Friday, 31 July 2009

Breathing Room

After the exhibition vernissage and before Cave Gladium, I now actually feel as if I had a little room for breathing and taking care of all the things left to moulder - like my book-keeping, or giving a semblance of order to my study, or sorting things. Yesterday was quite successful in terms of my to-do list, so I'm feeling more or less on schedule. That's nice!

So today, I'll take care of some of the stacks lying around here, putting things back into order and maybe clearing my totally cluttered desk a bit. This afternoon, I can at last collect my "cookie cutters" for making the spindle whorls for the Textilforum, and after that, I'll have some relaxed time for doing some textile work just for my own amusement, with no set goal or deadline.

On Monday, then, it's time to list all the things to be done, set new deadlines (in addition to the real ones, I do make "fake deadlines" for my own planning) and define priorities, get some book-keeping done and then rush back into business as usual. Including some new hitherto undisclosed ideas for the market stall...

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Spooling... spooling... spooling...

No, I haven't become a printer. I am busy with the next additions to the market stall, and that means spooling. For example linen thread, that all-time favourite and staple for all handsewing purposes where firm seams in linen or wool are needed.

I have searched for nice, smooth, sturdy linen thread for quite some time, and I am happy to have found one finally with no or next to no slubs and imperfections in the thread. And now it's ready for sale, coming in white or off-white and on little brown paper spools with 20 metres of thread.

While brown paper is not an authentic medieval packaging, I have chosen it because it is easy to handle, quite eco-friendly, cheap to get and will at least not be blatantly modern-looking in a historical sewing kit. One day, I will find a wonderful solution to this problem - but for the moment, as I'm only establishing my stack of wares, this seems like the best way to me.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Deadlines and Life After

I more or less like deadlines. After all, this means that there is a set date at which it will all be over. I'm trying to meet all my deadlines, of course, but that means that I'm often wrestling with last problems and last-minute ideas in the week before, resulting in rather intense concentration on the one topic.

So the deadline, to me, is not only the set and slightly dreaded "time to be all finished", it's also the point of time after which I know I can turn again to other things. And this is rather nice, because while the projects are usually something I like to do, it can get a bit too much when immersed deeply for a longer stretch of time. And during the last days, other things are usually left to form heaps, literally and figuratively speaking, because I'm not able or willing to spend the extra effort on them.

When I've handed in something, I try to take a day or two off. That is needed anyway, because even when I try to put in a proper work day after T-0, there won't be much coming off it, resulting in frustration only. So the time is better spent for relaxing and recharging the batteries of the self.

After the deadline is before the deadline, though, so I usually need to get back on track pretty quick. And that is the thing I like least about the full immersion and the slack-off day after T-0: That it can be rather hard to take up all these other threads of thought and of work again and get back onto them. And this is exactly what I need to manage today, with new deadlines approaching (Cave Gladium one of them) and quite some things to take up again...

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Do we have a Video?

For the exhibition in Bad Staffelstein, I made video snippets to demonstrate both how the textile techniques look "in action" and to give a small impression about how time-consuming textile works can be. Here's one of the four snippets I made, showing tablet weaving in twill structure, done with modern weaving tools (also known as butchered playing cards). I translated the text into English - it's German in the exhibition, of course.

It's no teaching video, but it does show my weaving setup and work procedures - so tablet weavers might be able to see what I'm doing and how, and others hopefully still get an impression of how long such work takes, and that it's not the tools or any machinery that make the pattern, but the brains and hands of the person working.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Busy Sunday, Lazy Monday

The opening of yesterday's exhibition went really fine, and people came in all during the day to see the exhibition and look at the different textile techniques - so I call yesterday a success.
The Altstadtfest was very nice as well, with gloriously sunny weather and a lot of people strolling through the streets, eating, drinking, listening to music, watching crafts presentations, and generally amusing themselves.

Here are some photos from the exhibition:

Preparing for the opening - I'm sorting out my hairnet for demonstration of the technique, and you can see the demo band for tablet weaving (twill demonstration), still secured with a clamp and unattached, in front on the table. The brand-new wonderful table, by the way, that will accompany me to markets, events and any occasions I need a medieval table. I'm so happy about it!

This is a picture taking during my introduction speech for the exhibition - I was showing a snippet of spinning with the drop spindle to make people realise how much time is needed for making just the threads for weaving. This usually works very well, and it did also in Bad Staffelstein.

This picture was taken right after the official part, with the honorary guests and the gentleman of the bank who opened the exhibition. On the photo, you see two "royalties" at once - the "Korbkönigin" (Queen of Basketwork) from Lichtenfels, the German "Capital of Basket Making", and the "Thermenkönigin" (Queen of thermal springs) from Bad Staffelstein. And my colleague Marion, dressed medievally as well, who helped to draw people in and explain all day long.

So because yesterday was nice but exhausting, and I'm really tired today, I'm taking a day off. No work requiring brains today, hooray!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Rollercoaster, anyone?

Back to earth is a nice thing, but silk ribbon is very nice as well. And who minds a little luxury, huh?

This is 3.5 mm wide pure silk ribbon, very light and airy. A nice thing if you need shoulder straps for a reconstruction of this garment:

Or a light, fine drawstring. Or a ribbon to bind and decorate your hair. Or whatever else you can think of. The ribbon comes in 5-metre pieces, but should you need more in one piece (or just more), I can wind off (almost) whatever length you desire.

Picture source: Bartz/Karnein/Lange: Liebesfreuden im Mittelalter. München 2001. P. 25.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Back to earth.

After yesterday's high aspirations to luxury thread, today it's back down to earth in the Market Stall. I proudly and happily present to you the most basic of tools for the textile trade:

The Abysmally Underestimated and Neglected Spindle Stick!

While spindle-whorls are common archaeological finds, and while there are hundreds of dozens of spindles in all kinds of homes, working or not, the spindles themselves - that is, the sticks - are not something commonly seen for sale on markets. And I asked myself: Why? While there are not so many conserved wooden spindle sticks (I could write just "spindle", but I want to prevent any misunderstandings) around, the situation is still much better than that on textiles. And there are textiles on any medieval event.

I found out soon why they are not commonly for sale. Medieval spindles are usually rather slender with a double-conical form. With as little as two or three millimetres diameter at the ends, and not much more than a centimetre at the thickest place, they are too slim to be turned on just any lathe - the thin stick starts to wobble, making an efficient production difficult or impossible. But spinning with a much thicker double-conical spindle stick, which would pose no problems when turning, will not work as well. And, even more important, that stick won't fit the whorls so smoothly. And you want your spindle to fit your whorls, all of them, so you can just change. For example, have three spindle sticks, spin on one until it's full, spin on the second until it's full, and then ply both singles together on the third stick before removing your ball of plied yarn from that spindle, freeing all three again. And that will work only if you can change your whorl from spindle stick to spindle stick - and preferably, if you have more than one whorl, this would work with any of your stash.

In contrast, most modern spindles are seen differently, with the whorl and the spindle stick firmly belonging together. And most spindle makers just have their own method that will cut out the need for double-conical spindle sticks - often they use a stick that is firmly fixed to the whorl and not conical in shape. So the market for spindle sticks seems to be not so large. And if you want just one single stick, you can always take a knife and whittle it down to fit your whorl(s). If you are like me, that is possible yet not pleasing, because I'm not so good a whittler, and most of my "make a spindle" efforts were not so successful. Whittling down some wood to get a rounded, conical and slender shape is not too easy, I found.

So after searching a while, I finally found a workshop that accepted the challenge. And now they are back: Double-conical spindle sticks, made from beech wood, modeled after a find from Bergen in Norway. They are 11 mm thick at the fattest part, 3 mm at the ends, and 27 cm long. Need I say they are a pleasure to spin with?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Guessing the Market

There's sort of good news: Finally, I might have found an artisan who is capable and willing to reproduce medieval gold thread for me. Real, no-compromise gold thread, as it was found in the excavations at Villach-Judendorf in Austria: Gilt silver wound around a natural-coloured silk "soul", 0,2 mm thick and used for weaving (brocade) as well as for embroidery. (You can use several threads at once when doing couch work - I have a nice photo somewhere showing just that. After all, medieval people had their lazy streak too!)

"Normal" gilt or gold threads are imitation gold, wound around a core of cellulose or other material, but not around silk. And getting gilt-silver threads (not the japanese version, where a strip of paper is gilded or silvered) is really hard already, even if it's "just" gilt, not pure gold. Those threads are usually much thicker, too.

The downside? There's a hefty minimum order, and gold thread is not cheap. Quite the opposite, actually: Real gold or gilt thread was exquisitely expensive in the Middle Ages and it's still exquisitely expensive today. I'm very, very tempted to order the thread, but it's an investment that should not go too wrong.

So now it's time for me to play my most beloved game of them all (well, not really): "Guess The Market". And this time, I'm shamelessly using this blog to get some input from you, because I've been told time and again that I'm no normal textile stuff customer (though you probably aren't).

Do you feel the strong desire to buy authentic-to-the-soul gold thread? Modeled after a find? Even if it is really thin and really pricey? Would you use it for weaving, for embroidery, or for both? How much need do you have? And how much would you be willing to pay for, say, 10 metres? Or do you prefer to buy the cheaper imitation gold thread?

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

More additions to the Stall

When some time ago I asked for suggestions for the market stall, Kruliczyca (she has a blog, too, in Polish with English summaries) mentioned bentwood boxes for storage of needlework goods.

I have now come up with some of them - smallish, oval boxes made from fragrant wood. They are small enough to slip into a sewing cabinet or box that is already quite crowded, plain but pleasing the eye so they will look nicely on a table with work in progress, and a good possibility to store a needlebox, small shears, or your favourite sewing threads in them. Or hide some unauthentic thread rolls or other needlework trinkets that are not for everybody to see.

I quite like them and will probably use a few of these boxes for displaying wares. At the moment, they make an impressive stack in my warehousing cupboard!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Workshops at Cave Gladium

Today is an exception to my normal posting rules, since you are finding mostly German text here - it's the info for the workshops at Cave Gladium. Our idea was to offer a learning space and opportunity at the Cave, since that is a time and place where lots of living history people are already together, so travel costs and extra organisation time for the participants would be really, really low.

Since the info about the workshops seems to have gotten a little lost in the forum pages at the Cave website, I'm posting the description here again. So if you are interested in attending a show fighting workshop, or would like to learn how to dye with plants, or how to forge a knife, or how to weave 3/1 twill on tablets without counting and sticking to a pre-made pattern, or learn a few new loop-braiding patterns, you can contact me. At least the forging and textile workshops should also be possible in English, if there should be any language problems.

Schaukampf - aber richtig
Unter diesem Motto freuen wir uns, in diesem Jahr einen Workshop anbieten zu können, der zeigt, dass es nicht einer blutigen Nase und ein paar ausgeschlagener Zähne bedarf, um auf höchstem Niveau einen Zweikampf zum Besten zu geben. Dabei werden alle Aspekte der Sicherheit und Erhaltung der eigenen Gesundheit beachtet, ohne damit der Begeisterung der Mitwirkenden und der Zuschauer Abbruch zu tun.
An drei Tagen werden die Grundlagen des unbewaffneten Kampfes, Fallen und Rollen bis hin zum Schwertkampf vermittelt. Das Ergebnis wird am Ende des Workshops in einer kleinen Choreographie dem Publikum präsentiert.
Voraussetzungen: Es ist durchaus hilfreich, wenn der Teilnehmer bzw. die Teilnehmerin über eine durchschnittliche körperliche Fitness verfügt und schon einmal ein Schwert in der Hand gehalten hat.
Mitzubringen sind: sportliche Kleidung, festes Schuhwerk (Trainingswaffen werden gestellt)
Kursgebühr: 140,- € pro Person
Zeiten: Freitag: 16 bis 20 Uhr
Samstag: 9 bis 12 Uhr
Sonntag: 9 bis 12 Uhr

Brettchenweben mal anders
Keine Lust mehr, einem festgeschriebenen Schnurbindungsmuster zu folgen? Neugierig, was sich mit Brettchenweberei und einem ganz einfachen Aufzug alles anfangen lässt? Im Workshop webt jede/jeder ein Band zum spielerischen Ausprobieren in zwei kontrastierenden Farben. Der Kettaufzug lässt verschiedene Diagonalenmuster und Köperbindung zu, die mit etwas Hintergrundwissen zu den Grundlagen der Köperbindung frei kombiniert werden können.
Voraussetzungen: Der Kurs ist kein Anfängerkurs, sondern richtet sich an Brettchenweberinnen und -weber, die bereits etwas Erfahrung gesammelt haben.
Mitzubringen: Zum Aufziehen der Kette werden helles und dunkles Garn benötigt; empfehlenswert sind nicht zu dünne Webgarne, etwa in Stärke von Sockenwolle. Das helle und das dunkle Garn sollten jeweils auf zwei Knäuel gleicher Größe aufgeteilt werden, weil dies den Aufzug stark vereinfacht. Pro Knäuel werden mindestens 25 m Lauflänge benötigt (reicht für eine zwei Meter lange Kette). Mitzubringen sind außerdem, falls vorhanden, 12 Vierlochbrettchen.
Kursgebühr: 70,- € pro Person (ganztägig)
Material bei Bedarf bitte vorbestellen
Zeiten: Samstag 15.08.2009

Schmieden bei David Schütze
Der Einsteigerkurs ist für Menschen geeignet, die von der historischen Technik der Metallverarbeitung fasziniert sind, sich aber bisher nicht aktiv damit beschäftigt haben. Vorkenntnisse sind nicht erforderlich. Werkzeug- und Materialkunde werden ebenso vermittelt, wie die grundlegenden Techniken des Schmiedens und ein kurzer Einblick in die Geschichte des Handwerks. Die Teilnehmer stellen ein einfaches Messer selbst her.
Voraussetzungen: Einsteigerkurs (keine Vorkenntnisse notwendig)
Fortgeschrittenenkurs (mit Vorkenntnissen)
Mitzubringen sind: --
Kursgebühr: 140,- € pro Person (Einsteiger)
210,- € pro Person (Einsteiger)
incl. Material, Werkzeug und Versicherung
Zeiten: Samstag 15.08.2009

Färben bei Sabine Ringenberg
Pflanzenfarbe ist ein faszinierendes Thema. Wie wird sie auf der Faser haltbar gemacht? Welche Unterschiede gibt es beim Färben von Seide, Wolle oder Leinen? Auf diese Fragen gibt der Einsteigerkurs von Sabine Ringenberg Antwort. Mit selbst gesammelten Pflanzen wird die eigene Wolle oder Seide gefärbt. Dabei werden die gängigsten Beizverfahren ebenso behandelt, wie die Nachbehandlung und weitere Verarbeitung des Färbeguts. Vorkenntnisse sind nicht erforderlich.
Voraussetzungen: Einsteigerkurs
Mitzubringen sind: Eigene Wolle kann gefärbt werden
Kursgebühr: 85,- € pro Person (eintägig)
zzgl. Färbegut
Zeiten: Samstag 15.08.2009, Beginn 09.00 Uhr
Sonntag 16.08.2009, Beginn 09.00 Uhr

Flechten mit Schlaufen statt mit einzelnen Fäden hat in den letzten Jahren an Bekanntheit gewonnen - ist aber immer noch nicht sehr verbreitet. In dem Kurs werden verschiedene Flechtvarianten, zum alleine oder gemeinsam Flechten, erlernt und geübt.
Voraussetzungen: Einsteigerkurs
Mitzubringen sind: ---
Kursgebühr: 45,- € pro Person (halbtägig)
incl. Material
Zeiten: Sonntag 16.08.2009, Beginn 09.00 Uhr

Friday, 17 July 2009

Hairnet: Finished and Reloaded

Though I hadn't posted about it anymore, I have obviously continued working on the blue hairnet, since it's finished now. I have sewn it to a drawstring made from birch-leaf-dyed silk (a thin silk ribbon), using one of the handmade steel needles (which worked like a dream).
Here it is, already brought into shape on a styrofoam head. That is also the form in which this net will be exhibited at Bad Staffelstein.

It took me about 30 hours to net (again); the large meshes with the pearls in the middle did obviously save some rounds, while fiddling on the pearls took up that time again.
The large mesh is something that has to be worked with utter and extreme care, though, or they will come out slightly uneven, resulting in netting problems further down.
It took me another hour for the finishing works - sewing on and inserting the drawstring and rinsing the net as well as bringing it into form over the styrofoam head. It has about 30 cm diameter; because it is cast on with rather few meshes (only 68), the circumference at the bottom is not too great.

Altogether, I think that the next time around, I'd rather attach the pearls afterwards by sewing them over individual knots of the mesh. I'm not too content with some of the parts of the net, where there are irregularities and where you can see how often the thread broke at places, I guess because of increased friction with the pearls. Overall, I'd say it looks quite nice, though - and my respect for the medieval net-makers is growing and growing!

Because I've grown quite fond of netting as a show-and-tell procedure (as the regular readers here know already), and I want to include netting in the demonstrations at the exhibition vernissage, I have spent yesterday evening doing the cast-on for another net. And this time around it's really close to an original net, found in London and published in Crowfoot et al's "Textiles and Clothing". Ages ago, I had already done some analysis and counting for one of the nets, coming up with 210 loops for cast-on, doubled after about 14 rows of mesh. After misfiring the first cast-on start (the loops grew nastily in length), I have now finished about 210 meshes and their connecting row successfully. I'd love to know how often I have mis-counted during the three hours I needed, but I'm much too lazy to count the loops again. I can however tell you that 210 loops is a lot.

The netting is done in extra-fine silk thread, and with a gauge of 2 mm diameter, resulting in meshes with 3 mm side length. This just fits with the large netting needle - which in turn fits in well with the fact that 3 mm seems to have been a quite common mesh size. If it comes out like the find (read: if I have not mis-counted ages ago when doing the analysis), it will have a lower edge circumference of a whooping 960 mm. That is almost one darn metre to net for about 50 rounds! I'm really curious to see how this net will turn out. And I can promise you that it won't take only 30 hours to complete, this time, since I have about tripled the mesh count...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Progress but still behind

I'm making good progress, but I'm still behind - at least that's how it feels to me. A few extra (and time-sensitive) things to do during the last days have sort of nudged me behind schedule; not far, but far enough that I get the queasy "Oh no I'm behind" feeling.

So... although there is some progress on the blue hairnet with pearls (which I'm hoping to finish today) and some more progress on the exhibition stuff and finally some more progress with the product line (though not all ready for telling yet), you only get this short text post today, and I'm off to write some more, net some more, weave some more, cut and edit the last videos (with short demonstration snippets of the textile techniques for the exhibition) and so on. And once the hairnet is really finished, you'll see a photo of it here, of course.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Exhibition work

I'm getting to appreciate more and more all the work going into designing an exhibition. I've been involved in several exhibitions in the last years - writing articles, helping to decide on exhibits, and making garments to exhibit. But I've never done most of the conceptual work on my own.

Luckily, I'm in the last stages: Packing out and putting together the exhibits for the several places and topics, and writing up the labels/descriptive texts for them. And I should be in the last stages, since the exhibition will next week on Sunday!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Can't be too thin, really!

I've been sewing for ages now with Gütermann Silk thread (the thread on the blue plastic spool) whenever I needed sewing silk. Why? Because it's available in almost every second sewing shop around here. But a few things did irk me about it. First of all, it's on a blue plastic spool - that makes it easy to tell the silk thread from the cotton and polyester variations coming on the same spool type, but not so easy to use the thread on medieval events. Then it is - of course - coloured chemically. And then it's just so thick and bulky! Fine for tablet weaves, but for sewing really fine silk? Nah. And for authentic hairnets, too, it's just too thick.

So a while ago, I found out about YLI silks - the sort they call "Silk 100", to be precise. It comes on plastic spools (white and quite short-and-thick, this time) and is much lankier than Gütermann. So I was happier for a while - but the plastic spool problem still applies (and I was not about to re-wind 200 metres of fine silk thread from a plastic spool to a wooden one, I'm one of those rather hiding their spools). And while YLI says it's the finest silk thread on the market, it is still a little thick for making hairnets. And while we're at it, I'd like a finer thread for the really fine stitching on thin silks (think Pongé 05 quality here) and for couching works or sewing something on "invisible". So now YLI is not the thinnest thread on the market anymore, at least not on the medieval markets!

Here you see from left to right: All the money I will have left after investing in this market stall, Gütermann sewing-quality white silk thread, YLI Silk 100 in white, and my extra-thin silk.

It will come wound in portions on paper cores, so while it is not properly medieval, it's at least not plastic. The thread is fine for making hairnets, attaching small embroideries to a garment, for using as weft thread in tablet weaving with thicker silks if you would like your motifs a little less lengthened, or for stitching really fine silks or - of course - couching work. The only thing left to decide for me now is how much of the thread to use for one portion: one hundred metres? two hundred metres? More or less?

Monday, 13 July 2009

Textilforum Again

Things are also progressing with the Textilforum planning, even if there was a long silence in the last weeks. The metal "cookie cutters" for making the experiment spinning whorls are in production, the wool is already waiting for September, and while there is quite a lot still to prepare for the experiment, there seems to be no catastrophe lurking around the next corner.

There's also progress on other parts; we now have two very interesting lectures for each evening programme, covering a variety of aspects; so one of the things on my to-do-list today is getting the Forum website up to date and mailing around to keep people informed...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Have a nice weekend!

I'm away on rather large errand runs today and tomorrow, and I did not find the time to prepare blog posts in the last days, so I'm taking time off. Regular blogging will resume on Monday. So have a nice, relaxing, fun weekend everybody!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

More Sewing Necessities

Today's choice for the blog presentation: Beeswax. Everybody needs beeswax! Each sewing bag, pouch, chest or other sewing-goods-container needs a piece of beeswax! And because carrying a candle for that is not the most practical of things, and because there are not so many nice chunks of good-quality beeswax on the market, these are the latest addition to my product line:

In case you don't know why beeswax is a sewing tool: It is invaluable to wax threads for sewing, especially linen threads. It makes them much more durable, they are less prone to fraying where they rub against the needle's eye, and the thread will not kink itself into knots as easily. Plus it smells heavenly! Just draw the thread across the chunk of wax once, and you are all set. Use of beeswax in textile work is documented for medieval times through different accounts, and once you are used to lightly waxing threads, you won't want to be without it anymore.

You can also use beeswax to neaten the edges of fine cloth - though that does take quite a bit of practice, and of course that will eat up your chunk of beeswax much faster than drawing threads through them.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Work Rave

I'm slowly gaining on my gigantonormous list of "To-do-and-double-quick" and finally feel as if things are looking up a bit. Whew.

And speaking of "looking up" - in this case, looking up from the computer screen and resting the eyes and stretching - a friend pointed me to a neat little programme a few days ago. It's called "Workrave" and intended for those folks (like me) who never manage to take a break when necessary. The programme can be personalized for your preferred work time and break time lengths, and it will then nag you to take micropauses and longer rest breaks. And best of all, the icon is a little sheep, so it's perfect for fabric freaks. While you can ignore the pauses, it makes taking a short break now and then so much easier, and that can really improve performance. Which is something I can always use.

If you are spending as many hours a day in front of the computer, you might also enjoy using workrave as a small helper. It runs both on Linux and Windows, it's completely free, and you can download it here. Healthy computer working to you!

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Alternative to Playing Cards

When I learned tablet-weaving, I used either beer mats or butchered playing cards. For my small hands, beer mats are definitely too large, so I went over to playing cards cut up and punched with holes for good. They are slim, lightweight, quite sturdy and cheap - the only problem is that you have to cut them to squares and punch holes. And as I'm a bit demanding about my hole placement, wanting them all in the same place, this did always take some time; time spent to prepare weaving equipment that was obviously so not historical. So I've been looking for alternatives for a long time now.

I tried to weave with small (really small) bone tablets one time - they are nice, smooth and good-looking, but they are also tiny with their side length of 2,4 cm, and I did not manage to get a smooth weaving sequence with the tiny things in a band with more than just 5 or so tablets. I also got wooden tablets made as a present once - again, carefully cut, bored and sanded for smoothness, and just the right size to weave. However, wooden tablets add a huge amount of bulk to the tablet-stack and are quite heavy.

So despite all these tries to use more medieval materials for the tablets, I always returned to my trusty playing-cards for weaving work. Since I don't weave for show on medieval events, it was never a problem. But there's a difference between not needing and not wanting... and I wanted.

And now I have - and I have to spare, so they are on offer at the market stall. I present to you the museum-compatible, slim alternative to cardboard and playing-card tablets: Weaving tablets made of parchment.

These tablets measure 6 x 6 cm, a convenient size when weaving and large enough that you can handle them well and even weave with the tablets standing on the corners, for tubular or other special weaving actions. The parchment is prepared by hand, in one of the last traditional parchment manufactury. In this case, it is calf parchment. Rounded corners for smooth turning, large holes for ease of setting up the warp.

The tablets, being parchment, can be marked, coloured, scribbled on - whatever you desire. With a thickness of about 0,6 mm for most of them, they are slim enough so that handling a larger stack is easily possible - but stiff and wide enough to grasp them easily. So... no more excuses about not having acceptable weaving tablets to work with!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Steel Needles, Take Two

Yesterday's post is the first to accumulate its comments so fast, and the questions have prompted me to stay with the topic of needles for a second post.

Pins and even more so needles are an archaeological problem - because... yes, you have guessed it: they are so small. This means that unless there is a nest of pins or needles (like we once discovered in a church excavation on the women's side of the aisle, pins upon pins upon pins, probably lost during service and not retrievable, because they fell through the spaces between wooden floorboards) or unless there is a huge stroke of luck, these tiny metal rods will never be found. If they ever survived the corrosive surroundings in damp soil, that is - something that iron or steel might not take as kindly as copper alloy. And then these rare items are so much overlooked - because duh, of course they had needles, that's an everyday item, isn't it? - that there is no collation of needle articles or archaeological needle knowledge yet.

So LH folks today are faced with a problem: What to sew with? Which time knew what kinds of needles or other sewing implements? (And archaeologists as well, should they want to write about needles.)

We have two possible ways to find out what needles were in use. One way is to find surviving specimens, analyse them, and if possible make some replicas and try them out. That, of course, is a really nifty way - only quite difficult because of the scarcity of finds and (you know the sad song by now) because it's oh-so-hard to find published needles.
The other way is by deduction. Nobody can tell me that medieval people (or people in what age soever) bought extremely costly materials like gold thread and fine silk to weave enormously fine fabrics and embroider them all over with beautiful, awe-inspiring motifs using a (needle) bodkin (for the Germans: "Nähdolch" is the term. The term.) and dragging this huge metal abnormity through their costly fine fabric! Fine fabrics require fine tools, after all. And at least I have not had much fun running my well-beloved copper alloy sewing needles through linen or silk instead of wool; they are just not suited to these. So fabric type makes a difference, too.
Deduction, though, will only tell us that some fine needles must have been there, out of due necessity, but no more than they must have been suitable for this or that work and material. So it's back to no. 1 for harder evidence.

There are a few needles in my picture collection, so I bring to you: The Needle Parade!

First, from the glorious and long-past 3rd and 4th century, needle boxes and needles on one of my bad photographs, taken in the Historical Museum Oslo, viking section.

Next finds from Konstanz (Lake Constance), from the 14th century, an array of small things including sewing needles. From LANDESDENKMALAMT BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG und STADT ZÜRICH (Hrsg.): Stadtluft, Hirsebrei und Bettelmönch. Die Stadt um 1300. Stuttgart 1992. P. 433.

Everybody knows this copper needlecase missing its lid, from the late 14th century London. It still contained an iron needle - and that needle size would match a modern sewing needle. From CROWFOOT, ELISABETH, PRITCHARD, FRANCES und STANILAND, KAY: Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-c.1450. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London:4. London 1992. P. 151. There you go:

From a special exhibition in the Alamannenmuseum Ellwangen, a needle from the graves at Kirchheim/Ries. My photo, taken with kind permission. It lacks scale, but I would use a needle like that in daily life without finding it special. Graves at Kirchheim/Ries date to the early middle ages, between 6th and 8th century if I remember correctly.

Again from the 14th century: Needles and thimbles from Copenhagen, National Museum, photo taken in the Medieval Section. If you come to Copenhagen, make double sure you visit that wonderful museum - reserve a full day for it, if you can. It is worth it.

That's all I have gathered together during the years - but at least it shows steel sewing needles from as early as at least the early middle ages. If any of you have more needles, please give me a hint - I'm collecting evidence ; )

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Hand-made needles

A few days ago, the postie brought me a small, unspectacular-looking packet. But the contents are really, really spectacular, and another addition to my product range in the stall: Steel needles, completely hand-made!

I had to hunt quite a while to find those beauties, and I'm really happy to have them in hand now. The steel is not stainless, so it needs a little loving care inbetween stitching sessions, but a drop of oil or a scrap of wool still containing lanolin (or a scrap of cloth with some lanolin rubbed on) will take care of them nicely. They are also shorter than I'm normally used to, but this, on the other hand, makes it possible to use more of the thread than with a longer needle.

They have relatively large eyes in a flattened head, designed to take the thread through the fabric without rubbing it and are thus perfect for embroidery with delicate silk or gold threads. I can now offer three sizes for sale, a quite thick and sturdy needle with large eye, a medium-thick one and an extremely fine one. It's awesome to look at them knowing they are all made by hand - I had problems only photographing them!

In this picture, you see the three sizes side by side: extra-thin, thick and medium. I'm really looking forward to working with handmade needles in the future and stash the modern needles out of sight, whipped out only when needed in an "emergency".

And just because I can, I made a closeup photograph of the needle heads and eyes. Isn't that amazing?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Delightful Contacts

I just love working with people who love what they do and take it seriously. Add to that the generous portion of competence those folks always have - and it is so immensely enjoyable to deal with them.

You need a special material or tool or product for your idea - a quick mail or phone call to get into contact, some conversation, and they will offer solutions and possibilities that are often much better than you thought possible. And it's an incredible feeling to know that should there be need for this or that... you have somebody on hand who does it.

And that is the reason I enjoy myself so much at the moment, acquiring my product line. I'm trying to deal locally where possible, and that lands me with traditional, often smaller companies. And those are sure the best places to go if you need somebody for special requirements!

I have had the pleasure of talking and dealing with quite a few delightful contacts like that recently, and it is always something to lift the spirits. Hooray for such people!