Saturday, November 20, 2010

A&S 50 - 3: Learn to dye with Indigo, modern method

 Indigo is unique in the universe of dyes in that it requires no mordant to produce a clear, lightfast blue on any natural fiber. True indigo was known in the Roman world, but remained rare in Europe during the middle ages until the 15th century. A chemically identical dye can be extracted at much lower concentrations from woad, which is much harder for the modern reenactor to obtain but was easily obtainable in medieval Europe and a major source of dyestuffs throughout the period.

Indigo vat prior to complete reduction
Regardless of which plant provides the material, the dyestuff is reduced through either a fermentation process or the use of chemicals to make it soluble. The dye solution then changes from deep blue to a milky yellow color. This “white indigo” can then be used in an alkaline dye bath to dye fibers. Once the fibers have been removed from the bath, they change from yellowish-green to deep blue as they react with the oxygen in the air.

Linen just after removal from the vat.  Note the color

In period, the indigo would have been reduced using either urine or fermented bran-water. Both of these processes can take up to a week and produce very offensive smells, so in the in interest of time and my marriage I elected to use modern methods for my first attempts. I began by using a yeast vat to reduce the indigo. In theory, this works the same way as a fermented bran-water vat; the gases produced by the bacteria reduce the yeast and drive suspended oxygen bubbles out of the dye liquid. However, I was unable to keep the vat at a constant temperature to complete the process long enough to reduce the indigo using this method and, after more than 24 hours, opted to use color run remover to reduce the indigo.

Once the vat was reduced, the actual dying process was relatively straightforward and quite satisfying. One must take care not to introduce air into the vat, so the fibers cannot be stirred or agitated much once they have been placed into the dye. This can lead to somewhat uneven absorption of the dye, but washing the fibers thoroughly prior to dying and adding them to the dye pot wet seemed to help mitigate this. A second dip in the dye pot resolved most of the splotchyness which occurred only on the linen skeins. The wool dyed evenly without any stirring at all.
Complete wool and linen skein drying


Dean, Jenny. Wild Color. Watson-Guptill Publications, 1999.

Bingham, Gayle. Woad Dying. Medieval Textiles issue 29. Sept. 2001. ( Last visited Nov. 18, 2010

Kolander, Cheryl. Dying with Indigo – Natural Fermentation Vat. ( Last visited Nov. 18, 2010.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. Colors, Dyestuffs, and Mordants of the Viking Age: An Introduction ( Last visited Nov. 18, 2010.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A&S 50 - 2: Snartemo II Band

For my second-ever attempt at tablet-weaving, I decided to weave a band supposedly found in the Snartemo II grave. The band is woven from cotton thread in two colors using twelve pattern tables threaded through only two holes, and a total of four border tablets threaded through all four holes. The original band was woven in wool and had an extra border tablet, presumably used to attach it to a cloth. I have been able to find very little information about the original band or the Snartemo finds in general, but hope that I will be able to track down more books on this in the future as the techniques used in these bands are both beautiful and fascinating.

In making this band, I learned two important lessons. First, when working with multiple colors, one should be certain that the weft thread matches the warp threads on the outer-most border. The weft
is visible on the outside of the band where it turns, and these turns are quite obvious if contrasting threads are used. Second, when threading only two holes, supporting the cards in some way makes
weaving much easier. I am not certain if my warp tension was off in some way, but I had fairly consistent problems with unstable cards. The best way for me to deal with this was to tie my band in such a way that it the cards were able to rest on my ironing board while I was weaving. This prevented them from flipping over, which they tended to do when suspended.

This is not a complicated pattern, but in hindsight was not the best pattern to choose for my first real project. It presented a number of challenges I was not prepared for and I had a great deal of
trouble correcting mistakes as my understanding of tablet-weaving was still quite limited. However, I learned a great deal and the band looks quite well on my husbands tunic.

Lewis, Shelagh. The tablet Woven Band from the Snartemo II Grave.
( Last accessed Nov. 18, 2010.

Collingwood, Peter?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A&S 50 - 1: Learn to Tablet Weave

My first attempt at tabletweaving.  Note the curls where the cards changed direction.

Tablet or card weaving in a method of weaving narrow bands which dates back at least to the second century A.D. It was used extensively in Scandinavia and spread throughout Medieval Europe. Uses ranged from the utilitarian – straps and woven borders on fabrics – to elaborate brocaded bands used on church vestments.

The basic procedure in tablet weaving is quite simple. Cards, usually square, are threaded through a series of holes placed in the corners. The cards are held under tension and turned while a weft thread is passed back and forth. The manner of threading and sequence of turning create the pattern. Incredibly complex and intricate patterns can be achieved with this basic technique.

While the basic procedure is quite simple, learning to table weave can present some challenges and frustrations. Foremost among these is tensioning. My first band was woven using the warping peg from my rigid heddle loom attached to a small portable ironing board, which I was able to hold in my lap, which one end propped on a TV tray table. It is possible to table weave using a back-strap loom, however I found it far easier to put my work down and maintain even tension when returning to it using a more fixed system. I have since built a portable loom of my own design which meets my needs quite well, and will build a period-correct loom in the future as part of this challenge.

Warping cards can also present challenges to a beginning weaver attempting to learn on their own. A number of books and websites discuss the continuous warping method, which is infinitely easier than warping each card individually (though not always appropriate), but regardless of your chosen warping technique two fixed points are absolutely required to keep the warp threads from tangling and to keep them even. Currently, I use a warping peg and a doorknob to warp my cards, which works well only so long as I do not need to open the door. As some point I will need to get or build a proper warping board.

The weaving itself is fairly straightforward. Again, tension seemed to be the main challenge, both in keeping the warps even and tights, and in keeping the weft even. Maintaining a consistent band width and a smooth surface took some practice, but by the time I had completed my first practice band I was able to do both fairly consistently and more on to more complicated patterns. It does help to use some kind of measuring device to check your band width now and again, particularly when using softer fibers like silk or cotton.

Crocket, Candace. Card Weaving. Interweave Press, 1991.

Lewins, Shelagh. The Ancient Craft of Tablet Weaving: Getting Started ( Last accessed Nov. 18, 2010.

Gaslee, Sarah. Basic Tabletweaving. ( Last accessed Nov. 18, 2010.

New challenge and current projects

Having gotten back into the SCA this year after a 12 hiatus, I found myself as Baronial A&S Champion before I new what I was happening.  It's been a great honor, and a great personal challenge to actually finish projects, try new things, and push myself to enter competitions (something I usually avoid like the plague).  Since my term in that roll will be over in another few months, I've decided that joining in the A&S 50 Challenge will give me some of the structure I seem to need to both try new things and actually finish projects in something approaching a timely manner.

So, for A&S 50 I've committed to learning 50 new things about textile production in the middle ages.  I've been sewing costumes and embroidering for years so doing something in that area would not be much of a challenge, and I already know how to spin and the very basics of weaving, so I think this will be a good expansion of my current skills.  I've wanted to learn a lot of these things for a long time, I just haven't had anything pushing me to actually do it, so the structure of the challenge should be  perfect!  As I finish projects, I'll be posting pictures, notes and documentation on this blog.

My tenure as Baronial Champion should be up in May, and I currently have two competitions I'm working on.  One is our local Interbaronial Twelfthnight  celebration, and the second is Kingdom Arts and Sciences.  I'm less worried about IB12, which is at the end of January, and far more worried about KAS which is the first weekend in February.  KAS will be my second Kingdom level A&S competition, and aside from stepping it up on the documentation, I really don't know what's expected.  I'm not entering the pentathlon (thank god, I did that at WOW in October and placed 2nd, which was great, but I don't feel a need to do that again this year), there's a special competition just for Baronial Champions that I'll be doing, but the guidelines are pretty vague and I don't know if I need a whole huge display or just my project.  Right now I'm planning on a display, I've just got to work out how to lay everything out.