Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Weaving Vadmal III - Interlude: Going to the Hebrides

In early June, most of the vadmal weavers took a break from their looms and went to the Outer Hebrides. Or in my case, just took a break.

I hadn't actually woven anything at this point, other than the sample piece, because work had got in the way of spending time at the loom. The museum I work in re-opened in late May after having been closed for two years. We had moved approximately 35 000 textiles, several hundreds of tons of textile machinery, archival material and assorted museum workers across town into a completely made-over old textile mill to be part of the new Textile Fashion Center.

So spring was mostly spent in a constant state of frustration and stress to get everything ready at the museum for the grand opening, with very little time for anything else. But we opened on time, with most of our sanity intact. Needless to say, the trip to the Outer Hebrides came as a very welcome holiday for me...

The Hebridean adventure was all  planned and booked in advance by our wonderful teachers Margareta and Maria, so all I had to do was just to be there. It was just what I needed and it was all pretty magical. Four days of breathtaking landscapes, sheep all over the place and lots of wool. I will go back there for sure.
Passing by a Passing place on Lewis
Tweed yarns at Carloway Mill, Lewis 
 Sheep in the rain
Sunset just outside Carloway 
We also visited Uist Wool at Grimsay, but since I don't have any pictures from there, please check out their Facebook page and blog instead. It's a fantastic project!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Weaving Vadmal II - SAMPLES!!!

Like I wrote in the previous post, I decided to weave a cloth with a similar number of warp threads/cm to the mid-14th century Bocksten tunic: 8-10 threads/cm. During weaving, the fabric naturally shrinks a little as the weft is introduced and the process of fulling of course shrinks it even further. So my chosen sett of 7 threads/cm in the loom would result in a much closer weave when finished. To get a general idea of what the cloth would be like, I wove a short piece to use for sampling.
In the loom. I weave 2/1 twill with the weft-faced side up to avoid raising more threads than necessary for each shed
The test piece had 8 threads/cm when it came off the loom, which was a bit too loose to keep as it was, but probably perfect for fulling. I cut it in two, pressed the first half while damp to keep as a reference and fulled the second one on a washboard in the bath. After fulling, the piece both looked and felt a lot nicer with a handle I was quite happy with. And it had ended up with 9-9.5 threads/cm, which was pretty much spot on! That meant I didn't need to adjust the sett in the loom and could just go on weaving, knowing that a total shrinkage of 10% was what I was going to aim for at the fulling mill later on. 

A couple of threads' difference might not sound like a lot, but it is. It becomes really clear when comparing the samples.
Fulled piece at 9-9.5 threads/cm and untreated piece at 8 th/cm
It didn't take long for me to realise that grey isn't the most exciting of colours. My spools of weft looked like fat little woodlice lined up on my pretty but plain fabric...
It's a nice fabric, but...grey... Over 12 metres of grey.
I already have a natural grey medieval dress, so the idea of dyeing the finished fabric became more and more appealing... While running a madder dye bath with some yarn for a future weaving project, I chucked one of the samples into the pot too to see how the grey yarns would fare. I'm by no means a particularly skilled plant dyer, but madder has never let me down. The colour was amazing and while weaving the rest of my grey fabric, I pictured it bright red like the sample:
Madder madness!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Weaving Vadmal I - Getting started

After years of staring miserably at my empty loom, I finally decided what I needed to get weaving again: set deadlines and external pressure. That might not sound like much fun, but when it comes in the form of a parttime, wool-themed weaving class, it is! At Grebbestad folkhögskola they have such classes and in February this year I enrolled in one called "Vadmal & Tweed". 

The purpose of the class was for each participant to weave a woollen fabric, full it together with the rest of the group at a traditional small-scale fulling mill and then sew something wearable out of it. The class also included trip to the Outer Hebrides (hence the "tweed"-part of the title). We all worked at home on our own looms, but met up every other month to share our progress, talk about looms, wool and weaving, and plan the trip to Scotland.

Being me, I naturally decided to weave a medieval style 2/1 twill and use the fulling mill experience to finally get myself a properly finished fabric. And make a late 14th century dress out of it. No surprises there. The yarn was a really lucky find on Tradera (Swedish version of EBay) - 6 kg of high quality weaving wool (yarn number Nm 6/1) for approximately €8/kg!!! Normally, it would have cost at least ten times as much! Having worked with wool of this thickness before, I knew it works rather well for 'medieval' fabrics. I once used it for a fabric with the same thread count as the mid-14th century cloak from Bocksten, but this time I planned for something more along the lines of the cloth used for the Bocksten tunic. The yarn used in the original is spun differently for the warp and weft; the warp is z-spun with a higher twist than the s-spun weft. My industrially spun yarn was all z, but that was OK since not all medieval fabrics have mixed spinning (although it was rather common). Sometimes it's a good idea to add some twist to modern warp yarn to get a more medieval look, but I wanted to get started with the actual weaving and simply decided that my yarn was 'good enough' as it was...
Obsessive Sampling Disorder - Yarns: Natural dark grey, natural light grey and burgundy wool yarn, with a nice mix of soft and slightly coarser fibres, especially in the undyed yarn. I chose the light grey yarn for the warp and the darker grey for the weft
These days, the word vadmal has a rather specific meaning in Swedish. It's considered to be a heavily fulled fabric in which the finishing process has more or less completely obscured the actual weave, usually a tabby. It almost (but not quite) looks like felt, is quite thick and pressed, but not shorn. In medieval times, however, vadmal basically referred to any locally woven woollen fabric, as opposed to the more exclusive imported stuff. Medieval vadmal could be thoroughly fulled like its modern counterpart, just given a light treatment or perhaps none at all. The fabric I wanted to make belonged to the 'lightly fulled' category; a fabric of medium thickness with a nice drape. I made a tiny sample to help decide how many threads/cm I would use...
Obsessive Sampling Disorder - Sett: Even small samples have their uses. Any sample is a good sample. Did I mention that I love samples? This one has 7 warp threads/cm which also was the sett I chose for my cloth
The whole process of setting up the loom and beaming the warp was rather uneventful. My weaving hiatus may have lasted for six years, but once I got going everything came back to me.
Warping. I don't own a warping mill. Luckily, I work next door to the Textile School at the University of Borås and can borrow theirs
Using a raddle and water bottles as weights to beam the warp. It's quick and easy, and I can do by myself without assistance. And the warp always ends up completely even!
Heddling with coffee. A slightly risky undertaking. Note to self: get a cup holder for the loom
Technical details:
Type of weave: 2/1 twill
Yarn: wool Nm 6/1
Sett: 7 threads/cm
Width in loom: 97 cm
Total number of threads: 680
Length of warp: 12.6 metres

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Historical Sew Fortnightly: Challenge 1 & 4

After some internal debate ('I don't need more things to sew. Or time constraints!' -'Yes, you do. Besides the Facebook group is really nice with lots of interesting stuff and knowledge going on there.'), I joined the The Historical Sew Fortnightly a couple of weeks ago.

I had already finished the first challenge by then (Make Do and Mend), because I had first decided to just tag along in secret this year and do the challenges I felt like doing. Which is kind of stupid, since that's pretty much the prerequisite for actally taking part, and I'd just miss out on the sharing-your-work-with-others-bit. However, I felt it was a bit late to post the first challenge when I joined, so I've decided to lump it together with challenge #4: Under It All in this post (I had really intended to do challenge #3: Pink, too, but failed to even start on the mock-up for the pattern...). So here goes:

The Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #1: Make Do and Mend
An apron for the late 14th century.
I've used the same old apron for years and years and it's one of the first handsewn things I made, before I even started making historical clothing. I've used it for everything from LARPing to protecting my ordinary clothes while sorting and preparing dirty wool for spinning. The stitching was kind of clumsy and the piecing on the waistband with a seam ending up centre front annoyed me. My first attempt at rolled hems wasn't exactly a success either. So after 12 years of use, I thought it was finally time to redo my apron. I removed the waistband and re-did the piecing. I cut off the fraying rolled hems, folded the edges and sewed them down with overcast stitches instead. Instead of the deep knife pleats I'd used on the top edge of the apron, I simply gathered it to the waistband which I stitched on with small stab stitches.

It's a linen apron of a type that can be seen in pictorial sources from the early 14th century and onwards. Sometimes, contemporary images seem to depict aprons with smocking, but since they are amply represented within the 14th century reenactment community as it is, I chose to keep mine simple and more suitable for my social standing.
After looking at the first photo, I decided to apply my very non-14th century iron to the apron and take another one...
The Challenge: #1: Make Do & Mend
Fabric: Linen (it used to be unbleached, but now almost white...)
Pattern: None
Year: 14th century
Notions: Linen thread
How historically accurate is it? It's handsewn with waxed linen thread and the materials are correct (but not handspun or handwoven, though). No medieval aprons have survived to this day, but it's based on contemporary pictorial sources, so it's almost as accurate as it's possible to get.
Hours to complete: approximately 3 hours
First worn: The day after it was finished (mid-January 2014) when washing wool in the bath tub.
Total cost: All the fabric came from the original apron, the sewing thread from my stash, so it didn't cost anything.

The Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #4: Under It All
A supportive linen undergarment
Linen cap, fake flax braids and a push-up shift
The Challenge: #4: Under It All
Fabric: Unbleached linen
Pattern: Self made.
Year: 14th century
Notions: Linen thread, some hemp string for lacing it up
How historically accurate is it? It's handsewn with waxed linen thread and the materials and sewing techniques are historically accurate (nothing handspun and handwoven, though). No supportive shifts have survived from the 14th century, but written sources mention some sort of supportive undergarment with 'bags' for the breasts in the 14th century (the now-famous underwear from Lengberg Castle in Austria are too late for me, being from the late 15th century). I've simply taken a page from Isis Sturtewagen's book (or rather her blog Medieval Silkwork!) and defer to her research and the 'bra-shirt' she made, based on a c.1360 statue from Münster zum Heiligen Kreuz in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany.
To sum things up: It's a 'plausibly medieval' garment, the look of which is based on a single medieval depiction.
Hours to complete: approximately 12 hours, with an additional 3-4 hours for fitting the body block used as a base for the supportive upper part.
First worn: During Albrechts Bössor's annual winter march on February 15, but it wasn't quite finished at the time. I added a couple of lacing holes and hemmed it afterwards.
Total cost: All materials came from my stash, so it didn't cost anything.

In the pictures below, it's worn under my blue woollen dress (without the apron). The woollen dress is tight, but not supportive. It's pulled on over the head and wriggled into - so the supportive underdress really helps to give me the somewhat 'pushed-up' late 14th century look. To make sure the fabric of the overdress would be nice and smooth in the chest area, I put the lacing of the underdress in the side seam.

Monday, 27 January 2014

And Samples...

So what to do with small amounts of very pretty, handspun wool? Samples, of course!!! Here's what I did with the woad-dyed Finnish Jaala wool from the previous post:
Striped tabby sample: Before and after fulling
The white yarn is also spun from the Jaala wool Mervi gave me and I thought I'd use it to try out a few stripes in both regular tabby and extended tabby. Medieval fabrics often have stripes in a different weave from the rest of the cloth. Making weft-faced stripes in an otherwise more or less balanced cloth makes the stripes stand out more and the difference can be seen quite clearly in my sample (see Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-1450. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London for examples of actual medieval fabrics with stripes).

This sample isn't woven on a proper loom; I simply put some warp threads between two clamps and used a shed rod and soft heddles for the countershed. Rather sloppily tied heddles, I might add. Well. I should have known better. The one thing about heddles is that they should never ever be sloppy. They are what makes weaving work (among other things), unless you decide to pick each and every shed by hand. Still, I managed to get 30 cm of weaving out of this 4 cm wide set-up before I gave up. It's been a long time since I did any serious weaving like this, with soft heddles and no reed, and I'm really out of practice! It was difficult to keep both the width and the weft even. Next time I'll use my table loom instead, even if it's for a small sample like this. It takes a little longer to set up, but it makes the weaving so much easier...

So, after two weeks of working with this very appropriately coloured Finnish wool, my stash of samples is happy to receive the following additions:
Finnish wool, finished

The white and blue balls of yarn in the middle are the ones I used for weaving. The third yarn is a two-ply spun from the leftover fibres from the combs, sorted and teased out by hand. The fourth yarn is also spun from the leftover fibres, but straight from the combs, lumps and all. It's interesting to see what a difference a bit of extra work does to the quality of the thread!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Spinning Blues!

"I knew they were crazy, those Finns, but blue sheep? Really?!", said boyfriend J-E when he came home yesterday and found me with an impressive fluffed-up cloud of blue wool. 

I told him, "The Finns don't have blue sheep, however, they've got Mervi" (of the Hibernaatiopesäke blog).

Jaala sheep's wool, dyed with woad.
I got this sample of wool from the Jaala sheep from Mervi this summer. She had dyed it with her own home-grown woad! The result: deliciously blue wool that was begging to be spun. 
The wool: very soft and short-stapled. And blue.
The dyed wool was very fine, with an average staple-length of about 4 cm. Since I wanted to be able to use as much of it as possible (preciousss fibresss...), I decided to make a proper effort preparing it. To get a nice, even colour I first needed to mix all the fibres thoroughly. I did this by pulling the staples apart by hand and turning the wool into the fluffy cloud of blue that my boyfriend commented on. In Swedish, this is called tesning. I then chose, rather counter-intuitively, to comb the wool rather than carding it. Combing wool this short is not the usual practice these days, but it's very probable that it was prepared in this way in medieval times. The use of wool cards in the middle ages is a rather interesting, not entirely straight-forward subject. The comprehensive history of wool cards goes something like this, according to John Munro (who sadly passed away recently):

Wool cards arrived in Europe during the later part of the 13th century, probably borrowed from the Islamic cotton industries in Spain or Sicily. Some historians argue that cards were being used as early as mid-11th century, but, according to Munro, it's unclear whether they refer to wool cards or fullers' cards, used to raise a nap on fulled cloth. Wool cards, as we know them, were quickly banned from use in many (not all) of the professional textile centres around Europe, at least for the production of high-quality cloth. In some places, carded wool was allowed in the weft yarn, but not for the warp (just like the use of the great wheel for spinning the thread). Later, in the 15th century, several of these bans were lifted, although many producers continued using only combed wool for their cloths. (Munro 2003, in The Cambridge History of Western Textiles).

This information is all about wool cards and their use in professional cloth production. But how widespread was the use of cards (and the great wheel, for that matter) among everyday spinners, who didn't spin for the big textile centres? When was the use of cards established in my native Sweden? Did we even use them here in medieval times?! I haven't managed to answer any of these questions. It doesn't help that in both English and German, the medieval word for cards/karden is also used for the teasel heads more commonly associated with raising the nap on fulled cloth. Some books (and about 10 million webpages) actually refer to teasels being used for carding wool, too, but I'm not entirely convinced. I've yet to see a reliable source, or someone who's actually carded a whole fleece with teasels. I have a suspicion that the strain of carding raw wool would be a bit too much for the teasels, but then again, I might be wrong.

(please prove me wrong! either with a good, solid reference or by a practical test. I have a bunch of teasel heads from Dipsacus sativus - the cultivated teasel that is used for finishing cloth - but no time to try them out myself at the moment...)

Anyway. The questions above, together with my general interest in trying things out, made me reach for my combs rather than my cards to prepare the very short Jaala wool. Here's the result.
The short and slubby leftovers and the combed rolled-up fibres, ready to spin.
Almost half of the wool ended up in the leftover pile. The very fine fibres had a tendency to stick together and form slubs, but once I had combed through a batch, it was easy to remove the slubs before pulling the rest of the fibers off the combs. To compare, I carded a tiny bit of wool too, but it turned out much more slubby and uneven. Even with fibres this short, combing worked wonderfully. It would have been better if my combs had had finer and more closely-spaced tines to match the fibre quality, but on the whole I'm happy with the result. Spinning the combed rolags was quick and easy!

Most of the leftover fibres are only a couple of centimetres or less, so I will first draft them into a fluffy semi-thread by hand before taking them to the spindle. It makes the short and lumpy wool easier to handle, but it also takes a lot of time and I have several hours left before I'm finished. So, back to work, and a great big thank you! to Mervi for giving me the spinning blues... ;-)
A spindleful of blue, and the beginnings of the last batch.
Edit 2014-01-31: In the comments below, Panth of the In My Lady's Chamber-blog linked to two post about teasels and cards. Read them - they're well-written and well-researched and sheds some more light on the subject of wool preparation!
Teasels for carding - a myth? 

Teasels: a quick note

Jenkins, David T. (red.). 2003. The Cambridge history of western textiles. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.