July 16, 2013


Let's see, what have I been doing.  I saw some beautiful white Romney wool that had been put through a drum carder in small quantities, then rolled for woollen spinning. 

I acquired some madder, cochineal, and woad because I had the opportunity and I do mean to try dyeing with them sometime. 

I've set aside the white Targhee wool for a while and am spinning the last of my supply of synthetically-dyed wool, some Gales Art BFL in Velvet Elvis. 

I bought a hemp shower curtain meant to resist mould naturally by virtue of the fibre properties.  

I got around to taking out of the stash a certain sealed bucket of wool and re-checking for insect infestation in the sealed bags inside.  All was well.  But I won't be tying up the necks of cloth bags with wool yarn again.

July 08, 2013


A foreign word or phrase can mean all the difference to finding out information about fibre arts tools.

Take for example rukinlapa for distaff in Finnish and ручная прялка (ruchnaya pryalka) for distaff in Russian.  Run them through online image searches.  You'll get some unrelated results but mostly you'll see bat-shaped distaffs with carved designs.  Imagine a man carving one for his sweetie back in the day.

The search results are a lot more satisfying than results with the other Russian word I found last month for this sort of distaff, lopastka, which is more like the word blade, shoulder blade or trowel blade.

There's a china pattern called Rukinlapa by Raija Uosikkinen‏ based on these distaffs' shape and carving designs.

July 06, 2013

British Museum no. 1756,0101.485

In my delightful forays into online museum collections, I found a piece of classical Greek pottery decorated with a closeup of a woman's head clad in a cap.  It is British Museum no. 1756,0101.485.

The cap's structure looks similar in at least three ways to some styles of extant Coptic språng caps that were made a thousand years after the pot was painted.

A quick look at thumbnails for the same search results shows there are more pots like this.  It's exciting.  Most everything I've seen to date has shown figures head to toe not close up, and as often as not with the cap-clad head positioned at a spot on the pot that curves away and can't be seen easily.

It's exciting not so much because this information will help me make a cap.  It's more that I am starting from a premise that the Greeks used språng for headgear and I'm out to find primary evidence.  The premise comes from research-driven authorities on språng construction and ancient Greek culture, for example, Peter Collingwood in The Techniques of Sprang, Margrethe Hald in Old Danish Textiles, Elizabeth Siewertsz van Reesema in her works including the article "Old Egyptian Lace," and Marina Fischer in her thesis, "The Prostitute and Her Headdress: the Mitra, Sakkos and Kekryphalos in Attic Red-figure Vase-painting ca. 550-450 BCE."  I like to compare and contrast things to draw conclusions.  In this case, a Greek picture compared with a Coptic piece.  I'm following clues for something is a bit of a mystery.  It wouldn't be if we'd had an unbroken widespread tradition of språng.

If and when I do plan out the specs for a cap, I have dimensions for quite a few existing Coptic pieces and I think I can estimate the dimensions of the looms on a few pieces of Greek pottery.

July 05, 2013


I recently came across the word spinstokje, meaning a stick for spinning.  It is a spindle without a whorl, shaped slightly thicker in the middle.  I am not sure if it is spun in the hand, suspended, or rolled on the thigh.

The Dutch word stokje means stick, bar, or wand.

I've been told it is used as the word for double crochet, and that makes sense for the long slender shape of a double crochet stitch.

Elizabeth Siewertsz van Reesema's second edition of Egyptisch Vletchwerk includes the word stokje in a chart's key to indicate a similar thing in sprang, where two threads twist around each other multiple times creating a slit on either side.  An example can be seen in the Whitworth Art Gallery's Coptic cap T.9864.

July 04, 2013

How I Feel About It and What I'm Going to Do

After my recent post full of analysis and conclusions about my efficacy in my fibre arts projects, you might wonder, how do you feel and what will you do.

I feel okay.  It's better to know how work flows and to know what to change.  It's understandable why I have the WIPs I do.  It's a given that the opportunities that move me to action involve gathering, understanding, and giving out information.  But my motivation for learning to spin yarn was to re-skill, to learn to meet a basic need independent* of fossil fuel or as close as I can get.  My hope is that, by subordinating the scholarly WIPs to practical WIPs for handspun clothes, I will make what I learn into something tangible and visible, and the experience will make me better able to pass along knowledge about how handspun clothes are made.

I should say, my post only discussed prioritization and limiting WIPs but kanban has more improvement areas than that in Anderson's book, Kanban.

For now, these all look like places to start.  I have some doubts about being able to stick to them, but I will name them.

  • reduce the amount and the depth of fibre arts correspondence I initiate
  • reduce the time I spend searching for språng items in museum collections
  • maintain blog posting but cap the time spent preparing posts
  • set a minimum and maximum number of pages to read per day in whatever textile book I have going
  • spin yarn on a more regular and consistent basis, yarn intended to go into a finished item for me
  • look at the two WIPs that are at a standstill and get them going again somehow instead of starting new ones
  • either delay working on the fixed date WIP, since the deadline is far in the future, or work on it soon to get it off the kanban board, making sure it results in a wearable handspun item for me
  • look for opportunities to fix dates for tasks that relate to my goal of handspun clothes
  • stop fixing dates for tasks that fail to result in handspun clothes, with the exception of a weaving class project

*a good thing to remember today on the Fourth of July.  The thirteen colonies in British North America that had a revolution went for textile independence among other things.  So did colonial India under British rule.

July 03, 2013

Cost of Delay and Class of Service

I posted last month that I'd set up a kanban board for my fibre arts projects in anticipation of getting clarity on what I do and how, so that I could improve my efficacy.  Efficacy, producing the right thing at the right time, is something a person can't get enough of.  It's right up there with being healthy, wealthy, and wise.  I set up my board the way I'd been shown and was happy, putting my task cards in columns for backlog, to-do, doing, and done.

Then I read David J. Anderson's Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business.  Turns out kanban is more sophisticated and more capable of making workflow visible than I thought.

I was particularly struck by his use of cost of delay and classes of service to prioritize tasks.  Certainly we all know the four classes of service.  We are taught them as children and we are told to mind the cost of delay.  There are some tasks we must do on time, some we do roughly in a first-in-first-out manner but not on a deadline, some we do whenever we like, and some we expedite when the cost of delay is exceptionally high.

For me and my tasks–I make yarn, make things out of yarn, learn new yarn skills, and pass on what I learn–whatever the cost of delay, it will be arbitrary.  No one in my household will go cold if I fail to knit mittens before winter sets in.  No one will set herself down on my stoop and wail because she can't learn the obscure art of språng until I help.

I'd been posting for ages here that my goal is to make handspun clothing for me.  I'd been wanting to wear clothes made with my own handspun, preferably un-dyed and local, for a number of compelling reasons.  And I hadn't made any.  I'd hardly spun any yarn to the purpose.  I had to figure out why.

Across the three columns of to-do, doing, and done on my kanban board, I put four rows for the classes of service which Anderson names expedite, fixed date, standard, and intangibles.  Then I put my task cards in their places.

Of my works in progress (WIPs), I had one expedite, one fixed date with two pending, no standard, and six intangibles.  Two of the intangibles had red Xs on the cards to show the tasks were blocked by difficulties I hadn't resolved yet.  They'd been blocked for a long time.  The fixed date card had recently become unblocked, and hadn't been around that long.  The higher the row, the faster WIPs were progressing toward completion.

Also, the higher the row the more the WIP involved a third party and thus an extra cost of delay, loss of face.

I didn't see my goal of handspun clothes reflected in the expedited or fixed date tasks.  The standard class was empty.  I had an unrecorded expedited WIP, "search museum collections' databases for språng items."  That search might move me closer to my goal if I find an item I'd like to imitate or interpret, but the search has more to do with intellectual curiosity.

I had an unrecorded fixed date WIP: post daily one blog entry about fibre arts, with the exception of Sundays and days when I travel or fall ill and my capacity contracts.  It contributes a little to my goal because my blog is where I record my progress and think through what I do and learn.  But as they say, fine words butter no parsnips and time writing on the blog is time not spent spinning yarn.  I had an unrecorded standard WIP, correspondence about fibre arts.  It's a chance of coming across information that will aid me as I spin yarn and make clothes but it's more about my goal to pass on what I learn.

I looked in the intangibles class, trying to find a practical WIP like "spin wool for pullover."  However, even there I found all but one of the WIPs were tasks way off in the rhubarb like "read textile history book" or "knit small object with yarn I didn't spin and won't use myself but give to someone who can get along with store-bought."

There was one intangibles class WIP that related to my goal.  It had recently been a fixed date class WIP: I was going to make something in time to wear it to an event.  The event passed, so the cost of delay dropped to almost nothing.

Some productive friends were kind enough recently to talk to me about their fibre arts projects; I realized most projects were fixed date class while the rest were treated as standard class, given sustained attention.  Moreover, their projects were congruent with their goals.

As a side note, the Tour de Fleece on right now is an example of a fixed date commitment that handspinners make.  For Tour de Fleece, you spin yarn daily while the Tour de France race is on.  Miss a day too many times and the delay costs you something to show, making you ineligible for the prize drawings.

Many fibre artists arrange their year around fixed dates for project completion.  Examples include an agricultural fair needlework competition, guild challenge or competition, gift-giving holiday, conference, fibre festival, commission work, gallery show and sale, charity collection of knitted goods, knit-along or spin-along, and month-long or year-long cold sheep resolutions.  In a knit-along, people knit projects from the same pattern in a given period of time.  Cold sheep is like cold turkey except you avoid the yarn shop instead of the tobacconist's shop.

Intangibles class tasks have no deadline.  In the backlog I had more intangibles-class tasks than any other class by far.  Some related to my goal.  My capacity was allocated to expedite, fixed date, and standard class WIPs with no room for intangibles, so the good tasks weren't moving from backlog to priority queue.  All of those faster-moving WIPs, they bypassed the backlog.  I need to tell them what we used to say in school, no budging.

I've been saying that deadlines are good.  And research is good and so are projects done in the public eye.  But they're counterproductive if they move you toward a lower-priority goal.

July 02, 2013

Språng by Correspondence

I have been corresponding about språng with a number of people.  Sometimes it's a brief exchange and sometimes a sustained effort.  Last week I got to answer a puzzler about historical språng items partly by using a quote from Shakespeare's King Lear.

To pass skills and information back and forth, ideally people stand shoulder to shoulder and model things and talk about things in real time.  That is not always possible so I'm using a few different methods to deliver my content.  Am using email, online discussion boards, my YouTube how-to videos, and my Pinterest pins.  And now, I present, sprang by mail.

Specifically, I made a warp and sent it to someone by post.  In a small way, it's similar to chess by mail which I read about once in a novel, except I am supplying physical parts not just a charted or written move and I don't expect the warp to come back.  To change the game metaphor, it's like an assist in hockey.  The recipient has a goal, and I'm setting up the conditions for meeting the goal.

This is targeted at the skill of interlinking only.  There are a lot of skills to learn with sprang and it's the recipient's goal to eventually be able to do all the steps in sequence independently, to plan a project, select suitable yarn, calculate the warp specifications, warp a frame, interlink threads, and so on.

I put yarn on a frame in two colours.  I chose a flat sprang warp setup because I thought its best chance of arriving intact would come from having the yarn loop tightly around the sticks, and that means flat warp not circular.  I changed the arrangement of the colours from AABB to ABAB, so it will be clear to the recipient which threads go in the back and which in the front.  Then I tied up each cross with green yarn and tied the warp with blue yarn.  Here it is, ready to go in a padded envelope.

It cost less than two dollars to make and two dollars to mail, and it arrived quickly.