Wednesday, 6 April 2016


There is a pretty spiffy kind of bag called a market wallet or simply wallet and it's quite useful. It's sort of like a saddlebag, except you carry it over your shoulder or over a stick - I've never actually seen one on an animal in my scanty store of 12th C images although it would make sense to use it in such a way.

Wallets are also are one of the simplest sewing projects you'll ever find. This page give a description of an 18th C original, and if you can't work out how to construct it from that, this page describes how to make your own.

Karen Larsdatter has an excellent links page on market wallets with images of wallets in artwork from the 13th to 16th Centuries, I'm not going to relink all her excellent work, instead I'm going to focus on a few examples from her list that give some additional clues to how these may have been used and their construction.

I've found several examples of these wallets displayed in 12th C artwork, so we know they date from this period, even though I'm aware of no extant ones. Where the slits are visible, they all seem to run along the length of the bag.

The Copenhagen Psalter (Thott 143 2º) England, 1175-1200 f12r "The flight into Egypt"

Zillis, St Martin. Painted ceiling, detail panel "The flight into Egypt" c1140-60

Is he about to load that Wallet onto an ox?
 Stuttgart Passionale I (Stuttgart Cod bib 2°57) f253 "Life of Saint Maximus" 

This I've shown you before (yes another depiction of the flight into Egypt).
Periscope book of St Erentrud, Nonberg Abbey, Salzburg around 1140 (München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. lat. 15903) f14 "The flight into Egypt" 

And a new one today courtesy of the wonders of pintrest:
Psalter, North England, 12th C (Bodleian Library, Ms Douce,293) fol 10 "The flight into Egypt" 

So, you have historical context and some tips about construction, go play with a wallet today. They are a most useful carrying device.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

More lamps in manuscripts

[This post belatedly released from the blog post draft archive]
This is a continuation of this post, a survey of lamps, with more entries. Almost all reinforce the same regional stylistic preferences seen last time. (of course it's still not enough examples to really say)

The lamps are the same funny shape as the previous examples.

Admont Bible

Salzburg, Austria, c1140's (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Wien. Cod. ser. nov. 2701 and 2 pages in École Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. PC 22788)

First two lamps from the story of Hoshea (2 lamps, Paris leaf)
2 more lamps from f252v (main Vienna section) The affliction of Job

Prüfening (Regensburg), Austria 1170/1180. (München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. lat. 13074."Vitae et passiones apostolorum" folio [90v])



Sicily, 1196 (Liber ad honorem Augusti sive de rebus Siculis by

Petrus de Ebulo, MS. 120 II Berne Municipal Library.)

Lamps from a church in mourning for William, the sickroom (presumably bedroom) where  William II dies and lamps in the bedroom of Roger II (who appears to be sick in bed) respectively. See also another similar lamp in this manuscript.

It's possible these are incense burners/censers rather than lamps. They are different to the type swung by hand (see the death of William scene, where i think that is what the central figure is doing), but they may be a different fixed type.


Same gorgeous shape as before. Again with 3 handles on the side to attach chains to. Now that I look more closely at the first Italian example, I can see a pouring lip on the lamp

Basilica of Saint Clement, Rome, (Italy) end of the 11th century.

This wall painting appears to be a scene taking place in a church.
(thanks Katherine for finding this on a page that has nothing to do with the topic, and would never had been found otherwise)

1136 Fondi, Italy (Arrestation du Christ, "exultet"  Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Division occidentale Ms Nouvelle acquisition latine 710, fol. rouleau, )

This manuscript is a scroll not the usual book. To view, use mandragore and in the box "cote" type/paste: "Nouvelle acquisition latine 710" and then hit the button "chercher".

Austrian manuscript paining is supposed to be heavily byzantine influenced through an Italian filter. But the lamps remain stubbornly different, so I suppose it's a regional preference.


England, N. (Durham), last quarter of the 12th century (Bede "The Life of Cuthbert" f 79, 83 and 74. British Library Ms Yates Thompson 26/Add ms 39943)

England, about 1200 (Westminster Psalter fol. 13 v, seated Virgin with child. London, British Museum. Royal Ms. 2A. XXII.)

Although some date other pages to 1250, this should be a c1200 one.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Tart of Prunes

[Annother post from the draft archive. I was waiting to add a picture, but I've admitted defeat and will post this instead for you to enjoy]

This tarts tends to divide people into love it or hate it. The brown colour either resembles a turd (off-putting) or chocolate (disappointing when it isn't). Slice it thinly to serve as it can be rich and overwhelming in a large serving. This is better served hot, but is fine served cold.

A Tarte of Prunes

from A Book of Cookrye, 1591
To make a Tarte of Prunes. Take Prunes and wash them, then boile them with faire water, cut in halfe a penny loaf of white bread, and take them out and straine them with Claret wine, season it with sinamon, Ginger and Sugar, and a little Rosewater, make the paste as fine as you can, and dry it, and fill it, and let it drie in the oven, take it out and cast on it Biskets and Carawaies.

My reconstruction:

 I don't measure ingredients, so these are approximations:

breadcrumbs (about 1 cups)
prunes (about 2 cups)
spices: cinnamon, ginger, (caster or other) sugar in about equal quantities (2 teaspooons?)
red wine (about 1/2 cup)
1 pastry case

Make a pastry case in your favourite way for a sweet pie (I made a basic shortcrust pastry). Blind bake the case.

Cook whole pitted prunes in water, boiling gently until soft, but still whole. Remove and strain prunes to remove water.  Put prunes back in the pot with wine and breadcrumbs. Stir occasionally unless you want to scrub the pot (talking from experience), and boil off remove liquid until moderately dry. Stir thoroughly until a puree. Remove from heat. Add rosewater and spices.

Pour prune mixture into the blind baked tart case and cook until prune mixture dehydrates and darkens on surface. I cooked at 180C. Cooking time will vary according to moisture content and thickness of prune layer (I suggest not more than 1.5cm thick), but seems to be in the realm of 20-60 minutes.  It's very difficult to damage this tart by extended cooking.

Optionally, decorate surface of tart before serving with caraway seeds and/or crumbled/small biscuits.

Notes on the reconstruction

I was most interested to see this recipie blind bakes it's tart case.  I have no clue what kind of "fair paste" (pastry) it might have used, a variety of pastry types were in use, however a sweet pastry is more likely than a fat based one given the sweet ingredients, and shortcrust pastry was in use.

The second time I made this I cheated rather on the prune puree. I actually cooked it in water and boiled it off then added the other ingredients. No straining, and no wine (I've developed an allergy) This worked fine. There is some question regarding exactly what is happening to the mixture. The wine could be simply washing the prunes in a strainer, but that seems a waste. More likely the strainer is used to essentially puree the breadcrumbs and prunes by forcing it through a strainer with wine used to keep it mushy while forcing it.  I consider pureeing an equivalent action. My breadcrumbs were made in a food processor, so are possibly much smaller than period ones, so perhaps less likely to need pureeing (using a strainer or other method) than period ones. If I'd had time to puree the end result might be a bit smoother and more elegant.

The second time I made this I had too many breadcrumbs and the spices were imperceptible despite my normal generous servings, the result was still good, but could have been better. I've adjusted quantities above to fix this problem.

Decoration of the tart would make it look more appealing and less skungy. Unfortunately I didn't do this.  I'm not sure exactly what it means by "biskets" but I assume something light and crumbly like prinz biskets or bisket bread. I'm only assuming the biskets are crumbled because caraway is small and the biskets I've seen are easy to crumble.

I made this a few years ago, and have successfully rewarmed it in a dutch oven, and recently made it again for a potluck feast.It's not a lot of work to make this tart, and it can be quite interesting.I'm not sure I'd serve a controversial dish like this at a feast with few dishes though. It might be better suited to a supper buffet with many varieties of sweets, where it will probably give a slight acidic contrast to the sickly sweet dishes.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The world's simplest veil: headrails


The simplest veil I know of is the headrail. Firstly it is simple to construct because it is quite simply a long rectangular piece of fabric. In fact a light pashmina scarf makes a great headrail, and requires no construction at all. I find my smallest one that works is 162cm long and a width of 60cm, but a little wider may be good (not too much -try for the distance from the front of your head over your head to your neck and a bit of spare), and any amount of excess length is fine - I have one which is over 2m long.

Secondly the headrail is simple because you don't need a fillet under it. This is a good veil for people who are scared of pins in their head, or claim they are too uncoordinated to get a veil on straight, especially at events where no large mirrors are handy. Thirdly the headrail is simple because there are only 2 steps to draping it.

I don't know where the name headrail comes from, but I expect it's a reenactor term. I think the 12th C person would have called it the local equivalent of veil, eg the anglo norman guimple or perhaps coife. I doubt the language would have had a specific word for this type of veil versus that one, but modernly we find it useful, especially when referring to 100's of years of veil types at the same time.

How to drape it

The first step is to place the centre of the veil on top of your head. It may be easier to drape it around your neck like a scarf, then pull it up onto the head.

In the picture I've deliberately made the two ends slightly uneven, so it drapes evenly. This really isn't necessary, nobody gets to see both ends at once. Next, grab one end, and toss it over your shoulder. It doesn't matter which side.

  And that simply, you have a headrail.
For tasks where the long headrail may drape into things in front of you, simply toss both ends over your shoulders. For even more demanding tasks, tie the ends in a simple single knot behind your back.

Comparison to other veils

While the simplest veil, the headrail isn't quite as versatile as other veils in this manner.  I do find myself adjusting it occasionally and it isn't well suited to tasks where I must bend over (it drops off forwards). If I sit in chairs with a back, the headrail also doesn't work as well because it relies on the weight of the fabric to hold the veil tight against my face.  Sitting in a chair takes the weight off the veil.  For the same reason, while I've seen little evidence for it being the way things were done in most places in the 12th Century, a beaded or heavy trim edging or fringe could really add weight to a headrail, making it stay on better.

Extant 12th C images

When I actually look for 12th C headrails, I actually find it difficult to prove such a veil was used. Here are some of the closest images I've found:

England, 1175-1200.
folios 11r, 12v and 15r

These images show an unusual amount of detail for the period - generally you can only see a white or whiteish veil wrapped around a head. But on these examples you can clearly see the veil crosses over itself at the neck. There are a few other examples which do show the crossing of layers of the veil, and many which do not.

But I'm not at all sure what shape of veil is depicted here - we can clearly see a corner on the first image, but that could for example be the corner of a half circle veil as the corner of a rectangular veil. So we must guess based on the shape produced by comparing to our results and hoping that the artist was actually trying for a realistic impression. Whatever shape the veil, both ends are flipped back over the shoulder in all but the first image. And the ends depicted are fairly short - whereas my ends are fairly long to keep this veil closed by itself.

In all but the first image, no hair is visible under the veil - I find this very difficult to achieve with a headrail alone - I generally either need veil pins or an extra layer underneath to cover the forehead, or otherwise my veil creeps backwards on my head.

Overall, I think the headrail is a quick and easy way to introduce people to veils, but I'm not convinced that this is exactly how a veil would be worn. But it does teach about what fabric drapes well, is easy to put people (even if afraid of pins), and teaches them how to flip the ends over their neck - so I think it serves a useful purpose. And it may be right for other time periods.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Even more tent links - with a focus on the extant

After all those links to tent images, we might think that was all the info we had on construction of medeival and renaisance tents, but actually we have extant tents and patterns for tents from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Extant tents

This circular tent dated to 1542-1545 owned by a spanish general, but "constructed in muslim india" shows some features which are interpreted by some as sockets for a hub spoke attachment. Unfortunately no construction closeups.

This circular 17th C (pre 1655) tent uses thin wedges of canvas for the roof and covers all the seams with coloured tape.  Looking at the lovely closeups of the inside of the seams I can only see two lines of stitching - the seam itself and the stitching down of the tape. If I were constructing a tent and expecting it to be sturdy, I'd be using some form of sewing which enclosed the seams, and I'd favour the jeans seam style of felling (like this repair on the right probably has). There is no extra seam that corresponds to stitching down the canvas, nor is there a second seam for the tape. This implies to me the tape is an integral part of enclosing the seam. If the tape is sewn into the construction seam, and then it is stitched down to enclose both canvas edges, this would work quite nicely, and the tape probably folds easier than canvas, and you are only ever sewing through a maximum of two thicknesses of canvas, and only holding the tape flat when sewing it down. I think this might be a very easy way to sew construction seams. I also note that blue thread is used to sew down the tape, and the sewing is a running stitch without apparent locking stitches. Also photographed in detail are the grommets that hold the ropes, and crowsfoot rope arrangements.

An extant 17th C double bell tent shows lovely details of  a wall to roof attachment with toggles
It also shows side seams on the walls that are clearly in two parts (ie some kind of fold over and stitch down method), single rope attachments (not crowsfoot) in what appear to be very small holes reinforced with wooden washers.

Tent patterns

I also promised links to tent pattens. Courtesy of this fascinating blogger, we have images of tent poles in sections, and details of take down poles.

This 1590's Austrian tailoring pattern book has a pattern for a circular tent, made from simple triangles and rectangles and fitted to the width of the fabric. I'm not sure which triangles are which though - which make up the roof and why are a second set needed? Why is the door? using a funny arrangement of triangles? What does the text say?

This Milanese tailoring pattern book c1540 is full complex configurations of pavilions, including one that appears to have fake campsite walls. I'd call them fanciful, but they are full of measurements of fabric needed, so someone at least hoped they'd get paid to make these. There is a lovely plan for cutting out pavillion pieces that uses modified triangles and rectangles.

Friday, 22 February 2013

tent links redux

I've talked about tents before, but it's been so long that half the links are broken!

If you are looking for pictures of period tents, here are some great sites:

A few useful tips sites might be:


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentines Day Special: Love tokens

Today I present themed links for valentines' day. In fact the theme is love, and gifts of love. I'll look at extant gifts of love, particularly heart shaped objects, and also modern reproductions that you could give your lover.

Extant heart shaped broaches

There are surprising numbers of heart shaped broaches of the medieval period which have been found. The first type I noticed was broaches with an outline of a heart formed in a flat section which allows some of them to have inscriptions (or fake 'pseudo inscriptions') on their surface. This is a beautiful example of the style:
A 13-15thC copper alloy broach with traces of gilding

Some broaches of this style are a simple flat shape of a heart outline with a pin reaching across the heart:
A 13-14th C copper alloy broach

Fancier versions of this style can also be found:
15th C silver gilt broach
15th C gold broach originally enameled, decorated and with inscription.
c1400 gilt broach with inscription and formerly enameled decoration

In contrast, some have the pin diving the badge in two (pointing to the point)- Here are a few examples of these downwards facing pinned shaped broaches:
A 13-14th C copper alloy broach with pseudo inscription
A probably 13-14thC (almost symmetric heart shaped) copper alloy broach
A 'medieval' gilded copper alloy broach with intact pin
13-15th C gilded copper alloy broach with illegible inscription
13th-14th C cast copper alloy broach

These could be much more elaborate, I don't know if these are later, or just more expensive examples:
A 15th C silver gilt broach with inscription on the back
15th C silver gilt broach with inscription and decorative images
14-15th C gold broach with heart shape formed by arms with clasped  hands
14-15th C gold heart shaped broach formed by two arms with hands clasping

I find the two orientations of broaches interesting - I understand the broaches that pin across the heart shape, but the pins that reach downwards are more confusing - does this mean the modern idea of a heart being always oriented point downwards is a more recent development postdating the broaches? Or was the pin worn pointing downwards thorough the fabric? I think a downwards pointing pin would be less secure than across if you wished to hold something shut, but I may be wrong, or the pin may be purely decorative, in which case a downwards point may come open, but is less likely to fall off a garment.

The final broach on this list of fancy broaches with pins across the heart shape also has loops for pendants hanging from it confirming that the heart should face point downwards on this example, but i can find no such clues on the downwards pinned broaches.

Some broaches break all the rules - such  as this 14th C copper alloy broach which probably had 2 pins (on horizontal, one vertical). Or this apparently deliberately asymmetrical heart shaped broach, where all the above examples are symmetrical. This gold 'medieval' broach is also interesting because it is not a flat outline, but more like a wire shape. Whereas this 16th C copper frame broach is also an asymmetric heart shape (although the description says 'pointed oval') with a heart decoration on top - if it is just a pointed oval then this is an example of use of a heart as decoration instead of as shape of the broach. These oddities just prove how much there was a standard form of heart shaped broach though.

Other objects with hearts on them

While we are looking at extant objects with hearts, you could also branch out into objects other than broaches, for example one item that appears to be a common 14-15th C lover's token (according to the blurb on this find) is a heart shaped badge or lover's token, of which there are several examples, one even betrays it's purpose with the inscription 'hert be true". while other badges with hearts might have less specific meaning.

Another gift is a finger ring either with a heart shape soldered on to it  (and another)  or as part of a design moulded onto it (and another, and another, in fact a heart sprouting flowers is very common, very very common), while angel's holding hearts are common too) or a 'fede' ring (and another, apparently often used a betrothal rings), or with an engraved love inscription (and another, and another) which are clear lover's tokens (eg "all my desire"). This ring uses hearts in what might be a marriage ring rather than a lover's gift, while other rings may be more innocent in meaning or definitely have religious meaning.

There are also a lot of 15-16th C spindle whorls decorated with incised markings including hearts, or mostly consisting of hearts - I wonder if it was a nice gift for a man to give to his female lover? Although some usages appear more religious than love tokens. Heart shaped buttons are also a nicely feminine gendered gift of the affordable nature (and sturdy enough to survive burial so we rediscover it), and there are plenty of examples from the 15th C (and another) and many from the 15-17th C

I'm surprised there are not more thimbles decorated with hearts (this example is even a heart pierced by an arrow - clearly a love allusion) given they are similarly small and gendered gifts.

Looking for traditionally masculine gendered gifts for a man, I am astonished by the number of 15-16th C scabbard chapes (another and another and another and so many more) which makes me wonder if this was a common love gift or just a popular pattern with manufacturers. While some could be for ladies eating knives, I think some belong to swords, a clearly gendered item in medieval times.

Personal seals can have lots of connotations of love because they can be used to make love letters private. I wonder if the owners of these might have had a separate seal for sending to their lover that wasn't the one they used for their other friends? (they'd have a different seal for business mail) I certainly can't imagine sending your best friend a letter sealed with the words "I keep love's secrets" although an arrow piercing a heart might not provoke comment, while a seal with a 'sacred heart' is not at all a lover's symbol.

On hearts and love

There appears to have been a fad for heart shaped motifs and lover's tokens in this shape in the 15th-16 C. That's when most of the above examples date from. But was the heart motif in use earlier? Did it symbolise love earlier? The earlier examples I can find are rather more ambiguous as to the extent to which they are deliberate heart shapes or have symbology of love, for example a heart shaped hair pin from 6-11th C Leicestershire.

It mustn't be forgotten that hearts were also used for more ordinary objects, for example as part of a 15-16th C merchant's mark, as a purse fitting, a lead weight (and another) or as a decorative feature amongst other decoration, for example on a 15-16th C stud,  , a 15th-16th C dress tag and a  16th C dress hook, (and another) on a book fitting, vice handle, on various and decorative mounts and swivel mounts and suchlike. Heart shaped appears to be a standard shape for chafing dish handles (and so many more). I doubt these chafing dish handles are deliberate uses of a heart, and I wonder how many of the other uses symbolise love? We can only be sure the heart symbolises love when it's use is tied to objects that we know have love symbolism (eg rings) or is accompanied by further imagery that underlines the symbolism (eg an inscription, or the flowers sprouting from a heart symbol).

While the heart as a motif might just have been decorative earlier, or might not have enjoyed popularity as a universal symbol of love, an object that has an incidental heart shape might convey such a meaning to modern reenactors. In the same way there might be many of pre-15th C items which conveyed love to their recipient and maybe even to an audience that today we cannot tell apart from ordinary objects. For example a plain ring without a design of hearts on it might be a love token, but tells us nothing of it's use.  Given the rapidity with which the heart shaped objects occur, it seems probable that it was not a society shattering rapid increase in the practice of love token giving that was occurring, but that merely the exact form of the love token changed rapidly with fashion, now enabling us to identify them. Indeed we have plenty of literary references to the practice of giving love tokens earlier and a few objects which make their purpose clear. As reenactors, perhaps the exchange of objects with shared meaning between the participants would be better understood by a medieval person than worrying about a specific object type?

Adding a little raunchiness

All these heart symbols are very pretty and pleasing to give to a lover, but what if you'd like to give something a little more suggestive as a lover's token?  Rather than a heart shaped object, you might prefer a naughty "carnival badge", such as this extant example (these are not exactly work safe)

Or you might wish to be more subtle in your message, such as this badge shaped as a comb with a pretty design of um, foliage, yes definitely foliage.

I have no proof these were used as love tokens, in fact they seem more likely to have been not, instead being parodies of religious iconography.

Buying reproductions

If you want to buy some reproductions of heart shaped broaches, mainly medieval has a simple gem studded heart shaped annular and lorifactor has a 13-14th C heart broach with birds (I'm sure a number of other retailers have items too that I haven't spotted).

Mainly medieval also sell 15th C lovers tokens of a heart crowned and pierced by an arrow, a heart with flowers sprouting from it, a crowned heart, "true love" and "par amour".

If you are looking for naughty carnival badges, these seem to be much more popular with reproduction suppliers (obviously this takes the fancy of reenactors), with many offerings available (I'm going to number instead of name them to keep this work safe): 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,  and some are also offered by this store, but not on their website.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Blue wool cote II: Revenge of the fabric

I've written about the plans I had for constructing my blue wool cote earlier. And just as I had written, I constructed the garment. And it was a good fit, and comfortable. And the wool was flowier than the linen. And the wool was warmer than the linen when it was cold, and not much warmer when it was hot. And I forgot to take any photos of it. From my memory, the only difficulty I had was the seams were a little more difficult to sew than regular seams because I was always working in the middle of the fabric, and because the fabric was so thin.

But alas very quickly my choice of fabric let me down. I had chosen a thin wool suiting, and the fabric manufacturer had decided to make the fabric modern by doing something to stop it fulling (making it machine washable). I don't know if it was  treatment or if they chose worsted wool or something else, but the wool frayed, and refuse to full (felt) even with warm water and soap. And it frayed more, and I was in deathly fear that all my seams would fray out and my dress fall to pieces.  Possibly in embarrassing ways. So with tears in my eyes for all the effort I'd spent constructing the dress, I set about systematically resewing each and every seam on the garment (well maybe not the entirety of all hems). I tried to maintain the effect of the original stitching, by tucking in the edge of the fabric and then sewing both seams together in the same manner as the original seams, but now with no exposed edges.

Here's how the seams looked after resewing::

 This worked well, the seams years later are still not fraying, and I still maintain the original magnificent effect of the white thread on dark blue fabric, but without the fraying. And I only had to resew the entire garment (I'm not bitter :-) ).

I still forgot to take photos of the entire garment at this stage, but I do have some photos of details which have not changed, so let's take a closer look at some of the features of the garment:

neckline detail - this was bound with a piece of straight grain tape made from the same fabric

 gusset detail - see how interesting the white linen on blue dress looks

arm detail - see how the extra length ruches (gathers) up about the wrist

front of centre gore -I decided to play with the gore insertion, gathering the gores into the body pieces slightly. This was inspired by the gathering seen in side seams of 12th C garments and a half remembered reenactor's late period gathered garment. I have little evidence for centre gores at all, let alone gathered in ones, so this was mostly an excuse to explore garment cut than a serious conjecture about how centre gores might be finished (side gores are a different matter).

back of the seam showing the reinforcing piece I sewed on to strengthen the pleating. This piece doesn't really support the garment, but it protects the back of the pleats from rubbing, and the edges of the pleats from fraying. I have only half garbled inspiration for such a construction, but I did need to protect the frayable edges of my fabric.

You might be wondering why I don't have any photos of the garment at this stage- wasn't it finished this time? Alas no, the seams were working great, but there was one problem with resewing the entire garment (other than having to resew it), which was my seam allowances were now much larger than they were before, and consequently the width of my pieces became narrower. What was once a casual comfortable garment was now tight across the chest and upper body. But it wasn't tight like my side laced garments, it was too tight for a loose garment, but not as tight as a tight garment - the worst of both worlds. So more changes were afoot, which I'll write about in the next episode of the saga.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

More fingerloop concepts

Having established what reversed and unreversed are in fingerloop braiding, there is some more complex terminology and concepts that I'd like to make you aware of that can help us better communicate about fingerloop braiding.

Why loop manipulation?

Why do we sometimes call fingerloop braiding "loop manipulation"? Well, the loop is an essential part of the technique that tells it apart from plain braiding or fingerweaving. The string needs to pass through a loop to create a fingerloop braid, instead of just pass over another loop as in a conventional braid. It is possible to do a plain braid using loops: the end product just loops like you were plaiting with two strands of string held together.

I still haven't answered  why we call it loop manipulation rather than fingerloop braiding - well that is because while the loops are essential, using fingers to manipulate them is not. One Japanese method of loop manipulation uses loops held over the hands instead of over individual fingers.

Orthodox or unorthodox?

An unorthodox fingerloop braid pattern reaches over (rather than through) some loops to pick up others. That is it employs the sort of move normally done in conventional plaiting in fingerloop, rather than the fingerloop move of passing a loop through another loop.This concept is explained more fully at LMBRIC  and by Ingrid Crickmore.

Unorthodox patterns are not normally used in hand held methods as it is much more difficult to achieve when fingers are not used. But in finger held methods, unorthodox braids can be quite easy to make, in fact the broad lace of 5 bowes which is often the first fingerloop braid most people learn is actually an unorthodox pattern. This braid skips the lowest finger of the active hand (an unorthodox move), while the square "pursestring" is orthodox as the loops pass through all the fingers on one hand before picking up a loop from the other hand. If you've wondered why these two very similar braids have quite different profiles, this difference between orthodox and unorthodox explains it. 

Warp twining (transfer move)

Most of our braids are simple through the loop fingerloop patterns, but there are a number of patterns where things work differently. Any patterns with an exchange/transfer move can be called "warp twining". A 4 loop spiral is the simplest twining pattern and was used historically.

I like to think of warp twining and more conventional fingerloop as different families of fingerloop. The warp twining family works best with even numbers of loops as you can swap the loops with each other in pairs, it doesn't just have simple members like the 4,6 and 8 loop spirals, but also has more complex combinations such as the green dorge and it's variants and the lace maskel.

The conventional fingerloop family generally works best with odd numbers (eg braids with 3, 5 or 7 loops) because where a simple pattern is used, it is simple to always know to pick up a loop from the side with the most loops, and one can maximise the number of loops on your fingers. I have done a simple conventional fingerloop of 4 loops in the manner of the simple 3 loop braid, and it works fine, but is much more confusing to do than the same pattern using 5 loops. Once conventional fingerloop patterns are complex enough, the guideline about odd numbers of loops tends to break down a little more.

Of course, just to make things more interesting, some braids combine both conventional fingerloop and warp twining.

Hand position and operator finger:

There are also a number of different ways you can hold your hands when doing fingerloop. The most common is "V-fell" or "A-fell" which is the difference between weather loops cross between hands at the top or bottom of your hands. This also means the "operator finger" (the finger which picks up loops) will change from your top (index) finger to your bottom (little) finger.

This concept is explained well, with more photos by Ingrid Crickmore who also talks about Slentre, an even rare way of holding your hands and transferring loops. The difference between A and V-fell are illustrated more in this video.

The A-shaped fell (method 1) is the dominant European medieval method. The V-fell (method 2), is mainly known in the east, but isolated examples exist in traditional Finnish braiding. This link from LMBRIC newsletter 11 has nice images of the finish method, see also LMBRIC newsletter 6 for an earlier report of this method in use in Finland.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Reversed and unreversed in fingerloop braiding - even more complicated than it seems

If you've learnt about fingerloop braiding, probably one of the first things you learnt was the difference between reversed and unreversed......

Let me explain more about reversed and unreversed pickups. They are respectively pickups where the strands of the loop cross each other (twist) and pickups where they don't. This page and this video provides a nice visual of the difference.

If you want to see this effect in action, Noemi Speiser suggests a nifty method: make a set of linked or departed bowes, with one colour on each side. Arrange them on your fingers so that all of one colour is on the top of your finger on one hand and on the bottom of your finger on the other hand. Start braiding (5 loop patterns are ideal for this) and watch how the colours change. With all unreversed, the colours will all stay on the same side they started on, while with reversed, they will switch every time you exchange that loop.This effect was known to some extent in the medieval era - see the lace bastion.

I'm assuming you probably know reversed and unreversed as picking up the bottom of the loop or the top of the loop. But as well as being able to change which part of the loop is picked up, there are two methods of picking up the loop. With your hands held inwards, in the standard western fingerloop posture  (I'm not even going to consider the complexities of other hand postures such V-fell today) your index finger can form a hook that points upwards or downwards.

Let's illustrate that in more detail:

 picking up the bottom loop by hooking upwards
 picking up the bottom loop by hooking downwards

picking up the top loop by hooking upwards

picking up the top loop by hooking downwards

All the standard instruction books I've seen so far assume your hook will be pointing upwards. About 1 in 15 people naturally point their hook downwards. Changing direction your hook points in will change your pickup from reversed to unreversed. Here's a table of possible options:

hook upwards hook downwards
pickup bottom of loop reversed/twisted unreversed/untwisted
pickup top of loop unreversed/untwisted reversed/twisted

So, an upwards hook on the bottom of the loop is structurally identical to a downwards hook on the top of the loop. Thus beginning braiders who hook in the less usual direction will get different results from most textbooks. But if they know unreversed and reversed as their motions, rather than learning them as top of the loop and bottom of the loop, they will be able to easily follow textbook patterns. Or if textbook patterns use top of the loop terminology rather than reversed terminology, they will know to swap everything around for themselves, and not be worried about "getting it wrong".

I mentioned 5 loop braids being ideal for seeing the differences in hooking methods. The half circular braid doesn't care whether you pickup the loops reversed or unreversed. Even if the beginner braider switches between reversed and unreversed, they will get a nice result. In some ways this is a good teaching braid because they'll build confidence by getting nice results whichever way they pickup, and can instead work on the 3 stages and tensioning. In other ways, this won't allow them to notice and learn the differences between the different pickups.

The other common 5-loop braids, do care which pickup method is used. It's important for these braids that a braider uses a consistent method of picking up - not for example picking up one side with an upwards hook and the other with a downwards hook, or picking up the top of the loop on one side and the bottom of the other side. The pair of 5 loop braids the round 5-loop braid (beware the diagram is wrong at this link, words are right) and the 2 plaits at once braid differ only by which way they pick up the loops. Using this pair of braids is a great diagnostic to see how another person is picking up their loops, or to test yourself for consistency. Especially if you aim to braid the 2 plaits at once braid, because one single incorrect pickup will re-mesh your two strings together, and be easily noticed.

It's common for a person to switch their hooking direction, for example they may upwards hook the bottom loop and downwards hook the top loop or vice versa. As these moves are structurally identical, they'll need to learn how to control these motions more than your person who only uses one hooking direction, or they will never be able to make more than a few braids. Similarly I find some hooking directions easier on one hand than the other, which can be useful for braids like the flat string, but something I had to train my fingers out of to reliably make the braids I wanted. 

Which way was used most in the medieval period?

If we look at the English fingerloop patternbooks with which I am most familiar, we can find some clues as to which way looks were "hooked".

The 5 loop round string /pursestring we saw earlier with reversed pickups says to"take all under" while it's unreversed partner the 2 strings at once braid says "takinge the top of the loer fingers alike".These two braids differ only in being reversed or unreversed, and we are quite clear by their titles and the sewn on braid examples of their appearance. In order to pickup the underneath of the loop in the first braid and the top of the loop in the second, and end up with the desired result, both loops must be hooked upwards. So this is a clear indicator of hooking direction used in this set of manuscripts.

However, German recipes for the same braids known in English pattern books, are more flexible about how they pick up loops, as noted by Naomi Speiser. I suspect that while a standard way might have been known, the best fingerloop braiders who created new patterns probably knew this distinction and could use it when it made a complex pattern easier.