Damask Apprentice Belt Design and Process

Introduction

As an apprentice weaver, I thought it fitting to weave myself an apprentice belt. Admittedly, I have a plethora of apprentice belts; one woven by my first Laurel (Mistress Margaret St. Martin sure le Mer), one made by Master Paul O'Brien and given to me by my current Laurel (Mistress Rogned Steingrimov) and one I made myself of plain silk fabric. It still seemed fitting for me to actually weave an apprentice belt. Since I have several already, I wanted to weave something distinctly different to those I already have. I have had a drawloom for several years now and have woven damask cloth for others. A damask apprentice belt seemed a perfect idea. I have studied a few extant damask pieces and damask seemed a good choice for a woven belt.

The set up of the cloth is as follows:

Sett: 36 epi

Warp Length: 7.3 yard

Warp Width: 6"

Historical Examples

Over the years, I have gone to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) Textile Study Room and the Clothworkers Centre (where the Study Room contents are now held) a number of times. When the Clothworkers Centre opened it allowed textile enthusiasts to make appointments to see nearly any textile in the V&A's collection. On my last visit to the Clothworkers Centre, one of the textiles I request was an 8th C Syrian Damask. This textile is a monochromatic purple damask with a large palmette design and smaller designs surrounding the palmette. One of the smaller designs (see photo left) is reminiscent of the Fleur de Lis and likely represents a lotus flower. I use a lotus flower for my SCA arms and chose to use this motif in my apprentice belt. 

Although dated later than my persona, damask dates back to the 1st C and is believed to have been woven in Damascus. I have focused my Sasanid textile research on samitum weaving because it intrigued me for many years. I believe that damask was also a popular weave in Sasanian Persia. Sasanian weavers dominated the Silk trade in their time (Day). The Sasanian Empire was the middle mand of the Silk Road, prompting Justinian to have monks smuggle silkworms to him, so the Byzantines could have top quality silk over the subpar silk that Sasanian merchants were selling them while keeping the best silk for their Sasanian nobles (Day). Damask is also better suited for a belt, therefore I chose to weave this damask belt rather than a samitum belt.

After deciding on a damask weave and the central motif, I continued to flesh out my final design by looking at examples of Sasanian textiles the Senmurv Silk and Boar's Head Cloth, along with many others in textbooks. These examples show Sasanian textiles are generally comprised of the following features: 

1. Roundels (repeating in rows)
2. Animals, Fantastic Beasts or depictions of people within the roundel
3. Floral motifs filling in space between the roundels

This led me to a basic design a roundel encircling the lotus motif, with an ivy motif in space in between the roundels.

Pattern

After deciding on an initial pattern I began my draft. This design was conducive to a point threading. I calculated from the sett and width that a 15 block point pattern would be best for the pattern threading. I initially drafted a thin roundel with the top part of the floral motif with circles connecting the roundels horizontally and vertically with a small ivy motif (part of my personal symbol) in the space in between. While weaving the test pattern, I referred to the original textile. Traditionally damask is woven using satin treadling (where you break up the twill line). The earliest damask example I have seen is Didymoi fragment (81-96 AD). It was described by Rogers et al (2001) as a checkered pattern made of alternating 3/1 broken twill and 1/3 broken twill. I used this information and the standard twill direction for Sasanian samitum cloths to thread the ground shafts on my loom. However, the Syrian Damask looked like it perhaps has a straight twill line in the ground areas. Therefore, while I was weaving my first test pattern, I wove several blocks using a straight twill treadling, in contrast to the other areas where I used the broken twill treadling. I sent Mistress Rogned photos of the original and my test pattern to get a second opinion on this topic. We decided the broken twill treadling was best.

After weaving the initial test pattern, I decided the circle was too thin. So I began revising my draft I made the circle thicker, I also decided to use the full version of the flower motif within the circle. I mirrored the ivy motif and added another circle in the middle of the ivy motif. (Photo of second test pattern coming soon).

After weaving my second patter test (see right), I have decided to make the stem on the lotus thicker. So I have at least one more test pattern to weave before I am truly underway on my belt.

Materials

Finally, I would like to share the materials used in this project. Silk was a must for this project, all the original damask was woven in silk and a monochromatic design. I chose to use 2/30 gemstone silk in 2 greens keeping monochromatic nature of the extant piece. I chose this silk because it is the finest silk available commercially at a reasonable cost. The materials cost for this project was $100.

References

Day, Florence. Silks of the Near East. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. 

Rogers, Penelope Walton. et al (2001) The Roman Textile Industry and it's Influence. A Birthday Tribute to John Peter Wild. Oxbow Books. Exeter