Iron age Finnish Mantle – Weaving the cloth

July 3, 2013

2/2 twill weave for the body of the mantle

The iron age Finnish mantle is such an interesting project; rich in texture and steeped in history.   The mantle is just one part of much larger effort to make a complete female Finnish costume.  I am grateful to work with a group of passionate artists who really care about history and the quality of their work.     In this post, I’m going to talk about the process of weaving the mantle cloth.

Weaving the mantle occurred, in my spare time,  over 7 days at the beginning of June 2013.  While I didn’t have much length to weave (a little over two yards), hand-manipulating the selvage on each pass slowed down the weaving process immensely. At one point,  I asked another, much more experienced weaver whether they had ever woven a hollow selvage.  They replied, “Yes, but it was a lot of work for little return.”  I have to say, I see their point.  A hollow selvage isn’t something I would  do unless it was for a project that needed it, such as this.  

Hollow, or tubular selvage. ©1980 Margrethe Hald, "Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials"

For those interested in weaving a piece with a hollow selvage, let me explain the mechanics.   I hunted all over the Internet for information on how to weave it without success.  Thankfully, I was lucky enough to get an explanation from Mervi Pasanen, one of the authors of the new book on Finnish table weaving, “Applesies and Fox Noses“, for weaving this technique.

(On a side note, I’m so excited about their book and can’t wait to acquire it!)

At left is an image from page 158 of the 1980 edition of  “Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials” by Margrethe Hald.  This image demonstrates very clearly that the weft passes singly through the selvage to every two passes through the body of the woven piece, which is an important piece of information to have.  (I know that book is about Danish, not Finnish textiles.  As I started researching this technique, I have been surprised to find out common it is through out the Bronze, Iron and Viking age cultures.

I considered and discarded a bunch of really complicated ways to do the hollow selvage.  In the end, its deceptively easy to do.

Weaving the hollow selvage.

After changing sheds, bring your shuttle into the shed just past the selvage threads. Throw the shuttle normally thorugh the shed, including the selvage on the other side.  Beat.  Repeat.

The selvage experiences a great deal of stress from beating, as the weavers among you can imagine.  In the photo at right, you can see the outer most thread crosses diagonally over the rest of the selvage threads.  The selvage is sleyed flat, but through this technique creates a tube.  If I had to do it again, I would have used a large reed (an 8 dent) so the threads could slide around a little more.  

The advantage of having the selvage threads warp weighted is that the weight can be adjusted optimally to cope with the stress of being rubbed against the reed.  I used an 8 oz lead fishing weight. In the end, the only broken threads I experienced were in the selvage on the right hand side and I caused it myself by adding too much weight.

Here how that went down.  I was weaving along but became concerned that the selvage was taking up at a greater rate then the body of the mantle.  A concern that was complete unjustified as it turns out.  But, I started messing with the warp threads, pulling them tighter and generally fussing.  Finally, I added more weight to see if I could correct the “problem”. BAM!  Three broken selvage threads within a few inches.  Of course, I took off the extra weight again.

You know what finally worked to keep the selvages clean and even?  Leaving it alone worked.  Stopping the fussing worked.  The selvages were fine.  They weren’t taking up a greater rate, as I found when I took the piece off the loom.  So noted, for next time.

Hollow selvage in plain weave on the left.

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One Response to Iron age Finnish Mantle – Weaving the cloth

  1. Emilysue Reichardt
    August 4, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    As you use your awesome mantle, can you figure out why tubular selvages were popular then? There must be some advantage, even if not obvious at first. BTW, I was just reading about tubular selvages on tablet weaving, and wondering how to do that. Maybe your technique? Say, tubular selvages wouldn’t work easily on a regular harness loom, would they? Now I really want to try this. Great post!

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