Monday, 24 September 2007

Weaving with tablets and a rigid heddle

This famous depiction of a weaving woman comes from the 14th century manuscript commonly known as the Codex Manesse (Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift; Cod. Pal. germ. 848). The first time I saw it a couple of years ago, I thought that the artist didn't seem to know a thing about weaving or tablet weaving (assuming that the hexagonal objects on the warp are tablets and not a levitating warp beam) - the lady's sitting at the wrong end of the warp and, if we're talking about tablet weaving here, what's the rigid heddle doing there anyway? But now when I've thought about it and heard what others have to say, this set-up doesn't seem all that far-fetched anymore.

First of all, the woman's not actually doing any weaving in the picture, so she's not really at the "wrong end". It seems to me she's fiddling with the end of the warp (tightening it, sorting the threads?) , while using her beater to ward off the advances of the kneeling man (monk?) who's got his hand up her skirt. In Ecclesiastical Pomp and Aristocratic Circumstance (2000), Nancy Spies further interprets this situation as the woman actually incorporating the man's hair into the warp (p. 100). Secondly, looking at other medieval pictures of weavers and tablet weavers - and at their modern counterparts too - it's obvious that you can sit pretty much anywhere in relation to the band you're weaving; it's not necessary to have the fell (the woven band) right in front of you as long as you can reach it to beat the weft.

As for the rigid heddle, Spies (2000) describes it as a "heddle/warp spreader" (p. 97, my emphasis), which could explain what it's doing in the middle of a possible tablet weaving warp; it's separating the threads and helping the weaver keep the band even. But there may be another, albeit conjectural function for the rigid heddle.

In The Techniques of Tablet Weaving (Collingwood 1996) I found a description of an unusual way to produce a double-faced 3/1 twill. It's described on pages 166-167 and involves both four-holed tablets used standing on their points and a means to raise and lower alternate tablets to achieve the correct structure.
Collingwood suggests using a stick and leashes tied around the warp for this. There are no indications that this technique was ever used historically, but when I read about combining tablets and leashes like this, I immediately thought of the weaving lady in Codex Manesse - tablets together with a rigid heddle should work just as well as leashes!

The technique was a little tricky to master. For each weft, the shed was split twice - first by the square tablets standing on their points and then by the heddle raising or lowering every alternate tablet - which meant the final shed ended up being very small. It really helped to tilt the warp vertically on its side to get a better view of the shed. In various medieval manuscripts band weavers can be seen working with the warp in this position and I can verify that it really makes sense to do that if the shed's unclear!

The finished sample is approximately 2 cm wide and the front and back are shown here next to each other (I used thick cotton yarn, so it looks kind of rough).

Weaving with tablets and a rigid heddle on the same warp creates many new possibilities! For example, I tried it with two-holed tablets and managed to produce a nice little piece of double weave, combining ordinary interlaced twill with tabby. It might not be a historical technique or the most efficient way to weave complex structures, but for someone like me who loves all the technical stuff behind both tablet weaving and ordinary weaving, it's great fun!

Collingwood, P. 1996. The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. McMinnville: Robin & Russ Handweavers, Inc.

Spies, N. 2000. Ecclesiastical Pomp and Aristocratic Circumstance. A Thousand Years of Brocaded Tabletwoven Bands. Jarrettsville: Arelate Studio.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Finishing old projects... II

Here's the assembled purse! It's not very big, though - I can just about fit my hand into it...

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Finishing old projects...

Today I finished an embroidery I've been working on for I don't know how long!
(I think a lot of people who are interested in medieval emobroidery and textiles will recognise the pattern - it's from a silk purse displayed in the textiles study room at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Timothy J. Mitchell's article on counted thread embroidery with drafts of this purse and others can be found on his homepage A Stitch Out of Time.)

The finished piece is less than half the size of what I originally intented it to be and it will be a very small purse indeed if I ever assemble it. When started working on it, I didn't worry too much about the materials and went for the cheepest option: mercerised cotton thread instead of real silk. At the time it seemed like the right decision to make, but after a while I realised that if I was going to wear this with my medieval clothing, I actually wanted it to be silk (or at least look like it, which this thread didn't)... By then I had done almost two thirds of what can be seen in the picture above, but I put it aside and ignored it successfully for years. This summer, in an attempt to relax after all the work with my thesis, I decided to finish it after all. I think I'll make it into a purse now while I'm at it and use it for my mobile rather than with my medieval outfits!

My thesis, by the way, will soon be available - I still have one image I need to check the copyright for before I can post it in the digital archive I mentioned in a previous post. Now the holiday's over I'll hopefully get round to it... After handing in my thesis in May, I continued working with Eric of Pomerania's Belt - there were still a couple of things I hadn't been able to explain properly. The analysis of the weave I present in my thesis is still correct (as far as I can tell), but the way I tried to recreate it isn't. But eventually I did figured it out - just in time to include the new findings in my paper proposal for the NESAT conference (North European Symposium on Archaeological Textiles) that takes place in May next year! When I got back from my vacation there was an e-mail in my inbox, telling me that my proposal had been accepted - yay! So whatever else happens this autumn (does anyone out there want to hire an archaeologist specialising in textiles ;-) ???!), I will still be here weaving Eric of Pomerania's Belt in my spare time. And if my research continues in the direction it's heading at the moment, I think I will have a rather interesting paper to present!

Monday, 2 July 2007

Visiting the 14th century

Yesterday a friend and I went to Varberg on the westcoast of Sweden. There was a "medieval market" at Varberg Castle (where they also keep the Bocksten Bog Man, complete with his well-preserved 14th century clothes). The event was mainly aimed at families and tourists so there wasn't much there for serious re-enactors, except an excellent lecture on 14th century clothing by costume historian Eva Andersson. Still, I got the chance to dress up and spend a lovely day off in beautiful surroundings, so I'm happy. I also got some pretty good pictures taken of my handsewn "Herjolfsnes dress". The cut with 4 narrow panels in each side giving it its shape is based on one of the dresses found in the medieval cemetary at Herjolfsnes, Greenland. Whether or not this method of constuction is representative of medieval clothing elsewhere is much debated by costume historians and re-enactors, but I think that the silhouette it results in is perfect for the 14th century (and no, I'm not pregnant - my hand just happens to fit nicely there!)! It's an extremely fabric-saving way to make clothes too - my dress only uses 3 m of wool (150 cm wide) and the circumference of the skirt is over 3.5 metres! It took just about forever to finish all the side seams, though...

Friday, 15 June 2007

Bachelor of...Science?!

There. Now I have my degree. I was a little surprised to learn it's actually a B. Sc., but I suppose it's because of all the technical texile stuff and the handweaving. I'm happy it's finally over, anyway! With the archaeology and everything else, I've studied for a total of 7 years now! And that doesn't include the two years I spent doing textile arts and crafts at Löftadalens folkhögskola... I'm beginning to wonder if I'm fit to do anything other than studying...

My friends told me I should take some time off now to relax and not fiddle around with threads and boring, brown archaeolgical textiles for a while. But...fiddling around with threads is what I always do, even in my spare time, and I love boring, brown archaeological textiles!!! So I ignored them and went to Copenhagen yesterday to look at "Eric of Pomerania's Belt" again... My thesis is finished (and will eventually be available on the web through the University College of Borås's academic database BADA), but now I have a proposal for a conference paper and a couple of articles to write! So I thought it would be nice to see the good old girdle again and to verify a few things before I get started on those...

Here's me with Eric of Pomerania's Belt and one of my samples in the background. I thought the National Museum wouldn't mind me posting this picture here since you can hardly see the actual girdle. It could be any old ribbon, really... ;-)!

Saturday, 19 May 2007

The work of days and hands...

I handed in my thesis this week!

It ended up being part archaeolgical report, part something else. There's so much more I would have liked to put into to it. I had to cut 1 page of background, which means there's no historical overview of medieval girdles in it anymore. But at least it's finished and on Monday I'm going to present my work to the graduation people and defend my thesis... Then I'm going to sleep for a week...

Sunday, 29 April 2007

My brain hurts...

Since my weaving is going very well I decided to turn my attention to the paper I have to write instead. I spent the better part of the day fiddling with the introduction and then tried to write the background instead. I seemed to have forgotten everything I had ever read on the subject of medieval girdles and had to sit down with the books again and take new notes. This also meant I had to re-translate the relevant parts of Ilse Fingerlin's book Gürtel des hohen und späten Mittelalters because I had no idea what they said anymore despite having read them all a month ago. It's very annoying, but I suppose that's what stress does to you...

I don't know any German, but luckily my native Swedish is similar enough to make reading it possible with the help of a dictionary and a lot of patience. Fingerlin has some interesting discussions concerning the dating of Eric of Pomerania's belt - she pushes it back to the 13th century, wheras Poul Nørlund and the National Museum of Denmark say it's 14th century (all of them agree that attributing it to Eric of Pomerania is completely wrong, though. But the name still sticks...).

Hopefully I'll manage to write something tomorrow instead. I have a meeting with my supervisor on Monday and it would be nice to have something written to show her, but it's a real struggle to write in English again. I haven't done it in years, but I thought it would be a good idea now since there's a lot of non-Swedish speaking people out there who might find my thesis interesting...

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Practice makes...

...perhaps not perfect, but at least a whole lot better!

I changed the pattern for the gold thread (there's hardly anything left of it on the original belt, so I had to improvise a little) and started all over again with my sample piece. I have to show it in the graduation exhibition organised by the school, so I decided I needed something that can be displayed without having to cover up the first couple of centimetres of uneven picks...

And I'm much happier with this second piece - the "gold" thread looks a lot better and the proportions are closer to the original. I wove it in half the time it took me to do the first one too, so yay for me!

Here's a picture of the new and improved sample!

Thursday, 19 April 2007

So many threads, so little time...

My first full-scale trial piece of the "Eric of Pomerania's Belt"-weave is progressing slowly and I'm reasonably happy with it. The cheap spun silk I'm using as a substitute for the more appropriate reeled silk is a bit fuzzy and the fake gold thread doesn't cover the background very well, but otherwise it's working. I had a hard time pulling the weft tight enough to get the band down to the correct width today (approximately 3 cm). There are over 100 threads/cm and although the edges are nice and tight, the threads in the middle still look a little too spaced-out. But they do that in the original too, so maybe I shouldn't worry about it...

Here's a close-up of today's work. Remember it's only 3 cm wide!

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Bachelor's Thesis Angst

I'm analysing the so-called "Eric of Pomerania's Belt" kept at the National Museum of Denmark for my bachelor's degree in handweaing. It's an extremely well-preserved silk girdle dated to the 14th century with a very complex weave. It's wonderful, fascinating work and I should be loving every minute of it. And I am. It's just that it's also incredibly slow work and I only have one month left before everything has to be finished..

The archaeologist in me wants to do a proper report with lots of background research and comparative material, but the powers that be at the University College of Borås where I study are more into textile design and product development so I'm worried that an archaeological/historical type of thesis like mine will meet with puzzled incomprehension. I won't have a designed product or a textile artwork at the end of this like my classmates; I will have a tiny woven sample the size of a bookmark if I'm lucky and spend my nights weaving instead of sleeping! I just hope I'll be able to make them see all the work behind it... Just figuring out the weave took me almost a month and several weaving experiments!

Monday, 16 April 2007

First time blogging

Hmm... Never done this before, but it seems to be a good way to keep an easy-to-update page to store thoughts and post things on the net. It's worth a try!