Wednesday, 29 February 2012

One spinning wheel, coming right up.

As you can probably tell from the title of this blog post, I have decided to take a shot at making a Great Wheel myself. I am going to base its construction on the well-known Luttrell Psalter image which will result in a fairly big wheel, standing on fairly long legs, with an upright holder for both the spindle and the wheel.

In contrast to later wheels that are still existing, the medieval Great Wheels never seem to have angled uprights holding the wheel itself or the spindle. There will also be no threaded tensioners; I have yet to decide whether to add a different tensioning mechanism or to just tension by changing drive band length.

The whole thing, in any case, should be
a) done so it can be taken apart easily for transport or storage;
b) not use modern materials or concepts;
c) match the Luttrell wheel as well as possible;
d) function as a proper productive spinning tool.

So the usual, the usual. Apart from the tensioning issue, however, I think I have figured out most of the details - putting together of the parts will be done by using wedges, similar to how my table substruction is held together; the legs will be conical and thus should have enough friction in their sockets to stay in there when the wheel is carried around; the largest single bit will be the wheel itself, and that is non-debatable due to construction reasons.

I am very much looking forward to this!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Spring is coming!

There has been no more snow for quite a few days, and it was quite warm - at least compared to when it was really cold this winter, since we had temperatures of down to -18° C then.

Now it's much balmier, with a little bit of sunshine and positive degrees of temperature for most of the time. The snowdrops are in bloom, and the first three crocuses are also flowering already. A few of the tulips had already started to push out a leaf or two back in November, and those leaves are now a good bit frost-bitten, but the rest of the tulips are only starting to push through now - and it seems that my parting of the bulbclusters and replanting them as individuals last autumn paid off, at least I can now see gazillions of tulip tips everywhere.

All this means it's time to tidy up the garden and fix a few things there. Which is going to make a welcome opportunity for good-weather breaks during the next days - I have a presentation to prepare, one article to fix and expand, and one article to write, so escaping to the outdoors for a little time (because that sprawl of thyme in the flowerbeds has to be thrown out!) is really nice.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Sometimes, things align.

Sometimes, it just takes a while for all kinds of things to turn towards favourable constellations... and it seems that I might get a shot at a portable Great Wheel, with a little luck and a bit of woodworking.

For those of you not familiar with a Great Wheel: this contraption (also called Walking Wheel or wool wheel sometimes) is the very early form of a spinning wheel - basically, it's a hand-spindle mounted sideways and connected to huge lightweight wheel by a drive band.

Image from British Library Manuscript Royal 10 E IV, f. 147. Dated to last quarter of 13th or first quarter of the 14th century. Link to the catalogue entry with more information.

There are a few common problems with building a wheel like that, especially when it's part of the intended use to lug the thing along to different events: It has to be properly functional, it should be correct regarding materials and construction, and it has to be possible to take it apart enough so that it can fit into the car. Add to this the fact that the images are not always very clear, or have a proper perspective, and that one can build a functional wheel much easier if one has worked with this type of tool already, and there's quite a bunch of difficulties. Plus it's of course necessary to have the wood, the tools, and the crafts abilities to make such a thing.

Well, some of the basic construction and concept problems sort of came up with a few solutions almost by themselves yesterday evening. A woodworking workshop is at the moment magically appearing in our basement, including a gadget necessary to steam-bend wood. There also is a little leftover wood. And I should be able to procure the metal parts for the wheel with little or no trouble, the way it is planned at the moment... so I will do some thinking, and some scheming, during the next weeks. And who knows, with a little luck and some dusty woody work... there might be another wheel in my future.

(Oh. You might have heard that saying about how spinning wheels are herd animals? It's totally true. If you do not want a herd of spinning wheels, you should keep your one and only wheel isolated. Don't get a second one. Don't even lend one from someone else for a while. They will start multiplying then. It's probably best if you don't even leave it alone in another room with a second wheel. They're almost as bad as rabbits. Really. I swear.)

Friday, 24 February 2012


I have managed to finally get some more of the nasty small things done - tweaking a few of the texts at the shop, getting bookkeeping stuff up to date, thinking about new products, settling a few date issues - and now the next things looming up on the horizon (or not so far off, to be fair) are both the conference in Vienna (where I'm still waiting for the final verdict on how much time I will have), a paper to finish for some other conference proceedings - relating textile production to daily life in the Middle Ages - and the IRM.

The IRM is a goods and service fair in a museum not too far from Trier, taking place March 31 and April 1 (and it's not an April Fool's joke). It's a fairly new project, this fair, and I am not sure what to expect. Since this is the very first fair I'm going to as an exhibitor, I am also not yet sure what to bring and how to do the presentation. Something nice and new would be splendid to bring there... but I'm not completely sure what. Maybe an embroidery package? There should be time enough for me to prepare a few, including instructions and background info. (Your input on this, as always, will be very welcome!)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Take a virtual stroll along it.

If you've ever wished to take a walk along the Bayeux tapestry, but you are not getting to Bayeux for now, you can do so virtually - the full tapestry is on the internet.

Now usually, I'll be one of the crowd that says horizontal scrolling on webpages is evil - but in this case... it's just cool.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The next talk is coming up.

I'm currently preparing the powerpoint slides for my paper at the "3000 years of Colour" conference, and I'm having the usual problem again: I need an intro bit explaining what I was doing, then some words about methodology and experiments, then the intro to the experiment design and the data gained from it.
And by the time I can get into talking about the analysis, this means quite a lot of time has gone already. And I need to keep it much, much shorter than I would like to. This is such a common problem when you're working in a niche field - I usually end up taking about 5 minutes to explain what I am doing, and why, in a conference paper. Many of the conferences on experimental archaeology only give you a 20 min slot, so that means a quarter of my allotted time is gone before I can get properly started with my research and results presentation.

Can somebody please invent something to slow time during a talk? That would be so, so nifty sometimes.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Something completely different to do with spools of thread.

By pure chance, I stumbled across this a while ago - someone doing incredibly awesome art with thread. But in a completely different way than expected:

This is one of the pieces Devorah Sperber makes, and it boggled my mind. You can see more of her work showcased here - and it really, really is worth a look.

Now if I had space and money for a few thousand spools of yarn and an acrylic ball...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Some modern things are so cool.

It's not the first time that I write on this blog about how I dig modern technology. Or the InterBloggoTubes. But it's time to mention one incredibly cool (and meanwhile also incredibly successful) idea: Crowdfunding. Or, to be more specific: Kickstarter.

I first found out about this platform and the idea it carries - get normal people to fund an expensive project with their money, getting a little (or sometimes not-so-little) input from many persons - when Neil Gaiman blogged about a short animated film project on Kickstarter. And since then, I have looked there now and then, browsed the projects... and sometimes even fell in love with one of them and backed it.

In case you do not know about crowdfunding yet, here's the Cliff's Notes: Someone has a project that needs more money for getting it going - like printing a book, making a CD, or filming something, or making a gadget of some sort. Sometimes, there is a market for the item in question, but it is commonly only reached via middlemen (publishers or similar), or there's even more investment needed to distribute the item so it gets to the market. Lots of projects die in this stage. Enter crowdfunding: now the someone in question describes the project, maybe even with a little video, and asks for help in making this. Not just help though - anyone who backs a project usually gets something back: a copy of the item in question, a personalised item, a limited edition thingie, and so on. So basically you future-buy something that would not come into existence without your future-buying it.

Kickstarter also has a very good system of handling the logistics: you can change your pledge at any time until the end of the drive, and you will be charged only once - after it closes - and only if the project reached its funding goal.

And in case you now wonder whether this can function... it can. There's a lot of purchasing power in the hands of geeks, and those folks are prone to find out about something like Kickstarter. And if you need more proof about that, check out these two still-running projects that both have more than a million dollar in pledges now - a drive for funding a comic book reprint and a drive for making a point-and-click adventure game (close to two million now). And if you would like to see a truly amazing marketing strategy in action, make totally sure you check out the updates of the Order of the Stick drive. This is how it's done, and I'm in total awe about how Rich handled this.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Ah. What shall I say?

Today is one of those days when I really don't know what to blog about. I don't even have a bad joke to share with you. I can tell you that I am going to bake a cake today, but that is probably not going to interest you; or that I have a pair of socks that I'm (theoretically) working on and a jacket that I'm also (theoretically) knitting - but I haven't done any stitch on them in a few days. And that is probably also not going to interest you.

So why don't you go and look at a random xkcd strip instead?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

New stuff in the shop!

I was properly busy yesterday and added more pictures to the shop as well as a few new items. Among them, brand-spanking-new: six-holed weaving tablets (made of parchment) and very variable slate frames.

You can check out the new goodies here - and I hope you like them!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Odds and Ends.

Today is a day for taking care of odds and ends - all those small annoying things that need doing. Like checking for updates for my programmes, or fixing small oopsies on websites, or updating some things in the shop, or answering mails and phone calls. It's amazing how many of these small tasks keep coming up - some garden gnome or something like that to take care of stuff would be really helpful!

While I am working on diminishing the annoying-small-tasks list, maybe you would like to check out the programme for the next conference of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), which will take place in Helsinki August 29-September 1? You can find their homepage here, and the call for papers will be open until end of March.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

This is what happens when schedules are not kept.

I got up earlier than usually today and then sort of got gobbled up by lots of different small tasks (and lots of phone calls) - to the point that I totally forgot I had not blogged yet.

So, with ample delay, here's today's blog post...

You might remember the spinning for the Hallstatt narrow wares reproduction quite a while ago? This has been covered by the Standard, an Austrian newspaper, and the little (German) article is online as well - you can read it here. There's also a special exhibition about the project at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, and I'm looking forward to seeing it when I am in Vienna for the 3000 years of colour conference. So much nice stuff coming from that project!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Diamonds are a girl's best friends.

Really. They are. I mean I totally love my diamonds - they are always plane, they never need trueing, they do not need to be soaked before use, they don't even need lubricant, and they come with their non-slip feet or non-slip mat. Plus they are quite abrasive, even with small grain... so what's not to love?

For those of you who are confused: I am talking about diamond whetstones. And for those of you who ponder buying a whetstone for sharpening kitchen knives or other tools: I can totally recommend a diamond stone. They are a bit pricier than normal stone stones, but they last forever, they never develop a ditch, and they are easy to clean.

This post was brought to you by the person who finally finished sharpening a new tool (that came very, very unsharpened) and can now start to work on those 6-hole weaving tablets  that are supposed to go into the shop soon...

Friday, 10 February 2012


The last three days were quite intense - sitting in the car for about four hours, followed by a long afternoon and a long full day of unleashing my inner geek to get a website set up, organised and running, and finally a nice and interesting meeting at LEA to discuss future events - including the Textile Forum.

I had seen plans and pictures, but it really is different to stand in the rooms and halls and see how much has been done. The building is in the process of drying out and still needs a good clean, but then (almost) the only thing that's left to do is to put in the rest of the fittings for the two workhalls. One will contain a smithy, but they are both designed to be very flexible in their uses. There are two dorm rooms that are very light and friendly, a large room for meetings and conferences and papers, a nice well-fitted kitchen with lots of light and room for a little staff meeting or conspirative cooking (or doing on-the-stove experiments, like dyeworks with good control over surroundings and temperature). And last but not at all least, the folks from the Volcano Parc are lovely neighbours.

Now I'm even happier to be there in September - and I'm very, very much looking forward to our event!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Textile Forum preparations.

Today is the day we will be visiting LEA (or at least LEA's building site) - the Laboratory for Experimental Archaeology that is being built in Mayen and where the Textile Forum 2012 will take place.

Sabine and I are both very much looking forward to this - we have seen plans and pictures, but it's always totally different to be there in person. I know that a lot of thought and effort went into this project, so I am very thrilled to see it come into reality!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


If you are a tiny little bit into typography, you will have heard of a font called Comic Sans.

If there's debate about only one font out there, it's surely about this one. Personally, I can't understand why some people hate it so much (and yes, I have used it - it is a font that is easy to read for me in bad lighting, which is the reason why I once chose it for song lyrics to print out).

And it looks as if I'm not alone in not understanding the hate: Project Comic Sans is taking the font to re-write well-known logos and symbols. Do check it out, it is not only funny - it also shows how much fonts are perceived as part of a logo even if you are not aware of it.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Book talk - Bill Bryson: At Home.

This has been hanging around in my drafts for months now - I had intended to read some more in the book, but I am not going to get around to that anytime soon. So here comes a review of the not-fully-read book. I hope you enjoy it anyways.

I picked up this book when I was last in England, since there was one of those typical "buy more books"-deals and I still had some English money left and some space in the luggage (and since bookdepository got bought by amazon, I tried to stock up in brick-and-mortar stores).

I had heard of Bill Bryson, and I knew that he wrote travelogues or something like that. Now travel books are not what I usually read, so I had never looked into them - but a history of private life? That tickles my fancy.

I started reading with high hopes to find a nice, thoroughly entertaining book about history. And I am now more than half-way through the book (in the "Garden" chapter), which has been enough for me to sum it up and do a review thingie before I put this book away.

Bill Bryson writes in a style that I find easy to read and with a pleasant voice, and I absolutely love the idea of wandering through a bit of our daily life and looking at details and their history. I also like history that isn't bone dry and history that looks at bits and pieces usually overlooked, like daily life stuff. And I'm not averse to some snark. So I should love this book, right? Well.

Bryson rambles on about things - inventions, architecture, how people did things a long (or not-so-long) time ago. However, I get the impression that often he is just telling some fact or factoid that he picked up somewhere, and he does not ask himself why things would have been done like that. Humans do some pretty weird stuff and have done so for ages - and they might do things that are laborious or long-winded or expensive or seemingly mean, but they never do so without a reason. It might be a psychological reason rooted somewhere in their culture, or a religious one, or come from any other socio-cultural reason, but there is something behind it. And this is what I, personally, find enormously interesting - and what seems not to interest Bryson, who prefers to state the fact and then sneer at the weird folks from back then who did such stupid stuff.

At least this is what it feels like for me when he tells things about stuff folks did back then. And there are some things written in his book where I just can't agree, or where I know a very, very different version, or where he got old outdated theories or misconceptions and is in fact plain wrong.

For instance, he states that "making food out of plants is hard work" - and that converting grasses like wheat etc. into edibles is a complex task, because "wheat is useless as a food until made into something much more complex and ambitious like bread" (p. 66). Ah. Well, first of all, when I think of wheat or even one of its early forms, I don't think of the grassy stalks - but of the seeds, which is a completely different thing. And then it is perfectly possible to eat wheat or other cereal without turning it into bread first: fresh seeds can be eaten raw, and they can generally be cooked and eaten, or soaked in water and eaten before or after they start germinating. This may not be such a staple as bread is today, but it is still possible. And it is, in fact, nutritious. And not hard work.

And then, of course, his textile "explanations". And his view of the middle ages.
Upon the death of a serf the lord was entitled to take a small personal possession, such as an article of clothing, as a kind of death duty. Often peasants only owned one main item of apparel, a type of loose gown [...]. The fact that that was the best that a peasant had to offer, and that the lord of the manor would want it, tells you about all you need to know about the quality of medieval life at many levels. (p. 84)
Erm, what? WHAT? Do I even need to write anything about that here? Dark ages, stupid people, all only playing with piles of mud or what?

But what I really find irksome in a history-ish book is the snark about those stupid people back then. As if we today were so, so much better, and smarter, and whatever. There's bits and pieces, facts and factoids jumbled together, there is no clear line to the book, and it's mostly looking down on history as a time that was, yes, interesting, but so very yesterday. Sometimes the condescending look is not very clear, but it's implied that life was so, so much worse back then. Colours were not fast, meats that were non-delicious were eaten because the delicious sheep and cattle were needed for work, furniture was plain and noncomfy, beds were either infested with lice or so toxic they were also harmful to their occupant, and so on.

Plus, once I find some outdated theories presented as current facts, I sort of get suspicious and will lose my trust in the book. And that also cuts down on how entertaining I find a read. It's possible that Bryson's research on the modern times was a lot more accurate than regarding the medieval period, but regarding medieval times, I believe he's way, way off at many places.

I had planned to write a much longer review, and I had in fact marked lots and lots of pages with examples of stuff... but I have no real desire to read more in that book, andI think I have made enough of a point to stop.

The concept of the book - looking at the house, the home, and tracing things back to their origins, still sounds like a brilliant thing to me. With a little more research and a lot less snark and condescension, this would have been a brilliant read. As it is now - I really cannot recommend it. And that makes me a bit sad. (Also - I could have lugged home a different book from the two-fer offer. One that I might have liked better. Meh.)

Monday, 6 February 2012

Yay! Newsletter!

I have finally updated the homepage at - and for those of you in Germany (or at least reading German) who are interested in getting all the news from pallia, you can now sign up to a newsletter that will make sure you get all the interesting announcements.

Since most of my news-announcing is done via this blog, and this blog is English, the Germans who are not really at home with a foreign language always got to be a little disadvantaged. And while I will go on with this blog as usual, there's now a German language way to get the updates - including those not too interesting for an international audience.

Signing up is, of course, easy: Just go to, and you can sign up right on the front page of the (German language) site. The newsletter will be used to announce workshop dates and the occasional larger shop update or places and dates where you can find me (and the market stall, probably).

Friday, 3 February 2012

Act against ACTA!

Poland and Austria have already raised their voices, and Germany is now getting in on the protests against ACTA. There's a website called (German and English), and it includes a wiki with dates for demonstrations in all countries, plus some more information on how you can act.

And there is more: everyone can sign this online petition, hosted by Please click that link, sign the petition, and spread the word - we have to act quickly to have a chance at stopping ACTA!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Textile Forum.

In case you are reading this and did not yet know, the Call for Papers for the Textileforum in September is still open - so if you would like to participate at the Forum with a paper or poster presentation, please register on our registration page. (I hope I managed to fix the bug with the UK postcodes - it was only accepting figures and no letters.)

The Textile Forum this year will have the focus topic "Metal in Textile Crafts", but any other topic is very welcome as well. It will take place in Germany, and we can offer the whole week including full board for only 300 €. This means you can have all meals together with your colleagues and will not have to think about where to get fed. We also can offer simple lodging included in that fee for the first dozen or so people who register - so don't wait too long!
In addition to being an event where crafters working in historical techniques can get together with one another and exchange tips, tricks - and questions, the Forum is always a boatload of fun and a perfect way to meet and get to know others who are working in the field of historical textile crafts. We are open to everyone with an interest in the crafty aspects of textile works, be they living history folks, conservators, professional textile workers, archaeologists, or hobby spinners - as long as you are interested in the crafts part of these techniques and in how things are (or can be) actually done, the Forum is for you. Don't miss this opportunity!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Friends are the awesomest thing.

Since I had some more little troubles with xmgrace yesterday, I used the Phone-a-Friend Lifeline and did just that. And thus got myself a nice little one-on-one, flesh-and-blood Grace tutorial.

Where I learned the following Two Rules for Getting Grace:
Rule one: If plotting or importing data does not work, you probably have a dumb user problem and screwed up your dataset. Which is easy to do - just add a line break at the wrong place, or leave a string in.
Rule two: When working with grace, pretend it's a jump-and-run game or an egoshooter - save early, save often, save lots of different versions. Grace has no undo function, and hitting the wrong button (or even the right button) at the wrong time can permanently screw up things.

I'm not sure whether there's a third rule - insist on grace being totally cool and a very good tool no matter how much trouble it can make - but I will find that out (probably).

For now, though, I know how to get stuff like this:

so I'm perfectly content.