June 29, 2013

Another Old Believer Belt Tool Sighting

I spotted a photo of another weaver-tensioned cloth beam used by a weaver in an Old Believer community in Oregon to weave belts with tablets.  It looks cut and carved from a single piece of wood, and more irregular in shape than the ones I had made after the original I saw in the film Old Believers but otherwise very much the same.

June 28, 2013

Good-bye, Google Reader

Google is about to shut down Google Reader.  Thanks if you read my posts in your feed.

Have a new RSS reader and want to subscribe to this blog?  You can with the URL feed://thesojourningspinner.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default.

June 27, 2013

Why Beauty is Truth

I read Ian Stewart's Why Beauty is Truth: A History of Symmetry.

Triangular numbers (p. 21) look like they should be applicable to patterns of holes in sprang, which often run in triangular shapes.  That is, I think you could use them to predict how many holes you'd have per row after braiding so many rows on the loom and increasing the width of the triangle of holes as you go.  The series begins 0, 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28.  You should be able to calculate outlines as well, not just solid triangles.

Galois' symmetries (p. 118-123) look like they should be applicable to tablet weaving, because they have to do with rotation.  The illustrations look much like those for triangular tablets.  I think you could use the symmetries and a series of transformations (turning the tablets) to plot out the final position of a tablet and thus which coloured strand rises to the surface of the woven strap.

June 26, 2013


Strømpelegg!  Part or all of this word translates from Norwegian as stocking leg, that is the leg portion of a stocking.  I'd been hoping to find online images of the Viking-age språng stocking found at Tegle and now I have, through the Norsk Folkmuseum using the search word Teglefunnet.  There's even a schematic diagram of the S and Z twist språng triangles.

ETA: I originally had strømpelgg from the catalogue description but I think that was a typo.

June 25, 2013

Språng Sashes and the American Civil War

I chanced on evidence that points to språng sashes in American Civil War uniforms, mostly in the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.  It's not conclusive, not without seeing the pieces, but in the pictures they look very like.

Most are red, with a few in buff for the rank of general and in green for medical officers.  Most are silk; the wool sashes are for lower ranks and are in relatively poor condition, possibly from moth damage.

I feel rather pleased with myself, and fairly cross-eyed from sifting through online records.

June 22, 2013

Curation on Pinterest

You can now find me on Pinterest, curating images of språng.  You can see it without an account of your own.

In previous posts here on the blog, I've put links for språng images.  It's not the greatest venue, it requires a person to click through to see something they aren't sure they will like.  Pinterest's boards are a more efficient way to show many images of extant pieces or looms, to help people see at a glance what used to be made with the språng technique.  It's like finding images all over the web and pinning them to a bulletin board.  Copyright is maintained, which I like.

I thought I was out in front blazing the way by pinning språng images and then I discovered someone else's collection of pins.  It has much of what I have on the topic, plus more.

I just gave the facts in the captions, no breakdown or commentary on the structure and construction of the pieces.  I could add such comments since I do understand the structure and construction, but I'm doubt that would benefit those who see the pins.  One of my favourite books is Suzanne Martel's The City Underground, where the residents never map the nearby caves in order to give everyone a chance to experience the twists and turns for themselves.  Also, språng terms are not standardized and many of the pieces are sophisticated, so commentary might seem like abstruse code.  Moreover, there's no way to draw attention to a part of the picture to describe it.  Finally, it looks better when the words are at a minimum on Pinterest due to its intensely visual format.

I can look at an image of a språng piece in a museum and know the structure (or at least as much about it as I care to--complete understanding would mean reconstructing it) so I don't need to put the facts down as an aid to my own memory.

I may change my mind.  I want to see people make good språng objects and right now many people either don't know the braiding technique exists or they don't know the methods.  Many people like it when you break down components, draw connections to corresponding techniques, and lay out the steps.

June 21, 2013

Wild Color

Happy longest day of the year!  I am at the 37th parallel; I wasn't able to manage a trip home to the 49th parallel where the longest day really is long, but I like to mark the occasion.

I finished reading Jenny Dean's Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes.  Back at Christmas, around the shortest day of the year, I read three quarters of the way through a borrowed copy and then had return it.  So now I've finished up.

I hope to use Dean's instructions for madder and for woad sometime.

The book has good photographs of dye plants.  I should spend some time memorizing the names and corresponding leaves for hawthorn, blackthorn, buckthorn, sumac, dock, elderberry, rowan, and tansy.  Not that I want to dye with them.  I just never know when I'll be out for a walk with family members who are given to starting brisk games of "name that plant."  I can never remember if it's tansy or yarrow.

The book was originally published in the United Kingdom.*  With all the plants the author discusses, many are familiar to me because I'm from Vancouver Island, Canada, a place with a similar climate and a landscape shaped by English and Scottish settlers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

*I had to buy a version revised for the U.S. market so its title is missing the 'u' in colour.

June 20, 2013

"The Cost of Cheap" news report

"The Cost of Cheap," the National, CBC News, June 17, 2013, www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV+Shows/The+National/ID/2392112307/

"Susan Ormiston returns to the site of a collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 people, to find out who really deserves the blame."  Video runs a little over 15 minutes.

June 19, 2013


I am done spinning my two ounces of Sweetgrass Targhee, finally.  Progress didn't just seem glacial, it was: it measured a month from start to finish with many days where the spindle sat untouched.  Some of that was understandable and some was sloth, for which I blame the expedient handknit dish cloths.

Now to ply and then make another two ounces of yarn after that.  That will finish off my supply of this wool.

I'd expected that this along with the existing four ounces of Targhee handspun would be enough to make a monochrome språng scarf.  It would have been too, except I diverted half the yarn on hand to another purpose.  A friend went to a dye workshop and kindly took my skein along for three dips in the indigo vat.

Isn't indigo attractive and restful looking?  I got to see some of the workshop results with woad on another skein and I think woad looks even better, but indigo is good.

The dye vat's warm water caused the yarn to expand in diameter because the crimp of the wool revived, much the way naturally curly hair gets curlier after washing.  If I eke this out with yet more Targhee handspun for a project, I will wash that yarn so it will be in the same state.

June 17, 2013

Thinking about Efficacy

I'm thinking about efficacy, choosing the right project for the right time.

Mind, I'm thinking about it.  Application hopefully will follow.

Usually there is a cost to not doing a project.  Therefore, you know the project is the right thing to do at a certain time when it will save you money or net you profit.  However, the warmth and budget of me and mine do not depend on knitting and other craft projects.

June 15, 2013

Vintage Burnt Orange

Wool is sometimes the wrong fibre choice because moths and carpet beetles like it too much.  I like to manage risk, not court ruin.  So, there's linen.  It would be ideal to spin by hand all the yarn I use, but I don't spin linen yarn yet.

A long-time weaver was selling her extras.  I got these two cones of vintage burnt orange on the off-chance that the yarn might suit a future project, a språng wall-hanging that someone in my family has requested I make.

June 14, 2013

Rosepath Twill Placemats, After Washing

You may be able to see in the top photo that I wove the last part of the second rosepath twill placemat correctly.  I concentrated on the treadle sequence, I checked my work frequently, I knew what errors to look for, and I didn't weave while tired.

In the bottom photo, you can see the Ms and Ws section, where the diamond is stretched with a line inside.  When I went through the process I had what, when I was a kid, we called a conniption but the product is attractive.

June 12, 2013

Little Blue Cotton Språng Bag

I made a little blue cotton språng bag for a gift.

This is the finished object I posted about that does not relate to my goals for fibre arts at all and therefore must serve as a fearsome reminder to me to choose projects that are more in alignment.  It's attractive and all but the bag is not for me, it's not wearable, and it doesn't reduce my stash of fibre or yarn supplies.

June 11, 2013

"Yes, We Kanban"

I've transferred my list of current and future fibre arts projects to a kanban board.

It was satisfying to move a task from the "in progress" column to the "done" column last evening.

I grouped projects together in categories and assigned their stages to colours.  This makes it easy to make sense of the situation at a glance.

I'm using an electronic system which automatically records the date I put a task on the board.  That means I can tell how much time passes between inception and completion.  Until now, that information has either been unrecorded or too much trouble to look up.  I think it could be good to know.

The board has allowed me to separate the overall goals from the tasks.  One goal is to "reduce inventory," to use up the wool I have on hand.  By keeping the goals in front of me, I have a better chance of picking relevant tasks to work on.  The one I just finished was pretty irrelevant to my goals.

Rearranging a to-do list isn't going to get things done, but it can give me more clarity.  Impetus often follows clarity.

June 10, 2013

Fibre Prep, Spinning, and Nalbinding Videos from Russia

I came across some videos from Russia about nalbinding.  Both sources refer to it as knitting with one needle.

"Вязание одной иглой," [trans. knitting with one needle] http://kizhi.karelia.ru/culture/crafts/vyazanie-odnoj-igloj.

"Marina Korshakova (Center for Traditional Crafts, Petrozavodsk) shows knitting on one needle technique," www.kareliancraft.com/en/crafts/4026/.

Both state that hunters and woodsmen would make their own mittens.  I got that in the printed description on the first webpage using an online translator and in the narration in the second webpage's video.  Also, both state that horsehair was incorporated for durability.  I've heard elsewhere that horsehair and sheep's kemp (guard hairs) were used in mittens like this because they did not soak up water like wool did.

On the Karelian Craft webpage, there is another video about combing wool and spinning with a spindle.  The presenter calls spinning clockwise (Z twist) as "along with the sun," and spinning counterclockwise (S twist) as "against it."

At the 7:30 mark, Korshakova refers to a rustic L-shaped style of distaff this way, "Of course you have seen old women in villages spinning.  This distaff," and she motions with her left hand from shoulder height downward to the hip and then in toward her body indicating the position, size, and shape of the distaff, "was made from a whole tree trunk from a root, to put it on a bench, sit on it, make it comfortable."

I wonder if they used this part of the tree because it was durable.  I like to know how things were done and why things were done.

I've heard about this sort of rustic design in one other source: The University of Innsbruck's article about spindle typology in the entry for Russia, www.uibk.ac.at/urgeschichte/projekte_forschung/abt/spindeltypologie/russia.html.  To quote, "A traditional Russian distaff is L-shaped and consists of two elements: the lopastka or blade, a vertical panel with wide flat top to which the bundle of flax or wool, called kudel is fixed, and the dontse, or base, a horizontal oar-shaped board on which the spinner sits and stabilizes the structure with the weight of her body. Sometimes the distaff is carved from a single piece of wood - a tree stump with a root protruding at a right angle.  In some areas of Russia the upper part of the blade has the shape of a comb, and the kudel was mounted on the teeth."  There are photographs and a detail from a piece of 19th century art, though not of the whole tree trunk style of disaff from what I can see.

Similarly, a Doukhobor spinning board forms a L-shape with its detachable interchangable pieces such as a forked distaff, post for paddle combs, and flax combs.  This setup is of Russian origin as well.  It's difficult to see in this photo taken at the Doukhobor Discovery Centre in Castlegar, B.C., but the flax comb held by the mannequin is toothed.

June 08, 2013

Made Errors in Treadling I Must Live With

When I help people start to spin yarn on a spindle, I advise them to keep their forward momentum.  They always want to stop to fiddle with mistakes trying to fix them.  I understand, the yarn gives you instant feedback in the form of lumps that demand to be addressed.  I think it's more important to get used to the motion, gaining control and skill through practice.

I should probably follow this advice with the placemat I'm weaving.  I finished the first placemat and am half-way into the second.  The first placemat contains many different treadling patterns, in two-inch sections.  Also, the warp and weft are almost the same colour.  Weft mistakes are difficult to see and I haven't gone looking.  

For the second placemat, the one in progress, I picked one treadling pattern and stuck with it.  As I wove I saw an occasional pick of weft that didn't pack down as tightly as the rest and I thought it peculiar.  When I stopped weaving, I discovered that those spots each had a pick of weft missing in the pattern which means my foot pressed the wrong treadle thereby raising a heddle with the wrong threads.  The twill diamonds look squashed.

I could unweave it and reweave applying more concentration and frequent quality control checks.  There are threading errors going vertically, though, so taking out the picks of weft would only partially improve the placemat.

In the first placemat, I had to treadle a section of Ms and Ws.  For the M you start treadling from the left and head right depressing each of the four treadles by turns.  Then you reverse partially, and reverse again, then go back all the way to the left.  It's similar to the directions a pen takes when writing the letter M, but done with treadles 1 2 3 4 3 2 3 4 3 2 1.  The W follows, 4 3 2 1 2 3 2 1 2 3 4.  I got quite lost, repeatedly.  I took it with ill grace, too.  I suppose ease might come with practice, like learning to drive a manual transmission car.  I chose an different pattern for the second placemat, one that was easier and to my eye looked better.  I suppose I relaxed my guard.  

Oh, for a nice quiet bit of plain weave.

The thing to do, I'm told, is to weave twill in two different colours both for looks and for the way mistakes show up more clearly than they do in monochrome.

June 07, 2013

Carol James on the Question, Why Do Språng

Not only did I get to attend Carol James' presentation on språng recently, I got to talk to her one-on-one.  Here she is answering my question, why do språng.

Carol has spent a lot of time doing språng, trying variations, looking at historical pieces, talking to experts, and teaching students.  Her answers, her reasons why språng is worth time and effort, are even more full and apt than I thought when I was recording and paying half a mind to the camera.

I hope you will watch the video but if you prefer to read the list of benefits in brief they are, if I may paraphrase: språng's enduring nature, elasticity, variety of possible patterns, variety in possible garment shaping (shawls, mittens, hats, socks), beauty, suitability for clothing, adaptability, and efficiency where you get two rows for every one you make.

Carol's book, Sprang Unsprung, is one of the few how-to books for språng that are in print, in English, readily obtainable, and affordable.  The book contains patterns, with directions for what yarn to use, and how long and wide to make the warp to get hats and things.  She has an article on språng in the Summer 2013 issue of Spin•Off magazine.

She refers in the video to the Braddock sash and the Tonto shirt.

June 06, 2013

Carol James' Replica Braddock Sash

I had the pleasure of meeting Carol James, språng artist, teacher, and author of Sprang Unsprung.  She gave a public talk and displayed many of her finished objects.

If you read the paper she presented to the Textile Society of America in September, 2012, "Re-creating Military Sashes: Reviving the Sprang Technique," http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1697&context=tsaconf, you will get some of the same content as the presentation I attended.  There is some information in the paper about how the yarn was traditionally spun, on spindles and not plied.

I got to see her replica of the Braddock sash.*  The full-scale replica is enormous and done in very fine silk.  Laid out, it took up the top of an entire banquet-style folding table.

I liked sitting at an angle opposite the window and seeing the way the light struck the surface of the sash because I could really see the difference between the cloth on one side of the meeting line compared to the other.  Even though the yarn was all dyed evenly in madder and over-dyed with cochineal, the difference in cloth structure caused one part to look darker than the other.  The sash was worked in one piece in a circular warp, so all of the interlinking on one side of the meeting line, that is, one half of the sash, had small twists of threads all over its surface twisted in the Z (clockwise) direction and the other was twisted in mirror image.  That's why the light struck them differently.

There were patterns of holes, including some in the shapes of identical men standing in a row and some in the shapes of small triangles.

You can read about the original sash here on the Mount Vernon site.  The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association now has Carol James' replica sash in their collection as well.

There was a fair amount of collaboration that went into the project.  She had friends (and I think I remember family as well) assist her with warping and they must have borne her a lot of good will, as she said it took five hours to complete that step.  She advocates seeking grant funding for fibre arts work.  It was interesting to hear her speak of the Association's position on copyright, the limited license they gave her, and the conditions under which she got access to the sash and by extension the information about thread size, pattern design and placement, dimensions, dye shade, and so on.  We were asked not to take photographs of the sash because the Association has copyright.  To hold something like that in a collection is certainly valuable, and so is access.

*The original sash had the distinction of being owned by George Washington, the first president of the United States.  I gather that one of the reasons people regarded Washington highly was his military leadership as commander of the Continental Army during the American revolution.  Before that, he was a member of the British forces in the French and Indian War, where General Braddock gave him the military sash and the command that went with it.

June 05, 2013

"We Need to Learn How to Make Things Again"

I listened to a radio interview, "Dov Charney shames the fashion industry," Q on CBC radio, June 3, 2013.  "The controversial CEO of American Apparel calls out other clothing companies for paying what he calls 'slave wages.'"  Audio runs 20 minutes.

Here's a quote on local production: "The infrastructure's not always there.  I'm very lucky that Los Angeles still has some infrastructure.  I own two dye houses which I purchased, I have my own knitting facilities.  I am one of the largest producers of textiles in the United States, I am the largest garment producer in North America, and I have the resources to do it.  But others will.  I was at a flea market here in Montreal on the weekend, and there was at least thirty stalls somewhere in the mile end where people were producing things and selling things themselves.  There's a movement to make things yourselves, to own their production, to know the face of your worker, to know how things are made.  And it's more efficient."

June 03, 2013

Recent Activities

I have been doing yarn-related things, most of them not worth a blog post in themselves.

I have watched more film adaptations of Shakespeare than is even usual for me: the old yet timeless Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet, a recent Stratford Festival production of The Tempest played for broad laughs with Christopher Plummer in a clever robe with electronics sewn in to simulate static sparks, an austerely staged King Lear with Ian Holm, a brutal modern British adaptation of Othello, and a live production of The Winter's Tale where the thief Autolycus stole the show as well as the wallets.

It's been quite enjoyable, and I will shush that part of me that regrets not spinning yarn while I watched.  I may have said before, Shakespeare is compatible with handspinning because understanding depends more on listening than watching.  I can watch my drafting and not the screen.

I've seen Coriolanus, Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, the BBC Titus Andronicus, King John, Macbeth, Hamlet, Coriolanus again but with big actors and modern military uniforms, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, Henry VIII, Timon of Athens, another Macbeth, more than one version of Twelfth Night, Two Men of Verona, and the BBC Much Ado about Nothing.  The more I watch, the more I see themes and patterns in the work.  I would post about that, but we're here for yarn and cloth so I will restrict myself to talking about Desemona's handkerchief and the like.

With that list, you can begin to see why I've put the task off into the future and so compounded the work as the titles have piled up.  It's best to do things as they arise, certainly.

The larger, heavier fibre arts books on my reading list are languishing behind the smaller ones, with bookmarks fifteen percent of the way in and not budging.

I had a conversation with some weaver friends about how we put off the larger projects that take more planning and involve more steps.  Weaving gets edged out by knitting and dyeing projects, and simple small knitting projects edge out complicated ones.

Sometimes large complicated plans just fall off the to-do list.  I had a good look at the yarn that contributed to the tablet woven strap I started at a demo.  I asked myself whether I like the colours and the fibre content enough to warp more for the body of a small purse.  Or rather, the question was whether I was willing to overlook my dislike of earth-tone cotton and go to extra trouble for the sake of making a slightly more interesting finished product.  I found the answer was no.  Soon the cones of donated yarn will go back from whence they came and the floor of the wool room will get a smidgen more tidy.

I finally sewed hems on my handwoven linen bath towel and hand towel in Ms and Os.

I learned to hemstitch on the loom and loved doing it, better than sewing hems.

I read Anni Albers' On Weaving (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1965), and learned more about art and what it means for a textile to be weaverly.  Here is a small but representative quote: "our stamp is or should be immediate or implicit lucidity, a considered position, a reduction to the comprehensible by reason or intuition in whatever we touch." (p. 72)  There was one plate of a Coptic textile in the book that I am sure is språng.

I knit in public at an outdoor market, where a man came up to say his mother used to knit and he hadn't seen anyone knit in a long time.  He said she could knit and carry on a conversation without looking at her knitting.  I like that about knitting in public, people talk to you where they never would ordinarily and they tell you stories of family.

I got to see a old darning egg scarred by darning needles.  It was originally used, so the story went, by the mother of someone's grandmother or great-aunt.

A member of my extended family will have a child this year, so I have a reason to make small knitted things if I wish.

I listened to an online archived radio interview of the author of Overdressed about the consequences of fast fashion, including the recent collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh (called the "world's worst garment industry disaster" by the CBC), and ways people can effect change.

I have been keeping a reference list of interesting third-party events for the handspinning guild I belong to, and I recently switched from a text-based list to an electronic calendar.  It has some advantages.  Anyone can copy an event easily into his or her own calendar account and with a few clicks arrange to have an email arrive in their mailbox to remind them a day ahead or a week ahead.

It was a bit of a thrill to get the embedding code, and put it on the guild website and have the calendar go live.  I was also able to integrate calendar entries from two neighbouring guilds who also use the same electronic calendar system and were kind enough to share.

The new calendar suffers from the same problem as the old: guild members have to remember to go and check the website or check their subscription in their own electronic calendar.  There's no help for that, as far as I can see, except perhaps occasionally posting a digest of the latest additions on the electronic discussion board.  The calendar's there if people want it.  When I was a newcomer to the guild and to handspinning, I had to gather this valuable information gradually through conversation, learning what annual conferences there were, and what festivals were on, and what craft schools offered classes.  Now you can see at a glance.  Might take away the fun of discovery, but it accelerates access to opportunities and I like that.

I have woven half of my first placemat ever and it's waiting in the class studio for me to get back to it.  Or I'm waiting to get back to it, take your pick.  There are two places where my threading error is plainly obvious.  The other two errors recede from notice.  I regret not fixing the threading.

I did have the wit not to make the same error with the treadling.  The pattern is twill variations, and the spacial relationships in the treadling patterns looks a lot like those of the threading.  I overlapped the places that would have given me two picks in one shed if I'd depressed the treadles in sequence as written when I transitioned from one variation to another.

I cannot say that I care for many of the twill variations that are appearing in the cloth.  As expected the only one I like is the bird's eye.  I am particular in my taste and consistent.  If I was going to thread the warp again, I would thread it for only bird's eye.  It's one of those situations where you can plan and guess how you'll receive a finished object but it's only when you see the item in the concrete that you know for certain what you think of it.

I found my missing, well-loved linen jacket.  It was hanging in the clothes closet which is deep with two rods, one in front of the other.  I need more linen clothes and linen bed clothes.  I have had to be out in the sun and heat more days than I have changes of long-sleeved linen shirts and slacks.

My språng bog hood that went to a medieval re-enactment event for display was well received, if the accompanying kind tokens of approval and comments are anything to go by.  When I talked to someone who'd been to the event and who had stood near the display, I realized that in my documentation I'd neglected to include the basic information about how språng works.  I feel fortunate she was there to tell people who asked.

tokens of approval left with my språng hood

June 01, 2013

Shuttle-craft Book of American Hand-weaving

Finally, I have gotten around to reading through to the end of Mary Meigs Atwater's The Shuttle-craft Book of American Hand-weaving.

There is a lot in this classic little book.  Some of the details of the techniques are beyond me, and I expect to re-read this book at a later date.

Some techniques I don't expect to ever pursue because I dislike the products and suspect that the processes would irritate me as well, but it's good to have a passing familiarity with them.  Specifically, I do not share the author's enthusiasm for coverlets.  "A beginner's first weaving should, I think, be in four-harness overshot.  The thing is surprisingly simple and effective, and a first piece will be an exciting adventure, like seeing a little flower garden spring into blossom under one's fingers." (p. 125)  I do bow to her experience and am prepared to believe that she finds much of interest there.

The author throws out strong opinions and advice.  I appreciate that she backs these up with reasons, so that I can see what criteria she used to reach her conclusions.

As a beginning weaver I can say that it's good to read a book from someone intent on conveying a specific tradition.  She draws on her study of the craft, her experience, and her association with other weavers, and lays out what was done historically and what is worth pursuing.

The book is also helpful to me because it associates different yarns with the types of weaving most suitable for them.  This information is absent from the book of patterns I have.