Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Good thing. Is it?

It's probably a good thing that I have been so eager to get some work done on the one big project that I almost totally forgot to blog - hence the very late blog entry.

In addition to being busy, and forgetful, and totally overdoing it with adding books to my to-read list (or at least to the to-check-for-interesting-parts list), I have nothing new to tell you. So instead I will leave you with this totally awesome flashmob video, because what can be more awesome than a flashmob with a harp?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Oh Yersinia. You really did it.

If you've been more than marginally interested in the epidemic called "Black Death" that wrought havoc on the population in the Middle Ages, you may have caught that there was a (sometimes quite heated, I gather) dispute about whether it was the Plague as we know it today, or something entirely else, or a mutation of the Plague, or a combination, or whatever. And I confess I was leaning towards "something else", too, just like a lot of other scholars.

But now they did it. You know, those archaeologists and other scientists? These guys that poke around in old stuff, messing around with our nice familiar concepts of history, dragging home old bones and potsherds and lumps of clay and textile and rusty metals? They did it. They found the DNA of the Bringer of Black Death.

And it's Yersinia Pestis.

Their research is published in an open-access peer reviewed journal (oh, we so need more of those), and you can read the whole article for yourself. Good old Yersinia. Wreaking documented havoc on mankind since 541.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Wool, wet. And dry.

Since I seemingly promised you wool pictures and Heather reminded me of that, here they are. All were taking during the test runs for a washing wool procedure (and the test run was, by the way, quite successful).

This is Rhönschaf-wool before washing, laid out on a cloth.

All the wool was pretty clean, as wool worn by sheep hanging out outside goes. And I discovered during washing that a lot of the darker colour is due to dust and fine earth particles hanging in the fleece.

And this is wooly magic happening right there. This is the wool soaking in rainwater, and it's basically cleaning itself. You see the little bubbles about in the middle of the picture? That is the result of a reaction between sheep urine, lanolin, sheep sweat and soft water. It's... soap bubbles. Which will remove a bit of the lanolin and all the urine and sweat, leaving the wool...

... nice and clean after rinsing. It's spread out for drying on my beating frame here. And yes, I have managed to wash a whole fleece's worth of wool at once, thanks to well-timed rainfall hereabouts.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Things that may be of interest (or not)

On a modern textile blog (catering to industrial production mostly) you can find some facts about linen (drawn from a modern linen producer). The fact that is missing there is that while linen has very high tensile strength - which means you can hang a lot of weight from a thread - it is actually not very resistant against friction, wearing through relatively fast. Still, it's an interesting list.

If you're waiting to see the TARDIS in a cathedral, at least in a photo, go visit highlyeccentric's blog. I am officially stunned.

HistoriAnn and Notorious PhD blog about conference etiquette and the job of a panel commentator, respectively. If you're going to conferences or being in the danger of moderating/commenting a panel, I do recommend these posts and their discussion.

If you are wishing to learn about medieval beans and how to prepare a bean dish, go read Andreas' recounting of a cooking test run (he's giving a seminar in fall).

But if that all is not tickling your fancy, you can always hop over to the Yellow Press of Medievalist Studies* and learn about medieval flamethrowers. Yes, flamethrowers!

* I realise that this may be a bit harsh - but I get their RSS feed, and that is just what I sort of think when all the flashy titles pop up. Yes, I know that much of it is the scholar's own fault. Yes, I'm doing that myself. I discovered a while ago and was totally excited for a time, but learned soon that their offerings (as always, duh Katrin) has to be taken with some salt. It's a service that will dig up articles and stuff about the Middle Ages, but they are not a peer review organ, and there will be outdated or disputable papers on there. That said, I still like to get the feed, if only to learn about medieval flamethrowers once in a while. And now this footnote is almost getting longer than the rest of the post.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Not much to tell.

Though I'm furiously working on stuff, I don't have much to tell about it yet - I don't want to jinx the project and that means I will be keeping mum for now.

There are a few very nice and exciting things afoot, though, and I will soon be able to tell you more. For now, I enjoy that one project so much that I'm getting sidetracked into almost forgetting to blog, and the other has stolen me a bit of sleep the day before yesterday because I had to think about it.
And this second one is linked to a trip to England, which I am wildly looking forward to.

Finally, I have spent part of yesterday evening with legalese - turns out the German law regarding the right of withdrawal has changed again, and I thus had to change the legalese texts in the shop. Speaking of which, I have also made a good bit of progress translating the legalese for the English version - though those of you waiting will have to hold out for a bit longer still. Sorry for that! (I really need a duplicator so I can turn into three of me during the work hours... anyone know where I could get one?)

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


When in doubt what to blog, blog things like links.

Is that a blogger's adage? If not, can we make it one? I will at least do what it says and blog some links for you.

First of all, for those of you who know about the Maaseik embroideries, here's a direct link to their pictures (among others) from the kikirpa database. In case you don't know about the Maaseik embroideries, they are a series of 8./9thc century gold and silk embroideries. In case you don't know about the picture database of, go take a look - it's worth it.

And in less serious at lest as important news, highlyeccentric blogs about the fate of a penis tree mural.

Finally, totally unmedieval but fascinating: Art from somebody who merges photos with pencil drawings. Really worth a look too. Text is in German, but the pictures are not, of course.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Updated the Shop!

The new spindle whorls are now in the shop, and it's possible to order both the discs and the new, hand-thrown ones. For the latter you can just tell me the weight you'd like - they are in a span of c. 10 to c. 47 g - and I will pick out one. (Or, while I still have most of them, you can tell me which one from the photo in yesterday's blog you would like.)

Plus there's something else in the shop. I will be giving a workshop in Erlangen on how to do medieval embroidery on October 29, where we will cover counted work, and October 30, where we will do uncounted embroidery (including a little gold embroidery). Both days can be booked separately via my Onlineshop - there's a category called "Kursangebot" - so you can come to one or the other or, of course, to both. Please be aware that there is only a limited number of places available. If you are coming from further away and need a place to stay, I can supply you with some info to help you find a place to stay as well.

I'd love to see you in October!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Good things have happened.

I had a wonderful weekend, spent with friends doing nice and weekendy things like playing boardgames (among them a few hilariously bad ones), chatting, eating cake and planning future craft projects (theirs, not mine).

But before that, on Friday evening, I finished off the workweek with some... work. Hot, interesting, adrenaline-flush-making work. I dragged our firebowl and wood and stuff out in the garden, and I started layering in wood and the now bone-dry clay whorls I made. Which makes that procedure some weird cross-over between kilnless firing and pitfiring.

As expected (because you always have them in a kilnless firing procedure), there were losses.

Most of what you see in that box, though, are not whorls, but the remainder of two of the three medieval type piggy banks that I put in as well, even though I knew there was a very, very high probability they would not survive it. (Because their time for drying... let's just say it was not generous. At all. And my mum taught me better.) But I still wanted to know, and I don't know when I'll be doing this again, so...

Losses on the pieces that had dried out properly were not so high. And most of the whorls came out whole and nice and black:

I have a thing for reducing-athmosphere fired pottery. I mean I like pottery colours, especially white and off-white, but I just dig the black stuff. I now have one (non-functional) very very crudely made piggy-bank that has no piggy shape and 57 spindlewhorls to re-stock the online store with. Not all of the thicker whorls are perfectly round, so I might have to test a few and maybe take them out, but overall they do look good. And my fancily decorated disc whorl even survived as well:

That, my friends, was a really nice Friday evening.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Looking happy while getting wet.

As all the long-term readers of this blog know (because I’ve written it repeatedly), I am naturally lazy. I am also aware of efficient working procedures and non-efficient working procedures, even if it is not always in my power to change from the latter to the first.

Washing wool is a high-consumption activity: It needs obscene amounts of water, some work time and a huge lot of waiting time, especially for the wool to completely dry again so it can be put back into storage. It also needs some equipment to make wool washing sustainably efficient. Plus, the wool that still has its natural oils is a joy to work with, and wool that has been scoured heavily or washed with too much agitation is prone to felt, making the following processes harder and maybe even severely damaging overall fibre quality.

So my first impulse (and more or less my wish) is to leave the wool as it comes from the sheep, washing-wise, and start with the process of beating, combing and carding straight away. However, there’s dirty wool and there’s clean wool, and dirty wool is harder to work with in some circumstances. Much harder to work with. So much so that the investment of water, work time, wait time, and equipment seems to be an efficient investment again.

Currently, I’m testing the waters for wool-washing – checking how much time I need for a batch, how much water, what works better or not in my scale of material amounts, which might be roughly equivalent to the processing amounts of a very small medieval industry or a large household. And that, in turn, means I’m very happy that it is raining right now, and that I have just gladly ran out into the rain, getting wet while bucketing rain water from the container being refilled to an extra storage container. And will do so again in case it rains enough to fill the first container completely again.

And now I’ll dry off with a cup of coffee and some nice work.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Textile Stuff - Lengberg again!

Here's the promised textile centred backlog. I'll start you off with a conference date again:

The conference "Dyes in History and Archaeology DHA30", a joint meeting with the Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group, will take place 12-15 October 2011 in the University of Derby Enterprise Centre, Derby (UK). For more information, please visit the conference's website. While this is one of the many conferences I will not be able to attend, a poster about the Hallstatt project that I took part in will be shown there.

Since it came up again on MEDTC, for those of you lusting after a view of the textiles in the V&A in London: They will be available for study again probably in summer 2013, since the collection is moving to a new location. It's not a progress report, but at least some info: Clothworker's centre.

And now the juiciest bit for today. Beatrix Nutz who researches the textiles from Schloß Lengberg (medieval bras, anyone?) has been busy again, and her article about the very early needle lace from the finds is online. You can find the article here; it includes pics, schematic drawings of lace structures, and you can all understand it - just scroll down for the English text. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


I really should not go check work emails before writing the blog, or it leads to severe late-blogging.

While I was away, a ton of mails (a small ton, anyways) came over the MEDTC-list. For example, this link that leads to a list of dissertations since 1994, with quite a few textile-related titles among it. I'm not going to re-post all the interesting bits from the list - if you did not join it in 2009 when I first wrote about it, or when you found out about it, you can join now by going to this old post, reading up on it and doing what you need to do.

There's the (annual) international conference „Experimental Archaeology in Europe 2011“ that will take place from 13.-16.10.2011 in Schleswig/Germany. It is organised by EXAR and the Archaeological Service and Museum of Schleswig-Holstein in castle Gottorf near Schleswig. Though termed "international", the conference is almost purely in German language. If you do not mind that, though, there will be a presentation about the Hallstatt textile reproduction that I was also involved in, and two other textile-focused papers. Unfortunately, I will miss the conference due to a date clash. If you think about going, you can find more info on the website

And on the other side of Earth (more or less), there's a roundtable discussion about experimental archaeology:

Teaching Experimental Archaeology in an Academic Setting: A Roundtable Discussion

Increasingly, many archaeologists acknowledge the value of experimental archaeology and incorporate an experimental component into their research designs.   Simultaneously, numerous anthropology departments throughout the world are expose their students to the field by adding experimental archaeology courses to their departmental offerings or at least by including experimental components to more traditional archaeology classes.  The professors offering these courses come from various backgrounds and approach the material in very different ways.  Accordingly, we all have a great deal to offer one another.

In an effort to encourage dialogue between the instructors of these courses, a roundtable discussion focused on teaching experimental archaeology in an academic setting has been organized and is planned to take place during this year's Reconstructive and Experimental Archaeology Conference (REARC).  This conference will take place between October 14 and 16 at the Schiele Museum located in Gastonia, North Carolina (see:  If you: 1) currently teach or are planning on teaching an experimental archaeology course, 2) currently teach or are planning on teaching a course that includes an experimental archaeology component, or 3) are interested in how experimental archaeology is taught in an academic setting, please consider participating in this roundtable.  In addition to a lively discussion, I would like to also assemble a packet of hard copy and digital materials such as syllabi, reading lists, class activities, etc. that can be shared amongst the participants and interested conference attendees.  Please consider sharing these materials whether or not you plan on attending the conference.  If you are planning on participating in any capacity please respond to Bill Schindler ( by September 15, 2011.

More of the backlog, but with a more textile nature, tomorrow.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


I'm doing all manner of things here that I have been not doing before the vacation, plus I'm involved with a brandnew (still top-secret) collaborative project that has gotten me all bouncy and inspired and enthusiastic. So inspired and enthusiastic that I'm getting sidetracked from writing this blog thingie again and again.

Which is really, really nice. Plus I have dirty wool soaking outside, and a ton of other nice things to do and look forward to. And stuff to share - but I will do that during the next days, when I'm perhaps a little less easily distracted and not as bouncy anymore.

Monday, 15 August 2011

I'm back.

I'm back from a wonderful and really relaxing summer holiday - we went for a canoe paddle to Lake Constance and had a really nice time there. Paddling is a slow, slow way to get around, so it gives the mind enough time to unreel and let go.

The weather at the lake was a little unreliable (as we've heard it is wont to be), but we were quite lucky nonetheless: Most of the rainy time was in the evenings or during the night, when we did not mind it at all, and though we were not able to paddle for two days due to strong winds, we found other nice stuff to do.

And now my feeling of energy and being refreshed and with recharged batteries will hopefully last for some time! I've already tackled the long-overdue clearing of my workdesk (now there's more than a few square millimetres of the surface visible on the left, hooray!) and I will be working my way through the backlog of emails as soon as I've fortified myself with a nice cup of tea. The weather is very inspiring for work as well today: it's raining hard...

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Time to take time off.

It's the middle of summer, and the middle of things - and what better time to take some time off?

So I'm going to do the summery thing and take some time off; that of course includes blogging. I will be back on the blog on August 15, and I wish you all a wonderful time until then - with summery warmth and summery delights!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Picture Floods.

There's a flood of pictures in our lives, and everybody who likes to wield a digital camera will know how long it takes to sort and tag all the photos. Plus there's a growing amount of digitised historical pictures - statues, paintings, manuscript pages - that are available on the internet or on CDs and DVDs. And these are best and easiest to use if they are properly tagged so you can look for, say, a distaff. Or a donkey. Or whatever.

And IT people are actually working on this - they are working on image recognition software that will be able to recognise, say, a crown. Or a distaff. Or a donkey. or whatever, and all that on historical source material that has been digitised.

There's a full article (in German) about that over on Spiegel, in case you are interested.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Powerpoint. It's a mighty tool.

Thiszm18 blog post was prompted by a praise of Powerpoint over at the Naked Philologist - and rather than crowding the comments there, I'm doing my own blog post. With a great amount of "never ever" in it.

Having studied archaeology, I am totally used to papers with visual aides - and I had the transition time from photo/picture slides to Powerpoint during my time at university, so I know what you can do with slides, and I know how much better you can do with Powerpoint.