17 October 2017

Double-Faced Designs on a 7-Block Grid with Radial Symmetry

© 2000 Carolyn Priest-Dorman

The last time I wove some motifs from the 13th century Scottish seal tag described in Audrey Henshall’s “Five Tablet Woven Seal Tags,” I was struck by some design properties they all shared. The motifs are 28 tablets wide; they were all designed in blocks of four tablets in a turning sequence of seven sets of two. This can be represented in shorthand fashion on a square grid consisting of seven rows of seven squares each. Further, all the Scottish motifs shared radial symmetry, and all the lines were orthogonal rather than the more typical diagonal lines of tablet woven square motifs (e.g., the Snartemo V motifs). The orthogonal lines show up very neatly due to the warp being entirely threaded in one direction rather than alternating from tablet to tablet.

Recently, I was looking for something in Brigitta Schmedding’s Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz when I rediscovered several other textile examples of square motifs with radial symmetry and orthogonal lines. There is something about these motifs that looks extremely ancient to me! With the TWIST sample exchange in mind, I began doodling to test the limitations of the design. Since the sample exchange was supposed to be for relatively narrow bands, I kept my designs to the proportions of the original and used a 49-square grid. Soon I think I will have to try reproducing some of those elaborate Swiss designs from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; it will take a grid of at least 15x15 blocks.

On a seven-by-seven grid using radial symmetry, it is fairly hard to avoid repeating the Scottish designs or designing out-and-out swastikas, but I did my best. They’re far too basic to be “original,” of course, although I wasn’t looking at any other sources while I designed them. Here are the four designs I liked the best; I call them the Whirlpool, the Cross-and-Boss, the Running T, and the Well.


The motifs need to be squared carefully (my samples are not all carefully squared, due to unexpected time constraints). Also, my experience weaving these types of motifs shows that using smaller yarns minimizes the effect of the feathery weftwise color changes. They’re especially breathtaking in Size A sewing silk, which makes them pretty much identical in size to the Scottish piece of my original inspiration..


Sources

Henshall, Audrey. "Five Tablet-Woven Seal-Tags." Archaeological Journal 121 (1964), pp. 154-62.

Schmedding, Brigitta. Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz. Bern: Schriftern der Abegg-Stiftung, 1978.

* * * * * * * * * *

This document was originally prepared to accompany my work in a tablet weaving sample exchange in Spring 2000 sponsored by TWIST (Tablet Weavers' International Studies and Techniques). It is also available at my old website which is currently frozen. (I am considering my options for recreating and updating that site.)

The original samples were woven of 20/2 Czech linen.

12 October 2017

Viking Age Tablet Weaving: Kufic or Not?

Please read the important update at the bottom of this post.

Well, here on the Left Coast of the USA I woke up to a Viking textile controversy this morning, and no mistake! Maybe I'm an idiot, and maybe I'm not, but here's my take on it.

Today's controversy involves the Birka tablet-woven brocade bands. According to Annika Larsson (about whom more below), the geometric designs actually depict Kufic inscriptions saying "Allah" and "Ali." We already know there was plenty of contact with Muslim culture of the period given the large quantity of Persian silver and Eastern silk found in Viking Age contexts. That contact is not at issue, not even remotely. But this particular reinterpretation of the bands has me really steamed, and here's why.

Larsson's "discovery" is predicated on unfounded extensions of pattern, not on existing pattern.

If you consult any of the current crop of articles about this topic, you'll see a photo of a graph on a page with a mirror next to it. (Here's a link to the Heritage Daily one.) The pattern graph is quite clearly Band 6 from the Birka finds, an artifact found in a tenth-century woman's grave, Grave 965, which was published in Agnes Geijer's 1938 Birka III: Die Textilfunde aus den Gräbern. (See photo below, which is taken from Abb. 20, "Muster der Brettchenbänder," on page 82 in Geijer.)


If you look at the pattern Larsson is postulating, it shows nine additional pattern units at each side of the band, for a total of 18 additional tablets' worth of width. In Larsson's photo you can tell the additional pattern units apart from the original pattern units printed in Geijer because the additional units indicating the brocade weft at the two sides of the graph are slightly lighter than the ones in the central part of the graph; they are also printed 90 degrees off from the direction of the original unit graphics. This unexplained extrapolation practically doubles the width of the band, and here's why that's a problem.

According to Geijer, Band 6 was woven in a technique common to almost every piece of tablet-woven brocade at Birka. Each pattern tablet was threaded half with silk, half with linen and offset by one-quarter turn from the tablet next to it. "Stave borders" of warp twining one tablet wide marked off the selvedges; they are threaded entirely with silk. The tablets were alternately threaded and turned continuously forward. The band was woven with a structural weft that is hidden inside the band as well as a supplementary metallic brocading weft that floats on top of the band to make the pattern. When linen is "up" during the weaving, it's always covered with metallic brocading weft; when silk is "up," it's often (but not always) visible as a tie-down point. This technique is very economical, as the resulting band looks like it's woven with 100% silk when it is much less expensive to weave than 100% silk as about half the warp is linen rather than silk.

If you consult Tafl 17:1 in Birka III for a photo of Band 6, you can clearly see the continuous metallic weft of the band turning at each selvedge to enter back in the other direction. If Larsson were correct that Band 6 was originally significantly wider, you would not see those turning loops; you'd see a series of discontinous single passes of brocading weft with cut or broken ends at each edge.

Annika Larsson is currently with the Institute for Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University in Sweden. The bio at her web page there says "[t]he first degree I took at the Textile Institute, where I trained myself as product designer and pattern designer for the industry. But I am also a craftsman and collaborate with various craft crafts in textiles and throws." She is not trained in archaeology as nearly as I can tell.

You may remember how she offered a radically disruptive theory in 2007 that Viking Age women's oval brooches were worn at the level of the nipples. (You can read more about her idea here.) I have yet to read a textile archaeologist's endorsement of that particular version of costume history, which doesn't surprise me since on the face of it it seems incompatible with much of the published archaeological material on women's clothing from Birka, let alone the rest of the Viking cultural milieu.

Again, I have nothing against the theory that these patterns are Kufic. I would welcome additional overt evidence for Persian influence at Birka, since I already believe the mix of cultures there is too rich and thorough to gloss Birka as representing a single and "Viking" cultural context. But Larsson's theory flies in the face of what we know about Band 6; it doesn't pass my sniff test.

UPDATE 17 October 2017: I see the Guardian has called me a "textile archaeologist." This is incorrect. I have never claimed to be a textile archaeologist, although the discipline of textile archaeology is my chief intellectual interest. Please do not hold me responsible for anybody's failure to describe me correctly.

UPDATE 1 November 2017: The Enköping Museum has put out a statement about this controversy.

The criticism is directed towards a part of the exhibition, but not to the whole. In anticipation of clarifications from the researcher at Uppsala University, the museum now chooses to pause this part of the exhibition until further notice. [via Google Translate]

The statement further makes it clear that the issue centers on interpretation of a Birka band, not a band from some other site.

19 July 2017

Know Your Vintage Knitting Yarns

Earlier today Carrie Schutrick made me aware of the University of Southampton's digital project, Knitting Reference Library, which has been added to the Internet Archive. This project brings some of the late knitting historian Richard Rutt's personal library to the Internet, particularly several nineteenth century works representing the earliest knitting books in English.

This sparked some discussion about knitting vintage patterns and using vintage yarns, which led me to scrape together the useful references I've squirreled away for identifying and approximating vintage yarns. I'm posting that information here as well, so I'll be able to find it again easily when I want it.

Here are a few links to sources for information on the exact sizes of various vanished yarns mentioned in vintage patterns.*

Vintage Yarn Wiki -- There's a Vintage Yarn Wiki!

Yarn and Thread Conversions -- at SandyJ's blog for exploring Mrs. Beeton's Book of Needlework

Misc. Discontinued Yarns -- "a list of older yarns, arranged by weight of yarn, by brand name, with fiber content and yardage (where available)."

Vintage Yarns -- "historical yarn names and modern gauge/needle size equivalents. Also some suggestions on possible modern yarns." Mostly from the period before the 1930s. SCA readers may recognize our own Countess Ianthé's fair hand here.

Discontinued Yarn Chart -- " a guide only to help you find comparable yarns today to substitute for yarn specified in vintage patterns." This list is itself "vintage," having been first compiled in 1965.


*Today's posting is brought to you by the letter V.

31 July 2015

An Old Band-Woven Bookmark

A while back, a private book collector in the Midwest sent me a textile to examine.  It had come to him as a bookmark in a sixteenth-century bound manuscript.  With his permission, I am sharing my analysis here.

The bookmark is what's known as a "portable register" type.  Rather than being attached to the binding or a page of the book, it is removable.  Specifically, it's a multiple-strand bar anchor bookmark.  Several textile strips are secured to a bar (the "anchor") that is designed to rest on or at the top of a book.  See this article for an introduction to medieval bookmarks, and see the sources at the bottom of this post for more information.


Description:

This bookmark is composed of what appears to be a hand-whittled wooden bar anchor around which are sewn five lengths of band-woven textile.  The strands vary in condition from bright, flat, and flexible to crusty, dirty, curled, and stiff.  Only one of the ends has any finishing treatment; most are quite ragged and torn. 



The anchor is is about 2-1/4" (56mm) long by 1/4" (6mm) at its widest diameter.  The carved away portion of the bar is about 1-1/4" (32mm) long.  The wood is a light-colored, fine-grained hardwood, slightly bowed along its length.  Wear has chipped and pitted the surface at the two ends, which were originally smooth.  The collars at either side of the carved away area are still sharply cut into the wood, as if by a small but very sharp knife.

The five individual lengths of band-woven textile have been looped around the anchor for an original count of ten hanging tails, the strands.  A line of coarse stitching worked with a naturally colored linen thread holds together the entire set of looped bands.  The sewing thread is wrapped several times around each of the two outside bands. 


Six of the original ten strands survive in a usable length.  Both sides of the middle strand have been torn away leaving nothing but frayed ends next to the anchor.  One entire side of each of two strands has also been torn away, again leaving frayed ends next to the peg.  Two strands are substantially complete although one end of each is shorter than the other end; both the shorter ends are also frayed. 

The two longest remaining ends are approximately 22" long.  One terminates in an overhand knot.  The other has some broken warps and comes to what looks like a blind end.  It may be that these 22" lengths reflect the original lengths of the strips.  The book in which the bookmark was found is about 12.5" tall, which corresponds to the area of each long length that is comparatively clean and bright in appearance.

The textiles appear to be five strips cut from a single long narrow band.  The band is of warp-faced tabby, i.e., either rigid heddle or inkle woven.  The warp is two-ply linen of approximately 0.4-0.5mm diameter.  The band varies between 4mm and 5mm in width, and the beat is very regular.

one of the best preserved pieces of the band
The eleven warp ends are in four colors—bleached, golden yellow, light greenish blue, and dark blue—and the weft is more of the light blue linen.   The blue threads are finer than the gold and white ones.

weaving draft for band

Conclusions:

There doesn't seem to be a good solid hook from which to hang a specific date on this bookmark.  There is no reason to assume it was necessarily as old as the manuscript.  While some portable register bookmarks found in medieval books are likely to have been original (Swales & Blatt 2007, 167), others are not.  This bookmark could easily have been an afterthought, added to the book centuries after it was bound.  Perhaps someone retrofitted an existing anchor by giving it new textile strands in a later century.  Or perhaps the present bookmark might have completely replaced an earlier marker whose anchor was in poor repair but whose existence was helpful.

Although some parts of it are worn and dirty, proving that it's been around for a while, the linen for the most part is in extremely good shape, supple and not deteriorating.  It is hard to imagine linen strands would be in that fine a shape after hundreds of years closed between two layers of vellum; over so long a period of time surely the pH of the vellum would prove damaging to the linen.  Also, the use of several colors in the linen tape is, as nearly as I am aware, more likely to be a product of the eighteenth or nineteenth century than of the sixteenth or seventeenth.  I could not find any examples in Swales & Blatt's catalogue that were even remotely similar to this one save #2, "plain-woven red/blue/white wool and linen tape," which the authors could not examine (Swales & Blatt 2007, 148).  A mixed wool and linen tape seems even less likely to date back that far than the one at hand.

Accordingly, I'm going to hazard a guess that the textile portions of this bookmark are nineteenth century, at the earliest.  About the anchor, I've no idea, but it seems to have been fairly amateurishly produced, perhaps by someone bookish who needed a replacement anchor for a special book.

I appreciate the opportunity to have examined this piece as well as the challenge it posed to my knowledge of historic bookmarks.  I learned a lot!


Appendix:

I created the weaving draft to match the original colors using KXStitch* and the Anchor color palette.  The exact Anchor colors I used for this draft are as follows.
  • gold:  295 Jonquil
  • white:  2 White
  • light blue:  1062 Peacock Blue
  • dark blue:  131 Blue

Sources:

Janzen, Jenneka.  "Mark Their Words:  Medieval Bookmarks."  https://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/mark-their-words-medieval-bookmarks/.  Accessed 31 July 2015.

Kwakkel, Erik.  "Smart Medieval Bookmarks."  http://medievalbooks.nl/2014/09/22/smart-medieval-bookmarks/.  Accessed 31 July 2015.

Swales, Lois, and Heather Blatt.  "The Bookmark."  In Das Hainricus-Missale. Vollständige Faksimile-Ausgabe der Handschrift Ms. M. 711 der Pierpont Morgan Library New York. Kommentar, hrsg. von Hans Ulrich Rudolf, 165-175.  Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 2010.  (See also pages 179-181 in the German translation, which have the informative schematics and photos.)

Swales, Lois, and Heather Blatt.  "Tiny Textiles Hidden in Books:  Toward a Categorization of Multiple-Strand Bookmarkers."  In Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 3, ed. Robin Netherton and Gale. R. Owen-Crocker, 145-179.  Woodbridge:  The Boydell Press, 2007. 


* KXStitch is an open source cross-stitch graphing program for KDE.  It comes pre-loaded with the Anchor, DMC, and Madeira color palettes.  When using KXStitch for graphing textile patterns, I habitually use the Anchor palette rather than the DMC or Madeira one; I find it better represents naturally dyed textile colors, which are the colors I am accustomed to using.


01 July 2015

2/1 Twills: Rippenköper

© Carolyn Priest-Dorman, 2000

The “rippenköper,” or “repp twill,” has no standard equivalent name in English. The weave was first identified, named, and explained in 1967 by Hans-Jürgen Hundt in an archaeological publication. Rippenköper is a catch-all term for those twills, usually 2/1, whose basic structure alternates bands of warp-faced twill with bands of weft-faced twill, “usually after every third pick” (Bender Jørgensen, p. 14). Although it is a very simple
weave, I haven’t found it yet in a modern book.

28 June 2015

Two Asymmetrical Pavy Weaves

© Carolyn Priest-Dorman, 2003

A year ago my article “Some More Medieval Linen Weaves” presented a number of multishaft medieval liseré weaves of pavy design. One important design feature common to all these textiles was that the wales of the pattern all lined up and met perfectly. Accordingly, when I was attempting to draft an 8-shaft version of a pavy liseré weave for that article I focused a lot of attention on getting the diagonals to line up perfectly.

Last summer, however, I ran across two historic pavy weaves that are markedly irregular; their float arrangements are not perfect, and the wales do not line up perfectly. Further, the structure of these particular two textiles is not a liseré; it is a gebrochene. That is, it is an “Ms and Ws” structure with twill floats in both warp and weft systems, not just in the weft system as with a pavy liseré.

Middelburg-Nassau-Grimbergen, draft no. 1

One is part of an antependium from Middelburg-Nassau-Grimbergen, now in the Koninklijk Instituut voor het Kunstpatrimonium in Brussels. It dates to the first third of the 16th century. A complete analysis was not available to me, but the drawdown by J. Vynckier (de Jonghe, p. 70) was. The other is a large fragment of linen (Tx 63) in the collection of the Abbey of St. Truiden in Tongeren, Belgium. It was analyzed by Daniël de Jonghe (pp. 270-272), who assigns it a date similar to that of the Middelburg piece. Although the piece is a fragment, the complete width of 33.6 cm survives, including both tabby selvedges. Like most medieval ecclesiastical linens, it is woven with Z-spun singles line linen. The thread count is about 60 ends and 45 picks per inch, and the cloth is bleached.

If the structural analyses by de Jonghe and Vynckier are correct as printed, then the two textiles are curious inversions of one another. Both textiles are identically drawn in, yet their tie-ups are exact opposites. If, however, the structural analysis by Vynckier is drawn using a different convention than that by de Jonghe, then the two textiles may be closely related.

Middelberg-Nassau-Grimbergen draft no. 2

De Jonghe’s textile analysis can be checked against the photo of Tx 63; as always, he represents the warp with black and the weft with white. I was not able to check Vynckier’s analysis against the antependium because I do not currently have access to a photo of the actual textile. But if Vynckier’s drawdown uses white to represent the warp and black the weft, then the two textiles could be woven on the same warp using the same tie-up by simply changing the treadling sequence. Because de Jonghe dates them together due to their commonalities, it’s worth considering that they might be closely related, perhaps from the same production center. Accordingly, I give two different versions of the Middleburg draft, for those who’d like to try weaving them both on one warp without switching tie-ups.

St.-Truiden Tx 63


The draft called “Middleburg 1” is the one I first derived from the drawdown. It assumes the black-warp, white-weft CIETA convention that de Jonghe uses. The “Middleburg 2” draft I based on my hunch that the two textiles are related, and that Vynckier might have represented the textile “backward” from the CIETA convention. Instead, it is predicated on a white-warp, black-weft convention. The draft for Tx 63 is cut down and reworked from that of de Jonghe (p. 272), whose drawup and draft present more than a complete repeat and are tied up differently than I would do it.


Sources:

Daniël de Jonghe, “De Textieldocumenten uit Sint-Truiden: Technologische Bevindingen,” pp. 63-105 in Stof uit de Kist: De middeleeuwse textileschat uit de abdij van Sint-Truiden. Leuven, Belgium: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1991.

Daniël de Jonghe, catalogue entry for Tx 63, pp. 270-272 in Stof uit de Kist: De middeleeuwse textileschat uit de abdij van Sint-Truiden. Leuven, Belgium:  Uitgeverij Peeters, 1991.


*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

This article was originally published in Issue 35 (March 2003) of Medieval Textiles, the newsletter of the medieval textiles study group of Complex Weavers.  The drafts and drawdowns I submitted were created using the freeware drafting program, WinWeave.  Using GIMP, I have turned the original drafts into graphics for republishing here.







25 June 2015

Jorvík 1307: This Project Grew in the Planning

Or, "what I did with the rest of that handspun warp."

It all started when I realized I'd spun a good bit more warp than I needed for my yard of  Jorvík 1307.  I thought I should probably try some other weft with it so I'd have a sample for teaching aids.

I should say here that I have a good-sized collection of samples I use as visual aids when discussing various weaving concepts, structures, treatments, and colors.  They're mostly offcuts from larger projects.  Once in a while, though, I weave something specifically for use as a teaching sample.  Jorvík 1307 was turning out to be the occasion for doing that again.

I looked through my stash of handspun worsted yarn in appropriate fibers—Icelandic, Manx Laoghtan, Shetland.  I noticed I had a fairish quantity of Shetland singles yarn in the 0.6mm diameter range, some Z-spun and some S-spun.  The yarn size was in the zone for Jorvík textiles, although not dead-on accurate for any of them when combined with the pre-existing 0.4mm warp.  But the Z-Z versus Z-S textile divide has been on my mind since I first read Lise Bender Jørgensen's work on spin direction nearly 25 years ago.  Here by happenstance I had an opportunity to experiment with it at period-correct setts using period-correct yarns.  I decided I'd weave some of the warp off with each of the two types of yarns so I would have an example of two cloths sharing the same sett, with the same size and fiber type of weft yarn but differing in their direction of spin.

Partly as a relief from the attentive work I'd put into making the first part of the textile as correct as I could, I decided to beat this part of the textile by instinct, until it looked and felt "right."  Purely subjective!  The 17-18 picks per inch of Jorvík 1307 was too loose for this smaller weft.  I didn't count my picks, but I worked hard to beat evenly, especially when it came to matching the beat I'd used in the S section when it became time to weave the Z section.  Overall the weaving went speedily and without incident.  I did not notice anything to differentiate the ways the two yarns behaved as weft.

It was difficult to get a good representative photo of the section woven with S-spun weft.  This washed-out shot (taken on the loom) shows the texture more clearly than any of the others I took.  You can make out the lozenges, but they're indistinct.


S-spun weft

When I switched to the Z-spun weft, the structure was immediately more clear.  Here's a shot taken off-loom that shows mostly the Z-spun weft area.

Transition from S-spun weft (below) to Z-spun weft (above)

Here's a better shot of them both together.

Z-spun weft at top, S-spun weft at bottom


After finishing, the S-spun section of the cloth has about 27 picks per inch, while the Z-spun section has only 25 picks per inch.  I am at a loss to know whether this result stems from my having failed to beat precisely across different portions of the warp or from some property of the weft yarns themselves.

I have let some other string geeks (mostly spinners) play with the finished cloth to see what they thought.  Everyone agrees that the Z-Z textile shows the weave structure most clearly.  That could explain why so many broken lozenge twills are woven with Z yarns in both systems.  If you're going to go to the trouble of knitting heddles for and then weaving a broken lozenge, I should think you'd want your work to be noticed!

But if that's the case, then why would Z-S broken lozenge twills even exist?  The answer to that question may have something to do not with appearance, but with handling.

The Z-S textile, like the Jorvík 1307 one, gives a thick and cushy impression.  Everything about it seems like it's smooshed a little more together, from the pick count to its appearance and handling.  It's more limp, less dynamic than the Z-Z textile.  It reminds me of a tablet-woven band with alternating threading:  the twists cancel each other out, leaving the textile neutral.  The Z-Z textile responds more quickly to movement, which gives it a more lively hand.

Refreshing my memory about the numbers and distributions of Z-S broken lozenge twills will be a research pleasure.  Perhaps it will even lead to some practical conclusions, or at least a testable hypothesis.  But for production purposes I will probably stick as much as I can to Z-Z spun twills, since I enjoy the look and dynamism of them.  Also, my Z yarns are much better spun than my S yarns!