Monday, January 19, 2015

a memory tool for a life

We visited the Cooper Hewitt Museum back in December. This is the Smithsonian Museum of Design. They had just re-opened after a major renovation which increased their gallery space. The Cooper Hewitt has an extensive collection of textiles, ranging from ancient Egyptian wool and linen tapestries, to twenty-first century synthetics. There were some beautiful pieces on display, but that wasn't what impressed me the most. On the top floor was an exhibit of tools through the centuries, starting with stone age spear points, all the way up to space suits and i-pods. But this was the tool that impressed me the most:

This ball of thread is about the size of a softball. It is a Klikitat (Southern British Columbia) Time Ball, that was created in the early 20th century. According to the museum label, "when ready for marriage, a young woman started her time ball, a fiber diary that employed knots to record events. Glass beads, shells, and cloth fragments marked special occasions. As a woman aged, her time ball accumulated the history of her family and extended community. It was so essential to her identity that she was buried with it."

Imagine being able to hold your whole adult life in your hand.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

a spinning experiment

I've completed spinning trial #1, in an effort to get a feel for the difference between spinning on a modern spindle vs a medieval spindle. As a reminder, using my "moosie" (36 grams with a 22 cm shaft) I spun 155 meters at 10 wraps/cm. I stopped spinning when the total spindle weight was 81 grams and the thread tended to slip off the shaft.

For the medieval style spindle I used my #6 whorl and the Ribe style shaft. The total spindle weight is 26 grams, and the shaft length is 30 cm. The purpose of the experiment was only to test the amount of thread which could be held by the spindle.

I began by spinning a thread at a gauge of 14 wpc. When the total spindle weight reached 35 grams I needed to add a second half hitch to the shaft to keep the thread in place until the spindle reached the ground. At 45 grams the second hitch began to slip occasionally, and I had to be more careful tying it on. At 52 grams it was very difficult to keep a consistent thread diameter. The spindle spun backwards before I could draft more than once. When the total spindle weight was 53 grams, I stopped. The result measured 170 meters of thread. However, by the end my gauge had changed to 12 wpc. It had happened so gradually that I hadn't even noticed. When I spin for a particular project, I generally make a little sample to help me keep a consistent gauge and twist. I did not do that this time. But, the ordinary medieval spinner probably didn't do that either. While there is a visible difference in the size of the thread at the beginning and end, I do not believe it is enough to make an appreciable difference in the finished cloth.

In retrospect, I would have had a more consistent thread if I had stopped spinning when the spindle weight reached about 50 grams. That would have given me about the same amount of thread as the modern spindle.

I forgot to take a picture before I took the thread off the spindle, so here is what I spun in the first trial, and the beginning of the second trial.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 Goals

Looking back at my 2014 goals I see I didn't reach many of them. I did recreate my great grandmother's socks, and I did a tiny bit of tablet weaving, and quite a bit of spinning. I guess I did a lot of meandering last year. Even so, I find I do best if I lay out a map of things I want to accomplish. I know I am rarely successful at completing all the tasks I set for myself, but it keeps me moving in a generally positive direction. So, here goes:

1. Stop Procrastinating, and FINISH THE RIBE MITTENS. There is nothing more to say.

2. Toward the end of 2014 I posed myself a little question about how much thread could comfortably fit on a period spindle, and how long it would take to spin it. I started to experiment, using my #6 whorl and Ribe style shaft. I am guessing the spindle is somewhat more than half full at this point. When the spindle reached a weight of 35 grams I started having to add a second half hitch to keep the thread from slipping off. We'll see how much more I can add before it becomes too difficult to keep a consistent gauge, or both knots slip off. There have been too many interruptions to the spinning to be able to time it, so I will do it again. Besides, it's always nice to have more than one trial to reach a valid conclusion.

3. Finish my tablet weaving project. I started to make myself a pair of garters, but stalled after just a couple of inches. Can I finish them before the end of May?

4. Teach. As often as I can. The first thing I will teach is beginning sprang, at the January 20 Concordia A&S night.

5. In that same vein, I have taken on a student. Marjorie Parmentar and I will get together each week so that I can help her structure her learning process. If we find the relationship works well, she will become my first apprentice.

6. I want to inventory all of my wool and roving. I'm sure I have more than enough to keep me busy for a year. If I organize it I can begin to decide on some projects to spin for. First is to finish spinning for the shawl I want to knit.

7. Finally, in December we visited the Metropolitan, the Cloisters and the Cooper Hewitt museums. I was particularly interested in the embroidery pieces that were on display, since I had taken several embroidery classes at Pennsic this past summer. It was wonderful to see in person some of the artifacts made using the techniques I had just learned about. This year I would like to begin a period style embroidery project.

This is a scene from the life of St. Catherine, South Netherlandish, c. 1430, from the Cloisters - silk and metal thread on linen. What is difficult to see in my poor photo is the diaper pattern of couched gold around the edges of the scene. This is much more complex than anything I would attempt as my first metal thread project, but I thought you might enjoy the picture.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review

It is the end of 2014 already, and time for me to look back over what I have accomplished.

The year began with the Kingdom 12th Night Celebration, where my husband was welcomed into the Order of Terpsichore, for his service as a dance instructor. Clearly that's not my accomplishment, but I was very happy to share the joy with him.

The rest of my winter was spent preparing for and running the King's and Queen's Arts & Sciences Championship. My goal was to eliminate needless stress for the contestants and the judges. I think I succeeded. There were so many talented participants, the judges had a very difficult task. The new champions were the best of a very deserving group. I hope they have been enjoying their year as much as I enjoyed mine.

Teaching was a highlight of my year. I taught nalbinding at Novice Schola, War of the Roses, Northern Region War Camp and Pennsic. I also taught spinning at NRWC. It was fun to have children in that class - they have no fear of failure. I also snuck a few one-on-one nalbinding sessions into the year, which is always enjoyable.

If you follow my blog, you know I didn't complete the Ribe mittens yet, but I did a lot of knitting, including a wrap, a scarf and four pairs of gloves as Christmas gifts. I did finish the Alsike mittens, and I love how they turned out. It's such a pretty stitch!

I promised myself that I would spend more time spinning in 2014, and I did. I spun Shetland, Merino, and Jacob, as well as a few silk/wool blends. I recently purchased some Targhee roving, which is a new breed for me. I'll spin that in 2015 and add it to my breed sampler. I also received a gift of some beautiful silk to spin. I'm looking forward to playing with the colors.

I was able to complete a few small special projects this year - a laurel hat for Kenric, a new embroidered sash for the Concordia fencing champion, and some needle cases for Queen Thyra to give as gifts.

Publication of my research on spindle whorls moved forward this year. It's such a long process! I spent many hours perfecting the manuscript so that the work makes sense to both spinners and non-spinners. I've never imagined that non-spinners would be interested enough to actually read the paper, but perhaps it will inspire someone to try spinning (probably not - it's rather esoteric).

The best part of 2014 was being welcomed into the Order of the Laurel. I'm just beginning to feel comfortable in the role. It is still a thrill to put on the regalia for court. If you want to know more, look back to my posts in March.

Friday, December 5, 2014

It's almost like Christmas!

The proofs came yesterday for my chapter in the next volume of Medieval Clothing and Textiles! That will be Volume 11 - coming out in the spring. While I have been working with the editors for many months now to perfect the wording in the article about my spinning experiments, it seems so much more real now that it looks just like it will look in the published book. Just a couple of typos to fix, then I get to wait a few more months for the real thing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Choosing the Right Tool

This is a topic that is near to my heart. I am reminded time and again how important it is to fit the tool to the task at hand. This is true whether I am spinning or knitting or nalbinding. And I'm sure the same is true for you, no matter what art or science you choose to pursue.

The importance of the right tool was made abundantly clear to me as I began to knit a pair of fingerless gloves. I prefer using bamboo needles for knitting. I like that they feel warm and light in my hand. Some people swear by metal needles because they can knit so quickly with them. But my experience is different. They actually slow me down because I don't like how they feel. For these gloves I designed a pattern to use some fine alpaca yarn. I chose size 1 needles so that the resulting fabric would be dense, but not overly so. I was ready to start, but couldn't find my needles (turns out I was using them to knit a sock). I began the gloves using metal needles. I was not having fun. The needles were cold, hard, and too long for this project, making them hard to balance. It not only changed my speed, it affected my stitch tension. I changed needles as soon as possible. Here is a picture of the gloves so far (I don't know why the picture is rotated):

On the completed glove I can see where I changed to bamboo needles. Even though the needles are the same size, the stitches are not. The second glove, knit with bamboo needles from the beginning, is a much more consistent fabric.

So, the lesson for today: The quality of my work is not just due to my skill or lack thereof. It is also a product of the tools I use. The right tool for the task is not just a factor of the quality of the tool, but also how the tool fits the user. If you are having trouble with a project that you think should be going better, perhaps the problem isn't you. Maybe it's the tool.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


So, I promised myself that I would finish the Ribe nalbinding mittens this year. After all, I had spun the yarn for them by the end of 2013 - there was no excuse. But, once again I procrastinated. At the end of October I finally decided I could not put it off any longer, and got out the yarn to begin. What did I find - moths! and their little worms! So, once again, the project did not begin. The yarn is currently in my freezer. Hopefully I will be able to salvage enough to complete the project. But now I am in the midst of holiday gift making (which is going quite well), so 2015 will have to be the year for the mittens.