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.