Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tents and Stalls

Though really beautiful, our current tent is not very well suited to show-and-tell or sale of goods on medieval markets or events. So I'm saddled with the need for an additional market stall to take with me when I'm on my own for a market. And that, as usual, brings all sorts of problems.

First of all, the medieval markets we have here today are mostly show-events for the enjoyment of visitors, both contemporary and LH*-visitors, while a more comparable event to the real medieval markets/fairs would probably be a modern (business) fair or one of the old-fashioned "Jahrmärkte" where there are mostly stalls selling things and only some muncheonettes and very, very few amusement rides (like a carousel for children, and that's it). So for the medieval market, there is a lot of logistic but very, very varying sales figures for the sellers (while stuff to munch on is always bought).

Today's medieval markets are roughly split into two sorts of events: Those for the modern visitors and those for the LH folks. Both types are, of course, frequented by both groups, but usually an event has its focus on one of the groups. Markets for modern visitors will either offer information (or should I write infotainment, since it is usually perceived as entertaining) and a few goods for sale (that might or might not be on sale for actually selling a lot, but also for displaying things on offer in the middle ages). That is a good visitor-oriented market. If it's a bad one, it looks a bit like Disneyland trying to go into the past: Usually some non-medieval music somewhere, foodbooths liberally using potatoes and other modern food, and the stalls are obviously geared towards selling Hollywood-medievalistic-seeming trinkets to unsuspecting visitors. Sprinkle this with a generous serving of bad clothes, clichés and misinformation, and you are done. These can be a really bad experience.**
Markets geared towards LH folks ("Lagermärkte" in German) usually have lots of non-selling LH people there for their enjoyment and a large market area with booths and stalls selling mostly things needed (or wanted) for LH purposes. Those events are where you can buy naturally dyed cloth and yarn, hand-made copper-alloy pins and needles, buckles and brooches, boxes from wood, plates, beakers, glasswares, leatherwares, you name it. Target buyers for the stalls are mostly LH participants and visitors. In case you ever wondered, this is where we do lots of our shopping, planning, and drooling over things too expensive, not in our time or not in our status range, but still so beautiful they are worth sighing over.

So the LH markets are more like a modern business fair in some respect and as such closer to the real medieval market (probably minus the hundreds of large tents on the camp areas). And like the sellers going to the markets a few hundred years ago, today's sellers are faced with rather large logistics problems.

As a seller, you need a place and way to present the goods and some space to sleep. You need to hide your own clothes and paraphernalia somewhere (like a chest or covered basket), you need to bring decoration and, of course, the goods. All that stuff has to fit into a vehicle for transport and you have to be able to set up your tent or stall in an adequate time and preferably without lots of helpers. And for those who like it authentic today, there's not too much documentation.

Since bringing stalls would have been a huge logistic effort in the middle ages, but stalls are regularly seen on pictures, I'm wondering - were those stalls semi-permanent fixtures, set up in spring and taken down after the last market in autumn? Were they stalls of regular market sellers from the region? Did sellers for a larger market with wider catchment area bring their own stalls and booths? Everything - cloth and wood - or just the cloth, cutting the wood parts from nearby? Did they bring cooking gear (I'd doubt it) or did they buy their food? And how did the stalls look like? What worked for what kind of profession or offered goods?

While I'm wondering about that, I'm trying to design a stall that will at least look plausible to the not-too-critical eye. And meets my requirements: Fits in the car (this limits the maximum length of the poles); is made of cloth, wood and leather with little or no metal; can be closed completely for nights and for bad weather; small yet offering enough space to display/sell, show-and-tell and sleep; cloth from linen, tightly woven so no water comes through, and half-bleached for enough light inside the stall; with a crossbeam for hanging garments in the typical medieval way of garment presentation at a tailor shop; and if at all possible, can be set up by me on my own (which also limits total height, since I cannot reach higher than 2,15 m without something to stand on.

So after a lot of planning and great fun while tinkering (and even fun doing the maths required), I present to you: My model of the future market stall. The small chopstick figure beside the table, that's me, and the tall chap (or chop?) is a 2 metre tall visitor (who had to duck a tiny bit for coming in). It doesn't have the side parts, of course, but there's a crossbeam with a dress hanging over it and my future table with a display stand on it and there's even a curtain to close off a little space for sleeping and storing stuff in the back. And all on the rather small footprint of ca. 2,5 on 2,5 metres. I like it!

* Living History, of course. I warned you several times in this blog that I'm lazy, didn't I?
**Unfortunately, it's hard to tell which kind it will be just from reading "Medieval Market There and Then" on a poster. There could be money made with a detector, I guess...

Monday, 29 June 2009

Monday, Fun day!

I had a really nice weekend, including a wonderfully productive and fulfilling Friday and Saturday. Much of Friday was spent chatting and plotting things with two fellow archaeologists - one of them in personal union the goldsmith making my netting needles. So on that afternoon, a few more ideas developed for the range of goods for me to carry. The stall is developing into something catering to textile workers and enthusiasts of all textile disciplines current in the middle ages: Tailoring and sewing, narrow wares, netting, embroidery, and some more odds and ends. I won't carry fibres (since there are enough people for that, and most textile folks already have one or more sources for fibre), but odds, ends, and things connected to stitching and textile crafts.

Since the visit on Friday, I now have six more netting needles, as tools when holding workshops or for sale. They are just as beautiful and just as polished as my own one, and here's proof:

And just because of that incredible net from St.-Truiden, I had also ordered a really small netting needle. Really really small. And here it is, made from copper wire, with a shank diameter of a gigantic full millimetre! I'm really delighted with it, and I will try it out with my new, extra-fine silk thread - another thing that will be offered for sale.

I talked about a really productive weekend, didn't I? Saturday morning gave me a head start on something nice and special for the embroidery fraction, though that idea is still under development and therefore still top secret. The wood for the netting gauges is standing in the living room, waiting to be cut into pieces and sanded down. The concept for the stall is also developing - but more about all those things in another post...

Friday, 26 June 2009

Google Penance

Inspired by Got Medieval's Google Penances, I'm going to do one, too. When I checked my blog stats some days ago, I found somebody had done a search for "tricks to faster hand sewing", thus landing on my blog. I actually had a few conversations about our modern love for speed during show-and-tell last weekend, so sewing faster by hand or concern about the length of time needed seems to be the thing at the moment.

Well, gentle reader, I regret to tell you: There is no trick. Or, to put it more precisely: There is an end to getting faster. Somehow, our modern age got obsessed with speed. Add a new machine, make a process more efficient, tune an existing machine and voilà - the process is a bit faster. Well, if you are working hand sewn seams, I can tell you: forget that. Yes, you will get faster in the beginning, when your motions for sewing are still not second nature, and of course your stitching will get more even and (usually) smaller over time. But there is a point not of no return, but of no additional speed, because pulling a needle through fabric just takes a certain amount of time, and nothing will change that. And for hand sewing - just as for many other crafts that use no machines, gadgets or automatons - there is no use in trying to push that limit.

Think of it like hand-writing, a process you will all know (hopefully): You can write extra slow for special nice characters (though that might result in the contrary, if one tries too hard); you can write in normal speed for efficient, well-discernible writing (unless you have a bad scrawl by default); or you can try to write faster, usually resulting in less discernible writing, a lot of stress and a cramped hand for a small gain in speed.

With sewing, it's the same. I once tried to sew a hood as fast as possible, just to try - it took me exactly the same amount of time as when sewing normal speed, but with sloppy, bad seams instead of the regular neat ones. And if that's not an argument against hurrying, I don't know what is.

So for these kinds of (historic and modern) handiwork, you'll just have to face it: It will take a certain minimum amount of time. You can tweak your sewing times for handsewing by not using a huge load of pins and pinning every seam before sewing (that's for machined work), but by only using one or two pins and transferring them as you progress, or basting if you need a longer stretch; by using the appropriate stitches - like not back-stitching unstressed lines of thick woolen fabric; and by using appropriate, good tools (needles) and threads (the latter not in excessive length). And after that? Face it. It takes me about 30 hours of work (not including breaks - I work with a stopwatch) to make a simple dress, about 20 hours to make an underdress, and about 25-30 hours to make a simple hairnet. A hood will typically take between 4 and 8 hours, depending on cloth, buttoning, liripipe, seam and hem finishes etcetera - something that always figures in the time needed and that cannot always be calculated exactly beforehand. I have tablet weaves where I progress a full 5 cm in an hour, due to the fineness of the threads and the pattern. And that is just the time it takes. Even if I tried, I could work no faster.

But I find that accepting this fact leads to a different view of time and of work, and it can help to calm down in our modern need-for-speed world. And that, too, is something to treasure - just like the finished hand-sewn pieces that took their time.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Morning Routines

I seem to have slipped into a new routine - I'm taking care of the odds and ends first thing in the morning, like replying or sending off and e-mail and similar small tasks. Somehow, I find this pleasing - and I have the added benefit of starting the day with small, manageable things that give some satisfaction on completion. And that is really nice to have if the rest of the day is spent with long-term work.

The only downside I see at the moment is that the odds and ends might take a little longer than planned - like today, where I thought I had plenty of time to take care of this, that, and that, and still get to blogging before ten. Obviously, that has not happened. But as reconciliation, I can tell you that one of the mails this morning was in pursuit of nice, exciting textile tools to offer in the future!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The End is Nigh!

I'm almost through with translation work - which has dragged on longer than planned because I just didn't manage to work very long at translating without a break But now I'm very close to sending it out for a read-over (thanks to J.P.), and that will be one burden off my back.

All the rest of the thesis work is going on, too - transforming pics to grayscale, checking picture sizes, sorting in colour and monochrome. But here, too, I'm making progress, and at the moment, I'll be content with just that. I've also done some small jobs on the side to get onwards with my product line acquiring, and feel like good things can happen here too...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Work as usual

I'm making progress on several of my front lines, though not as fast as I would like to - for example, there is still a lot of stuff in my car from the weekend, waiting to get carried back inside and put away (maybe washed before, or sorted out) until next time.

Meanwhile, the product line ideas are coming in (and suggestions are still welcome, if you know of something textile-related that you'd like to see in a stall), the summary is getting translated, I have about caught up on missed sleep and am generally quite happy, if a little whelmed by things still left to do and think out. And that also means I'll keep you updated here, but will probably not present a very sciency or time-consuming blog post during this and next week - even if that bugs me, because I have a beautiful idea lying around half-prepared in the draft section. (Now that I've hinted at it, you can look forward to that like I do, and I'm not alone in waiting!)

Monday, 22 June 2009

Back home from talking two days non-stop

Today's blog is a little later than usual, because I came home rather late from the Lamboy-Fest in Hanau. In case you are living in the Hanau area, I can tell you: it's well worth a visit. A colourful, beautiful street festival with music, walking acts (creative and fun walking acts with stunningly beautiful costumes) and loads of exquisite international food. And, of course, we added our "mobile museum" to the scene, on a totally well-suited location. Our "artisan's market square" was on the little square in front of the Goldschmiedehaus in Hanau, right inside the Lamboy-Fest area and yet separated enough by the change of city topography to be something special.

We had lots and lots of visitors, and I found myself either drinking, eating, or talking, demonstrating (again) making of medieval hairnets. Filet, I find, is very well suited for demonstrating medieval textile stuff, because it catches people's eyes and makes them linger. And then they are mine to talk to! (Insert maniacal laughter here.) But I also had quite a few talks and explanations about medieval sewing and garments - and a lot of visitors asked me whether there are any customers for my filet work nowadays. Which was a wonderful opening for me to explain about textiles as status symbols and that most people today will decide in favor of the modern status object when deciding whether to invest the sum (about 700 Euros upwards) in a medieval knotted hairnet or in Gucci sunglasses, a new-fangled TV, a new computer, a pair of designer jeans, you go on with the list. And that to my regret, knotted hairnets usually lose this contest today - while in the middle ages, there would have been many more customers!

And isn't that a nice way to drive the importance of medieval textiles home to unsuspecting visitors?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Oh wow it's Friday already!

Unfortunately, printing in colour is really, really expensive, so for the thesis publication, my editor and I agreed on a reasonable number of colour plates. Which means that there are quite a few colour illustrations that have to be converted to grayscale, since I just kept all colour pics for the submission copies. So most of yesterday was spent converting colour figures and pictures from my thesis to monochrome pics while making sure that the important details stay discernable.

Picture editing work is half exciting and half mind-numbing. The same processes and checking files for the same things over and over again makes it mind-numbing - but tweaking contrast, brightness and gamma curves for best results has to be done for each pic individually, so it's nothing for a batch job. Sometimes the details come out even better in the monochrome version - that is when it gets really exciting - while sometimes it's a battle you can hardly win. Because I knew that not all would transfer nicely to monochrome, I checked first - there should be enough colour plate for all the really difficult pics in addition to the pictures that I want printed in colour for other reasons (like, usually, exciting colours on real garments).

So... I made good progress with the conversions, though there are still quite a few left to do. Good thing my thesis has only four hundred and eight pics!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Spinning Experiment, again

A huge box blocks the entry to my study - wool for the spinning experiment has arrived! We now have wonderful wool for the experiment, one very fine Merino and one medium-fine wool, all beautifully prepared, thanks to the Wollmeister. With the last batch of test whorls it now really feels as if serious progress is taking place.

Speaking of which, since I'm off to Hanau tomorrow for the "Lamboy-Fest", I'd better make some serious progress on the rest of my work...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Acquiring a product line

Parallel to all the other things going on work-wise, I'm using some of my time to build a product line for medieval textile fun. A product line, of course, centered on
a) things that have their use for medieval sewing, tailoring and other stitching and
b) things that are not readily available in gazillions of other stalls or internet shops for Living History. Well, the latter part should not be such a problem, since there are not so many offers for sewing stuff around. Ever noticed how sparsely stocked "sewing and needlework" sections are, compared to "weapons and armour"? Which also means that b) encompasses all those things that I've been searching unsuccessfully for years. Like handmade steel needles, in a size where you can actually use them - and for sewing, not as assassination tools. Like netting needles, formed after medieval finds and so smooth it is a joy to work with them. Like real gold thread in thicknesses that are truly medieval (which, by the way, is quite, quite fine - about 0,2 mm). Like fine smooth linen thread and extra-fine silk thread for sewing. Coloured fine wool and silk threads for stitching - sewing or embroidery - or fine weaving, coloured with natural dyes (that will still take a bit, though). Like heavily weighted sewing cushions ("Nähsteine") and good, firm pin-cushions, no modern techniques used in making them, of course. And proper, spindle-shaped spindles for your favourite stickless whorl. Small trinkets like needle-cases and thimbles that are seldom offered. Have I forgotten something?

And once I have all this... I'll see if I get rich or ruined trying to sell it.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Oh my...

The heap of work lying before me (and the list listing even more things to do) has not only stayed the same, but grown yesterday. Actually grown... and since quite a few of these tasks are things that take a bit longer than five to ten minutes... I can't complain of boredom. Add to that the fact that on a first day back at work after vacation I never seem to accomplish much, I'm feeling a bit inundated.

At least I managed to fetch the next test whorls for the spinning experiment, nicely fired, and I already did a short test run. I won't tell how it went in detail, but the reference whorl (about same weight and same moment of inertia as an archaeological object) spun very nicely. I also made some progress on the translation part, did a little bit of proofreading of an article, and wrote the obligatory few e-mails. And now for more of the same agenda.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Back home...

I'm back from our little vacation and working my way through the list of e-mails that arrived during the last few days. While I'm busy getting both my real and my virtual household back into working order, you can amuse yourselves with this picture of a medieval wandering household, complete with baby:

The image caption says it's jugglers/artists travelling. It's a coloured xylograph, single-leaf prints from about 1450. Today at the Herzog-Anton-Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig.

What I really like about this picture is that it shows a lot of medieval household items. You can see half a kitchen sticking out from the woman's carrycloth around her back... and as a true multitasking female, she's not only travelling, keeping all the household stuff, looking after the livestock (see the chickens on her head?) and looking after the baby, she's also spinning at the same time. Amazing. And modern folks say there's a lot of pressure on women nowadays...

Source: UITZ, ERIKA: Die Frau im Mittelalter. Wien 2003. Page 102.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Feeling lonely?

It's been ages since I last posted about the Textilforum, so it's high time. And I have a reason, too: We have extended the deadline for registration to June 30. There are still some spaces left for participants at the museum, so if your occupation includes historical textile crafts - research, reconstruction, analysis, conservation, replicating - you are welcome to join us at the Forum. We also need a few more handspinners (handspindle only) to make the required twenty that we need for the spinning experiment. If you are a handspinner and able to spin an even thread for two hours, you could be part of this nifty bit of science!

If you don't know what I'm talking about: The Textilforum is intended to get people working with historical textile crafts into contact with each other - because it can be a very lonely affair. So we would like to link both professionals and amateurs (like living history folks) in this Forum, where there will be ample time to work, chat, and exchange hints and tips with each other. There will be some programme provided - presentations about research or projects in the evenings - and we'll run an archaeological experiment, the spinning experiment, during the mornings. The rest of time is free; think "gigantic enormous conference coffee break".

You can read more about the Forum on our website, www.textilforum.org, and you can also register there: Go to Call for Papers site, and on the bottom, you will find the link for registration. See you in Eindhoven!

Oh, and you can read me here again next week - I'm off for a few days' vacation, before summer work stress really hits...

Friday, 5 June 2009

Productivity things

Yesterday I had to spend some of my work time away from the computer, which resulted in a ginormously long list of things to do - and now I'll see how much of it I can tackle and cross off today, before the week is over. And this has led me to think about productivity and productivity-boosting.

Today I have actually managed to try out one of the productivity hints floating around over the internet: Don't read email first thing in the morning. I think I'll give this another try on Monday, because working for an hour straight before looking into the mail the first time really feels nice - like having achieved something already before taking care of the important and (many more) not-so-important mails. And who would mind a bit more productivity?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Feeling expensive today?

I'm feeling like something classy and really pricey today. So here's something for those that feel like me: A fabric photo of so-called "St. Elisabeth's Cloak". It is a silk and gold fabric, woven probably in Sicily, 2nd quarter 13th century. It's in a Elisabethine convent in Klagenfurt nowadays.

I'm amazed again and again by cloth like this. Something made of rich gold-and-silk must have been worth a fortune, or several fortunes, and still it was woven, sold and made into garments. In some cases, there has been so much gold in old garments that it could be "recovered" from church garments after secularisation - by burning the cloth.

And, as usual, using finer threads or costly materials isn't the only thing for "upgrading". Instead, the fine, expensive materials are usually connected to more work, more complicated patterns - even if halving the thread thickness would already mean more work time, because of four times the number of threads.

But then, textile work seems to always rise exponentially when going finer or more complicated. Thinner threads for weaving? Much more work, regardless of loom type (and it is also true for tablet weaves). Smaller mesh for netting? Much more work. Thinner threads for embroidery? You know the answer. Add an extra pattern weft? Guess what happens. Braiding with fine threads? Uuuuh, takes ages. And it doesn't start with handling and manipulating threads - it starts with making them. Spinning fine will mean more time needed to spin for the same amount of fabric - because half the thread thickness means four times the number of threads. And then, spinning fine makes reattaching the spindle after a break more difficult; increasingly difficulty with thinness. I've tried to go as thin as possible, and sometimes it takes several tries after the thread broke to get a good connection between spun and unspun again. So it really pays to spin a little slower and with more concentration - and once more, it takes longer.

It's the same every time you go "finer, thinner, more" with textile: Work time does not scale up proportional to thread thickness. And that's something to keep in mind when looking at historical textiles, too.

Picture source: TROPPER, PETER (Hrsg.): Hemma von Gurk. Katalog der Ausstellung auf Schloß Straßburg/Kärnten, 14. Mai bis 26. Oktober 1988. Klagenfurt 1988.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Oh, do we have a video?

For the exhibition next month in Bad Staffelstein, we have planned to install a TV somewhere in the rooms and show some video snippets of textile techniques there - because if you've never seen a handspindle before, you can probably not imagine how it looks being used and how it works. So today is the day that we will make the video for the snippets - thank goodness for friends who are always helpful!

I'm planning to do spinning, netting, tablet weaving (showing some twill sequences) and a bit of fingerloop braiding. I hope we can get all this done, and I have to get buzzing now to prepare everything so it won't take too long to change technique.

And I still have to decide whether to wear modern or medieval clothing...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Business as usual.

Today's blog comes a little later than usual - not because I forgot to blog, but because I had to take care of some other things first after the long weekend.

I'm currently working on the translation of my thesis summary, so that the German book has at least an English summary. There's still a bit to go, and after translating, I'll need some proofreading, but it is progressing nicely. Apart from that, there's not much exciting stuff happening at the moment, at least not in the work part of my life - things running more or less smoothly, if a bit slowly sometimes...