Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Here. Have some Goldwork.

Because of both Tannenberg and the liveARCH conference in Hungary coming up, I am away for the next two weeks - so no blogging during this time. Regular blogging will continue on Monday, October 12.

Today, instead of another instance of the "Gory Details" series, you get a sneak preview of things to come in the market stall. Ages ago, I have already blogged about gold thread once, still pondering whether to carry some or not. Some while later, I made the decision to give it a try. After all, the worst that can happen is that I have to do goldwork for the rest of my life to use all the thread!

Meanwhile, things have progressed, and I have received the sample in final thickness and quality. And just as I had expected, the quality is outstanding, the thread is extremely beautiful, and I am very much looking forward to the day that I can offer it in the market stall.

Of course, before placing the final order, I had to play with the gold thread, having fun brocading and embroidering dutifully test the thread for its suitability for both brocade and embroidery. And here you see the results:

The cent coin is included for scale. On top left, you see part of an unfinished embroidered (couched) motif from 12th century Villach-Judendorf, with the gold thread couched on in pairs. The different shades are made by using green and red silk thread - plant dyed by Sabine and also for sale (coming soon in the "Gory Details" series). It's amazing how much coloured shading this will give - and giving colours to the gold by stitching with the fine silk and giving textures by strategical placing of the stitches really is a delighting and delicious work.

Left of the coin, you can still see most of the steel needle I worked with (and still threaded in with green). And right of the coin is a tablet-woven band, eleven tablets threaded with Gütermann silk in a dark red shade and brocaded with the gold thread, again taken double. While the picture does more or less catch the look of the embroidery, the brocade on the band gave me a hard time photographing it, and the picture doesn't do it justice. It shines and glitters in real life and looks really, really expensive. (Well, it is.)

You can click on the picture to see it much larger, but please don't look too closely at the quality of the weaving and stitching - these are the first bits I made, it was just playing around with it to get a first impression, and I have not really worked with gold thread before. But the thread is wonderful to work with, smooth and flexible and very, very golden. And I just could not keep all this shininess to myself any longer!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Linen sewing thread

Good-quality linen thread makes sewing a much more pleasant experience, but linen often features slubs in the single threads. These slubs are not only a nuisance when working, they also mean a weak spot in the thread.

I have searched for nice, smooth, sturdy linen thread for quite some time, and I am happy to have found one finally with no or next to no slubs and imperfections in the thread. Each little spool holds 20 m of thread. If you sew much more with linen thread, larger quantities are possible - just contact me.The thread is a little thinner than the "Sternzwirn" often used by Germans and is plied from three singles in Z-direction. Three singles plied make a smoother thread than two singles, and almost all linen yarns nowadays are plied from three or even more singles. Unfortunately, finds from linen are very, very rare, so we don't know if two- or three-ply linen (or another configuration still) was most common.

The thread is either fully bleached or not fully bleached. White linen is often mentioned in medieval texts, stressing the whiteness, so fully bleached linen does fit into that picture. However, bleaching the fibre to this very light shade would mean a long time in preparing and bleaching, so if you like your sewing thread a little more low-key, you can take the not-quite-white shade.

While brown paper is not an authentic medieval packaging, I have chosen it because it is easy to handle, quite eco-friendly and cheap. The brown paper will at least not be blatantly modern-looking in a historical sewing kit; and if necessary, rewinding 20 m of thread onto a wooden spool will not take very long.

Linen thread is very strong (unless buried in soil, where the slightly acidic milieu dissolves vegetable fibres), but can be harmed by too much rubbing from the needle eye in one spot. So when using linen thread, make sure the eye of your needle has no sharp ridges, and move the needle further along the thread at regular intervals while sewing. Lightly waxing the linen thread with beeswax will significantly protect the linen yarn and also inhibit tangling of longer threads, so while I recommend waxing most sewing threads, it really is a "must do" with linen.

Monday, 28 September 2009


Pins and needles are precious - especially if you are buying hand-made pins and needles. So you should have a place for safe keeping of these fine, pricey helpers, and best if that is also convenient to use.

This pincushion-in-the-box was designed for safe keeping and carrying around of pins, combining a box for protection with the convenience and ease-of-use of a pincushion. The cushion itself is sewn from linen, tightly filled with wood shavings to give a pleasant, firm and long-lived cushion, and covered with wool cloth. It sits in the lid of a round wooden box, pleasantly weighted by a hefty sheet of copper between cushion and lid that will not only keep it from sliding around on your table too easily but also prevent the pins from accidentally piercing through the thin layer of wood. The rest of the box goes on as a lid, keeping the pins from dust, dirt, childrens' fingers or other harmful things. For use, simply take off the cover and place the cushion on your table or on the cover turned upside down.

This pincushion is a joy to have for everybody who likes to use pincushions and does textile work in more places than the home sewing spot. Packing a pincushion can't be easier - put on the cover and throw in with the rest of tools and supplies.

Cushion is hand-made and hand-sewn. Woolen cover cloth in several colours, your own material can be used on request. Materials used were available in the middle ages, except the glue fixing the cushion into the box lid; authentic glue can be used on request. The box is a modern machine-made one, glued from rather thin wood slivers, so it is not strictly authentic (for a better authentic look, hide the cover once it's taken off and only display the cushion). Each one is a little different, so if you want something especially high (filling all the box) or low (allowing to keep an occasional needle in the closed box), just contact me.

How medieval is a pin-cushion itself? That is a hard question. On the few illustrations that I have found showing sewing people or tailors, I could not find any pin-cushions. This can be because there were none in the Middle Ages or they were seen as so commonplace or so unimportant that they were not shown. Personally, I would suspect that making something pin-cushion-like for keeping pins handy yet safe should be a quite old concept. And I have never been asked that question while using the pin-cushion, it's just such an ordinary tool for the sewing table.

Friday, 25 September 2009

All the Gory Details

So the voices that spoke up on my post about the market stall and how much info should be included on each item more or less all spoke for "all the gory details", even if just speaking for themselves. But it might be a nice thing also for the real-life market customers to be able to check back on the ol' interwebz what they bought and what the story behind really is.

This means I'll set up the market stall page with a small picture of each item and a short description and price, and give a link to "the story behind" or some similar phrase, where all the details are listed about the item.

And to get this done in decent time, I will run a series called "All the Gory Details" on this blog from now for the next few days, each day tackling a new item from the market stall - because blog time is already a little chunk of time reserved for writing each day, and not trying to get it all done at once feels very relaxing. The new series will start on Monday, if nothing untoward happens... and I hope that you will enjoy to hear the background stories of the items on my market stall table.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Hit the Ugly Rearing Head!

I've half finished one of the most dreaded chores in my freelancer's business life: Bookkeeping. And I don't even know why I dread it that much (though by far not as much as the dentist!). It's not so bad once I sit down to do it, and since I have a very very simple system, it's not even complicated.

Oh, what system? Well... pile all un-booked things, including unbooked bank statements in a spot on the desk. When booking, go through pile paper by paper, booking each item into freeware software (easy-to-use programme, but in German only, and I don't want to be without that little helper again). Then put all items into a folder. Keeping track is very easy then: If it's in the folder, it's been booked. If not, then not.

So while keeping up with books only takes a few minutes for a whole month, out of some unknown reason, I have the tendency to wait until bad conscience cannot be ignored any longer. And while I'm not sure that my general style of working would benefit from a change, I am very sure that just booking things once a month, regularly, would be quite sensible. Now I only need a way to remind myself to book things regularly... preferably in a nice, fun way.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Market Stall Organisation

While working on the real wood-and-cloth market stall, thinking about the selection and presentation of goods and working simultaneously on the "market stall" website, I'm pondering how to sort and how to present the goods on the website - and what and how much information to provide with each piece.

I carry a few replicas - like the spindle sticks, the netting needles, naturally dyed silk threads, and so on. However, I don't have "perfect" replicas for sale in the sense of the original material is used for the replicas (the correct metal, the correct wood) and that they are made using only medieval tools and methods (and that would be really pricey). In addition, I carry some goods that are part or complete conjecture - I have pincushions to keep pins and needles safe, I have parchment tablets for weaving. And finally, there are some things that are first seen later than the middle ages, like the "Nähsteine", where I'm actually not sure whether they were not used before the 17th or 18th century or whether usage was just so normal/unspectacular that they are not shown on the few pictures that we have from medieval sewing work.

When people come to me on the market to buy real-life, they can just ask and I can explain and discuss things with them. In the internet - not so easy. It is of course possible to mail or phone, but takes significantly more effort to do so.
So the big question is: Do I need to write the story behind each of the objects on the market stall webpage? Or would nobody care? Do you, as buyer of things as LH equipment want to know exactly what, where, when, why? (Personally, I would.) Comments and input, anyone?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Work style

My usual style of working slightly resembles a multi-front war: Tackling several items from the list at the same time, which means that I work a bit here and then switch to another thing on the list, and maybe later to a third one. This is partially due to necessary waiting between steps on single projects, partially because sometimes I think it's faster to answer an e-mail and do the corresponding bit of work on a project at once rather than mark the mail and get back to it later on, and partially because I like some variation.

This has, as everything in life, its upsides and downsides. An upside is that I get to work on the project that currently tickles my fancy rather than stick to "Plan A", and that I am very flexible - if some grand idea occurs for one thing, I'm used to switching and will continue with the grand idea and the things it brings with it. The downside is that of course time and energy is lost in translation from one project to the next - and even if the loss is small, it will be there.

In the past months, I have often wondered whether it would be worth trying to finish one thing with absolute priority first and then go down on the list - and frankly, I'm not sure I am willing to try this. Once a deadline approaches for one of the projects, I know I'm perfectly capable of putting that project up front, and everything else does take a back seat, but I don't know if that style of work would suit me and the rather big variety of topics and projects I have in planning, under way or in postprocessing at any given point in time. So for the moment - until I get an inspiration what to change and how, or any grand hints by you, dear readers - I will probably just go on like I'm used to, working on more projects more or less parallel. Which also means that I will have my usual seemingly slow progress with things.

Speaking of progress: There actually is some for several things - planning for the new market stall has done a quite big leap, and this project is now ready for the scissors, needle and thread phase. I have done enough progress on my new (very thin silk thread) hairnet to actually see the proper mesh and for better demonstration - the very first rows are somewhat unspectacular for the viewer. So my weekend was rather productive, and this feels very good.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Early Textiles Study Group conference

I have received a call for papers (on the usual labyrinthine ways these things take) for next year's Early Textiles Study Group conference that will be held in the UK. The theme will be colour and the organisers are aiming for an even contribution of technical and sartorial papers.

So since the organiser in her original mail asked to pass this on to interested parties, for all the dyers and colour people out there, you can find the full CfP as a .pdf behind this link.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Normal life has me back.

Now, slowly, I remember the things that I was planning to tackle before the Forum took over completely - smaller things as well as medium to big things (like the website relaunch, finishing an instructional video for netting and finding out how much fabric is needed for the new small market stall).

Yesterday, though, was mostly spent with the experiment dataset. I'm still looking at and photographing each spinner's individual output and playing around with the weights spun to see if there are general tendencies. And there are, and yet not. While for example spinner A made a totally predictable yarn only influenced by the fibres - with one fibre smoother, thinner yarn than the other - other participants have two sorts of yarn, quite thin and very thick, and they have no obvious connection to either spindle or fibre. It does need a seriously wacky spinning instrument to throw them out of their usual yarn type and thickness range, though, and sometimes not even the wackiest of spindles will do that. So this is a very intriguing start, and I hope I will find some more connections or possible connections.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Brain Test

During the Forum week, we of course chatted about all kinds of things (though most of them fibre-related), and of course there were requests to share this or that link or site.

So here's the Brain Test, my part - let's see if I can remember what I was supposed to.

First of all, of course, there's Phiala's String Page (where I made my first braiding steps many years ago) and where the now-famed and coveted pdf about tablet weave structures may be found. The accompanying talk lit quite a few lightbulbs in tablet weavers' heads!

There's a video on Youtube I talked about - no, wait, there's more. First there are the two wonderful and calming videos showing short-draw and long-draw spinning by Ruth MacGregor that I linked already here. (At the Forum, I had the joy of getting taught long-draw by Ruth herself. I can now spin thick and fluffy yarn, hooray and huzzah! And Ruth in person is even more calm and friendly than her videos suggest.) Then there's the incredibly speedy weaving on an inkle loom, to be found here.

Then there was mention of the Tsarina of Tsocks. If anyone can tempt me to add knitting to my stash of textile techniques, it is her with her incredibly beautiful socks! There's also a blog where she writes about tsocks (who would have guessed?)

Another thing I frequently mentioned to several persons (mainly day-guests and visitors, though) is Therèse de Dillmont's book. If you have not yet found out about it, go visit the webpage where the whole book (in the English version) is available for free!

Oh, and I am also supposed to put up pictures of the event (and the spinning) on the Textilforum website, send around the list of adresses of the participants and analyse and evaluate the data from the experiment. Which will all happen, and soon.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Sleep deficiencies back to normal (almost)

I took the day off yesterday (well, mostly) and had a wonderfully relaxing time just reading, snacking, relaxing and napping, so now my wakefulness-levels are almost normal again.

Now that I'm in the quiet of my own little study again (crammed full with the boxes of the experiment), I really start to miss the chatter and bad jokes and friendly banter and "string talk" of last week. And slowly I realise that the Textilforum has indeed taken place, that we really did it, that the experiment was really wildly successful, and that I have a heap of things to remember the wonderful week by, including my first ever badge for making a fire without more than two matches (heehee! All that training was worth it!), the most ugly cardboard-piggybank ever made by man or woman (and a very well-fed one at that, thanks to the generous people at the Forum) and the now-famed cat timer that usually resides on my workdesk but had taken a venture out and did some important work in the spinning experiment.

There are already some pictures online at Phiala's blog, summing up nicely all the things that went on, including the silliness. Here's a random picture taken during the spinning experiment (they are not sorted yet, of course...):

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Back home from Textilforum

I arrived back home from Eindhoven yesterday evening, after a week of all things good and fibrey (or stringy). More than a hundred of spindles were spun upon, masses of tablets turned, waffles and chocolate eaten, large quantities of coffee and tea consumed, and laughter and fun abounded.

The Textilforum was everything I had hoped and wished for: A meeting place for craftspeople and scientists, a place to chat and exchange knowledge and personal experiences with different historical techniques, to network and have fun together, a place to do some shopping for textile-crafts-related things and tools that cannot be found just everywhere, and an opportunity to have some nice, juicy bits of science that requires more than just one or two skilled craftspersons. So overall, a complete success, and I am sure that every visitor to the Forum also went home with something new and delightful learned.

For the experiment, I had the joy and privilege of working together with fifteen wonderful spinners to generate a really large dataset that will help a lot for researching spinning and spindle whorls in the future. This dataset and lots of number-crunching from it will probably keep me on my toes for the next few days and weeks, but the data already looks very, very promising. The first results were already presented to the spinners and lecture audience on Saturday evening, and more results are the topic of my talk at the liveARCH conference in Hungary in October. A good reason to set to work on all the cops of yarn and questionnaires!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Another Week Off

As this blog's regular readers will know (and even the semi-regular readers, as much as I've blogged about it), this week is Textilforum week at Eindhoven, and I will be busy with running the spinning experiment and chatting real-life with lots of other historical textile enthusiasts.

For you, this means you can come to Eindhoven and have a chat with me as well - or wait for regular blogging to resume probably Tuesday week after next.

And if Eindhoven is too far away from you, but Erlangen is not, and you are looking for some hands-on experience: I will be giving an introductory course at the Begegnungszentrum Bruck on eight Monday evenings, starting on the 21st of September.

Friday, 4 September 2009

I can't believe it...

I have a really hard time believing that the Textilforum will be so soon. After preparing for it since we conceived the idea last year in October, which feels like ages ago, it's a kind of weird feeling that it all actually happens. And I am really, really excited about it, packing, printing and preparing like a madwoman. I would like to take my entire stack of things, projects and literature, but alas - I will have to sort out a few things that are most important to me and take only those.

While I'm busy, you can go and look at two Youtube videos about spinning worsted style and woolen style, posted by Ruth MacGregor (who will also come to the Forum). She's showing how to spin woolens and worsteds, and I finally really understood the difference between them. Besides, when you can't do some actual calming, comforting spinning, these videos are almost as good for calm and comfort - thank you, Ruth!

(And watching this video made my fingers itch. Badly. Very, very badly. I think I need to sit down for some quiet wheel time one of these days...)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Repetitio est mater taediorum!

I think that the red digits of numbers 9, 10 and 11 are already burned into my retina from weighing and packing about 300 portions of wool. And making little paper documentation slips for packing with the spun threads is not as tedious as writing each by hand, but still... change spindle type. change date. save as. print as pdf (two pages). change spindle type. change date. and so on. repeat with changed session and wool. That's somehow... mind-numbing. (But I'm finished now, and only need to print out the .pdf files.

Add to this the fact that I have decided (half-last-minute) that it would be nifty to make a statistic of how all the whorls turned out, and that it would be good to have a more accurate weight for all the plastic bags with wool in them, and voilà! there I will sit weighing things again. Once I've made it into town and bought some appropriate scales, that is.

Otherwise, not much has happened - I'm still thinking and preparing for the Forum and the experiment, while inbetween trying to take care of the last things that have stacked up during my holidays. And as usual, things always take longer than they ought to - and I'm sorry for whining that much, right in front of your eyes, right on your screen...

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Experiment, more of the (almost) same

Since yesterday afternoon, fourty plywood discs in two different sizes and thicknesses are peacefully lying on a heap together, completing my selection of experimental spindle whorls. Thank goodness for the invention of power tools and "circle cutters"! Though even with that multi-watt support, it took me a while of fiddling with the large plywood sheets, the cutting gadget (a very cheap tool and accordingly fiddly to use) and the drill in its stand before I found out how to best cut the discs. But in the end, the archaeologist prevailed!

Now all the hard bits of the preparation are finally finished, and the whorls have turned out not to be perfect, but at least very good, and absolutely sufficient for the experimental purposes. So whew! The power of trial runs and solid calculations (with a huge lot of help from André Verhecken) is proven again.

A lot of the wool is already portioned and packaged, and today I'll take care of the rest of packaging before finishing the plywood with a light sanding around the edges and then... glueing the spindle whorls and spindles together.

This is something I would never do under ordinary circumstances. Who would want a spindle that can't be equipped with a different whorl, after all? "Those folks" back in the middle ages certainly didn't need glue to keep their spindle whorls on the spindle, the double-conical form was enough.

But since I am using chopsticks as spindle sticks (totally non-medieval, just like the plywood and the modern glue for assembling these), and since the plywood needs some glue to keep on the stick, and because I just want to make sure that none of the whorls slips off during the experiment, glue it is.

After the spindles are assembled, there's not much left to do for the experiment - preparing the documentation, writing down my notes for the "prep talk" before we start and packing all the things needed for transport to Eindhoven, no more. And well that this is so, since the experiment will start on Tuesday morning next week.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Experiments are Awesome - but lots of work...

I'm still weighing and packaging wool, preparing spindles and preparing "starter yarn" for the spinning experiment, so the living room is quite taken over by the huge box of unpacked wool and the boxes with wool in plastic bags. Thankfully, once the air is out of the bags and they are sealed, they are pretty slim and thus quite manageable. I think I've never weighed and portioned off so much wool in my entire life!

While thinking about experiment details yesterday, I have also found a solution to keep all the spinning procedures as much the same as possible - which means to slide off the spun yarn after the first hour and start a new batch with the second wool type, again with an empty spindle and using a starter thread. And fortunately, I have also found something to slide the spun wool on.

There's still things left to decide, though. Should the spinning be done with the two wools in the same order every day? Say, first the fine and then the coarser wool, or vice versa? Is it better to do spinning of one spindle on one day, or is it better to change spindles and spin with two different ones, a new one after the first hour? Maybe this changing would diminish a big "getting-used-to" effect (but then, I'd guess that getting used to a new spindle won't take longer than five to ten minutes). Still, changing spindles would give at least a bit of the need to get used to it back, especially since changing spindles in the experiment means a vastly different tool to work with. And it would give me enough time to slide each bunch of spun yarn off the spindle stick and onto its storage tube, weigh it and label it as necessary.

Details like these are what I find so very fascinating about archaeological experiments. Even if you take a very simple thing to find out about as the basis of the experiment, it will get down to details that might not seem much at first glance, but that might be making or breaking the whole thing.
Our experiment basic idea is quite, quite simple: Find out about the influences of the different factors in spinning with a hand spindle. There are only three main factors, the spinner, the fibre, and the spindle itself; but the latter already offers two influencing elements, its moment of inertia and its weight. The spinner's influence can only be estimated if all the other influences are well known, so we only need to find out about these. The approach to that is like in any laboratory work: If you want to find out what a specific value does, just change that value and nothing else. And that is exactly what we did in designing and calculating four whorls, starting with a "reference whorl" corresponding to an actual archaeological piece in both weight and moment of inertia. (This, by the way, was not easy - the calculating was, but trying to guesstimate the shrinkage of clay from wet to fired and developing a method to get whorls all alike each other did prove difficult.)

So now we have five whorls and two sorts of wool, fine and coarse - the only thing we need to do now is run the actual experiment, with up to twenty spinners each spinning ten hours altogether, one hour per fibre and spindle. And, of course, deciding which spindle goes into action when, and with which fibre, and in what order. And what to document, and when, and how (you can never document too much, but you can't write down something that you haven't thought about...). And how to label each test batch. And, and, and...

Which gets me back to the title of today's post: Experiments are Awesome! But they always seem to multiply their demands on time and brain cells. And they never end up as harmless as they seem at the beginning.