Saturday, March 16, 2019

Playing With Apprentices

I'd been looking for something to do with my apprentices that was both fun, and not too intimidating. Well, #1 Apprentice alerted us to the existence of new-to-us local yarn store. Of course we took a field trip and all came home with yummy new yarns. While in the store I noticed one of their upcoming classes - making felted slippers. This seemed like the perfect project for the three of us to undertake - not too difficult, quick to complete, and all of us would learn something new.

#1 Apprentice is usually a crocheter, although she has dabbled in knitting. This would be a chance for her to practice reading patterns, and to become more comfortable with knitting, before I think about encouraging her to look at period knitting. #2 Apprentice is already interested in period knitting, but is a beginner knitter herself. She is unsure of her own skills, but is willing to try most anything. This was a great opportunity for her to hone her skills. For me, well I've done very little felting and this would be a quick project to get a bit more experience.

Here are our slippers, ready to be felted. They are quite big and floppy.

While we each used wool, we had each chosen a different brand of yarn. Mine are the blue slippers at the front. It is a two-ply yarn that I usually use for nalbinding, called Peace Fleece. It was what I happened to have around the house that wasn't already destined for another project. The apprentices chose Cascade 220, and Paton's Classic Wool yarn. I knit more loosely than the apprentices, so while we all made the same size, same number of stitches, mine started out slightly larger than the others. (They were not as much larger as they look in this photo.)

Into the washing machine they went. #2 Apprentice's slippers (Paton's) began to shrink very quickly. #1 Apprentice's slippers took a little longer. My slippers took 2 complete washing cycles before I decided they were done. After a while, a piece cannot shrink further because the fibers are as close together as they can get. I think that my slippers reached this point. Here they are:

In the end #1 Apprentice and #2 Apprentice each had slippers that fit them well. While my slippers fit the circumference of my foot perfectly, they were too long. The good news is, they fit my husband's foot!

What did I learn? The choice of yarn makes a difference in the result. It might be the number of plies, or it might be the fiber content (mine has a touch of mohair along with the wool, and they probably were all made with different breeds). The next time I want to try a felting project (I've been thinking of trying felted mittens) I will make a test swatch first, to have a better gauge of the final results.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Happiness is a Warm Pair of Mittens

I may be looking forward to spring, but as long as we have to deal with winter, what's better than new mittens? Remember the yarn I spun over the summer, around the campfire? Not my best spinning, but look what happens when you put together two not quite perfect yarns:

The hounds-tooth pattern meant that any spots where the yarn was a bit thin was reinforced by the other yarn behind it. They turned out to be quite warm.

But if one pair is good, two pairs are better, right? I used the S-spun, Z-plied yarn to try a bit of twine knitting.

I didn't have a pattern, or any stitch directions with me when I started, so my "rings" didn't turn out exactly as they should until I got to the very last one. I just made it up as I went along, and I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. And, they are very warm.

Between the two projects I finally used up the wool from the very first roving ever I bought (from the owner of a beautiful Romney-Corriedale sheep) oh those many years ago - almost 10, if anyone is counting. It had been put aside for exotic breeds and fancy colors. I'd almost forgotten how nice it is to play with a basic natural fiber. I think I'll pull out some BFL for my next spin.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A New Responsibility

I am so excited - I have taken a new apprentice. Lady Janna von Guggisberg is beginning a love affair with all things fiber. I am looking forward to sharing her passion, teaching her what I know, introducing her to people who know more than I know, sharing in her discoveries, learning new things from her, and helping her to confidently take on new challenges.

The first challenge she set herself was to learn about wool. We spent an afternoon preparing a small amount of the 3 fleeces she purchased - getting a taste of washing, combing and spinning.

     The day went by so fast!

She has started a blog and you can see for yourself how she has been sucked in by this beautiful fiber. I'm looking forward to playing alongside her.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Summer Fun

Summer went by so fast. I spent a lot of time spinning. The first thing I spun after my year of not spinning was cashmere. What was I thinking? But, I'm happy enough with how it turned out and it made me keep picking up the spindle. It is the darker brown skein in the photo.

 We had a wonderful time at Pennsic. Of course I bought roving - Cheviot, a breed I hadn't spun before (the white wool in the photo). I like it very much. I had to buy a new spindle, too, so I could spin it right away. Since  I am always busy at Pennsic, most of my spinning was done around the campfire at night. I don't recommend it. While it was enjoyable, it was difficult to see what I was spinning, so the result is not a consistent gauge. The small skein is Shetland, spun for embroidery thread. The tan is a Romney/Corriedale mix. I've started to S-spin/Z-ply it to use for twine knitting, which I learned (again) this summer.

The other fun things I learned at Pennsic were a cutwork embroidery technique, cooking Viking-style food,
 how to drape a dress so it fits perfectly, 
and making medieval stained glass.

We ended the summer with a trip to Cape Cod. Here is the moon rising over the harbor in Provincetown:

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Attempting a Medieval Pottery Style

Where is this year going? I have been continuing to both craft and research, but just haven't found the time to post about it. I've been working on a stocking. I'm up to the heel now, which feels like it is taking a very long time, because the needles are so small. I'll post a picture when I finish the first sock. I've also gone back to spinning, after a year of not picking up a spindle (how did that happen?). It feels good to have the spindle in my hand again.

The other thing I've been up to is trying my hand at a bit of pottery. At our local big event - Wars of the Roses - there is always an arts and sciences challenge. This year the challenge was to create something inspired by The Canterbury Tales, or Song of Roland. Having recently been in England, I chose the Canterbury Tales. After reading my copy of the book, I found my self overwhelmed by too many inspirations. I decided to fall back on the setting for the story - traveling from tavern to tavern across Kent.

At the time the story was written, anthropomorphic pottery was in style. I decided to try to make my own. What fun!
Anthropomorphic “face jugs” were made in southern England beginning in the mid-1200’s They were highly popular, with surviving examples being found all around London, and as far away as France and Norway.  Examining artifacts, it is clear that each one was unique. While the facial expressions differ, most are characterized by a beard, ears and nose that stick out, and arms and hands added, often framing the face. 


The first two are in the British Museum, the 3rd is in the Cloisters.

These jugs tended to be small, approximately 11-14 centimeters tall (although the center jug is 39 cm), which worked to my advantage as a beginner. Many are finished with a green mottled glaze, although some are various shades of mottled brown or dark red. Many of the insides are glazed in a creamy yellow-tan color.                                  
This style of pottery was made in the 13th and 14th centuries in Grimston, Kingston-on-Thames, Kent, Cambridge and Hertfordshire. The speckled green glaze is typical of pottery coming from the kilns of Essex.

These fanciful medieval vessels all began as wheel-thrown, with the anthropomorphic details added after the jug was shaped. I am not skilled on a wheel, so my examples were completely hand-built. After looking at many dozens of examples, I worked to create jugs that were in the same style, but I did not attempt to make an exact replica of any extant piece. Just as with the originals, I began with the basic jug shape and then added the arms, hands and facial features. I chose a white clay base to be close to the Mill Green-ware and Kingston-ware examples. I attempted to find modern glazes that were similar in color to the originals.  Here is the result: 

 12 cm tall

 this one is only 6 cm; unfortunately, it lost a lot of detail when it was glazed

 13 cm tall

I learned that pottery is always a surprise. How moist should the clay be to be able to shape the forms, but still be structurally sound? Will it dry without cracking? How much will it shrink in the kiln? Will the handles be strong enough and comfortable to hold? Will the details, carefully added when the clay was wet, still be visible after the final glaze comes out of the kiln? How many coats of glaze are enough? Will the color be as expected? If I made my own glaze, could I get closer to the medieval glaze? So many questions! I'm excited to try some more experiments.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Reason for Weaving

Women have been spinning and weaving for many, many millennia. Weaving for clothing, for sails,for bedding, for sacks to carry things...the reasons for weaving are multitude. The cloth that is made does not need to be beautiful to fulfill its purpose. But I think that artistry is a basic human need. Whether one thinks of the plaid skirt worn by the Huldremose bog woman, or the elaborate brocaded silks worn by Elizabethans; Navajo rugs, or the intricate patterns created by Peruvian backstrap weavers, it is clear that weavers have always planned to make their work beautiful.

While wandering through the Metropolitan Museum last month, I came upon an exhibit of utilitarian articles made by nomadic tribes from the area around Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Every piece had a very ordinary purpose - to carry their belongings from place to place. But the pieces were anything but ordinary. The weaving technique for each piece was chosen to suit the need of the object it would carry. Most of the pieces were executed in the sumak technique. This means that an extra weft thread was wrapped around the warp threads - over two threads, then back around one, or over four, back around two. This adds strength, makes a very dense fabric (needed when you are carrying things like salt or flour), and creates a beautiful pattern. Sometimes pile was added, to make the fabric even denser. Here are some of my favorite pieces:

 I'll start with the spindle bag (western Iran, Bakhtiari tribe, ca. 1935), because of course the women need a way to carry their spindles so they can make the thread they need to weave. The fabric is sumak weave, with pile added at the bottom where it would have the most wear. 

Here is a bag to carry salt (ca. 1920):
 again, with pile incorporated at the bottom.

A double flour bag (last quarter 19th century):
 This is quite large. I like the stylized animals. 

Even larger, this container was used to carry bedding (Azerbaijan, ca. 1825-75): 

And finally, a saddle bag (Shahsevan tribe, ca. 1875). The pattern seems so similar
 to a quilt pattern. 

I enjoy tapestry weaving. I think I will try my hand at sumak weaving this year. Perhaps I'll make my own spindle bag.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Goldwork Embroidery

I promise I will get to the post about the utilitarian weaving that we saw at the Met. But, I've been thinking about embroidery lately, and I want to show you a beautiful medieval embroidery from the Cloisters.
 Netherlandish, mid-15th century

Originally part of a vestment or altar cloth, it is done in the or nue technique. Unlike most goldwork that I have seen, where the background is couched gold thread and the figures are silk, this piece is almost entirely gold. Only the faces and hair are silk embroidery. The rest of the picture, except for a few details, is formed by altering the spacing of the silk couching threads. The closer together they are, the more the color shows up, but always the gold shines through.

Isn't it exquisite?