Monday, 31 May 2010

Monday Monday...

Somehow those weekends are just swooooshing these times - I can't believe it is already Monday again!

At least my energy level feels quite a bit higher than it was on Friday, so I'll see how much I can get done today. And in case you are actually looking for a little textile content while I am busily pottering away at boring office stuff and doing some proofreading and preparing some stuff for markets, take a look at the instructions behind this link, which goes to Hsifengs livejournal and where she describes how to get at most of the presentations given at the "Costume Colloquium: A Tribute To Janet Arnold" in 2008 in Florence, Italy.

Now that's a wonderful idea, I think!

Friday, 28 May 2010


I feel like I need an energy boost - somehow I'm still tired even though I slept long enough. At least it's Friday, which means that the week is about over.

But before I kick myself in the behind, go brew myself a pot of (hopefully energy-boosting) tea and settle down to some more work before the weekend, here's a totally non-medieval and non-textile but very funny link for you:

So much Pun.

As the title hints (who'd have thought?), it is a website with puns - including photos. So if you have a thing for weird jokes with language, go check it out. This page regularly makes both of us here utter the typical "I-just-got-that-one"-groan - they are that good (or with puns, is that bad?)

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Yay, they are done!

It really is the same procedure every year: I dread doing my tax-related paperwork; I wait and procrastinate until I am slowly running out of time, always thinking that it wasn't as bad as I dreaded the year before (or the years before, nowadays).

And then, one day almost at the end of the period, I finally sit down with the tax programme and get started. And it really is not as dreadful as I feared, and usually goes rather quickly, and I try not to fuss about the details... and I am done after much shorter time than I feared I would be.

So every year after finishing the taxwork, I think to myself that it wasn't necessary to dread it so much - and that next year, I will just sit down and do it instead of procrastinating for so long... wonder if I'll manage that next year!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


I get the feeling that it is finally, finally summer here: My early-summer hayfever has worn off, it is warm enough outside that you can ride a bicycle through town at half past nine wearing a t-shirt and not freeze to death, and I am tremendously enjoying to sit at my desk with the window open and fresh air coming in. (One of the neighbors is refurbishing with the windows open, so there's no glorious quiet to work in - but eh, I've stood on a building site often enough to more or less ignore that.)

Although yesterday was incredibly slow work-wise, my taxes are almost ready to hand in, and I do count that as progress. I have some proofreading for a colleague and friend on my desk too - and I'm actually rather looking forward to it today. So I guess that (and the rest of the taxes) are on the schedule for now...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Is it over already?

We spent a most wonderful and deliciously lazy long weekend, and I am a little sorry that it is over already - since the weather is still fine and warm and sunny, just like during the last three days. And it is amazing how much like a holiday it can feel if you are hanging around having breakfast and coffee with friends, sitting out in comfy garden chairs and seeing green all around you.

And for the first time in what seems like ages, I have found the leisure to take up the knitting needles again, starting to work on the "Skew socks" with a delightfully teal-coloured variegated wool.  Unfortunately that sock is not designed to work on feet with a very high instep like I have - so after working the heel on the sock, I found I had to rip back to the beginning of the instep, and I will now try stretching the gussets with extra plain rows and starting them much earlier.

But data doesn't mine itself - and that means back to the computer, and nose back to the grindstone. And today, in addition to data mining, an update to the Textile Forum website is due - so hop over there later today or tomorrow to find the preliminary programme!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Still playing with the data.

I'm still crunching on all those numbers and will be for a while, I guess. Next item coming up will be to handle all the samples again: Spooling them back into cops from their skein-state for better handling and easier storage and measuring thread diameter as well as making an "inspection card" for each of the samples. These are cards in a contrasting colour to the thread, where the thread is wound on in parallel lines - that gives a quite good first impression on how even the thread is.

And for now, I think I need a better graph program than ol' MS Excel. Any suggestions?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

I'm back, and armed with yarn length measurements.

I'm back from spending a very instructive and very nice (though also quite exhausting) time in a textile laboratory, measuring the lengths of all the thread samples. For this, I had the use of a thing called "Weife" - a special, very accurate reel with thread guides and a counter, turned with the help of a hand crank. Two full lab days were needed to measure all the thread samples, and I can probably still do the sequence of motions in my sleep: Open small bag, take out thread sample and label, smooth out label, replace empty drinking straw on the "spool-holder" with the sample on its straw, turn crank until counter stands at next full 10 metres, note down the number it stands at (I filled one whole page on a notepad with number after number), search for the spinner questionnaire of that session, double-check that it is the right questionnaire.
Fix end of thread to the reel, start turning the reel (all the while taking care that no snag on the sample spool changes the tension too much or leads to thread breakage). Once the red starter thread turns up, stop cranking on. Temporarily fix the red thread end somewhere to maintain tension and keep everything in place. Read the amount of full metres, then measure the rest down to the last centimetre. Write down amount in metres on both label and spinner questionnaire. Secure the skein with the red starter thread, take down from reel, fold together securely and put back into small plastic ziplock bag together with its label. Place spinner questionnaire on the "done" stack, place finished sample into large ziplock bag. Repeat until all samples of spinner are done, then put stack of questionnaires into large bag too, close bag, put into box, take out next spinner's bag. Start early in the morning and repeat until lab closes.

While this might sound very, very tedious, I actually did still enjoy myself. It would probably have been the most mind-numbing thing ever if that had not been "my" spinning experiment - but as it is, I had a lot of things to discover and marvel about. One of my pastimes was finding out again who had which spinner ID letter - some I did remember at once, and some I needed to read one or two questionnaires. And then, of course, the data! The metres spun! The different thicknesses (though I did not see much of these turning the reel, that blurs up everything). And, most interesting to me, the fact that a spinner complaining about bad, slow spinning in the questionnaire does not at all mean that the thread had to be bad or short - quite on the contrary: Complaints usually meant nothing in regard to thread length. My guess is that a "badly running" spindle will automatically require more concentration and thus a higher output compared to an undemanding one.

Some tidbits of the data: least amount spun was 2,90 metres, maximum length spun was 72,69 metres. Overall, the least amounts were spun on the 15/5 (the spindle from Hell with almost no moment of inertia) and on 52/41 (the thick cylinder whorl with a very high weight compared to its moment of inertia). However, this does not mean that these spindles were not also used productively by some spinners - 60,00 metres and 66,98 metres were also done on those two (by th same spinner, by the way).

Spinner output is influenced by the spindles used, but not in a similar pattern over all spinners, and with the more experienced spinners, there is not as much variation as you might expect given the very, very weird "spindles" used in the experiment. And thread thickness ranges are another very interesting thing: Some spinners seem to have a "thin range" and a "thick range" with a distinct gap between those two.

These are just the very first results, and I hope to get some (or even much) more out of that. There are lots of possibilities now to look at all the variables - which means doing all sorts of different sortings and of course different graphs to see if something can be seen.

It's all very, very very very interesting. I'll be off to play with yummy data some more now...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Day(s) off...

Today is a holiday here (which I totally forgot to mention yesterday), and though I am blogging today, it is only to take this day off - and the next few days as well: The most patient man of them all has taken tomorrow off, making it what we call a "Brückentag" (literally: bridge day) to extend a holiday on Thursday into a four-day weekend*. Since I'll be working on Saturday at the "Long Night of Museums" in Dinkelsbühl, I'm taking today and tomorrow as my weekend.

And in addition to tomorrow, there will also be no blogging as usual during the next week, since I am off to make the thread analysis for the spinning experiment. I don't know yet how long this analysis will take, so expect me back when you read me, and meanwhile, have a wonderful time!

* I am totally amazed that this seems to be unknown in the US, according to Wikipedia. Whoa, no Brückentage? Oh horror!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

It is Rhubarb season!

Each year in late spring/early summer, the time to eat rhubarb has finally come. I'm always looking forward to this time of year - I love rhubarb, especially as part of a cake with lots of other good stuff in it.
Since this wonderful "vegetable" is only in season until the middle of June, I am a little late for starting off the season - but then the early spring weather around here has not exactly been promoting lots of growth, and this shows.

So yesterday was partly set aside for eating rhubarb cake (with Streusel, of course) and for having a tiny celebration of the book and its first success moments - at the Uni where I wrote most of the thesis. And I'm having only a very moderate bad conscience about that, since a celebration and some thank-you cake for the people there were clearly very much in order, and I only have some very few photos of the experiment samples left to do anyways... which is what I will be doing now. To my very great relief, all the samples are in wonderful condition, nothing untoward has happened (no unexplainable falling out of their bags and mixing up samples and tags, no disappearing of things, no stealth moth invasion through several layers of plastic - yes, I did have weird nightmares about things like that) and thus I am very much looking forward to the analysis. I will be allowed to do the length measurements by myself, and after that we will have to look how much else I can do or if there are things that need to be done by professionals, and work out some good solution. All very exciting!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Broaden the Horizons, Widen the Skillset.

If anyone of you is looking for a way to widen the skillset and learn a heap of new things as autodidact, I can only recommend running a conference with an archaeological experiment. It is amazing how many things you can hone on that - including not only computery stuff like database wielding, but also things like photographing.

I spent the day yesterday behind the camera and a photo-tent (for good lighting). In the photo-tent? A sheet of paper with orange millimetre-grid and changing motifs (but all of them similar, and very wooly). And I progressed from photos like this,

when I started fiddling with the settings,

to this as the final result:

All photos are taken with a very long exposure time and a very small aperture to get a high depth of focus. I'm very happy that my camera has a setting exactly for things like that, which means that once I set up the label and wool cop, I only have to press the button once and then wait until the camera on its tripod has taken three pictures with slightly different exposure time...

Today I will take the rest of the photos, which is easy work but more than a bit boring, since the long exposure time means that it takes about two to three minutes for each item to finish. And in that time, I can more or less just stand around and be bored...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Hooray again...

First feedback about the book is coming in - and it is making my day, all the positive comments on the book. Add that to just having had a wonderful weekend, and I'm feeling a lot like taking the day off for celebrating and relaxing. But, alas, that is not possible - there's too much work forming interestingly-shaped heaps both in my brain and on my desk, waiting more or less patiently for my attention.

So... no partying on, except in spirit, but instead preparing for the final analysis step of the Forum 2009 experiment, preparing stuff for Forum 2010, and doing a myriad other things too... one after the other.

If you are looking for me and can't find me, just watch out for a moving heap of work - I'm probably buried beneath that and having a quiet snack on emergency chocolate...

Friday, 7 May 2010

Craft perfection and craft perception.

Do you know that feeling that to some events, there is something like a secret topic? One of the main chat-topics at Freienfels was quality in crafts and the ability or lack of that ability to discern good craftspersonship from bad craftspersonship and good material from bad. It seems to be a thing very much on the surface of the mind of many sellers and of many crafters at the moment - both joy about the fact that there are still people who value good craftspersonship and sadness about them being quite few and often restricted to medieval markets and fairs.

That is, in my opinion, largely due to the fact that even basic skills in craft things are not much valued in most parts of society today. It is no longer obligatory for girls to learn how to sew and embroider or for boys how to carve and build little wooden boats, giving both sexes at least a small grounding in fine motor skills and a glimpse into craftspersonship. After this gender-specific basic instruction in crafting had been in use for a long time, I was one of the lucky generation(s) when I was in primary school - because in my time, all boys and all girls had to learn how to crochet, sew, embroider, saw, file and drill, in the aptly named "Handarbeit und Werken" (Handarbeit referring to "traditionally feminine", textile-centric work, and Werken to "traditionally masculine" work involving hardware and wood). Back then, I mostly hated the Handarbeit part and especially sewing by hand - there are machines for that, after all! However, these lessons gave me the basic knowledge about seams, stitches and textile work and they schooled fine motor skills. Some of today's schoolchildren do not get any of these lessons anymore - and that does indeed show when they try to get started with the stuff. While I will gladly accept the necessity for the next generation(s) to get acquainted with electronics in a young age and develop their computer skills, I think that neglecting a basic craft instruction is not good at all. For example if you don't know how to mend clothing, you can either walk around with the torn garment or throw it away and buy a new one. And if you have never tried your own hand at making something, how will you be able to evaluate good quality?

There is a special, deep joy in seeing a masterly piece of crafts, even if you know you can't afford to buy it. I have had tears coming into my eyes quite a few times, standing before a thing awesomely well made - a knife forged to perfection, a felt bag masterly done in a very difficult technique, a pair of shoes where every seam, every stitch spoke of the abilities of its maker, a spherical wood capsule that closes just firmly enough, turned to perfection on a lathe. The ability to perceive good quality of material and craft does not come by itself, but has to be trained - it is easiest to see for somebody who has already dabbled into that specific craft, because then you will know or at least have an inkling of the difficulties in making the piece. And then a masterpiece of craft - it can be well and truely mind-boggling.

I am sorry for everybody who has not gotten some grounding in basic craft skills when still a youngster, and I am sorry for everybody who cannot get this joy through craft perception for at least one single craft. And then, quite related to that... I am still hoping that the awareness of good quality and the appreciation of craft skills will creep back into our society, and I am expecting the day that a well-made handcrafted one-of-a-kind item of good material will again be something to show off your status - because that is when we craftspeople will be sought after once more. And when joy through craft perfection and craft perception will again grow in our world.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Normalising... normalising...

Things here are slowly getting back to normal - the washing machine is working hard to clean all the linen stuff that I wore during the last week (which is lots), and I'm stowing away tools and supplies that I had in use. There's some stuff to mend and clean too, as always.

Freienfels had a few wonderful, amazing highlights for me. I was involved in a children's project where 3rd- and 4th-graders from schools in the district had one full day to spend at Freienfels, with special programme. Part of that programme was a three-hour workshop in a medieval craft - felting, basketmaking, potterymaking, blacksmith work, and so on. My crafty disciplines for the children was spinning and fingerloop braiding.

We all had a new group on each of the three days, and as always I found it amazing how different groups of workshop participants are. You can't see into a person straight away, but from the way that somebody handles difficulties and tools, and from the way somebody works at a craft, you can get a tiny glimpse at the character of that person. Apart from that fascination, I was quite disappointed in modern children's fine motor skills. Especially the very first group I had at Freienfels was a nasty surprise, since on my last workshop with that age group I must have had very talented children or children with well-honed fine-motor skills. However, I managed to teach every single child during those three workshop days at least one variation of fingerloop-braided bands - and that is definitively a good feeling. It especially makes a highlight for me since I had a few children in there who really had to work very, very hard to get into the braiding motions - but they were very strong and very determined, and they all made it. It makes me proud that they did not give up but persisted - since that is a quality that everybody will need during all of life, and I feel privileged in having helped them develop their persistence.

All these children now have a braid or several to prove that they did not give up but mastered the challenge. My hope for them is that the next time they are close to giving up, they will glance down on their braided bracelet and remember... and then boldly go on to persist, to master the next challenge, and turn their life into their own, wonderful adventure.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

I'm baaaaaaack!

I am back from the longest Freienfels I ever had - eleven days away, counting the day for arrival and departure.

Freienfels was chock-full of things that would make blood boil either with pleasure and joy or with outrage. It was full, full, full of wonderful people with amazing talents, and there was beautiful craftspersonship to be seen, just as I had expected. More things happened than I can tell in this little blog entry, especially since I still have my heap of paperwork left to do from before Freienfels, but maybe I'll tell a story or two one of the next days.

Running my own little stall right beside the Wollschmiede meant that I did not find the time for a leisurely walk and shopping trip all over the market, though nevertheless I managed to spend some money for more or less needful things - we now have a good bread-box, made of birch bark, and I am the proud and happy owner of a "Zwirngefäß" after a find from Pfakofen:

It is a pot with a large  central opening and six smaller spouts all around; together with this go six small bowls. The setup can be used for plying multiple yarns together, but (as we were able to test at the last Textile Forum) it is also a wonderful help when warping for tablet-weaves. I had always lusted after one of these tools, and after testing it at the Forum even more - so at Tannenberg, I ordered one from Anke, specially prepared for fine, delicate threads. It is polished at all the places where a thread will touch the surface - and I am totally looking forward to testing this little darling.

Yeah, my very own Spouty Pot!

Picture from: Bartel, A. (1998). Das Tüllengefäss von Pfakofen, Lkr. Regensburg - ein seltener Fund aus dem frühen Mittelalter. Textiles in European Archaeology. Report from the 6th NESAT Symposium 7-11th May 1996 in Borås. L. Bender Jørgensen and C. Rinaldo. Göteborg, Göteborg University, Dept. of Archaeology. Series A, vol. 1: 139-150. Picture on p. 142.