Friday, 29 May 2009

Netting Needles, hooray!

I've been busy with some scheming, and it looks as if I'll be able to teach netting soon in the future. We have found some material to work netting needles that does not involve hours and hours of hammering a thick rod down into a thin rod, and thus needles can be made that won't cost a fortune. The first two of the new generation are still unpolished but about finished otherwise...

Beautiful tools, made after a proper source (an archaeological find from London), to spread again knowledge about an old, beautiful textile technique - what's not to love?

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Togs from Bogs - have you ever seen this?

I just realised that it's been ages since I last posted something textile-y that is nice and old... so I picked something out at random.
Here you go:

Have you ever seen something like this?


It's a very special textile, but not a proper garment. It seems to be a mix of a burial shroud and a grave garment. You can see the armscyes and a neckopening, and the legs were covered with the leg parts. I'm always reminded a little bit of a baby's romper suit, though the wearer of this expensive, patterned silk lampas certainly didn't romp about anymore, and the piece can have covered only his front.

The piece comes from the grave of Rudolf IV, died 1365. This object is really one-of-a-kind; we know normal garments worn normally in death (especially when accidents happened in bogs), we have lots of proper garments used as shroud textiles in Herjolfsnæs, and we have special grave garments that are only basted together, but still follow the normal tailoring scheme more or less. There is no parallel that I know of for Rudolf IV's shroud/garment. It's the time of short men's jackets and tight-fitting hose. Maybe that was the reason why they cut into a large piece of perfectly fine lampas for some fake tailoring - to have a quick yet costly-looking and representative burial dress for the corpse. He died in July in Milano, and the corpse was transported to Austria to bury it there, so it's possible to imagine why dressing it in proper garments might not have been possible anymore, which would be another reason for a special solution like this.

Whatever the cause, it still looks splendid, and I can easily imagine that when the cloth was used back in 1365, it was fit for a representative burial. And for us today, it tells a bit more about the possibilities and the ingenious solutions of burial problems in the middle ages - the dead body has to represent status, wealth, position, rank, not only until the grave, but right into it. And this has to be achieved no matter if the dead is already decomposing or not...

Picture source: MARINI, PAOLA, NAPIONE, ETTORE und VARANINI, GIAN MARIA (Hrsg.): Cangrande della Scala. La morte e il corredo di un principe nel medioevo europeo. Venedig 2004, page 127.

Oh, and by the way, this is post number 100 in this blog - so happy hundredpostiversary!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

What's this with conference deadlines?

The deadline for the Textilforum Call for Papers is officially over. But... there are still places left. We have planned for 50 persons staying in at the museum (and I do think it's a good deal, even if you have to bring your own bedding), and I had thought that we would have no problem filling these places. Heck, there have been so many positive comments all over, I was sure we'd have no problem.

I know that it is a common thing to extend conference CfP deadlines, and I also know that I'm one of those people registering in the last week before deadline (or even on the last day). And that it can happen that I miss a deadline, too. So we'll extend our deadline to fill some more of the places.

However, I'm wondering why there have been so few registrees. Is it my fault? Has the wording been bad? Is the participant questionnaire too hard to find? Does it sound as if we don't want people to come? Maybe it sounds as if you have to give a paper or bring a poster or else you can't come? While we appreciate paper/poster offers, these are no absolute requirement. So if you are an archaeologist, conservator, hand weaver, hand spinner, historical textile person and have an interest in historical textile techniques, come join us! And we still need spinners for our experiment, too - so if you are a handspinner and would like to participate in the spinning experiment, do fill out the questionnaire and come have fun doing science!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


It's busy time here in my study: the taxes can finally be finished off (I needed one last receipt for that), there's things to be done for the thesis printing, last-preparations-wise - like the cover - and a gazillion of emails to write. At least my brain has jumped into idea mode for the cover design, so I can try out a few basic concepts and see how they might work.

Which is why I'm off to my graphics programme now.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Fun with paper!

The long weekend is over, and I have found a flood of mails in my inbox and a heap of things to do. Around Ascension, I traditionally get together with a handful of other people to do some bookbinding work*, which means a fun combination of creativity, friendly banter and precise measuring. This always gets me totally absorbed and has the positive side effect of practical things coming out in the end - folders for sorting or transporting loose papers, books or folders suitable as presents, copies bound together in book form, well-read books lovingly repaired and restored to function, and - last but not least - boxes. I like doing boxes. Handmade ones are sturdy, lightweight, and really beautiful. This year's yield is still being pressed so it will dry straight and true, so no proper photos yet, but three years ago I made this:

I love getting out of the normal flow of things for a long weekend off, preferably doing something that really and completely takes my thoughts away from the work back home, but I always find it a tiny bit hard to get back into the workflow on the Monday after that. And that's just what I need to do now.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Chopsticks, chopsticks!

I am inundated in chopsticks, and that is a Good Thing - because these cheap, all-alike, slim and slightly conical things will serve as the spindle sticks for the Spinning Experiment.

I have thought long and hard about what I could take for the experiment. One of the first ideas was to have twenty spindles and four different whorls each, and rotate the whorls during the spinning process. But then there is another variation in the process, one we can't measure or calculate: The order of spinning with different spindles in the test. What if it makes a difference whether someone starts the experiment spinning with spindle A and then B as opposed to spinning with spindle C and then A? And so on? So I arrived at the conclusion that the safest bet would be to give everybody the same spindle at the same time.

Which means making one hundred twenty spindle whorls (plus a few to spare in case of unforeseen desasters). And ideally, attaching all those whorls to a spindle stick so that they can't slip when you drop the spindle (something I do fairly often with an unknown, new and maybe awkwardly running spindle). Which means - as one possible solution - to glue a stick to each whorl. Which in turn means making one hundred twenty spindles glued together... with identical whorls and identical spindle sticks. There. Since our budget is not so big (read: nonexistent), cheap was not an option but a requirement. And slim, identical, slightly conical-at-the-top, round sticks for little money? You got it. Chopsticks.

That is why I am sitting here with a box, newly arrived, containing one hundred pairs of Taiwanese bamboo chopsticks. Next time, when we have won the lottery got a budget for a similar experiment, we might use proper sticks for another spinning experiment. For now, bamboo will do.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Cover up...

The time has come to think about the cover of the book, and I'm not all sure what direction to choose. It should have something to do with tailoring, preferably - so do I try to find a medieval picture of a tailor's workshop? Or do I use a photograph of modern replicas for tailoring - pins, needles, shears, fabric, spools of thread? As a still-life or in action, with more or less of somebody working visible? Or a collage, mixing a medieval picture with the photograph?

Any suggestions, gentle readers? What would you expect or prefer on a book whose title says something on the lines of "Construction and sewing technique of secular medieval garments"?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Dreams and reality

A few days ago (yes, I'm slow) I stumbled over the video of Susan Boyle singing "I dreamed a dream" in the talent show "Britain's Got Talent". In the following days, I read a bit about her (not so much to find) and Paul Potts, her predecessor-in-spirit. And this whole thing got me thinking about dreams and dreams come true.

As far as I can see, Susan Boyle tried to get onto stage seriously for ages. It was not her first public act, nor was it her first try for fame - she already appeared on another TV show some time earlier (but with no success). Now the media are in disagreement whether she can really sing or not, whether she is a nice lady or a bitchy person, whether she is loved because she's a singing nobody shooting to fame or because she's a star that just had to wait a long time to be born. And I just read an article by Spiegel Online (german news thingie) saying it's all a mass media super-hype and like Paul Pott, she won't make it after her first few weeks of fame.

I think the important thing is not whether Paul Pott or Susan Boyle will remain successful - or even stars - for a long time. The important lesson, for me, is that both had a dream and tried to make it come true. Only time will tell how well somebody shooting to fame can adapt to the new surroundings and the new style of life, and nobody knows whether Paul and Susan will one day regret their successful appearance on the talent show.

But that's always the thing with dreams, or with great plans: that nobody knows how it will turn out in the end. You just have to decide whether you want to risk failure or whether you prefer to go on dreaming forever. And once you have decided, you "just" need that dash of luck for a go.

And then? Once your dream is live, you can't stop. You can't let go, and you'll never be safe again. As long as it is only a dream, it's easy to forget about the little hitches in the process, the bad times, the sorrows, the dangers. You just imagine the upsides and maybe daydream about how you handle things, competent and sure the whole time. The dream come live might be a different thing entirely, and you will probably face aspects that you had not wanted. And because you can fail when living the dream, it is not safe anymore. You are not safe anymore.

The bigger the dream, the bigger might failure be. My dream was a lot smaller (and easier) - I only wanted to find out things about medieval garments. To find out how they were made, how it all connects, why medieval clothes look like they do. As stupid as that might sound, writing my thesis was fulfilling my dream. It hasn't brought me to fame, it won't make me rich (unless I win the lottery), but it made me very, very happy. When I started out, I met with a lot of sceptical comments and looks, and people even outright told me that a project like this wouldn't work. Still, it did. There's much left to find out about, and there always will, because clothing is so variegated and multifaceted, and there's so little left that we will always have to speculate - but I made my try, I feel it was successful, and my work will serve as help or starting point for others, which is an incredibly wonderful thing to achieve.

I had a dream, and I had a chance to go at it - I was incredibly lucky in having so much support, moral and financial, for my try. It took some time, and I'm not sure how it will all turn out in the end, but I feel very privileged because I could give it all a try. It could have gone totally and utterly bad, though, and something can still happen and cause trouble. And as long as my book, and therefore, the dream-come-true exists, something can always happen - maybe somebody finds out that everything I have written is complete and utter bullshit (which would be science, but unpleasant for me nevertheless). So in that aspect, I'll never be safe again. And I'll gladly give up this safety as a price to be paid, for my dream coming live. I'm happy with how it all turned out.

For Susan Boyle, I hope that she will be happy with her dream come live - that she will adapt to the new situation and still stay herself. That she won't regret her shot at fame and a singer's career, however it might turn out. And that she is willing to pay the price for a dream coming into existence.

Monday, 18 May 2009

: )

Today is one of those days... where I just can't think of anything interesting to blog about. And maybe that is due to my decision to do money-related things today - finish off my taxes and take care of some other odds and ends.

So, for your amusement and mine, here is a half-related picture. In German, "Kohle" originally means coal or charcoal, but it is also used colloqiual to mean "money" (or dough, if you prefer the English colloquialism).

So here's a picture of me harvesting coal from a small charcoal kiln I ran together with some friends a few years ago. Making coal like that is quite a bit of work, but it's also a huge lot of fun! The coal in the basket I hold is the last remnant harvested, that is why there is so much straw mixed in.

It's dirty, dusty work, and that is why I am veiled like that. Coal is a good thing to have, but coal dust in the lungs not necessarily so...

Friday, 15 May 2009

It's Friday, hooray!

And this week has definitely seen good progress textiles-wise - yesterday evening was spent working on the new blue hairnet. I'm adding in two rows with double-length mesh and putting those to good use by beading them. Which means every second mesh gets a bead pulled over it before I go on netting. Which is, how shall I put it... a tiny bit tedious. More whining and pictures due to follow in the course of the next few days.

I've also ended (won, I'd say) my struggle against the article. Now I hope that the outcome is ok - that's the downside of writing about something for the umpteenth time. Even if the topic of the article is just a spin-off of The Topic, there's enough crossover left. And after some time, it really is hard to keep what you're writing in perspective; the fact that you have already explained it in depth and on paper somewhere else, after all, does not mean that the readers of Shiny New Article all have read and memorised it. So I hope that I managed to put all the important bits in. I'll be so happy once The Topic is finally off in print, and therefore, finished for a while... not that I don't love thinking and talking and experimenting about garments, but after more than four years of intensive work on that, I feel like wanting a break to concentrate on something else for a while.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Progress... and tablet weave insights

I've almost won my struggle with the unwieldy article - just the pictures left to insert, a once-over on the text and bibliography, and then it's finished. Whew!

In other progress news, I did a bit more on the play-band yesterday evening, so the warp is almost used up now. Besides playing around with turning sequences and finally trying a few pattern variations I've wanted to try for ages, I have arrived at the conclusion that for weaving freestyle knotwork patterns, the "less is more" approach won't work properly.

I set up this play-band with twelve tablets only, because that is a number that will already allow to see some interesting patterning, can be divided into two small, easy to handle packs of six tablets when doing a split of direction in the middle, and is fast to work even in twill - since there aren't many tablets to shift from one pack to the other. Because the band is intended as a teaching tool/workshop helper, those were things I thought important (and I'm still sure it is a very good width and setup for learning how to do twill).

To give me a greater variation of things to try out on the band, I looked for pattern inspiration on other bands (both my own, older play-band sequences and pictures of bands on the internet). There were some simple knot-style patterns that I drafted for trying on my band, and to my delight I found that an astounding lot of patterns will just be possible to do with such a slim band.

However, when weaving those tiny patterns with knotwork elements, I found that while twelve tablets will technically work, it is utterly complicated... because there is so little time. I'd finish one of the red pattern lines, running from the outside to the middle of the band and going back into twill to have only that pattern line visible on the band. But the band is so slim that I can't get into a proper twill pattern there, because already a complete reversion of weave direction is needed, or I have to start out on the next pattern bit. And the other tablets also need attention because of go-into-twill, come-out-of-twill or some patterning in their sequence. That is just too much on too short notice and too little room - and I imagine that on a wider band with more tablets, there is much more time to let this section twill on quietly while you care for the pattern bit in the other section. Also, the sets of tablets going mainly this or that direction were too small. Try working a twill structure with 12 tablets divided into four sets - that is three tablets only per set; much too few to see the structure or get into the rhythm of the thing. And rhythm and structure both are very important to me when weaving, since I hate nothing more than following a pattern draft line by line and counting off tablets (first forward, second backwards, third and fourth forwards, yuck!)

Well, since the play-band is almost finished, and since I have some nice silk lying around for a wider band, and since I wanted to weave a slim belt for some fittings I still have around... I think I'll make the warp for the new band a tad longer and play for a bit, just to see if freestyle knotwork is better possible on a band with 40 tablets.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Planning for the spinning experiment is still going on - there are a lot of things to consider, including how to extract the data out of all those yarns spun during the experiment time. A part of yesterday was spent doing test spinnings with all the test whorls I have made for the experiment. I found them all to be more or less workable, though some felt really, really awkward.

Then there's a paper to finish that is somehow not really willing to be finished. I'm glad (for a change) that the deadline for this is coming closer and closer, so there's only so long I can procrastinate by taking care of the hundred other odds and ends on my list. Including the daily blog - so time to rush off to that word processor.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Spinning Experiment Calculations

In preparation for the spinning experiment on the Textilforum, I need to figure out how much fibres to calculate for each participant. And to get a first impression, I spun with the carded and combed wool I have at hand - one hour in my normal thickness, and another hour as thick as I could manage.

Now I'm one of those people who have a very limited range of thickness when spinning. And (unfortunately for this purpose) it is rather on the fine side. So I ended up with two very different-sized balls of yarn; I wound them off today and weighed them with my letter scales.

The "Thick Yarn" weighs in at about 8 g for one hour's spinning time. It is pretty uneven, in spite of my trying oh-so-hard to spin a decently smooth and even yarn. Thick stuff is just not for me. Here you see the sorry results of my thick-spinning:

Beside the huge (haha), bulky and uneven ball of thick yarn, you can see what I spun as my normal thin yarn. The weight? Somewhere between one and two grammes. Both yarns spun with the same wool on the same spindle (which was about double the weight of the reference whorl for the experiment, and fitted with a rather heavy wooden spindle stick). When wound onto a ruler, the thick wool gives about 20 threads per inch, the thin one about 12 threads per quarter-inch.

So now I've outed myself as a thin-spinning freak, can any spinners of thick yarn out there give me a rough estimate of how much fiber in grammes they hand-spindle away in one hour? Just to check against my calculations? I'd be very grateful...

Monday, 11 May 2009

The sun is shining, the grass is green...

That was a really pleasant, wonderful and relaxing weekend - spent mostly at home, doing necessary things for the medieval gear (like cleaning and shining shoes and washing textile stuff) at a leisurely pace, eating yummy things (like really tasty asparagus and strawberry cream cake), reading and doing some fun weaving.

The fun weaving is in preparation for a tablet weaving workshop, scheduled for August. The workshop is meant to teach people already experienced with threaded-in patterned tablet weaves how to do free patterning and double-faced weaves in twill structure, by showing the underlying mechanics of the weaving process. And in preparation of this, I'm weaving a "play-band". A band like that - used for playing around with different turning techniques and developing patterns - is what we'll weave in the workshop, to each her (or his) own play-band.

The warp I made for my preparation thing is relatively thick, plied silk yarn in red and off-white. I used the opportunity to try some patterns I had drafted from other bands before proper playing, but the hours yesterday were spent with fun combining of turning sequences, pattern pieces and twill. The thing I like most about play-bands? First of all, there are no real mistakes. You can just do things. The worst that can happen is that either you get totally blown away pattern-wise and have to turn the tablets back into starting sequence, or that you end up on the back of the band with your pattern. Then you can either tablet-turn your way up again or you just flip the band and go on where your pattern has gone to. And occasionally, there's a real nice pattern piece in the sequences that turns up by chance... and on a play-band you can take the time and space to isolate this pattern bit by placing it on a twill background.

And I had an obscene amount of fun yesterday weaving this pattern bit:

Guess which of these three will win the race?

Friday, 8 May 2009

Why is time running faster and faster?

I have a huge backlog of things that I'd like to blog about, but most of them need a bit more than 20 or so minutes for a quick blog. And somehow it really feels as if time is going faster and faster each year (or each month, even) - must be me getting old.

I remember reading once that the subjective feel of time is really, really slow when you are young, so the time perception "middle of life" is about the twentieth year of life. That sort of explains why six weeks of summer holiday in childhood seemed like an eternity, but six weeks nowadays are so short. Hrmph.

I have a fresh to-do-list lying here, I've managed to cross some things off yesterday, but one of them is "finish, proofread and send off a paper" and that will probably take at least until Monday afternoon. The paper is a spin-off from my thesis and is mostly about the possibilities the experiments with garments offer - a more in-depth look at these compared to the thesis part, with some additional aspects. So I'm off to the text editor.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The new hairnet

Because the spiralled net was more or less a practice piece (to try out spiralling and to get my fingers back into netting) and because netting really is a surefire way to attract attention to textile works while keeping the mind unoccupied enough to chat with people, I started a new net right away in Freienfels.

It has the same huge 4 mm mesh size, but is worked with much thinner thread, so it's much closer to historical pieces. The thread might still be thinner, and the mesh could be smaller, but I'll take it slowly for a change. Plus it's not so easy to get superthin yet resilient silk thread.

Here you see the new net after nine hours of work. Cast-on went a lot smoother this time, since I stuck to the tried and tested method described by Therèse de Dillmont. Even though, it felt really fiddly due to the thin, fly-away threads (and since I did this out of doors, there actually was some wind to "help" from time to time). I'd say that netting with the fine thread does take a bit longer than with the thicker thread, even with identical mesh size and numbers, because the thin silk likes to crumple or curl up, and I'm a bit more careful with the fine net than with the sturdier one. Hence a little less work speed.

Cast-on loops are about 2 cm long, and cast-on was on a thick linen ply. A second loop of the linen thread serves as holding loop. I have switched completely to working with my new "Nähstein" now that I have finished making it. In case you didn't ever hear of that before, a Nähstein is a weighted pincushion that serves as the third hand to hold netting work or sewing work - and it's so practical! I'll post a picture of the Nähstein in action as soon as I get somebody to take it.

The new net is worked in YLI Silk 100, with the same netting needle and the same mesh stick that I used for the last one (hence the same mesh size). It is worked in the round, and on this picture you can or cannot see the meshes where transition into the next row takes place. Click on the picture to see it larger. Making one full round with the full number of mesh loops takes me about half an hour - so you can go ahead and try to calculate how long the whole thing would take with straightforward netting all through.

I used the hairnet with the embroidered arms as an inspiration - that is why you see the first rounds of blue netting on the pictures. I'm planning to put pearls on the net, in blue sections. The first test of getting a pearl over the mesh was successful, but it will still need some rows before I do it for real. I'm really, really excited to find out whether it works like I planned it!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Hairnet finished - well, almost...

The red-and-white hairnet that I've been working on is finished apart from the last finishing touches. I put in the last knots during Freienfels, and I started another one right away - same mesh size, but thinner thread. The plan is to put pearls in the mesh of the new net.

First of all, here's the photo of the finished piece. It turned out with a diameter of a little more than 30 centimetres when laid out flat on a surface, and it took 29 and 3/4 hours to get it to this stage, net working time since I work with a stopwatch. (I miscalculated during the weekend and told people a larger amount of time. I'm not happy about that, since I like to get my numbers right, but I'm still content that I erred on the side of longer work time. And everybody watching could see how long it takes to make the mesh...)
It is still lacking a band that will be attached to the mesh in front of the net and drawn through the longer loops on the back of the net - this allows some width adjustment when wearing the piece. It also still needs the finishing touches: a proper crown closure with silk thread (there's still the pink cotton thread in it that I used as a foundation loop), snipping off the rest of ends, and wetting it down to dry set over a bowl or something similar almost-head-shaped.

On this closeup, you can see the colour change between red and white, marring the impression that the net is worked in the round.

I'd say that an unadorned, simple net might well be worked in a spiral, since it will take very hard looking to see that: In the crown section, there's too much thread on too small an area, and the lower end of the net, if stitched to a band or sporting longer loops for closure, will not be easy to read. For any net that will show different size mesh, colour changes or embroidered patterns, spirals are out of the game, because they are just irregular enough to show. And according to my experience, netting in the round will not take much longer - there's only one slightly more fiddly point once each round where you transition into the next row; compared to the amount of time needed to complete the round, the slight slow-down there is not even worth mentioning.

Edit Jan 21, 2010: This is not correct - there is evidence that nets with colour changes and different size mesh and what-have-you were also netted in a continuous spiral. Please see update here.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Everything back to normal?

After sleeping a little longer to make up for the lack of naps during the long weekend, I'm almost done with catching up on my mail and other backlog of stuff.

Freienfels was fine, with very good weather - lots of sunshine, and pretty warm during the day. I met and talked with lots of nice people, both visitors and participants, and met some folks that I only knew by name face to face for the first time. The only downside was the place of my tent/stall - right behind the stage, with a lot of very, very loud music. Since I'm mostly an info stall (workshop possibilities and, most important this year, book promotion for my thesis), music so loud that you have to shout to your visitors is not really helpful.

Still, I'm content. Now there's the usual post-event work to do: Sort out all the stuff, clean and wash what has gotten dirty, put the ordered things away again, and so on and so on. In my case, I'm also planning to build a proper stall for presenting on markets, since our tent is very nice, very practical to sleep in, but not suited to presenting clothes and textiles to people...

Monday, 4 May 2009

Spring brings good news!

I'm back from the long weekend (first of May is a holiday here) with really good news:
Finally, the long wait is over. The application for grant money was successful, and now VG Wort pays a large part of the costs for material and printing. After waiting and hoping for so long, we can now set to work again, preparing the book for the print run: Layout and pictures have to be fitted to the book format, the English summary put in, layout of the colour plates needs to be done, and so on...

This means it will still take time until pre-ordering is possible - but now we can be sure that we can offer the book with good paper and a good binding for a very fair price. Which is just what I had hoped for, hooray!