on the uses of handwoven tapes and bands

I really enjoyed reading your comments on my last weaving post – especially hearing about the impressively wide range of new skills you are all currently picking up! I’m continuing to enjoy my weaving, and am finding it very inspiring. It really interests me that one of the first things many people think of when they look at woven bands and tapes of the kind that I’m making on my inkle loom is “what is that kind of weaving for?” This interests me because, as someone with a bit of knowledge about eighteenth / nineteenth-century dress and textiles, I’m aware that just a century ago, few of us would have asked that question, because narrow woven bands had so many different household uses.

Here are three great books in which you can read about some of those uses. (Thankyou to Tiina, the designer of the beautiful Saighead mittens in our Warm Hands book, for your recommendation of the Schvindt title!)

Heather Torgenrud’s book, Norwegian Pick Up Bandweaving, includes many wonderful images of nineteenth-century woven bands being used for swaddling and cradle ties (where their purpose was symbolic as well as functional). In Norway, and other parts of Scandinavia, woven bands were used to wrap and close heavy winter coats of fur and skin; performed a decorative function in many different elements of traditional dress and household textiles, and, as shown here, acted as beautiful decorative straps sturdy enough to wrap and carry porridge pots.

A similarly broad range of everyday uses are mentioned in Theodor Schvindt’s book, Traditional Finnish Decorative Bands (available as a modern reprint of the 1903 original), where he notes that weaving tape and bands (with both tablet, and rigid heddle methods) was an activity familiar to the majority of Finnish households until the early decades of the nineteenth century. The book includes many examples of finely woven nineteenth-century bands.

Susan Faulkner-Weaver’s book reminded me of the many discussions of tape, braids, bands and ribbons I’ve read in eighteenth-century American women’s letters, and of just how integral woven bands and tapes were to the everyday clothing of eighteenth-century women of all classes. If you donned an apron, popped on a cap or bonnet, or wore pockets beneath your skirts, you would have secured all these items with narrow handwoven bands or tapes.

Tapes and bands were, in one sense, completely incidental – ephemeral decorative extras with which the openings of one’s jacket might be tied together, one’s infants were secured, and one’s bonnets and caps adorned. On the other, in a world without zips and press fasteners, in which small things like pins and buttons were disproportionately costly, ordinary narrow woven bands were also completely essential items. This distinctive combination of the incidental and the essential, the ephemeral and the necessary, really fascinates me – and it’s definitely one of the reasons why I feel so very drawn to narrow band weaving.

The other reason, of course, is that I’m rather enjoying the actual weaving.

There are many things to love about this particular chevron pattern (a simple pick-up motif) – perhaps most especially the fact that it’s completely reversible.

I wove this band using 8/2 cotton for the background and weft, 5/2 for the border and 3/2 for the pattern threads. It was wonderfully relaxing and rhythmic to weave.

When I finished the band, I attached it to two clips of the heavy-duty type you’ll find described as “carabiners” or “lobster clasps” (there was a fair bit of searching to find some hardware that I really liked) – before attaching the resulting lanyard to my phone – thus.

I’m not wearing a bonnet or carrying a porridge pot, but my woven band is sturdy, decorative, AND functional!

I’m really pleased with this, as process, as project, and as finished item.

A phone lanyard: a completely contemporary use for a simple narrow woven band!

Further Reading
Heather Torgenrud, Norwegian Pick-up Bandweaving (2014)
Susan Faulkner-Weaver, Handwoven Tape: Understanding and Weaving Early-American Tape (2016)
Theodor Schvindt, Traditional Finnish Decorative Bands (1903; reprint)