Friday, 28 November 2014

It's almost the weekend.

In addition to it being almost the weekend, it is also almost the first of the four Advent weekends. Which means that I am way, way behind on all of the seasonal baking. (Yes, there will be baking. It seems that I can eat spelt, and I can also eat a bit of nuts, and for all the rest... well, if the tradition of baking and having cookies for Xmas means that I will feel a little suboptimal for a few days, I think that's probably totally worth it.)

Just in case you want to get into the spirit, too, here is a link to a knitted ornamental star (free pattern via Ravelry, h/t to the Yarn Harlot). And in case you want a non-needle-dropping tree, here are instructions for Origami trees.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lots and lots of links.

And once more, a slew of tabs has accumulated in my browser,  so it's high time for me to post those links and close the things...

The "Kaiserchronik" will get a new edition, thanks to a British University.

A Norwegian Iron Age tunic is going to be reconstructed in a joint project between two museums and a number of crafters.

English Heritage is offering backlist monographs as free pdf downloads.

A German food discount chain is selling antique coins for collectors - Archaeologik has a wonderful rant about that (in German).

Even more links are brought to you by ossamenta.

Oh, and finally? Mosaics. Old ones.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Tool Talk: The Ashford "Student" Handspindle.

Ashford is a New Zealand company that is well known for its spinning wheels, and I have heard quite a few people rave about said wheels. They also offer a small assortment of drop spindles, both bottom whorl and top whorl ones.

These spindles are... well. Very simple in form, with a wooden disc (that may be partly hollowed out) as a spindle whorl, attached permanently to the spindle shaft, which features a hook at the whorl end in case of the top-whorl or dual-purpose spindles. The spindle shaft itself is just a ramrod straight rod.

I've seen pictures of these spindles before, but I had not seen one in real life, or held one in my own hands. That, dear reader, changed this last weekend. One lady who was at the Kreativ fair brought her spinning, done on an older model of the Ashford Student spindle, and I was really, really shocked. Not about the spinning, or I should rather say I was shocked in a good way about the spinning.* The real shock was the thing they had sold her as a spindle. FOR BEGINNERS. It looked like this:

As you can see, it's a tree trunk glued into a wagon wheel. This is not a spindle. It's very, very far from being such a thing. It's even less a spindle than the specially designed spindles that I used during the spinning experiment back in 2009, and I haven't yet heard the end of how horrible those things were.

After recovering from the first shock, I put the thing onto my scales. The spindle weighed a whooping 118 g. One hundred eighteen grams. That's about three of my normal spindles together. (There was a bit of wool on it, but not more than 2 or 3 g at the most.) The spindle shaft was about 1.5 cm thick throughout, even at the top, and the whorl was probably about 3 cm in thickness.

This is like handing a sledgehammer to a child to learn how to hammer little nails into a little piece of wood. It's like handing a blunt-edged sword to someone and expecting that someone to cut neat filet pieces from a mouse carcass. It is that unsuitable to learning how to spin. Firstly, there's biomechanics: You need to get the spindle into motion. That is usually done by flicking it between your fingers. Have you ever tried to flick a tree trunk into motion? Seriously, it's a big deal how thick or thin your spindle end is - the thicker, the less effective your flicking motion will be.
Add to that the sheer weight of the thing attached to the tree trunk, and you need serious muscles to get that thing going. Once it turns, it will go on for a bit - but that is only if you actually managed to get it going. (I didn't. I failed miserably at trying to produce a thread on that thing. This is the first thing that calls itself a spindle that I did not really manage to spin with. Granted, I only tried for about 30 seconds because it was just so much not a spindle that it was very not-fun to use it.) Oh, and because the shaft is not tapered, the spindle will have a serious wobble: the thread attached with a half-hitch is a good bit away from the centre of rotation of the spindle, which obviously goes down the center of the tree-trunk-and-wagon-wheel contraption. Result: An ungodly amount of wobble.

In addition, the sheer weight does what spindle weight always (and exclusively) does: It gives you a realtime quality control. Your thread will break if it cannot support the weight of the spindle. That, per se, is not a bad thing - you don't want your spinning to break on the loom, for example, and then it's much better to find the weak spots during production of the thread. However, to spin a thread that will support 100+ g of weight, you need a serious amount of fibres. Even more if your spindle doesn't deliver twist fairly quickly... which, guess what, this thing doesn't, as you cannot get it to turn quickly.
Theoretically, now, you could use a spindle that is too heavy to spin supported. Which only works if the bottom of the spindle shaft is... pointy enough so you don't lose too much momentum to friction. The bottom of that thing was exactly as tapered as the top: not at all. There you go. Producing anything vaguely yarn-like on that is no mean feat and deserves a lot of respect.

How on earth can anybody recommend that thing to a beginner?** I know that there's an inclination to hand indestructible boat anchors to beginners, but this is even worse than the least appealing of boat anchors I have seen before. Much worse. It is suitable to pound nails into walls, or to cook a three-course meal over an open fire using only one of the spindles as fuel, but not for spinning. You can probably learn better how to spin if you stick a stroopwafel*** onto a pencil, or a grape onto a toothpick. Spindles like that thing are the reason why competent wheel-spinners say that they cannot use a hand-spindle. They are probably also the reason why people who want to spin very quickly buy a spinning wheel.

If you are an aspiring spinner, find yourself a spindle that turns reasonably fast and is reasonably easy to set into motion. If the spindle seems too fast and you can't keep up with drafting, you can always park-and-draft. Don't go above a weight of max 70 grams - that is plenty to learn with, will result in a sturdy enough thread and still allow you to spin a little thinner than rope. (You can as well start with a weight of 30 to 50 g - still enough.) Make sure the spindle shaft tapers enough towards the top so you can twist it easily, and the spindle won't wobble too much. If you like to have options, look for a taper at the bottom of the shaft too, so you can spin supported. And if you like to have even more options, get a spindle shaft without permanently attached whorl, then you can randomly stick all kinds of roundish objects with a hole onto it and see what you like best.

If you have tried to learn hand-spindle spinning with a similar inappropriately named object, but have given up? Please give it another try. Take a round chopstick and fix a 30 g bead to it, or something similarly roundish and in a weight range of 30-50 g. A few round cardboard coasters, glued together, are a more slowly turning alternative. Don't let the tree trunk glued into a wagon wheel keep you away from that wonderful and wonderfully portable technique.

* The spinning was fine. I'm still amazed at the sheer tenacity it must have taken to spin on that thing. She went away with new spindles, by the way. And with a much happier look!

** To be fair, Ashford have since changed their spindle form and weight a bit, though only slightly, and I would not recommend the more recent ones for spinning either. Especially not for a beginner spinner.

*** A stroopwafel is a round, thin, sticky-sweet Dutch speciality: a wafer filled with syrup (stroop).

****Hint: the first makes for a very wobbly spindle, but also for a good snack; the second one is very small and will fall apart as quickly as the first, but is a healthier snack.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

I'm back.

I am back home, and still tired. The car is mostly still packed, too - but I will change that, or at least make a start at unpacking it, soon.

The fair in Stuttgart was very interesting, and we had a lot of fun there - but both Margit and I felt a bit out of place with our yarns and tools and things, as most of the fair was more catering towards non-yarn-related crafting. Our things were well-received, though, and we certainly did get a lot of curious looks for the spinning with a distaff!

After four days of fair, though, I am now looking forward to having a few calmer days and getting all kinds of things back onto the track they belong.

I also got to see a real life Ashford handspindle. And the very brave and very stubborn person who actually managed to spin actual proper yarn with that.... thing. I feel the urgent need to do a tool talk about that. Tomorrow, though, not today.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Off to Stuttgart! And video links for you!

I know what I will be doing today: Tossing a few last things into the car, hopping in myself, and going to Stuttgart to set up for the Kreativ fair. I will be there from Thursday to Sunday, which means no blogging here until Tuesday next week, when I will have recovered a bit, or so I hope.

You, however, might be looking stunned in a few seconds - when I tell you that there is a dance competition where PhD students dance their PhD topic. And then, who knows, you might click this link to read more about it. (That post, obviously, also contains links to the winning dance videos. Worth a look.)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Finnish Dress Reconstruction!

Mervi Pasanen has finished her masterpiece in handcrafting - a reconstruction of a medieval dress, based on an archaeological fragment found in Turku, Finland. Since part of her project was sharing information, she has posted pictures of the dress and a description of its making, together with plenty of photos, in a blog.

If you are at all interested in medieval garments, you will want to click here and take a good look. There are also nice pictures of the original fragment on the blog, also worth checking out. (Textile porn, anyone?)
Don't be scared if you see a lot of Finnish text first - there is English text below, so keep calm and scroll on.

Monday, 17 November 2014

News from the shop!

I am still in the frenzies of preparation for the Kreativ - we will set up the booth on Wednesday, so there's today and tomorrow left for me to get all the ducks into nice, orderly rows.

Among the ducks to be herded was the winding of more linen sewing thread. For those of you who have bought and used the fine linen thread for your work and have fallen in love with it, I have bad news: my supply of that yarn is almost gone, and unfortunately the source of it has dried up. I still have some stock of the extra-fine linen sewing thread left, so that will be available for a little while longer, judging from the ratio at which the one and the other are selling, but eventually it will face the same destiny.

I'm a little sad about this, because I was always happy with the quality of that yarn and I have used it myself for a lot of sewing work. I've done my homework, and there will be a different-yet-similar linen thread in my shop once the old one is gone, or almost gone. However, if you know you will want exactly that thread that I have now in the shop - do stock up, because once it's gone, it will be gone forever.

Friday, 14 November 2014

It's Friday already?

It actually is Friday already! While there have been weeks when I was looking forward to it finally being Friday, this week I could have used another three or four days inbetween. Maybe three Thursdays? Or two extra Wednesdays and one extra Thursday?

Anyway, since I'll not be getting a few extra days, it is time to go cracking down on the list of things to do, among them the wrap-up of the Textile Forum (there are people waiting for an email), and some more preparation for the Kreativ. One of these days I'll end up on top of things and not feeling behind! (Or so I hope. Hope springs eternal.)

And speaking of being behind: Here's a post about Heraldics from the Medieval Manuscript blog from a good while ago. Enjoy!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The next thing coming up.

It's already November, and said month is already very well in progress - time to start thinking about preparation for a certain time next month. Yes, I'm hinting at Yule, or Christmas, or however you may call it.

Usually, by this time in the year, I am busy doing some baking already - which, this year, has not yet happened since I was busy with planning, and then running, the Textileforum. And now it will have to wait another week or so, since I will be busy preparing the last fair of this year: The "Kreativ".

This is a fair for all kinds of tools and materials you might need (or want) for your creative projects, and just as on the LonCon, I will be having a stall together with Margit from Alte Künste. The fair is running from November 20 to November 23 in the Messe Stuttgart, and you can find us at 1E34. I'm very excited to go there, and we are both looking forward to it. (Let's not speak of the flurry that both Margit and I are in, preparing for the show.)

To celebrate this state of mind with you, I have five free one-day tickets to give away. (You will get a code and will need to register online to receive the ticket proper.) If you would like to have one, tell me so in an email to katrin(at) - the first five to mail me will get a code.

And then - see you in Stuttgart!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

I am back!

I have safely returned from the week-long madness that is the European Textile Forum, and it was wonderful. That conference still is the ultimate mix of intense research and exchange of knowledge plus having fun with friends and colleagues who are really enthusiastic about historical textiles and textile crafts.

The programme was wonderful, we managed to run our experiment, there was playing around with hemp and tow and woad and chalk and fructose; there was fingerloop braiding and embroidery and puzzlement about how things were made, back then, and some solutions or at least big steps towards them. With the help of science. Which was also... fun. There's even picture proof of that. See?

There also was chocolate, and songs were sung, and one was even written to tell about the Forum. New friends were made, too. And when I came home, I was about as tired as it had been wonderful, so you can well imagine what was very high on my list of things to do. That's right. Sleeping.

Now normal life, and normal work, wants its dues - there is stuff to be taken care of, and stuff to be prepared. More about that tomorrow.