Here are a few images from the workspace, so to say – I’ve been outfitting part of the new embroidery frames with bands to attach the fabric.

The way these frames work is rather simple: You baste or herring-bone-stitch your embroidery ground fabric to the bands at top and bottom of the frame. Then you tension the fabric between the frame bars with help of the wooden pegs; if your fabric is a long strip, you can roll it around one of the frame bars to store the excess. (The bars are fairly rounded to avoid sharp crimps in the fabric or, as you progress, in the embroidered fabric.)

Once your vertical tension is thus established, you get a nice horizontal tension by stitching the left and right edges to the vertical slates. Using a needle, you pierce the fabric, then wind your tensioning thread around the slate, then go through the fabric again.

This setup of the fabric is, obviously, more time-consuming than just plopping a modern round embroidery frame onto a piece of fabric, but it will give you a higher, more controlled tension that will not slack off quickly or easily.

To make all this possible, though, you need the bands on top and bottom of the frame – and fitting these is a story of its own.

First of all, the bands are cut and their edges are hemmed. Then the real thing is up – the attachment. I use small copper tacks to attach the linen bands to the frame; they have to be placed close enough to each other so the band doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to sag between attachment points.

They are tiny, and soft, and they look really nice. As they are tiny, it’s rather fiddly to handle them, though. And because the wood of the frames – birch, beech, or maple – is rather hard, it’s also very easy to just deform the tacks instead of hammering them in – which is why every one needs some pre-holing. I do that with help of a slim steel nail.

Once every attachment spot has its hole prepared through the band and into the wood, the tiny tacks are inserted into the holes, two or three at a time. Theoretically, I could insert all of them at once, but experience has shown that this does not save time, as the vibrations from hammering in their mates makes those further down the row jump out of their prepared holes again… which is not very helpful.

So there’s bit by bit fitting and hammering, until all of the holes are filled. And then the process is repeated for the second of the bars for each frame.

Once that is done, the two fitted bars get bundled with their side slates and four pegs, turned out of the same wood – and they are ready to be used for some lovely embroidery!

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Easter is coming up. That festival of eating eggs (lots of eggs!), both chocolate and chicken-produced. When everybody is happy about spring finally being in full spring, and winter being over.

So, in preparation, here’s two things:

Openculture writes about killer rabbits in medieval manuscripts. Yes, the Monty Python Killer Bunny is not completely made up – there are Evil Rabbits of Megadoom abounding in manuscripts…

The second thing? It’s in case you would like to make some weird, relatively quick-to-make confection that can be eaten at Easter. Or at any other point in the year, actually – it’s just my excuse to post this now. I call it “Inflated Figs” and it works like this:

Buy cream, dark chocolate (a good, yummy kind, not the cheapest, please), and soft dried figs. You’ll also need a pot and a piping bag with either a filling nozzle or a slim nozzle with a small opening.

Put some cream into a pot and gently heat; add an equal-weight amount of dark chocolate and stir until completely mixed. You should have a thickish brown sauce-like ganache as a result. Spoon your ganache into the piping bag. Insert the nozzle into a fig and press the warm ganache into the fig until it inflates. Repeat until running out of figs, ganache, or both. Place in the fridge to cool, and it’s probably best to also store these in the fridge for as long as they will last – if, in case you are like me and love both figs and chocolate, might not be very long.

They’re not looking like much – but trust me: They are delicious!

If you have ganache left over, you can whip it up, put small mounds on it on top of cookies, and serve that as a dessert in its own right, by the way. Or use it to glaze a cake… in case you need an excuse for some cake-baking!

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Here’s your gratuitous service announcement, since it is spring – no, really, for no other reason than that I’ve recently stumbled across these issues again, and found it smart to check – and change – some of my passwords… which, admittedly, I am doing way too rarely.

So… amidst all the spring cleaning, and the gardening, and spending time outside where it’s finally nice and sunny again, maybe you can make time for some spring security stuff regarding your computer?

Thing One: Make a backup. I’ve written about that before, but it never hurts to repeat this from time to time. Hard disk drives are, yes, prone to die at some point, and preferrably at the worst possible point for you. So get yourself an external disk, or – if you are data paranoid – a simple RAID 1, and backup your data. There is plenty of free software around; I use SyncBack (not because it’s the best ever, but because I got it at some point, it’s all set up, and I have not seen a need to change it yet).
While you’re at it, make sure that you will be reminded to actually use your backup software and equipment. Put a reminder into your calendar, set a recurring to-do on your to-do-list, or do whatever else works for you to do periodical backups of your important data.

Thing Two: Make sure your software is up to date. (Most software updates itself readily on its own if you allow it to do so; there’s usually a “check for updates” menu item somewhere in the Help or Options menu.) Outdated software can pose a security issue – and sometimes the new version comes with nifty new features that make life a lot easier. (Sometimes they come with annoying new features, admittedly… but well. Life.)

Thing Three: Change some passwords. There is a rather good chance that at some point in time, you too were affected by a data security breach – that is someone stealing personal information from some portal or website that you have an account at. These stolen data then turn up in form of lists somewhere on the Internet, for other shady individuals to use for dark deeds. Such as sending you spam emails, or using your address to send spam from.

Fortunately there are sites that let you check if your email was leaked, and if other personal data got out as well. The Hasso-Plattner-Institute offers a free Identity Leak Checker, where you can check if your personal data was leaked.

A second site worth checking out is “have i been pwned“. This not only lets you check for your email address – it also has a search function where you can input a password and see if that has been leaked and is on a list available in the Internet.
If you get hits, you should change the password on the sites that you use that specific email address for. Which is annoying and might be a lot of work, but might save you a good amount of heartache and hassle in the long run. And spam. It might save you from getting as much (or, worse, having it posted from your account).

If you set any new passwords, there’s a few good guideline things to remember. Most important of them all: Don’t use the same password for several sites, especially not important ones with sensitive data, such as your bank data. Managing that ever-increasing number of passwords is a hassle, which is why password managers such as KeePass are a very good thing – you only need to remember one master password to access the database, where you store all your other passwords. These managers can also remind you to change your passwords regularly, which is a feature that I have now (finally) enabled… because I’m just as lazy, or as prone to forget about the age of a password, as the next person is.

For the master password, or any other important password that you need to type in on your own, you should choose a strong one that you can remember easily. There’s a brilliant XKCD comic about strong passwords that fit the bill – which is the type of password I use for the ones that I actually want to remember. For those used only rarely, and only from my home machine, I tend to let the password generator in my manager do the work; it spits out a long random string of numbers and characters which is pretty secure.

So. Ready for some cyber housekeeping?

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I know it’s already a little late, but then, it is never too late to have some funny things, right? So here’s a roundup of some nice April Fool posts…

First of all, did you know that the Bayeux Tapestry is a fake that was made waaay after the Middle Ages? No? Well, you can read all about it here on HistoryHit.

CurrentArchaeology has made a compilation of archaeology-related April Fool posts. My favourite is National Trust workers turning the clock forward for Daylight Savings time at Avebury!

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There’s something new in the shop – I have finally found someone to make some more copies of the weaving knife found in Dublin, DW80. It was found near Christchurch Cathedral, in unknown context, but is probably Early Medieval/Viking age.

They arrived looking like this:

It’s beech, walnut, Zwetschge (a kind of plum) and ash wood; and of course I promptly went ahead and applied some linseed oil and sat the blades in the sun so the oil could soak in nicely.

The wood looks even more gorgeous with the added depths of colour and the shine it has. Linseed oil will harden by an oxidation process, protecting the wood.

These versions have the form of DW80 without the embellishments, by the way – but the functionality is the same as in the original. I’ve used (and had other people try) this form, and it is wonderful. The pointy tip can be used to pick out individual threads, or to single out a troublesome tablet, or to clear the shed. The main thing, though, is the form of the blade: its curve allows the weaver to gently yet firmly press the previous shed into place.

Yes, it’s usually called “beating in the weft”, and that is what a lot of people do when tablet-weaving. When you have a full-size standard horizontal loom, the motion to settle the weft is indeed beating. The type of loom makes this a sensible and efficient way of doing the task at hand.

Of course you can use a similar sharp beating motion to settle your weft on a band, but there are distinct disadvantages to this. One of them: You will need a lot of space between your tablets or your heddle to build up speed for your beating implement before it hits the fell. At least I do – otherwise, my beating is not hard enough to really get the previous weft packed in tightly. You also need to hit with the beating implement exactly parallel to
the fell, or you will end up with uneven weaving. The main reason against real beating in my opinion, though, is that you will put a lot of strain on your tensioning spots and/or knots. With both tablet and rigid heddle weaving, I find that finding the correct tension is one of the key points that will make your weaving go from “okay” to “smooth going with excellent results”. Tension has an influence on the width of the band, the elongation of the motifs, and the ease of changing sheds. Fiddling with tension, to arrive at that point sometimes means working with very, very delicate adjustments, held by knots that will sit tight where they are… unless there are sudden, strong changes in the tension on these knots. Which is exactly what happens when you beat in the weft.

So I much prefer to press in the weft; I can even hold the band with one hand to build up counter-pressure if I want to press very strongly, using the weaving blade with the other hand. The curved shape allows me to use a kind of rocking or rolling motion across the fell, exerting pressure in a small spot at a time, so I can make sure that the fell is completely straight. No sharp, short motions, but a nice, quiet, gentle flowing move that fits in very well with my general style of movement when weaving.

In case you are curious enough now to want one of your own: Here is the shop link!

Posted in all the gory details, tablet weaving, textile techniques and tools, the market stall | 2 Comments

If you’re in the London area this weekend and are looking for something to do, you might want to check out the MEDATS conference, titled “Wool: Cloth, Clothing and Culture“. It takes place on Saturday, April 6 in St. Stephens Church hall, and the programme sports a lot of really interesting-sounding papers, including one about distaff spinning. I’d love to be there, but alas, it’s a little far away for me…

If you are in the area around Munich and looking for some weekend activity, you might want to check out the Open Westend event, which runs from Friday to Sunday. A number of artists, craftspeople and artisans open their workshops and do presentations or demonstrations for the public. Among them is Sylvia Wiechmann, who is a handweaver specialising in damasks and silk fabrics.

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For those of you interested in the lightfastness tests, here are pictures!

This was how the setup looked at the start…

I covered the parts to be protected with cardboard and stuck the whole shebang into the window of our wintergarden, facing south. After 7 days, I took it all down and checked the fading.

On the blue wool scale, each reference strip takes about two to three times longer to begin fading as the next lower strip in the scale. As the Material Technologies Limited website states:

Under normal solar testing conditions, reference 1, the least permanent, will begin to fade in 3 hours to 3 days, depending on geographic location, season, cloud cover and humidity; reference 3 will fade in 5 days to 2 weeks; reference 6 in 6 to 16 weeks; and reference 8, the most permanent, in 6 to 15 months.) These scales are used for paint lightfastness testing under international standard ISO 105-B, and are also used by gallery curators to measure the accumulated amount of light received by museum displays of paintings, textiles or photographic prints. 

This fits in fairly well with the speed of fading that I had, with reference strip 3 already noticeably faded after the 7 days that I took it down for the check. And this is how the birch looked:

As you can hopefully see, there’s distinct fading on the first blue strip, and there also is fading on the second and third one. It is not so easy to see on the photograph, but in actual natural daylight, there also is a little fading visible on the birch-dyed cloths. That would place the colour fastness regarding light of these strips somewhere between strip 3 or 4 – not too bad, seeing that modern recommendation for clothing dyes is to have 4 or better.

This, by the way, is another example of it being rather difficult to document nicely and clearly – not everything is easy, or even possible, to show on a photo.

After taking these pictures, the strips were covered again and went back into the window. I’ll take them down once more soon, and see how things look then.

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