Bergdala Spinnhus

About old wooden reeds from Sweden

Over the years, I have acquired several old reeds, reeds with dents made of wood (or "reeds", perhaps - I had heard the story of why they were called "reeds".)

For every new reed added to the collection, I measured the number of dents per 10 cm (as in the modern system), noted it and put the reed in among the others. Sometimes I used them, but mostly I used my modern reeds.

Then, one day, someone sent me an article about wooden reeds. It contained several statements that seemed very odd. I decided to make a systematical survey of the reeds I had. (Later, I borrowed all wooden reeds I could get my hands on, just to compare).
Then I searched for (Swedish) literature. There wasn't much to be found.

I learned several things - some of them conflicting.
A few things I can tell you for a fact: old reeds come in many different widths, in many different densities, whatever literature says.
I have seen reeds from 70 cm to 119 in length; I have seen densities from 17 to 129 dents/10 cm. Another interesting measure is the height. The lowest of the wooden reeds is 5,5 cm, the tallest is almost 8. (When I first started weaving most reeds available were 10 cm high - nowadays 12,5 cm is getting to be the norm. My AVL does not accept reeds lower than 5" = 12,5 cm).

The most exciting ("odd") things are the subdivisions and the markings.

Often the old (Swedish) reeds have a piece of thread going along one of the sides, going back and forth every (something) dent.
There are several systems for these subdivisions. Among my reeds, there are those divided into 20, 30 (common), 48 (common), 50 and 60 dents. Three of them also have ink marks every 60th dent (and one of those has a thread marking every 30th dent).
A weaving book from 1925 (Montell-Glantzberg: Vävboken, downloadable from - here) even instructs us that every new reed has to be so marked, before use!

So, why 30, 48, 60?
According to Grenander-Nyberg there were several systems for dividing a skein. Those subdivisions hold a different number of ends, and has different names in different parts af the country. There were at least 3 systems used at the same time: 60 ends was a "pasma", 96 ends was a "bund" and the (not completely successful) "official" system of 100 ends/turns to a "pasma".
It seems two ends per dent was the most common sleying pattern. Marking every 30th dent meant the "pasma" here was the 60-end one; marking every 48th dent implies the 96-end "bund" was in use.
Why these "odd" numbers, nobody knows today - Grenander-Nyberg argues it has to do with the most popular/common methods/weaves/structures in the region in question.
About 1750 there were tries to "impose" the 100-end standard all over the country. (This was met with varying success, as the book from 1925 shows...)

Sometimes weaving width was calculated in "pasmor" - which is a number, rather than a fixed width (or sett). Of course, as (?) your reed was marked in "pasmor", this made good sense. (Read more in the article about old weaving literature)

Such seeming confusion was not a specifically Swedish trait, though. For some riveting reading about width and sett calculations in the UK, read Murphy: A Treatise on the Art of Weaving from 1842 (downloadable here).
Murphy describes, as I understand it, industrial systems.

three wooden reeds

a "bund" reed, marked every 48 dent

repaired with nails

Then there is the marking.
Marks? I hadn't seen any - did they really have marks? If so, where?

carved markings

27 small marks; 27 48-end-bund, 125 dents/10 cm

Yes, they had. And at the "usual" place, too: at one of the end-posts. Often they are marked with what looks almost, but not quite, like roman numerals.
There are examples of IIIV meaning 8, there is a VIIIIi that means 9.5 - and there are the troublesomes: IIX - is that to be read as 8 or 12?

In Svedenfors' book it is said that there are two numbering systems for reeds - "hundreds" and "score". He writes that score-reeds are coarse and used for rug weaving - not true in my experience. The few score-marked reeds I have seen have been rather dense. He also writes that reeds are only made one meter (100 cm) wide, which is patently untrue.
(Grenander-Nyberg even writes that (it was said, in Dalarna, that) one should use a reed "just slightly wider than the weaving width" - different lenght reeds for the fabric for sleeves than for fabric for the shirt body.)
Anyway - some of the marks I have encountered do tally with both "hundreds" and/or "score", but most do not.

Now, to the question about "reed" (the material). Svedenfors tells about the import of reeds: apparently it had a dual purpose. Used as packing material on the freight ships, it was magically transformed into weave-reed-making material once landed. The best reeds, he writes, came from India and Spain.
Reed was the predominat material for making dents in the west and south of Sweden. In other parts native woods were used - spruce, sallow and lilac are often mentioned.

Svedenfors: Vävskedsmakeri och hornslöjd - två utdöda hantverk (Nordiska Museet, 1952)
Grenander-Nyberg: Lanthemmens vävstolar (ISBN 91-7108-076-7, Nordiska Museet 1974)
Montell - Glantzberg: Vävboken, 1925, downloadable from
Murphy: A Treatise on the Art of Weavingfrom 1842, downloadable from

Web reference (in Swedish): - a chapter from "Gopshusboken"

  © Kerstin Fröberg 2012