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Turned threads and thoughts: Heritage skills and modern art
The story of my path as a tablet weaver, teacher, and textile artist, in which the technique is a tool, a way forward, and not the destination. The materials, tools, and meeting with people, visions, and functions. The pedagogy of manual skills, literature, and philosophy as a basis for artistic creation. The rest is life.
The Faroe Islands are situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, between Norway and Iceland, and north of Scotland. The population is about 50.000 people. The climate is windy, wet, cloudy, and cool. Nothing much grows on the rugged terrain except grass, which feeds the many sheep that have provided wool, which was for many years the foundation of the Faroese economy, as well as material for clothing. These days the economy is mostly founded on fishing and fish farming.
Out of necessity, the Faroe Islands have a long tradition of making their own textiles, many of which are still practiced today. Especially knitting is important, and the Faroese knitting patterns, though many of them are similar to patterns in other Nordic countries, are distinctive, being mostly quite small and intricate. Wool was used for most items of clothing, either knitted or woven, and often felted as well.
Several bands and braids have been used for both decoration and practical purposes on clothing, but also for ropes and strings. Many of them are also used in other countries, as they are mostly very simple. However, most of the Faroese bands and braids are manufactured using no other implement than one’s own hands and body. Some of them require two people working together.
The national costume of the Faroe Islands is very popular, it is worn for graduations, weddings and at Ólavsøka, which is a national holiday on the 29th of October. People of all ages, children, young people and older alike enjoy wearing their national costumes. They are highly valued, as well as being expensive, with all the silver ornaments and the specialized items of clothing.
Braids and bands were part of costume and household use from the recorded time of human life in Denmark. Bog burials and other archaeological finds show an extremely high technical level of weaving, sprang, tablet- and rigid heddle bands.
Passementerie became a recognized guild in the 1500s, after which the most decorative bands and lace were more often bought from workshops or merchants selling goods from Germany and France than were made at home. Peasants bought imported silk ribbons for their costume but continued to weave and make the simple bands they used as garters, apron and cap strings until around 1880.
The last handmade braids and bands disappeared when regional dress was largely abandoned in the early 1900s. Then it became popularto revive these textile skills through ladies’ magazines and weaving schools, but today they are goneagain except for the occasional committed scholar, weaver and dedicated hobbyist. Can heritage skills be resuscitated?
These are analyses and reconstructions of tablet-woven bands, Danish as well as bands from 700 BC in Italy. There is much exciting information, including illustrations of women weaving on very tall looms, perhaps constructed to weave tablet-woven edges onto capes.
The tablet weaving from Donbæk, a band edging on a cape, is dated to the Early Roman Iron Age (between 200-400 AD). It had 168 tablets and was 8 cm wide. The earliest Danish tablet weaving is from Skærsø Bog, about BC 90. One piece shows both good work and parts with mistakes, interpreted as a master’s attempt to show an apprentice how to learn the technique. The drawing is my analysis of a tablet-woven edge of an Etruscan prince’s cape from BC 700 in Verrucchio, Italy.