Sunday, February 27, 2011

Silly Hats

I am a huge fan of the silly hats.  Whole outfits have been worked around the wearing of silly hats.  This particular hat is not only silly but mysterious.  It looks like it's fur, but one could knit and full such a hat just as easily (in fact I think I saw someone at a Ren Faire once with just such a hat, though slightly smaller than the one in the portrait).  As I am planning to go to Pennsic this year anyway, I need more cloths, and starting with a silly hat makes as much sense as anything else, so here goes.  Now to figure out how it's constructed and what the best way to reconstruct it will be.

More information on the original portrait can be found at the National Gallery.

There's also this hat:

which to me looks like a mini version of one of these:

They both like a variation on a knit and fulled beret, or possibly a brimless wool flat cap like you see later on.  Of course the top lady is English and the bottom one is German, and a few decades apart, but the basic shape looks pretty similar.

Here's another portrait with a fabulous hairdo and headpiece I sort of love and may have to copy and thus work a whole outfit around as well (maybe the same outfit).  This one should be much cooler (duh) than the one above, and gives me a good reason to not cut off my hair.  I am sort of wondering if it's a beaded piece or a metal band though.  Beading would be far easier for me to do, as I already know how to do that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Supply issues

I'm waiting on yarn for what I sincerely hope will be my last competition entry as Baronial Champion (Spring Coronation)*.  It should have been here and warped a week ago, but the warp yarn was backordered, and rather than sending a coherent backorder notice, the supplier sent a very cryptic email with the missing item highlighted in red (nothing else, just red font), and then didn't respond to my emails asking for a different color for 4 days until they sent a shipment notification.  Really, you run a WEB BUSINESS, must I pick up the phone to check order status or get a question answered in a timely manner?  I don't think I'm being unreasonable to expect that an email would get a response in 24 hours.  So something is on it's way, but I don't actually know what color warp yarn I'm getting for this project.  Nice.  Cuz I'm not under a time crunch or nervous about this entry at all or anything.  sigh.

At least this gives me time to work on my documentation and do the spinning samples I had wanted to do.  The current plan to weave the cloth for the actual project out of commercial yarn, but spin yarn to weave samples to show something closer to what the actual artifact was made from.  We'll see how that goes over.  I just don't have time to handspin for the whole project and I've never spun for warp (never mind spun singles for warp), so trying to sort that out in the amount of time I have is just not realistic.

*though now that I think about there will probably be at least one more...I should probably look into that.

EDIT - the wool has arrived!  It's the right color, though darker than I thought it would be.  It'll be fine.  And upon further investigation there is one more competition but as it's "best use of raw wool" it should be fairly easy to come up with something.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pentathlon and Triathlon thoughts

Since winning the Baronial Championship last May, I've competed in one A&S Pentathlon and one Triathlon.  For those of you not familiar with this competition format, it's pretty masochistic.  You have to enter five (or three) items that one persona (not necessarily your own) might have owned or used that fall into three of five broad categories for the pentathlon or two categories for the triathlon.  The goal, I think, is to make you stretch your skills, since really most people are comfortable with at most two of the categories, so to get all three usually requires you branch out of your comfort zone.

Aside from being a great opportunity to learn more about a particular time and place, these two competitions have been educational in and of themselves for a couple of different reasons.  As I am teaching a class on documentation and competition next month, here are my thoughts on the format.

1.  You are entering 5 distinct projects, not one entry with 5 parts.  What I mean by this is that each part of your entry needs to stand on it's own in terms of presentation and documentation.  This is where I fell short on my first try, I assumed the documentation would be judged as a whole, not as individual parts.  Yes, its longer, but if you are doing the research anyway it's not really any more work.

2. Hot food at a camping event is a bad plan!  I tried to present a hot drink for the first competition at a 4-day camping event, and this cause a great deal of needless stress.  Plus the coleman stove on the display table was ugly.

3.  Test your display idea and then be prepared for a totally different setup.  I like to do this at home then pack everything I need for the display in it's own box or basket, at least in so far as I can get into one container.  It's fewer things to forget when I'm packing the car.

3 (a). Ask for set-up help!  You will probably have a lot of stuff to carry and be a little stressed (maybe that's just me, I'm always vertain I've forgotten part of my entry).  Having someone to help you schelp and offer a second opinion about your display can do wonders to sooth the nerves. 

4.  Bring a table cloth.  Bring more than one table cloth, especially if you are serving food as something is guaranteed to spill.

5.  Look at the entry categories and judging sheets BEFORE you start you project.  Trying to fit something you already made and wrote up into a category after the fact is going to suck.  Know what the criteria are so you can address them in your writing.  This happened with my spindle and probably cost me points.

6. Get a comment book and leave it with your display so people other than the judges can leave you feedback (the judges might not leave you anything other than your scores so this can be very helpful).  Feedback is the real goal here, so do whatever you can to get as much of it as you can.

7.  Take lots of pictures!  Take picutres of your display, take pictures of you with your display, and take pictures of the other displays.  It's nice to have a record of what you and others did, and you might get some ideas for next time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A&S 50: 10 - Spindle from Coppergate Finds

Spinning fibers into thread is one of the most basic and time consuming steps in the textile production process. Nearly every woman during the Viking period would have learned to spin at an early age, and would likely have owned many spindles during the course her life. It is not surprising then than spindle whorls are such a common, though frequently misidentified, archeological find.

Surviving Viking-age spindle whorls are made from a wide range of materials, including different types of stone, pottery, glass, bone and antler, amber, and metal with stone being the most common. It is interesting to note that in her analysis of whorls found at Hedeby, Anderson identified ceramic as the most commonly used material. This seems to be somewhat exceptional, as stone is more common at the other sites she examines and at the Coppergate site discussed in Walton. Whorls could be made in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the preference of the spinner, intended use and local custom. According to Anderson's analysis, weights range from less than 5 grams to well over 50 grams, with the most common weight range being between 10 and 30 grams. Diameter can range anywhere from 2 centimeter to over 10 centimeter, with most soapstone whorls falling in the 3 to 5 centimeter range.

Whorl shape varied tremendously, from flat disc shapes, to round, to conical or even bi-conical. The most common during the Viking period seems to have been plano-convex, that is, one flat and one rounded side. The rounded side can range from hemispheric to bun shaped. Based on the wear to the center holes, it appears that the flat side of such whorls would have faced towards the center of the spindle shaft.

It appears that stone whorls in particular could be made in several different ways. The simplest method would be to drill a hole through an appropriately shaped stone, and the most sophisticated would involve the use of a lathe. Based on surviving examples, it is clear that some whorls were carefully shaped on a lathe, but many others were cut and shaped by hand using simple tools. Soapstone in particular is very easy to shape to in this way. The finished whorl could then be left plain or decorated with bands and hashes as the maker saw fit. Once completed, the whorl would be fitted to a shaft.

Comparatively few spindle shafts have survived, but those that have are made of a variety of hard and soft woods, yew, oak, pine, birch and ash being but a few. The shafts are generally tapered so that the whorl is held in place with nothing more than friction and careful fitting. Some are notched at one or both ends, others are not. Based on an examination of the whorl holes, it appears that the diameter of most shafts typically ranged from seven to twelves millimeters. It is difficult to determine how long the shafts might have been, one surviving shafts is as long as 30 centimeters, other as short as 13.

It is not clear how spindle shafts were shaped and finished. At least some were likely lathe-turned. Others might have been shaped by hand from suitable sticks. They do not seem to have had a great deal of decoration on them, though a few have been found with what appear to be decorative grooves around the middle (though some of these may be wear marks from snug-fitting whorls as suggested in Anderson) and sticks which may be spindles were found in Bergen with elaborate knob terminals. It seems likely that they would have been as smoothly finished as possible, so as to prevent fine threads from snagging on the wood.

In reproducing this spindle, I elected to work with soapstone. Soapstone was readily available in Northern Europe and soapstone whorls have been found all over Viking Age Europe. It is also very easy to carve and shape and can be worked with wood tools. The actual soapstone used came from a craft store and had been rough-shaped by a friend into a disk using a circle cutter. I elected to shape this into a plano-convex whorl, as this is most common, and also seemed easier to shape and balance than some of the other options. The finished spindle measures just under 5 centimeters in diameter and weights 50 grams, falling well within the range of common extant examples, if on the larger side of average.

The initial shaping had produced a rather crooked disk with a hole through the center, which I shaped and smoothed using a saw and different grades of sandpaper. I then straighten the center hole using my Dremel, as I did not have a rasp of the appropriate shape and size. I finished the whorl with a small amount of beeswax based polish to give the stone a bit more shine. It is not clear if any of the extant whorls were polished or waxed in any way, but many have a very smooth finish and decorative carving so it seems reasonable to take an extra step to enhance the beauty of the piece. Some of the soapstone whorls, in particular that found at L'anse Aux Meadows were made from old cooking pots and have oil residue on them as a result but I was unable to find mention of any other oil or wax being employed on a whorl.

The spindle shaft was shaped using sandpaper from a purchased dowel cut to length. Once the desired shape had been achieved and the whorl fit, I cut my notch and finely sanded the shaft and finished it with the same beeswax polish to provide a smooth finish that would not snag my thread as I spun. The spindle shaft is 9 millimeters wide and 19 centimeters long, about average based on extant examples.

While I did much of my shaping of both the whorl and the shaft using coarse sandpaper as that is what I had at hand, it is more likely that this would have been accomplished with files and rasps in period. It would certainly be easier to shape the stone with files, and the shaping would proceed more quickly, though using a slower process was probably for the best on my first attempt. As I plan to make more whorls in the future, I plan to invest in a good set of files and rasps to make this easier. I would also like to explore shaping the stone and the shafts on a lathe, as this would make it easier to get a balanced shape. The most challenging part of the shaping process is drilling the central hole, as this must be centered and perpendicular to the flat side of the whorl. It seems that drilling the hole first, then shaping around the hole on a lathe would be the simplest way to get an even, well-balanced whorl.

Even working with comparatively unsophisticated equipment, I was able to produce a quite serviceable spindle. There is a small amount of wobble when the spindle turns too quickly, which I suspect could be minimized by shortening the shaft or adjusting the notch. My whorl ended up weighting in at 50 grams, which is on the heavier side, but still allows me to produce a reasonably fine wool thread. It is interesting to note that this qualifies as a fairly light spindle by modern standards.


Anderson, Eva. Excavation in the Black Earth 1990-1995; Tools for Textile Production from Birka and Hedeby. The Birka Project, Stockholm, 2003.

Østergård, Else. Woven Into the Earth: Textiles From Norse Greenland. Aarhus University Press, 2004.

Walton, Penelope. The Archaeology of York: The Small Finds Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate. The York Archaeological Trust, 1997.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. Medieval North European Spindles and Whorls ( Last accesses January 17, 2011.

Gaslee, Sarah. Viking Textile Tools ( Last accessed January 18, 2011.

Williamson, Roland. Regia Anglorum: Stoneworking ( Last accessed January 18, 2011.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Report

I survived Ymir and another A&S competition! This time I entered a persona triathlon, with a Viking theme. Viking is out of my own personal period but as I also do Viking reenactment this isn't much of a stretch. I made a soapstone spindle and spindle shaft (part of my A&S 50 challenge), a Dublin style hood out of handspun and hand-dyed wool, and a pair of mustard's based on archeological evidence of Anglo-Scandinavian cooking. All of these things could be placed in Viking northern England in the 10th century. I came in a very close second, which is a respectable showing, but more importantly lots of people I respect had nice things to say.

I was also apprenticed to one of our local Laurels who knows a great deal about weaving. It was a very nice little ceremony, I got meet my new apprentice sister who gave me an "I don't Suck Box" to keep my display tokens in. Margret, my Laurel, gave me a really neat cup and some linen in accordance with my indenture agreement, and I presented her with a towel I had woven. It's got some mistakes, but better ones are on the way!

Overall it was a very nice event. The weather was lovely, I got to see lots of friends, and make some new ones. I think the hubs even had fun, and he's not usually that excited by these things.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A&S 50 - 32: Learn to Weave Mary's Veil Huckweave

AND 35*: Weave Napkins for Feast Gear Box

Pictures of the finished cloth are in my previous post.

The Original Cloth:
The original cloth is a relic purporting to be a fragment from the veil of St. Mary, now housed in the Basilica of Our Lady in Tongeren, Belgium. The relic is part of a seven-yearly celebration and veneration of Virgin known as the Coronation, or Kroning, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the town, and last took place in 2009. The cloth dates to the eleventh or twelfth century. As I am not able to read Dutch, I was not able to read De Jonghe's original study of the relic to obtain any more details about the fabric, such as thread count or fiber content. However, as the cloth is purported to have been used as a veil one can presume it to be quite fine, and likely linen or silk.

Weaving details:
As this was to be my first real weaving project on my new (to me at least) floor loom, and I had been asked to make a towel for a Laurel elevation, I wanted to use a thread that would be fairly forgiving and work well as a hand towel (i.e. be absorbent). The cloth was woven using Louet Cottolin, a 60% cotton, 40% linen blend thread at 34 wraps per inch. I threaded my loom at 24 ends per inch, using 400 warp ends, for an initial weaving with of just under 17 inches. After washing, the finished cloth measured 13 inches wide and 2 2/3rd yard long. I did not measure the initial length but I had at least 1/3rd yard in shrinkage over the length. The drawdown can be found on Carolyn Priest-Dormans website, linked below.

The finish towel measures roughly 22 inches long, one quarter the length of the finished cloth. The remaining cuts of cloth will be hemmed and used as napkins or finger towels for my feast gear box.

Learnings and Conclusions:
- Working with Cottolin in particular requires that the warp be kept under a fair amount of tension to avoid to snagging the warp or skipping warps when throwing the shuttle. It makes it hard to get a clean shed with things are even a little bit loose, and they just get looser as things snag. Also, knots from warp repairs will cause problems with getting a clean shed.
- I CAN warp my loom by myself! It's just slower.
- Measure the finished cloth, length and width, before you wash it!
- This is the first time I had woven anything more complicated than simple tabby or twill, and getting the hang of the treadling took a bit of practice. Taping the drawdown to the loom helped a great deal, and stopping in the same place every time I stepped away kept me from getting lost or making too many mistakes.


Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. 2001. "Some Medieval Linen Weaves." Complex Weavers' Medieval Textiles, Issue 30 (December 2001), pp. 1, 4-5.

-----. A Four-Harness Medieval Huck Weave. ( Last accessed February 17, 2011.

De Jonghe, Daniël. 1988. "Technologische Beschouwingen," pp. 65-88 in Textiel van de vroege middeleeuwen tot het Concilie van Trente. Tongeren Basiliek O.-L.-Vrouw Geboorte, vol. I. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters.

-----. 1989. "Niet op trapweefstoelen geweven linnen weefsels met ruitpatronen?," pp. 222-241 in Middeleeuws Textiel, in het Bijzonder in het Euregiogebied Maas-Rijn [Medieval Textiles, Particularly in the Meuse-Rhine Area], Proceedings of the [First] Congress, Alden Biesen, 13.02-16.02.1989. Sint-Truiden, Belgium: Provinciaal Museum voor Religieuze Kunst.

Walton, Denzil. There's Something About Mary.

*Note that these numbers have very little to do with how many projects I have completed. It just reflects where the project is on my master list of projects, which is linked to the right.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One more down!

The Mary's Veil towel is done!  Yay!  I ended up with enough cloth that I will be able to do not only the elevation towel I was I was asked to do but several napkins for my feast gear box as well, so that's a bonus.  My soon-to-be-Laurel* suggested that I make sure to weave enough of towels I do for elevations and gift baskets and the like to at least keep a sample if not a napkin for myself, so I have a record of what I have done.  She said she didn't do this herself when she doing lots of that sort of thing and it still bothers her.  Wise advice and duly heeded. 

I really like the way the cottolin wove and washed up.  I had a little trouble getting a clean shed at a few points in the weaving, which resulted in some long weft floats on the back, but I'm pretty sure I know what happened.  Most of the time the problem was resolved by tightening up the warp, any amount of slack and I'd get snagging as I threw the shuttle and skip warps.  I wouldn't go any looser than 24 EPI with this thread.  Really, I have no idea what yarn manufacturers are thinking with their recommended warp sets, or what modern weavers are doing. 

The actual A&S 50 challenge write-up will follow, but for now here are pictures of the finished cloth!

*I am being apprenticed at Ymir this weekend to a weaving and textile arts Laurel.  For you non-SCA type people, this is someone who has been recognized as Very Good Indeed in the Arts and Sciences, and she will be my officially recognized mentor.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brick Stitch Relic Bags

Just a quick update to say that I have posted my KASF documentation for the brick stitch relic bags.  The link is to the right.

Some other great on line resources for those of you interested in brick stitch:

Historical Needlework Resources  - has links to all kinds of extant pieces of needlework, including a number of examples of brick stitch.  They also have a great write up on the Goss Vestments
A Stitch Out of Time  - the article that started it all.  Great analysis of the V&A bags
Finishing the seams of 14th/15th cen. pouches  - an excellent tutorial on the braided seam treatment seen on many extant bags
Medieval Silkwork  - a blog about all kinds of medieval embroidery, including patterns for 2 brick stitch bags in hard-to-get-to (at least for me) collections
Taschen: 13th cen. brick stitch pattern - another pattern I want to try, from another blogger and very accomplished embroiderer.
Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage Search  - where you can find the original lattice bag and other goodies (though you have to do text search in Dutch or French)
Joyce Miller's Embroidery  - charts for two brick stitch projects, a box and a cushion.  The cushion is quite similar to a book cushion in V&A and charted out by Master Wymarc, so similar it took me awhile to figure out they weren't actually the same.  I wonder if they were worked by the same person or in the same convent?  Very curious and interesting.
Brick Stitch Box This is a photo taken from a book in German. The same stitch pattern is on the alter hanging at the Met in New York.

Weaving progress!

I've been making some good and steady progress on my weaving projects for the A&S 50 challenge, though I have not yet written them up.  The new loom is so much more satisfying to work with!  Harder to warp, yes, but I discovered yesterday as I warping for my first real project on it (an elevation towel using the Mary's Veil huck pattern) that it's not impossible to do it by myself.

Here are some pictures of my progress so far.  The pink and red cloth is my first attempt to use the loom and experiment with twill.  The cloth ended up fulling a lot more than expencted, so the finished peice as a much denser and fuzzier appearnace than you will see here.   I think if I set a denser warp next time the fulling will be less.  This was done at 12 ends per inch, which worked out fine for the tabby piece, but apparently twill wants to be denser.  I find this strange as the website I bought the yarn from claims a 12 DPI set should be fine for twill this yarn, but they also said 10 DPI would be fine for tabby, and that turned out to be a disaster with my rigid heddel, as least in so far as I might want to have better control over the fulling process.  I think next time I use this particular yarn for warp I will start at 18 for twill and work from there.

The Mary's Veil pattern is going quite well.  I'm working with cottolin set at 24 ends per inch.  The draft can be found here.  The threading is pretty simple and the pattern is quite pretty as it's developing on the loom, the only issue (and it's a tiny one) is that the treadling pattern is a little complicated.  I sat down to start this with a nasty cold, all hopped up on the cold meds, so that might have had something to do with it.  I'm getting the hang of it quickly though and can just about read my weaving to tell where I am if I have a brain fart mid-repeat.  Luckily I cut my warp long enough that I should have enough for the elevation towel I am actually trying to make and a napkin or something to keep for myself.  I like this weave quite a bit.  It'll be neat to see how it washes up in this particular fiber.

Other than the weaving, I have very little to report.  I have made almost no progress on my lattice worked bag since KASF.  I really needed a break, and then I got a cold and for some reason making tiny eyelets with a head-cold just isn't working.  I have been playing around with fingerlooped braids, which counts towards a little bag progress as I will need to make cords for the bag soon.  I can now make 3 kinds of braid all by myself, and as soon as I get that written up, check one more thing off the A&S 50 list. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quick update

KASF is done (and there was much rejoicing!), though alas my bag was not.  I will post pictures and my documentation shortly, as soon as I get it converted to PDF and uploaded.  The whole competition part of the event was a little bizarre and once again I fell victim to math errors (addition is hard it seems), but I made a very good impression where it really counts and made some new friends and connections and that's what really matters.   Now I've got a little less than two weeks to get things wrapped up for Ymir, and I will have a tiny bit of a break from competing, at least until Spring Coronation.  I still am not 100% sure what I want to do for that one but I have to submit an application to compete with a short summary of my entry on the 15th though so I need to get it sorted out.  I might revisit my woven hood project from WOW, now that I know more about weaving and have a loom better suited to the task, I think I can come pretty close to reproducing one of the Greenland hoods.  If I had more time I could spin the wool as well, but that's going to take a bit more experimentation for the warp than I have time for.  I should at least be able to do some sampling with handspun to include in my presentation.

I've also been asked to weave a towel for an elevation at the end of the month, which is exciting.  Hopefully all will go well.  This will be my first actual project on the big loom and my first time weaving with cottolin (more forgiving than 100% linen but not as kind as wool), and handing the results over to a new Laurel in the company of a whole bunch of other Laurels is a little scary, but it should be ok.  That it's The First One should make it all the more special.  Or so I keep telling myself.