Saturday, 28 July 2007


I was investigating how to make turk's head buttons, when I ran across this nice site that describes how to make some buttons in other techniques.
Here's my ribbed button (sorry the photos are so dark):

It's pretty simple to make, just time consuming. Take a bead, and some embroidery or perle coton threaded in a blunt tapestry needle. The hole needs to be moderately big, but I found the holes on these beads a little too big (about 3mm in a 9mm bead) making it harder for me to fill up the gap at the end. Tie a knot around the bead. Move the knot to the end of the bead, and then wrap around the bead 5 or so more times, from hole to hole. These are your ribs.Don't pull them too tight or too loose, or it will get difficult later.
Now work perpendicular to these ribs, slipping the needle under a rib, then pass the thread over the rib, and back under the rib lower down the rib. Pull this tight, and poke it as high up on the bead as possible. Do the same on the next rib, and so on until the bead is covered. You can save a step by passing under two ribs at a ime once you gt the hang of things. Make a few stitches freehand at the end to neaten up the end. If you have a large hole like me, you'll need more, with a smaller hole a simple knot (eg french knot) might suffice.

I found a different way to make the even weave button. Here's my finished product:

This version is woven. It sits tighter and neater than the other version (assuming both use a solid core). I don't think this is any harder to make than the ribbed button, and is slightly quicker too. I prefer the elegance of the single colour version, but the multi colour version displays where the threads go better for instruction purposes, and could be cute for some uses.
Start by making a lot of ribs around the bead, the same as the ribbed button, but many more ribs. I prefer enough ribs that the bead is mostly covered, without overlapping. Make sure you have a number of ribs that is a multiple of 3 for your first bead.
Now point your needle perpendicular (tangential) to the ribs and pass it under 3 adjacent ribs. Pass over the top of the next 3 ribs, under the next 3 and so on. When you return to the start, repeat this pattern over and under the same ribs for 3 more turns. Then the following turn, pass the thread under 6 ribs, before resuming this pattern of 3 over, 3 under. After 3 more circuits of the bead, pass the thread under 6 ribs again, and your stitches should be the same as in the first row. Continue until the bottom of the bead, then finish the end with a few stitches if needed.

This bead is worked as a 3 by 3 weave, I think this is a nice looking balance for the thread and bead size. It could be worked in other weaves eg 1 by 1, 2 by 2 , 5 by 5, 3 by 2, etc. Anyway, for the 3 by 3 weave, to look nicest you need a multiple of 3 ribs. Counting might work, but I find it easiest to begin weaving the first row and then if needed add an extra rib or two (using the other end of the string which I've left deliberately long) just before I finish my first lap of the bead, when it's easy to count how many ribs I have. Annother option is to simply have a group of 2 or 4 ribs that sits slightly unsymetrical, but barely noticeable.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

tabletweaving equipement report

Well I've finished a tubular threaded in tabletweaving project, and a flat threaded in piece (report soon) and I was trying a few new pieces of tabletweaving equipment, so a report on how well the various bits worked.

Silk thread
I used 60/2 silk from the Handweavers Studio. Actually I used 2 varieties of 60/2 silk and one of 90/3 silk. What do those numbers mean? Well the first number is a rating of how many km to the kg or some imperial equivalent, so bigger numbers mean smaller threads. Since different fibres are different, this number will only work to compare silk to silk, but suffice it to say 60/2 is very small, about the thickness of ordinary sewing machine thread. The second number is the number of plies - how many threads were combined together to make the thread. 2 is a common number now as in medieval times.

90/3 is roughly equivalent in size to 60/2, which is why I used it with the other threads. I really didn't like this thread. It didn't behave like the 60/2 threads, it snapped easier (a weft thread snapping!) and deplies easier and snarls easier when i try and embroider with it. It might be plied in a different direction to the others, or it might be individual thinner threads or something, but this one gave me the irrits.

The 60/2 threads worked like a dream on the tubular band. They didn't snap under the strain, they didn't abrade, snag or have lumpy bits. The fineness wasn't a big problem, just made overall weaving time take longer. The silk is harsher than other fibres, and harder on the hands. I almost got a blister from tugging the weft tight (I was tugging it tighter than normal because this project was tubular). On the second flat piece, the 60/2 silk snapped quite a few times. The snapping partially depended how high a tension I was working at. I think I'd prefer to work with thicker or stronger thread most of the time, but I'd be happy enough to do more work with this thread, especially at lower tension.

Parchment cards
I bought these last festival. These particular ones are octagonal shaped with 4 holes.

The octagonal shape didn't work well for 4 hole weaving. the cards would slip 1/8th of a turn out of alignment, and on such small cards it was hard to stop them doing so. Octagonal cards might be ok for 8 holed work, but are silly for 4 holed. I want some square holed cards now.

The size is much smaller than I've worked with before, but this wasn't much of a problem. The cards slipped around the edges more easily, but i think with square cards it would be manageable. The threads didn't get caught on the edges of the cards, nor flip over them. It was easier to turn the cards one handed, or with less help from the second hand. The shed was smaller, but manageable. Probably not very good for learners unless they are determined. I ended up keeping the cards closer to the weaving than I normally do, which made locating the shed easier. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I worked with cards this size, since I'd previously preferred cards twice the size. I think the smaller cards were better for working with the finer materials. Things might be different if I go back to coarse fibres.

The parchment handled well. It was nicely stiff but flexible, subtly better than the cardboard I've used before. The silk didn't noticeably abrade the parchment, nor did the parchment noticeably abrade the silk. That's good - I want the cards to last a while, but I don't want the threads to be cut up. A couple of other people mentioned at the last monthly bash having cards from the same manufacturer and their cards warping in mild humidity. I haven't had this problem, but I haven't had my cards exposed to humidity either. I might also be at an advantage - working with a fine thread might strain the cards less - the others mentioned working with fatter threads and more cards and having the cards curl a bit from the bulk of thread.

Warp spreader
As far as I know, I have a unique warp spreader. It's an extremely simple idea I thought up and made based on what I'd seen in period illustrations of band looms. I'll write up the details real soon now. This is my warp spreader's first trial in it's job and it worked just fine. I was worried about the huge quantities of beeswax I poked into the holes, but they worked fine and the threads didn't get waxy feeling. The threads weren't abraded by the spreader either that I could see, even though I had it at pretty high tension occasionally. This still needs to be tested with a weaker thread than silk though.

The warp spreader sat upright on the threads by itself, as long as my tension was moderate. The warp spreader helped keep my cards separated from each other - they never flipped over each other once. The spreader did reduce the amount of space I could work when weaving - I need a longer loom to make this practical. When the weaving got too close to the spreader, the cards floated separate from each other, making them harder to turn as a pack. Partly to combat this I worked with my cards closer to the weaving than i normally do. I think this is more in line with how period manuscripts display weaving.

I found I could adjust tension a little by tilting my warp spreader from the vertical towards the horizontal in the plane of the weaving. But I also found I could tilt the whole warp up and down the loom on a gentle diagonal to adjust my overall tension too, and that this generally was more effective and easier to adjust.

The warp spreader worked nicely and I think it looks just like in the pictures. (and yes my feet are on top of the bottom support strut of my loom) A success!

The Hague, KB, 76 F 21
Book of Hours (use of Paris)
Paris; c. 1400-1410

Fol. 14r
Mary weaving in the temple

Looking at the large sword beaters in the above pictures has given me another idea that I've been considering. They could be just exaggerated size, but what if that is real size? Why would anyone want such a large and heavy cumbersome object when the small beater I have works fine? And why are they shown holding the beater in the warp as they drop the bobbin through. That could be artistic license too - showing all stages of weaving at once to give an impression rather than a snapshot. For that matter, why is the bobbin shown so large - it must be tricky to get through the shed.

My tentative hypothesis: If you have a narrow shed from small cards, and a wide sword beater, you can turn the sword beater sideways and make the shed as wide as your sword beater. Now you can drop bobbins through easily if they are bigger than your cards, as long as they are smaller than the width of your sword beater.

Opinions? Anyone tried this out? I need to make/obtain a wide sword beater and a fat bobbin to do so myself.

wire rings

Some of you might have seen my wire rings by now. I'm fascinated by medieval wire jewelry because it's so simple to make with few tools, and looks cool. I've taught making these with stripped copper electrical wire, and was able to briefly explain the context, and get people to make rings and even the slowest was complete within 45 minutes. I can't think of many other medieval mini projects that can be taught on such a short timescale without the teacher doing a lot of preparation work.

Here's my latest collection (in silver so they could be donated as silver rondell tokens):
These are based on an brass wire example from late 13th- early 14th C London, as described in "Dress Accessories".

The original piece is rather carelessly made, with less care to where the wire sits than I now show. They did take care to make sure the ends of the wire pointed outwards, rather than into the finger though.

I've been playing with the subtle changes you can make to the pattern. Here are some closeups as examples.(Sorry the closeup photos are dark, otherwise the reflection off the wire is too much with my primitive photography setup).

With lots of twists close together:With one twist separated by wide gaps:
With two twists separated by gaps:With three twists separated by gaps:
Note that the one-two-three twists represent the first three passes of the neatest way to make these rings - by making multiple passes around the ring. At first I thought it would be better to make all the twists in one pass around the ring, but that doesn't work well in wire. The medieval example though, only makes one pass around the ring - it just doesn't add many twists.

And here's a few experiments (not at all based on medieval precedent), that I did just for fun:

A new tent picture!

Great news - Bildindex now has an English option - click on the union jack flag on the front page

While I was looking on bildindex for a better copy of a 12th C manuscript I know has tents and lamps and sidesaddles and all manner of interesting stuff in it, I found an earlier single bell tent:

f45. Abraham and the 3 angels
Prudentius Manuscript
St Gallen Abbey, Switzerland, 10th C
(Bern Stadtsbibliothek, Cod.264)

Araham's wife has some snazzy clothes too.

As far as I can tell, It's not listed here or here or here, so I think I might have found a depiction hardly anyone knows about.

Here's what I was actually looking for (unfortunately only one page of many so far):
f143 - Biblical figures (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David), centre- Freidrich Barbarosa & sons, bottom - Freidrich on crusade
Petrus de Ebulo, "de rebus Sicilianis carmen"
Salerno, Sicily, c1195
(Bern Burgerbibliothek Cod.120)

I'd love to get my hands on a complete copy of the illustrations of this. Looks like latrobe uni might have something in German.

Other Tents also found while searching:
A 15thC tent and annother from
Schilling's Bern Chronicles 1480's
For more pages (without tents), search bildindex - place Switzerland, Bern, Stadt, Geschicte, allgemeine.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Aachen Cathedral Treasury - Part 2: Stole with brickwork

In the previous post, I've done a rough listing of medieval reenactor interesting contents of Aachen Cathedral, now to my first highlight from a 12th C perspective:

"stole, Germany? c1200. silk? (w 11cm, l 265cm)"
The stole and mantiple, I found about a year ago while looking for belts. The centre section is a lovely typical example of goldwork (underside couching I think) at it's best. But it's the ends that fascinate. Firstly both end with a fringe which passes through beads before hanging as a fringe. Simple, but very effective, and clearly shown in the photos. Secondly, the Stole has an end section of brickstitch. This is the earliest example of the style I've ever seen. It doesn't look like a later addition, and the rest of the piece looks very typical for 1200 (to my untutored eye), so maybe the labelling is correct, and it truly is a very early piece. It doesn't have the devices or non-geometric motifs of later pieces, but the piece is so small that they wouldn't fit easily. The pattern is geometric, but more complex to count out and stitch than it initially appears.

I've graphed it out. On the left is my interpretation of the overall pattern. On the right, I've overlaid it on the original photograph (over the section which sits flattest). I stretched the pattern a little to do so, but did not distort it in any other way. Below is my best guess at where the individual stitches might have been placed. It's based on the layouts of other brickstitch items given in "A Stitch out of Time" since I'm already squinting to see the pattern the colours make. (and I don't have a higher resolution photo). Be sure to click on the image to make it large enough to read. The sharp edges represent how I think the edges were stitched, the soft edges represent places where the pattern continues similarly.

Given the width of 11cm, and my estimate of 4x24=96 stitches we can also estimate stitch density as about 8.7 stitches per cm. I've left a little grid on a section of my pattern, and the squares of this grid would be 8.7stitches/cm or 1.1mm wide squares. I talk about stitch width because stitch length varies. Also the original fabric may not be woven completely evenly in warp and weft, but the embroiderer has compensated well, or it is quite good as there is no apparent elongation of the pattern.