Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Season's Greetings!

 I'm off for the holidays now - meeting with the family and later with friends to start into the New Year. As I'm sure me and you will all be much too busy for blogs during these days, I'll see you in January 2010, on Jan 4, to be exact.

Until then have some wonderful, relaxing and stress-free days with your friends and families!

And if you are curious about which New Year's Eve tradition is most hallowed to me and my friends, you might want to know about the phenomenon that is Dinner for One (which even has a Wikipedia entry telling about its importance) and then watch it.

Best seen on New Year's Eve, along with countless Germans!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Travel Troubles

There is a German saying that goes "Wenn einer eine Reise tut, dann kann er was erzählen" (roughly translates to "Travels will always provide you with a story to tell"). This is certainly true about travel home from London yesterday, where we spent a few days to relax and take in the Christmas lights.
We traveled to London with the Eurostar, and it was a very pleasant travelling day, with windowgazing, knitting and reading the hours until we arrived in St. Pancras station. The way back, however, was not so smooth: Due to the train failures in the Tunnel, there was no train service yesterday, and according to the updates on the Eurostar website today, we would not have come home until tomorrow at the earliest.
We were alerted to the tunnel problems in time, luckily, and went back home using a plane - and again we had a good measure of luck, since our (evening) plane only ran two-and-a-half hours late, which means we arrived at our home in the small hours. Still, it could have been much, much worse.
It will never cease to amaze me that a metal contraption, made of several tonnes of metal and plastic, can take off into the air by sheer power. But comparing the journey to and from England, I liked the train journey better - and I hope that Eurostar will recover from this fiasco, both reputation- and finances-wise. (And of course I also hope that they will not try to keep their losses smaller by not paying for extra expenses of the travellers who got home by plane or ferry...)

Monday, 21 December 2009

Exhibition Catalogue about Pandolfo III Malatesta's garment

Via the MEDTC-Discuss List, I got this information about a new exhibition catalogue:

Kusch, Claudia ; Patrizia Mignani ; Raffaella Pozzi (eds). :
Redire 1427-2009 : Ritorno alla luce : Il restauro del Farsetto di Pandolfo III Malatesti [Back to the light. The restoration of the doublet of Pandolfo III Malatesta]
Fano, Museo Civico, 2009. 24cm., pbk., 107pp. illus., most in color. (I quaderni del Museo, n. 2, 2009)
Price: $48.95 (Shamansky) also available through Italian bookdealers €22.50.


There's an article (in Italian) with two pictures, one a detail of the garment and one shot of the mummy in the grave. And I really want the book, though it could be a little hard to get it here - I haven't found a German distributor yet. So you are in luck if you are in Italy or in the US!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Beavers, advertisements, and Green Living

A few days ago, Bavardess had a very interesting blog entry about "beaver" as synonym for the vagina (something I had never heard before, though I can claim non-native-speakeriness as excuse) and how this word use probably developed from a medieval play on words. She links to a little video showing a girl having a girl day out with a beaver, all as advertisement for a new brand of tampons.

Which finally makes me write this little bit concerning tampons (or other disposable sanitary products) and green living. Tampons have been a sort of revolution and have become a normal part of modern female life in our part of the world. They are sold in all kinds of different sizes, from different manufacturers, each one claiming to be the one and only brand. But they all have one thing in common with each other (and with the disposable pads as well): They mean a huge waste of energy and material. All  the water and energy needed for production, the raw materials - plastic, cellulose, paper - for making and packaging them - the tampon or disposable tab is used and then discarded, and into the landfill they go. Not so good for our planet, actually.

So maybe it is time for the next revolution, yes? Some re-usable, environment-friendly product that can be worn like a tampon, safe, healthy, and durable? If that sounds like a good idea to you, you might want to buy yourself a menstruation cup. They are called something like Mooncup or Divacup, and they are a silicone cup that is inserted much like a tampon, catching the blood securely.  You can read much, much more about them on this livejournal devoted to the menstrual cups, and on lots of other places on the Internet - as always, the search engine of choice is your friend.

If you are a tampon-user, go try one. They are really wonderful and absolutely worth the money - in fact, not buying any disposable products anymore will save you more than a cup cost very soon. Or maybe it's even a gift idea for the holiday that's almost upon us?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Oh no! I missed my blogiversary!

I actually missed my blogiversary, which was on December 8 - that was Tuesday last week. And that even though I had marked it in my calendar, to be sure I won't forget it.

But then the internet-less time came, and the trials and tribulations of the move, and the stacks of boxes distracted me, and I completely forgot the blogiversary. Even though I think that it really is something worth celebrating - a year is quite a bit of time, after all!

When I started this blog last December, I was not sure at all how blogging would work out for me. I knew, however, that I did want the blog to offer something new regularly. Some blogs I had already read for a good while did inspire me to do the blogging-daily thing, and the most important of those is Kristin Nelson's blog Pub Rants. No, it has nothing to do with watering holes, selling beer and snacks, it's short for "publication", and I really liked (and still like) her style of writing and the fact that - with very few exceptions - I could have a few minutes every day, reading the news from Kristin, half-way across the globe.

And now, after the first year of blogging, I am really happy I tried it. I have a bunch of regular readers (and commenters), and getting feedback on the things I do and the texts I write does feel wonderful. Posting weekdaily is by far not as difficult as I had feared. Of course there's the occasional day where I can't think of anything much, but there are a few strategies that help with that: I try to cover one topic only per post and store other ideas in the drafts section, I try to have one or two "emergency posts" completely pre-written in the drafts section, and I am just generally on the watch for bloggable things - interesting links and webpages, for example. And then of course I don't blog on the weekends, and I will take time off* for holidays, events and travelling, things where blogging would be difficult or troublesome. All that together makes daily blogging a fun thing to do for me, a nice way to start off my day, and I hope that it will stay like this for at least a year or two more!

* All that time off results in about 203 posts during the one year, which is about 0.5562 posts per day, or one post every 1.79 days. Which sounds much less impressive than "I blog daily". You see me humbled.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Knitting Socks...

After knitting that very first pair of socks (during which I discovered that nifty make-two-at-the-same-time doubleknitting thing), I had to cast on for the second pair of socks.

You can guess what I did, right?

That's quite at the start...


... and that is the same setup with the second sock toe pulled out of the first.


I now actually knit like that, with both socks hanging from the needles, one to the left and one to the right; I find it much easier that way. In addition, it's also easier to see if there's a crossover that connects both socks.

However, my technique is not exactly the same as the one described in Knitty.  Instead, I knit mirror-image: One sock (the "back" sock) is knit with regular knit and purl stitches, the other sock (the "front" sock) is done with mirror-image stitches - a purl-like stitch as "knit" stitch and a knit-like stitch as "purl" stitch. I always work the "back" sock first and think of the back and front stitch as one pair, inseparable - except by disaster, of course. (I'd give you a video of that, but the camera that can do videos is still packed somewhere.) This approach means I have less shifting around of threads for knit stitches, the front sock thread stays in front and the back sock thread stays in back. That makes it much, much faster to work, and less easy to do a cross-over (I had about three up to now). Purl stitches are a bit awkward at first, and I'm still working on proper tension for the purls, but I think that will come with practice.
This approach also adds a healthy dash of suspense to a sock project, especially a toe-up sock project, because since the outsides of the socks lie on the inside of the double tube, and since the socks are closed at the toe... you can't see how your sock pattern looks from the right side. There you are, instant suspense! And as an added benefit, this means you will learn how to read how a pattern looks from the wrong side. (Or you could be a sissy and only do cuff-down socks in this technique so that you can peek inside the open tubes at any time...)

I have progressed quite a bit already, so the socks are now almost at the heel.



It's a basic toe-up pattern with a short-row toe, mostly stockinette. There's a very simple rib pattern starting to come in (after all I have to practice purl stitches too), and I'm already looking forward to the heel. Initially, I wanted to do some mini-cables, but that did not work out so well, so I ripped back (good thing, learning to rip back with two socks at once) and decided to go with the ribbing only. I had to change to smaller needles because it turned out after the first few rows that I knit more loosely with this technique, probably due to the extra loops inbetween each sock's loops. That makes me wonder a bit if I will be able to get needles thin enough for smaller stitches - these are already 2 mm only. It really is fun, though, and I will definitely go for some more socks in this weird technique!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Automatic search suggestions

A lot of modern search engines in databases and the net have some algorithm that suggests what you might have been looking for, in case you mistyped or mis-remembered something. That can be a very nifty thing, saving re-typing or even long thinking about what exactly your thingummy was called - and it can also get some hilarious results from time to time.

A while ago, I wrote a book review about M. Beaudry's "Findings", and this has been cited in a few places. In one of the discussions which I caught, another book including information about archaeological textile tools was mentioned - this one:

Late Viking age and medieval Waterford : excavations 1986-1992

I don't know that one yet, so I did what I always do in that case. I open the online OPAC of my favourite university library - the one in Bamberg - and paste in exactly the text you see above. And I get the following search spellcheck suggestion:

Meinten Sie Alle Felder = Late biking age and medieval vatermord : excavations 1986-1992

I really dig the "late biking age", and "Vatermord" in German means parricide. Medieval parricide, that's nice! And for the textile inclined, a "Vatermörder" is what they called the detachable collars of the 19th century. Now isn't that a very nice suggestion? I would absolutely read a book with that title!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Footnotes vs. Endnotes - the poll result

For a while now, the little poll on the right-hand side of this page has been closed after collecting information about your preferences on footnotes and endnotes.
As I had half-hoped, half-suspected, most of the 50 voters prefer or even strongly prefer footnotes over all the other options. Hooray, I'm not alone!

For clarity and to sum it all up (since I will remove the poll window in the near future), here are the poll results from all 50 voters:

27 persons (54%) strongly prefer footnotes
12 persons (24%) prefer footnotes
0 persons ( 0%) prefer endnotes
2 persons ( 4%) strongly prefer endnotes
9 persons (18%) prefer in-text citations, Harvard style (or similar).

Now 50 people who read this blog are admittedly a very small sample - but on the other hand, those who read me here in the Internet might just be those who go out and buy my book (I sure hope so!). And that, despite the small sample, might give it some little importance.

And the opinion of the "masses" is clear - you want footnotes! 78% are in favour of footnotes, and only 4% would prefer endnotes. I had expected a few folks to prefer Harvard style, and I can see the appeal for readers, but it is even more uncommon in Germany to do it that way than it is in the English-speaking countries, and I can't imagine getting a regular, non-subsidised publishing house to do that without really, really good leverage.

Speaking of publishing houses, they do prefer endnotes for several reasons, as I have learned. One of the very important reasons is that layout appears to be clearer and cleaner if the page bottom is not littered with footnotes - an aesthetic thing. I can sort of understand not wanting footnotes that take up more page real estate than the actual text, and I personally would try not to have so much footnoting - but on the other hand, I own (and use regularly, and very much appreciate) at least one book with such extensive footnoting which works very well, even if it looks weird at the beginning.
Apart from the "uncluttered" look, there is another reason for the houses to fear the footnote and endorse the endnoote. During a discussion with my editor, I learned that the publishing houses fear that the conspicuously academic-looking footnote style will deter people from buying a book, even if it's written for nonacademics as well.

Luckily for me, who hates endnotes, and luckily for you, who prefer footnotes (and my apologies to the suppressed minority of endnote-lovers), my book is subsidised by a grant from VG Wort, who pay most of the actual printing costs. Only because of that, my strong preference for footnotes will be honoured - and the book will have footnotes instead of endnotes.

And then, of course, I hope that my prediction will be right: People will buy the book regardless of its more academic appearance. If not - well, then I will stand a fool (with footnotes)...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Hartenstein, again

The blog post with the two boys from Hartenstein got a comment with questions from Bertus Brokamp. One of the questions can best be answered with a picture comparison - the effigy of the Hartensteiner that we worked from and the reconstruction that is now in the exhibition.

Here you see the effigy and the reconstructed Hartensteiner side by side:



As you can see (and can see even better when you click the picture to get a larger version), we tried to keep close to the look of the effigy.  The pictures are roughly the same size - the two men won't match exactly due to differences in their body proportions - and they are arranged so that the two faces are on the same line, for easier comparison. Some of the differences are due to the posture of the reconstructed Hartensteiner - the length of the short mailshirt sleeves seems different because they fall back onto the upper arms while putting on the helmet, and our reconstructed guy actually wears the gloves and the sword (not in the photo yet - we put that on him after I took the picture). But the layering of the gambeson (with riding slit, you might just be able to make that out in the effigy), mail shirt and breastplate with dagged fabric cover does match the ensemble in the artwork.

The helmet is not attached to one of the chains because he's just putting it on, but it would technically be possible to hang it from one of the chains. Dagger, sword and shield are not yet in place on the reconstruction. The coat of arms, by the way, is not the one shown on the effigy: The Hartensteiner has a fish-hook as his coat of arms (black on gold background), and that's why we gave him the fancy golden fish as his helmet crest.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Ze Internetz are back!

Our phone and internet connection has finally made it into the new place - now there's catching up galore for me to do.
It really is amazing how the non-accessibility of things (including basic things like dictionaries and online dictionaries) can hamper the workflow. And I was astonished at how much I rely on the internet for my daily work. I already knew that searches and online resources are a large help for me, but total lack of the internet has shown me to what extent.

And now I'm not entirely sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The good part of it is that since I rely so much on the Internet, I can work almost anywhere provided I have my computer and the internet (and can concentrate, of course). Questions about HTML? There are plenty of wonderful sites. A quick check of the vegetation and blooming period of madder? Wikipedia is a good starting point (though I'll make sure to whip out a proper book about plants or dye plants the moment I want to cite this, and double-check). Phone number or contact data missing? The internet knows them (almost) all. Trouble finding a word? I have learned that for me, typing into an online dictionary interface is so much faster than leafing through an actual book dictionary - so I heavily rely on LEO (praise be heaped on LEO!), Heinzelnisse and a small stack of other dictionaries. I even make a point not to buy cookbooks, because in any cookbook there are about ten recipies that sound really interesting and an unspecified, but much larger number that are not interesting. And searching for "recipe" and single ingredients will turn up enough recipes and variations to find something to cook. (I have a little stack of cookbooks that I don't want to miss and use frequently, though - I'm not so firm when it comes to not buying books.)

The bad part? Not having online connection really thwarts my style of work - and that sort of bugs me, because I rather like to be independent. And should the Net ever go down and stay down, I will have to re-learn working without it. (And I'll probably buy even more books then.)

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Moving Mountains...

As the prolonged blog silence probably let you guess, the move did not go completely as planned. The actual "get stuff to the new place" part went very, very well (whoever has friends like those we have is really, truly blessed), but there are a few minor to medium complications.

Some things still need to be fixed in the new place before we can put up furniture and put away stuff, and unfortunately (as we now know), the time before Christmas is the time when every craftsperson's schedule is full enough to burst, so we'll be living out of boxes for a few days more. In addition, our phone and internet connection will move over a little later, so regular blogging is scheduled again from December 10.

On the plus side, the new flat is a dream come true, the kitchen is already up and running, so we won't go hungry, and our neighbors are very very nice - and half of them seem to be native English speakers!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Cast on the Main Sails!

I'm taking the rest of the week off from blogging to concentrate purely on boxing the remainder of the chaos here. If all goes well and according to plan, we'll move over to our new flat on Monday. Because the telephone will, in all probability, not move over with us right away but take at least till Tuesday, blogging will hopefully resume next midweek. If not, well, something has not worked out - or I felt such an urge to blog that I found another place to do it.

Meanwhile, here's a really bad knitter's joke.

What does a pirate knitter like best? ... Black Purls.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Nothing new from here...

There's not much going on between the boxes at the moment - all of the more exciting (and more time- and space-consuming) textile projects are already packed into boxes, and more packing is on my to-do list for this week. It really is amazing how much stuff will come together with doing medieval crafts for some years!

Meanwhile, we did take a relaxing afternoon off yesterday, sitting in a wonderful little café, drinking coffee and tea. We had both taken some yarny things with us - knitting and nalebinding - and took the chance to get a few stitches done somewhere away from home. This was more relaxing than I had expected it to be, and I can absolutely recommend it!

(Though a few people looked a tad irritated by our occupation, nobody said or asked anything, by the way.)

And speaking of knitting in public, there's a nice article about knitting and public politics on Anne Galloway's blog.

Friday, 20 November 2009

More of the splendour!

After fiddling around a little and experimenting with different settings on the camera (thank goodness for one you can go "all manual" on), I have now managed to take some much better pictures of the gold brocade brooches. (By the way, the German term for brooch is "Brosche", and for brocading "broschieren", so I've been making "Broschierte Broschen" or "Broschurbroschen" with this.)

Here are some pics - clickable. If you look at the large pictures, please keep in mind that these brooches are only a little more than 3 centimetres in length!




Thursday, 19 November 2009

Like a little medieval splendour?

After a long time of nothing happening for the market stall or range of goods(I blame it all on the upcoming move), I have some medieval splendour to spice up the modern life:
Brocaded tabletwoven brooches!


Made from silk and real gilt thread and mounted securely onto a gilt brooch base, these are a wonderful way to add the splendour of medieval luxury bands to your modern life. The picture really does not do these little beauties justice - photographing goldwork is not easy. The gold brocade really sparkles out from the deep ruby red of the silk. The gilt brooch base has a little locking wheel to keep the brooch from falling out of the fabric.
The little bits of band are made individually and can't unravel. The pattern is adapted from a medieval brocaded band, threads are pure silk (dyed chemically) and gilt fine silver around a silk core. The brooches are available now from the Market Stall.

The brooch is a beautiful way to subtly show your love for things medieval - and to find out whether your conversation partner knows about brocaded tablet weaving! This will also make a wonderful Christmas gift for somebody into historical textiles or textile crafts.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How to Untangle a Skein of Yarn

InZM5 a perfect world, every skein of yarn is a perfectly arranged series of loops, ready to be unwound with no trouble whatsoever.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, and after going through the rigors of a dyebath or after being mangled by children, cats or other calamities, you might end up with a tangled skein. Maybe even a severely tangled skein.

You have three options now. Option One: Throw that lump of loops into the rubbish bin. Yes, that is a valid option - if you don't really need that yarn, if you can buy it again, if you don't have a lot of patience, if you are not really willing to untangle it, if it's wool and has felted itself together in the tangling process, so that pulling apart the loops will damage the yarn. If it's one-of-a-kind or it was horrendously expensive, though, you might not want to throw it away. Luckily, there is Option Two: Figure out some way to use the yarn that does not require it to be all in one piece. Draw out as much yarn as possible at one time (or your pre-defined lengths), cut, untangle the knob that forms, repeat until skein is gone and you are left with a number of one-length cutoffs. Take care to wind each cutoff after measuring it and cutting it, or you might face more tangles!

That is not the thing you need? You really want one long length of yarn? Then take a deep breath, go buy some chocolate, put on a kettle for some tea and sit down for some lengthy yarn skein de-tangling. To get an estimation of how long it will take you, make a wild guess. Then multiply the time of your wild guess by two - that's the pessimistic wild guess. Now multiply that by ten, and you have an estimate. (Seriously, if you are pressed for time, this is not an option. Go buy another bit of yarn. And if you are not patient in the face of tangles, find somebody who likes to untangle yarn and bribe that person.)

You will wind the skein into a ball of yarn by hand, or, if it is very fine yarn, you might opt to wind it onto something like the core of a paper roll. You will not be able to use a ball winder or similar contraption. There is nothing speaking against making a center-pull ball, if you can wind one by hand, though (and there are instructions galore on how to do that on the internet).

Try to find the original middle of your skein. If it is still bound off, that should be no problem - just locate one of the bind-off yarns, hold that and insert your hands between the bottom of the skein part with the bind-off and the mass of tangles. If your skein is not bound anymore, hope for the best. Open up your skein gently but completely and gently stretch it between your hands. Stretch it all the way around, rotating it bit by bit and stretching after each little rotation - this is to straighten out the loops as much as possible.

Now you place it on a good swift - one that is turning lightly, that does not have much weight on its own, and that has as many arms as possible. If you don't have a swift yet, it's the reason to get or make one (if you sit down to untangle a skein, you are probably a yarny person and you want a swift anyway). If you have a four-armed swift and face tangles often when unwinding, consider getting one with more arms, and if possible with arms that have a wide surface for the yarn to rest on (like the Goko). The higher the number of arms, the more your skein on the swift resembles a circle - and it's much easier to wind off a circle than a rectangle, because the corners are where yarn likes to catch itself.

Once your yarn is on the swift, spread it out as much as possible. Locate the end of the yarn - if possible, the end lying on the outside. Your skein is technically a huge spiral, and it's easier to unwind that from the outside than from the inside. In a skein that is tangled, the loops of the spiral have gotten into disorder, locking each other into place and hindering you from unwinding. Your task now is to straighten out those loops.

Now you are going to face two different kinds of tangles. (If you are working with wool yarn, the yarn might stick to each other as an additional, third kind - a pseudo-tangle.) You are winding your working end, and suddenly it won't detach itself from the surface of the skein - instead, many short bits of yarn seem to tie it down to the swift, forming a sort of small triangles. Those are loops locking each other and the working yarn - insert your finger and gently pull upwards, or try sliding your finger in the opposite direction of your winding direction. That should release the small triangles. Each of these triangles is a loop of the spiral, where one bit has been caught by other loops, locking it in place. The bit a little more "upstream", so to say, overtakes the bit that is caught (using up the slack in the yarn at the same time) and forms the apex of the triangle. To remove the triangles, you need to free the spot that is caught - if you move your finger "upstream" (against the winding direction) underneath the triangle, you will find that point. Gently tug on the leg that is caught in downstream direction to release it.
Typical "catch-points" are the arms of the swift, because this is where the skein turns a corner. The larger the angle of that corner, the easier it is to turn it for the yarn (that's why more arms make a difference). If something is caught at a corner, insert your fingers beneath the skein and flatten out that corner while gently pulling on the yarn end(s) caught - this should release them.

Once in a while, however, a single loop or a number of loops will form around your working end. If you slide your finger under that loop, back where it comes from, that loop will turn out to be one really big version of the small triangles of yarn. If you can go back to the point where one leg of the loop is caught in the skein and gently tug it free, do so and gently travel underneath that free leg with your finger to where your working end was caught - that will remove the loop completely. If your loop is really big and goes around and around the swift, you can in theory follow the loop until you find the end that is caught and release that in the same way. In practice, however, it is much easier to just cheat and move your ball or spool through the loop. This means you have now changed the run of yarn - it is not an unbroken spiral path anymore, but might contain one half-hitch knot. Never mind that, just be aware of it - because it means that you will eventually find yourself caught in a loop again and have to move your ball through it.

If you run across any bad tangles, always try to tease them apart with your fingers, leaving them more loose than you found them. If you can't get your yarn free from a badly tangled place, just move the ball through and move on. It will all get sorted out eventually. Spread your skein from time to time (if your swift has wide arm-ends) to help with unwinding. Take breaks when you need to - and don't make yourself finish in one day. Instead, I'd recommend placing your swift somewhere easily accessible (and with very good lighting) and just untangle a bit at a time. Don't try to untangle when you are angry, stressed or impatient, and most importantly, don't think that you need to do it fast - and the whole business can even be a soothing, meditative thing.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Hartenstein Knights

For those of you who can't go there (or for those who would like a little preview), here are photos of the two "guys" standing in the Hartenstein exhibition. I took my camera to the opening ceremony, but had unfortunately not checked the batteries before, so I can only show you pics from the setup procedure - which means that the pictures show only the almost-finished state, with little details missing.

First, there's the miles from around 1200. It's a knight from the Teutonic order, and there were two possibilities for him for the exhibition, the warlike outfit and the courtly one. When we set up the exhibition, the warlike presentation was chosen, so he currently looks like this:


And this would be his courtly self:


He's wearing braies, a pair of cloth hose beneath the mail, a wadded gambeson, the mail shirt with mittens attached, a tabard and then either a half-circle cloak or helmet and mail coif.
Isn't it amazing how much of a difference this makes?

And as the second "guy", we have the master of Hartenstein himself, caught in the act of donning his Great Helmet:

He's wearing braies, cloth and mail hose, a gambeson, a mail shirt, armour covered with silk cloth, knee protectors and vambraces. And gauntlets. And two helmets, of course - the bascinet with mail attached to protect the neck, the great helmet with a fish as the crest. (I hope I got all the English terms right - I'm not so used to translating weapons-and-armour terminology.) He isn't equipped yet with his shield and his sword - he only got those after the photo.

(He's cut off at the knees because there are tools and paraphernalia at his feet. He does have feet. Really.)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Am I an official Dark Side padawan now?

Here's proof (visual) that I'm doing my best to join the Dark Side (and thank you, Darth Harma, for your friendly welcome!)


I am really amazed at how much stuff about knitting is there on the Internet (and I haven't even been to Ravelry in my forays). This all makes it easy to find out about stuff - it truly is standing on the shoulders of giants. Like, to name just one of the many, Darth Techknitter, who happily shares her knitting knowledge with incredible drawings - and everybody who ever made a drawing of any textile technique that entails yarn looping through and around other loops of yarn will know what that means. So a huge thank you from me to all of you out there who make it possible for others to learn about knitting - and not only the canonised version of one's own country and the tricks from one's vicinity, but all the twists, turns, variations and tricks from all over the knitting world. You rock!

And they are not normal giants. No, there are giants who are doing seriously mad stuff, like knitting two socks at once. Simultaneously. On double-pointed needles.
That, now, is seriously awesome, and I don't know whether to be happy or mad at Darth Harmless Drudge, because this is so awesome that I absolutely have to try it.

I like the dark side. There are socks. There is chocolate as accredited motivational tool. And there is madness... it seems to be just the place for me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Today is the exhibition opening!

Today is the opening ceremony for the exhibition on Burg Hartenstein, and from tomorrow, the exhibition is open to the public.

If you are around here, why not give the two knightly guys I made and clothed a visit? The exhibition is open on Thursday and Friday afternoons (from 15.00) and on Saturdays and Sundays (from 10.00).

And if you are not in the Nuremberg area, you can see one of the guys greeting you on the official homepage of the Freundeskreis Hartenstein e.V., the association that initialised making the exhibition.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

"Jogless Jogs" and true spirals

Now that I'm slightly over the half-way mark with my "learn how to knit" project, I've already fallen in love with something to make after that.

It is a pair of socks, with free pattern on the Internet. But no ordinary socks - no, they are Alice-in-Wonderland-Illusion-Socks (pattern and pics in pdf). And of course there are questions... like "can I use the wool from my stash* for socks, even if it's a bit thick, if I use really thin knitting needles?" and "how can I eliminate that jog?"

Now I already hate jogging as in "run to get somewhere faster" - my knees and me, we're just not made for that. And jogging in knits? Not so grand as well. So I was looking around a bit the Internet on how to eliminate the jog, and there's a method called "jogless jog" - which helps. Basically, jogless jogging means gently mangling or mushing the stitches around the jog to conceal it. But there's still a jog, and there's still fiddling with the colour change and carrying up of threads. (Nice explanations of jogless jogging can be found at TechKnitter's blog.) And the structure of circular knitting does allow for truly jogless stripes - with only a slight colour-coming-in-jog at the start and the end.

Now, technically, knitting in-the-round is knitting a spiral. For normal colour changes as for stripes, you are breaking the spiral to change from colour A to colour B. Imagine knitting in the round with a lot of increases so your round turns out flat, and it will look like this:


In sock knitting, this would be one round orange, jog, one round green, jog, ... and so on. You are trying to knit rounds of colour in a true spiral, breaking the spiral. Rounds of colour can be done easily, and jog-lessly, on a rounds-based technique like netting, but not on a spirals-based technique like knitting or nalbinding (and not in netting if you mush your meshes at the beginning so you can net spirals).
Breaking the spiral will always result in a jog. For thick, solid stripes, that isn't too bad. But for one-line or two-line stripes, that means the jog is all or half the stripe thickness if it's not eliminated.

But why break the spiral at all? Why not just insert another spiral? That would look like this:

In sock knitting, this would look like one round orange-one round green-one round orange and so on. No jogs - because you are not breaking the spiral.
You just add another spiral for each coloured row - so for illusion knitting, that would mean four spirals (two of colour A, two of colour B) each coming from one ball of yarn. Which is more or less the limiting factor of this technique: one ball for each spiral, making it a ballsy technique, so to say.

Of course I had to try it out (and that's why this blog post is so late today):

video

You can see the very sloppy join of the cast-on (the bump), and you should be able to see where the additional three spirals come in at different places at the bottom of the tiny tube. You cast on, knit to the end of your solid part, and then you just knit in the other colours/spirals.

Let's say you are knitting in the round with five needles (four in the knitting, one working needle) and want to have two-row spirals. This means you stop at where you want the colours to come in, with your current working thread (colour A) at the end of one needle (and the fifth needle free). Now usually, you would turn your work clockwise and continue on the next needle. Instead, turn counter-clockwise and knit in the second thread of colour A, right across the needle, turn clockwise and knit across the next needle. You now have both colour A threads stacked on top of each other. Now turn your work 180° counter-clockwise and knit in the first ball of colour B - across that needle, across the needle where you brought in the second colour A, across the third needle where you already stacked up both colour A threads, making your stack even higher. Now you can turn clockwise again, and on this needle you knit in your second colour B thread. You can knit this all around until you reach the huge stack - and from now on, whenever you find yourself on top of that stack, just take the bottommost working thread and work one round, switch thread, and so on and so on. That's it. The last stitch you are knitting into (on top of that stack) will be quite loose, but the tension adjusts itself when you take up each of the threads to work with them. And the little stack of current spiral ends also makes for a wonderful rounds marker.

To end spiraling, just stop knitting the spirals one by one, preferably at the place where you started it, to make the complete thing approximately the same length all over. Putting in a short-row heel when starting the sock at the toe shouldn't pose too large a problem as well (I'll figure that out after I've found out whether I can use my stash yarn or not). And then - Illusion Socks in Ballsy Spirals method!


* Yes, I already have a significant yarn stash. Yes, that shouldn't happen if you are not a knitter. However, I started buying those wonderful, naturally-dyed yarns ages ago when I would still think of using them for tablet weaving, and I sort of got hooked on the colours and just needed my regular yarn fix afterwards.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Knitting history

Ah, I should have known that a single post about knitting will draw more people out of the woodwork and get comments than all the other techniques. And actually, I wonder why - is it because more people can relate to knitting stuff, doing the technique themselves?

Comments yesterday made clear that there is huge interest in the history of knitting. When I was writing my thesis, of course knitting was one of the textile techniques to be mentioned, so I did some reading on that topic. And found (again) that knitting is a very, very hard technique to trace - about as nigh impossible as felting, if for different reasons.

Felting has no regular internal structure and thus is prone to fall apart into single hairs in adverse conditions - and adverse conditions for felt even include those that are generally good for organic material. With knitting, the problem lies elsewhere. Knitting can be unraveled so easily - and partly or completely "frogging" the work, if modern knitting blogs are any indication, is quite usual for things not living up to expectance. (Please tell me, do you frog knitted things that you don't wear anymore as well? Or only new stuff that doesn't fit or please well enough?)

If we assume that yarn was a valuable thing, and especially fine, colourful silk yarns, I can very well imagine that the yarns were unraveled and stored for another use - which would greatly reduce the number of knitted finds. Recycling and re-using (or remaking) of standard, sewn-from-fabric garments can be frequently seen in the archaeological evidence: Small, cut-off bits with seams in them, obviously the bits that could not be salvaged and used in a re-make because they were too crooked, too small or too oddly formed, or bits that were too worn. Now imagine somebody frogging a piece of knitting to re-knit. All that will be left might be a snippet of yarn - which, unfortunately, doesn't carry a sign telling the textile researcher "hey, I was part of knitting once!". And this makes knitting research a huge problem.

From what I could find in sources that were recent enough to already factor in the discussion of nalbinding against sprang, there was no evidence for true knitting before the start of the 12th century. There's a little more in the 13th, and more and more in the late middle ages and early modern age, but nothing earlier. The early datings usually come from the "coptic socks", and those I will consider as all nalbinding until somebody can prove the opposite by re-evaluation of the actual finds.

To round this off, for those of you hungry for references: Here's my list of things about knitting, taken from my bib database. I have not read all of those, so I can't guarantee that they will be good or insightful - if you know any of them, comments are very welcome!

CARDON, DOMINIQUE: Fils renoués. Trésors textiles du Moyen Âge en Languedoc-Rousillon. Carcassonne 1993.

GREINER, SYLVIA: Kulturphänomen Stricken. Grunbach 2002.

KJELLBERG, ANNE: "Knitting and the use of knitted goods in Norway before 1700. From archaeological finds to documentary evidence." In NOCKERT, MARGARETA und ESTHAM, INGER (Hrsg.), Opera Textilia Variorum Temporum. To honour Agnes Geijer on her ninetieth birthday 26th October 1988. Stockholm 1988. 145-152.

TURNAU, IRENA: "The Diffusion of Knitting in Mediaeval Europe." In HARTE, N.B. und PONTING, K.G (Hrsg.), Cloth and Clothing in Mediaeval Europe. Essays in Memory of Professor E. M. Carus-Wilson. London 1983. 368-389.

WYSS, ROBERT L.: "Die Handarbeiten der Maria. Eine ikonographische Studie unter Berücksichtigung der textilen Technik." In STETTLER, MICHAEL und LEMBERG, MECHTHILD (Hrsg.), Artes Minores. Dank an Werner Abegg. Bern 1973. 113-188.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Speed Knitting!

So what is the fascination of knitting for me?

First of all, you can make useful things with this - like socks. (Did I mention I like knit socks?) And if you have a penchant for making your life more difficult, then you can take very fine needles and very fine yarn and make a myriad of tiny stitches for some early modern stockings. Or go and buy a "tsock kit" from the Tsarina of Tsocks, who makes artwork kits disguised as sock kits. (And I will definitely need some of these crazy socks some time in the future.)

Then, knitting still is all over the place - thousands of people do it, and probably everybody alive knows at least one knitter. And it is easy to learn even if you are on your own, because there are so many websites and, even better, so many videos that show you how to cast on, work in the round, knit and purl, English, Continental or Oriental style. Just search youtube (or generally search) for "knitting tutorial", and there's enough to keep you occupied for hours.

But for me, there's another fascinating thing to knitting: The possibility of speed. A good while ago, I wrote a Google Penance for the search term "tricks to faster hand sewing", with the bottom line that with sewing as with most other craft processes, there's a limit to how fast you can go - and it just won't get faster. Knitting sort of has an exceptional position here, because knitting can be sped up oh, so much.

To give you a taste of what is possible in the extreme, here's a video of Miriam Tegels knitting - she's the holder of the Guinness World Record in speed knitting, with 118 stitches in one minute.



Isn't that really incredibly fast? And doesn't that make me think of the knit stockings in early modern age and wondering how long it took a professional knitter to make one?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Knitting, anyone?

For years now, I have successfully been a non-knitter. I just never did it. I had not learned in school how to knit (they only taught us crocheting), and I had only made one short and unsuccessful try to learn it back years ago, when I was still caught in puberty. The technique somehow never appealed to me enough to fiddle my way through it, and I could remember from my one try that it was really difficult to catch those pesky loops of the stitches and that I didn't know what to do when one of them slipped.

And then, when I started out in the textile archaeology field, knitting was said not to come up before the later middle ages, and not properly before early modern ages, when it somehow becomes all the rage and Knitter's Guilds form and those guildmembers knit amazing things. So I had a perfect excuse for not knitting: a, there are more than enough people around who know how to knit and do it (and teach it), so there's no danger of the technique dying out; and b, I had more than enough other techniques that were less modern and less well known already. And c, I didn't want to do things in techniques that can fall apart so easily just by pulling on the working thread (yes, you have to take out all the needles before that too, I know).

But. But. Knitting has actually been found dating back to the 13th century (in a German well, of all places). Knitting is a problem for the textile archaeologist because it can be unraveled so easily. The wherefrom and why of the development of knitting is still not known to historians. I like a good scientific unknown - it always reeks of challenge for me. And then there are the socks, which I admit I love. Hand-knitted, nicely patterned, woolen socks... aah.

And then there was the Textile Forum, where a lot of truly awesome knitting went on inbetween all the other things. Fine woolen yarns! Intricate patterning! Really really thin "knitting needles" that were sold to the knitter as "a bit of copper alloy wire"! This all smelled like a challenge and a fascinating opportunity for some full-scale madness much too much for me to resist.

So I have finally given in and learned how to knit. And I have discovered some of the fascination of knitting for myself...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Photos from Finds in Norwegian Museums

Life is so much nicer with pictures! And life is getting nicer and nicer these days, with more and more databases and pictures from museums coming up online. Here's another one that came to my attention very recently: The Universitetsmuseenes fotoportal, with pictures of finds from four different museums. The pictures include some shots of the Oseberg findings, and there's some textile there too (of course).

You can search over all four museums by using the little search box - just remember that it's Norwegian, so make sure to type "tekstil" if you are looking for fibery things. I would love to link a good English-Norwegian online dictionary here to help with the search terms, but I haven't found one yet - the few I tested did not even know how to translate "textile" into Norwegian. Instead, if you need a German-Norwegian translation (or if you know the search term you want in German but not Norwegian), I can point you to trusty Heinzelnisse, where you can even play vocabulary games to improve your language skills...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Setting up...

Today, the two knights for the exhibition at Hartenstein will be placed into their final spots and installed securely (so they don't gallop off in the night or, even worse, fall onto an unsuspecting visitor).

Setting up for an exhibition, for me, it's always a very exciting thing and surely a cocktail of emotions. There's a little anxiety (did I bring everything? will it all fit?), a little stress (oh my goodness I hope it doesn't all take so long to set up as this item), an amount of fun (after all, things are finally coming together as they are supposed to do), a generous measure of pleasant anticipation and hope (ah, this looks really nice here, that will be splendid once we open, I hope everybody else likes it as much) and, of course, a dash of "oh no!" (oh no, a badly done tiny spot/a little fault/a scratch already!) to spice it all up.

And altogether, I like this cocktail very much... so I am really looking forward to today's session.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tool Talk - Schacht Company: Goko Swift

Not a book review, but a tool review this time - the Goko swift, made by Schacht in a traditional japanese design (and sold more or less only in the US).

I first found mention of this swift when looking for some better way to wind the very thin silk that Sabine dyed onto spools for storage and for sale. I have a normal, four-armed "umbrella" swift, but that just didn't work properly, even not when tuning it with an additional cardboard support strip for the silk to lie on. Unskeining these fine threads was not possible in a humane (and sensible) amount of time, and I was looking for alternatives. There was only one swift to be found on the Internet that was supposedly very well suited for fine, delicate threads - the Goko.


Now this swift is not the cheapest one to buy (around 130 USD), and shipping fees to Germany range between steep and outrageously expensive for such an item. But I was in luck - a travelling colleague brought one back to me, saving me the shipping costs. I unpacked and tested it yesterday, and here's what I think.

The swift consists of a wooden stand and a metal wheel with eight supports for the yarns, making it roundish instead of square as most swifts are. The wood part is quite solid, with a glossy varnish as finish, and marked with the Schacht company emblem. The two vertical support beams are slitted on top to take up the axle of the wheel.
The wheel, in contrast to the wood parts, does not have a good finish or solid feel. On my Goko, the "flanged core" was only half assembled, with one of the flanges off and quite bent. I do not know when or why this happened, due to the mode of shipping via "colleague-mail" meaning this went through several pairs of hands, but I had expected a more solid and better finished piece - the holes for the arms and the edges of the flange were not deburred, and I was not thrilled. Some gentle taps with a hammer soon took care of the bend in the second flange, and both the flange and the arms of the swift then were easy to install. However, the arms were not really perpendicular to the core, but instead seemed to be bent a little out of shape - making the whole wheel look slightly lopsided. I now had some doubts if buying the swift really had been a good move - so I proceeded to test it.

I took out a slightly mangled skein of very thin silk threads (why test with something easy, after all?) and put it on the swift. There was the next surprise in stock for me: The skein was too large, probably due to working with it on the previous swift, which might have lead to some stretching. I put it on anyway - since nothing can get caught in moving parts on that swift - and decided to give it a try.

And what shall I say? It worked beautifully. I unskeined the remaining silk with a few stops to untangle a bit, but compared to before, this was incredibly quick and easy. After all, I had stopped working with that skein before because it was almost impossible to unwind in a humane amount of time. The huge difference that the additional four arms of the swift and the wide support for the skein make is hard to describe and still make believable. The too-large skein, by the way, had quickly shrunk to Goko size without additional tangling. I tested it on a second silk skein, and it worked just as well again - so now I am convinced that for my uses, this swift was worth every penny. I had no yarn breakage due to sudden stops in spooling (with a spinning wheel set up for spooling with very light tension on the drive, so it slips with very little resistance), because both the wheel and the swift stopped at once whereas before, my wheel would stop but the swift would break the yarn.

That also is the upside of the very light quality of the metal parts: They are very light - so the actual working part of the swift seems to weigh almost nothing and turns very, very easily and with little resistance to abrupt stops (for example because there's a tangle in the skein). This swift really is very well suited for fine, fiddly yarns that are difficult to unskein. I haven't tested it with wool or other material yet, but I am quite sure it will work nicely as well.

So if you frequently wind yarns or threads that are on the thin and delicate side and give you trouble turning the corners of a normal umbrella swift, you might want to consider the Goko. It is not cheap, and it is not finished to craftspersons' delight in every last bit, but that does not take away from its functionality - and that, for fine threads, really is awesome. Proving again the old fact that good tools are important, and special tasks may need special tools to make success possible.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Connecting Grad Students

Through a mail from my old Uni, I have just stumbled upon "Gradnet", an association that wants to make life a little easier for grad students by hosting an interdisciplinary and international conference, an opportunity for productive and critical exchange.

I haven't heard about them before (that's a small wonder and has much to do with both my topic and my work style, and little to do with them), but the programme of the next conference is online, and it looks quite large and quite nice.

The next conference takes place in Erlangen, from 20 to 22 November - so pretty soon - and you can check out their programme on the Gradnet website www.gradnet.de.

I probably won't be able to hop over there due to the move coming up on the next weekend, but I'd love to hear about it, so should you go there, please drop me a comment!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Box heaven - or is it hell?

I am slowly but surely surrounding myself with boxes filled with stuff - books, textile implements, more books, resources and materials, more books, tools, cloth, and even more books*. It is a weird-looking mix of order and chaos: a jumble of things on heaps to be sorted out, books still in shelves (almost none left in the study, though), things that are pre-packed in boxes anyways, and the big newly-filled boxes stacked on top of each other, slowly filling up freshly cleared space where shelves were.**

Yes, that sounds like an upcoming move - we will move into a bigger flat, since my stuff seems to have exploded (or maybe "popcorned") during the last months. This is largely connected to my acquiring some exhibition stuff (which includes two dress mannequins) and to the growth of the market stall and its assortment of goods, but also to such slightly mad ventures as the spinning experiment (which resulted in my having about 105 spindles now instead of five, and two more rather large boxes to stash). All this has led to the apartment being too small, and offering too little storage space.

So we will move, but stay in this very nice and quiet part of Erlangen. I will have a nice, large study/work room with no roof slope taking away space for shelf storage or moving around in the room, and enough space to actually do tailoring work in there without feeling cramped. And it is a ground floor flat - hooray for not having to lug so much stuff down from second storey when going to a medieval event!


* Yes, I'm a book junkie. And that is especially true for books on archaeological stuff, textiles foremost, of course. Book buying binges when in museum or exhibition bookstores is a very common quirk of archaeologists, and I'm no exception to that rule. Which means that not only do I have lots of books, I have lots of really seriously heavy books, because most catalogues are printed on thick, glossy, heavy high-quality paper...
** Compared to stacking books on the floor until stack height is still just stable, shelves are a much more compact way of storing (we found this out when emptying a shelf to re-build it with an additional bit a while ago), but even shelf storage cannot beat boxes filled with books and stacked up high. Much less convenient for actual reading, though!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Link Drop

Quite a little stack of links to interesting places and things has accumulated in my "slow blogging day" stash, but they are much too good to languish away. So here's a link drop - I hope there's something for you in there, too!

- Two blogs that recently came to my attention: Fait Attention and Publishing Archaeology.

- For those of you working with MS Word, there's a webpage with tons of good advice, instructions, makros and stuff at the Editorium. This site has helped me a lot when finishing off and layouting my thesis. I still wouldn't recommend to use pictures in large Word files, though. (My pics were layouted half-automatically, using the Word-generated picture list, a homemade makro and LaTex. Not the best layout ever, but very little work.)

- A new project is researching medieval soldiers "to challenge assumptions about the emergence of professional soldiery between 1369 and 1453", and they have put a database online where you can search almost 90 000 muster records for soldiers from 1369 to 1453. So don't forget The Soldier in Later Medieval Times when you are looking for muster information!

- I'm very happy that I usually don't have to cope with Latin (and I would look for help if I had to), but for those who are, there's Du Cange's medieval latin glossary available online: beware the rather large .pdf.

- And for those who read French, there's a bimonthly magazine called "Histoire et images Medievales", with some articles available for download. And of course with nice pictures!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Horrible Histories!

Once in a while, you stumble over something smashing on the Internet. That happened to me yesterday (leading to some work time reduction and late bed-going due to having to watch funny videos on Youtube). Did you know that CBBC has a series of utterly funny sketches and songs titled "Horrible Histories", making history lessons the most amusing thing ever?

Now I will finally remember what happened to Henry VIII's wives, because of watching this:



And the perfect follow-up for that video is the Terrible Tudors song:



For those lucky enough to be in the right area (unfortunately I'm not), there's also the official webpage of the show, where you can watch snippets, videos and the episodes shown during the last seven days (now I'm jealous!) and even play a game called "Terrible Treasures".

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A new exhibition coming soon!

Making medieval garments is something nice and fun - but seeing them worn or seeing them in an exhibition is something else again. And two sets of garments are going on display very soon now:
In November (on November 13/14, to be exact), a new exhibition will be opened in Burg Hartenstein (Wikipedia in German, with picture of the castle) in Franconia - featuring two knights fully dressed, with garments that I made. One of them is the 14th century knight and lord of Hartenstein, the second man is a Teutonic Knight from around 1200.

Since the exhibition is not opened yet, I will post no pictures today - but it won't be long now... Meanwhile, if you read German, you can also pay a visit to the official website of castle and of the group organising and running the exhibition, the Freundeskreis Burg Hartenstein.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Medieval theme board games

With the hype for all things medieval, there have also been quite a few boardgames with medievally themed topics or artwork. And with the huge games fair in Essen just past, there is a new one in the range - the game "after" Ken Follett's sequel to Pillars of the Earth (which usually means loosely connected to the book topic). That book is, in German, called "Tore der Welt" (doors of the world), quite a different title from "World without End", and the game title matches the book title.

Well, I don't read medieval-themed historical novels anymore (the last I read actually was Pillars, when I had just started studying medieval archaeology), but I'm game to play medieval-themed games. Maybe that is because it is harder to put huge, garish mistakes into game descriptions, and maybe it's just because I like good board games. Especially those that are typical German-style board games (and isn't it amazing they name a whole genre for us Germans, and such a nice one as well?). I didn't manage to play the Pillars game when it came out (I think last year), but this year's Follett I did play, and all four of us playing had a good time. It is a nice game, with good artwork and good, functioning game mechanism, including some fun details: You have to pay taxes, feed your family and show that you are a good christian after each of the four "chapters". The chapters contain different events and give each player six chances on action. Those are selected using your twelve action cards - but you have to discard one of the remaining cards when playing the one you selected. This, for us, sometimes led to more thinking about "what shall I discard" than "what am I going to do now" - quite unusual, and quite dastardly in a very nice and amusing way. For once, you can't blame luck if you don't have the action you would need anymore! Every player also has an "event card" to play each turn, giving him or her some much-needed income and sometimes a second income, but every other player gets something as well. What everyone gets is depending on how the card is placed on the board - another simple, but nice and well-fitting mechanism.

Altogether, I did like the game quite a lot. It is already available, but only in the German version for now, so tough luck for all of you who would like to play it but don't read German. (One competent translator, though, should be enough - you only need to read the rules and the event cards, there is no need to read for choices.) But since the Pillars game (which has also gotten good critiques from those around me who played it) has been translated and is offered in the US, there should be good chances that it will cross the great salty puddle, too.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Oh lovely colours!

Some time ago, Sabine and I decided to go on another mad venture and include nice, really thin, naturally dyed silk threads for embroidery in our assortment of goods. So Sabine had a lot of good opportunity for cursing when she dyed them, and I had a lot of good opportunity for cursing when I reeled the threads off on little spools. But it turned out that these threads are absolutely fabulous for couching gold threads - and even if they resist getting dyed and spooled with all their might (which is impressive), I feel that it's well worth the struggle when the final result looks like this:

Photo taken by Anja Klein - thank you, Anja!

The colours are red (madder), blue (indigo) and golden yellow and olive green (birch leaf); you can only see a tiny bit of the gold-coloured thread right on the top of the picture, about in the middle.

These threads are wonderful for couched work, used like in this photo - though the picture doesn't do the colours justice, and I find goldwork enormously hard to photograph...

Friday, 23 October 2009

Ah, the joy of passwords.

Because I tend to forget passwords, I use a nifty little programme called "KeePass" (here is its official website). The programme can store your passwords for everything and anything, so it is finally possible to have different passwords for all the important and security-relevant things, and only keep the one master password in mind. (Better not forget that, though!) The little programme will even generate long and very secure passwords for you.

The only thing that really throws me off track with Keepass sometimes is when I've generated one of the nice and safe passwords, copied it to its new home, saved everything, bumbled on... and then I find that the password hasn't been stored correctly in its new home because there is only space for 12 digits, and they cut off my password without warning! And there I stand then, trying like mad to get into the site, application or whatever. I KNOW that new password, darn it! I just changed it! I KNOW it's the correct one, it's stored in Keepass!
... and after a while, it dawns on me...

So should you need a little programme to keep track of your passwords (and I think it even can be add-on-ed into Firefox), KeePass is a good choice. It's free, secure, helpful with password generation, it's even portable so you can take it with you on your USB stick or whatever else you carry around for data transport. Just make sure you don't fall into my trap and check the maximum allowed number of password digits first!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Blanket Stitch vs. Buttonhole Stitch

Ah, textile terminology is a thing to talk endlessly about - or maybe I should say "whine endlessly about"? And it gets even worse when things get translated.

One of the common problems concerns buttonholes (or lacing eyelets, in the time before the buttonhole's rise to prominence). There are three different stitches that can be used for securing the edge of eyelets or slits: the basic overcasting stitch (whip stitch), blanket stitch and buttonhole stitch. And the last two have a history of being confounded with each other, and often both types are called "buttonhole stitch". But there is a difference!

For a whip stitch, the needle enters the fabric from the front side only, and this results in the thread spiraling through the fabric, around the edge, through the fabric and so on. Whip stitch is technically able to do the job around an eyelet or buttonhole, but I can't really remember any extant example - and blanket stitch is nicer to work than whip stitch around those kinds of edges.

For a blanket stitch, the needle goes in at the front of the fabric, out at the back, but in addition, on the way back to the front for the next stitch, the needle is going through the loop that forms around the edge of the fabric. This forms a continuous line of thread lying more or less on top of the edge, thus protecting it better than simple whip stitch. (You can see blanket stitch in a stitch dictionary on this page - scroll way down.)

For a buttonhole stitch, the needle also goes through the loop after going through the fabric, but from front to back. This forms a little knot (a half-hitch, in effect) that is supposed to sit right on the edge of the fabric. This, if made accurately, will hold the continuous line of thread even better on top of the fabric edge.

So what are the differences? Buttonhole stitch takes a little longer to work than blanket stitch (at least for me), because in the way that I make it, I need to change my hold on the needle one more time per stitch (for forming the knot). What takes more time, though, is to make sure the little knot is placed and tightened correctly, and this can be fiddly work.
The biggest difference, however, is discernible when working the stitches tightly beside each other, as required in eyelets or button holes. Then it becomes evident that buttonhole stitch will build up on the edge, effectively making the hole a little smaller. This is not too bad on a buttonhole - in fact, it might even help countering the buttonhole's tendency to widen with use, but on an eyelet hole that is only poked into the fabric and not cut, it's much better to have it in the same size after finishing it. And I have not yet found a true buttonhole stitch in medieval context - this seems to be used only in modern times.

And the conclusion? When I read a term for a stitch, I always look for a picture of the stitch in question - because you can never be sure which terminology the author uses. And when I name a stitch, I always try to give an additional description or picture - because it's never a given that everyone else will think of the same stitch as I do when I name the name.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Take note - but which kind?

A recent discussion (and my recent read of Beaudry's "Findings") makes me wonder about Footnotes vs. Endnotes. Publishing houses nowadays seem to prefer endnotes - because it makes page layout easier and a little nicer for the eye not to have footnotes sparsely dotting the bottom of the page. However, for reading, endnotes are much less practical - because looking up an endnote means to put your thumb into the book at the place you are right now, go to the back of the book, find the endnote, read the endnote, and then go back to the front of the book and try to get back into the flow of the argument. This takes much more brainpower than just shifting the eyes to the bottom of the page - and thus will regularly exceed the capacity of the "Working Memory", breaking the flow of the reader. I have also made the experience that endnotes get read (and thus used) much less frequently than footnotes, because it is more trouble to get to them.

And now I'm wondering: Am I the only one who strongly prefers footnotes? Are the publishers right in placing looks over footnote access, do readers prefer endnotes in general? What do you think? If you look to the right side of this page, you can find a little poll to mark your preference - and of course, comments explaining your vote are highly welcome!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Things happening

Quite a lot is going on behind the scenes here, not least of all the fact that we have started actual work on the new market stall. The first bit of cloth has been cut and now takes up space in our living room, lying around and looking innocent (as far as 30 square metres of cloth can look innocent, that is). Now we only need to sew one long line of about 7.5 metres before it's time to shrink and waterproof this part.
The wood is already in the basement (mostly - one bit is missing), and after the long piece we're at now is sewn together and treated, the wood structure can be inserted and the fixings made. But it will take a few more evenings of needlework until that is the case!

Another thing happening is my collecting of ideas for some more textile tools for the market stall. I'm thinking of more accessories and tools for goldwork and embroidery - so if you have any suggestions or wishes, let me know, and maybe I'll be inspired to include it.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Things going online, finally!

Blogging is a bit later today than usual, because I wanted to finish the market stall page at least far enough to put a first version online. Originally, I had intended to write a German and English version of the market stall, finish both with all the items I have in my real-life stall, and put them online then. But as things happened (and took longer than planned) and time progresses, I have not managed that yet.

But I know that some people are out there waiting for the page to come up, and I feel bad to let you wait for so long and yet longer. So instead of the all finished, everything included and html polished version, today I'm putting up the market stall page in English, with a link from this blog and the first page of my homepage (that still waits for the full English version, too). And I'll try to add the rest of the goods as soon as I can.

I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Book talk - Mary C. Beaudry: Findings

For a change, here are some thoughts about the book I currently read. The full title of Mary Beaudry's work is "Findings. The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing", and of course, a title like this seriously incites my interest.

The book aims to give an overview of the findings in connection with sewing and needlework, directed at archaeologists who are confronted with such small small-finds and wish to give a better interpretation to them than just "oh, textile tools - means women were here". That is, in my eyes, a wonderful thing, and I started reading the book with high hopes. However, I now am halfway through the book and already feel quite let down, due to several separate issues.

First of all, Beaudry concentrates on early modern and modern artefacts; this can be expected from a book that seems to be mainly geared towards American archaeology, also mostly citing finds from US sites. She also incorporates short history passages about each tool, however, going back to Middle Ages and beyond, and those are unfortunately not always correct. Terminology also poses a problem, especially combined with the extremely sparse illustrations, since Beaudry groups her objects by modern names. This lumps objects called "pins" from metal together with those from organic materials, and thick and long pins with the small slim ones. While bone and wood "pins" are called by the same name as metal "pins", I think of something much more substantial and thick when bone and wood are mentioned than when talk revolves around metal pins, and I do have different uses in mind automatically. Grouping bone and wood pins in with metal ones and setting them into a common timeline seems to me quite misleading, especially if there is not a single illustration to go with them. A similar thing happens in the "Needle" section, where knitting needles (and then also crochet hooks and netting needles) can be found.

When giving the history of knitting, she states that nålebinding as "an early variant of knitting [...], employing a single coarse needle, was common in northern Europe during the Middle Ages. This technique was used for making stockings and gloves, and in Norway many milk-straining clothes were made in this way [...], but needles used in nålebinding remain elusive." (p. 60)
There are large numbers of rather large, eyed needles made from wood, bone or antler that are perfectly well suited to work nalebinding, and needles are actually made again and sold again for that purpose today, since the technique has seen a revival in LH circles. Actually, the very first hit that comes up on google search when typing "nalebinding needle" is a shop that sells different needles and bodkins well suited for the technique. She is right however in that to my knowledge no needles have been proven to have been used for nalebinding.
Maybe even worse, nalebinding and knitting are technically so different from each other that stating one as the variant of the other is absolutely misleading to the novice while quite apt to boil the blood of a textile person - and severe mistakes like this do cast doubt on the general reliability of a book.

Another very curious interpretation (without pictures of the artefacts in question) is mention of mid-seventeenth c. bodkins with an earscoop at one end: "Those [...] can be quite large, sometimes more than seven inches long, sometimes with an ear-spoon or earscoop at one end. The earscoop was designed to gather earwax for the use on sewing thread, to keep the cut ends from unraveling. Well-to-do women were likely to purchase beeswax for this purpose, but earwax was thrifty and readily available - and cleaning out the ears contributed to personal hygiene." (p. 66) I would be really interested in a source text or picture showing evidence for this - because earwax* has more like a toffee consistence when gathered with an earscoop, quite soft and sticky, and would be totally unsuitable to protect threads from abrasion like beeswax coating does (but very suitable to attract dirt and dust, and keep them nicely in the fabric). And beeswaxing threads is mostly not done to keep ends from unraveling, but for much different reasons.

The almost nonexistent illustration of the book (about 40 figures alltogether, with some of them showing only tools and equipment as depicted in an 18th century craft book, with no further description) takes away much of its usefulness. Especially the section about pins and bodkins would have much profited on a selection of artefact drawings from finds; instead, the reader has to look for those drawings in the literature cited by the author.
This literature is typically given by one note at the end of each paragraph, which can lead to some confusion as to what book yielded the information. The end-note style further takes away from the usefulness of the book, since checking each note means a lot of back-and-forth leafing in the book, disrupting the reading flow.

Some questions Beaudry mentions are quite large issues, like the standard gendering of all things textile as women's work only, though pins were used by men and women alike in their dress. She is also certainly right when writing that pins, needles and sewing implements need better interpretation and more attention. However, the three issues mentioned above - research that seems a bit too superficially done, lack of illustrations to give the reader the possibility to follow the author's distinctions and comparisons, and the sometimes egregious mistakes - are, in my opinion, very much keeping this book from achieving what it aims to do: giving the archaeologist without knowledge about textile work a reference book for differentiated, educated interpretations of these small finds. For this, I would rather recommend Crowfoot et al's Textiles and Clothing, the volumes about small finds from York or, for those who read German, Krabath's "Die hoch- und spätmittelalterlichen Buntmetallfunde nördlich der Alpen. Eine archäologisch-kunsthistorische Untersuchung zu ihrer Herstellungstechnik, funktionalen und zeitlichen Bestimmung."

* Linguistic aside: in German, earwax is called "Ohrenschmalz" which literally translates into "ear-lard" - giving a much better idea about the consistency of the stuff.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

All the Gory Details, parchment tablets.


These tablets measure 6 x 6 cm, a convenient size when weaving and large enough that you can handle them well and even weave with the tablets standing on the corners, for tubular or other special weaving actions. The parchment is prepared by hand, in one of the last traditional parchment manufacturies in Germany. In this case, it is calf parchment. Rounded corners for smooth turning, large holes for ease of setting up the warp.

Parchment tablets have not been found in archaeological excavations yet (at least to my knowledge), but they are a logical material to turn to for complex bands with thin threads and lots of tablets. In some rare cases, "leather" tablets were recovered in excavations, although leather either needs to be much thicker or stiffened in some way to make it useable. A detailed analysis of these tablets would be interesting, in case they were originally parchment which underwent a kind of tanning process during burial in the soil.

In comparison to wood, horn or bone, parchment can be worked much thinner and will still be remarkably stiff and resilient. On the other hand, parchment stays flexible, so while thin wood, bone or horn might break easily, these tablets will survive bending without problem. The surface of well-prepared parchment is naturally quite smooth and will polish some more with use. With these properties, the parchment tablets are wonderful for weaving with historical material, presentations in a museum environment (please be aware that inkle looms and "tablet weave looms" are not medieval at all!), and well-suited for wide, many-tablet bands. If you are used to or happy weaving with cardboard tablets, these are a perfect historical alternative.

The parchment tablets are made completely by hand in my own workshop. The material is traditionally prepared parchment from calf hide. Being parchment, they can be marked, coloured, scribbled on - whatever is needed or desired. With a thickness of about 0,6 mm for most of them, they are slim enough so that handling a larger stack is easily possible - but stiff and wide enough to grasp them easily and that marking the edge of one tablet will clearly show.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Gory Needle Details

Pins and even more so needles are an archaeological problem because they are so small. This means that unless there is a nest of pins or needles or unless there is a huge stroke of luck, these tiny metal rods will never be found. If they ever survived the corrosive surroundings in damp soil, that is - something that iron or steel might not take these surroundings as kindly as copper alloy. And then these rare items are so much overlooked - because duh, of course they had needles, that's an everyday item, isn't it? - that there is no collation of needle articles or archaeological needle knowledge yet.

There are two possible ways to find out what needles were in use. One way is to find surviving specimens, analyse them, and if possible make some replicas and try them out. That, of course, is quite difficult because of the scarcity of finds and well-published needles.

The other way is by deduction. It is against all logic that medieval people bought extremely costly materials like gold thread and fine silk to weave enormously fine fabrics and embroider them all over with beautiful, awe-inspiring motifs using a huge, bulky (needle) bodkin only, dragging this huge metal abnormity through their costly fine fabric! Fine fabrics require fine tools, and not only density, but fabric type makes a difference too in which tools are needed.

Both ways - deduction as well as the rare archaeological finds - will lead to the conclusion that fine needles were manufactured and used, and that medieval needles were at least partly also made of steel.

The needles offered here are made from non-stainless steel; stainless steel is a more modern invention. Non-stainless means that the needles might discolour with use due to skin oils. Any discolouring can be removed by polishing the needle with extremely fine sandpaper. Better, though, is the prevention by storing the needles dry, not using them with wet or dirty fingers, and best is storing them in a scrap of wool with lanolin content to conserve them.

They have relatively large eyes in a flattened head, designed to take the thread through the fabric without rubbing it and are thus perfect for embroidery with delicate silk or gold threads. This means they are not only wonderful for stitching cloth together, but very well suited for embroidery too.

The needles are completely hand-made by one of the few remaining traditional needle-makers - in Japan, because traditional needle-making has about died out in Germany.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Beeswax, reloaded.


I have already posted a snippet about beeswax some time ago, when I had freshly made my blocks of wax. So here is the version for "All the gory details":

Beeswax is still used for sewing today, sold especially in quilting shops as a little helper for waxing threads for easier use. Drawing the thread over the surface of a beeswax block will lightly coat the thread surface with wax, protecting it from abrasion by the needle eye. Simultaneously, any surplus twist from the plying and winding process is removed from the thread, much reducing its tendency to develop kinks and tangles. Especially linen threads profit a lot from waxing.

Use of beeswax in textile work is documented for medieval times through different written accounts like inventory or acquisition lists. Rests of organic matter identified as wax were also found on pinked edges of cloth, sealing the cuts in their crisp, neat appearance. There are no finds of wax pieces in context with sewing - but like most organic matter, beeswax will quickly decay in the ground.
Beeswax was also used to protect the edges of a cutout embroidery on linen before sewing it into place, or to waterproof linen. That, of course, will use more beeswax than just waxing the threads.

The wax offered here is produced from modern bees (of course), of very high quality and very clean - wax of similar quality is often used in cosmetic production. The wax comes in blocks that were made using modern equipment.