Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cardweaving - Longest.Post.Ever.

The cardweaving kits sold quite well at Abbey, so I thought I'd put the booklet up on the blog. The kit was primarily designed to teach the basics of cardweaving , from which you can move on to your own patterns or something more advanced like letters or figures (using other sites available on the net!). As you can see, the kit contained everything to get going straight away: cards cut out of cardboard, with holes punched in then and corners rounded off, yarn for warp and weft, a shuttle (also made of cardboard), a comb (to keep the width correct) and a 150 cm length of tape to use as a belt. If you're going to use these instructions to learn to cardweave, you'll have to get/make up all those things yourself - read through the 'booklet' here first so you get lengths and sizes right.

The cover of the booklet is a fabric made of cardwoven strips - half a dozen more and I'll have enough to turn it into a shoulder-bag!

This booklet is copyright - it tok me quite a while to get it all together and I'd appreciate it if you email me if you intend to use it in any other way other than to learn how to cardweave yourself.

Cardweaving is a very ancient form of weaving (dating back, at least, to the ancient Egyptians) which was extremely popular throughout the medieval period. It is also known as tablet weaving. Some historical references are : 1) the set of weaving cards found in the Viking age Oseberg ship burial, 2) remnants of card woven braid from an archaeological dig in London dated to the twelfth century, and 3) a late fourteenth century painting of a woman using a card loom. The commentary to the London dig suggests that the large amount of cardweaving found there indicates that it was a very common form of decoration for clothing etc. There are still some parts of the world that use card weaving for saddle girths (the strap under the horse’s belly) and belts or straps.

This is a quick and easy way of producing decorative, handmade braid. You can use wool, linen, or silk yarn, or embroidery thread, depending on the result you want. The basic tools needed are just a set of cards and the yarn, although there are a few other tools that make the process easier. This booklet is designed to teach you to card weave, from nothing to a very basic piece of braid; and I’ll add some more complicated patterns at the end.

The Cards
You will only need 15 cards to do the simple exercise in this booklet; but you will find more cards are necessary for more complex designs. The cards should be made out of a stiff material - traditionally bone, horn, ivory or wood was used, but stiff cardboard is fine for the beginner (after all, there’s no point in spending hours making bone cards only to discover you hate weaving!). The cards should be roughly 6cm square, with a hole in each of the rounded corners (see diagram at right). A hole through the middle is handy for binding the cards together when you’re not working so that they don’t get out of order. If you’re using something stiffer than cardboard it may be necessary to sand the edges and the holes so that the yarn isn’t cut by sharp or rough edges.

We will be using 8-ply wool for this exercise, as it is easy to come by and less fiddly than finer yarns. Cardweaving designs come out best in contrasting colours (e.g. green and yellow; red & blue; purple, orange and white; red, yellow and black etc) - we’ll use a ‘light’, a ‘medium’ and a ‘dark’ colour.

First, we need a threading pattern. This is, very simply, a grid which denotes the number of cards on one axis and the number of holes on the other axis. This pattern uses the fifteen cards you have, and each card has four holes, so the pattern grid will be 15 x 4, and we will need 60 threads (i.e. 15 x 4 = 60).

As you can see from the diagrams above, you start with a piece of graph paper and draw half your pattern. This is because the basic principle of card weaving is to turn the cards forward four quarter turns (whereupon you’ll weave what you’ve drawn) and then back four quarter turns (whereupon you weave the other half of the design - a mirror image). If we took it that the dark squares were blue, the medium squares were red and the light squares were yellow, then what we would end up with is a braid with a blue stripe along each side, and between them a line of lozenges that are red on the outside with blue centres, on a yellow background. If you examine the diagram and count the coloured squares, you will notice that there are 26 dark ones, 20 medium ones and 14 light ones. These are the numbers of threads of each colour that you will be using.

You next need to prepare your yarn. The yarn supplied in the kit with this booklet has already been measured, cut and tied. Given that the exercise you are doing is just to produce a sample of weaving, the pieces of yarn are only about a metre long. Because it is necessary to fasten the ends of the weaving to something, I find it easier to loop the threads (i.e. cut each thread to be 2m long and fold them in half giving a loop at one end). I have found that allowing 2m of yarn gives 1.5m of weaving - you need to allow the extra 50cm for knots at either end, for an unwoven length in which to move the cards, and the actual weaving takes up a bit, too.

The diagram below indicates how the pattern actually relates to the cards.

Card number 5 has been circled on the pattern and the diagram on the right shows how the individual threads are placed. Please pay particular note that the holes in the card are numbered in a clockwise direction (not left-to-right).

The image above is the threading diagram (D) - the / and \ symbols indicate how each card is to be threaded (i.e. \ indicates that the card is to be threaded from top to bottom - diagram A, and / indicates from bottom to top - diagram B. Threading follows the pattern - note where a series of \ marks are, the pattern goes the same way (e.g. cards 4-7). To distinguish which side of the card is which, I put a circle around hole 1 on one side of the card - this side, where the circle is, is now the top side of the card. I also mark the side of the card (see diagram C) so that when I am weaving I can keep track of the turns forwards and backwards

Tie the looped end of the threads you have to something solid (I use a nail hammered into a shelf) so that the loose ends hang down. Start threading up the cards, as indicated in the threading diagram, starting with card number 1. Thread it as indicated (take four ‘dark’ threads from the bunch and thread them through the card, top to bottom) and then lay it down face up. Thread card 2 and lay it face up on top of card 1. Make sure that the holes in each card are on top of each other - i.e. hole 1 is over hole 1, hole 2 is over hole 2, etc. Continue to do this until all the cards are threaded.

Now take the cards in one hand (so they don’t fall out of order) and all the loose ends of yarn in the other hand, and pull the threads tight against whatever you’ve fastened them to. You will notice that some of the threads are looser than others. It is important if you want the pattern to come out evenly that all the threads have as even tension as possible. As we are using wool, which has a certain elasticity, it will not be that difficult to achieve. Still keeping a hold on the loose ends, run the cards up the threads towards the fastened end. You will see which threads are loose. Keeping a good hold on the cards, let go off the threads and comb your fingers through them, pulling them tight, until you can see no more loose threads. Take hold of all the loose ends and pull tight and then run the cards back down towards you. You will doubtless find more loose threads, so repeat the ‘combing’ process. The loose ends of the threads are likely to be fairly tangled but all this to-and-fro-ing with the cards and the combing will eventually untangle everything. When the warp (the proper name for the bunch of threads you’re holding) is evenly tensioned and untangled to your satisfaction, tie the loose ends in a knot (keeping the even tension) and run a piece of twine (about 30cm) through the warp in front of the knot. This twine will fasten the weaving to your belt as you maintain tension on your weaving by leaning back away from what you have fastened it to. Finally, take the small comb and, moving the cards about 15cm up the warp away from you, place the comb in front of the cards so that its teeth are collecting the warp on the top and bottom and move it towards you up to the knot. This spaces the warp and ensures that the weaving will start off an even width.

To start weaving, take your shuttle (see the picture at the bottom of this page) and wrap around it the same colour yarn that will be on the outsides of your design (in this case, ‘dark’). If you use a different colour it will show at the edges - you may like to experiment with this effect later. Have about 25cm of yarn trailing from the shuttle and weave it through the shed leaving a 15cm ‘tail’ (see diagram 8). Use the shuttle to press (‘beat’) the yarn (properly called the weft) up against the comb, and then take the body of cards in both hands and turn them a quarter-turn away from you. Pass the weft back through the shed, beat the weft back, and turn the cards another quarter-turn away from you. Repeat this twice more (You will now have made four quarter-turns away from you), and the black stripe on the sides of the cards should all be up the top again. This indicates it’s time to change direction. Pass the weft back through the shed, beat the weft back, and turn the cards a quarter-turn towards you. Repeat these steps until you see the black stripe on the sides of the cards on top again. You have just completed one repeat of the pattern. Now, continue until you run out of weft. When that happens, just overlap the ends of the old weft thread and the new one (having wound some more onto your shuttle), and continue weaving. When weaving pieces longer than a metre, after a while you will notice that the cards are getting out of reach - pull all the cards along the warp until they are against the weaving, untie the weaving from your belt and make a slip-knot in it, pass the twine through the loop in the slip-knot, tie it back on to your belt and continue.

When you are coming to the end of the warp, and the cards don’t really have enough room to turn anymore, you’ve nearly finished. Cut off the weft leaving a 15cm ‘tail’ and cut through the warp threads at both ends, next to the knots. Now you have a choice - you can sew the weft ends into the weaving, or plait the warp (and weft) ends, or thread beads on them - it really depends on what you intend the weaving for. Obviously if it is to be braid on a garment, then you’ll sew the ends in, but for a belt you should use your creativity.

SHUTTLES are basically a tool to hold the weft, pass it through the warp, and in the case of cardweaving, beat back the weft. The shape is not important as long as the job is done - I find the shuttle shape below more convenient to use, and of a size of about 8x3cm.

Below are a few basic patterns. As you can see by the pattern on the far right, they can be combined to form a wider pattern. Theoretically it is possible to weave a 'belt' a metre wide but I wouldn't advise it unless you have a regular cloth loom to support the weaving. You will probably find that 5-7cm wide is within the range of comfortably being able to move the cards, but it is a matter of experimenting and finding your limits (i.e. how far your hands will stretch...). Rather than weaving a single belt a metre wide, it is easier to weave a series of belts around 6cm wide and then sew them together to form fabric. Another thing to try is to experiment with turning the cards more than 4 forwards-4 backwards. Try 8 or 12 forwards and backwards and see how it changes the pattern. Be sure to look on the net or in your local library for books on card- or tablet-weaving, as they will provide you with new and more complicated patterns and techniques.

Monday, July 13, 2009


The big day finally came - the group's first public show, at the Abbey Museum Tournament. We arrived there late afternoon last Friday and set up the tent, the carpets, the hangings, the lamps... as it was getting dark by the time that was done I decided to leave setting up the actual display until the following morning, so we set up the camp beds for the girls and left it at that. Dad had the good sense to book a motel room for the weekend, so we had dinner with him in the restaurant attached to it (Sam had the biggest eye fillet steak I've ever seen!) and then returned to the festival site to do some socialising.

I hadn't been to an Abbey tournament for about 5 years, and the difference in size was immediately apparent - this was going to be a HUGE event! The other thing I noticed was that there was a distinct lack of the bitterness and enmity between groups that used to plague the movement, and the general atmosphere was friendly and welcoming. We spent an hour or so wandering from campfire to campfire and chatting with folk - lovely to renew old acquaintances! - and then headed off to bed about 10ish...

Up early the next morning: into costume, setting up the display, grabbing pancakes for breakfast (the pancakes stall opened at 6.30am to feed the re-enactors, bless 'em!); Dad arrived a bit before 8 and helped set up and we were ready to go well before the public turned up an hour later.

We felt singularly honoured to lead the grand parade, as 'Brisbane's newest re-enactment group' (although it probably had more to do with the fact that I was scheduled to give a lecture on medieval textile production at 11 o'clock, shortly after the parade), and for the rest of the day had a steady stream of visitors to the tent, a lot of whom stayed quite a while, reading the display. I also ran a spinning class each day, which was nicely populated by about half a dozen people who seemed to get the hang of it and will probably turn out to be good spinners (with the ever-necessary bit of practice!).

We all took time out from 'tent-sitting' to have a wander around the fair, and the girls bought trinkets at the medieval market - stacks of stalls this year! - and had a good time. Dad was happy to watch the to-ing and fro-ing of the people - re-enactors and public - and answer odd questions about the display; the rest of us were more energetic and wandered around the place, but are paying for it today with sore feet and stiff legs - haven't done that much walking in ages!

Our little stall was a moderate success - didn't sell much of the medeival bits'n'pieces (wooden spoons, needlecases, odd bits of brass), but the cardweaving kits went very well - the kits are designed to teach the basics of cardweaving, and it seems people are interested in learning new skills, which is great!

I was very chuffed to receive so many compliments on the display - the nicest from Michael and Edith, who organise the Abbey Tournament and run the Abbey Museum; none of the other re-enactment groups displays in this way and I was trying something 'new' for the Brisbane re-enacment circle, so I'm glad (and very relieved) it was received so well. To explain: most groups set up a living history encampment, to show how people lived in the era they're re-enacting. They have tents, tables, campfires and such and they spend their time demonstrating skills of the period to the public: fighting, cooking, textiles, crafts, medicine... you name it. I've found, though, from doing this sort of re-enactment in the past, that the public are often unwilling to ask questions and will stand back and watch, and sometimes be puzzled about what's going on. My display, as you can see from the photos, is mainly textual with a lot of models about what the text is talking about. The display cover a variety of areas - Dad's Benedictines (the Public Service of the day providing education, medical care, record-keeping, and care of 'unfortunates'), textiles (including spinning, dyeing and weaving), clothing and cosmetics, food and utensils, games, music, medicine, and a smattering of other odd information. Where possible I include illustrations from the period, and models of whatever the display topic is talking about (a scale model upright loom, a medieval bed, crockery and so forth). The aim of this is to provide background knowledge of the period in easily-digestible, 18pt font chunks which will hopefully allow a greater appreciation of the living history seen in other encampments (some of the work that goes into these is incredible - hand-beaten pots, carved beds and tent-ends, beautiful costumes - an enormous amount of work!)

All in all, it was an enjoyable and gratifying weekend - now we just have to wash and repack stuff for the next show, History Alive, in just under two weeks....

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Warp-weighted Loom

The model of a warp-weighted loom is a significant part of the textile production display as it presents a physical, tangible example of how weaving is done. I've noticed that for non-weavers (so, most of the population!) even the most basic description of the process leaves them with glazed eyes and nodding heads that tells you that, while they appreciate you trying to explain weaving, they really don't get it. A working model of a loom, however, lets them see instantly the interplay of warp and weft threads and thus the process of weaving becomes clear.

Wow, that was one pompous paragraph! Now, to the nitty-gritty: I decided to make the warp-weighted loom first (a model of a horizontal 4-heddle floor loom is scheduled for next season, 2010), because it was simpler to put together and I had all the necessary timber on hand. The side pieces of the loom are made of maple (because it's less likely to warp out of shape over time) and the front and back bracing are of pine, because I had some scraps the right size lying around; the pegs that hold it all together are an unidentified softwood dowel that I picked up in a craft shop to make spindle shafts out of, and the roller is tassie oak (an offcut from the tent poles). The warp is 2-ply handspun brown wool - not sure what sort of sheep it came from, but it has a 5-6 inch staple and is pretty coarse; the weft is a similar wool but in white. I chose a traditional 'goose-eye' weave because it is period, and pretty...

Setting the loom up is basic but time-consuming: First the warp needs to be cut to size (in this case a metre long) and then looped onto the roller. Then each warp thread is fed through a small figure-8 of thread on the heddles - the pattern in the fabric depends on how these are threaded (in this case 1-2-3-4-1-4-3-2) and then the ends of the warp are tied to clay weights (these are made of an air-drying clay, suitable for display purposes but probably too fragile for a loom used for real weaving) in groups according to which heddle stick they are fastened to. This ensures that when a heddle stick is lifted, all the warp will remain under tension. The chaining of the warp occurs so that there's enough warp available to weave a decent length of cloth - as it's woven and rolled onto the roller at the top of the loom, the weighted ends rise and eventually would reach the heddles and any more weaving would be impossible. This way the warp can be 'lengthened' by undoing and re-doing the chains so that the weight can remain near the ground and the fabric can be woven as long as possible.

Then it's a matter of wrapping some weft around a shuttle and weaving - the order the heddle sticks are lifted affect the pattern too - in this case it's 4/1-1/2-2/3-3/4-4/1-3/4-2/3-1/2. Each line of weaving needs to be beaten into place (so it lies straight) with a weaving sword, which is a flat, straight piece of wood with a tapered edge (traditionally they were also made of metal - a lot of them look like large, blunt cook's knives with a wooden handle), then the heddles are changed and the next line of weaving occurs.

It's a slow process and hard on the arms, but cloth was woven in this manner from the last ice age up until around the late 12th century when the horizontal floor loom made it's appearance (horizontal looms are mentioned in an 11th cenury Arabic text, but its unclear as to whether they were the mechanised, treddle sort). The main advantage of the warp-weighted loom, than as now, is it's portability. The top roller is lifted off the side pieces, along with the heddle sticks and clay weights, and the entire thing laid out flat on cloth and then rolled up. The roll and the side pieces can then be transported and then set up again, ready to weave, without any difficulty. A horizontal loom is very much a fixture and must be moved in toto if it has weaving on it, or the heddles and reed must be re-threaded up on setting it up again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Bed, Part 2

We were invited to a camping weekend, celebrating another group's 20th birthday, last weekend. Aside from the fact the it was cut short by me feeling a bit 'off', and a level of disappointment felt by the girls that people weren't that sociable and there wasn't that much to do (we were the only people with a campfire - everyone else clustered around the hard-shelter accommodation and kitchens etc and didn't really camp at all), it was a valuable experience in that I got to pack what I thought we'd need for the weekend, fit it all onto the ute (just!), and then we spent nearly two hours setting it up (far too long!). There was much going-through of lists after we got home and a lot of stuff got ... rationalised...

The bed, however, was a great success: very warm and comfortable and a real showpiece, if a little bulky to pack. I smugly received compliments from the few people who bothered to wander up to the tent and who saw it; one young woman had seen a rope bed in one of the castles in England and expounded at length how different it was to the one I had created... I asked her what century it was built in but she couldn't remember (just that the wood was original and the rope was a modern replacement LOL); I asked her to point out, specifically, the differences and it turned out that the English one was a double bed whereas mine is single, and theirs wasn't painted... at that stage I suggested that she should be very proud that the bed she'd built was such an exact replica of the English one; "Oh, I haven't made one!", the creature exclaimed. This didn't surprise me as about the only thing she had made was her costume, which was of a rough cotton fabric (which, I suppose, was meant to represent linen) decorated with a band of the same fabric in a contrasting colour around the neck and cuffs... Chez Spotlight, I'm guessing and probably cost her a fortune LOLz.

So, I breathe a great sigh of relief at the knowledge that re-enactors really haven't improved any over the time I was out of The Movement - there were about 30-odd people there and I think I saw maybe half a dozen wool garments - a lot of cotton and "linen"; very little decoration and that badly done most of the time, and the accoutrements were negligible or crap - one does not turn a modern item into a medieval replica by wrapping bits of it in leather or rags (sigh).

It's a little sad, too; I had hoped that the presentation of groups and re-enactors would grow and improve over the years, but it seems they have found a level of historical accuracy that they're content with and stuck with it. LOLz I shouldn't complain - it makes my mob look bloody good!

Anyway, whinge, whine, planxi et hoc totum; and back to the bed... If you squint in just the right way, you can see the frame of the bed and the ropes, the flock mattress, the feather mattress, linen sheets (dear gods I hate hand-hemming sheets!), a flokati rug dyed what is meant to be a red colour but it came out a bit washed-out, a coverlet made of mink (a 1950s A-line coat was sacrificed for this!) and raw silk (which is actually red but looks pink in the photo) and a selection of feather pillows. I really need to make a flock bolster (as suggested by Alexander Neckham, an English traveller who died in 1217 but not before he'd written at great length about his travels, up to and including how a bedroom should be furnished), and another couple of feather pillows as we tend to use them on the chairs during the day... oh well, still got a couple of months until the next show!!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Bed, Part 1

I felt there was a bad pun in the statement "I finally got around to making my bed" but at the moment (fortunately) it escapes me...

The bed is modelled on those in the Maciejowski Bible - it is painted and has rounded ends on the bedposts with the head end being taller than the foot. Other than that the construction was fairly much at my own discretion (and limited to the tools in mine and Dad's workshops!). I wanted a bed for shows, so it had to be portable; I decided that using mortice and tenon joints to fix the side pieces to the head and foot pieces would be appropriate as that joint was used in the period, and to have the mattress supported by a rope web would probably be fairly right (they haven't found any 'rope beds' from our period, and as you can see from the manuscript picture (from the Maciejowski Bible) little more than the legs show so it's hard to guess at the construction). Not wishing to rely wholly on the rope and my body weight to hold the bed together, the joints are also pinned by dowels (another period method), and the result is something that creaks a little when you first get onto it but is remarkably quiet once it's got some weight in it - even rolling over is a silent procedure!

The mattress in the pictures is the flock one (the feather one, which goes on top, is currently 'under construction'... I need to murder a few more pillows to get it comfortably full) which in itself was interesting to make. I started with a cotton duck (about the weight of mattress ticking but not black and white striped) cover more or less the size of the bed and stuffed about 10 kilos of wool into it (hence "flock"); I must note here that I've been collecting wool since 1991 when I took up re-enacting and spinning and had baskets and boxes of the stuff in varying degrees of usability for spinning - a lot of it is brown or grey (medieval folk favoured white - it dyed better) and some of it has been sitting there unwashed for nearly 20 years and is a little brittle, and some of it is clippings and sweepings and fairly grubby - vegetable matter and dags and such (and, as I found while teasing the pieces open prior to stuffing them in the mattress, a mummified mouse!). Having loosely stuffed the cover I sewed it shut and regarded the sausage shape before me. To flatten it out a bit I sewed through it (yay for the 10" doll-making needle!) with heavy linen thread from a leather reinforcing on the back to one on the front and then
tied it down tightly - 12 of these flattened it out adequately, as you can see from the photo.

So, I guess ATM I've only partly made my bed... the next step is to finish the feather mattress and then to create some voluminous sheets and a coverlet. Judging from MSS pics and the songs/poetry/stories of the day, the coverlet was an all-important piece of bedroom equipment - the words 'costly' and 'silk' frequently crop up... Mine will be of heavy red silk lined with mink from a 1950s calf-length coat donated by a rellie for that purpose.

And as I need it to be in working order next Saturday, I better get sewing!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Test run

I've been spending the last while on the display boards - much researching, writing, precis-ing, re-writing... Having beaten them into something brief but still informative, I then sent the pdfs to Dad who printed them out (on 'parchment' paper or card) in glorious colour; they were then stuck to boards (stained and varnished earlier) and given a couple of coats of matt varnish to protect them from the ravages of time, packing, and sticky fingers...

An aside: you'd be amazed what The Public will poke and prod at. I learned a lot when I was re-enacting a few years ago as I also had a display then (although not as neat or as comprehensive as my current one) set up inside my tent, and at every show I would have to ask people not to damage it - the two old biddies who were attempting to bend a bone needle it took me half an hour to make, to see if it was plastic (I'm not sure how bendability or snapping it would have proved that); the young couple who placed my spare loom weights (threaded onto a loop of leather) over their child's head like a necklace and walked out of the tent, and made a great show of surprise when reminded that the object actually should stay with the display; the constant poking of fingers into the spice bowl (part of the tableware display) - most of the fingerprints were adult-sized (!); and the constant banging on drums, twanging the harp, strumming the lute, despite there being signs everywhere requesting the displays not be touched (and a rope a metre out from the displays!) - I had to re-skin a drum because of the amount of grease and something else (I think it may have been satay sauce) deposited on the head by one curious person.

Anyway, this time I decided that as public 'interaction' with the display was inevitable I should design the displays to be touched and make them as undamageable, or easily replaceable, as possible. The musical instruments, as ever, will be a problem...

Having got the majority of the display boards and accompanying models finished, I decided to set up the tent (I only finished sewing the walls, finally, last week!) and have a test run. It took me a couple of hours to set the tent up, put down the carpets (with a tarp under them - they're expensive!), tie up the wall hangings, and then finally set the display up. By this time it was very late in the afternoon and so Dad and I did a quick critique on what needed to be done/changed/ improved, then I went back later in the evening and made most of the major changes before I decided that I was too tired to make rational decisions and should pack it in for the night.

I spent most of this morning 'tweaking' the display and by lunchtime had it to a stage where I rang Dad and asked him to come over and do some more critique-ing. There is still a fair bit of work to be done on it - I need to make a model of an upright loom and finish a couple of the display boards, and stupid little things like replacing the thin dowel that some of the hangings are on with thicker dowel, as they don't support the displays without bending dramatically; but by and large I feel I've broken the back of it and will definitely be Good To Go by early June, when our first show is.

As it stands, the display covers the areas of tentage, lighting and furniture; a quick history of Cyprus during and shortly after the Third Crusade; textiles, dyes and cardweaving; games; medicine; music; feasting and eating; clothing and cosmetics; Dad is working on a display on the Benedictine Order (including himself in it, in costume); and Nat's planning a Trade and Travel display as soon as her studies (last year at uni!) allow. So, it's fairly comprehensive but still has a lot of room for upgrading and improvements (for example, replacing the wooden model dice with bone or horn ones, when I find some pieces big enough to make dice out of!). As I mentioned in the last blog it'll run to about 25,000 words, which basically makes the whole thing a big book with a stripey canvas cover and lots of 3-D illustrations!

And best of all - it packs down very neatly into three trunks and some loose stuff!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Display

The raison d'etre of the group is a display in the pavilion covering a range of topics - textiles, music, medicine, games, trade and travel, stuff like that. Each of the topic areas comprises of notes in 16-18 point font (Goudy Medieval on marmor chamois paper), diagrams, photos of manuscript illustrations or archaeological finds, and handmade replicas of whatever it is we're talking about.

So far I'm covering about a dozen topics and have written about 23 000 words - the last couple of topics are graphics- and model-heavy and will probably bring the entire thing up to 25 000 words. It sounds a lot, but it's a big pavilion and each topic has an average of 3-4 A4 pages devopted to it.

Having broken the back of the writing side of things, I've been starting to work on the models. This weekend I made a hnaefatafl board, and peices, and rules, and commentary... and also a naker, which is a forerunner to the kettle drum and smaller.

The Hnaefatafl set has a 13 x 13 board and is based on the examples from Jorvik and descriptions in the sagas - it's interesting to note that in the sagas the defending side (with the King, or 'Hnefi') are brown or red while the attacking side is white; later the colours reversed some of the time. I wonder if this has anything to do with the religious/political situation in Scandinavia then, with the opposing sides representing Red Thor and White Christ? Anyway, my pieces are made of wood (traditionally they seem to be made of a range of materials: marine mammal ivory, horn, bone, stone, pottery, wood) and the board is of leather, rather than wood, so it can be rolled up and carried, with the pieces, in a pouch (bit pointless, come to think of it, when I'm going to glue it to a plywood display board and hang it on the wall...). The lines on both the pieces and the board are done with a hot iron (pokerwork, if you like, or pyrographics) and some of the squares on the board have been stained with dye. I tried playing Hnaefatafl a couple of times and suck at it more than I suck at chess, which is really saying something!

The other project for this weekend was to build a naker, a kind of drum that was introduced to Europe through the Crusades, and although it's been with us for 800-odd years has managed to cause a small bit of controvery involving the BBC's David Munrow. First, let us understand that the instrument is frequently played in pairs, slung around the waist or neck and hanging at groin level, and that it's name comes from the Arabic naqqara, through the French nacaires, and for years the English pronunciation has been 'nackers' - doubtless the source of the expression 'to be hit in the...'. With the resurgence of medieval music in the 1960s, Mr Munrow's correct pronunciation elicited a string of complaints from outraged (if ignorant) listeners, prompting an edict from the BBC Pronunciation Department that the word was henceforth to be pronounced 'NAY-kers' when said on-air.

Anyhoo, mine (one at the moment) is made from a salad bowl, a piece of parchment, and about 4000 miles of plaited homemade cord (well, it felt like that!) and a leather band to keep it all neat and tidy around the edge. Basically, you punch holes in the hide, soak it, put it on a towel and sit the upturned bowl on top if it, then start lacing the cord from one side to the other, aiming for an even tension.

The hide's still a bit damp but it already makes quite a good noise. I'd put up an mp3 of it but Blogger'll only do images and videos...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Finished the roof!!

By 2pm I'd finished the last bit of painting (the hem) and waited for an hour for it to dry; the tent took me about 20 minutes to put up, squeezed between the lemon tree and the fishpond. The middle poles were way too large and Dad gave me a hand cutting them to size, and by 4pm the tent was ready to hose down and check for waterproof-ness, which it passed with flying colours.

The tent is basically 6 160cm squares (so, 4.8m by 3.2m), and the ridge of the roof is about 3.4m high. It has two large 'centre' poles and 10 outer poles, and the roof took 16m of canvas to make (the walls, which are yet to be hemmed, are two pieces of 8.5m x 1.8m canvas and will hook onto a rope that runs around the inner edge of the tent under the valance).

So far I've used about 150m of thread just on the roof, and the walls will use about another 105m - when I've finished this tent I will have sewn a quarter of a kilometre by hand...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tent update...

The tent has gone from being pieces of canvas in my garage to being a huge shapeless mess on the downstairs table - I have one more piece to sew onto it before attaching the leather pole reinforcements; although I bought the canvas in late September it's taken a while to get this far - I keep getting distracted by more interesting projects (wax tablets, knives etc!) and, let's face it, handsewing a tent is a boring job...

I finally got around to doing the poles over the last couple of days - the smaller, outer poles are Tassie oak and the two large inner ones are kwila - both straight-grained hardwoods but both fairly easy to shape (although I have developed newfound respect for just how hard kwila is!)

The doing is really quite simple - mark off a line 10cm (or in the case of the larger poles, 15cm) back from then, cut a groove with a saw about half a centimetre deep (or a centimetre for the larger ones), chip the pole back to the mark with a chisel and neaten it up, finish shaping it with a rasp, and then remove the furry bits with a file.

Of course, all the ends need to be about the same size (because they have to fit fairly snugly into leather-reinforced holes in the tent and it's inconvenient to have to match up poles to holes because some are too big (in which case they might push through, or leak if it rains) and other too small and won't fit through at all.

I decided that rather than oiling them with linseed oil as I did last time, I should paint them - the Maciejowski Bible has some nice examples of painted poles. Linseed paint tends to be a bit thin and translucent so I whitewashed the poles first (or the colour wouldn't really show up) and painted the smaller poles a nice cinnabar/red lead - which, much to my frustration, has ended up with them looking, from a distance, like they were stained with a rosewood stain (from a couple of feet away you can see it's paint); the larger 'centre' poles I painted that ordinary blue one gets when combining the froth off boiling indigo with white lead...

So, hopefully, gods willing, no interruptions... I might be able to set up the roof on the weekend and then cut the 'centre' poles to the correct size (theoretically they should be 180cm - the wall height - plus 160 cm - the roof height; but because canvas is flexible, they usually need to be a little longer to stretch it up properly - the question is, how much of a little bit and this has to be a hands-on measurement and not just done with a tape measure).

Then it's just (!) a matter of sewing loops aroun the roof to take a rope on which to hang the walls, and then sewing the walls themselves - hemming and sewing hooks on 2 pieces of canvas each 8 and a half metres long...