My bags are packed and I am off again once more – the celebratory conference of IG Wolf is taking place this weekend, starting this evening, and it’s promising to be a really interesting programme. The conference includes a concert and a wine-tasting evening with old grape breeds, plus a variety of different papers during Saturday and Sunday, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting a whole lot of old friends, acquaintances and colleagues there that I only get to see quite rarely.

My own presentation will be on Sunday morning, I’ll be back home on Sunday night, and then I am just as happy to not be travelling for a while. If it feels like you’ve been living out of a bag for weeks, it’s probably time to slow things down for a bit and not rush around through half of Germany for a while!

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I am back home from the Forum, and it was wonderful – a whirlwind week, as it usually is. Every time, I am surprised at how quickly time flies past when we are in Mayen, and every time I’m delighted with how much is happening. Little detail problems are suddenly thrown into the spotlight, and then people throw themselves at the problems and try to figure out how something was made, or why something might look as it does.

This year, we had an array of really interesting discussions and tests. The effects of the de-gumming on silk when dyeing was one of them, and first results were really interesting – the de-gummed silk takes on less colour than the gummy silk. A number of little test skeins were dyed, and they have gone home with Ruth, who will do light-fastness, wash-fastness and rub-fastness tests with them in order to see how well the dye sticks to the various samples.

silk_dyeing

Silk being dyed…

silk_dyeing2

…and the skeins after rinsing.

We also had some reeling of silk, some tablet-weaving and, to my great delight, some hacking of slits into pieces of silk to explore the pinking and slashing techniques. That was not only extremely interesting, but also a lot of fun – and the slashing does explain why some fabrics might have been woven in just the way they were done.

There were also really good discussions about swastika motifs in tablet weaving and the problems this motif can lead to today (especially if you are based in Germany), and discussions about the terminology of wild vs. domesticated silk.

And of course there was lots of coffee. There was chocolate. There was the traditional stroopwafel spinning…

stroopw_spinning

it was a wonderful week!

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I’m here, back from a little break, and I’m still working on stuff. Like the tablet weaving thing – here’s the current status:

tabletweave_shield

You see some bits of wild playing around, followed by the start of weaving a coat of arms. You can also see the width difference between plain tablet weave (the diagonals) and twill, which is a good bit looser and thus the threads snuggle closer to each other, making the band narrower.

What you cannot see is that there is a mistake in the last pick, which needs, thusly, to be un-woven. What you also cannot see is that I did get a few more lightbulbs, but there’s still a crick in my brain when it comes to finishing the coat of arms with the stuff that comes on top… well. I’ll be working on that some more in the next days. I still have a few of them left.

I will probably not manage to do this and find the time (and brain!) to blog, so – while I’m sorry to announce a bit of blog silence right after a bit of blog silence – I’ll say, for my sanity and peace of mind, that I will be back after the Textile Forum week and a bit of recuperation. Which means November 16.

Somebody really packed my calendar full of stuff…

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I’m back from a really wonderful weekend, teaching tablet-weaving and hand sewing and fingerloop braiding and spinning, and having nice chats and lots of interesting questions and discussions, in splendid company and with a lot of coffee.

I’ve also gotten a little brain fart for a motif I could try on my brain bender tablet weave… the Franconian coat of arms.

And now I’m in the home run stretches for organising the European Textile Forum, and getting my presentation ready, plus handling the usual in-the-background work stuff – and realising that there’s a lot for me to do, in not so much time.

So I’ll be taking a little break from blogging, and I’ll be back telling you about things again in a week, when I’ll hopefully have dealt with all the urgent stuff!

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If you’re interested in old textiles, you might have caught the thing with the Viking tablet-woven band that, according to Annika Larsson, spells “Allah”.

The Guardian and Heritage Daily, among other places, covered this “staggering” find. Then up sprang the debate on whether it really was possible that the band has Arabic script on it, and spells “Allah” – one prominent voice against it was Stephennie Mulder, an associate professor for Medieval Islamic Art and Architecture. She did it on Twitter (of all places!), in a brilliant string of tweets you can see here. (Go look at that link for pictures of medieval tablet weaves with stunning patterns!)

Apart from the Square Kufic style being significantly younger than the textile and other script issues that are covered in that tweet string, Carolyn Priest-Dorman also has a few things to say about the pattern. Especially that the square-ish things at the side, shown in the images in the articles, are… not actually in the band itself.

The Guardian’s article has since been updated to include the academic debate.

The Atlantic also covers this discussion, as does The Independent.

I’m not sure what brought Mrs Larsson to go forth and invent extra bits for a band just to read something Arabic into it, but I’m not happy about it.

I’m much happier about the fact that there were quick and well-founded counter-arguments for it. It’s a beautiful band, it is a stunning piece of work, and it does deserve proper study, but it’s not a prop for inventing an alternate history, thankyouverymuch.

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I’m off to teach a full weekend’s worth of workshops – spinning, tablet weaving, loopbraiding, and sewing techniques, and I’m all excitement.

Especially about the tablet weaving course. It’s been so long in the “I would like to do this” stage, followed by a very long planning stage, and then, a while ago, the test run. Then some more smoothing of rough edges and planning and updating the plan and the printouts… and now it’s going to get its first run out in the wild. Proof of this? A huge stack of stuff sitting in the car, waiting to be ferried off. This is by far the most material-intensive course that I teach, because I use clamps to set up the warps (mimicking the medieval tablet-weaving stands).

Starting off easy - a few straight lines, a bit of doubleface, getting an understanding of how things work.

Starting off easy – a few straight lines, a bit of doubleface, getting an understanding of how things work.

Since I’m currently also doing brain-bending exercises with free patterning, it’s an especially nice feeling for me to be teaching a method that will allow the new weavers to do their own on-the-fly patterning, from a deep understanding on how these things work. At least that is my cunning plan – and the system I teach is quite robust in regard to mistakes, too.

Well. Let me put that a bit more into perspective. If you make a mistake, the system allows you to unweave the bad bits, then re-sort the tablets into their two packs as you un-weave the last correct pick that you made, then do the last pick again and work your way forward once more, hopefully correctly. You will not need a drawing or pattern draft to re-align tablets. You will need, however, patience and an adequate assortment of sighs, curses, or motivational beverages of choice, depending on your character. As always, the best thing is not to make the mistake in the first place…

Speaking of the brain-bender, here's the current status. As you can see, I have done my best to try out how to deal with mistakes. Those, by the way, are mostly due to my weaving in the evening at the moment, when I'm already a bit tired... as a robust system should be up to a tired weaver, right?

Speaking of the brain-bender, here’s the current status. As you can see, I have done my best to try out how to deal with mistakes. Those, by the way, are mostly due to my weaving in the evening at the moment, when I’m already a bit tired… as a robust system should be up to a tired weaver, right?

By the way, there will be a similar-ish workshop on patterning at the European Textile Forum, and due to last-minute cancellations, there are two spaces left once more…

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I mentioned the hard and firm rules in the post about tablet weaving a few days ago, and that is just the thing to segue off into some ponderings about what I call “Crafter’s Bias”.

When you are doing craft stuff for a living, you want to have a suitable, efficient way of working. Usually, you get taught this way when you are learning the craft, and you get to know other ways to do it, other tweaks, maybe other tools when you are meeting other colleagues, or (what used to be a thing much more common than today) when you are travelling as a journeyman.

So while you might have a bit of time to experiment once in a while, and might shift things slightly, work doesn’t usually leave you with lots of extra resources to fool around and try different things and methods. You might also not be aware of there being other methods – or at least not think actively about it. This, together with sort of getting set in your ways that you know will work for you and that can be calculated properly, can lead to the feeling that there is one way to do it – your way. Because, obviously, that’s how it’s done, right?

When you are, say, an archaeologist specialising in crafts, you might also try to reconstruct how things were done back when. This means you look at different tools, different ways to handle one process (including ways from other parts of the globe), probably try out stuff yourself, and generally keep an open mind regarding procedures, tools and methods. Basically, it’s the exact opposite mindset to Crafter’s Bias.

Fun facts: I have situations where I have Crafter’s Bias, and I suddenly find myself go “That is how it’s done! No discussion! … Oh. Wait. Erm… that is one way to do it. There might be several other ones, we can’t tell, but that is how I do it, it works for me, and it has so far worked for a lot of other people I have taught it as well.” It’s even funnier when I see a different method and my first thought is “But but but that is wrong! With a capital W!” until the archaeologist kicks in and tells the crafter to cool down and breathe, there’s more than one way.

While it might sound weird and restrictive at first, Crafter’s Bias is actually not a bad thing. I see it as a sort of evolutionary development; these also sometimes look weird from a rational perspective, but from the perspective of the species’ survival, it all makes sense. Crafter’s Bias keeps you from going off on a tangent too much, losing time, money and energy on trying out things that might work or might ruin your current project, so it’s actually a sane thing to have if you work crafts for a living. It won’t prevent you from accidentally stumbling across a better method, and also not from picking up tips and tricks from colleagues, or from developing your own little tweaks and tricks – but it gives you a solid, firm base that you work from.

Having the One True Method (TM) also makes teaching a lot easier. Students have to get a feeling for tools and materials as they start out, and having One Way shown to them will be easier to handle for most than getting a bouquet of methods from which to choose. It also means that you can teach a craft by rote – without having actually understood how things work, and why, in depth and detail.

Take knitting, for instance. There’s a multitude of ways to arrive at a plain stockinette stitch; there’s a huge number of increase and decrease possibilities. If you have a thing for motions and methods and structures, that is utterly fascinating and fun to explore. If your main goal is to make somebody a functional knitter, though, you only have to teach them knits, purls, one increase and one decrease. There, you’re done, you can knit anything around. If you now standardise the way the stitches are formed by declaring one method the One True Method, it is easy to teach – you only need to show the motion. No need for understanding what happens, and how, and why. That means craft knowledge can be passed on reliably.

Again – this won’t prevent people interested into structures, and people with inquisitive minds, to understand how it all works. These might go on to develop other ways, or different increases and decreases, though – depending on how much of a tradition and spread the One True Method has – that might lead to suspicious looks from the others.

 

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