Thursday, 31 March 2011

Getting into the mood.

While I am finishing up stuff here and packing together all the stuff I am going to need during the weekend, I will just toss you a link to the V&A page about embroidery - just in case you don't know it yet.

It is here, complete with a little database of the embroidered objects they have. And I  stumbled across another thing on the V&A site: They have a youtube channel where you can watch videos about restauration and conservation work - or other informative videos. Like the stunning work for the Champlevé enamel. Do go spend some time there (so that I did not get stuck there alone)!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Things happen. Yes really.

A long time ago, when I was in school, there were subjects I did like better than physics. Or mathematics.

And then, after finishing school, I started studying medieval archaeology. Hey, that's something where you don't need maths or physics for, right? That's what I thought.

This does not hold true, though, if you do heritage conservation as your "side study" course. Because once you go out and start measuring up the building, you need to lay a basic grid to start with. And that basic grid has to be right - so there's maths to calculate the angles and, even more importantly, to calculate the accuracy of your work. (Not accurate enough, you do it again.)

And you don't need physics only if you don't want to do experiments with spindles. (Or other things, probably.) So now I'm reading up on spinning physics for spinning tops and getting tutoring from the Most Patient Husband.

Which proves, again, two points that I did learn some good way back: Physics can be totally fascinating, and there's nothing that won't come in handy somewhere for doing archaeology.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


It's foggy outside, I seem to have caught a summer flu, and I'm thinking about whether I should have stayed in bed this morning. So no proper blog post from me today, and I don't even have a nice link to give you.

So. This blog is boring today. Go have fun somewhere else. And I hope to be fitter and equipped with more content tomorrow.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Hartenstein Chess Players

The weekend before last, there was a small offiial ceremony at Hartenstein to officially "welcome" the two chess players into the museum. You can see a picture and the German article here.

There's not much else in news otherwise - the weekend was filled with other pastimes and things so that I didn't work on the embroidery frame again, and all the rest of the current projects is not finished either. So I'm picking up where I left off Friday - and I'll try to finish the frame some time today.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Oh no, she's talking about embroidery again!

Things are progressing nicely here - the sawing work for the frame is all finished, and now I need to drill holes (lots of holes) and join up the parts. And then attach a strip of fabric or a band to the rollers top and bottom so I can dress the frame.

In case you are wondering how dressing the frame works, there's a nice, detailed description on Mary Corbet's blog "Needle 'n Thread". She also gives a lot of tips, tricks and hints on embroidery technique, though it is of course modern embroidery. Mostly, the difference is in the materials - cotton ground fabrics and cotton yarns, or synthetic silks, or modern metal threads. But there's also a difference in the approach to the materials. Modern stitchers are not as opposed to wasting a bit of the embroidery thread as I am (though that might just be me), and stitches can often have as much or even more thread running on the backside than on the front. Finally, judging from Mary's blog, it seems as if showing the back of the work is something usually not done.

Personally, I think that looking at the back of the work is at least as important as looking at the front. You can appreciate design and shading work from the front, and you can appreciate efficiency and stitching technique (and in my case, historical correctness of said technique) from the back. I am actually a bit miffed if somebody looks at my embroidery, tells me he or she embroiders, too, and then doesn't turn it around.

I am also of the opinion that there should be a law for the publication of surviving historical embroidery. A law that makes anyone writing about an embroidered piece to post at least three good quality photographs, showing a) the complete piece with measurements given in the text; b) a close-up of a detail, showing all the stitch techniques and materials used on the piece, if possible with a ruler or other size indicator on the photo; and c) a close-up of the back side of said detail, also with a size indicator on the photograph.

Why that? Because it's darn hard to find out how they did it without being able to see the flip side of a piece! With a photo of the flip side, it's at least possible to try it yourself and then compare to see if it's more or less matching the original. That is of course still not as good as sitting in front of the real original embroidery, but it's a good start. With only the front... all you can do is stitch it up and hope for the best. And that, my friends, is just not cutting the mustard - at least not for the nitpicky folks like me.

Now where do I propose that law? Any suggestions?

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Well. Could be worse.

This morning, I woke up at the wrong time - and not the usual wrong time. On most weekdays, I have  the tendency to sleep longer than planned, so I was quite surprised to find myself wide awake at shortly past five in the morning. Much too wide awake to go back to sleep.

Now, I could have gotten up and done something productive and necessary - like working on the half-finished new dress for the next season (I have nothing to wear, you know? Shoemaker's son goes barefoot, as they say). Or I could have gotten up and done something productive and not strictly necessary but already started upon - like spinning some more wheel-spun yarn to make a nice, thick skein of two-ply once that second bobbin is full.
Instead, I got up, slunk down into the cellar to fetch some wood, did a few pencil strokes in strategical places and started setting up the wood... for sawing. To get parts for a proper, medieval-style embroidery frame. Before I go to Vienna. And to have and hold afterwards.

I can always rationalize that this is also necessary work. It's a good tool for me to have, it's product development in case I decide to carry such frames at some point in the future if there's interest in it, it's good for demonstration of medieval embroidery techniques, and I really don't much care for those common round embroidery hoops that are never holding the fabric at the tension I want. And I decided to take this uncommonly early awakening as "extra time" for not-strictly-necessary-things just like this.

There was a little flaw in my plan, though. Since I didn't want to wake up the Most Patient of All Husbands, I had to stop after setting up things. So much for the extra time. Still, I did a good chunk of work yesterday evening, so... I'll be over there, sawing.

Oh, and by the way, what does the zombie embroiderer want? Fraaaaames.... fraaaaames...fraaaaames...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Can you believe it?

Can you believe there's no bus service from Asparn an der Zaya to Mistelbach on Sundays? Gah. I'd never have guessed that.

Just in case you are wondering why public transport in Austria is high on my list, Asparn is where this year's Textile Forum will take place. And the last day is a Sunday.

At least there's train service from Mistelbach to Vienna. Whew. So now I'll be working on figuring things out... and then updating the page. Life never gets boring!

Oh, and in case you haven't checked out the Forum webpage yet... go do it. Call for Papers/Registration is already running, and we do welcome you whether you come with or without a paper. This year's focus topic is "Linen and other Plant Fibres", but other contributions are of course also welcome.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Sunshine! Spring! A bleg for information!

There's fine weather outside, my little bicycle is equipped with normal summer tyres again, and somehow I feel like sitting in the sun and propping up my feet instead of working. But there's stuff to be done, of course.

My computer spring cleaning has yielded an amazing amount of free space on the hard disk, and there's still a good number of files to be deleted. The garden is mostly fit for the season of growth. My paper is coming along, with some more time for working on it scheduled for today. Bookkeeping is up-to-date for a change, and the new price list for the next season is almost finished. Almost... which leads me to a question.

I have found a source for good, fine and high-quality linen fabric, with much finer yarns and denser weave than normally available on the market. All of the four fabrics are perfectly suited for medieval embroidery, three of them also for counted work. And now I'm trying to decide whether to include pre-cuts in my stock of wares on offer or just sell it by the metre. Three of the cloth bolts are fairly wide, with 160 or 185 cm fabric width, so buying a metre would mean a lot of cloth.

Do you buy pre-cut fabric for embroidery? Or do you prefer to buy by the metre? And if you opt for pre-cuts, what size do you usually buy? Or do you buy kit packages instead of just the materials for a project?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Sunshine outside, backup work inside.

I had a nice (and textile-free) weekend with lots of cake, since we went to a birthday party, and now I'm back with my nose to the to-do-list again. Main task for today is again getting the paper about the spinning experiment done - and a few mails in addition to that.

And then there's some computer maintenance to be done... After two hard disk drives died during my phd thesis time, I became obsessed with doing backups. (That has lessened off a bit in the meantime, though I'm still doing backups regularly, of course.) One side effect of the backupping-obsession was my tendency to copy everything a few times and keep backups from a few different ages simultaneously - and that, naturally, leads to very full backup drives. So from time to time, I have to do a duplicate search (there's a program I use for that) and delete the duplicates. Or at least all of the big files that are duplicates and as many of the smaller ones as I can stand. And that is also on the list for today - the duplicate hunter programme is running and will hopefully be finished this afternoon. (Did I say that there's lots and lots of data? Yes? Well, there's lots.)

And since I've been talking about backups of data, here's the obligatory final remark: If you haven't done a backup recently (and still did some work on your computer), go do it now!

Friday, 18 March 2011

All Hail the Mighty Internet.

Thank goodness it works again!

Yesterday's stint without the 'Net was not too bad, since I was able to work without the usual distractions. Plus, not reading or answering mails and not blogging did make itself noticeable in the time available for other stuff.

On the other hand, I do rely on the 'Net for some routine things, like checking translations or finding the best English word with the help of online dictionaries (I can type much faster than I can leaf through a paper dictionary) or explanations for stuff that I need to read up on (like, to take one of yesterday's examples, the definition of standard deviation). So I'm guessing that the time loss and the time gain probably even out for me.

And the reason for me to look up standard deviation? I'm working on a final write-up of the spinning experiment results, and trying to find the best way to visualise the different results and connections (or non-connections) to make it all understandable for the non-spinning reader. The article is planned for the conference proceedings of last year's OEGUF conference and might even appear in electronic format - I'm looking forward to see what medium will be chosen!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Internet Woes

I'm sorry for the unannounced blog silence - our internet somehow stopped working yesterday evening, and I was without access for the morning and part of the afternoon. The friendly helpdesk man, however, told me they'd take care of it and fix the problem - and lo and behold, the Internet is back again.

Proper blogging again tomorrow!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Weird and awesome textile stuff!

During the past two days,  I stumbled across some very awesome and teeny-tiny stitchery. Check out these websites showing miniature stitchery of landscapes on background skies painted with textile colouring and embroidery for dollhouses in scale 1:12 (scroll down a bit, to "Beispiele"). While personally I'm not really a fan of petit point (contintental tent stitch on the Wikipedia page), because there's more embroidery thread in the back of the work than in the front, and I am much too cheap for that, those examples on the website are incredibly impressive and almost make me want to try it.

Just almost, don't you worry. I'll stick with my nice, large stitches over two threads on 20-threads-per-cm linen for a good while longer.

And finally a really nice video (h/t to Arachne, who facebooked this) with indubitable proof that textile works, creativity and innovation are never very far from each other:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

It's spring again!

The weather has been more or less sunny for a few days now, there are crocuses blooming and tulips and hyacinths and daffodil greens breaking the ground and growing vigorously now; most of the flower beds have been freed of the old leaves and debris left from autumn and winter. And tomato seedlings sit in a pot on the windowsill.

But that's not all of the signs it's springtime again: Our tandem is now rolling on the summer tyres again, with the spike tyres back in storage for next winter, it's warm enough sometimes to venture out without a jacket and warm enough not to wear socks in the house.

And more signs: Frantic getting-ready-for-the-season orders. I have just placed one for linen fabric - delightful, high-quality, beautiful, fine-woven linen fabric suitable for fine undergarments - and suitable as embroidery ground fabric. And there are at least two more investments waiting for their turn, all complete with the curious mixture of excitement, joy and tension whether the project will soar or not. Springtime indeed!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Inky Goodness!

This was a nice and busy weekend - I finished my test-stitching, both in regard of the stitches and the ground fabrics that needed to be tried out.

And another thing is also done: 

The ink has arrived, and I already bottled it off into nice little flasks that are quite close to some that can be seen on medieval illustrations of scribes.

And the ink... ah, the ink. It's wonderfully black, just the right viscosity to work really well for nice, thin lines on the linen test cloth, and it does what it's supposed to do: Dry up and then stay where it has been put, no bleeding, no creeping, no nothing. So after being annoyed for a bit more than a year by not having proper authentic medieval ink for proper authentic pattern transfers, I finally have ink to do it the medieval way - and ink to sell for all of you who want some, too. Hooray!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Counted Work - Brick Stitch

I've finished one pattern bit in the counted work technique now, using the "versetzter gerader Gobelinstich", as they call it in the book. It's really easy - you go over the linen for four threads, then one to the side and two down. And that's it. Repeat ad nauseam or until you can't see anything anymore because your eyes water... because, as I said before (and I'll say it again): medieval embroidery is tiny. T-i-n-y. Minute. Exiguous. Puny little stitches. Exquisitely small. Very diminutive stitch-wise. Tiny. And very, very small on the stitch part - though they did work really large pieces in these techniques. Those Freaks. I'm sure they all did it just to make me sweat over doing it too.
So here's what the test scrap now looks like from the front, medieval brick stitch worked to scale, on the appropriate linen fabric, with the appropriate plant-dyed untwisted silk yarn:

Yes. Did I mention it's tiny? I'm seriously short-sighted, and I work it without my glasses on, which does help a lot.
I also made a closer-up of it:

It's not perfect coverage everywhere, but my impression is that the threads will "spread" a bit more after a while in comparison to when they've just been worked, so it might cover completely after a rinse to relax the threads in their new position. However, it does come pretty close to the look of the original already.

And for those of you who are now feeling that itch in your fingers to flip it over, here's the backside (click the pics in this whole post to make them larger):

And that also is pretty close to how the originals look (sans the unclipped threads that still hang from my work of course). So I'm quite content with this little sampler. One more linen now to test for its suitability as ground fabric for counted work, and then that part of work will be done.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Brain Melt.

I'm totally stumped for something interesting to blog for you today, and even a little tour of my standard check-in-the-morning websites didn't yield anything.

So... I have no blogging topic, the weather is rather grey and dull today after a few days with quite a bit of sun, my current embroidery-testing piece has not come very far (yet, though I'm getting better), and there's a stack of paperwork ...again... to take care of.

On a more positive note, the tulips in the garden are starting to seriously come out, a few of the crocuses are in bloom, and the first batch of tomato seedlings has broken through the earth - plus I'm sniffling. Seems as if spring is really coming here - slowly, but still.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Still testing.

I'm still testing the embroidery stuff on different linen fabrics - I have a few new samples now, and there might be the right one among them.

And I know I've said it before, but boy! is medieval embroidery done-to-scale tiny! It really needs good lighting and good hand-eye-coordination - and probably being short-sighted will help a lot as well...
I hope to be able to show you a photograph of a sample piece one of the next days - at the moment, it's just a very short row of very few stitches in grass-green untwisted silk, and not looking like anything remotely spectacular or embroidery-y yet...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Witan Publishing

Dr. Richard Nokes from the Unlocked Wordhoard (that has gone much too quiet this last time) has cooked up a new project: An e-publishing house specialising on medieval studies. Publishing will be electronic format only, with files for different readers available.

What is special about Witan is that they are planning to use a peer-review process to select manuscripts that are then published at no cost for the author (as it should be) and sold at very low prices so that scholars on limited budget can also afford them, with the author still getting a share of the sales profits (as it also should be). Plus there is no problem in publishing a text of non-standard length, which means that longer articles could also be a good part of Witan's offers.

If you are interested and want to learn more, there's a bit of info over at his blog and of course on the official website Witan Publishing.

Oh, and by the way - the sewing machine is working again. (Except for the little gadget that is used to refill the bobbins for the bobbin thread - that's still stuck, and thus marinating in a WD-40 equivalent.)

Monday, 7 March 2011

Productive weekend.

This weekend was nice and rather productive - for one thing, after ages and ages of not spinning on the wheel, I finally emptied the bobbins and started making some yarn again.

I spin relatively thin, on the wheel as well as on the spindle, and most of the time when I used the spinning wheel in the past few years was either to show (or teach) somebody how to use it, or - with a different contraption stuck where flyer and bobbin usually sit - for spooling thread. And now I'm at least planning to spin two bobbins full of single and then ply them together. Who knows, I might even use that yarn for embroidery or maybe even tablet weaving then.

Second productive thing was figuring out a bit more about embroidery and work procedures - now the only thing left to do is to get proper, authentic-thread-count, good-quality linen.

And the third thing was playing around with old sewing machines. A friend had scored an old sewing machine destined for the landfill and came to our place with it so we could all take a good look at it and see if it would still work. Turned out that one bit had been damaged, which led to this bit being removed and then re-made by our friend - and now I've almost finished finetuning the bit so it will fit in and run smoothly. And that meant that a corner of our apartment looked like this during the weekend:

Still does, by the way. But I've almost finished getting the surplus material out of the way - and then we can find out whether that was time well spent or only time in which fun has been had.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Stiches galore... and all the stuff for the prep work.

I'm still up to my ears in prep work for the embroidery course - I am using this as a wonderful opportunity to tackle all those embroidery-related side projects and side questions that had pestered me for quite a while, but that I never got around to occupy myself with.

And one of those eternal projects was getting the proper ink to do authentic medieval preparatory drawings. There's a nice instruction on how to do it in Cennino Cennini's handbook (the extended version; scroll down to CLXIV to read it), but getting the appropriate ink proved to be a bit harder than I had expected. And now I'm finally in the home straight for the ink project - only a few more days until I have that done and finished. Then I will be one step closer to having all the embroidery preparations covered!

(There's still plenty of steps left until that though, so no danger in my getting out of work to do in that area yet...)

Thursday, 3 March 2011


I'm currently spending snatches of time here and there to sit down with some embroidery, all in preparation for the workshop in April. At the moment, I'm mostly trying to figure out whether there was a typical approach to work sequence and turning corners in the counted embroidery that I have in my books. And that means... stitching and comparing.

There are a few things I have already learned (or learned even better) about medieval embroidery. One of the first things, and one of the biggest problems, is the size of that stuff (pun intended). Medieval embroidery... it's tiny. Teeny-tiny. If you buy modern ground fabric for counted work, you'll often get about 12 to 13 threads per cm as "fine quality". Medieval fabrics? 19 or 20 threads per cm. That's about a third smaller, and fabric in that fineness and even weave is not easily available nowadays. (I'm working on it, by the way.)

Apart from those little problems, I'm vastly enjoying myself trying out different ways to make transitions from one row to the next, with differring success. I have not settled on one "best" technique yet, and I'm not sure there will be one for me... but my sample-and-try-out-things fat chicken currently looks like this:

It is worked in "Zopfstich", a stitch giving sort of a braided appearance (Zopf = braid), and it's fun and easy to work. I did not get it totally like the original which is partly due to my being bad at counting and partly due to the different thread counts (I have to work over different counts of threads in different directions). As you can see, it's not perfect - but it does serve its purpose as a trying out slightly different techniques.

And plump chickens? I like them.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Guttbye, Mr. Copy-and-Paste!

(Politics first, textile stuff later - please scroll down if you are not interested in German politics.)

At noon yesterday, the German Minister of Defense has abdicated. I think that this is a very, very good thing - it proves that the voters do care about the integrity of their politicians, that plagiarism is still a crime and not a gentleman's crime, and that the Internet community has become an influence big enough to overthrow a person of political importance.

The abdication of her minister does not sit well with the German chancellor Merkel, though - she is actually accusing those not on Guttenberg's side of "hypocrisy and dishonesty" and says that "We do not need to have anybody explain to us what integrity and honour are in our society" ("Wir müssen uns von niemandem erklären lassen, was Anstand und Ehre in unserer Gesellschaft sind", here's the full German press article with those statements).

Well, at least as far as I'm concerned, it was not my aim to harm the CDU/CSU - but that's not how Merkel and her group see things (or state to see things). And now we can all wait and see whether the Fallen One will make a comeback or not... I hope that this time, the memory of Germany will prove to be longer than before. Because yes, I would agree that everyone deserves a second chance in life - but not a second chance to help lead a country.

On to other important things: Old rags. There seems to be a conference in London this weekend, and I'm sorry to pass this on to you on such short notice - I had not heard about it before. It went over the MEDTC-List yesterday, and I'll just repost the whole thing, since I could not find it on the Museum of London pages to link to.

Making it: Textile Technologies in Medieval Europe

Saturday 5th March 2011
Weston Lecture Theatre, Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London EC27 5HN

10.00: Doors open

10.30 – 10.45: Welcome: Hilary Davidson [MEDATS and Museum of London]

10.45 – 11.15: Professor Gale Owen-Crocker, University of Manchester,

 ‘Continuity and Change: an Overview of Medieval Textile Production’

11.15 – 11.45: Ruth Gilbert, Independent Scholar and Weaver, ‘Spinning technology in England in the Middle Ages (450 – 1500)’

11.45 – 12.15: Coffee, demonstrations and screening of DVD showing images of medieval cloth production from Semur-En-Auxois, in the Activity Room

12.15 – 12.45: Alan Raistrick, Independent Scholar, ‘Revelations and Calculations; developments in the spinning wheel during the Medieval Period’

12.45 – 13.15: Anna Nørgård, Weaver, author and demonstrator at the Viking Museum, Roskilde, Denmark, ‘The Early Medieval Warp-weighted Loom’

13.15 – 14.45: Lunch (not provided) and demonstrations in the Activity Room

14.45 – 15.15: Anton Reurink, Author, Historisch Openlucht Museum Eindhoven, The Netherlands, ‘The Medieval Process from Wool to ‘Lakense stof’ (Broadcloth)’

15.15 – 15.45: Kathrine Vestergård Brandstrup, Archaeologist,  ‘The Development of the Loom, 1000 – 1500’

15.45 – 16.15: Tea and demonstrations in the Activity Room

16.15 – 16.45: Dr Nat Alcock, Emeritus Reader in Chemistry, University of Warwick, and past President of the Vernacular Architecture Group, ‘Recreating the Medieval Weaver’s House and Loom’

16.45: Discussion

17.30: Close

Demonstrators - Glenys Crocker: warp-weighted loom - Ann Markwick: great wheel - Jo Wexler: tablet weaving
Speakers who will also demonstrate - Kathrine Brandstrup: naalbinding -Ruth Gilbert: drop spindle
Demonstrators Warp-weighted loom: Glenys Crocker, Vice-President of the Surrey Archaeological Society and member of the West & East Surrey Guilds of Spinners, Weavers & Dyers; great wheel: Ann Markwick, the East Sussex Guild of Spinners, Weavers, & Dyers; tablet weaving Jo Wexler, from the Cambridgeshire Guild of Spinners, Weavers,& Dyers.

The researches of some of our speakers demonstrate the contribution of practical experimentation to historical research and, in a museum context, ‘bring alive` many aspects of textile history.  Kathrine Vestergard Brandstrup is the editor, with Marie-Louise Nosch, of The Medieval Broadcloth: Changing Trends in Fashions, Manufacturing and Consumption, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2009.  Anna Nørgård is the author, with Else Ostergard & Lilli Fransen, ofMedieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns, Aarhus University Press, 2010.

What hand tools were used, how were they made, and what practical skills were needed – as well as what changes took place – will be discussed in relation to aspects of the historical and archaeological record. There will be demonstrations of some practical spinning and weaving technologies used in north-west Europe from approximately the fifth to the fifteenth centuries.  It is hoped that a new light will be shed on the production of yarn and woollen cloth.
I would love to go there, but it's too far away and  on too short a notice (and travelling to Britain is, alas, not so utterly cheap and fast). I also don't know if there's a conference fee to be paid or who organises the whole conference, so you might want to call the museum to find out details before you travel there.

I will stay here and play some more with my embroidery, in preparation of the workshop in Vienna that I will give in April. And more about that... tomorrow.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

There's really no standing still.

One of the things I enjoy about being my own boss and doing my own stuff is that I regularly get served with a nice new challenge - something to update, something to change, something to get better next time, something new to add to the stack of goods to sell.

And quite often, those little (or bigger) challenges come with a change to the better. As does the thing I'm facing now... as our Textile Forum gets a bit better known, its ranking on search machines in the 'Net gets higher. And that inevitably leads to more spam.

Last year, I was still sifting out the real entries from the non-real spammy ones by hand, but meanwhile it looks as if there will be a huge lot more spammy entries than last time - so today I have the wonderful opportunity to build an anti-spam trap into the registration questionnaire. So... I'm off to look for an instruction of how to do that!