One of the striking features of the iron age Finnish Mantle is its heavily ornamentated borders. They are a composite of two different textiles techniques; integrated tablet weaving and fingerloop braiding. Throw in some bling in the form of bronze wire coils and you have a rich, complex work of art. In order to recreate this effect, it was necessary to teach myself fingerloop braiding. The internet to the rescue!
I taught myself fingerloop braiding with the aid of the Loop Braider website by Ingrid Crickmore, using her photo and video tutorials. What a great resource! Loop braiding is quite easy to understand and to quickly pick up and there is tons of information out there on the web so I won’t bore you with an how-to here. Luckily for me, there was plenty of opportunity to practice this technique while working on the mantle borders.
Once the first integrated tablet woven band has been completed, starting at one side, tie the ends of each pair of fringe yarn in an overhand knot to create loops. Keep your loops the same length. Its hard to keep a consistant tension while braiding if you are compensating for loops of differing lengths. Its very important to keep the fringe strands in order. If you miss one strand, you’ll have to pick out the knots back to the mistake and start again. Not that I would know from experience or anything.
Through research, reading and examining photos, I knew the coiled wire was strung on finger loop braids, but what I didn’t know was how the braids were interlaced to create the openwork effect. Were they interlaced? Did the braids go through each other? Wow, that would be a lot of work. I couldn’t tell which method was used by looking at close up pictures of the museum recreation and the documentation I had at the time didn’t say. (This was before I knew that an entire book existed about making this shawl. Yes, a book. That I discovered after the fact. *headdesk*)
I was on a time crunch. Not surprisingly, I chose the option i felt would be the quickest to complet; interlacing the braids. By that I mean, I completed the loop braid, threaded on the wire coils according to my charted pattern, and then interlaced – OVER and UNDER – the other braids.
One of the challenges was in figuring out what braids needed coils, how many did they get and where did they go (on the braid) to create the pattern. Once I got a sense of how the braiding would work, I added in the coils, and graphed the result. It is a simple geometric pattern, the body of which goes like this: 2 braids with 2 coils and 2 braids with 4 coils. Repeat. Repeat A LOT. The pattern on each end is slightly different in order to terminate the design in pleasing manner. Simple, really.
I blithely continued braiding, threading wire coils, and completed an entire side. If I’m honest, I admit to nervousness in the back of mind because I worried there would be tension issues when the second band of tablet weaving was added, however, I was confident in my ability to roll with whatever was going to happen and make it work.
This is what happened. There was no rolling with this.
To explain the picture above, the second band of tablet weaving did create tension issues. Simply interlacing the braids over and under each other doesn’t provide enough internal structure in the braided matrix to prevent it from buckling. It had taken four full days of work to get to this point. It wasn’t acceptable in the slightest for it to look like this and I was now three weeks away from the due date. There were tears. Lots of tears. I had to walk about from the project for a bit.
The next day, I put on my big girl pants and started back-tracking. The second tablet woven border was taken out and the yarn thrown away. The coils came off. The braiding undone. Knots had to be retied. Ten hours later, I had reversed all that work and was back at my starting point ready to try again.
How’s that for a cliffhanger? Stay tuned for part two of this post!
This is a continuation of a series of posts on the interpretation of an Iron Age Finnish Mantle completed in July 2013. To read the entire series, click on the Finnish Mantle tag.