Primitive and modern outdoor skills

Tablet weaving: Learning through errors


Guest Post by Angelica

Hey there! I'm Matthew's amazing fiance. I got interested in tablet weaving while we were at Wintercount, a traditional skills gathering in Arizona. I saw a class on it, walked up and watched for about 5 minutes, thought 'I got this' and wandered off. Since then I have been trial and error learning to do it right. Matthew thought it was cool and I should share so here goes...

Tablet weaving is at least as old as the 8'th century, and is still a common method of weaving used today. What tablet weaving is

My plan was to get some cheap yarn to test out before using some nice yarn I got from Matthew's brother Daniel on . My hope being that by the time I use the nice stuff I won't mess it up too badly.

First step, research:
I reviewed youtube videos and found an amazing site for creating patterns, .  It took me a little while to get used to the site and figure out my pattern but eventually I got it and came up with a pattern combining the center of one I found with a different border

Second step, Materials:
- Yarn (bought a pack of 4 colors at the thrift store)
- Scissors
- 2 bar clamps
- Tablet weaving cards (made out of scrap cardboard, four holes each for yarn to go through)
- shuttle (also made of scrap cardboard)
- beater (I just used the scissors)

My first attempt failed beautifully. I screwed up at least 5 things. One of the youtube videos showed doing a continuous warp to get a good even tension . I did what I saw on the video, I put one type of yarn through each hole in the tablets and went at it... without thinking of the fact that my central pattern required only two colors, three of the same color and one different to show the pattern. Oh well, I decided that the pattern should still work and I would use the black yarn to indicate the pattern. I then removed the yarn from it's tension, then added tablets with two colors for the border pattern by doing each card individually. This was a little more tedious and in the end the tension was COMPLETELY off. I then tied one end to a bar clamp and attached the other end to myself with a piece of cord. I started trying to do the pattern and it was all wacky looking.

Here's the final result! It looks nothing like it's supposed to. After this attempt Matthew said he was sorry it wasn't going perfectly and I responded 'It IS going perfectly!'. This is how I learn, dive in, mess up, then get it right. So, it's a perfect disaster. After I gave up on this I realized the cards are supposed to face a certain way as well.

This is a great visual for the difference between Z and S threading

With new things learned I went for round two, this was naturally much more successful. I didn't do the continuous weave this time, instead going the slow route of threading each tablet individually. I gave myself a lot of extra yarn on each end to tie to the bar clamps and this time just kept them attached to that rather than myself. I also started using the scissors as a beater rather than the shuttle which is cardboard and couldn't beat down as hard with. This time I also looked up how to start the weave. To finish a weave you do this... I thought okay there has to be a way to start the weave to keep it from fraying on that end too. I did find a video that showed how to lock in the weft

End of a day of weaving. I made this photo XL so you can see where I messed up. For one the tension was all wrong at the start, it was very loose and you can tell it tightened up but still not all the same tension. Also in the pattern I messed up somehow, I don't even know how! I was rolling along and getting cocky then boom, it's wacky. I figured out a few tablets were not aligned right and got them back on track. Unfortunately my tablets suck. The cardboard is corrugated and the yarn kept getting stuck in it, even after I trimmed the corners to be rounded. Oh, also learned that the farther the holes on the tablets are from each other the better, makes it easier to see which strings are supposed to be on top and on bottom when you go to separate them after each turn.

Day two with my second attempt resulted in the yarn busting! It all happened around the same time, in the end 7 pieces of the yarn broke...

I attempted to fix them at first by just doing a square knot and some extra yarn. It worked just fine but the kept breaking so I abandoned ship by ending the weave, using the method linked above. I finished off by twisting the ends like you would when making twine...

Tada! my ugly learning weave

I forgot to mention something else I learned. While weaving if you continue to turn the tablets in the same direction you end up with very twisted yarn on the other end of the cards. You can undo this twisting by doing the same pattern backwards. For example, my border pattern requires you only turn forward. So after about 20-30 turns forward I would swap to only turning backwards for 20-30 turns to get them unwound. It gets more tricky with the center pattern. For this design it was only the middle four that were a problem because for 4 consecutive turns they go in opposite directions and never swap directions to even it out. So, I learned the opportune time to swap them and you can hardly tell in the pattern.

In this photo looking from right to left you see what the pattern is, it looks like to strings twisting around each other once you get to the left of the photo you see where it swaps. Anyway, I was really excited to figure that out before everything went haywire with yarn splitting. I think to avoid the yarn breaking I need better cards... or to stop moving them back and forth across the yarn every time. I was doing that to help separate the top and bottom strings so I didn't have them on the wrong side... but that may be the reason they all started splitting at the same time. Still, I want nicer tablets that have smooth edges, like these nice wooden ones I found on Etsy

Well, that's as far as I've gotten. I hope to make a nice belt out of this pretty yarn when I have a better tablet situation

Smithsonian visit: "Eskimo" gear


Recently Angie and I were visiting her parent's for Thanksgiving. They live near DC, so we took a day-trip up to the Smithsonians and went to the National Museum of the American Indian.

I really enjoyed the main exhibit about the Inca road. I knew a lot about the Inca, but very little about the cultures in that area after the fall of the Incan Empire.

Anyway, I wanted to share some photos of took of some far north American Indian equipment. Unfortunately, I forget exactly which tribes these specific pieces are from, as the museum had it all mixed together. I apologize for the title of my post... I think at least one of these is Yupik, but I'm not certain, and I don't want to label things incorrectly.


This is a parka made out of duck skin. If you look carefully you'll see the feathers are on the outside. This just blew my mind. Duck skin is thin, so it would be very lightweight. The down is all there to keep you warm, with the layer of original feathers over it to keep you dry as well. Water would just roll off this coat. I'd never even heard of using duck-skin like this before. I wish I knew how it was constructed, if anyone can tell me a *probable* construction based on experience with waterfowl skin I'd be very very interested. I've also no idea how pliable or packable it would be, but it really makes me want to try it.


This is a parka made from seal gut. It had never occurred to me to use gut for jacket, but it makes good waterskins so why not? Again, I've no idea of the construction details, in this case it's not obvious whether the gut had been treated in some way or not. Maybe smoked? I don't know. It just looked incredibly lightweight and practical. I'd expect it to be similar in both weight and durability to modern ultralight raincoats.


These are socks made from grass. This is less mind-bending than the earlier pieces if you're familiar with using straw to keep your boots warm or with say redwood bark being used for clothing. I'd never seen plant material socks though, so still thought this was really cool.


As you can guess by the photo these are definitely not from the frozen north. As it says in the display these are Incan sandals. I just really liked the construction and the soles made from plant fiber. They look like they'd actually wear fairly well. I thought I'd throw it in, just 'cause it's interesting.

There is of course a sober note to a museum of this sort as well. They had a large exhibit on the history of the U.S. treaties with American Indian tribes and a rather sad history it is (to put it mildly).

For me, seeing these pieces made me realize just how fixated on certain ways of doing things I'd gotten. They also had a fishskin jacket, which I'm more familiar with as an idea, but is still pretty interesting. I really got inspired again to keep experimenting and learning, there are so many ways to do things, and so many materials you can use, it's just amazing. I'm really excited to keep pushing on what I can do with more traditional types of gear.

non-synthetic water bottle + carrier


I posted about making some leather gaskets recently This worked well enough to be tolerable for some uses, but it still leaked making it annoying for others.

Since them I picked up a new water bottle that I thought would be a lot easier to seal using this type of gasket, a 40oz Kleen Kanteen narrow mouth (and metal cap). So I made a new gasket for it:


I used the same technique as my last gasket, where I cut it much smaller than the actual lid. Then I soaked the gasket in water and stretched it until it fit on to the lid. That done I let it dry most of the way while on the lid.

Just using this technique, it still leaked, so I decided to try something else. I repeated the above process, but with a thicker leather, then I made up a fairly strong mixture of wax in turpentine much like I use for treating canvas . I soaked the gasket in this mixture for a while.


The turpentine smell hasn't fully dissipated, but the end result is good enough I can carry the bottle in a waterproof backpack and find no water in the backpack afterwards, or leave it sitting on it's side on the truck platform next to me while I'm sleeping. I won't argue turpentine is great for you, but it should evaporate and thus not be a problem.

Alright! I finally have a GOOD waterbottle. So, the next step is to figure out how to carry this on my backpack. I've been carrying a bottle on a string slung over my shoulder, and this gets really annoying, especially on rough trails. So, here's what I came up with.


The fabric is from a torn American WWII military tent I picked up... it's a 6 ounce cotton canvas. I sewed a strip of leather in to the top hem to give the lip some stiffness so the waterbottle would slide in easer. Then I sewed a patch of leather to this, with slits cut in it. The stitches across the top were done with a speedy-stitcher, but it was breaking the threads on the canvas, so I switched to using a hand-awl to punch holes and then stitching with a needle and thread for the rest of the patch.

I used the patch to tie the holder to my pack frame. I can push up on the bottom of the bottle, gathering the fabric in my hand to slide the bottle out.


And with a little finagling I can slip it back in by pulling the fabric out just a bit first.


End result: I FINALLY have a way to comfortably carry water comfortably while backpacking without soaking my leg  or using any synethetics! Woot!

Insulated Growlers: not just for beer


After about a year on the road Angie and I decided we really wanted an insulated growler. The original thought was so we could drink cold beer. We wanted something all metal (excepting gasket), and Kleen Kanteen seemed like just about the only option on the market. Finally we bit the bullet and picked this up:


We've had a 1 pint Kleen Kanteen thermos each for some time, and we love them. We use them instead of mugs for drinking tea, and often use them hiking to carry warm drinks. I've found mine to be pretty great for water while skiing as well. We use these every morning (and many other times as well), making them among our most used utensils.

After we got the Growler we suddenly realized we could use it for storing MILK! It will keep something cold for ~48 hours. This means milk will still be tasty for ~72 hours, which is AWESOME. Yes we have tested this, and it works even in warm weather. We both adore milk. If we can find milk in a glass jug it's even better, we can walk out, pour the milk in to the growler, and then return the glass to be refilled. No waste, we get the deposit back, and we get good milk.

Next we realized we could use it for tea. In cold weather it's great to just drink tea all day, but boiling water over and over again gets annoying. Using the big thermos and our small thermoses together we can make 3 liters of tea at a go. Conveniently this is as much water as our largest pot (Angie's cast iron pot) fits anyway. As a bonus the flip-top (in contrast to a screw top) makes it easy to leave tea-bag strings hanging out while the tea is brewing. The silicone gasket still seals plenty well.

Of *course* we've also used it for beer as well :). It keeps the beer good to drink for long enough to drink it the next evening around camp and still enjoy it. Also, it feels good to walk in to a brewery and walk out with beer, and again... no waste.

Overall we feel really silly for not having bought one a year ago. Using it for beer turned out to be a bonus, with milk and tea being by far our favorite and most common uses.

For anyone on the road who loves milk or tea I HIGHLY recommend picking one of these up. In fact, I will probably keep using it instead of a tea-pot for drinking tea when we settle down someday.

Gear Review: Soft-star Runamoc Moccasins


I've been wearing Softstar Runamoc Moccasins as my primary shoes for about five years now. I use them for everything, going to town, visiting friends, hiking, backpacking, trail running, approach shoes while climbing, canoe trips, etc. I'm currently wearing my 4'th or 5'th pair (I lost count).

These are truly a minimalist shoe. They come in a number of versions, but the ones I get are made of vegetable tanned leather, and have 5mm thick rubber soles. On my most recent pair I also requested they leave out the elastic they put in the back of the heal. In the most literal way you can imagine, they are a thin sole glued to a little leather.

They have NO support at all, and that's exactly why I buy them. The sole is completely flat, and as I mentioned only a few mm thick. If you want a shoe with support, of any kind, these are not for you.

A little background on why I like this type of shoe. Here are my reasons for wearing a minimal shoe:
These are one of my 4 pairs of shoes. I also own a pair of huaraches, a pair of winter hiking boots for snowshoeing and the like, and a pair of pack-boots for extreme weather.
Everyone is different, and knowing yourself is a huge part of  deciding what gear is right for you. The more minimal or lightweight the gear, the more this is true. Everyone can slap on a supportive boot and walk 10 miles, making your body do the work instead means letting your body adjust, which takes time. A 25 mile day of rough trail with bad sharp rocks the whole way bruises the heck out of your feet in shoes like this. My feet are used to it, so it hurts, but not overly much. It took time to get there going barefoot and wearing similarly minimal shoes for less intense activities.

The good:
The bad:
Overall, I love them. I started wearing minimal shoes for running, and it just kept expanding until I couldn't stand to wear anything else even for long backpacking trips. They are not for everyone, but if you've been looking for something that keeps your feet from getting cut, stabbed, and chafed and that's it... this is your shoe.

Grounding: I have a hard time not scoffing at the concept, but someone once asked me if these shoes are "grounded". No, they are not normally "grounded" shoes, but you can pay softstar extra to modify the shoes to comply with the "grounded" idea.