Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Cast on the Main Sails!

I'm taking the rest of the week off from blogging to concentrate purely on boxing the remainder of the chaos here. If all goes well and according to plan, we'll move over to our new flat on Monday. Because the telephone will, in all probability, not move over with us right away but take at least till Tuesday, blogging will hopefully resume next midweek. If not, well, something has not worked out - or I felt such an urge to blog that I found another place to do it.

Meanwhile, here's a really bad knitter's joke.

What does a pirate knitter like best? ... Black Purls.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Nothing new from here...

There's not much going on between the boxes at the moment - all of the more exciting (and more time- and space-consuming) textile projects are already packed into boxes, and more packing is on my to-do list for this week. It really is amazing how much stuff will come together with doing medieval crafts for some years!

Meanwhile, we did take a relaxing afternoon off yesterday, sitting in a wonderful little café, drinking coffee and tea. We had both taken some yarny things with us - knitting and nalebinding - and took the chance to get a few stitches done somewhere away from home. This was more relaxing than I had expected it to be, and I can absolutely recommend it!

(Though a few people looked a tad irritated by our occupation, nobody said or asked anything, by the way.)

And speaking of knitting in public, there's a nice article about knitting and public politics on Anne Galloway's blog.

Friday, 20 November 2009

More of the splendour!

After fiddling around a little and experimenting with different settings on the camera (thank goodness for one you can go "all manual" on), I have now managed to take some much better pictures of the gold brocade brooches. (By the way, the German term for brooch is "Brosche", and for brocading "broschieren", so I've been making "Broschierte Broschen" or "Broschurbroschen" with this.)

Here are some pics - clickable. If you look at the large pictures, please keep in mind that these brooches are only a little more than 3 centimetres in length!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Like a little medieval splendour?

After a long time of nothing happening for the market stall or range of goods(I blame it all on the upcoming move), I have some medieval splendour to spice up the modern life:
Brocaded tabletwoven brooches!

Made from silk and real gilt thread and mounted securely onto a gilt brooch base, these are a wonderful way to add the splendour of medieval luxury bands to your modern life. The picture really does not do these little beauties justice - photographing goldwork is not easy. The gold brocade really sparkles out from the deep ruby red of the silk. The gilt brooch base has a little locking wheel to keep the brooch from falling out of the fabric.
The little bits of band are made individually and can't unravel. The pattern is adapted from a medieval brocaded band, threads are pure silk (dyed chemically) and gilt fine silver around a silk core. The brooches are available now from the Market Stall.

The brooch is a beautiful way to subtly show your love for things medieval - and to find out whether your conversation partner knows about brocaded tablet weaving! This will also make a wonderful Christmas gift for somebody into historical textiles or textile crafts.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How to Untangle a Skein of Yarn

InZM5 a perfect world, every skein of yarn is a perfectly arranged series of loops, ready to be unwound with no trouble whatsoever.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, and after going through the rigors of a dyebath or after being mangled by children, cats or other calamities, you might end up with a tangled skein. Maybe even a severely tangled skein.

You have three options now. Option One: Throw that lump of loops into the rubbish bin. Yes, that is a valid option - if you don't really need that yarn, if you can buy it again, if you don't have a lot of patience, if you are not really willing to untangle it, if it's wool and has felted itself together in the tangling process, so that pulling apart the loops will damage the yarn. If it's one-of-a-kind or it was horrendously expensive, though, you might not want to throw it away. Luckily, there is Option Two: Figure out some way to use the yarn that does not require it to be all in one piece. Draw out as much yarn as possible at one time (or your pre-defined lengths), cut, untangle the knob that forms, repeat until skein is gone and you are left with a number of one-length cutoffs. Take care to wind each cutoff after measuring it and cutting it, or you might face more tangles!

That is not the thing you need? You really want one long length of yarn? Then take a deep breath, go buy some chocolate, put on a kettle for some tea and sit down for some lengthy yarn skein de-tangling. To get an estimation of how long it will take you, make a wild guess. Then multiply the time of your wild guess by two - that's the pessimistic wild guess. Now multiply that by ten, and you have an estimate. (Seriously, if you are pressed for time, this is not an option. Go buy another bit of yarn. And if you are not patient in the face of tangles, find somebody who likes to untangle yarn and bribe that person.)

You will wind the skein into a ball of yarn by hand, or, if it is very fine yarn, you might opt to wind it onto something like the core of a paper roll. You will not be able to use a ball winder or similar contraption. There is nothing speaking against making a center-pull ball, if you can wind one by hand, though (and there are instructions galore on how to do that on the internet).

Try to find the original middle of your skein. If it is still bound off, that should be no problem - just locate one of the bind-off yarns, hold that and insert your hands between the bottom of the skein part with the bind-off and the mass of tangles. If your skein is not bound anymore, hope for the best. Open up your skein gently but completely and gently stretch it between your hands. Stretch it all the way around, rotating it bit by bit and stretching after each little rotation - this is to straighten out the loops as much as possible.

Now you place it on a good swift - one that is turning lightly, that does not have much weight on its own, and that has as many arms as possible. If you don't have a swift yet, it's the reason to get or make one (if you sit down to untangle a skein, you are probably a yarny person and you want a swift anyway). If you have a four-armed swift and face tangles often when unwinding, consider getting one with more arms, and if possible with arms that have a wide surface for the yarn to rest on (like the Goko). The higher the number of arms, the more your skein on the swift resembles a circle - and it's much easier to wind off a circle than a rectangle, because the corners are where yarn likes to catch itself.

Once your yarn is on the swift, spread it out as much as possible. Locate the end of the yarn - if possible, the end lying on the outside. Your skein is technically a huge spiral, and it's easier to unwind that from the outside than from the inside. In a skein that is tangled, the loops of the spiral have gotten into disorder, locking each other into place and hindering you from unwinding. Your task now is to straighten out those loops.

Now you are going to face two different kinds of tangles. (If you are working with wool yarn, the yarn might stick to each other as an additional, third kind - a pseudo-tangle.) You are winding your working end, and suddenly it won't detach itself from the surface of the skein - instead, many short bits of yarn seem to tie it down to the swift, forming a sort of small triangles. Those are loops locking each other and the working yarn - insert your finger and gently pull upwards, or try sliding your finger in the opposite direction of your winding direction. That should release the small triangles. Each of these triangles is a loop of the spiral, where one bit has been caught by other loops, locking it in place. The bit a little more "upstream", so to say, overtakes the bit that is caught (using up the slack in the yarn at the same time) and forms the apex of the triangle. To remove the triangles, you need to free the spot that is caught - if you move your finger "upstream" (against the winding direction) underneath the triangle, you will find that point. Gently tug on the leg that is caught in downstream direction to release it.
Typical "catch-points" are the arms of the swift, because this is where the skein turns a corner. The larger the angle of that corner, the easier it is to turn it for the yarn (that's why more arms make a difference). If something is caught at a corner, insert your fingers beneath the skein and flatten out that corner while gently pulling on the yarn end(s) caught - this should release them.

Once in a while, however, a single loop or a number of loops will form around your working end. If you slide your finger under that loop, back where it comes from, that loop will turn out to be one really big version of the small triangles of yarn. If you can go back to the point where one leg of the loop is caught in the skein and gently tug it free, do so and gently travel underneath that free leg with your finger to where your working end was caught - that will remove the loop completely. If your loop is really big and goes around and around the swift, you can in theory follow the loop until you find the end that is caught and release that in the same way. In practice, however, it is much easier to just cheat and move your ball or spool through the loop. This means you have now changed the run of yarn - it is not an unbroken spiral path anymore, but might contain one half-hitch knot. Never mind that, just be aware of it - because it means that you will eventually find yourself caught in a loop again and have to move your ball through it.

If you run across any bad tangles, always try to tease them apart with your fingers, leaving them more loose than you found them. If you can't get your yarn free from a badly tangled place, just move the ball through and move on. It will all get sorted out eventually. Spread your skein from time to time (if your swift has wide arm-ends) to help with unwinding. Take breaks when you need to - and don't make yourself finish in one day. Instead, I'd recommend placing your swift somewhere easily accessible (and with very good lighting) and just untangle a bit at a time. Don't try to untangle when you are angry, stressed or impatient, and most importantly, don't think that you need to do it fast - and the whole business can even be a soothing, meditative thing.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Hartenstein Knights

For those of you who can't go there (or for those who would like a little preview), here are photos of the two "guys" standing in the Hartenstein exhibition. I took my camera to the opening ceremony, but had unfortunately not checked the batteries before, so I can only show you pics from the setup procedure - which means that the pictures show only the almost-finished state, with little details missing.

First, there's the miles from around 1200. It's a knight from the Teutonic order, and there were two possibilities for him for the exhibition, the warlike outfit and the courtly one. When we set up the exhibition, the warlike presentation was chosen, so he currently looks like this:

And this would be his courtly self:

He's wearing braies, a pair of cloth hose beneath the mail, a wadded gambeson, the mail shirt with mittens attached, a tabard and then either a half-circle cloak or helmet and mail coif.
Isn't it amazing how much of a difference this makes?

And as the second "guy", we have the master of Hartenstein himself, caught in the act of donning his Great Helmet:

He's wearing braies, cloth and mail hose, a gambeson, a mail shirt, armour covered with silk cloth, knee protectors and vambraces. And gauntlets. And two helmets, of course - the bascinet with mail attached to protect the neck, the great helmet with a fish as the crest. (I hope I got all the English terms right - I'm not so used to translating weapons-and-armour terminology.) He isn't equipped yet with his shield and his sword - he only got those after the photo.

(He's cut off at the knees because there are tools and paraphernalia at his feet. He does have feet. Really.)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Am I an official Dark Side padawan now?

Here's proof (visual) that I'm doing my best to join the Dark Side (and thank you, Darth Harma, for your friendly welcome!)

I am really amazed at how much stuff about knitting is there on the Internet (and I haven't even been to Ravelry in my forays). This all makes it easy to find out about stuff - it truly is standing on the shoulders of giants. Like, to name just one of the many, Darth Techknitter, who happily shares her knitting knowledge with incredible drawings - and everybody who ever made a drawing of any textile technique that entails yarn looping through and around other loops of yarn will know what that means. So a huge thank you from me to all of you out there who make it possible for others to learn about knitting - and not only the canonised version of one's own country and the tricks from one's vicinity, but all the twists, turns, variations and tricks from all over the knitting world. You rock!

And they are not normal giants. No, there are giants who are doing seriously mad stuff, like knitting two socks at once. Simultaneously. On double-pointed needles.
That, now, is seriously awesome, and I don't know whether to be happy or mad at Darth Harmless Drudge, because this is so awesome that I absolutely have to try it.

I like the dark side. There are socks. There is chocolate as accredited motivational tool. And there is madness... it seems to be just the place for me.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Today is the exhibition opening!

Today is the opening ceremony for the exhibition on Burg Hartenstein, and from tomorrow, the exhibition is open to the public.

If you are around here, why not give the two knightly guys I made and clothed a visit? The exhibition is open on Thursday and Friday afternoons (from 15.00) and on Saturdays and Sundays (from 10.00).

And if you are not in the Nuremberg area, you can see one of the guys greeting you on the official homepage of the Freundeskreis Hartenstein e.V., the association that initialised making the exhibition.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

"Jogless Jogs" and true spirals

Now that I'm slightly over the half-way mark with my "learn how to knit" project, I've already fallen in love with something to make after that.

It is a pair of socks, with free pattern on the Internet. But no ordinary socks - no, they are Alice-in-Wonderland-Illusion-Socks (pattern and pics in pdf). And of course there are questions... like "can I use the wool from my stash* for socks, even if it's a bit thick, if I use really thin knitting needles?" and "how can I eliminate that jog?"

Now I already hate jogging as in "run to get somewhere faster" - my knees and me, we're just not made for that. And jogging in knits? Not so grand as well. So I was looking around a bit the Internet on how to eliminate the jog, and there's a method called "jogless jog" - which helps. Basically, jogless jogging means gently mangling or mushing the stitches around the jog to conceal it. But there's still a jog, and there's still fiddling with the colour change and carrying up of threads. (Nice explanations of jogless jogging can be found at TechKnitter's blog.) And the structure of circular knitting does allow for truly jogless stripes - with only a slight colour-coming-in-jog at the start and the end.

Now, technically, knitting in-the-round is knitting a spiral. For normal colour changes as for stripes, you are breaking the spiral to change from colour A to colour B. Imagine knitting in the round with a lot of increases so your round turns out flat, and it will look like this:

In sock knitting, this would be one round orange, jog, one round green, jog, ... and so on. You are trying to knit rounds of colour in a true spiral, breaking the spiral. Rounds of colour can be done easily, and jog-lessly, on a rounds-based technique like netting, but not on a spirals-based technique like knitting or nalbinding (and not in netting if you mush your meshes at the beginning so you can net spirals).
Breaking the spiral will always result in a jog. For thick, solid stripes, that isn't too bad. But for one-line or two-line stripes, that means the jog is all or half the stripe thickness if it's not eliminated.

But why break the spiral at all? Why not just insert another spiral? That would look like this:

In sock knitting, this would look like one round orange-one round green-one round orange and so on. No jogs - because you are not breaking the spiral.
You just add another spiral for each coloured row - so for illusion knitting, that would mean four spirals (two of colour A, two of colour B) each coming from one ball of yarn. Which is more or less the limiting factor of this technique: one ball for each spiral, making it a ballsy technique, so to say.

Of course I had to try it out (and that's why this blog post is so late today):

You can see the very sloppy join of the cast-on (the bump), and you should be able to see where the additional three spirals come in at different places at the bottom of the tiny tube. You cast on, knit to the end of your solid part, and then you just knit in the other colours/spirals.

Let's say you are knitting in the round with five needles (four in the knitting, one working needle) and want to have two-row spirals. This means you stop at where you want the colours to come in, with your current working thread (colour A) at the end of one needle (and the fifth needle free). Now usually, you would turn your work clockwise and continue on the next needle. Instead, turn counter-clockwise and knit in the second thread of colour A, right across the needle, turn clockwise and knit across the next needle. You now have both colour A threads stacked on top of each other. Now turn your work 180° counter-clockwise and knit in the first ball of colour B - across that needle, across the needle where you brought in the second colour A, across the third needle where you already stacked up both colour A threads, making your stack even higher. Now you can turn clockwise again, and on this needle you knit in your second colour B thread. You can knit this all around until you reach the huge stack - and from now on, whenever you find yourself on top of that stack, just take the bottommost working thread and work one round, switch thread, and so on and so on. That's it. The last stitch you are knitting into (on top of that stack) will be quite loose, but the tension adjusts itself when you take up each of the threads to work with them. And the little stack of current spiral ends also makes for a wonderful rounds marker.

To end spiraling, just stop knitting the spirals one by one, preferably at the place where you started it, to make the complete thing approximately the same length all over. Putting in a short-row heel when starting the sock at the toe shouldn't pose too large a problem as well (I'll figure that out after I've found out whether I can use my stash yarn or not). And then - Illusion Socks in Ballsy Spirals method!

* Yes, I already have a significant yarn stash. Yes, that shouldn't happen if you are not a knitter. However, I started buying those wonderful, naturally-dyed yarns ages ago when I would still think of using them for tablet weaving, and I sort of got hooked on the colours and just needed my regular yarn fix afterwards.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Knitting history

Ah, I should have known that a single post about knitting will draw more people out of the woodwork and get comments than all the other techniques. And actually, I wonder why - is it because more people can relate to knitting stuff, doing the technique themselves?

Comments yesterday made clear that there is huge interest in the history of knitting. When I was writing my thesis, of course knitting was one of the textile techniques to be mentioned, so I did some reading on that topic. And found (again) that knitting is a very, very hard technique to trace - about as nigh impossible as felting, if for different reasons.

Felting has no regular internal structure and thus is prone to fall apart into single hairs in adverse conditions - and adverse conditions for felt even include those that are generally good for organic material. With knitting, the problem lies elsewhere. Knitting can be unraveled so easily - and partly or completely "frogging" the work, if modern knitting blogs are any indication, is quite usual for things not living up to expectance. (Please tell me, do you frog knitted things that you don't wear anymore as well? Or only new stuff that doesn't fit or please well enough?)

If we assume that yarn was a valuable thing, and especially fine, colourful silk yarns, I can very well imagine that the yarns were unraveled and stored for another use - which would greatly reduce the number of knitted finds. Recycling and re-using (or remaking) of standard, sewn-from-fabric garments can be frequently seen in the archaeological evidence: Small, cut-off bits with seams in them, obviously the bits that could not be salvaged and used in a re-make because they were too crooked, too small or too oddly formed, or bits that were too worn. Now imagine somebody frogging a piece of knitting to re-knit. All that will be left might be a snippet of yarn - which, unfortunately, doesn't carry a sign telling the textile researcher "hey, I was part of knitting once!". And this makes knitting research a huge problem.

From what I could find in sources that were recent enough to already factor in the discussion of nalbinding against sprang, there was no evidence for true knitting before the start of the 12th century. There's a little more in the 13th, and more and more in the late middle ages and early modern age, but nothing earlier. The early datings usually come from the "coptic socks", and those I will consider as all nalbinding until somebody can prove the opposite by re-evaluation of the actual finds.

To round this off, for those of you hungry for references: Here's my list of things about knitting, taken from my bib database. I have not read all of those, so I can't guarantee that they will be good or insightful - if you know any of them, comments are very welcome!

CARDON, DOMINIQUE: Fils renoués. Trésors textiles du Moyen Âge en Languedoc-Rousillon. Carcassonne 1993.

GREINER, SYLVIA: Kulturphänomen Stricken. Grunbach 2002.

KJELLBERG, ANNE: "Knitting and the use of knitted goods in Norway before 1700. From archaeological finds to documentary evidence." In NOCKERT, MARGARETA und ESTHAM, INGER (Hrsg.), Opera Textilia Variorum Temporum. To honour Agnes Geijer on her ninetieth birthday 26th October 1988. Stockholm 1988. 145-152.

TURNAU, IRENA: "The Diffusion of Knitting in Mediaeval Europe." In HARTE, N.B. und PONTING, K.G (Hrsg.), Cloth and Clothing in Mediaeval Europe. Essays in Memory of Professor E. M. Carus-Wilson. London 1983. 368-389.

WYSS, ROBERT L.: "Die Handarbeiten der Maria. Eine ikonographische Studie unter Berücksichtigung der textilen Technik." In STETTLER, MICHAEL und LEMBERG, MECHTHILD (Hrsg.), Artes Minores. Dank an Werner Abegg. Bern 1973. 113-188.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Speed Knitting!

So what is the fascination of knitting for me?

First of all, you can make useful things with this - like socks. (Did I mention I like knit socks?) And if you have a penchant for making your life more difficult, then you can take very fine needles and very fine yarn and make a myriad of tiny stitches for some early modern stockings. Or go and buy a "tsock kit" from the Tsarina of Tsocks, who makes artwork kits disguised as sock kits. (And I will definitely need some of these crazy socks some time in the future.)

Then, knitting still is all over the place - thousands of people do it, and probably everybody alive knows at least one knitter. And it is easy to learn even if you are on your own, because there are so many websites and, even better, so many videos that show you how to cast on, work in the round, knit and purl, English, Continental or Oriental style. Just search youtube (or generally search) for "knitting tutorial", and there's enough to keep you occupied for hours.

But for me, there's another fascinating thing to knitting: The possibility of speed. A good while ago, I wrote a Google Penance for the search term "tricks to faster hand sewing", with the bottom line that with sewing as with most other craft processes, there's a limit to how fast you can go - and it just won't get faster. Knitting sort of has an exceptional position here, because knitting can be sped up oh, so much.

To give you a taste of what is possible in the extreme, here's a video of Miriam Tegels knitting - she's the holder of the Guinness World Record in speed knitting, with 118 stitches in one minute.

Isn't that really incredibly fast? And doesn't that make me think of the knit stockings in early modern age and wondering how long it took a professional knitter to make one?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Knitting, anyone?

For years now, I have successfully been a non-knitter. I just never did it. I had not learned in school how to knit (they only taught us crocheting), and I had only made one short and unsuccessful try to learn it back years ago, when I was still caught in puberty. The technique somehow never appealed to me enough to fiddle my way through it, and I could remember from my one try that it was really difficult to catch those pesky loops of the stitches and that I didn't know what to do when one of them slipped.

And then, when I started out in the textile archaeology field, knitting was said not to come up before the later middle ages, and not properly before early modern ages, when it somehow becomes all the rage and Knitter's Guilds form and those guildmembers knit amazing things. So I had a perfect excuse for not knitting: a, there are more than enough people around who know how to knit and do it (and teach it), so there's no danger of the technique dying out; and b, I had more than enough other techniques that were less modern and less well known already. And c, I didn't want to do things in techniques that can fall apart so easily just by pulling on the working thread (yes, you have to take out all the needles before that too, I know).

But. But. Knitting has actually been found dating back to the 13th century (in a German well, of all places). Knitting is a problem for the textile archaeologist because it can be unraveled so easily. The wherefrom and why of the development of knitting is still not known to historians. I like a good scientific unknown - it always reeks of challenge for me. And then there are the socks, which I admit I love. Hand-knitted, nicely patterned, woolen socks... aah.

And then there was the Textile Forum, where a lot of truly awesome knitting went on inbetween all the other things. Fine woolen yarns! Intricate patterning! Really really thin "knitting needles" that were sold to the knitter as "a bit of copper alloy wire"! This all smelled like a challenge and a fascinating opportunity for some full-scale madness much too much for me to resist.

So I have finally given in and learned how to knit. And I have discovered some of the fascination of knitting for myself...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Photos from Finds in Norwegian Museums

Life is so much nicer with pictures! And life is getting nicer and nicer these days, with more and more databases and pictures from museums coming up online. Here's another one that came to my attention very recently: The Universitetsmuseenes fotoportal, with pictures of finds from four different museums. The pictures include some shots of the Oseberg findings, and there's some textile there too (of course).

You can search over all four museums by using the little search box - just remember that it's Norwegian, so make sure to type "tekstil" if you are looking for fibery things. I would love to link a good English-Norwegian online dictionary here to help with the search terms, but I haven't found one yet - the few I tested did not even know how to translate "textile" into Norwegian. Instead, if you need a German-Norwegian translation (or if you know the search term you want in German but not Norwegian), I can point you to trusty Heinzelnisse, where you can even play vocabulary games to improve your language skills...

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Setting up...

Today, the two knights for the exhibition at Hartenstein will be placed into their final spots and installed securely (so they don't gallop off in the night or, even worse, fall onto an unsuspecting visitor).

Setting up for an exhibition, for me, it's always a very exciting thing and surely a cocktail of emotions. There's a little anxiety (did I bring everything? will it all fit?), a little stress (oh my goodness I hope it doesn't all take so long to set up as this item), an amount of fun (after all, things are finally coming together as they are supposed to do), a generous measure of pleasant anticipation and hope (ah, this looks really nice here, that will be splendid once we open, I hope everybody else likes it as much) and, of course, a dash of "oh no!" (oh no, a badly done tiny spot/a little fault/a scratch already!) to spice it all up.

And altogether, I like this cocktail very much... so I am really looking forward to today's session.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tool Talk - Schacht Company: Goko Swift

Not a book review, but a tool review this time - the Goko swift, made by Schacht in a traditional japanese design (and sold more or less only in the US).

I first found mention of this swift when looking for some better way to wind the very thin silk that Sabine dyed onto spools for storage and for sale. I have a normal, four-armed "umbrella" swift, but that just didn't work properly, even not when tuning it with an additional cardboard support strip for the silk to lie on. Unskeining these fine threads was not possible in a humane (and sensible) amount of time, and I was looking for alternatives. There was only one swift to be found on the Internet that was supposedly very well suited for fine, delicate threads - the Goko.

Now this swift is not the cheapest one to buy (around 130 USD), and shipping fees to Germany range between steep and outrageously expensive for such an item. But I was in luck - a travelling colleague brought one back to me, saving me the shipping costs. I unpacked and tested it yesterday, and here's what I think.

The swift consists of a wooden stand and a metal wheel with eight supports for the yarns, making it roundish instead of square as most swifts are. The wood part is quite solid, with a glossy varnish as finish, and marked with the Schacht company emblem. The two vertical support beams are slitted on top to take up the axle of the wheel.
The wheel, in contrast to the wood parts, does not have a good finish or solid feel. On my Goko, the "flanged core" was only half assembled, with one of the flanges off and quite bent. I do not know when or why this happened, due to the mode of shipping via "colleague-mail" meaning this went through several pairs of hands, but I had expected a more solid and better finished piece - the holes for the arms and the edges of the flange were not deburred, and I was not thrilled. Some gentle taps with a hammer soon took care of the bend in the second flange, and both the flange and the arms of the swift then were easy to install. However, the arms were not really perpendicular to the core, but instead seemed to be bent a little out of shape - making the whole wheel look slightly lopsided. I now had some doubts if buying the swift really had been a good move - so I proceeded to test it.

I took out a slightly mangled skein of very thin silk threads (why test with something easy, after all?) and put it on the swift. There was the next surprise in stock for me: The skein was too large, probably due to working with it on the previous swift, which might have lead to some stretching. I put it on anyway - since nothing can get caught in moving parts on that swift - and decided to give it a try.

And what shall I say? It worked beautifully. I unskeined the remaining silk with a few stops to untangle a bit, but compared to before, this was incredibly quick and easy. After all, I had stopped working with that skein before because it was almost impossible to unwind in a humane amount of time. The huge difference that the additional four arms of the swift and the wide support for the skein make is hard to describe and still make believable. The too-large skein, by the way, had quickly shrunk to Goko size without additional tangling. I tested it on a second silk skein, and it worked just as well again - so now I am convinced that for my uses, this swift was worth every penny. I had no yarn breakage due to sudden stops in spooling (with a spinning wheel set up for spooling with very light tension on the drive, so it slips with very little resistance), because both the wheel and the swift stopped at once whereas before, my wheel would stop but the swift would break the yarn.

That also is the upside of the very light quality of the metal parts: They are very light - so the actual working part of the swift seems to weigh almost nothing and turns very, very easily and with little resistance to abrupt stops (for example because there's a tangle in the skein). This swift really is very well suited for fine, fiddly yarns that are difficult to unskein. I haven't tested it with wool or other material yet, but I am quite sure it will work nicely as well.

So if you frequently wind yarns or threads that are on the thin and delicate side and give you trouble turning the corners of a normal umbrella swift, you might want to consider the Goko. It is not cheap, and it is not finished to craftspersons' delight in every last bit, but that does not take away from its functionality - and that, for fine threads, really is awesome. Proving again the old fact that good tools are important, and special tasks may need special tools to make success possible.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Connecting Grad Students

Through a mail from my old Uni, I have just stumbled upon "Gradnet", an association that wants to make life a little easier for grad students by hosting an interdisciplinary and international conference, an opportunity for productive and critical exchange.

I haven't heard about them before (that's a small wonder and has much to do with both my topic and my work style, and little to do with them), but the programme of the next conference is online, and it looks quite large and quite nice.

The next conference takes place in Erlangen, from 20 to 22 November - so pretty soon - and you can check out their programme on the Gradnet website www.gradnet.de.

I probably won't be able to hop over there due to the move coming up on the next weekend, but I'd love to hear about it, so should you go there, please drop me a comment!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Box heaven - or is it hell?

I am slowly but surely surrounding myself with boxes filled with stuff - books, textile implements, more books, resources and materials, more books, tools, cloth, and even more books*. It is a weird-looking mix of order and chaos: a jumble of things on heaps to be sorted out, books still in shelves (almost none left in the study, though), things that are pre-packed in boxes anyways, and the big newly-filled boxes stacked on top of each other, slowly filling up freshly cleared space where shelves were.**

Yes, that sounds like an upcoming move - we will move into a bigger flat, since my stuff seems to have exploded (or maybe "popcorned") during the last months. This is largely connected to my acquiring some exhibition stuff (which includes two dress mannequins) and to the growth of the market stall and its assortment of goods, but also to such slightly mad ventures as the spinning experiment (which resulted in my having about 105 spindles now instead of five, and two more rather large boxes to stash). All this has led to the apartment being too small, and offering too little storage space.

So we will move, but stay in this very nice and quiet part of Erlangen. I will have a nice, large study/work room with no roof slope taking away space for shelf storage or moving around in the room, and enough space to actually do tailoring work in there without feeling cramped. And it is a ground floor flat - hooray for not having to lug so much stuff down from second storey when going to a medieval event!

* Yes, I'm a book junkie. And that is especially true for books on archaeological stuff, textiles foremost, of course. Book buying binges when in museum or exhibition bookstores is a very common quirk of archaeologists, and I'm no exception to that rule. Which means that not only do I have lots of books, I have lots of really seriously heavy books, because most catalogues are printed on thick, glossy, heavy high-quality paper...
** Compared to stacking books on the floor until stack height is still just stable, shelves are a much more compact way of storing (we found this out when emptying a shelf to re-build it with an additional bit a while ago), but even shelf storage cannot beat boxes filled with books and stacked up high. Much less convenient for actual reading, though!