Friday, 30 August 2013


From time to time, I mention that some things are so much easier to find these days than just a decade ago - thanks to the Internet. And there's more databases and info-portals springing up, such as these ones:

Arachne - meant to help make research easier, this project from Uni Köln mainly focuses on antique stuff. It includes a possibility to browse the Trajan pillar in detail, among much other stuff. The interface seems to be German only, though.

Then there's Europeana, a multi-language portal and searchable database of... stuff, from all over Europe. Searchable, though you might have to look through a lot of entries or miss some, and search terms can be in different languages. I'd say that is a space to watch, though.

And then there's DARIAH, with an even more high and noble aim: to interconnect all arts and humanities resources in Europe. It seems to still be in its building phase, though.

Maybe, one day, it will actually be possible to search all the picture databases in a collection such as my bookmark list? That would be a happy day...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Random list of things.

The summer is definitely coming to an end - there was fog lying all across the garden this morning, and temperatures are becoming sort of nippy. I hope we'll have a few more warm days, though, so that some more tomatoes can get edible.

The cat is sitting on her cat bed beside my desk and is busy washing herself. Once she'll finish, I know exactly what she is going to do: Nap. Until the afternoon. While I have to work. I think she does that on purpose.

Work, for today, includes checking my lists and packing up stuff for the Textile Forum. I can't believe that it's already starting next week!

Two days ago, I snuck into the workshop in the basement and spent something like a good one and a half hour there. The result? I made the weaving contraption that I lost the source for. It is not the most beautiful of thingies, but it does work, and nicely so - I am now hooked on bandweaving, and am finally making progress on that optimistic-length warp that I set up oh, ages ago. (I also found out about how important good alignment of the elements in the contraption is.)

There is a fun blog around with advice from old books, called Ask the Past. Go and enjoy - it's not all very long gone past advice, but all of it is interesting.

That's the random stuff for today...

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ah. The old myth.

It's been a while since I last heard (or read) it, but today was the day. Someone on Facebook, in a group for Experimental Archaeology (including Experience Archaeology) posted it.

"Unfortunately, the modern tailors just do not stitch as fast as people who started as children and have sewn all their lives."

I've heard this a lot over the years. Now that I think of it, though, I get the suspicion that it was predominantly textile stuff... spinning, especially, as well as sewing.

Well. Here's what I think.

Modern crafters are not necessarily slower than their historic counterparts. First of all, individuals have different working speeds (then as now). Once you have reached the end of your working speed development, there you are. I've tried sewing as fast as I could, so I'd see how much of a difference it would make. The result? I was not faster at all compared to working at my relaxed normal speed, only the seams were not as nice. Unless I have to get acquainted with some new fabric, or fiddle with a particularly difficult bit of seam (such as a weird corner), my normal sewing speed has reached my personal maximum, and that's where it will stay.
It's perfectly logical, too. Think about it: If you are running every day to become a faster runner, you will at one time find your maximum - and that will be it. There'll be fluctuations, of course, but there's an end point to speed.
Similarly, crafting speed has a limit somewhere and you can't get indefinitely faster with more practice. If that would be the case, it should not be possible to see the needle, or shuttle, or hammer, or saw of a very experienced crafter with 30+ years of daily practice anymore, because that thing would move that fast. Just like our materials have limits, and our tools have limits, so does the range of movements and the maximum possible speed of going through those movements while still efficient.

Thirdly, "crafting speed" is hard to compare between individuals, as you do not know the exact circumstances of the work and the exact materials. There's a difference between spinning raw wool fresh from the sheep or clean combed wool. There's a difference between forging something from iron or from high-carbon steel. There's a difference between sewing a heavy silk or a loosely woven linen. There's a difference between carving a spoon from wet hazel or dry oak. And that's not even taking into account the use of different tools, or working styles.

I am firmly of the opinion that there is no reason why a practised crafter today should not be as fast as a practised crafter from 10, 50, or 500 years ago.
Case in point: There is an attempt at calculating the approximate time spent on sewing types of garments in Textiles & Clothing (the London publication) from documented garment prices and tailor wages. The times do roughly match the times that I need for tailoring and hand-sewing the same types of garments. (The day I discovered this? That was a happy day for me, and the first time I really started thinking about this "we are never as fast as they were" thing.)

What do you think? Have you been told that we can never reach the fantabulous speed of those gone by? And, most interesting to me: Have you ever heard that applied to something outside of textile context?

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Ah. So much stuff.

I have what feels like about a gazillion of possible blogging topics or links or pages on hold in the readmelater-thingie, but haven't gotten around to looking at even one of them closely enough to decide (much less blog) about it.

So here's a sweet stopgap: Carlisle Castle recreated in... biscuits.

And here is a food history timeline - I will not vouch for its accuracy, though (since I have not had time to check it out in detail). Obviously, there's more detail on the later times than the earlier - makes for an interesting scroll through, and it might give you (like me) one or two ideas on what to cook - or try cooking.

That's it for today. Now I'll enjoy a cup of coffee (blessings of modern times) and try to get that list of things that need to be done shortened to a reasonable length!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Dear Internets...

Dear Internets,

a goodly while ago, I was a very happy woman because I found a picture. Those of you who have been researching stuff and looked for helpful pictorial sources will know exactly what I mean with that. (For those of you who don't: Imagine finding a winning lottery ticket that buys you a lovely evening out with your loved ones.)

I found a picture of a textile-related contraption. It was perfect bliss.

And then I did the Stupidest Thing Ever to do with sources just found. Those of you who have been researching stuff will probably know exactly what that is. The STE is the following thought: "Oh wow, finally! This is very good. And now I know where to find this source. I WILL BE ABLE TO REMEMBER WHERE IT IS." followed by the corresponding action, as in not writing down in at least one place where one can reliably find the info again where it was. Or marking the book. Or both. Plus, maybe, adding a few hundred more notes in other places.

I did one little test run with something cobbled together very vaguely resembling the basic concepts of that contraption. It seemed to work. I put it away to do some more research and test driving and planning to eventually do a reconstruction.
Then, things happened just like they tend to do: Stuff came up, stuff had to be dealt with, stuff was dealt with, more stuff came up, the projects in the drawer stayed in the drawer.

All that must have been more than a year ago in the meantime, and I cannot find that picture again. So it's time for me to bleg for some help - maybe you have seen the picture (or a similar one).

The contraption was for weaving tape (ribbon, band, narrow-wares) with a rigid heddle. It was basically a board lying on a table, the rigid heddle firmly set onto that board at about the front, and behind it with some space between them was a short upright round piece of wood. The warp was wound around that upright dowel and ran through the heddle; the woman weaving held the band (obviously moving it up and down to change shed) in one hand and shuttle and/or other tools in the other hand. I think the already finished band was also wound around a dowel that she held in her hand.
That's what I really remember (or am quite sure about). The rest of it? I think she was blonde, sitting with mostly her back turned toward the viewer, in the foreground of the picture, and I think she was wearing a green dress. It's having a late-medieval feel in my memory, and it may or may not have been a depiction of Mary.

So, dear Internets, I would be so, so happy if you could help me find that piccie. Because you know, yesterday I set down and fiddled with something prototype-like, and it totally works and is lovely to work with... and I'd so love to compare with the picture before I do a final version.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Rules of Experimental Archaeology.

Let's say you are thinking about running, or you are planning, an Archaeological Experiment. You have started with defining and phrasing your key question*, and you have done all the background research. Your outline is written and has been checked by someone else to help make sure that nothing is missing. You have made a list of the tools, materials, and other resources that you will need.

And now the actual experiment is drawing nearer and you have to prepare it. And do it. So here are the Rules for Experimental Archaeology...

Rule #1: Things always take longer than you expect.
This does not only apply to researching and writing the outline, but also to sourcing your tools and materials. And, of course, to the experiment run itself. Oh, did I forget the post-experiment analysis, synopsis, additional research and writing of the publication? That, too.
Rule #2: Something that you need is always missing.
If nothing is missing from the list you have written down beforehand, you will probably need something that was not on that list. Or you would have needed it twice and it's only available once. Or something is not working and therefore missing in regard to all practical purposes.

Rule #3: The only way to make sure things will not go wrong badly is by having enough surplus material available.
If you have just enough to make the experiment run... you are tempting fate. If something goes wrong and you lose some material, you will be right back at Rule #2, and in the worst case that will kill your whole experiment run.

Rule #4: You cannot document too much.
While having a huge load of photos and taking copious notes of everything (including subjective stuff) can be a real pain in the neck when finishing up the documentation and writing the paper, it's always easier to pick a sample of photos than do another run of the experiment because you lack documentation. Plus, in case of a repeat performance, one of those additional snapshots might be just the thing to remind you on how you did it last time... for example in case something is missing (remember?), and you have to find a substitute.

Rule #5: If you did not write it into your plan, chances are high you'll forget it.
Experiments tend to eat you alive, and they will suck up your brain capacity. It's even worse if you start the experiment run not really well rested (possibly due to Rule #1), or if it's a very long experiment (or becomes one because things take longer than planned), or a very complicated one. Thus it's immensely helpful to have a cheat-sheet, also known as The Plan, where you have written down all the single steps to do during the actual run, in order and with remarks of what you must document by taking measurements or photographs. A detailed plan is also a good way to make sure that everything is listed in your requirements list and a good way to estimate how long the single steps will take.

So... plan ahead, plan for more time and more material than you think you need, get someone (preferably with crafts knowledge in that area) or several someones to check your plan... and then go for it. Experimental Archaeology is a lovely thing to work in.

* If it has no key question that it's designed around, if it's not as objective as possible, or if it is not documented well enough to be repeatable, it's no archaeological experiment. It may be something else and it may be important or helpful... but no true experimental archaeology.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

It's drawing nearer...

I have a hard time believing how time flies by - it seems just like yesterday that we left for our paddling holiday, and now it's weeks later and the Forum is almost upon us.

Time to take care of the last bits and pieces, which include the last bits of fine-tuning for the experiment that we have planned for this year. It's about Late Antique resist-dyed textiles... and among the things left to do is making a template for the application of the resist pastes we are planning to use. The materials, though, have not all arrived yet, a package seems to have gone astray. Which again proves Rule #1 for Experimental Archaeology: Things always take longer than you expect.*

That, and going through the whole thing together with Sabine who will take care of the actual dyeing process. We will dye using indigo - I'm really looking forward to that, I always love when fabric suddenly becomes blue!

* Rule #2, by the way, is Something that you need is always missing. Maybe I should do a whole post about the Rules...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


The last few events have drained my stock of wares quite a bit, so on the list for today's work is: Make new portions of gold thread, iron gall ink, and other stuff that has almost run out. I will also need to re-stock my spindle whorls rather soon. And I'm thinking about adding something else to the shop - but I won't tell you yet.

That's not all, though; the desk would like to get cleaned up again, the cat wants to be cuddled regularly, and there's a stack of books to sort and a list of things to finalise for the Forum. Now... where is one's Secret Evil Twin to pitch in with some additional work power when one needs it?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

And now... back to desk work.

I am back from a wonderful weekend at the Cave Gladium, where I had a thoroughly nice time offering "home-shopping" to lots and lots of different groups in their camp. It was a different way to meet people and get them to know the things I offer (including workshops and courses), and I spent quite some (really enjoyable time) chatting about textiles, techniques, the valueing of textile crafts (and other crafts), and other things.

What really blew my mind was the hospitality I also received - offers of a place in the shade to take a rest, offers of drink, offers of food. It made me feel really welcome and really appreciated, and especially the offers of drink kept me watered enough to be well and happy in the heat. And hot it was - beautiful, hot, dry summer weather with blue skies, almost no clouds, just a very slight breeze from time to time and high temperatures from early morning to late at night. I tackled the heat by moving very, very slowly (assisted by a slightly hurting foot, partly thanks to an unextinguished cigarette end lying on the ground in my path, happily smoldering away) and accepting almost every offer of drink and shade.

It was a lovely working weekend, and will not be the last time I shoulder my "Kiepe" (a carrying basket to wear on your back) and take a walk!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Postgrad Conference - CfP

Brought to you, via myself, from Beatrix Nutz of the Lengberg Bra Fame:

The Department of Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology, Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck, together with the Urban Archaeology Hall in collaboration with the Seminar of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology of the Georg-August-University Göttingen cordially invite to the third Postgraduate Conference on Medieval Archaeology (PCMA) in Austria.
This meeting will be held from March 28-30, 2014 in Hasegg Castle in the historic town Hall in Tirol.

There is no conference fee beyond the expenses for visiting museums, exhibitions, and staying at Tirol. Deadline for registration, with or without paper, is January 15, 2014. You can find more information about the event on their webpage, which also lists the contact addresses to send your abstract and title.

Sadly, I'm too old for this stuff (being no postgrad anymore), but it does sound nice and interesting - and one of its aims is to build bridges between archaeologists in the East and the West, and that is always a brilliant idea.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Off I go!

A little bit of last-minute packing and organising, then I'll stuff all the things into the car and will be on my way to Cave Gladium. It's the first time since ages that I go to an event without my own stall or tent, and the first time since even more ages that I will offer a kind of mobile services. (Actually, it's the first try of doing the mobile salesperson for me - back in my very beginnings in going to medieval events, I'd sing together with a friend, wandering around the place.)

So I'm quite excited, and not at all sure how it will work out, and whether it will work well or okay or not-at-all, and a little anxious too. Which is... sort of nice, as it has the feel of doing something entirely new. And as we all know, something new now and then is good for us!

Thursday, 15 August 2013


Here's three links to pictures that might interest you - or at least amuse you.

First of all: Men photographed in classical pin-up poses. I think this is all kinds of cool, for several reasons - not least of them: those pictures do show how weird these poses are.

Secondly: Self-portraits, taken with napkins, in aeroplane lavatories. The article calls them "in the Flemish style", and they do indeed look a little like Flemish portraits.

And thirdly, for something completely different: A tattoo artist helps women who had breast cancer surgery - by tattooing them trompe-l'oeil nipples.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


I'm not fully back yet, brain-wise, or so it seems - the usual morning routine has yet to re-establish itself. The list of emails has shrunk much, though, and the list of to-do items has grown, so that is normal-ish again.

This weekend is the Cave Gladium, a medieval market/event in Furth im Wald. A few years ago, I was there with a small market stall; then I did not manage to get there for a while. This year, I'm planning to go there with a little basket of goods for sale and take a walk around the encampment on Friday and Saturday.

And then, very soon, our Textile Forum will take place. Amazing how time flies by!

Just in time for the Forum, the first Forum Proceedings will come out. In case you are interested in the book (details here), I am planning to carry it in my online shop. If you want to make sure that you will get one without ordering it from Oxbow directly, just drop me a note :)

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

I'm back!

I am returned home from a wonderful and lovely time outdoors with friends - time spent paddling in warm, clear waters, swimming, reading, having lovely food (both homecampsite-made and dining out), knitting some socks, looking at the lush greenery, making oodles of bad puns and generally relaxing a lot. It was not only wonderful, but also a much-needed recharge of my batteries.

I spent the first day back going through 300+ emails, and one of those is the reason you get a blogpost today already instead of tomorrow. If you have read German academic books, chances are that you have held one published by de Gruyter in your hands. It's one of those typical academic publishing houses that have a very good reputation, but can be extremely pricey.

De Gruyter has bought up two other academic publishers, namely Akademie Verlag and Oldenbourg Verlag. To celebrate this, they are granting free access to the ebook versions of all the current titles of both publishing houses. The books are in German, but if you read German and need a book from their programmes, this is your opportunity.

Free access is possible until August 31; you find the titles of Akademie Verlag here and those of Oldenbourg here. And if you visit the site, have a laugh at some of the ebook prices they offer - the printed and bound version costs 19.80 €, while the ebook is priced at 198.00 €! (I wonder why... don't they want to sell ebooks too?)