November 30, 2012

Greek Drama – Agamemnon

I read Greek Drama: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes edited by Moses Hadas (Toronto: Bantam, 1982), looking for information about textiles in the ancient world.  A little literary criticism is going to creep into this post, which is about Aeschylus' Agamemnon.  I am also going to give away the plot, so go read the play first if that sort of thing bothers you.

Clymenestra assures the herald she has been faithful to her husband Agamemnon while he was away at war.  She says, "I know of pleasure or scandalous address from any other no more than of dyeing bronze."  I take from this brief declaration that she understands the mechanics of dyeing and so would the intended audience, at least enough to understand her point.  I think it bears out Barber's Woman's Work: the First 20,000 Years which states that in ancient Greece women were skilled in spinning, dyeing, and weaving and that the higher a position in society they held, the better the work they were expected to be able to do and supervise.  Clymenestra establishes herself for the audience as someone who knows dyes and moreover as a woman who fulfils a well-defined, socially-expected gender role for her time.  The author sets her up here for a fight with her husband on his arrival where dyed cloth supplies the object of their disagreement.

If you know anything about purple dye in ancient Greece and Rome, you know that it came from shellfish, it required a considerable amount of material, labour, and skill to use, and its use was restricted to the wealthy and powerful.  I say that so you will understand the extravagance of Clymenestra's red carpet welcome to her husband Agamemnon: "In a moment let the laid path be turned to purple, that to a home unexpected he may have his conduct due." (p. 33)

Agamemnon objects, "Offer no womanish luxuries to me, nor before me, as before a king of the East, grovel with open-mouthed acclaim, nor with vestures strown draw jealous eyes upon my path.  To the gods these honors belong.  To tread, a mortal, upon fair fineries is to my poor thoughts a thing of fear...Even with these bare soles, as I walk the sacred purple, I hope no distant eye may give me an evil glance.  It is shame enough to stain with the stain of human feet textures of price, purchased for silver." (p. 33, 34)  Notice how luxury textiles are "womanish," associated with women, maybe because he has been away at a war encampment with his men under harsh conditions or maybe because women spun and wove cloth.  Notice as well the distinction he makes between cloth set apart for either religious or secular purposes: "sacred purple" and "textures of price, purchased for silver."

He introduces Cassandra to Clymenestra and makes one more comment about being obliged to walk to the palace on the "purple path" (p. 35).  His wife replies, "There is a sea (and who shall drain it dry?) which has in it purple enough, precious as silver, oozing fresh and fresh, to dye vestures withal.  And we have, O King, I trust, a chamber of such from which to take thereof, our house being unacquainted with poverty.  Vestures plenty would I have devoted to the trampling..." (p. 35)  It's an extraordinary image of richness and abundance.  Notice she stresses "we have" a chamber.  Why would Clymenestra want to remind Agamemnon after his long absence that she is his wife and they share a home?  We discover later when she speaks freely that she suspects he has taken Cassandra as his mistress.  Clymenestra's statement can cut two ways, it means she and her husband together are royalty and owners of the house, and it also means that she knows how much is on hand unlike Agamemnon who has been away and should not presume to set limits on her actions.  There's a hint, as she overrides and invalidates his objections, that she is in a fighting mood.  This forshadows her plans to avenge their daughter's death at his hands.  The reference to the chamber is also an insult to Cassandra who presumably herself once had similar storehouses of expensive cloth, now destroyed in the fall of Troy.  Clymenestra is saying to her, you are poor, you may have been born the daughter of a king but now you are a captive with nothing.  In this way, Clymenestra's attitudes are shown through references to cloth.

Agamemnon and Clymenestra's daughter Iphigenia is described as wearing a saffron robe (p. 20) at the time of her death.  Like murex for purple, saffron is difficult to harvest and costly.  The saffron robe identifies the girl as one who holds a privileged place and heightens the contrast between her and all the men on board ship who by inference were not wearing saffron.

Cassandra, left alone with the Chorus, addresses a stole around her neck.  In context the stole and her scepter of divination are marks of office, symbols of her ability to see the future.  She destroys the stole by throwing it to the ground and, presumably, grinding it into the dust.  She refers to being stripped of the "prophet's vesture" and the "sacred garb."  I'm not sure whether she is actually wearing a robe associated with religious practice or merely speaking metaphorically.  From the context the garb would have to mean a garment, not just her stole but something that when stripped away would expose her.  (p. 41)

When Clymenestra is "revealed standing over the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra" she says that she stands where she struck, that she "made the death" in such a fashion that she won't be able to escape or resist, so the circumstances would act on her like a contraining fish net or "a rich robe deadly dyed."  At first I thought she meant that she got her clothes bloody, but then I realized it wasn't a literal statement but an analogy.  Whether it was a myth or an actual fact whose technical aspects are lost to history, the Greeks believed it was possible to dye cloth so that whoever wore it would be poisoned to death.  There was no antidote.  Barber discusses it in Women's Work and such a robe is a key part of the plot in Euripides' Medea.  Clymenestra is saying that she is caught and she planned it that way.  She is also being gruesome.

Aegisthus comes on the scene and says, "I see in a robe of the Furies' weaving this man lying as I would." (p. 48)  He had secretly backed Clymenestra to get revenge on Agamemnon.  One usually associates weaving and death with the Fates who determined lifespan in Greek mythology, but this play is about hereditary blood vengeance (p. 14), thus the reference to the Furies who were in charge of that.

November 29, 2012

Språng Images at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Italian, 16th C

I think the Italian garter's colour combination is rather startling yet interesting since the colours highlight  diagonal lines and so suggest the interlacing method of construction.  Double twist interlinking would also give diagonal lines but the row height would be higher.  Not that I can tell from an online image.  The garter is long and skinny and fringed at both ends suggesting a circular warp.  I wonder what sort of språng loom was used.

ETA: see reader comment for information about construction of garter

November 28, 2012

Linen Cloth Fresh off the Loom

My woven linen tea towels in Ms and Os, off the loom and as yet unwashed, uncut, and unhemmed.

The selvedges are straighter and the width of the fabric more consistent than what I've gotten from my rigid heddle loom.  I wove the towels on a Harrisville Designs jack floor loom.  To help with good selvedges, the weaving instructor ran nylon filament along the floating selvedge threads on either side.  The filaments were weighted at the back with fishing weights.

November 27, 2012

Språng Images on the Metropolitan Museum of Art Website

mantle, Peru
(dimensions are given as 54.5 x 74 3/8 inches or 138.5 x 189 cm in the publication, Ancient Peruvian Mantles 300 B.C. - A.D. 200.)

cap, Egypt

cap, Egypt

cap, Egypt,

fragment, England

Regarding the mantle, I've seen Peruvian textile motifs before but this is the first time I've seen them done in a pattern of språng with holes.

I rather like the English fragment.

I appreciate the quality of the images on the site: it's possible to get some clues about the språng construction, the way the pieces were used, and so on.

November 26, 2012

"A Toaster, From Scratch"

A quote from Thomas Thwaites' January 2011 TED Talk, "How I built a Toaster – From Scratch":
I got my suitcase of iron ore and dragged it back to London on the train and then was faced with the problem, okay, how do you make this rock into components for a toaster.  I went back to Professor Cilliers and he said go to the library.  So I did and was looking through the undergraduate textbooks on metallurgy.  [The books were] completely useless for what I was trying to do.  They don’t actually tell you how to do it if you want to do it yourself and you don’t have a smelting plant.  I ended up going to the history of science library and looking at this book [Georgii Agricolae di re metallica libri], the first textbook on metallurgy written in the West, and there you can see that woodcut is basically what I ended up doing.  But instead of bellows I had a leafblower.  That was something that reoccurred throughout the project.  The smaller the scale you want to work on, the further back in time you have to go.
When I heard that last sentence I thought, yes.  Handspinners also work on a small scale and use historical methods to make yarn and handspun cloth.

November 24, 2012

Blue and Green Språng Market Bag

Made an interlinked språng cotton market bag in blue and green horizontal stripes, after a friend practiced warping two colours on a warping board and didn't need the warp.

As it came off the warping board, it would have given me chequered cloth.  I changed the warp sequence by working a row with double twists every other pair.  That set the order of the threads for horizontal stripes.

November 23, 2012

Språng Pattern That Looks Like Bow Tie Pasta Shells

Made some språng cloth with a repeating motif that looks like little bow tie pasta shells.  Every so often three strands interlink with three strands on a background of plain interlinking.

The diagram in Collingwood's book looks much more lacy.  I'd like to try this again with yarn that's not cotton and rows that are less compacted.

November 21, 2012

Wee Little Market Bag in Språng

A wee little market bag in språng interlinking, holding a half kilo / one pound jar of almond butter.

The meeting line is secured with plain weave, which gives the bottom of the bag strength and firmness just as Collingwood's book promised.

The yarn is cotton, the kind you use for knitting dish cloths.

November 20, 2012

Cut 'n Fringed Språng

A piece of interlinked språng worked flat, cut into two pieces, and fringed.  One piece is sewn into a tube.

Notice how the straight seam is skewed on a diagonal because of the curl in the fabric from the interlinking.

Was hoping these would be the correct size for arm warmers but the width is a little too wide.  That's a tricky thing in språng, getting gauge, since there are few patterns to say how much yarn to use and what type.

Some people have mistaken the cloth for knitted garter stitch on first glance.

November 19, 2012


Clearly Skowronski and Reddy's Sprang: Thread Twisting, A Creative Textile Technique has influenced me at some level, since I produced this asymmetrical, non-functional piece of sprang.

November 17, 2012

Did the Sprang Presentation

Crossing tasks off my list.  Let's see.

-make sprang practice pieces and wearable pieces for presentation
-write handout for sprang presentation
-write talk for sprang presentation


Presentation also done.  Went well.

I presented

interlinking, plain and with a with two-colour warp
interlinking with horizontal stripes of Z twist and S twist
multiple thread interlinking with all-over holes, diamond pattern, and flower pattern
multiple twist interlinking
interlinking with a warp of yarn spun S and yarn spun Z
changing an AABB colour warp sequence to ABAB
interlinked horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines of colour; chequered colour
chained meeting line, soumac meeting line, plain weave meeting line
fringed meeting lines, cut and uncut
interlacing, plain and with colour work
interlaced collapse fabric warped with energized singles yarn
intertwined strands on interlinked background
supplementary warp
draw-in of cloth using plain and multiple thread interlinking to change width
shaping by seaming a tube

The sprang loom I borrowed from The Spanish Peacock really helped.  Not only did it look impressive and purposeful, its height and sturdiness meant I could stand up while demonstrating how to do sprang, and walk easily from the loom to the stack of sprang pieces and the podium.

I'm happy because I only made two mistakes.  I forgot to show how to make holes in sprang and not just describe the method, and I spoke the first part of my closing sentences over the little hubub of people talking.

November 15, 2012

Widening Sprang Cloth

There was a reason I wanted to learn to intertwine strands on a background of interlinked sprang.  You can use the strands to increase the width of the cloth.  To do this, you incorporate them into the interlinking in the next row.

And then while I was at it, widening the cloth that way on one side, I widened the other side by adding yarn.  This is called supplementary warp and it's done by weavers too.

November 14, 2012

Intertwined Strands on an Interlinked Sprang Background

I successfully intertwined strands of indigo handspun on an un-dyed interlinked sprang background.  I am happy.  This move is one that looked complicated in the book, as though it was on another level entirely.  Turned out to be easy.

Haven't taken a photo but I did take and post a video.

It is possible, according to Collingwood, to make sprang cloth made only with intertwined threads.  Sometime, I will attempt it.

November 13, 2012

"Crafty Enough"

Some videos about sheep in Newfoundland:

"Young Newfoundlander Tries Farming as a Career,", sheep farming, difficulty getting suitable machinery, avoidance of debt

"The Shepherd,", seasonal pasture on an island to protect sheep from predators, prosperity and work off the farm causing a reduction in smallholder flock-keeping, passing on shepherding skills

November 12, 2012

Missed Goal

I attempted a piece of collapse fabric in interlaced språng but my handspun singles did not have enough energized twist to make even the smallest crinkle.

The yarn is my one hundred, seventy-seventh skein.

November 10, 2012

I Posted a How-to Video About Språng

I posted a how-to video about språng interlacing at  The last while, I've been showing people how to do sprang, just informally as we see each other at guild meetings or fibre festivals and such.  Some of the curious folk live too far away from me for us to sit together and go over the skill so it sticks for them.  I hope this video will help a little, and I hope to do some more videos as well.

Please overlook the roughness.  I could have put this off for lack of a good video camera and lack of polished presenting skills but I thought it was better to get on with it.

November 09, 2012

Interlaced Språng Peacock Scarf

The interlaced språng peacock scarf is complete.  I might give it some more fulling as the interlaced threads are not as close together as I'd like.

November 07, 2012

Almost to the End of a Tea Towel

I have woven to three inches away from the end of my first linen tea towel.  After weeks of getting the loom warped, I now feel like I have measurable progress.

Have probably said this already but the Ms and Os pattern really appeals to me.

I'd woven some last week, and when I sat down to the loom again some threads had gone slack and needed tightening.  Probably the change was due to a change in the weather.  Also one of the treadles had to be raised a little.  It's strange, having everything set up properly, going away, and coming back to a different situation that needs adjustment.

November 06, 2012

Almost Half the Warp is Done

Have done almost the warp for the språng peacock scarf.  The photo shows the back of the frame with its circular warp.  I work on the other side, and right now I'm still pushing twists down, over the frame's bottom crosspiece, and upward.  Once I get half the warp done plus a few inches, then all the work will be on the front only and I will progress twice as quickly.  Additionally, I will only have to work part of that side because some will be left unworked for fringe.

I reworked the area with loose tension, I couldn't stand to leave it as it was.

November 05, 2012

A Very Loud Argyle-like Result

I took away from the warp every other thread which was blue.  Much better, you can see the bright colours more clearly than before.

Here is the resulting språng interlacing: a very loud, argyle-like result.  Quite stunning, really.

Got the row compaction wrong on the back half of the fabric for the first six inches so the fabric looks too loose there, but I am doing better now.  The photo shows the first several inches on the front.  Since then, I have gotten about a third of this peacock scarf done.

November 03, 2012

Got AABB from ABAB

Yes, I was able to change an ABAB colour sequence in my språng warp into AABB by making every other interlinking twist a double twist.

You can just see at the top of the photo how every other strand is blue.  Then the blue strands pass behind the upper stick because that's what you do in språng, you separate out every other strand to create a shed, a gap between the even threads and the odd threads, just the way you would when weaving plain weave and creating a gap so you can send a weft thread under and over.  But, no weft here.  It's all finger manipulation of warp threads.  Now look at the line of blue bumps, that's where I brought a thread from the back, passed it clockwise over a bright thread, and either left it there in the front and the bright thread in the back for a single twist or I kept passing the blue thread clockwise over the bright thread until the blue went around to the back again for a double twist leaving the bright thread in front.

The change sets the threads up for good colourwork in interlacing.  That would solve the problem of the warp arrangement.  Nevertheless, the width of the warp, the total number of threads across the frame presents a mechanical obstacle to doing this språng project.  I didn't do any estimates and so I did not know how wide the warp would be once I got it on the frame.  Now that it's there I can tell its width exceeds that of the sticks I use to push twists down the warp.  The upshot is that I'm about to take all the blue yarn off the frame and leave the bright threads.  Should be fiddly and time-consuming but manageable.  The good news is that the yarn is uncut, merely wound in a spiral around the frame to encircle it, and once I've taken the blue yarn out I will once again have balls of yarn that I can use for another piece.

November 02, 2012

Went for AABB, Got ABAB

I've warped my frame for språng and the result, the result knocks your eye out, but it is causing me some consternation.  The colours are not going to go in the direction I thought.  I've warped the threads AABB which would be fine for språng interlacing.  However, I'm going to use this as a circular warp and will only be handling the threads at the front.  That makes the arrangement of the front threads only ABAB.  All the As are going to move diagonally down and to the right and all the Bs are going to move to the left.

Let me restate that, all the wild multicoloured strands are going to go one way and all the solid blue strands are going to move opposite.  See the lovely bilateral symmetry I worked to achieve, the palindrome sequence of turquoise, lime, purple, lapis, purple, lime, turquoise?  That is going to become off-centre and it will not be good.

It is possible that I may be able to consult Collingwood's Sprang, find out how to use two rows of interlinking to change ABAB to AABB, and in doing so, not interfere too much with the interlacing.  Either I fix it or people are going to say "woah" when they see it and not "wow."

November 01, 2012

one hundred, seventy-third through seventy-sixth skeins

Gale's Art Blue Face Leicester wool dyed in lapis.  Singles spun to about 32 wpi, then two strands plied together.

Done to coordinate with the proud peacock colourway skeins I spun recently.  It's all about to go on the språng frame.