your own in that project, you would share them with me as well. So we will learn so much faster....