30 June, 2012

Flag on a Spindle

There's a photo of a Viking_Santa spindle on his Etsy shop that amuses me.  The whorl is leather and the leather has been worked in tiny maple leaves and a Canadian flag.

And naturally to celebrate Canada Day tomorrow, you need a Jacques the Voyageur action figure set from the Canadian Canoe museum's shop.  (Look under unique items.)  Lots of textiles in the accessories to evoke our nation's history: blanket coat, gun case made from a trade blanket, red wool hat, chequered shirt, etc.  I'm not sure from the description if Jacques' sash looks exactly like a correct fur trader's ceinture fléchée.  The shop sell full-sized replicas and kits to make them, and the museum runs workshops.

Oh, the things you find on the web.

The Canadian Canoe museum had a canoe called Canada One/Un in the Thames river pageant as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  Warmed my expat heart to see the photo on their June 6, 2012 blog post that showed the paddlers in voyageur outfits, toque tassels flying.

29 June, 2012

Pull the Sprang Cloth

Pull on the Wensleydale sprang cloth from either end and nothing much happens.

Pull out on the sides then let go and the cloth snaps back in place.

Pull kitty-corner on two points and there's this odd effect.  The cloth stretches and stays in place.  It's something like the way the wooden lattice wall of a yurt is supposed to open up.  (Not that I mess with yurts myself.)  The Z twist interlinking rows become prominent and the S twist interlinking rows recede.

28 June, 2012

Wensleydale sprang water bottle carrier

I sewed up the sides of my sprang water bottle carrier, put in a temporary string strap, and tried it out.

The seams look haphazard.

The fabric is thin and long when at rest.

This is the first time I've made any sort of cloth with handspun Wensleydale wool and I love how hairy the texture is.

That which was to be proved: sprang fabric shortens as it stretches outward.

One of those curvy bottles of French pink lemonade would look great in this thing.

27 June, 2012

Sprang Research On-line

Well, I haven't done any more sprang, yet.

I toyed with the idea of taking Sarah Goslee's (a.k.a. Phiala) tablet weaving and sprang class at the Peters Valley craft centre, a class which starts in a couple of days.

Then I plunged into a little online research.  If you judge by the Weaver's Hand website, there are three known sprang instructors: Sarah Goslee, Carol James, and Blue van der Zwan-Deen (Den Blauwen Swaen).

I saw a reproduction of Admiral Lord Nelson's purse on Carol James' August 17, 2011 blog post, "Sprang is Here" then a similar item labled as a reproduction tobacco pouch on van der Zwan-Deen's website on the page about her teacher Ms. Bos.  I'd recently read a decade-out-of-print map book of Virginia, looking for things to do, and noticed a tobacco and textile museum.  The very place you'd find a sprang tobacco pouch, I thought.  The museum no longer operates, sadly.  So I turned to Colonial Williamsburg's website and found stocking purses in their online Historic Threads exhibit.

A stocking purse is the same type of bag as Nelson's purse and the tobacco bag.  It works with a nifty closure of a sliding ring that will make sense when you see it, low tech and yet brilliant.  The bag's structure is distinctive compared to other purses in the series, exactly like a limp stocking without shaping.  The earliest is worked in sprang, and then there are others worked in knitting, crochet, and netting of some kind.  The knitting is knitted lace that resembles the pattern of holes in the sprang version.  I must try working sprang with holes soon.

I suppose the stocking purse is the reason for the expression "sock away your money."

21 June, 2012

Blue Linen Apron

I cut up a thrift store dress made of linen and I sewed myself an apron.

I like the colour very much.  It's not navy, it's a deep royal blue.  The substantial weight of the cloth is pleasant.  The feel of linen fabric is so much more to my taste than that of the thin cotton original store-bought apron from which I took the measurements.

20 June, 2012

Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County

I visited Stratford Hall in Virginia, museum and birthplace of Robert E. Lee.  A room in the basement had quite a lot of equipment and supplies for interpreting textile production.  They don't allow photography inside without authorization so I'll give you a list of what I remember seeing.  You can see a picture of the room if you go the website, navigate to the ground floor plan, and click on the spinning and weaving room.  There was both modern and old equipment, and from the description of their programs it sounds like the staff uses the items to let children and grandparents learn to spin wool.  

There was a small modern loom sort of like a Baby Wolf though I don't know what exact make and model it was.  There was a large horizontal loom with two heddles that looked quite a bit older and not as massive as similar looms in museums usually are.  The website describes that loom as nineteenth century.  

There was a great wheel with extra-long maidens that held something like a tiny accelerator head, of a shape that wasn't quite what I expected an accelerator head to look like.  The drive band did not go around it.  Judging by the size of the wheel and the design along with the likelihood of an antique great wheel being in use in Virginia during the American civil war then preserved and donated, I would guess that the great wheel is also nineteenth century.  But that's a guess.  

What else?  Bottles of powdered dye stuffs, including fustic, and a basket of skeins dyed with natural dyes that the docent went through for us.  Flax hackles and a flax break that I didn't recognize at first because it lacked legs.  Weaving shuttles, a crude spindle, baskets of wool and cotton and flax, a Saxony spinning wheel, things everywhere you looked.

Outside in the kitchen garden there were specimens of dye plants.  Bedstraw is to the left.

In the garden next to the reconstructed slave quarters, there was a patch of flax as tall as my waist.

While waiting for the house tour to start, I spun a little wool on my drop spindle.  I overheard someone a little ways apart say to whoever she was with, "drop spindle."  Somebody recognized the tool and what I was doing, which surprised and pleased me.  I got to talk briefly with her during the tour.  She said she got poisonous green when dyeing with indigo and over-dyeing with osage orange.

Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders has the main character leave England and wind up in the same county in which this museum is located, Westmoreland county.  It's an Augustan novel and so reflects one of the time periods that this museum interprets, a time before the use of fossil fuels for production of goods.  Mostly what I remember from reading that novel (besides Moll's dysfunctional personal relationships) is the inventory of her layette, the importance placed on every article of clothing and bit of cloth when preparing for childbirth.

19 June, 2012

The Wild Swans fairy tale

Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans, translated by Naomi Lewis and illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert (Barefoot Books), has a description and illustrations suggestive of fabric done in nalbinding.  The narrative also refers to harvesting, processing, and spinning nettles for the fabric.

18 June, 2012

Sprang Frame and Wensleydale Wool in Sprang

The sprang frame is made from artist canvas stretchers using the longest available pieces for the sides.  The strands are run over dowel rods on the frame so I can adjust when there's take up in the fabric.

Am still doing the simplest moves in sprang, interlinking.  I reversed between S and Z twist to keep the fabric from skewing.  I am still getting a strange skip in the left side.

The Wensleydale handspun yarn is hairy.  The fabric looks very cool.  The thing is, the yarn catches and resists when I finish a row and force a stick through the shed toward the bottom.  Collingwood's book advises smooth yarn for this reason.

Whatever you do in sprang at the top, a mirror image happens at the bottom.  You can compare and see, going by the position of the sticks, that the fabric is longer at the bottom than it is at the top.  This is a mistake: I did not force the twists down far enough.  I was able to go back and work the twists further with my fingers to correct the problem.  There you are, I disregarded the rules for the sake of a beautiful yarn and managed to pull it off.

The next step is to sew up the sides and add a strap to turn it into a bag.

14 June, 2012

Cue the Happy Dance

Cue the happy dance: I made a beginner piece in sprang.  Yay!

I hope, from the way I have it set out in the photo, that you can see how stretchy this fabric is.  Also, I alternated the direction of twist every so often to make the fabric stay flat and not skew.

13 June, 2012

Leicester Longwool, combed

The dog comb turned out to be quite good at processing these Leicester Longwool locks I got a while back from Colonial Williamsburg.  Much better than the mini doffer.  That was an exercise in frustration.  The mini doffer worked well the other day to brush out and clean the soiled tips of some Tunis wool, though.

11 June, 2012

Hog Island Sheep

Friends and I attended a World Wide Knit in Public Day event this past weekend at Scotchtown, a historic property in Virginia that is run as a living history museum.  We sat under the trees with our knitting and spinning and we had a pleasant rambling discussion about fibre types, colour blending in handspun, fleece washing, handknit sock fitting considerations (10 per cent negative ease, I'm told), and the cost of a well-trained border collie.

One person, a staff member, learned to spin on a drop spindle of mine.  We all cheered for her first piece of yarn.

I got a quick look again in the basement of Patrick Henry's house at the floor looms, great wheels, flax wheel, skein winders, fine and coarse flax hackles, and warping board.

We saw the shearing of a small flock of Hog Island sheep, a historically significant breed in Virginia that traditionally produced wool for cloth worn by common folk.  I'm told that one of the notable things about Patrick Henry was that he wore homespun.  I saw one of his suits once on display at Scotchtown and it appealed to me as a lot more modern and low-key looking than other clothes of the time.

The current flock is a collaborative project between the museum and the local 4H club.  For ease of maintenance the flock consists of one ewe and some wethers.  No lambs here.

09 June, 2012

Drop Spindles, Assembled

I assembled these drop spindles after giving the dowels and toy wheels a lick of linseed oil.  Ah, the smell of linseed oil!  Takes me back.  The rest of the batch are waiting for me to put in and open the eye hooks, which is the last step.

I wonder what random strangers will try spinning yarn for the first time with these?

I got the pieces from Lee Valley Tools.

07 June, 2012

The Edge of the World

Watched the 1937 movie The Edge of the World which is set just before the evacuation of a remote Scottish island when the traditional way of life loses its competitive edge against coal-powered trawlers and becomes unsustainable.  The premise came from the evacuation of St. Kilda, a place name you might know in connection with Soay and Boreray sheep if you read up on sheep breeds.  But this film was done on one of the Shetland islands and I assume the sheep shown are Shetland.

There's a scene where the crofters herd small rugged-looking sheep across hillsides into a stone pen.  They roo the sheep by sitting them on their laps and plucking off the wool by hand.  The sheep have to be a primitive breed for the wool to have a seasonal moulting stage like that.

The sheep are quite lively.  A woman has to catch a lamb that scales the top of the pen's wall.  A man rescues a sheep by carrying it up a cliff on his back and the sheep struggles, really putting its weight into trying to get away even though its feet are tied.

In another scene women sit and knit during a community gathering outside.  A woman secures an end of a long metal needle in a knitting sheath at her waist.  She is knitting a fine lace scarf on two needles.  Other women have the same long metal needles but are working in the round.  They knit with quick little movements.

The crofters pay the laird, the landowner, in bolts of tweed, bundles of wool, and sweaters they called jerseys.  The bundles of wool are small but could be more than one fleece each.

There is a good amount of vintage and old-fashioned knitwear on the actors: sweaters, shawls, a baby blanket, that sort of thing.  Many soft caps made of woven tweed.

The film also has other interesting aspects some of which are relics of life without fossil fuels: turf cutting (peat for heating), baskets, cats, a water-powered millstone for grain, grain stooking, a stone building that looks like it has an upside-down boat for a roof, folk songs such as "Dream Angus" which I had to learn once, line singing as a way to conduct a church's song service without hymnals or overhead projectors, rock climbing, and a community governance meeting called a boat parliament that's held outside.

04 June, 2012

Never Work with Animals

Saturday I was a volunteer at Monticello with other local weavers and spinners, showing the public how handspun works and talking to people about history and textile technology two hundred years ago and otherwise.  Went well.  I'm probably in strangers' online photo albums as an oddity but that's okay.  Monticello is an international tourist attraction and a beautiful historic property so I was more nervous than usual waiting for people to start coming by with questions.

Five people were keen enough about spinning that I sent them home with a spindle and wool.  I assembled the spindles from toy wheels and dowels; I finally got around to adding hooks on the ends.  Turned out I didn't need to pre-drill holes before putting in hooks which is good because power tools don't call to me.  Even better, the spindles worked quite well.  I've ordered more pieces from Lee Valley Tools since I hope to need more spindles to loan or give away this coming weekend at a WWKIP day event.

The video above shows two Tunis sheep, also known as Barberry sheep.  Tunis is a breed from North Africa that Thomas Jefferson owned because it handled hot weather better than English breeds.  These sheep are last year's lambs, according to the man and woman that came over from the Frontier Culture museum with the sheep, and this was the sheep's first shearing.  (Shearing was done with shears from Burgon and Ball of Sheffield; apparently they are the best brand for manual shears.)  Between the travel and the indignity it was all a bit much.  One sheep got loose and headed down the hill toward the gravesite before coming back.  The staff from the Frontier Culture museum said they were glad the sheep didn't get into Monticello's extensive vegetable garden.

There was a man watching the sheep, maybe in his late twenties, who asked questions that revealed a higher than normal knowledge and interest.  I asked and he said he hopes to own a small flock.  I was able to introduce him to another weaver/handspinner volunteer who raises Border Leicesters commercially and enjoys sharing information.  They had a good chat.

02 June, 2012

Grant Goltz

I read Carol James' blog post of August 29, 2010 on sashweaver.ca called "Minnesota Potter," where she describes how Grant Goltz creates replica sprang fabric which he uses to support local clay as he forms very thin replica pots for his archeological and anthropological experiments.  Sprang, if you've forgotten, is plaiting on stretched threads; think hammocks.

(ETA May 2013: After reading James' Sprang Unsprung, I've found that the fabric on the pots is created with free ends over a form and not with a warp stretched on a loom, so while the cloth may have the same structure as sprang it does not meet the generally accepted definition of sprang which is based on the method of working not the structure.)

I searched and found an interview of Goltz by Lakeland Public Television (YouTube user LakelandPTV), part of the footage for their one hour documentary Birchbark Canoe which is also on YouTube.

Here's an extract I transcribed that resonates with me as a handspinner.  Not that it's about yarn or spindles at all and not that I spin replica yarn.  It's more about an approach.

The whole area of past cultures and past technologies is something we’ve been really interested in.  I’ve tried a lot of it.  If you’re going to understand how people lived and functioned back a long time ago, it helps to immerse yourself in their technology and get some idea how it actually functions.  So we’ve done a lot of that….You hear people talking almost in a negative way about things being primitive or old-fashioned or whatever, but when you think about it and you look at what people actually did in the past, it is very sophisticated.  Like the canoes for one thing.  When the Europeans came over and started the fur trade they had perfectly adequate boats.  They didn’t use them.  They used the birch bark canoe.  Why?  Because it was a much better watercraft for what they were doing.  Enabled them to get around, it was reparable, it was lightweight, and it functioned very well.  Much better than the big heavy wooden boats that they brought over.  
A lot of the other things, the older technologies, for example the ceramics, the pottery that people made, when the fur trade came, a lot of the native people just quit making those because they got the trade kettles and the copper kettles and brass kettles and so on.  I’ve made the clay pots and I’ve used them and cooked with them and did everything you can imagine you’d do with them, and actually from a functional standpoint they’re far superior to the European goods that were brought over.  They’re just a little more work to make and if you drop them they break.  That’s really the only advantage to the trade kettles that came over.  And the fact that people didn’t have to make their own pots and kettles freed up their time to do other things.  As far as cooking in those clay pots, man, in terms of thinking of something as being primitive, the old-style clay pots, I could put those on a gas kitchen stove and cook in them on an open flame on a gas stove–we had to invent Corningware before we could do that.  Because ceramics that we make, you can’t do that with.  But these older clay pots, they function just perfectly.
…People can sit and say I’m doing all these cool things but none of the stuff I do is me.  It originates…we do a lot of things…I borrow from other cultures.  Like with the canoes, that’s not my culture, my tradition.  I do it, I’m interested in it, and I want to learn, and I want to learn so I can pass that information back to people that have lost it.  One thing we do, with most of the things we do, and I guess I can use the canoes as an example, we don’t build a generic birch bark canoe.  There are all kinds of regional styles, techniques, shapes, sizes, ways of putting these craft together, and we try to respect those traditions and those ways of doing things.

01 June, 2012

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Have a quote:
Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb, care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction!
–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, (Garden City, NY: Dolphin Books) p. 288.
I assume a weaver's tooth would be chipped from biting threads to cut them, but who knows what Victorian weavers were like.

Here's another:
One night–it was in June, '89–there came a ring to my bell, about the hour when a man gives his first yawn and glances at the clock.  I sat up in my chair, and my wife laid her needle-work down in her lap and made a little face of disappointment.  (p. 132)  
What sort of needlework?  Socks for Dr. Watson?  I used to think that needlework meant using a needle and thread as for embroidery but have since learned (primarily from looking at agricultural fair contest rules) that the term encompasses knitting needles and similar tools.