Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Is it not Friday yet?

Somehow, as I try to tie up all the odds and ends left to tie up before our holidays, my brain has gone pretty empty in regards to blog inspiration.

So I do just as any other blogger lacking inspiration does: I post a video.

Have some medieval helpdesk!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Light and Darkness on Historical Markets

I was asked recently about my electricity needs for my market stall - for lighting in the evening hours. My electricity needs are described in a single word: None.

I have a very easy policy for late-night market hours. Evening or even night market hours are a phenomenon that seems to become quite common these days on events, especially on events connected to a town anniversary festival.
My policy is that when dusk comes upon the market area, I am slowly packing up the small stuff, and when dusk is fully come, I close my shop. Nobody is going to see anything in my market stall anyways in the dark hours, except if I install a floodlight contraption (which will not fit into my tiny little TGV and aside from this is not really historical). There's just no sense to shop for plant-dyed threads in the darkness, and there's no way anyone will be able to appreciate the gossamer-fine hairnets and the delicately manufactured needles and needle-cases in the evening hours.

And my shop is not the only one thus affected - which is why evening- and night-hour markets are one of my (albeit lighter) pet peeves. Would you shop for something at night? When you can't discern its details, or properly search for flaws? I cannot believe that back in the Middle Ages somebody would have shopped for something in the evening hours unless driven by dire need. And in all the years that I visited markets, I have never bought anything after dusk (except food or drink, of course). I have looked around and chatted with people, and I have said things like "oh, that's where his/her stall is, I'll have to come back tomorrow and have a look".

I can just see no reason at all to shop at night, and I think that it doesn't fit in with a "historical market" scheme. A few oil-lamps or lanterns are nice and add to the atmosphere, but will never give off enough light to properly shop by.  With lighting by oil lamps or lanterns also come the problems with fuel spills and other, flame-related, hazards. Thus, a lot of the late-hour stalls have electrical light installed. That is more or less hidden and more or less made to look like lantern light, but it is still electrical lighting and thus out of place in an otherwise historical stall. I refuse to buy something under electrical lighting in both cases: When it looks like lantern-light (because then it's too dark for my taste to see and properly appreciate the wares) and when it looks like a floodlight installation gone astray (because this just glaringly stands out of the historical setting so much it hurts).

I'm fine with food and drinks stalls, I like to sit somewhere and see people walk by, or perform something, or listen to some musician on the square and have a little chat with friends. And I can understand if incense or lanterns are sold after dark. But all the rest? Even if it is a merchant or craftsperson I know and trust, I want to see the things I'm about to buy in daylight to fully appreciate them. So why do we need to transfer our modern late shopping hours to a historical market anyway? Is it our modern taste for convenience? Is there anybody really shopping at night, spending money enough to make it worth opening shop for so long? Or do the merchants just stand around and look decoratively with their stalls open and lit?

Monday, 28 June 2010

Soon. Ah, so soon.

Soon (read: at the end of this week) this blog will go on a several-week summer-induced break - we are having a bit of a holiday, and then I'm off to do some yummy and exciting textile-y things. And I'm looking forward to both parts of this summer blog break very much!

As to the work part after the relaxing part, first there's the workshop and "Spectaculum" in Friesach, and afterwards I'm travelling to Vienna for an exhilarating project: A reproduction of some of the Hallstatt woven bands. For that, the team doing the reconstruction is actually starting from scratch, with the raw wool, and everything will be prepared and spun using proper historical implements. That means several kilometres spun on handspindles all together, and in really fine quality: The thread used in one of the bands is plied yarn with a thickness of about 0,2-0,3 mm. I am very excited about this and looking forward to doing a lot of ultra-thin spinning and then some plying - it's wonderful to be part of that work!

The whole reconstruction work is itself part of a large project called DressID, by the way - with the aim (beside others) to show the key position of dress for identity. DressID is also another try to get researchers from all over Europe together and give them the opportunity to exchange knowledge and network a bit.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Storing (and Winding) Thread part three

In the discussion about thread storage and the bobbin find from London, Suse said
Tony said the end maybe looks a little bit like any technical adapter, but that´s really speculative ;-)
And this made me remember again a post on the Medieval Silkwork blog, where there are two pictures showing some sort of spooling/thread winding concoction. I have been idly speculating about this in relation to the London bobbin before, but now it makes even more sense to me.

In a normal household, even where a lot of sewing is done, the amount of thread needed is not too huge to wind by hand. Yes, of course it is faster to use a bobbin-winder or a ball-winder, but you could also wind your threads in the evening when it's too dark for other work or hand it to one of the household children to wind. For some techniques, it might not be necessary at all to re-wind your thread from the skein into some other form first, but you can take what you need from the skein directly and then re-store the rest. Even knitting is possible from an unwound skein.

But there are situations when this is just not practicable, and where some faster method of winding is needed - like in readying thread for the shuttles while weaving. And that is also the context in which the winding gadgets (which these things clearly are) are shown, in a weaver's workshop.

And this leads me to thinking that maybe the ends of the London find thing might be an adapter of some sort after all - and not a residue from turning it on a lathe (an interpretation I heard from a wood-turner once) or a whim of the maker. Maybe it was used on a winding contraption in the context of a weaving workshop?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Storing Thread - more thoughts.

First of all, thank you to all you commenters who shared their method of storing thread!
Seems that I am not uncommon in my approach to re-wind only some of the threads, and on different things.

One fact that I have found is that some threads are better suited to being wound on a simple stick or paper roll or similar item with no flanges at the ends, while other threads still have a lot of "spring" in them (usually because they were overtwisted slightly during the manufacturing process) and tend to spring off the smooth thread holders. Flat thread winders or bobbins/spools with flanges are definitely the better choice for such pieces.

If speculation is allowed, I can imagine thread winders made from parchment, too (and I am planning to make some to try): parchment is light-weight, smaller bits of it will accumulate anyways when cutting parchment sheets for book pages out of the whole parchment skin, and it should be very well suited for making thread-winders. Small bones might also have been used, with the thicker joint ends making for a more secure storage of threads even of the "springier" sort. Storing threads on the spindle (especially just until the second batch for plying has been spun) also makes a lot of sense to me.

So maybe lathe-turned bobbins are that rarely found because there really weren't many of them in use - people preferring to use stuff that was handy, or less hard to get and less expensive. Scraps of parchment, slivers of wood, short bits of smooth twigs, small bones, bits of reed, spindle sticks, or simply little balls of thread with or without something as a core. I know that if I need to wind some thread on something today, I'll just use whatever useable thing I can grab at once, so I've torn off some paper from chocolate wrappers, folded that and used it as a winding core more than once. Seen this way, it sort of makes sense to me to just use cheap, available things that do not scream "thread storage item" to the archaeologist and save the money available for textile tools to invest in things not found or substituted as easily. And as far as I see, the habit of using precious, shiny and expensive matching sets of needlework items only comes up much later - so representation of personal affluence by having precious thread storage items was probably not done in the middle ages.

Hm. Maybe I should have some nice roasted chicken soon and keep those practical little bones...

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


I had a collossal lot of fun during the last two days - so much fun that I enjoyed a sleep-in this morning, because laughing a lot in between work means very, very exhausting days. And all that because - can you believe it? - I am going to be on TV.

On Monday morning, four people came: The reporter, the camerawoman, the sound-and-light technician and the assistant. They came and brought a mini-bus full of equipment and a general plan on what to shoot and how to proceed; these were mostly things the reporter and I had talked about and pre-planned on the phone during the weeks before.

I think about everybody knows that shooting for a film production will always take much, much longer than the finished film as it runs on the screen. And everybody who has ever tried to do something like a mini film or documentary will have an even better insight into this. But the amateur video and a full-fledged TV report are two very different creatures.
It starts with having the eye for selecting, carefully, a spot as background for the bit to be filmed. We've been living here for a few months, but I would not have thought of choosing the spots that the film team chose - and chose very, very well!  Then everything needs to be arranged and adjusted: the camera on its tripod, the lighting, the chair is placed just so. Then the fine-tuning begins, where all the lights are adjusted again and again to tweak lighting and colour - until everybody is satisfied. And then the little bit for the film is shot, and depending on how it went, shot again (and maybe again, until it went well enough). And then selecting and arranging and fine-tuning for the next bit begins.

I had the feeling that it all went quite smoothly and very well altogether, and it took us one and a half days to film a good hour and a half's worth of material. The finished bit in the film will be about ten minutes, if everything goes as planned. One and a half days of work for ten minutes of film... I find that quite impressive. Gives you another insight into why a film is so expensive, too - after all, you need four people just for a little documentary shoot.

I was happy that the things I had to do were not far out of the usual demonstrations and explanations I do at any medieval event or at a conference. I got to explain the spinning experiment, which meant a lot to me; show some textile work and talk about the Textile Forum, and all those topics I have already shown and done so often that it felt almost just like telling another colleague or showing another visitor.
And loading the car with equipment for a market to show that side aspect of the job? It was so easy for me to fall into "packing mode", carrying all the things and meanwhile planning about what to get next and where to stow it in the car that it was possible to really mostly ignore the camera. So between joking with the team and doing things that I have done so often in public, I soon felt quite at ease.

But the best part of the experience for me was working together with the crew. The team was very, very nice and seemed to be as fond of weird jokes and bad puns as I am, so we laughed a lot, and I was quite sad to see them pack up and go once we had finished. And I did enjoy a lot to see the team at work, since obviously they did like each other, love their job, were happy to get the pictures right and best they could be, and they worked very well together with lots of friendly banter - I'd call it craftspersonship at its best.*
And this is always wonderful to see, and even better if you can feel like a part of such a team for a short while, which was my pleasure and privilege during the last two days.

* I know that strictly and technically speaking, neither artists nor camerafolk are craftspersons - but for me, craftspersonship is closely collected to a special kind of joy and pride in your own work, and joy and pride in doing it well. And to me personally, this attitude is more important for the definition of craftsperson than whether the finished piece is a very good show, a bit of film or an actual tangible object.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Storing Thread

Yesterday's post and Cathy's link to little thread winders make me think about all the different ways to store and organise different threads.
There's flat thread winders; there's round or differently-shaped bobbins, there are bobbins with or without "stoppers" at the ends. Some modern embroiderers store their threads by hanging them from a ring or into a hole in a card with lark's head knot, pulling out one piece at a time.

Myself, I have a wild mixture of things - brown paper rolls as spools, a few spindles with the thread still on them, some lathe-turned bobbins, a couple of thread winders from wood or cardboard, and even some totally non-historical plastic bobbins (those the thread came on when I bought it). I store most of this odd assortment in a cloth-covered box to keep the individual thread keepers from jumbling about too much; since the box does get tilted from time to time, though, of course they get disordered after a while. (My rummaging around in the quite-full box probably does not help with keeping it orderly either.) Neither this box nor the assortment of threads and thread holders in it are really very historical, so I tend to keep the box closed and out of sight - I only take out the bobbin or so that I need and either display it (if it is on a historically acceptable bobbin/winder) or hide it somewhere so I can get at it easily.

It would be nice to have all threads on historically accurate holders - but I can't see this coming up soon; there are too many other, more important and urgent projects for me than re-winding many, many metres of thread onto different holders.

Those of you doing Living History - how do you handle your threads?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Oh those pesky sources.

This weekend, an e-mail with a research-related question fluttered into my inbox:
Some months ago, I was doing websearch on nalbinding and ran across a blog entry about ancient scrivner tools that actually may have been misidentified nalbinding needles.

Unfortunately, the author of the mail can't find it anymore and thus asked if it might have been on my blog. Where it is not (or at least I can't remember writing it at all, which usually means I never did write it). But the Internet is large and full of knowledge - any of you know this article and maybe even where it is?

And while I'm blegging: Recently, historical spools and bobbins for thread have come up again and again as a topic, and I remember that I had already taken one foray into the library to look for some more examples - but these little buggers seem to be hard to find. The one that is cited (and reproduced) most often is the spool from London, and I know that there are some thread spools, including simple reed cutoffs, in the finds from Kempten. But apart from that? There's only little mention of "possible bobbins" or so in most of the publications that readily come to mind. Have I missed the compendium of thread spools and bobbins? Or is there really so little of these small helpful things out there?

Friday, 18 June 2010

The World is getting better, I'm sure.

At least I get the feeling that awareness of the techniques that are in danger of extinction is growing, and I think that is the first step to do something against that extinction.

Why I have that feeling? I'm finding more and more mentions of "plant-dyed" or "naturally dyed" fabrics and yarns when I'm looking around. And just yesterday, I stumbled over this beautiful video on the Internet:

Go Natural Colours!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Spinning Experiment Analysis, continued...

I am fully occupied with sorting through some stuff here, trying to stow tools and materials in a better way than before, getting my textile technique demonstration projects maintenanced and ready to show things again, plus planning for and working on some stealth projects.

And I have one non-stealth project to blog about, too: My "Fehlerschautafeln" have arrived! These are rectangular black cardstock boards with slits punched into each of the long sides. Using these slits, thread can be wound onto the card and then sits in exactly parallel lines. And then it's very easy to get an impression of how evenly spun the thread is, if it is smooth or rather fluffy on its surface, if there are any thick blobs of fibre or badly twisted bits, and so on. Now I just have to decide how to handle all the thread samples with their vastly different lengths - should I start winding about five metres in, where possible? And if yes, from the beginning or from the end? Or should I try to get the middle section of each thread? Going "x metres in" would be much easier to accomplish, but I am willing to do the "more work" approach if there is a good reason for it; however, the method has to be the same for all the samples (except the utterly short ones where I'll use an alternative method of determining where to start).
I can wind about 3,5 metres on each of the boards; most of the spinners made between 30 and 40 metres of thread during the one hour spinnng time. 3,5 metres would thus correspond to about 6 minutes of spinning time.

Now, if you spin for two hours, and there's a sample from hour one and from hour two - when in each hour would you suspect are the most representative six minutes to pick?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

New Embroidery book!

A new book about embroidery is scheduled to come out in October this year. The German-language book is called "Europäische Stickereien 1250-1650" and shows the pieces of the Textile Museum Krefeld's collection from said time. Going from these as base, the author is giving a cultural history of embroidery and looks at production tools, materials, workshops and trade of embroidered textiles. With 49,90 Euro, the book is very fairly priced - and I will be sure to get myself a copy!

For more info about the book, you can find it in this title database (I found it on page 3 of 3), or you can have a look at it on the publisher's homepage, where you can also order it already, with free shipping inside Germany.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


During the weekend, we had one really strong gust of wind that lifted a few of the tents on the place slightly off the ground. Now an A-frame tent is not so very light, so it does take a strong wind to set it flying, and usually  our tents are securely anchored to the ground in addition to their structural weight. However, in Hanau, the tents we had were not fastened to the ground properly.

Why? Because the little town square where we had set up is paved with cobblestones - but the spaces between the stones are sealed with concrete. And that means most of our normal tent constructions, relying on pegs to keep the structure up, will not stand or stand badly there. Just like we had done last year, we wondered again why anybody would want to seal cobblestone paving like that, and like last year there was a lot of adjustment and make-it-work-somehow and shifting the places to set up tents because things would not work out as planned, and accordingly lots of swearwords. But this year, a nice lady that was born in Hanau told me why exactly we had all those problems: because of fashion.

In the 1950s and 60s, modern shoes for ladies featured stiletto heels. And on that cobblestone pavement of the town square, necessarily also crossed by fashionable ladies, that led to broken-off heels galore - because the heels, not fatter than the tent pegs or thick nails that we would have loved to use, would fit into the gaps between the stones. And if you wedge a stiletto heel into pavement well and tight, it will most probably break off.

The solution? Seal the gaps with concrete. Problem solved. Fashion influences even city architecture.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Back home.

I came back late from the weekend in Hanau, which was nice weatherwise - spots of windy weather and rain broke the sunny weekend weather, but nothing too bad except for one really bad gust of wind that sent stuff flying all over our little market space.

Public interest in the market was, sadly, not as good as last year - at least not in the corner that I was in. Still, I had some very nice and interesting chats with visitors and inbetween nice and fun chats with the colleagues.

And of course I did not get a new hairnet started. Not because I wasn't trying - but because I used a not so suitable thread for the foundation loop; together with the extremely fine silk that I am using for the netting, that led to problems when working the second row, since the knots on the foundation loop were not sliding easily enough. In the end, I abandoned the started net after about an hour or so of work and will start again with a different thread as foundation loop - and this time, inside in quiet and most importantly without wind...

Instead, I worked on all kinds of other stuff after abandoning the net project - a little bit of goldwork, a little bit of sewing, some finishing work on weaving tablets, a bit of mending of a broken seam and a little fingerloop braiding. So altogether, I had a very nice weekend with lots of little odds and ends done!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Work weekend, here I come.

The weather forecast looks mostly good for the weekend, with just a bit of rain on Saturday morning (and I'll just hope that this won't happen after all). My things are almost all packed and only wait for their transfer into the car, and then I will be on my way to Hanau.

I am usually not planning on any projects for a work weekend, but I hope to get started on a new silk hairnet - since somebody pointed out to me a while ago that the spiral is the way to go, I have planned to abandon the hairnet that I started with that is shown here due to a mistake in the cast-on loop count. So for this weekend, I hope to get started with a new, more accurate version of the net, again worked with very fine silk thread - and this time definitely worked in spirals.

Of course, if that should not be possible due to some unforeseen things, I have a few other demonstration craft pieces with me. Whatever happens, I will not be bored - and neither will the people stopping to have a look at my things!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Summer. Finally.

It finally feels as if summer has well and truly come to stay - we are having hot days, warm nights and a good measure of thunderstorms. And we still enjoy the surprises our garden supplies...

There are different amounts of all kinds of plants in the different beds, and most of them have just finished blooming or are about to start. There's some sort of reed-like or grass-like plant that blooms with a slightly purplish blue - but the blossoms open only when it rains or when a lot of dew is still around. There's a foxglove in white, a rose that is still preparing for its heyday, and a few other plants that are about to flower soon. We have an elderberry bush, and the strawberry plants also seem to do nicely and are hard at work making strawberries. In addition to these "proper" plants, we also have a lot of stuff in the garden beds that would usually be classified as "weeds" - but since they are nice, small, flowering plants that cover the ground and look okay, they stay in until something else will take their place. And there are some really, really tough and sturdy plants - the chives that grow no matter what, the dwarf thyme in the lawn that is determined to take over the rest of the lawn too and enters into battle against the trefoil and the daisies, and last but not least some lemon balm that was left in a crack between two stones and is now readjusting to a more normal place to grow.

Sturdy plants and the "it's not a weed if we like its look" approach make for very relaxed gardening, by the way...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Getting on top of the heap.

I am somehow still struggling to get the heap on my desk a little smaller. Meanwhile, some new ideas and half-finished projects are queing up in my life. Has anybody got a second pair of hands and a second brain to spare? Or tips on more efficiency? Because I think I am in the trap that I despise most: brain-lag time.

Brain-lag time are those days (or weeks, even) where nothing seems to get finished and I have the feeling that I am only dragging my feet, no matter what. All things take (seemingly) all eternity to do or I imagine that they will be no use after all, so they sit and sit around before getting tackled, and there's a bunch of additional stuff that needs to be done that is stacking up and up and up. And letting all that stacking happen is dangerous, because it might lead to that feeling of being totally overwhelmed and not able to cope with all the situation. I know that just saying "aaargh!" and burying one's head in the sand is no help at all, but sometimes it is tempting. I have learned by now that these brain-lag times are perfectly normal and just occur from time to time, but they still make me very, very nervous - especially since they have an awful sense of timing and occur whenever they are worst. (Or maybe they are always worst because of their nature? Just like there's no good time to fall ill?)

So... if you know this symptom and have any techniques that you use successfully to cope with brain-lag time, I'd be very happy to learn about them!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

It's time to spool again!

The next medieval event is coming up - I'll be away together with Nobilitas at the Lamboy-Fest in Hanau the coming weekend.

Which means... that the time has come to prepare some more gold thread for sale by winding it on spools. And to check if everything I will need at the Fest is clean and in good condition, and pack all the demonstration stuff as well as the goods to sell.

And probably buy some sturdy nails as additional tent pegs, just in case... because last year, getting pegs into the ground there was not at all easy, and the TGV definitely needs pegs or it won't stand at all. And then I hope that the weather will be fine and that the Turkish club who sold the most amazingly yummy food last year is there again!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Book Review!

My book now has a larger review out - over at It's a very positive review, so I'm very happy.

If you read German (or just want to have a look at a photo of me), you can go read it here.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The stuff you can find on the 'Net - amazing...

I find it amazing again and again - the things that can happen if you hop around on the internet.

Yesterday night, we laughed about a pun involving the Krebs Cycle (citric acid cycle). Then - by looking that one up in Wikipedia - we stumbled over a page that lists biochemistry songs. Folks! Biochemistry songs! With lyrics detailing how the Krebs cycle goes, or the respiratory cycle, or whatever! Can it get geekier than that? I wrote a few filks in my life, but I never thought of doing a science-y songtext.

Needless to say, we went to bed far later than intended. Go waste your time too: Here's the site we found yesterday, and here's a link page to lots of other science songs.
And while I'm at it, if you are planning to write a murder mystery book, here's a hint from author Parnell Hall, also wrapped in a song. With gruesome pics.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Textile Forum News

The programme and workshop programme for the Textile Forum 2010 are finally finished, and we are happy to present a very varied and interesting week. Topics for workshops range from Stone-Age Twining Techniques to Norwegian Twined Knitting and from Estonian One-Piece Shoes to Filet Netting - many fascinating possibilities to learn a technique or two that you are not yet familiar with. For the evenings, we have planned a panel discussion about the question "what makes a textile?", plus several very interesting lectures. Inbetween, there is of course plenty of time to talk about textiles and textile techniques with the other participants.

The Forum will take place from 6.-12 September 2010 at the Archeoparc Museum in South Tyrol, Italy. Conference fee for the whole week, including full board and lodgings in a two- to six-bed-bedroom (with shower and toilet ensuite), is 350 Euro; workshops cost 40 Euros (plus in some cases a few Euros for materials).
We still have a few places left, so if you would like to have a thoroughly textile week with us, go to to register - or if you know somebody who might be interested, please pass this on!