Monday, 28 February 2011

How weird is that.

It might have come to your attention that the German minister of defense, zu Guttenberg, has gotten himself in a heap of trouble because he did not actually write a doctoral thesis but copied it - he plagiarised. All of it (except maybe a few pages, it seems). Even the introduction was not written by himself, and for that copy-and-paste work, he received the best grade possible, summa cum laude.

Now you might know that in Germany, a Dr. in front of the name, that's something. There's still a nimbus of infallibility and specialness adhering to these two extra letters, and a Dr. in front of your name, spoken or written, might even provide you with preferential treatment or better customer service. (This is not something that I endorse - I'm writing this just to let those of you not knowing Germany well get a feel of what a title here might mean.) This should make it easy to understand why a phd is a good thing to have if you are going into politics, and it also explains why a German might, from time to time, find some weird advertisement letter in the mail promising a doctoral degree (and all the recognition connected with it) for next to no work (and a goodly amount of money).

A fake doctoral degree might exist more often than I wish to believe (or even think about it). And a fake title - buying something that others have worked and studied very hard for - is not a gentleman's crime. Especially not if you are a person of high political rank and should have high professional and personal integrity. Hello? Minister of Defense? Fake doctoral title? No can do.

So I, like a lot of other academics, are now waiting to see what happens. Meanwhile, since the Internet makes it easy to find plagiarisms in comparison to years ago, the community is working hard - not only making an interactive report available where you can compare the Guttenberg thesis and the original, but also with an open letter to Angela Merkel concerning the Guttenberg Affair from doctoral students (but also signable by others, both with and without an academic title). That letter has meanwhile even made it into the Tagesschau.

And then, of course, there's the jokes. Zu Googleberg, Karl Theodor Xerox, the Killer of Footnotes, Dr. ctrl.c. zu Guttenberg,... If you understand German, you might be amused by this joke collection, even including songs about him.

But there is something that should not be forgotten with all this joking: Mr. zu Guttenberg has wrought a lot of damage - damage to his ministry, to his political party, to the German science community, to the University he got the degree at, his faculty there and the professors working there, and possibly everybody else that comes from that Uni for at least a while. He is a fraud and there's no way to deny this (Statement by Prof. Lepsius from Uni Bayreuth, in German). And that fraud has done damage enough to end a few careers, not only his own.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Call for Papers European Textile Forum 2011

Working in historical textile crafts can be a very lonely affair. To help remedy this, we are organising the third European Textile Forum for people working in historical textile crafts. The event will take place September 12-18 2011 in the Urgeschichtemuseum Asparn an der Zaya, Austria.

The programme consists of three parts: Free time to work, try out things and talk about textile techniques; the possibility to give little show-and-tell presentations directly on your project during daylight hours; and a series of short paper sessions in the evening hours. We would like to present current projects, reconstructions, technical problems or research work during those talks.
As focus topic this year, we have decided on linen and other vegetable fibres, a very interesting and we think also very rewarding topic. Fitting in with this focus, Sabine Ringenberg is planning to do a series of test runs for her project of reconstructing historical methods for mordanting linen for a good, reliable dyeing result.

Papers or posters about our focus topic "Linen and other vegetable fibres" are thus especially welcome, but of course we are not limited on these fibres for the Forum.

We want to give up to thirty textile experts and enthusiasts the opportunity to meet at the museum for one whole week, each with his or her project(s), and there is free time to work, chat, demonstrate and talk about textiles and textile crafts during the day. The museum is open to the public and we welcome other weavers, spinners, dyers, to come so they can also sit, work and talk with both guests and participants. With this opportunity for everybody interested in textiles, we want to help establish a better communication between professionals and non-professionals like Living History enthusiasts.

The museum is graciously offering to support the Forum with the opportunity to sleep in a bronze-age house on the museum grounds. The museum facilities are very basic, so staying at the museum means bringing your own sleeping gear (mat and sleeping bag) - think of it like you would think of a camping trip. If you prefer a room, you can of course book your own accommodation in Asparn; information about rooms can be found on the Travel and Accommodation page. Full board consists of breakfast, lunch and dinner; water to drink will be available at all times. Breakfast will be served in the museum, while the other meals will probably be served in the restaurant doing the catering for lunch and dinner, a short walk from the museum. The conference fee, including sleeping space in the bronze age house and full board during the week, is 350 Euro per person.

Asparn an der Zaya is located about 60 km north of Vienna and is served regularly by public transport. We will try to make travel as easy as possible by providing the participants with information on public transport and transport schedules; additional information on the programme, the museum and transportation will be available over the website as well. If you have any questions, you can contact us directly via

For the Forum, we are looking for both paper or poster presentations and offers for show-and-tell presentations. If you can offer a workshop in connection with our Forum focus, please contact us via Workshops will be booked separately by the participants, and teachers will receive a reimbursement.

To register for the Forum with or without a poster or paper presentation, please submit your current area of research, the title and abstract of your presentation (papers not longer than 20 minutes) until May 27 via the registration form. Please also pass this Call for Papers on to others who might be interested!
For any questions left, you can contact us directly via

We are looking forward to a wonderful conference with you!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Textile Forum - we will be in Austria!

There is a German idiom that goes "Erstens kommt es anders und zweitens als man denkt" (literally: Firstly things will come out differently than secondly you planned), and that was a bit the case with our Textile Forum planning this year. This has lead to - you have already noticed - a bit of a delay with our Call for Papers, which we originally had wanted to post a bit earlier than now.

The good news is that we have finally got a date and a museum to host us - we will have the Textile Forum from 12-18th of September 2011 in the Urgeschichtemuseum Asparn an der Zaya, and I'm currently working on the website and CfP. You can expect the Call to go out tomorrow, and the website to be updated accordingly. And we're very much looking forward to the Forum in 2011!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Chess Players

I just realised that I somehow never got around to posting pictures of the chess-playing couple that I made for Hartenstein - so here you go, a few photos...

Closeup of the buttons on the blue dress (worn beneath the short-sleeved pink dress):

The man getting dressed. If you don't put the arms in first, it won't work, so they inevitably look like colourful pancakes with arms in at some point:

The lady getting dressed (you can see her knees in the background):

Last touchups on the fully dressed lady:

 Travelling to their new home in the car:

And sitting in their new spot at the museum:

I really like how those two turned out, and I'm still totally in love with the idea of showing a couple in a game of chess - showing a medieval pastime, a game, male and female clothing at once, and all that together with an intimate and romantic touch. Now I hope the people at the museum will also like it as much!

I will let you know when they will be officially made part of the museum and on view for the public, which will be very soon probably.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Medieval Dress Link Page

There's a whole page up since today at about the topic of Medieval Dress - with a nice list of textile- and dress-related online articles. The topic is not restricted to dress or clothing only, but also extends to dress accessories like pins, brooches and jewellery.

There are quite a few articles in that list I'll have to take at least a look at, and it's really nice to see a paper about wall hangings. If you are not of the textile persuasion already and want to have a nice overview of archaeological textiles and the problems of this field, you might want to read the article by Maria Cybulska and Jerzy Maik.

Monday, 21 February 2011

It's done.

It turned out that in spite of the payment thingie always giving me the virtual finger (as in "your payment didn't come through"), the very first try actually had already succeeded. The next tries, though, didn't - partly due to my spending limit on the credit card which is ridiculously low on purpose, partly due to a security warning at the card issuing center. And I must say that even though I was a bit miffed at how paying didn't work as smoothly as I was used to, I'm happy to know that there is somebody watching over the card transactions and taking a closer look if something seems to be out of control.

So now it seems to be all cleared up, I'm booked for the conference, I booked a flight already as well, and I can go to Leeds. Hooray! Now I only need to figure out what to attend there out of the gazillions of different sessions, papers, and special evening events. I'll probably feel utterly lost at such a huge conference - by far the largest one I'll ever have been to.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Whew. Wow.

The weekend is approaching again, and I have like a billion little things that I need to take care of before it is here - like sending off the paper version registration for the Leeds conference.

It turned out that my inability to register and pay with my credit card (or debit card, since that didn't work as well) must be due to some glitch in the general system that makes payment procedures seemingly uncompatible with my issue type of cards. Which is totally weird since I have used that card(s) for paying in the rest of the world (including England) before. However, all is well that ends well: I found out why it doesn't work, I will still get to register and pay by bank transfer, which should really work (keeping my fingers crossed),  Update: No, I'm still wrestling with the system. They did charge my credit card after all... and now I'm sending this blog post off come what may. I'll tell you how it all worked out on Monday (I hope)...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Learning Curve. And an airing date.

I'm one of those people who have the deep-seated wish to do everything correctly... so among the other things, I'm still working on getting my head wrapped around all the things that I have to be aware of in the future, tax-wise, and there's not every thing really clear for me yet.

However, I found some really interesting stuff around on the net, and even though most of you readers are not from Germany, I'll still share it. There's a totally amazing guide for freelancers called mediafon, and not only does it answer about every question that might come up, it's also written in a way that makes reading up on the stuff fun. And if you know how German law texts are written (probably the same for all law texts in every language), that really is an achievement. So between that and a call to my friendly official in charge, I'll probably be quite ok.

In other news (and I'm sorry again for the non-Germans), you might remember that back in June, I had a film team here and an insane amount of fun working with them. Well, the film is now finally not only cut and edited (has been for a while), but also furnished with an airing date. It will run under the title "Ritter, Gaukler, Heilerinnen (Faszination Mittelalter)" on BR alpha on the 28th of March, 16:00 to 16:30 o'clock. It's not up on their programme preview site yet, but will be in time.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Oh that Security Stuff.

We all know that The InternetsTM are a non-safe place, so I try to be as safe as possible. That includes the use of Firefox with the NoScript add-on, regular updates to safety-relevant programmes, and so on.

So I'm all for security. Unless... well, unless said extra secure methods keep me from actually paying for something over the Internet. Which is how I spent my morning (and which is why I am only blogging now, not two and a half hours ago as I had planned). I have succumbed to the lure of Leeds and now have been trying to register using the online form... and what can I say? It could be a little more user-friendly, maybe, as in not giving me a time-out that requires me to fill in all the forms again. Or a second time-out. Or forget everything already filled in when I log out. Or actually transmit my card data to my card issuer so that they can authorise the payment. Gah.

It does take a bit of stuff to get me pissed off, but I'm actually a little more than moderately pissed right now. Booking for a conference (or a flight, or whatever) is something that always sort of racks my nerves, so I like to have it run smoothly, not need to try it a gazillion times without success.

Well. I mailed the conference team with my woes, and I hope that it will get solved soon. Anyways (and if I have to mail in the .pdf and pay the extra process fee they charge for not using the online-booking system), I will go to Leeds Congress. Anyone else coming?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


I have actually tackled the paperwork stack yesterday, and I did make quite good progress - not all done yet, but soon I will be through (and that includes sorting stuff for easier tax-paperworks, so that's really fine). However, this year, I will have to brush up on tax stuff and get a little more knowledge in additionally, so I will have a bit more quality time with the paperwork stuff...

Unfortunately, taxes in Germany are a bit of a jungle, and it's not always easy to find your way through. It already starts with the name: There's Umsatzsteuer (literally: turnover tax) and Mehrwertsteuer (literally: value added tax). Which is exactly the same, only that USt. is nowadays the official term, but MWSt. is still used more often. Then there's different VAT rates for foodstuffs, books, and normal wares; if you teach for a school or private school, your honorarium might be exempt from VAT, but at another school it might not be. So to make things easier, there's a possibility to just not do VAT at all, but that is only possible under a certain maximum amount of income. You see? Jungle. Must find my machete. (If you actually want to have a quick and very incomplete first overview about German VAT, look here.)

Why I'm actually telling you about this? Well, my closed season seems to be over, and I will have to do MWSt. in the future. Which is a milestone, really - so I'm not too unhappy about it, just very curious on how it will go from now on.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Things, randomly written here.

Firstly, for all those of you who are planning to put in a visit to the V&A before they close down the textile study room, a heads-up: I have been sent additional information by two friends who went there and found that, without any further notice, the staff closed the study room at noon.

So they recommend that
any colleagues intending to make a special visit to the collection are *strongly* advised to contact the museum first to check that the room is likely to be open : they probably won't give any promises, citing the usual weasle phrase "lack of resources", but pointing out that the room will soon be closed anyway might help.
So please phone ahead if going to the V&A to save you a disappointment.

Secondly, there are more conferences coming up: The Braid Society meeting in 2012 and the Leeds Congress 11-14th of July 2011. I have made the mistake of looking at the preliminary programme up on the website, and now I'm totally lusting to go there. If only beaming were invented already!

Thirdly, I spent part of the weekend having a load of fun with the new "in" sports discipline, Extreme Hedgehog Wrestling. Here's photo proof of it:

And this is the hedgehog in rest:

The thing lying around on the table in addition to the needles and yarn is a count-down d20* that I use for counting knitting rounds. (For those of you not enlightened by roleplaying friends sharing their dice and knowledge, countdown dice have the numbers arranged so you can easily find the next one in sequence - as opposed to normal dice where you have to hunt for the next number.)

It's a pattern that was published in Knitty a while ago**, and contrary to my usual approach, I actually did not change anything when knitting it. Well, except using dpns instead of the recommended two circs, and messing with the needle size : yarn thickness ratio to get the correct gauge. (Hint: My needles are, to a normal knitter's mind, way too small for the yarn.) After I broke one needle tip during the wrestling session start, I sort of tried to err on the side of caution in regards to the number of needles (and therefor reduced stress on the individual needle).Hedgehog Wrestling then is the natural side effect of this.

* A 20-sided die. Which is plenty for most knitting purposes and a very standard type for a lot of roleplaying games.
** I won't tell you what it is yet, because it's intended as a gift, and you never know who reads this blog. I'll show the finished thing once it's been received, though.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Beating Wool

In the comments to my post about the beating frame, Iðunn asked about the procedure - I think, however, that this merits a proper blog post instead of a comment answer, so here it is. I do not have pictures of the beating process yet, but I will post them as soon as I get them.

Beating wool is something I have for a long time wanted to learn or see being done, so please keep us informed with pictures or even a video. Though I have seen those bows on medieval pictures and on a video about a German hat maker (Der Letzte seines Standes, I think it was)I'm still not quite sure how to do it.
There are three basic ways to fluff up wool: By beating it on a frame, by using a bow, or by teasing the fibres apart by hand. The first two methods use vibrations to loosen up the wool fibres, the third method is the straightforward mechanical pulling apart of the fibre staples.

A beating frame is a wooden frame strung with ropes in a lattice pattern; the (thin) ropes are under tension. The frame rests on trestles or some other support, and wool is placed on the rope lattice. By beating the wool (and the rope lattice underneath it) with a smooth, strong and flexible stick, the ropes and stick vibrate and thus start fluffing up the wool staples.

The bow method uses no frame and, according to literature, is better suited to short fibres than to very long fibres. A bow is strung and held or suspended so that its string is inside the loose heap of fibres. By hitting the string with a stick or plucking it, vibrations are induced that start fluffing up the fibres.

I have not yet worked with a bow, but the frame is a much faster way to fluff up fibres than teasing by hand - and they can get much fluffier as well. The downside? You need trestles, a large enough frame (if it is very small, you will hit the frame itself and break a lot of sticks, plus it doesn't work really well) and beating sticks.

Another thing I would like to ask you is about the distaff. I totally agree that spinners MUST use a distaff as it has been done since time immemorial. I have a distaff from Greece but somehow I can't find a proper way to hold it. When I put it in my belt it keeps falling forward. Also I'm not quite sure how to attach the wool to the distaff. I take pains to comb the tog and card the þel but when I wrap it around the d. it looks all messy. My distaff looks like sort of a trident.
I prefer rather short distaffs, and I tuck them under my left arm to hold them there. If you can't get your trident distaff to work, maybe you can try around with some different lengths to find out what suits you best? As for attaching, I just wrap my roving around the distaff-stick I use, and when I get to the end of the sliver, I tie the very end to the stick with a bit of string so that it doesn't slip off. You might try to place the end of your roving through the "fork" bit and then wrap it around the stem underneath - maybe that will help.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

New threads!

My new linen threads have finally arrived, and now I have a slightly different assortment than before. Instead of offering sewing thread in two colours (creamy white or fully bleached), I have reduced the colour range to one thread inbetween the two and instead now have two thicknesses of linen sewing thread.

The picture shows both linens and between them a spool of fine silk thread. As you can see, I have also started winding the thread on new spool-like objects, so now your thread rolls can happily lie around in open sight on every historical event - these babies are historically correct material. Plus you can secure your thread in the open end if you carefully crack the roll in one or two spots!

And just so you can get an approximate picture of the thicknesses we are talking about here:

These are, from left to right in the picture: Silk Gütermann 100/3 thread (for thickness comparison), the thin linen thread and then the thicker linen thread. I'm sorry the picture is a little blurry, but you should be able to compare the three thicknesses if you look at the spot right under the cent-coin.

I am very happy with these new threads: Sturdy, very high quality, very smooth and thinner than you usually get. Oh, and I have decided to do one hundred metre spools for now and see if there are requests for smaller portions, too.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Tidying up.

I am theoretically all in favor of things neat and tidy (and all put away into their proper place). I have a fixed sorting and packing system, for example, for my stuff that I take to market; there's a fixed place that I get the things from, a fixed spot they take up in the car (though that does regularly undergo a slight change), a certain order in which they go into the car and out of it again. And when I pack up my stuff, I know which bit goes into which basket (and you can occasionally hear me mutter the names of the baskets while sorting). This system has been established for a while, and I really, really appreciate knowing where to go for this or that, and where to put things when packing up, since it cuts down on packup time and packup stress enormously. (That's when having to fiddle is most annoying, because all you want is get everything and yourself into the car and have the journey home over with...)

However for some reason, many of my things tend not to stay in their neat and tidy place, nor the place neat and tidy. So after postponing it often enough, I used a bit of my mostly-off-day yesterday to sort through stuff in my study cupboard and rearrange its innards so that everything has its proper place again and more fits in besides that. It was actually successful, and as usually not as bad as I always picture it. There's still a bit of rearranging and sorting to do before the season start, but at least it is a beginning.

And even more of a wonder, I have actually tackled the heap on my desk this morning and taken it down considerably. And I'm sure that all the rest of the heap will also not be so bad. Which brings me to a continuously amazing (and unfortunately a recurring) thought:

How can it be that things that are not so bad to properly stow away or take care of after all, something very beneficial to the general workflow or style of life, get put away improperly again and again? Even if the person putting off to deal with it has repeatedly experienced the benefits himself or herself and knows that it would be really not so bad to just do it? Is there a genetical quirk I can blame, or do I have to shoulder all the responsibility for being slack myself?

Does anybody have an answer for this? Or, better yet, a trick to make me magically orderly and non-reluctant to do bookkeeping and taxes?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Random Items for the Blog

I am still feeling my hand muscles from gripping the wool combs all weekend.

I now know that I am totally spoiled in regard to properly prepared fibre - I was not really having fun with that yucky commercially prepared Merino top. So little fun (and so much yuck), in fact, that I did much prefer to make me a quick, not-very-well-done bit of top on my combs to do demonstration spinning.

Just in case that you (like me) have not yet seen pictures of how silk throwing to get organzine actually works, the process is explained (with pics) on WormSpit's blog.

Oh, and this little blog has gained its 100th "follower" - welcome! This does feel like a real milestone for me.

Monday, 7 February 2011


I'm back from the weekend stint, which was very, very nice - I met a lot of wonderful colleagues again, got to use my wool beating frame (worked very well), did a fair bit of combing wool (which really trains your hand muscles) and even got to see the Staufer exhibition that is currently running in the evening.

We also were insanely lucky with the weather, with up to two-digits-in-the-plus temperatures - I did not need to put on even half of the additional warm clothes that I had brought. And to top it all off, the visitors all were very interested and very nice - so a thoroughly good work weekend for me.

And now there's the weekend-wrap-up-work left for me to do: Get all the things out of the car and stowed away in their proper spots. And after that... I'll go have a coffee with friends and check out a few books from the Uni library. And relax.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Amazingly productive.

The rest of yesterday turned out amazingly productive - much more so than I would have guessed after getting a severe headache a few minutes after writing the blog. Luckily, a painkiller and a little nap took care of that, and I did finish my building project (though it won't win a prize for beauty) and even a few more bits from my list of urgent things. Plus I somehow felt inspired and curious enough in the evening to do a bit of extra work in preparation of the embroidery workshop that is planned for the beginning of April in Vienna - and I'm really looking forward to that!

And now I am the proud (medium-proud, that is) owner of a frame for beating wool. Willowing wool. Making wool fluffy by hitting it hard with slender sticks. Which is a much, much faster way to get the clumped staples nice and fluffy than teasing it by hand, and I'm really happy to give it the test run on the weekend!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Prep for the weekend

Just in case that you are in the region of Mannheim this weekend and don't know yet to do with your time, I'll be at the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum on Saturdy and Sunday together with Nobilitas. From 11 to 18 o'clock, you can not only see us at work doing historical crafts but also try your own hand at these things.
Now... it's still February, which is usually not the warmest month of the year. Weather forecasts say it will be warmer towards the weekend, with up to 10° C in Mannheim, but I have nevertheless planned to bring cold-weather-compatible work (also suitable for having others try).

Unfortunately, this cold-weather-compatible work means that I will have to build some stuff for it today. So if you're looking for me... I'll be over there, with the saw and the hammer and the drill.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

V&A is moving textiles to new facility for storage and study

The V&A, the museum with the wonderful public study room for textiles, has cut down on accessibility on the frames and will close the public study room completely on March 1, 2011; after this will follow the closure of all the other textile and fashion-only rooms during the course of the year.

Bad news, but it's followed by good news: The closing down is just to move all the precious items into a new facility, the Textiles and Fashion Study and Conservation Centre at Blythe House in Kensington Olympia. It's scheduled to open late summer 2013, so we'll have to wait two years for full accessibility again - which is a very short time to move one hundred thousand individual museum textiles.

If you want to learn a bit more about this, you can read ThistleThreads' blog entry, where I first got the information, or get your information fix straight from the Horse's mouth at the V&A website.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"Togs" was Word of the Day!

A few days ago, Merriam Webster had "togs" as word of the day, and I got sent the link. Word of the Day is quite fun to read, and if you are looking to improve your English vocabulary, it might not be a bad thing to just take a look at it now and then (or daily, even).

If you would like to read the "togs"-WotD, go here. But be warned: There's word games and stuff on that site, it can act as a time sink...