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Author Archives: Sandra Schwab

Hello everybody! Despite appearances, I haven’t actually fallen off the edges of the earth (wheee!); instead, I got a new day job at the beginning of the new year, and it’s taken me a while to get used to the new rhythm of my daily life.

What’s really exciting about this life with the new day job is that for the first time in my adult life, I actually have free weekends, which leaves me with enough time for all kinds of fun things.

Like a tablet weaving workshop.


It’s a really old technique for weaving ribbons and fabric borders. The oldest archaeological finds date to 900-800 BC, but murals found in Greece suggest that tablet weaving might even be older and might have been used to create ribbons as early as 1500 BC. Iron Age Celts certainly loved it, as did Germanic tribes and the Vikings later on. In Europe the craft continued to be popular until the 15th century, when it started to slowly disappear.

A collage of three pictures: one showing the empty loom with the balls of cotton thread lying next to it. The second showing the main gate of the Saalburg, a reconstructed Roman auxiliary fort. The third showing the loom with the warp threads running through the holes in the tablets.

“Tablet” in this context refers to flat pieces of bark, bone, stone, leather, horn, wood, or (more recently) cardboard into which holes have been drilled. Through these, the warp is threaded. When you then turn the tablets, different threads are lifted, and by using various colors for the warp, patterns are created.

Traditionally, the weavers would have tied one end of the warp around their belt and the other around a piece of furniture, a pole, or perhaps their own foot, but these days, small looms are available, which make the whole process a lot more comfortable.
If you ever manage to thread them, that is.

When I attended the aforementioned workshop, the threading of the dratted loom took me half a day, and at times, I was ready to give the whole thing up, go home, and have a good cry.

But once you have managed to thread the dratted thing, it is very easy to create simple patterns – though as a beginner you will inevitably struggle with tension, knobbly edges, and, worst of all, loose threads. And if you’re really lucky, you even manage to pull some of the warp threads off the loom! Hooray!

But all the trouble is worth it at the end: Not only can you create the most intricate patterns with tablet weaving, but the resulting ribbons are also very strong and sturdy. And who knows? While you’re weaving you might even make new friends as you and your neighbor commiserate over the tribulations with the tablets.

And this, really, was one of the main reasons for me to take the workshop: I wanted to explore an old craft that would have brought women together in the past. I find it fascinating to explore explore female communities – and as all crafters know, pattern swapping is a great way to strengthen communal bonds! 🙂

“All the town’s a slide,
And all the men and women merely skaters,”

rhymes PUNCH in 1850 (with a nod towards the Bard), and indeed, 19th-century Londoners were keen skaters: when during a strong frost in January 1850 all the ornamental lakes in the parks of London froze, people turned out in their thousands to slide or skate along the ice. THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS talks of 12,000 people assembling in St. James’s Park alone to enjoy the wintry spell.

The Serpentine in Hyde Park was another favorite with skaters, and one of Richard Doyle’s illustration from “Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe” depicts the crush.

The Serpentyne durying a hard frosteApart from the bodies of water, the streets themselves often froze over, no doubt helped along by the many child workers out and about, who, PUNCH suggests, took joy in turning the main thoroughfares of London into giant slides:

Skating in Fleet StreetBut of course, Mr. Punch has already come up with a brilliant solution to this particular problem: “As slides in public thoroughfares, during the frost, are now ‘great facts,’ which the police officially recognise, there is only one thing to be desired, namely, that some little order should be observed on the foot-pavements, so as to make a slide a convenient  and rapid mode of transit. […] By the present system, under which slides are merely tolerated, and are only partially carried out, some of the public who are unprepared for them, keep tumbling about in a very awkward manner. A well-regulated routine of slides, under the control of the police, would be an understood accommodation for all, and order could easily be preserved by sending policemen up and down each series of slides at proper intervals.” 🙂

After all, tumbling about is not nice, as some of the PUNCH contributors know only too well: this little initial letter is “drawn from experience”:

What about your town? Has winter already come to where you live? (Frankfurt turned into a Winter Wonderland on Sunday, and we’ll probably get more snow toward the weekend.)

snippet from the main title page of the volume 7 of the Illustrated London News, showing a view of London, with the Tower in the background
Dear Reader,

I did it again. I went on Abebooks and bought another volume of the Illustrated London News I discovered another poor, abandoned volume of a nineteenth-century newspaper, sitting in a corner, crying piteously, so of course, I had to adopt it. I mean, how could I leave it there, out in the cold, with nobody to cherish it?!?! And so I… um… adopted it. 🙂

In truth, it’s a volume I’ve been trying to hunt down for quite some time. The last time it became available at a decent price, I waited too long and somebody snatched it up before me. But this time, I got lucky. And now it’s ALL MINE!!!

As always, it’s an utter delight to leaf through the volume. There are so many things to discover! The ads alone are extremely intriguing. (At this point in time – 1845 – ads were still text based, rather than illustrated, because of the tax on ads. I talked about this in my last post here.)

Advertisement for Dietic Pale AleDietetic pale ale? Who would have thought this was a thing!

And remember when I talked about Victorian street food? Well, it would appear that the West India pineapples that were sold in London’s streets in 1845 weren’t such a big hit…

an illustration showing a street vendor with his cart, surrounded by customers, including a few childrenIn the illustration you can see the kind of handcart from which street vendors would sell their wares. This pineapple seller has a very simple cart; those who sold soup or coffee would have had much more sophisticated carts, with heaters to keep their wares warm.

From time to time, nineteenth-century periodicals would also include sheet music – the kind of song that would have been suitable for a young woman to perform at an evening entertainment in order to show off her singing voice and her skills on the piano. These songs were often quite sentimental like this example from the issue of 25 October 1845. It’s called “My Writing Desk” – which is the place where people would have kept letters they received from family and dear friends. And this is exactly what this song is about.

a few lines of music with an illustration of a man sitting at a desk, his head on his hand, while he contemplates old letters

The first stanza reads:

My writing desk is the home of my treasure,
My desk is the shrine of my care;
Oh! all I have loved beyond measure
Have left me some dear relics there,
Have left me some dear relics there.
The dry leaves of long perish’d flowers,
Whose perfume has lingered behind,
Have made them as sweet as the hours
Those dear relics bring to my mind.


This volume is the second bi-annual volume of 1845, meaning it will most likely include a Christmas special. I haven’t yet looked because I’m kind of keeping the December issues as a special pre-holiday treat.

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