Weaving With Handspun

Dos, Don’ts, and dear gods why?

So lets say you’re a weaver. Looms are hungry beasts and this is an expensive hobby to have. Yeah it’s awesome, but looms aren’t cheap and neither is the yarn yardage required to make cloth happen. Especially if you’re trying to weave at a pre-modern thread count. Think about it, each inch wide piece of cloth for a one yard length at 50epi takes roughly 75 yards of thread for the warp alone. Add in the weft and that’s two spools of sewing thread for an inch of cloth. If you’re using something nicer than polyester quilting thread that adds up Super Fast.

Fleece, however, is dirt cheap compared to finished yarn. So you may start thinking of weaving with handspun yarn. You get a product that’s even MORE handmade, you can control the historical accuracy (or not) of your thread, and it just sounds super impressive. So lets take a look at getting started.

Do: Start with handspun weft and commercial warp.

Why? Weft is the more forgiving of the two. You don’t have to have as hard spun a yarn, or as perfectly spun, for it to produce a beautiful finished product. Weft isn’t under tension and isn’t being constantly abused by the reed, beater, and heddles.

Don’t: Start with handspun warp.

Why? Warp is constantly abused. It is extremely difficult to handspin a yarn that’ll stand up to that treatment without snapping. You can do it, most of human history did it, but it takes a skill set most modern spinners don’t quite have. Work up to this. Remember, even just a handspun weft increases your accuracy and the amount of the project you made yourself.

Do: Spin more than you think you need.

Unlike store bought yarn when you’re out of your handspun, you’re out. Yes you can spin more, but it’s difficult to get it to match exactly the longer you go between batches. Worst case if you spin too much? You have scrap yarn for making a scrap scarf, or naalbinding, or knitting with. You have options. Heck even just displaying handspun in a nice vase or bowl makes a lovely conversation piece.

Don’t: Forget to Process Your Yarn First.

There is nothing more frustrating than having a piece of cloth either be over energized (wrinkle and twist when you don’t want it to) or shrink way more than expected. You can cut down on this by prewashing your yarn and finishing it rather than just weaving with it right off the spindle.  I know it’s exciting and you want to get right to it, I’m guilty of this too. But it will make you happier in the end.

Do: Make Peace With Wonky Edges.

Your handspun is not going to be as perfectly even as machine spun yarn. You can get close! And the more you practice with spinning the closer you’ll get! But weaving shows every uneven point in your yarn. Accept it’ll happen, and either make peace with hemming, or embrace the wobble.

Don’t: Skimp on sizing.

Even if you don’t usually size your warp? Do it here. Handspun tends to be stickier and fuzzier than machine processed yarns, which means you’ll need help getting a clear shed. This is double true if you’ve decided to use a handspun warp. I use flax snot. Boil some flax seeds in water until it thickens up into disgusting feeling goop, strain the seeds out, and either soak your yarn or paint it on. It’ll give you a little bit of added protection to help your shed open cleanly AND help keep your warp from tangling and breaking so often.

Weaving with handspun is super rewarding if you ever get the bug to try it. If not? No worries! Keep on doing what you’re doing, hand weaving itself is beautiful! Spinning for its own sake and not to weave? Also awesome! I just hope this helped you out if you decide to combine the two.

Iron Age Processing and its Effects on Yarn Production

As I said in my last post I was spinning for a rather large project. Here is the paper to go with the yarn for that project as it was presented this past weekend. This is not the full project and I will post that paper once the project is completed. 

 

The purpose of this paper is to discuss my attempts at recreating an authentic Iron Age wool thread, as well as explain the differences in yarns produced on an Iron Age spindle vs a modern spinning wheel. All wool in this experiment was processed in the same manner and from the same fleece. The only altered variable was the tool used to spin the fleece into yarn. I will begin by explaining my choice of fleece, the steps used to process it, with archeological documentation for why I made the choices I did, and finish by comparing spindle spun to wheel spun yarn.

I am attempting to recreate an Iron Age yarn, like those that have been unearthed in Greenland and Birka. In order to get as close as possible to extant yarns I chose to work with a primitive sheep breed whose ancestors would have been available in Denmark and Greenland. Namely the double coated Icelandic sheep. It is, unfortunately, impossible to get a fleece identical to what would have been available in period. All sheep have undergone centuries of selective breeding to produce more favorable fleeces or meat, but primitive breeds are the closest we currently have access to.

I selected Icelandic specifically because of its dual coat. Greenland and Icelandic textiles, specifically those referenced in Woven into the Earth, show several extant cloths woven with the coarse outer coat used to spin the hard and smooth warp threads, with the shorter and softer undercoat used as weft. This serves several purposes. The most pressing being a cloth that is strong while still being warm and able to be fulled, or lightly felted. Using the top coat as warp reduces the chance of breakage, and the long staple length compared to the undercoat means a smoother, harder, yarn can be produced without additional effort.

I also needed a fleece that was cut from the sheep, rather than rooed or shed. There is a notable difference in the quality of wool depending on how it was taken from the sheep.  Primitive sheep actually shed their fleece, alternatively it can be cut or rooed (pulled) from them at the end of the season. Modern sheep have lost this ability, making them more dependent on humans, but also producing longer staple fiber. Initially I was intending to find a fleece that had been rooed. However examining wool from Birka shows no root ends in the yarn, meaning the fleece had to be cut from the animal, not shed – therefore I went with a fleece that was sheared from the sheep.

These yarns are, on average, woven into fabrics that are between 14-22 ends per inch, or 30-50 wraps per inch for the warp threads for wool twills. Highly prized Vidmal cloth produced in Greenland has a higher weft density than warp density, and therefore has a weft one third to one half again as dense as the warp. For this project I have chosen to aim for the coarser end of Iron Age yarn, with a warp of 30 wraps per inch, and a weft of 45 wraps per inch.

For the actual fleece processing I purchased a raw (unwashed, uncombed) full Icelandic fleece from a breeder who does not coat their sheep. In the period I am attempting to recreate we have no documentation for sheep coating, therefore I wanted to avoid it. This meant the fleece I began work with was covered in dirt, vegetable matter, and dung.

To clean the fleece I opted to rinse it in the stream behind my house. We have later period references, mostly in art, of sheep being run through streams to remove the worst of the dirt prior to shearing. This practice continued in Australia and more remote parts of Northern Europe until the mid to late 1800s. Therefore it is reasonable to mimic this practice. To that end I placed chunks of dirty fleece in a strainer and dragged in through the running water. This allowed the water to flow through the fleece, and the dirt to be carried downstream. I then allowed the fleece to dry in the sun.

The benefit to this vs modern scouring methods is that quite a bit of lanolin was left in the fleece. This made the wool more sticky and difficult to spin, but also made it stronger and therefore will make the resulting yarn easier to weave and more water repellent.

After washing the fleece was dragged through wool combs to divide the top coat from the undercoat in order to produce the top coat warp threads, and undercoat weft threads. The top coat was then combed again in ensure all the fibers were lying in the same direction. This was to produce a worsted spun yarn. Worsted yarns are smoother, harder, and less warm than woolen spun yarns. The smooth and hard nature makes them perfect for warp threads, and indeed is the method of spinning most often seen in Iron Age textiles.

Here we begin the deviation in tools and processing. Up until this point the entire fleece received the same treatment in order to minimize variables and ensure the difference in finished yarn, if any, was due to which tool was used to spin it.

I was only able to achieve a worsted spun top coat yarn using the Iron Age spindle. My wheel could not achieve the amount of twist required with enough take up to wrap it around the bobbin. Therefore attempts at recreating an Iron Age warp yarn on a modern spinning wheel was a failure for me. My yarn kept either being too thick to be a proper replica, or pulled apart due to insufficient twist.

The spindle however allowed me more control over the twist, which meant I could achieve the thinner yarn without it falling apart. I was able to mildly over spin the long top coat fiber, so that when plyed the result was a strong, balanced, yarn that was consistent in thickness with extant finds.

I was able to produce a yarn with the undercoat on my spinning wheel. However the yarn produced was not even, nor was it fine enough to be considered a replica of the yarns found in Birka or Greenland. Adjusting the take up and spin speed did not correct the issue as the wheel needed to take the thread up faster than the correct amount of twist could be applied. The result is a very fluffy yarn that would be excellent for naalbinding or modern applications such as knitting, but would not produce the textiles found in Iron Age graves.

As with the warp yarn the issue of spin vs take up was solved when a spindle was used rather than a wheel. The spindle was able to produce singles consistent with those found woven into textiles in grave finds with far less effort than was applied attempting to recreate them on the wheel.

It is possible to create a thin enough single to fall within the acceptable size range using wool on this spinning wheel and get a consistent thread. Therefore it is not user error or being unfamiliar with wheel spinning that is causing the difference in yarn produced. However, that was achieved with commercially prepared top using modern fiber processing methods suited for hand spinning on a wheel.

Using fiber processing suitable to the Iron Age produces a fleece that is difficult to spin using a modern spinning wheel, but causes no such difficulties on a spindle. There is a marked difference in the yarns produced, even when controlling for all other variables. It is my conclusion, that in order to produce a textile that is on par with those from extant finds the yarn should be spun using a drop spindle.

Sources:

 

Barber, E.W Prehistoric Textiles.  Princeton University Press. 1991.

 

Chisholm, Alec H. The Australian Encyclopaedia. 8. Sydney: Halstead Press. 1963. p. 86. Shearing.

 

Fournier, Jane and Nola. In Sheep’s Clothing: A Handspinner’s Guide to Wool. Interweave Press 1995.

 

Ostergaard, Else Woven into the Earth: Textile finds in Norse Greenland. Oxbow Books 2004.

 

Nosch, Marie-Louise, Feng, Zhao, and Varadarajan Lotika. Global Textile Encounters. Oxbow Books 2014

 

Strand, Eva A. Tools and Textiles – Production and Organisation in Birka and Hedeby. Viking Settlements and Viking Society Papers from the Proceedings of the Sixteenth Viking Congress. 2009.

 

Vedeler, Marianne. Silk for the Vikings. Oxbow Books. 2014.

 

Walton, Penelope Textiles, Cordage, and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate https://www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/AY17-5-Textiles-Cordage-and-Raw-fibre.pdf

 

Spinning Yarn

This is not a how to. This is a comparison post.

I’ve spend the last month or so spinning for a rather massive project. Also writing the paper to go with it. I’ve been busy, just not updating the blog to keep you lovely folks in the loop. The finished project is for a competition so I’m not posting all the details on that here (yet), but here is one of the pieces of it.

For most of us handspun yarn is handspun yarn and needs no further documentation. “I spun this” is impressive enough. AND IT SHOULD BE. I’m just the batshit Lady of the Tangleweb region of the Land of Extra and have no idea how to tell the scope creep imp to buzz off. Therefore I decided to see if I could recreate the most identical to extant yarn possible, using only tools available to an iron age textile artist.

Originally I was just going to spin with my extant spindle whorl that was dug out of the ground in the Ukraine and dated to roughly 850-900CE. That’s within 50 years of when I say my persona is, and from a region we know Saxon England had contact with at that time by virtue of both being the hot spots to go a Viking. So it’s reasonable to assume my little spindle whorl is comparable to those Aethelflied would have had access to. If not, it’s still an extant whorl, not a reproduction.

Then I thought, if I’m using the extant whorl I need to use an appropriate breed of sheep. And if I’m doing that then I should make sure I get it raw so I can process it correctly. So I bought an Icelandic fleece, rinsed it in a stream, picked the VM out, and proceeded to separate the top from under coats using wool combs.

NOW  I can start spinning.

First I combed the top coat so I could spin them in a worsted style. Namely all the fibers going the same direction. This is consistent with records of later period English woolens and textiles from finds in Greenland and Birka to the same era I’m attempting to recreate. On the spindle spinning like this produced a very fine, very smooth, very hard, yarn that I think will stand up just fine to being warp threads.

 

On the wheel… well not so much. I couldn’t generate enough twist on the wheel to hold the top coat yarn together. Trying to set the take up as low as possible, to generate enough twist, just ended up with the yarn plying back on itself and twisting too much fiber into the yarn. Trying to set the take up faster just meant the yarn didn’t get enough twist and just kept pulling apart. Could just be my own inability to properly spin with a wheel, but there are also English records about the time of the spinning wheel’s invention stating it could only be used for weft yarns, as the warp yarns were not strong enough.

The weft yarn was produced out of the fluffy undercoat that was carded and spun woolen style (all the fibers laying all willy nilly). This makes a softer, fluffier, and warmer yarn that worsted style spinning. The mixed spin style and fiber prep is referenced in a couple of different finds, namely Greenland, Birka, and Osberg. There are also references to finished fabrics being teased, or fulled, to raise a nap. That’s basically felting. Worsted yarns are much Much harder to felt than woolen spun. So for fulling to be a common practice the weft, in the very least, should be spun woolen style.

My first attempt resulted in yarn that was too thick. Not because of any tool issues, just because my hands are dumb some times. I should have gotten a yarn roughly 14-16 wraps per inch, and ended up with a yarn closer to 8 after I’d plyed it. Stubbornly I dyed it and tried to convince myself it was fine since the point of the project was to use the tools, and it was getting fulled anyway, so no one would know.

I would know.

I’m respinning my weft and getting much closer to what I wanted.

For the sake of comparison I also spun some of the undercoat on the wheel, using the same prep as I did for spindle spinning. It is a lumpy bumpy mess when I try to spin as fine as I need. I ran into the same take up vs twist issues as I did with the longer top coat. Only the undercoat is so fine and short that setting a higher take up just ripped the fiber out of my hands faster than I could add more fluff. It was easier than working with the top coat, but I did need to create a much thicker yarn to make it work.

My conclusions here are that, at least for me, I can not substitute wheel spun yarn for spindle spun if I am aiming for historical cloth. The difference, in my own handspinning, is painfully apparent.

Fleece to White Belt: Post the forth (and final)

AKA: Crap I forgot to finish documenting this.

After combing comes spinning. I used soap stone bottom whirl spindle I picked up at Pennsic this year. My goal was to aim for 1mm singles since the documentation I’ve read references thread counts of 10 threads per cm or 1mm wide.

Now I will admit to a period weaving sin here. Everything I’ve read indicates that weaving would have been done with singles. As this was my first attempt at weaving with just my handspun I didn’t quite trust my singles enough to stand up to the abuse weaving puts yarn through. So I plyed. Next time I’ll do just singles since my warp never broke or even threatened to while I was weaving with it

Plyed warp yarn (yes that’s 2 ply) and the finished ball of warp.

The weft I spun using the fluffy carded under coat of the icelandic fleece. This… did not go well. My weft kept snapping and falling apart even though I’d spun it just as tightly as my warp. I’m not sure I hold with the idea that fabric in 10th century Iceland was woven with an over coat warp and under coat weft. Not discounting it mind you, since I’m not willing to rule out lack of skill on my part, but still giving the notion a lot of side eye.

ANYWAY! Because I plyed the yarn I only did a 12 card wide piece of tablet weaving since I still wanted the over all piece to be roughly one inch wide.

 

 

And I was right on the money with my finished width. Proving once again, that my intuition for my own thread craft is better than that lying “math” thing. Note: I do know that one day refusing to swatch and/or do math is going to bite me. However until that day happens? Math and I are passing acquaintances.

I finished this off by ironing it with the highest heat setting as well as the highest steam to mimic finishing with a smoothing stone. I could have borrowed one, but I was so excited to get this off the loom and finished that I got a bit impatient. The ends were not fringed, but were hemmed with a bone needle and some of the loom waste left from the warp.

The finished dimensions of the belt were 1in wide by 5.5ft long and it is (as far as I know) well loved by the recipient. I have exactly one picture of the finished belt:

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Twill: Attempt the first

Is this thing still on? Hi guys, I know I know, it’s been a while since I posted. But, life happened. Today we’re going to talk about twill. Namely the twill I am making for a specific project.

The project itself is to prove a point: namely that seams sewn with period style bone needles are nearly indistinguishable from seams sewn with a modern steel needle in terms of stitch length. To do this I am weaving fabric and sewing myself a hood where half the seams are sewn with a bone needle and half are sewn with a modern steel needle. I’ll be using different colored thread for the steel vs bone seams, but only I will know which is which. The goal is to have people try to guess which is which and also to check things like long term seam durability and relative stress on the fabric as it ages. Now I could use a commercial fabric and make the WAY faster and easier on myself, but this is me and why on earth would I do that?

Lets begin with some specs: I’m making a 2×2 twill (to explain for non weavers that means each weft thread goes over two warp threads then under the next two in ultimately a diagonal pattern. Don’t worry, I’ll post pictures further down. You’ve seen 2×2 twill, you just may not have known the name.) This produces a nice strong fabric with a bit of bias stretch. Also it’s pretty and super popular in period from what we can tell.

I want 2 yards (64 inches) of 12 inch wide fabric. So here’s the math to get there:

Warp: 

I first I need to figure out what my wpi (wraps per inch) of my warp thread is, then convert that into epi (ends per inch) for weaving. The good news is the math for that is super simple. Divide the wpi in half to get a rough idea of the epi. My yarn was 14 wpi, which means it’s going to be roughly 7 epi. NOTE: This is a super coarse gauge. This is outer wear fabric. I should be aiming for 10 or so ends per cm or 25 epi. However I am using stash wool for this and refuse to feel ashamed.

So we need to multiply our epi (7) with how wide we want the fabric (12in) to get 84. BUT that doesn’t account for draw in (when your weft pulls your warp slightly in ward) so you should do a test swatch to see what percentage of draw in you have to enough additional warp threads to get you to what you want. I did not do this and simply doubled the thread count because I am both lazy and paranoid. So yes, I warped 168 threads.

But how long should they be? Inventive Weaving On A Little Loom (Syne Mitchell, 2015, Story Publishing) suggests adding 20% to the length to account for loom waste and take up. That means 2.2 yards or 76.8 inches. I like round numbers so went to 77 inches.

Because I’m doing a two colored warp, half grey handspun I had lying around and half white commercial yarn of unknown providence I needed 84 grey strands of 77 inches long and 84 white strands of 77 inches.

Formulas for your edification:

(wpi/2)x(width + draw in %) = number of warp threads.

length + 20% = length of warp threads

Weft:

Weft math is simple. This is a balanced fabric which means my weft is the same epi as my warp. So 7, multiplied by 12 means 84 inches of weft to do one inch of fabric, times 64 = 5376 inches divided by 32 = 168 yards of weft. Notice how I didn’t need to add in the loom waste or take up or draw in to this math. Why? There’s no warp there.

Formula for your edification:

((wpi/2) x width x length)/32 = weft yardage.

Now lets actually warp the loom! One day I’ll figure out how to love warping. That day is not today. Warping alone is an exercise in both patience and self hatred. I know there are easier ways to warp, I know there are better ways to warp. I, however, live with animals who are jerks about mama’s string based hobbies and therefore Measures Must Be Taken. Which means I warp funny. Trust me guys, if you want to weave please look online and in any of the lovely print books that illustrate better ways. Don’t do what I do.

To prove how annoying this is, I present: How Aethelfied Warps, a photo tutorial.

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This is the empty back beam. Yes, it is in fact a size 15 knitting needle. I realized the loom I’m borrowing had no beams at 10pm and I couldn’t find any dowels. There’s a tiny rubberband keeping everything from slipping off the tip.

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The warp tied on to the back beam in packs of 4, with all the length chained up to keep it from getting tangled.

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Next we unchain one bundle at a time, put each thread through it’s heddle and dent in the reed then immediately rechain to keep everything in order.

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Tie everything to the front beam

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Tension the back beam. Now we’re warped. This whole process took 14 hours over 2 days. Yes I took breaks, but still. Warping takes a long time. But! Now we’re ready to weave!

As you may notice from the picture above this is a 4 harness table loom. This makes weaving twill super simple. The pattern repeat is such:

1+2 up 3+4 down.

2+3 up 1+4 down

3+4 up 1+2 down

1+4 up 2+3 down.

That produces fabric that looks like this:

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Look familiar?

This piece is exactly 12 inches wide (I win!) so lets take a look at my thread count

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This should be 7. It’s 17. WTF?

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This should also be 7. It’s 15. I don’t even.

Let this just go to show that math and I are not friends, but my intuition is generally correct. Glad I doubled my warp. At least this is now on the coarse end of period fabric?

Fleece to White Belt: Post the First

So Magnus (yes the same Magnus I made the haversack and wrote the boast for) contacted me about a week ago and asked if I would be willing to weave him a belt to fight in. He was, I’m sure, expecting me to use commercial yarn and just knock out a tabby woven belt.

He’s still learning about me dears, don’t laugh too hard.

Given that I’m, well, me I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to process from raw fleece using as close to period tools and techniques as I can manage. His persona is close enough to mine that I can make an argument that the tools that are right for my persona in terms of spindle weight and materials would also be right for his, and that the process would be similar enough that I’m not going to be offensively wrong.

This is my project outline post, next post will be a picture heavy post regarding how I’m processing the fleece to get it ready to spin.

Project outline: Warning, Math.

I’m aiming for a finished length of 6 feet, that’s roughly an inch wide. According to what I’ve read so far a decent gauge to aim for is roughly 10 threads per cm or 25 threads an inch. So 25 cards wide will give me just over an inch wide belt (there’s a lot of ish here guys), that also gives me the nice round number of 100 warp threads (25 cards x 4 holes per card).

To account for take up and loom waste I’m warping 8 feet. If I have extra warp I’ll do a knotted fringe at the end.

So math for the warp:. 8 feet x 25 cards x 4 holes each = 800 feet x 2 in order to make 2 ply yarn = 1600 feet of singles. Or 534 yards. Well 533.3333 but we like whole yards.

In order to meet my goal of 25 threads per inch I’m aiming for 13 threads per inch in the weft (to account for the warp passing between each beat of the weft. Yes I’m fudging what counts as threads per inch but I can only spin so fine right now people.) That means I need 13 inches of weft to go 1 inch of warp. Or expressed another way 13 feet of weft for every foot I want to weave.

Math for weft: 13 x 8 = 104 feet or 35 yards. Well for accuracy sake it’s actually 34.6666 yards. But round numbers here people. Multiply that by 2 in order to make two ply and that gets us to 70 yards of warp.

Total yardage needed for a 6 foot long belt: 70 + 534 = 604 yards of yarn spun finer than lace weight. Or (because I’ve been giving feet for everything else) 1812 feet of yarn. For a 6 foot belt.

Process:

1.Buy icelandic fleece. Why icelandic? Because it’s got both the longer hair (that I want for the smooth, strong, yarn for this project) and the fluffy and warm under coat (which I will card and use to make Other Things). Why buy? Because I live in an apartment my loves and if I tried to buy a sheep my beloved Scarp would kill me in my sleep. Then eat said sheep. It’d be a justified killing.

2. Wash fleece. This is the step that is not being done in a documentable manner.  I don’t own the sheep so can’t run it though a stream and I’m NOT using urine to get through the lanolin. I’m cheating and using my bathtub and dish soap. I have limits. Those limits are fermenting pee for the sake of fleece cleaning. There’s the line. Right there.

3. Comb fleece. Remember the first post about cord, where I talked about the difference between worsted and woolen spinning? For this we again want the smooth and compact worsted type of yarn. That means I get to keep using the Death Combs.

4. Spin wool. I have a bottom whorl, soapstone spindle that I picked up at Pennsic. I forgot the actual weight on it, but it is an appropriate weight, style, and materials spindle for my persona. Therefore arguable for Magnus’s.

5. Actually weave the yarn. I’m card weaving this. Because it’s going to be a white on white pattern I’m limited in what I can actually document. Most card weaving I’ve seen tends to be colored. But colored defeats the purpose of a white belt. I think I’m going to just do a simple diamonds/lozenge pattern. I have time before I get to this step.

6. Polish the belt. Yes polish. I’m not fulling this, I’m hoping to spin and weave tightly enough to not have to. I’ve found references to using a polished rock or chunk of glass, heated up in hot water, to essentially iron fabric. I’m thinking of picking up a large glass paperweight and experimenting with finishing fabric off with it. In theory it’ll iron it smooth and add some shine/luster to the finished project. I mean, I could just use my actual modern iron, but if I’m going through all this work to get here it’d be a shame to stumble at the finish line.

Cord

This, my darling beloveds, is the process of making wool cordage. My laurel uses cord to wrap the grips of his fencing swords before applying a layer of leather over it. This is arguably a period process and so I got it into my head one day that I was going to help.

By making him handspun cord. Because I am a crazy person.

I decided to make worsted spun singles, over ply them to make them as smooth and strong as possible, and the either lucet or loop cord them. Tutorials for both those processes will come at a later date. I decided to start this process with some locks of mystery long wool I have. Namely? This:

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I pull out the individual locks and comb them to keep the fibers all running in the same direction. This is what makes it worsted spinning rather than woolen (which is what you get when you card wool and let the fibers run all willy-nilly). Combing sounds so quaint and gentle doesn’t it? Like softly running your fingers through someone’s hair, or lovingly brushing out a cat.

These? Are wool combs.

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Let that be a lesson not to anger fiber artists.

MOVING ON.

The next step is to take the combed out locks and spin them, being careful to keep the fibers all going in the same direction and the yarn as tightly spun with a little air and as few nepps as possible.

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Then you ply your singles:

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(yes that is 2 ply. Singles were about the diameter of sewing thread)

Then comes the actual cord making. I had initially opted to use a lucet. However this? Was a slow pain in the butt and not an effective use of handspun. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy lucting, it’s fun and makes a sturdy cord. However it also makes a square cord. This doesn’t make for very good sword grip texture as I think it would end up flattening out and just not working as intended. You really do need a round cord in order to get the proper ridges. So looped cord worked a lot better.

However? I am not very bright and did not take a picture of either the process of making the looped cord OR THE FINISHED CORD. So have a picture of me trying to lucet this.

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(yes my lucet is a dragon. Don’t judge.)

Project list 8/30/2016

I’ve been quiet around here because I’ve been busy in real life land. Skarp and I are moving at the end of next month which means we should be packing and cleaning. I melt down in overly stressful situations (like my whole home being packed up to move) and I need distraction projects. To that end, here is a list and descriptions of my current sanity projects:

  1. Wrist cuffs. 

I have a theory that I’m trying out.

I found a set of clasps at Pennsic for closing the cuff of a sleeve. This is clever as most of the extant tunics/under dresses that I’ve seen references to don’t have tapered sleeves. At least for the time period I’m looking at (9-11th century Northern European). I was told these clasps were based on a Saxon grave find that I’m still trying to document on my own. But! It was explained to me that these would be sewn on to the sleeve to hold the pleating in place.

That seems… wrong. Why would you sew metal to what amounts to your underwear? Why would you invest in a set of clasps for every under dress or tunic you own? How would you keep the metal from getting bent/broken/staining your garments during washing? All these questions become moot if you sew the clasps too a removable cuff and basically make little wrist belts. It also solves the problem of wearing out expensive and precious trim by sewing it on and then picking the stitches out to sew it on to something else.

To test out whether this would be useful or annoying to wear I’m making a set. By “making a set” I mean I’m spinning some lovely deep blue indigo dyed wool into a bit lighter than modern lace weight, which will put me on the thicker end of period weaving yarns. I’m then weaving it into as close to a diamond twill pattern as I can manage using cards rather than a heddled loom (because I have the former and lack the latter), and couching my badge on them in honest to gods silver and gold thread. Even if they’re annoying as heck to wear, they’ll be pretty drat it.

2. Over Dress

I was gifted some lovely green and gold linen a couple months back. My colors are green, gold, and white. I am going to make myself a gold saxon style dress, with green edging at the cuffs, collar, and hem, and applique my hedgehog on it in green. I’m also going to attach said hedgehog and green edging with white blanket stitch and probably run white herringbone stitch along the seams, as I am wont to do. But! I am doing all of this with handspun linen thread and using only period tools. Because I want to prove it’s possible to use bone needles on tightly woven modern fabrics WITHOUT breaking your needle or going insane.

3. Under dress

This is structurally sewn. I just need to hem it and finish the seams. I’m going to use bone needles from here on out since I’ve decided that unless I’m in a rush those are the tools I’m going to use on all my garb going forward.

A quick note:

When I say ‘spinning’ I am not referring to a wheel (although I have one) or modern spindles. I bought a soap stone bottom whirl spindle at Pennsic that’s an appropriate weight and size for my persona. For the sake of accuracy I’m spinning my weaving yarn for the wrist cuffs and my sewing thread for my over dress on this. So far I’ve learned that this thing really wants to be supported not suspended, otherwise it’s not heavy enough to maintain it’s rotation without a decent sized cop of yarn on it already.

Sewing With Period Tools

The following are just my observations, your mileage may vary.

When I first expressed an interest in trying to sew with period tools (specifically brass pins, and needles made of bone, brass, or hawthorn) most of the reactions I got were negative. Not negative in the “oh dear gods woman don’t do it” but skeptical as to how effective the tools would be vs modern steel needles and pins.

The general consensus is that, while such tools are period, they aren’t worth the hassle and frankly they’re too brittle or soft or thick to be very effective anyway. The holes they’d rip in the fabric would look huge compared to modern needles, and they’d keep breaking in the middle of a project, and they’re only good for loosely woven fabrics. To that I say: you’re probably thinking of and using them wrong. Don’t think of them like modern needles, think of them more like tiny awls.

When you use a modern needle it’s sharp enough that it’ll cut threads in it’s way when you push it though the fabric, and it’s strong enough that you can make several stitches at the same time when doing a basic running stitch. This makes hand sewing quick, but also puts a lot of stress on your needle, your thread, and frankly limits how tiny your stitches can be based on how thick your fabric is.

Trying to sew the same way with bone needles will cause them to break. Ask me how I know. Aethelflied: making mistakes so you don’t have to!

For bone and hawthorn (I’ll get to brass in a minute) the best method I’ve found is the single stab. Push your needle through the fabric once, pull your thread through, push your needle back up through the fabric, repeat until your seam is done. This is a little slower until you get used to doing it, but honestly I’m much happier with how my seams look.

Why does this method work when multi-stitch running stitch doesn’t? Well for starters because of how bone and hawthorn needles interact with the fabric. Unlike a modern needle which will cut threads in it’s path, these types of needles push the threads aside to pass through. This creates a large initial hole (compared to a modern needle), that closes up around your sewing thread with time and washing. It heals for lack of a better word. This puts less long term stress on your fabric and (in my experience) makes your seams less likely to rip out since you’re not damaging the weave. It also gives us a reason why the needle holes we see on extant garments are so tiny compared to the needles we know they had at hand.

Sewing this way also puts less stress on your needle itself since it’s only going in one direction and does not have ripples of fabric trying to bend or snap it. It also puts less stress on your sewing thread since it’s only passing through the fabric once in a single pull. This makes this method wonderfully suited for handspun thread since you can afford to be a bit more finicky/careful pulling your thread through your fabric you’re less likely to snag and snap your thread.

This also allows us to create the tiny stitches we see in period that (I was told) could not be accomplished with bone and hawthorn needles because they were too thick/brittle. Because you’re not limited by how much of your needle is already caught up in the thickness of the fabric when you go to create another stitch you’re free to space your stitches as close together as you’d like. I’ve seen documention (in an article on irish bog finds, specifically mentioning hats, that I did not bookmark but have been trying to track down for the last two years) of stitches being as close together as 3mm. Stab-stitch method makes that possible with period needles.

What about brass needles? Well to be perfectly honest I only have one and it’s my least favorite to work with of the period needles I own. Brass is soft, so I can only use it when it’s either cold or I’m in air conditioning. Even then I need to take frequent breaks so the heat of my hands doesn’t bend the needle more than it already is. That being said brass is so much better for delicate fabrics like very light weight silk because it is so much finer than bone or hawthorn. It doesn’t *quite* function like a modern steel needle, and using it like one will bend and distort it (ask me how I know), so you still want to use the stab-stitch method, but it’s almost as fine as a modern needle so it is less likely to create pulls and snags in your delicate fabrics.

A note on working with brass in general: I use brass sewing pins when I’m hand sewing at events because modern pins are glaringly anachronistic to me if I’m the one using them, not a snobbery thing, not going to judge anyone else for their modern pins, but I judge me. BUT! Keep your fabric dry as best you can if you’re working with brass. It will patina. That means lots of little green dots which, depending on your fabric, may be difficult to remove. Pin a small section at a time, especially if it’s humid, and don’t leave your pins in your garment if you’re not actively working on it and it can be avoided.

Why bother with this at all when modern hand sewing tools work faster, are easier to acquire, and no one can tell what you used when you’re wearing the finished garment? For me the joy of making garb is accuracy. I feel like I’m a horrible cheater head when I use a sewing machine, and frankly I’m starting to feel that way about steel pins and needles. Again, this is just for my garb. I’ll sewing my husband garb on a machine, serge the seams, and be perfectly happy with it. I see garb people have machine stitched and am in awe that they made their own clothes and proud of them for either sewing it or making period style garb with their very own money. But for me? For me I want to make it as correct as I can. Right down to the bits no one knows but me.

 

Short Update

Blog’s been quiet. Mostly because I’ve been doing more with my mundane life than with anything SCA related. So here is just a brief list of what I’ve been up to:

Spinning. I teach spinning with a local fiber shop and had a student there. I’m also spinning in order to naalbind Scarp a hat. More on that when the yarn is finished. There will be a tutorial.

Accessibility/disability stuff. I’m working as accessibility porter for a major local event and that required some research before I went to see the site on Sunday. I still need to do a proper write up for the website. I just haven’t yet.

Maldon and I aren’t on speaking terms at the moment. We may be friends again shortly. But right now I can’t even look at it without wanting to light the world on fire.