Tallies are small blocks of weaving where one thread of the two pairs involved — the weaver — is the weft, and the other three threads are the warp. They have a reputation for being difficult to work but I have found that students who haven’t been told that they’re difficult have no problems with them! I have been teaching my way of making tallies for a long time and it does work. You need to take time over them at first, but speed will increase with experience.

Working leaf-shaped tallies

When working a tally the weaver travels under and over the other threads and is tightened at the right and left, so that the tally first gradually increases in width, then decreases in width back to a point. This shaping is achieved by adjusting the tension on, and the distance apart of, the two outer threads as the weaver is tightened. The weaver should never be pulled unless the two outer bobbins are held tight otherwise the tally will be pulled out of shape. (If this does happen you may be able to rescue it by pulling the outer bobbins apart.)

1. Start with a cloth stitch to bring the threads together at a point. The third bobbin from the left (grey) will be the weaver — lengthen its thread and keep the threads of the other three bobbins quite short.
2. Take the weaver to the right under the first thread, tighten it gently, and pull it towards the back of the pillow while the outer bobbins are held firm against the pillow.
3. Take the weaver to the left over, under, over and then under the left-hand thread towards the right. Hold the outer bobbins a little further apart than in step 2, tighten the weaver gently and pull it towards the back of the pillow. Pulling the weaver towards the back of the pillow helps to pack the threads tightly and gives a firmer tally.
4. Take the weaver to the right over and under and again tighten while holding the outer bobbins. Repeat steps 3 and 4, increasing the width of the tally a little each time. (Too big an increase will give a jagged edge.) After three or four circuits (right to left and back to the right again) the tally should be as wide as required.
5. Continue at this width. Do not try to shape the tally into a point again too soon — work at least three-quarters of the tally before starting to decrease its width. (For a small tally shaping can be left until the last couple of circuits.) Finish with the weaver second from the left.
6. Work a cloth stitch and if you have to leave the tally to work another part of the pattern, tie a single knot (right over left) with the left-hand threads — this helps to make the leaf secure.

That’s my step-to-step guide to making leaf-shaped tallies but it always helps to see someone actually making one. For that you can look at my practical demonstration on video.

In case you’re wondering, I was using pearl cotton 5 — anything finer wouldn’t have shown up well enough. The pricking is below and should be 6.6 in (16.8 cm) long from top to bottom pin hole. Remember if you use finer thread you will need more ‘weavings’ to fill the tally.