Wednesday, 22 December 2010

It's time.

It's time... time to realise that the year 2010 is almost over - there's just a few more days in it for us, and most of these will hopefully be taken up by meeting family, catching up, eating, drinking and making merry. And that makes it time to take a little look back on the year gone by...

2010 has been a busy year for me, with lots of things happening - the book got out, I traveled a bit more than the year before, our Textile Forum went to Italy for a wonderful week at the Archeoparc, and I got married to the most patient of all men (a November wedding with outside photography makes you really grateful for a warm room afterwards), and we had a wonderful wedding, celebrating with friends and family. The TGV, my new little market stall tent, sprung into existence in only eight days of crazed frantic sewing, right before the season started with Freienfels, and has since housed (tented?) me well on the markets and fairs of the season. And this little blog successfully got through its second year (with only a very slight decline in post count compared to last year). Conferences and markets brought me into contact with a lot of new people and brought forth both lots of laughter and fun and good, serious discussions.

Looking back on it, it was a really full year, and a really good year as well. It did bring its bad moments, but we made it safely through, and I had plenty of good and glorious times to counter the bad bits. So now that the year is almost over, I'm looking back happily - and I'm looking forward to find out what 2011 will bring and be.

It's time to settle into the festive mood for the last few days of the year, and that means it's also time for me to wish you all wonderful holidays and a good start into 2011 (the first year in this millenium not to wear at least two zeros in its number!) Have a good time, as little stress as possible, and enjoy the quiet and dark bit of the year!

(I am determined to do so too, and take a nice long relaxing break - proper regular just-the-same-as-2010-blogging will resume on January 7th. See you on the flip side!)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Workshop Date!

After a long silence on the topic of workshops, I finally have a date again to offer you. On 25-27 of February 2011, there is a medieval weekend on the Schönburg in Oberwesel am Rhein where I am part of the workshop programme.

I will give a workshop "Making an Undertunic" which will introduce the participants to seams and stitch types that were in use during the Middle Ages as well as the basic principles in planning, cutting and sewing an undertunic/undershirt for the medieval wardrobe. But that's not all: After this one-day stint, you will get a very special tablet weaving course on the following day, short but juicy - an introduction to the too-little-known technique of brocaded tablet weaving. This is really, really easy to learn so even total beginners can get started in this workshop.

And if you would like to bring someone else (maybe even somebody not so interested in textile stuff - I hear that people like that do exist), there's also fighting or woodworking in the offer. You can learn more and book via the organising group's homepage, Mittelalter-Treff - and I'd be delighted to meet you at the Schönburg in February!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Flash Yulekorts

Last year, I do not remember how or through what, I stumbled across a flash "yulekort" (Xmas-Card) from a Norwegian company called Arkikon. Their job is to take archaeological facts and make them understandable for the public by supplying films or photographs. So it's no wonder that they had a little flash yulekort - and I did enjoy that one so much that I actually bookmarked it, and it's still bookmarked.

And this year, true to expectations, they have a new one. Go check it out - it's quite tongue-in-cheek, I think (and nice even if neither the archaeological excavation nor the reconstruction are portrayed correctly). And if you don't know it yet, go see last year's card as well (it's still my personal favourite).

Friday, 17 December 2010

Medical history meets fashion.

When doing my daily bit of aimless link-clicking yesterday, I stumbled across a very, very interesting article via, titled "The codpiece: Social fashion or medical need?" The short version of the article: The development of the prominent codpiece might be closely connected to a strain of Syphilis running rampant at that time, with symptoms including swelling of the genitals and treatment involving local bandages that, in addition to the swollen private parts, have to go somewhere.

This, to me, is another proof that clothes and what we call today the "development of fashion" are connected closely to a lot of other areas of daily life, even to things like illnesses. Availability (or scarcity) of certain materials and colours, climate changes, influences by marriages in the upper crust, availability or scarcity of food, work or travel requirements and social signaling, age and wealth as well as fads in the smaller social groups one is involved in and, of course, personal taste all blended (and still blend) together to a complex influence on the wardrobe of each person in history.

This blend is so complex that we will never be able to pinpoint all its ingredients for a person that lived in history - it would probably not even be possible to correctly analyse the blend for a person currently living, I suppose, since a lot of the elements are probably not things said person reflects upon. However, that makes this article about a connection between illness and fashion even more delightful to me: There is another factor that can actually be traced by an interdisciplinary approach, adding more knowledge about the mix. And at the same time, this proves that a) looking beyond one's own discipline is a really, really good thing and b) that we can never be too open-minded when we are looking at the history of garment development.

By the way, if you don't know yet, make sure to take a look around - it's a very interesting page!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

We're working on it.

Here's to let you know about one (more) thing we are working on: Next year's Textile Forum. There's no update on the website yet, but for all of you who have been wondering about whether or not there will be a Textile Forum III: yes, there will be one. And next time, to keep things interesting after going to Eindhoven in the Netherlands and then Schnals in South Tyrol, Italy, we'll go to... England.

There's been a lot of high-quality Living History in Britain for a good long time, and I think the UK was the absolute pioneer of using Living History in museum presentations to make the past more accessible to the visitors. Plus a few of the really widely known books about textile finds come from England, like "Textiles and Clothing", for example. So... we are very happy to be "away from the Continent" for our next Forum!

We'll let you know more through the usual channels once we have figured out the details - through this blog, the Textile Forum website and the Forum newsletter (subscription instructions on the Forum website under "Newsletter"). And can you believe I'm already looking forward to September and the Forum?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

'Tis the season.

It is the season to drink Earl Grey tea again, since the sky has a tendency to be gray and cloudy, and eat Lebkuchen. And bake "Weihnachtsplätzchen" (christmas cookies). And meet with friends and chat or watch a film together, and stay up way too late because it's so nice. And find something yummy in the advent calendar each day.

When I was a child, the yearly advent calendar with chocolate in it was an absolute must, and all my school colleagues had one as well (plus, in the first few years of school, there was one for the class, and someone different got to open a door every day). And when I got older, that somehow stayed a well-loved tradition for me, as it did for many others of my generation - most of our friends also have a calendar at home.

And because I am a curious person, I checked Wikipedia which in the English version says that advent calendars are mainly produced for children. Well, not so in Germany, where you can find all sorts of advent calendars for grown-ups and very clearly for those only - like those where you get a "Schnapspraline" (chocolate filled with liquid hard liquor) every day. And now I'm wondering... is that really a German thing?
If it is... I think you are missing out. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Another video (but not from me)

Working with a laptop is very nice - it has internal batteries so you can work even if there's no electricity (at least for a while), you can easily take it with you, it takes up little space on the desk even when set up, and there's probably a dozen more reasons. However, laptops also have their little drawbacks - like, for example, that it is not always possible to do an upgrade, or repair something. And probably everybody who has been using a laptop for a while has stumbled across one or more laptop-related problems already.

So... I stumbled over this instruction on how to clean a laptop fan yesterday, and it made me laugh really hard - so I'm passing it on.

Here you go. Clean the fan (or don't).

Monday, 13 December 2010

Cloth buttons - revisited.

I have gotten a few comments on Friday's description about the button-making, and every one of them was asking for photos.

Well... there is a reason why I did not post photos straight with the description (apart from my usual laziness, of course). Those cloth squares are small, and to catch the process properly, quite a lot of photos would be needed. And you'd still not be able to see some of the things.

So instead I now made a small, rather dark, rather bad quality video where you can see the process almost right to the end - our little camera only takes videos up to a certain time in one go. Together with the description from Friday, you should be able to understand what I'm doing there. The bit that is missing at the end is just some more stitching across the underside and neatening up of the button, with stitches that are different from button to button depending on cloth, placement of previous stitches and whatever else makes some buttons come out almost perfectly round and others quite square.

So... I hope the video is what you needed and thus helps you. Have fun!

Friday, 10 December 2010

The things you pick up.

YearsZM3 and years ago, at a small conference in Bamberg that a colleague of mine organised, I met with a few very interesting and very nice ladies. And with one of them, I somehow got to talking about buttons.

That was not so long after I had made a little hood with buttons after Textiles and Clothing, and I had made my buttons just like Crowfoot suggests: Cut a circle, pull it together by sewing along the edge, maybe stuff it with cloth and strengthen it by sewing through it in circles. That did work, but was somehow awkward, and it took quite a long time to do, and left the cut edges of the button quite exposed on the underside.

And Véronique Montembault then told me about a different method, one that she had reconstructed and now used for her cloth buttons: Cut a square of cloth, fold the corners in and fasten them with a few stitches; then fold the corners in again and fasten them; then fold the corners in again. The last fold-and-pull action tightens the button into a roundish shape; if there are still slight corners left, I stitch into them, pull the thread across the underside of the button and stitch into the next protruding bit. With soft fabric, it sometimes helps to make the button nice and firm to stuff a bit extra material into it before folding corners in the second time, but with firm fabric, just the square is enough. The cloth bits for this method are easy to cut out, do not waste fabric, make lovely little buttons in very little time, and all the cut edges of the fabric bits are hidden inside the button where they can't fray at all.

I did not use that knowledge about how to make buttons differently for years - but now I've made a heap of cloth buttons for the Hartenstein garments, and with every button, I felt really glad that I had been to that conference and met with somebody who gave me that little gem of knowledge (she demonstrated with a dark red paper napkin, by the way) that made my life so much easier now and button-making so enjoyable. And now I'm passing it on.

Cut a square out of your button-making fabric; try 3 cm side length for a smaller button, 4 cm for a large one. Thread a needle with thread, make a knot on the end of the thread and stitch through all four corners of the square, front to back, close to the edges and once more through the first corner; pull gently on the thread to bring them together. Now you can push them down onto the middle of the square. I now stitch a small circle around the middle of the now smaller square, to hold the corners down and strengthen the button top. Now stitch through the four new corners again (all four and the first one a second time) and pull together; this gives you a little pyramid shape, or something resembling a flower with four petals. I fix the middle by stitching just once through the button top and back.
Now the final fold. Like before, stitch through the four corners and the first on a second time. Try to squash the button into a rounded button-form with one hand and pull on the sewing thread with the other hand, making the button nice and tight. Stitch into all bits that stick out on the round and pull them together by criss-cross-stitching on the base of the button. When I'm content, I just stitch through the button to the button-top and back again once and then snip the thread.

And that's all there is to a folded button from a square bit of fabric. Enjoy!

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Well, actually, the blogiversary was yesterday. Which I had written in my calendar to make sure that this year I would not again forget when the blogiversary was, and write a post on the actual day.

And then I remembered after posting the blog entry.

So... as of yesterday, this little blog of mine is two years old, and has grown very dear to me in that time. Blogging in the morning has become a daily little ritual (not so little on the days that I find inspiration, though, and write a longer bit), and I actually look forward to blogging again when I've been off-blog for a while.

But a blog is never only about writing - it's only a proper blog if it does get read and enjoyed as well. And blogiversary is, of course, a wonderful opportunity to ask you readers: If you could wish for something on this blog, what would it be? A topic that should be covered more often? Something that has come up too frequently for your taste? Anything else? (Of course I give no guarantees that I will actually fulfil these wishes, but hey, worth a try, isn't it?)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Yeah, well.

A while ago, I stumbled over a video linked on Wormspit's blog, and I'll finally share it with you today. It's kind of fun, though it is also kind of... not really realistic.

There are quite a lot of bits in that film that I would like to see for much longer, and in much more detail, and some things are really not convincing me - like the berry-crushing (for that red? berries? Ah, come on.) or the thickness of the cloth he handles when washing and the fall and drape of the finished curtains. Still, I find this amusing - I don't even know who that Conan is, to be honest, but I can totally get fingering good-quality plant-dyed silk in a luscious red. And a film that shows passion about textile crafts... can it be all bad?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Middle High German on the Internet

Just like all youngsters in my generation, I had to learn a tiny bit of Middle High German when I went to school. But unlike most of my classmates, that old German language somehow fascinated me immensely, and I really enjoyed learning the old-style words of that little poem we had to know by heart (and then recite).

I don't really remember when I immersed myself deeper into that old language, but I picked up enough of it during my time at the Uni to be able to read most texts fluently (with occasional help of a dictionary) and translate the texts into modern German. And that is an immense help, of course, when hunting for garment descriptions and clothes in context, a part of research that I also like very much. Those texts, with their garment descriptions and focus on beauty and fashion in some of them are really invaluable to get an idea of how clothes were supposed to look and what was important for them to fit correctly and give the right picture to the contemporaries; and when I'm looking for text passages about special items, I always turn to the MHDBDB. In case that doesn't ring a bell for you (yet): That's the Middle High German Conceptual Database where you can search for a term and get it with a bit of context from a large number of texts.

And sometimes I want to read a bit more of that text, to see if I have the context correctly or to know a bit more about the scene including my term-in-context, and for that, there's an internet solution as well: Middle High German texts on the Net. So in case you feel a need to read some of them, here's my link list:

Digitales Mittelhochdeutsches Textarchiv
Anthology of Medieval German Literature
Biblioteca Augustana
Erlanger Liste (scroll way down)

Enjoy! (There's a bit of English info in the Anthology, plus translations into modern German, if that is of help for you.)

Monday, 6 December 2010

New week, new energy.

I have successfully started into this week with the new routine, and writing and researching on stuff again does feel wonderful. I now realise that I really missed this kind of work that I somehow didn't get around to do during all of summer - much too long, I think now.

One part of the new project I'm researching for will have to factor in hair and hairstyles in the Middle Ages, a topic I've been pondering for ages now, it seems. And I'm really happy and excited that I will finally have a chance (and the need) to gather all my theories together and test them against the more-or-less hard facts given by pictures and written sources. Hairstyles and haircare are a hairy topic regardless of the time period, since there are so many different ways to work with hair, and no two persons have the same head of hair and the same procedures. And that, of course, means that there's a lot of guesswork to be done, and a lot of things will never be really clear. And in turn, for a try at reproducing old hairstyles, it means that everybody will have to try and see and possibly adapt procedures and details to match the individual hair.

And sometimes I do wonder if that is not the case with all historical reproduction stuff, much more than we today tend to think. There is no "typical medieval person", no more than there is a "typical modern person", but only individuals with their very individual and unique history, and their unique take on things and their own style and set of preferences. Yes, we are all a product of our cultural and social background, but still - there's a lot of personality and individuality in our daily choices, and I'd be very surprised if that was not the case throughout all of history.

Which brings us again to one of the core problems of recreating historical stuff or going for  Living History: the tightrope walk between sticking to the known historical facts only for all things (which is safe, but sometimes not possible, and would let all people that try to re-create a given time in a given area look quite similar) and interpreting stuff freely on basis of things known and things available in the time (which can yield wonderful results, but is not safe because our modern knowledge and modern concepts cannot be erased from our modern heads while doing these interpretations). Ah, the Eternal Dilemma of the Living History Activist.

By the way, my approach to that dilemma is try and get an overview of the archaeological stuff for the item that I want; then take a look at pictures showing said item, to hopefully get an idea of how varied that thing can look; and then decide on how close I can and want to stick to the original.
And then, of course, I try to stay very aware of where I did alter things according to my own interpretations or needs (or even whims) or because of practical reasons, like "but it has to fit into the car" or "I have to be able to carry it" or "I really cannot afford the original material". And when I talk to folks about the item, I usually mention where the sources are from, and how far it has been altered in comparison to the original. A working solution to the Dilemma, for me. And I think Living History would be a much more boring thing if not for that Eternal Dilemma!

Friday, 3 December 2010


Though somehow this week went by fast, I'm still happy that it is Friday already and thus a weekend coming up. I feel the winter now, the cold and the long dark hours, and that somehow saps me of a good amount of energy at the moment so that I have a tendency to feeling tired and listless. The daylight spectrum lamps do help, as do generous amounts of tea and chocolate, but it's still a bit of a drag, and requires more self-ass-kicking than usual.

It's curious somehow that the body does this. And it is, to me, even curiouser somehow that I know it's due to different chemistry levels in the brain, and I can even actually pinpoint the effects this winter weather and winter darkness has on me - a negative thought popping up where usually I'd be optimistic, for example, or falling asleep after dinner - and for all that knowledge that it's just the winter darkness, it will still be an influence. No "I disbelieve this illusion" possible here, unfortunately!

And why on earth is winter still having that effect on people? I mean humans have been living in this area of Europe for how long now? Millenia? And still we haven't adapted properly to the shorter daylight hours and longer nights in wintertime? Oh come on, evolution!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

New routine and Winter Cleaning

I've tried a new routine today to better get myself settled into winter works - an hour (at least) with a nice cup of coffee and no Internet, and working on the new book project I have. It means re-visiting a load of books I read years ago, and I'm really looking forward to writing more again. And hence the new routine to help me slip back into the writing habit. (Which means that should blog posts be a little later than usual this winter, I am probably caught in a writing flash and forgot to blog timely.)

In weather news, we are still getting snow here, though prognosis says it should calm down now and stop snowing today or at least tomorrow. It's pretty cold outside, too, making the snow all fluffy and powdery - not good if you planned on making a snowman, snowwoman, or other snow figure, but perfect for cleaning sheepskins. And that is just what I did this morning, like I do every winter once it's cold and snowy enough. It's quite easy (though a guarantee for cold hands for me): Put the sheepskin fleece-down on top of the deep, cold, fluffy snow, then walk around on the sheepskin until it's nicely rubbed and trampled into the snow. You can leave it out for a bit after that to let it freeze all through or flip it around and let some more snow fall on it - or heap snow on it (wearing gloves, of course) and rub it in. Once your hands are cold and your sheepskin is snowy enough, just shake all the snow out again. If it is properly cold and you shook well enough, there shouldn't be much snow left - and with the snow, dust and dirt go out of the sheepskin, leaving it clean and fresh smelling. Hooray for snow-cleaning!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Our Internet is still acting up and not really moving very fast (with great lags when up- or downloading stuff) which means that all the I'net work that I have to do is tedious at best, nerve-wrackingly impossible at worst.

Which again shows how reliant I have become on the 'net, and how important it is to daily business. Sigh. I hope I can at least get a few mails done now before I move over into the next room to enjoy some work that is totally 'net-independent - hooray for historical textile techniques!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Something new! Something wonderful!

The old year 2010 (can you believe it's almost over already?) is yet bringing something new, and a very, very exciting thing to boot: Last Friday saw the ground-breaking ceremony for a laboratory and workplace especially for Experimental Archaeology in Mayen.

Mayen is a city in the volcanic Eifel region in Germany, with a long history as an economic centre. Nowadays, the region is visited for the very special landscape that still shows volcanic activity. And now it will gain a new attraction, at least for experimental archaeologists: The Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology aims to provide the infrastructure and logistics for experiments that are difficult to run otherwise, with different workspaces and proper laboratories to make first analyses. I think that sounds like heaven, and I am very happy that a project like this has now officially taken off and is being built!

If you understand German (or are interested anyway), you can see a TV report about the ground-breaking on the TV Mittelrhein homepage; the report about the lab starts at 8:35. It's only about two minutes long, and you can see how cold (and thus hard) the ground already was for the ceremonial use of spade and shovel. The building is scheduled for official opening next summer, and I hope the hard winter that has been forecast will not delay the process!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Snow! More snow!

It seems as if Winter took his job seriously this year - while we had good weather with no snow and not too much rain until the last week of November, it's now snow and more snow - and the cold temperatures that go with it.

Aside from low temperatures, winter always means shorter days and less available light, but I have a good way to counter this. For projects where I need a lot of good light, I have an adjustable lamp with a daylight spectrum bulb. A few years ago, daylight spectrum lamps were really pricey and hard to get, but it has become much easier now, and I can really, really recommend them. Not only do they provide wonderful light for working, with very little to no perceived colour changes in your workpiece, they are also a good countermeasure against light winter depressions that occur when the body doesn't get enough natural daylight. So if you are still looking for a lamp for the dark months, or need to replace the bulb in your workplace lighting fixture anyway, I can very much recommend daylight spectrum bulbs!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Winter has come here!

This morning, snow was covering the trees and bushes and lawns here, and there's still a very light powdering of more snow coming down. So it seems as if winter has well and truly arrived now. (How good that we got married last Saturday and didn't plan it for this week - taking photos in the park would have been... uh... extra-cold then.)

In addition to snow falling, our Internet connection is acting up, and it's sort of a gamble whether a page will load properly on the first try (not very common) or whether it needs between three and ten re-load attempts. That is not the best basis for getting computer work done, and it severely gets on my nerves, especially since I have to take care of some maily and internetty stuff with a high priority. I guess if it won't work at all, I'll just have to work on other stuff first and hope the connection settles down again to its old reliability soon.

With winter now officially here, the Season of Secrets is starting up again - preparation not only for the Yuletide days, but also for next summer season and its markets. And then there is, of course, the prospect of maybe a workshop or two during the cold months - there is some planning going on right now. And it would not be winter without cosy evenings with friends and copious amounts of tea. So... the most important questions right now are "will we have as much snow as last year?" and "how much of the To-Do-During-Winter list will stay undone this year?" - and I'm looking forward to finding that out.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

: )

Thank you all for your congratulations and good wishes!

We had a wonderful time on Saturday with both our families and lots of friends - and of course (as is typical for a wedding in Franconia) lots and lots of good food. And now we are slowly getting used to normal life again (and maybe even to the consumption of cake now and then - never in my life have I had such a cake overload before). It's astonishingly unfamiliar to be wife and husband now, something new added to our life together now after quite a few years of "wilder Ehe" as it is called in German. And we're also recovering from the total frenzy of the days and weeks before and the day itself (which to me felt like about five days rolled into one, it was so intensive).

And now I can actually say "my husband" when talking about the Most Patient Man of Them All. That's bound to occasionally make a conversation easier - or at least less lengthy...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

What? Not again?

A week or so ago, I chanced to look on the blog archive thingie on the sidebar, and it occurred to me that

a) the year 2010 is almost over - it's the middle of November already! Where has all the time gone? and

b) I must have been on tour and doing stuff much more often this year than last, since I have quite a few less posts for 2010, and I guess I won't be making about 40 more posts until December 31.

In fact, I'm very sure about that, since I am going to take a few days off the blog. Again. I'll be off the blog (and probably off the internet too) until next week Thursday, when normal life should have reasserted itself after our wedding.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Links and things.

I stumbled over a batch of nice links recently, and I'm finally sharing them with you:

The Anjou Bible is fully digitalised and online - you can see it here. The Book Viewer is in Dutch, but the icons' functions are very, very obvious, so you should have no problem looking at the pictures.

I also stumbled across a site called Decameron Web with an article about sexual positions in the Middle Ages. There's also a lot of other resources and information about the Decameron there, including an Italian and English version of the text.

And finally, there's an interesting non-medieval project going on: An artist called Christopher Salmon is on the quest for money to make a short film from Neil Gaiman's short story "The Price". The text will be read by Neil Gaiman himself, and there's stunning artwork in graphic-novel-style going with it.

If you like the teaser and want to support it, you can pledge money (starting from 10 Dollars) to the project. The money will only be deducted from your account if enough supporters can be found - the film is budgeted at 150.000 USD, and there's yet a ways to go until that amount is reached.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time, sheep's wool was a valuable resource, prized and traded across all of Europe. Once upon a time, sheep's wool was so valuable that a lot of effort went into breeding sheep to get good, well-spinnable crops of wool. Woolen cloth was used to make clothes, blankets, even sails and tents. Garments were tailored from woolen cloth that was so sturdy it would stand decades of wear. Good wool was highly prized.

Today, sheep are bred that will not give a crop of wool, because getting the sheep shorn will cost more - much more - than the normal market price will yield for the wool. Sheep are shorn with no regard to shearing quality, and the fleece taken off is not sorted, but just stuffed into sacks and put away. The only wool that will still get a slightly higher price (which is still in no relation to the worth of good wool as a material) is standard white merino wool, which will then be washed, straightened, and carded to death, resulting in the standard top that you can buy everywhere. Thread spun from that will not be very sturdy in comparison to wool that has not been treated to death.

And for all those of us who would like to work with wool different from this? We now have a problem, Houston. Because worth of the wool has gone down so far that wool will be thrown away (that can cost money in Germany, by the way, because it is "special refuse"), it is often given away for free - and that is further lowering the perceived value of wool. If we let this go on for another decade, who knows if it will be possible at all to get wool suitable for historical crafts anymore?

Which brings me to a question directly related to this. Would you, gentle readers, buy wool prepared in accordance to historical treatment/preparation of wool - that is, not washed (only rinsed, or not been in touch with water at all) and then combed so that you spin in the grease and then wash the yarn? Would you be willing to pay a fair price for wool like this, meaning that this wool would be much pricier than normal, factory-prepared wool? Or are you content with what is offered from the factories nowadays?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Anyone for a quick game of chess-figure-making?

Here's the promised explanation about what lurks in our kitchen, waiting for all the Hartenstein stuff to be finished:

Clay chess figures in classical 14th century forms. From left to right, you see knight, queen, rook, pawn, rook, king, and bishop.

For making this, I had help from Doris Fischer, who graciously provided me with information about typical chess figure forms. Thank you, Doris! She also wrote a book called "Mittelalter selbst erleben!" (published by Theiss); the book provides ideas, recipes and instruction well suited to project with children. If you would like to learn more about it, she has a German-language website here where you can learn more about the book and about medieval gaming.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


We now interrupt our regular programme for a completely unscheduled and unexpected "Hooray!"

Yesterday, I received an e-mail telling me this little blog here has made it to a Top-50-List which you can find here - it's called  50 best blogs for Medieval History Geeks. And I was totally stunned and amazed to be in one list with the Great Ones of Medieval blogging, like the Medieval Material Culture Blog, Got Medieval, Unlocked Wordhoard and many more.

If you don't know the other blogs on the list, do go check them out (that's time well spent) while I am here, feeling totally cool because I've actually been listed in a Best-Of-List. Hooray!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Everything normal.

Well, everything as normal as you could expect when I'm somewhere in the equation - my desk sports a good-sized list of to-do items, there's mail waiting to be carried out to a friendly letterbox this noon, and you can see a healthy mixture of clutter and actual desk surface here. Plus, there's Hartenstein project work scattered over the wintergarden and the living room, where I do most of my sewing work. Oh, and the kitchen sports some, too. (Wonder what? Maybe I'll show you tomorrow...)

But at least things are progressing quite nicely - and it's a good feeling to have my feet back under the self, work-wise, after the jumble of the last weeks. I still haven't gotten used to the fact that it does take me a few days after a conference until I'm fully back on the normal track. Well, hope springs eternal, as they say...

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Searchable Textiles Database

The Internet holds many surprises, and one of them is a searchable database associated with the book "Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England, AD 450-700" (2007) by Penelope Walton

This covers the period AD 450-700 and includes 3802 records of textiles from 162 Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, searchable by using drop-down menus. I have only taken a very short look at it, and it will probably be most useful if you own the book the database goes with, but it might come in handy anyways...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Pics from the Conference.

It's already been a week since I came back from the OEGUF conference, and I haven't even posted a picture of it yet. So... here's photographic proof that:

... I had something to say (this is me and Karina delivering a commentary to a short film showing different methods of preparing wool for spinning)...

... I went on the excursion to Schwarzenbach to see, among other things like the museum and the "Keltenfest" area, a flock of Racka sheep...

... and a most beautiful sunset...

... and also to the excursion to Asparn an der Zaya...

... and I did engage in Photo Wars with quite a few people.


Special thanks to Wulf Hein for the first photo and the shoot of myself in the Photo Wars!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Button pictures.

I should have posted this yesterday, but I somehow hadn't gotten around to taking a pho was too lazy yesterday morning to take a picture. Here are the cloth buttons on one of the sleeves, already popped through their respective buttonholes.

That's a Euro one-cent piece included for scale. Welcome to 14th century button madness! I ended up attaching 22 buttons to that sleeve opening, so it will be about double that on the two sleeves together.

And those are definitely representative garments - because even if button-making is not taking so very long for each button once you have the method down pat, it is amazing how long the combination of making the button, attaching the button to the prepared (strengthened) edge and cutting and sewing the button hole will take. Those posh button rows are a time-consuming thing, and it is also rather time-consuming to button it all up when you are dressing in one of those things. Years ago, I made a hood with small cloth buttons after a find from London, and I have very rarely worn it buttoned, because it takes so long to pop every single button through its appropriate buttonhole.

Looks quite nice, though, doesn't it?

Thursday, 4 November 2010


I like buttons. Maybe I don't like them just as much as 14th century fashionable folks liked them, but I do like them.

And that's a good thing, because I am going to spend a chunk of today making cloth buttons (unstuffed, with no core, just out of a bit of cloth) and sewing them to the edge of a sleeve opening. And then I'll do the buttonholes. And then some more buttons and buttonholes.

And then, on the second dress... you guess what? More buttons! Because I can't let these two here...

... be dressed non-fashionably, can I?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

It's good to be back home again!

I'm back home with the slight residue of a cold I caught somewhere during the last two weeks (fortunately it was a light one), a brain full of new information, project development for the winter season already started (it was a long drive home, with plenty of time to plan together with Sabine), and - as usual - a nice backlog of work and stuff to be taken care of.

The OEGUF conference was wonderful, though it had a few minor drawbacks: Our room was getting quite stuffy quite soon, there was no conference coffee point (which seriously cut back on the usual coffee socialising), and that in connection with short breaks due to the programme being stuffed very, very full, there was just not enough time to catch everybody I wanted to catch to chat or comment or discuss with. But apart from that, there was lots of laughter, oodles of fun, and a very large amount of presentations that were brand-sparkling new (at least to me) and of a very high quality - archaeologists and craftspeople alike meticulously looking at tiny details and working out things about bell beaker making, salt mining, and music instruments, to name three topics among many. The spinning experiment presentation was very well received too, and I did get quite a few comments about it, including one from a skilled statistician who offered to also take a look at the database and see if he might be able to see something in addition or something different from what I found when staring at all those numbers.

I met with some folks that I had not seen for a longer or shorter time, and it was wonderful to reconnect and see them again; and I also have some new acquaintances among the colleagues. There were two excursions, and during one of them I had the opportunity to make contact with the caretaker of a herd of museum sheep, a special old Hungarian breed - wonderful wool for historical spinning, and amazingly well suited to dye them coptic black, since the wool is already almost black. With all these things together and stuffed into a few days only, it's no wonder that my brain sort of ran on stand-by on Monday and still during part of yesterday, also an indicator that it was a good conference.

Socialising, learning about stuff, getting new and weird ideas, and carrying home material for textile works - have I mentioned already that I love conferences?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Since I'll be in a string of out-of-office-events from tomorrow on, today will be partly dedicated to organising myself (read: prepare the different outings) and trying not to forget anything (read: write a bunch of lists). Plus print out some other stuff, backup the computer, iron a blouse for the OEGUF conference in Vienna, and pack some work stuff together to take with me.

And since I'll be up and away, this means a blogging break - regular blogging will resume on November 3. Sorry for the long break!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Sprint to the stopover.

 I'm still working hard on all the different bits and pieces for Hartenstein, including getting enough things prepared that I can take sewing work with me when I'm out of office from Wednesday on to the end of October. Which means that I am doing extra-long hours currently - which for me always means that I need something to relax with, and that is usually books, films and, since last year, knitting.

So here's what is currently happening (at least some of it):

Sleeves are getting sewn in and fitted to the Lady's blue dress...

... the man's mi-parti hood in yellow and blue is getting dagges cut and edge-finished with beeswax...

... and to relax, I'm knitting leg warmers in Kauni rainbow-coloured wool.

As usual, I'm knitting two at the same time, which saves all the hassle of counting and writing down the counts, and I'm just past the knee. The leg warmers are fully fitted, because I have rather pronounced leg muscles, and that makes for a lot of shape and circumference, and I even have to increase rather generously for longer socks, let alone leg warmers.

I like the colour scheme and the long, slow changes of colour very much, and I think it's also nice that the two pieces start at a different place in the colour sequence. (Also makes two-at-once knitting dead easy, what with the different colours and so.)
That said, I'm most probably not going to buy that wool ever again: The colour repeats have a different length, so I'm ending up with green knees on both legwarmers. I can live with that, though - what really irks me is the quality of the yarn itself. The yarn is very irregularly spun and quite badly plied at times, changing from the thickness I would have expected to very, very thin plies - more like sewing-thread thickness at the thinnest bits. Were it my own hand-spun wool, I'd be quite ashamed of it, and it makes me rather fearful how long the material will hold up to being used as an item of clothing. And actually, I'm wondering why I never heard about that quality deficiency before - I heard that Kauni can have lots of knots, but so irregularly spun yarn?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Sewing work,

Since there's not so much foam-filling work left to do now on the two figures, I can concentrate more on my sewing work now - and I'm really looking forward to make bright yellow hose for the man, and a mi-parti yellow and blue hood.

I've also done a few first test-prototypes of the chess figures to see how to treat them to get a good finish and good colours - either red and white or dark and white, I have not decided that yet. But for now - until the test pieces have dried out completely - I'll just focus on the fabric stuff...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Nothing new here...

... just more of the same work: Filling in the figures, attaching arms and legs, and preparing for the garment cutting and things.

And while I'm working, you can share the Ohrwurm that I had all day yesterday. An Ohrwurm is a piece or snippet of music that gets stuck in your head and you hear it over and over again - which might be annoying if you only know a very short snippet. (By the way, the literal translation - earworm - seems to make its way into English language.)
Fortunately for me, yesterday's Ohrwurm was more than a snippet, I didn't mind it at all, and I made things even better by finding this karaoke-subtitled version of it on Youtube:


Wednesday, 13 October 2010


The two plastered folks in our conservatory are coming along nicely - and they should better, since I spent yesterday and Monday both almost exclusively working on them.

Here's a current snapshot of how they are looking:

Isn't that a nice decoration for a table? Bit space-consuming, maybe, but well...
One of the four arms is already attached, and the upper torsos are both mostly filled, too. What remains is attaching the other three arms and reassembling, filling and finagling a coupling into the male's legs, as well as filling the female's legs. And, of course, making the two heads for the two folks and finally closing the seams and open parts with plaster and, after that has all dried out, giving both figures a coat of varnish for protection. But a good part has been done, and now I can take measurements off the almost-finished lady and start cutting her dress and overdress. And if all goes well today, I'll get the male's legs mostly together so that I can cut his hose tomorrow.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


I'm not only working on the figurines, I have also now all I need for getting started on the garments - which means fabric. Nice, beautiful woolen fabric, plant-dyed to perfection.

That's indigo blue and madder red...

... and weld yellow and cochineal pink.

Spotless. Beautiful. I'm in awe.

Now to finish the two figurines far enough that I can start cutting garments from those masterpieces...

Monday, 11 October 2010

Quod erat demonstrandum.

I finally have indubitable proof for a theory that must have existed since the beginning of humanity:


 ... are much more complicated...

... than women. Really. Just count the parts.

The longtime readers among you might remember the two figurines that I made for the exhibition at Hartenstein, and there has been a second order - this time it's a man and a woman in normal, civilian dress. And yesterday, two of our friends came over and I took the plaster casts for the figurines off their bodies - a heap of work, but a lot of fun as well!

Now comes the assembly part - putting together the shell and filling it with construction foam and a wooden cross for additional strength and especially to attach the arms later on. The woman is already sitting on a table waiting for the first foaming steps - once I've finished this blog post, the glue on the wooden inner structure should have set and I can get going. Fun!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Fascination of Fire

Those of you that know me in real life will know that I have a strong fascination with fire - if I see a fire burning and have access to it, I can seldom resist from sidling up and poking a bit around in it.

So it's no wonder that I spent a good while (read: too long a while) on YouTube yesterday morning, looking at fire-making videos. I had actually thought about embedding one that shows basic firemaking in yesterday's post, but did not find one that suited my purpose. Instead, I learned that punk wood (rotted dead wood) makes wonderful tinder material, and that there is a technique called "floating hands" for using a fire drill.

There's oodles of videos about making a fire out there, but actually I always found that getting the spark to catch on the tinder material is the easy thing (just takes more patience when it's damp), and making a nest for the ember and blowing that into flame is also not really hard (might also take a bit of patience when it's damp, but we've done it successfully with half-dry grass); I found that the hard bit is to get a real fire going from the good and hot nest - and there was no video showing that. Getting a fire going from the embers is, of course, easy with the perfect materials and in nice, dry weather, with a ground and wood that is not soaked through and cold, but in my experience, that perfect setup is rarely there when I want to make a fire - so you have to use techniques that will even work in the cold and damp, and with less-than-perfectly dry wood. And that was just what I couldn't find.

Still was time well spent. And now I finally know how to mix up that scrambled egg or that pancake batter with a whisk twirled between my hands without having to stop every five seconds to bring my hands to the top of the whisk stem again.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


It's utterly amazing how many small things that would be nice to have or get done can turn up during a market/camp weekend - things like a new bag for my flint and steel, making new tinder, a bag for small woodbits and even smaller kindling to make starting the fire easier, mending a dress and mending a basket, and so on and so on. And this time around, I have actually more or less kept track of a lot of those small things, and a few of them are already taken care of as well - like refilling the tinder box, and starting work on a bag for kindling. I've even made new kindling already, since I know that I'm not so keen on getting to work with the hatchet once I'm getting hungry and cold, so if there's not tinder, hay for getting the embers started, wood and kindling readily available, I opt for buying something to eat and either going to an already burning fire or retiring into bed. And while both of these are good, nice and valid options, I'd like to have the possibility to just start a fire when I feel like it, and maybe have a nice cup of hot, freshly brewed tea while I have it running. Plus, finally starting a fire properly and all the way through felt so good at Tannenberg, after I had not done it for ages, and I found I really missed it.

We started trying to make proper, medieval-style fire years and years ago, and our first tries were more than pathetic - it would take us more than half an hour, several tries and three to four people blowing on the nest of ember, coughing in the thick, dense smoke coming out of it, and doing all kinds of things with a slight touch of desperation. And it did take a long time until we figured out the differences between starting a fire the modern way (with a lighter or a match) and starting it the old-fashioned way (with embers).

First of all, there's a huge difference in how the heat travels. Flame heat travels upwards, so if you want to light something with a flame, you light it from below and put the kindling on top. But embers work differently - they glow their way downwards and outwards from their nest of kindling. So if you want to light something with embers, placing the something on top of the ember won't work as well as placing it below them.

After that piece of insight finally found its way into my brain, it only took a medium long time for me to start realising something else: When the nest of embers and the kindling below it sit directly on the cold earth, there's a good chance that the heat from the little nest will be far from enough to counter all that cold. And the ember will die before the kindling has caught. That was when I began to start building the fireplace by placing a large-ish piece of dry wood with a flattish surface on top under the kindling and stuff - preferably a slab of wood that is already charred partly. This helps tremendously.

So my current setup is something like this: Slab of wood underneath it all; then comes the kindling in the middle of the underlying slab, set up mostly like a log cabin (two bits parallel to each other, then the next two parallel bits at a 90° angle across the previous two, and so on), but growing gradually wider towards the top. Around this small inverted-pyramid-log-cabin, I make a slighty larger log cabin setup from fuel wood that reaches as far up as the inner kindling one. This is both serving as a kind of flue to direct air and as the fuel wood to catch the starting fire. Then I catch a spark on the tinder (charred cotton cloth, usually) and place it into a smallish nest of hay with some small wood shavings and maybe a bit of birch bark in it. I fold the nest and blow on the ember until the nest has flamed up briefly once, then I put it into the inverted pyramid, place a last bit of fuel wood on top of the nest so that it stays compact and doesn't pop out again - and ideally, then I can just lean back and wait for about ten minutes to see everything erupting into a nice flaming fire. (Non-ideally, there's still some need for blowing gently but firmly on the ember nest.)

Oh, and a nice added benefit to lighting a fire with flint and steel? If there's a strong wind blowing, that might blow out your flame from a match or lighter, but it will actually save you work when doing it this way. Nifty, eh?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Chomping at the bit...

Hartenstein project is progressing, though I have not done much myself yet - but the cloth is being dyed and will soon be sent here, so I can get started with serious tailoring and sewing. I've already been told that the red, yellow and blue have all turned out very, very well, so I'm utterly excited to get my fingers on the fabric soon.

Apart from this waiting game, there's some other stuff for the project to be bought, planned, and prepared - a good way to spend the rest of the week, of which not much is left anyway, today being Wednesday already...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Back home - and Summer Season is over.

Tannenberg usually is for me the last LH-event of the season, and since that is over now and we are back home, summer season is over.

This year's Tannenberg was a tad different from others - first of all, the old organising team has quit and used this year's event to show a new team the ropes. That also went hand in hand with a slightly different setup regarding the tent places. Then it was uncommonly warm for Tannenberg - I didn't feel cold once during the nights, and it was warm enough to just sit in a dress on Sunday. And that's the next unusual thing: we had a bit of light drizzle now and then on Friday, a bit more of drizzle on Saturday, and sunshine on Sunday - and you can probably estimate how uncommon that is for this event if I tell you that a lot of people commented Saturday's drizzle with "My, aren't we lucky with the weather!" (and that was no irony).

Apart from this, it was also a quite decimated event - many groups did not come at all due to not getting off from work, broken-down cars or a case of the 'flu, and those that did come were often much smaller than registered, like three or four people instead of seventeen. This all made this year's season finale a very laid-back and relaxed thing - and I actually followed through with my plan to have 80% holidays and just 20% work, having nice long chats with old and new acquaintances that weren't even all textile-related, sitting around our own fire or visiting our neighbours, and I even read a little in a novel I brought before going to sleep in the evenings, all things that I thoroughly enjoyed. So for me, it was a very nice and very relaxing season finale, and now I'm ready to tackle all those little chores that need to be done before putting away the things for the winter...

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Today's prep day for Tannenberg - I'm going to shop for some food and maybe pre-pack a bit, so stuffing things into the car will go faster tomorrow. And I'm looking forward on hanging out with friends for a few days again (and probably take it as easy as I can, for a change).

I already have a new demo warp for tablet weaving - the old one I had somehow got roughed up over time and is not really what I like to show anyway, since the tablets are a mishmash of parchment and playing cards and the warp is thick red and beige wool yarn. The yarn itself is nice, mind you, but it's just neither the type nor the thickness that would have been used to weave a twill band with, so out into bad idea nirvana it goes.

The new demo band is made with silk thread in light pink and medium blue, is a dozen tablets wide (all parchment, this time) and woven width is about 5 mm or so (haven't measured yet). And while starting the weave, I found that after working with 42 tablets the last time I did serious tablet weaving, 12 of the little things is really fast and easy to handle, so my plan is to look into the suitability of tablet weaving as a demonstration at Tannenberg - although that does depend a bit on whether I can find two spots to fix my band to...

Oh, and by the way: Since we'll be leaving early tomorrow morning, there will be no blogging until next week.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Oh what can I say?

Somehow, the weather seems to turn my brain on stand-by and not let it function normally - and thus, I'm all out of blogging ideas for today. There's a list lying on my desk with things that I have to take care of (preferably before I leave for Tannenberg), including writing and sending off an abstract for a conference in October and doing some other computery work - all things that are very, very unexciting to blog about. And the more exciting things are all in stages that also makes them un-bloggable.

Sorry, folks - I hope my brain will get its juices flowing again soon!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Monday, Monday...

I've had a nice time on Saturday in Hartenstein, showing textile techniques to the visitors of the museum and chatting about all sorts of textile-related topics. Sadly, the weather was very, very bad, which cut down severely on the number of folks coming up to the castle - but those that did come were very interested.

Experience tells me that the different textile techniques are not equally well suited to a crafts demonstration, and unfortunately, sewing is one of the crafts not too well suited - since most people have already done it themselves (mostly in school, to learn how it's done) or at least seen somebody sewing by hand, they tend to just glance over and then walk by. So for yesterday, I mostly wielded the hand-spindle and distaff - that is usually quite fascinating for visitors - and I thoroughly enjoyed spinning without checking for the right thread thickness after every sitting-height-to-floor-bit of thread spun, as I do for the Hallstatt project.

And now, it's back to the normal projects for today and the next two days, including prepping and packing for the medieval market and fair at Tannenberg, where we'll spend the second half of the week and the weekend.

Friday, 24 September 2010

There. A Bleg.

The Book has been out for about half a year now, and it's doing very well - and I have not forgotten all those comments and questions that I receive about an English version. So I've done some planning and scheming and thinking and prep work, and now it's time to find either an agent willing to peddle the book on the Europe/US market or a publishing house, preferably with distribution on both sides of the Big Pond.

And here I sit, now, with my not-so-great knowledge of English-language-based publishing houses and agents. So I'll do what probably every blogger does sooner or later: I write a bleg.

I am looking for a possibility to bring my book to the English language market. It's a book geared to please both the scientists (art historians, archaeologists, textile conservators) and the Living History activists, offering the first general overview of still extant medieval garments plus all the background knowledge needed to re-create garments using a reconstructed historical tailoring technique. The German version is doing very well and has been getting rave reviews from scientists and Living History folks alike.
If you know an agent or publishing house that might be interested in this book, please give me a hint - I'd be delighted to have a few more leads than I have at the moment!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Deutsche Sprach ist schweres Sprach.

Learning German is something that a lot of non-native German speakers will have a lot to tell you about (probably including a heap of curses). It's not the easiest of languages to learn, especially not if you are living in an area where there is still a local dialect being spoken. And that dialect can change even between neighboring villages, never to speak of the changes between regions.

I grew up in the very north-east of Franconia (which was then called Nord-Ost-Oberfranken and is now called Hochfranken) and though I haven't moved far away from there, just about one hundred kilometres as the crow flies, the dialect in Erlangen is a lot different than the one from home. So I had an utter "home! home!" feeling when the Most Patient Man got to this website yesterday and clicked his way through the sound samples from Schönwald. It's a talking language atlas with samples of words from different spots in Bavaria (and thus Franconia), and it's amazing how differently things can be named. If you are interested in the many different ways people living just in Bavaria call things and pronounce words, this Sprachatlas is definitely worth a visit!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

My hovercraft is full of herrings.

After the TGV is finished, it is now also fully equipped - I received the package with tent pegs for the TGV yesterday, since we don't have enough pegs to pitch both our old tent and the TGV (a situation that will occur regularly when I'm not going to a market on my own). In addition to that, the old pegs were made by the Most Patient Man, myself and another friend in a joint venture of having a go at "blacksmithing", in a tiny little old museum-esque smithy and out of relatively soft, cheap material. Which let us end up with pegs that are functioning well enough on normal ground - earth with not too many stones or gravel in it - but not very well on really hard ground.

Hence I ordered tent pegs from our blacksmith of trust - and now they are here, and beautiful, and with hardened tips. Hooray!

(By the way: Full points for you and your German skills if you find out why the title to this post is "my hovercraft is full of herrings".)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


After finishing my account-settling today, I ran to the non-computery type of work and actually totally forgot to blog - oopsie!

I have finished the first batch of the Hallstatt spinning yesterday, and as you might have noticed in the sidebar, the TGV is also completely finished, and no thanks to me - the Most Patient Man of them all sat down with needle, thread and the nice little tent and finished it off for me. And I'm utterly thankful - since I had not so much zest to sit down with the tent again.
And now I'll go back to preparing stuff for this afternoon, and to packing up things to send them away...

Monday, 20 September 2010

Entropy, the Universe and the Law of Order.

Somehow, not tidying up for a few days, then packing, then rushing off for a week, unpacking, ordering some stuff (more spindle sticks!) inbetween and getting some additional stuff and then having a heap of urgent work to do leads to... utter chaos in the workspace.

And somehow this has happened to my desk. Again. So I'm afraid that a good chunk of today's time will go into paying stuff, ordering more stuff (projects being worked on), putting stuff away and sorting through stuff. My bookkeeping wants to be finished, wool samples looked at, old paper thrown away or put into its appropriate folders.

Oh yes, and I have to prepare for tomorrow, since I'll be giving a little presentation about Daily Life in the Middle Ages at the DHB in Erlangen. In case you are nearby and interested, the presentation starts at 15:00 and takes place in the Hauswirtschafts- und Verbraucherzentrum, Hauptstr. 55 (that's in the Altstadtmarkt), and non-members of the DHB pay 3 Euro.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Day Off. Yes, I'm actually having another one.

After spending all of last week, including the weekend, with what technically counts as "work" and having only had Saturday the week before the Forum week as a "mostly off" day, I've decided to not work today and instead have a three-day weekend. All those mails in my inbox can wait until Monday (sorry if you're waiting for a reply from me), as can all the other stuff waiting for my attention - sometimes, a girl needs to do what she needs to do.
So I'm finally getting around to relaxing, doing the washing, hopefully meeting a few friends in their coffee break from work, and spending a bit of time meandering through the town aimlessly. Somehow, having a 12-day-workweek really, really makes you look forward to having a day properly off, with nothing important, exhausting or time-consuming on the schedule.

And even the weather is fine outside... which means that in a few minutes, I'll close down the computer, stuff th necessities into my bag and I'll be off to the town. Hooray!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Hooray for a shorter-than-normal week!

I'm quite happy that with coming back on Monday, my first regular work week is not full-length, but slightly shortened. Hooray for it being Thursday already - and I'm actually thinking about taking half a day off tomorrow to get some household stuff done and relax a bit.

But while I'm pondering that, you can ponder whether you would really like to have any of the York Archaeological Trust books that are out of print - because there will be a discussion about doing another print run for those in demand. Here's the "call for interested people" that reached me via the MEDTC-Discussionlist:

Next month, I will be at the York Archaeological trust and discussing their reprint policies. Knowing what volumes people would like to see back in print and how many people will buy them would be of great value in my conversations with them. If there are any volumes you would like to purchase, please send me a message off-line so that I can add you to the list I am bringing with me to indicate the market.

You can find books they publish at Clicking on a particular book will take you to a page of additional information, including whether it is in or out of print. The two books most often mentioned so far are:
Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate by Penelope Walton

Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate by Penelope Walton Rogers

Please let others know of this. Thank you very much.

Cheers, Folo Watkins

 Please contact Folo via e-mail; the address is folo1(AT) (For e-mailing, replace the (AT) with the appropriate thingie - I do not want to be the cause of excessive spamming of others.)

Needless to say, I have already expressed my interest in these two textile books...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

I'm back from the Forum.

I have spent a wonderful, exciting, intense and incredibly exhausting week at the Textile Forum in South Tyrol, and it was more than a little hard to pack up all the things and leave - even though I missed the comforts and quiet of home during that week.

Our landlady, Erna, did her very best to make us all Schnals Valley addicts by cooking the most wondrously delicious meals. The good Hannelore added to that addiction by serving the best Latte Macchiato there is, and all the rest of the museum staff were also totally lovely and incredibly helpful. Saturday evening saw most of us slightly tipsy and in the best of spirits - after a wonderful dinner that the village Unser Frau had invited us to, with typical sheep stew (or cheese, for the vegetarians) and a traditional sweet dish called Schneemilch (snow milk, literally) as dessert - and of course the famous regional wine.

Now that I'm back home, it's also back to work, all the various kinds - spinning, book-keeping, sewing, ordering fabric, all the usual things. But I'm still all buffered by the wonderful memories of the week - spinning with Lena, watching Martin work at the Gunnister Man jacket, Heather spinning with the stroopwafel spindle, just to name a few of the highlights. And oh, did I have a ball!

Friday, 3 September 2010

I can't believe a year has gone already.

It is September, and somehow I have a very hard time believing that yes, a full year has passed since the last Textile Forum and yes, I'll be leaving this weekend for the (hopefully warm and sunny) South Tyrol.
And I am so much looking forward to this event - meeting old colleagues and seeing new faces, chatting about textiles, learning about a bunch of old techniques, hearing about new research and reconstruction projects - exciting prospects all.

South Tyrol, here I come!

(Which for you, gentle readers, means that blogging will resume not before Tuesday week after next.)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Sprint to the finish.

I'm packing my paper presentation with nice colourful graphs now (and videos! I've been making screenshot videos to "leaf" through the different spinners), and I'm faced with the typical problem of somebody having stared at one set of data for a long time:

Do I present everything that everybody needs to know, or am I leaving out a too-large chunk at the beginning? Is it possible for others to see the things in the graphs I show that I see, or do I see the things because I have looked at other graphs before that made it clearer? And can I explain the sometimes rather complex graphs well enough so that they are legible and understandable?

We'll all know in a little less than a week. Or at least I will know, and then let you know on the blog. For now... I will go play with colourful graphs a little more. Pasting them into Powerpoint. Hoping that the video-stuff will work during presentation as well.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Can I have chocolate? Please?

Unfortunately, I think we consumed the rest of our chocolate yesterday while looking at graphs and fiddling with axis setups (the most patient man of them all and myself). Good chocolate. Good graphs.

And not only have I graphs, I also have visual survey cards of all the spinner's threads. Which you already know from one of the photos I posted a while ago - but now I have them all. And they are all scanned in and available digitally.

And they are huge.

This has already been resized - generously, I might add, because it did not fit into the blog otherwise. It's Spinner C, by the way - our not too experienced spinner who delivered valuable comparison data to the experiment.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Can you believe it?

After weeks (or what felt like ages, at least), rainy mornings, there is actually blue sky above today. And the weather is supposed to get a bit better during the next days. Whew!

Apart from that, I'm making things like this:

which, in this case, shows the ten thread samples Spinner E spun. E's data points lie in a group underneath the trend line for wraps per 3 cm compared to tex (which compares the weight of thread per metre to its diameter, giving a hint on how tightly spun it is).

And that tells us that E spun a bit looser than most of the other spinners, and did so consistently. Incidentally, E also has a quite "flat" spinning angle, flatter than most of the other spinners. Which perfectly fits together with soft, fluffy threads.

Monday, 30 August 2010

It's not getting less busy here.

Well, at least I have been knowing for a while that these months will be busy.

I'm wrapping up the analysis for the spinning experiment (hah! Finally!) with a little graph interpretation help from the Most Patient Man and preparing the last little bits for the Textile Forum (which starts next week, whee!). Meanwhile, I have also gotten the green light for some sewing for a very interesting project concerning medieval messengers . The project is still in its testing phase, but already sounds immensely exciting.

Apart from this bit of work during the weekend, the rest was fairly relaxed, including two nice breakfasts/brunches with friends and a lot of relaxing and knitting. And I finally finished my current-socks-in-progress:

Skew socks, from Knitty (issue Winter 2009), knit in a teal Regia Sock yarn. Though these are quite thoroughly modified; I have a high instep, and the original pattern did not fit that at all, which led to a major re-write of the pattern to fit my feet. The left sock feels a bit tighter at the moment (which might be due to much less trying-on during the knitting process), but they both fit, and the fit in the toe region is absolutely delightful. As you can see from the picture, I have a wide front foot, and normal socks just don't cut the mustard like these do - so I am actually thinking about adapting just the anatomically correct toe for use with standard knit socks.

Well. Though before I do such an adaptation, I'm planning to cast on for a second pair. And this time around, I won't knit the socks one after the other... but simultaneously. And I'm especially looking forward to simultaneous Judy's Magic cast-on for the two sock toes, which I finally figured out in the middle of Friday night. (The secret? Swiveling the needles.)

And no, I don't usually spend my middles of nights knitting. I spend them sleeping - Friday was an exception.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Rainy again.

Those past two weeks, we've had a lot of rain - and after a quite nice day with rain only in the evening, today's gone back to rain starting in the morning. Hey weather! That's not very summery!

In other news... there are not much other news. Yesterday's errand-running was quite successful, and now I finally have the correct version of my PhD diploma (there was a tiny error in phrasing which meant that it had to be re-done), and we bought some other things and stuff that was more or less necessary.

And now it's nose back to the grindstone, fingers back to the keyboard, and eyes back onto the spinning angle measuring stuff. Magnifying glass, here I come!

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Contrary to what I planned, I did some entirely different things yesterday, which was a very nice break from winding white thread onto black cardboard - instead, I tried to do some analysing; and the evening was spent partly spinning for the Hallstatt project, with net gain of about 0.7 g thread - very good outcome for the spinning time, which was 20 minutes short of two hours.

And today is another day to relax my eyes from staring at threads and reading out spinning angles, since I have several errands to run and things to do out of house. And I'm hoping that it will be so relaxing that all the rest of reading out spinning angles will go just like a breeze! (And if one of you has any tips or tricks for that... do me a favour and tell them to me.)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

It's the sprint to the finish.

Now at last the finish line is in sight - if things go smoothly today, the Forum Experiment analysis (the hands-on part of it, that is) will get finished.

I'm already looking forward to squeezing results out of all that data. A few steps of the documentation are still left to do, though - like scanning all the visual survey cards so that they are available for presentations and easy on-screen comparison, and reading out the spinning angle on most of the samples, but the worst and most time-consuming part will be dealt with. And in good time, since I will do a presentation of the results at Textile Forum.

In other news: Some of you might remember Hartenstein and the two knights for the exhibition there. There's something more for that museum in the air... and I'm already looking forward to lots of fun and a heap of work. Stay tuned to read more about it once details are emerging from the project!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

Time really flies with insane speed at the moment, but things are also getting done hereabouts. There is not too much left to work on spinning experiment-wise - just a few spinners' samples left to wrap, measure, record and evaluate. And then I can try to squeeze as much interesting results out of that dataset as possible.

On other battlegrounds, I have tackled some uninvited private stuff too, like finding a new car insurance (our old one has crashed and canceled the policy for end of August). There is still a bunch of things to do, though - not least of it sorting through my currently quite depleted stock of wares and trying to re-stock in time for the next event. Now that is a nice reason to sort through the stock...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Today is one of these days...

...when I'm happy to have mostly desk-based work. We spent a good part of the weekend helping a friend of ours with his move, and a lot of stuff (some of that heavy) to be carried down from a fourth-floor apartment with no elevator got me a generous measure of muscle ache.

In addition to moving help, we actually got around to take care of some odds and ends here, my current-sock-in-progress has grown a bit, and I have whittled a second thick and bulky spindle stick. I'm already very, very curious to see how that one will work for me... but for now, I'm happily settled on my chair at my desk and set to get some more info out of the spinning experiment yarns.

That said, here is a demo picture of one of the spinner's threads:

You can click it to make it huge. Top row is all Merino, bottom row is all Bergschaf, and the columns are one spindle each, so you can see how the spindles and fibres compare. And even from this small preview, you can see that there is more thick-and-thin in the Bergschaf than in the Merino - which is probably at least partly due to the preparation of the fibre as batt.

Now I only have to get the rest of the threads treated similarly and then laid out in that way and do such a photo of them all... or can somebody please find Experimental Archaeology Brownies to help with that?

Friday, 20 August 2010

I have been thwarted. By my own stick.

Yesterday somehow was one of those slow, feels-like-nothing-gets-done days, so I sat down in the sun to do some spinning. And what can I say, other than my spinner-self showed my scientist-self that the latter had totally underestimated the power of the spindle stick when designing the spinning experiment... but let me explain.

For the Hallstatt project, I am spinning a thread thickness that does lie below my normal don't-think-about-it, do-it-in-your-sleep thickness. It is thin enough to mean that I need to pluck out or stretch out even micro-slubs to get a smooth, good-quality thread. It's always very hard to give difficulty ratings to thread, but it is definitely not the most undemanding spin.

My favourite spindle is one that I have been using for quite a while, since before I got the spindle-stick replicas made. That means the stick is home-made, from an old cedar wood arrow, and that means it is whittled down on top and bottom, but not to a very pointy point - more like a token rounding off on top especially. (Whittling is not my forte, and I much prefer spending my time doing something I can do well.) And since I don't usually spin for production, but mostly for demonstration, I usually leave the stick in and just slide off a finished cop of wool (most often to stuff it somewhere and forget about it for a while). But I have used the whorl with the Bergen sticks too, and they generally do work for me - I'm just not using them normally.

When I went to the Wooly Week Workshop, I brought my spindle whorl, a few of the Bergen sticks, and the cedar stick (with the whorl on that). And when we started, I used the cedar stick because, well, it was already in there and handy, and I use it all the time when I demo. So I did get "spun in", if you want to say so, with the spindle on the cedar stick, which I used all week for the tests.

Fast forward to the "production phase" here. Since one of the benefits of a removable whorl is that you are able to just swap sticks and ply off the two spun-full sticks later on, I thought I'd just continue with one of the Bergen sticks. And that is where I was thwarted yesterday. I tried spinning with the Bergen stick - and the spindle runs very well, very fast with it; there is little wobble because the tip is tapering so nicely; it feels good... but I was not able to spin the correct gauge thread with it, and I got breaking thread way, way too often. Believe me, I really tried hard to spin with it, but it just would not work. Finally I switched back to my thick-tipped cedar stick, and it worked much, much better again. So what happened? What is the difference between the sticks?

Is it added weight? The Bergen stick is a bit heavier than the Cedar stick, but that is not what brought me down - during the Wooly Week, I usually had a good-sized amount of thick starter thread wound around my spindle, bringing it up to a significantly higher weight than yesterday's assembly with Bergen.

Is it changed MI? According to André Verhecken, who does research about MI in spindle whorls, the stick does not change much - and a difference of one or two grams will not change anything significant in the MI.

But something changed when I changed sticks - something significant enough to keep me from making the thread I wanted to make. And as I watched myself spinning, I found out what else had changed - the stick diameter close to the top, where I put my fingers to give spin to the spindle. Bergen tapers very slowly from an already slim shank to a slim point about 3 mm wide, while Cedar is much thicker, probably about 6 mm in diameter where I place my fingers, and tapers over a short distance only. And I got the impression that when I give twist to the thinner shank, the spindle will turn a lot faster than when I give twist to the thicker shank... which would be a considerable influence on my spinning, and which would explain why I was getting more breakage - too much spin on the thin thread.

That means that, given time and practice, I could most probably adapt to the faster-spinning spindle setup and change over to the Bergen sticks, either giving less (slower) spin to the stick or drafting faster; though for these fine, finicky threads, drafting faster is not really an option.

And it means that, because I was not aware of how much spindle stick shape can influence spinning, the stick was a variable totally left out of the experiment 2009. On the other hand, adding yet another variable to check would have been too much for one week of testing time, and of course all spindle sticks on the experiment spindles were the same - so it's possible to develop a follow-up experiment with modified spindle sticks and then continue researching into this topic with all the data we have.

And this means that my scientist-self will think about spindle sticks, and experiments, and how it could be tested, and all kinds of things like that during the hours I will spend spinning the Hallstatt threads... after I whittled myself another chunky cedar stick, that is. Because that will take a lot less time and effort for me than to learn now how to cope for the higher spin on Bergen for the Hallstatt threads. Because after all, my spinner-self is still just a lazy spinner.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Distaff Questions

Yesterday's Praise of the Distaff raised two questions in the comments that I'll address here, since answering them will take some linking as well.

Chris asks:
"I was always told that if you saw someone spinning with a distaff in a medieval picture, it meant they were spinning flax. Is there documentation of a distaff being used with wool?"
I've been told that, read that, or heard that as well, and I think it might stem from the fact that when you are spinning on a wheel, you can place the wool fibre in your lap, thus saving the distaff. However, flax fibres in a lap will very soon end up in a huge knot - they are too long and too tangle-prone to spin without help of a distaff, even on a spinning wheel. This leads to a "wheel-based" strong connection in modern spinner's minds, which is basically Distaff=Flax, and Wool=No Distaff. However, I have yet to find a medieval picture of a spinner not using a distaff - they all have one.
Yet you can tell whether somebody is having wool or flax on the distaff - because the shape is different. If the loaded distaff looks like a stick with a traffic cone on, it is long fibre - probably flax; if it looks like candy floss (candy cotton for you US folks), it's short fibre - probably wool. And that brings us directly to the next question, which comes from Panth:
Is there any chance you could do a photo-tutorial of how you load your distaff with wool, particularly with how to load it with wool rolag(s?) prepared with hand cards (if, indeed, that's applicable). I have both distaff and drop spindle and would dearly love to make the leap towards more historical hand spinning but have been having trouble with loading the distaff effectively.
Well, I could, but it would probably take me ages, so I'll do the lazy thing and link you some stuff already on the internet.

There is a photo tutorial (in German, sorry) showing and explaining how to load a distaff with flax (the long-fibred stuff, not the short waste bits you buy as top nowadays) done by Faserfieber. For those of you not reading German, basically you open up the skein (Flachszopf), shake out the dust, loosen it up by laying out the fibres in thin layers, one on top of the other, on your lap (this gives you a fibre triangle in your lap), and then carefully roll it around the distaff. You fix it with bands on top and additionally close to the bottom; the bottom band is removed for spinning.
This gives you the characteristic traffic cone shape with the also characteristic bands around it. You don't use these bands for wool, so whenever you see a distaff in cone-form with bands, it's flax (or hemp, or nettle - but one of the long plant fibres).
So she's spinning flax:
(when she's not beating up her husband with her distaff, that is)

while this girl here

looks more like a wool-spinner to me. No proper cone-shape on the distaff there - and I'd suspect the two parallel diagonals across the fibre blob are meant to hint at the wool roving wound around the distaff. And yesterday's peasant lady is also definitely spinning wool, by the shape of the fibre on her distaff.
I haven't been able to find a photo tutorial about how to wrap wool around a distaff, but I can tell you: You don't need one. If you are preparing your fibre yourself, you want to get a long enough sliver of roving from it. That is easy if you comb your fibre - just diz it off. I haven't tried this myself, but I think you could do the following with hand-cards: card an amount of wool, maybe three or four carding portions; do not make them into rolags, but place them into a stack and then pre-draft them through something with a suitably small hole in it to get the right shape. 
If you are not preparing your fibre yourself, get a nice long (at least 80 cm long) strip of batt or stretch out a bit of commercial top so that it's not as chunky. 
In any case, you should now have a strip of prepared, pre-drafted fibre. Now you grab a stick that is between 45 and 120 cm long, according to your preference. Any stick will do, as long as it's not too smooth, you want it to have some "grip" on the fibre - and now wind your length of fibre around the stick, just like you would wind thread on a bobbin. That's it. 
I hope that helps!