Creativity, Spinning

REALLY Old Designer Fabrics

A TIME magazine article, Science: Cave Cache, published Monday, April 8, 1985, describes some astonishing artifacts found in a cave in Israel, and dated around 9,000 years ago from today (give or take several hundred years). The article says that in addition to the oldest painted mask ever found, the artifacts include:

“…basket and box fragments made of woven rushes waterproofed with asphalt, delicate thumbnail-size human heads and a rodent figurine, carved wood and bone tools, clay, stone and wooden beads and a human skull adorned with asphalt. Perhaps most remarkable are the fabrics, which are woven in eleven intricate designs, some resembling knotted macrame, others fine mesh.” (italics added)

In a previous post, I described a tomb wall-painting found at Beni Hasan in Egypt, dated around 2000 BC, that depicts at least two weavers and a spinner in great detail.  That’s old!!  But the remnants described above date 5,000 years earlier than those tomb wall paintings. We are now stepping so far back into the past that it is fuzzy and mysterious. Who really knows what was happening in 8,000 BC?  It is precisely at the point of “fuzzy” and “mysterious” that our biases emerge. (There’s lots of room for MSU.) For many scientists and archeologists, “primitive” and “intricately designed” just don’t go together, and that interests me.

I thought of this assumed contradiction again as I read descriptions of Naalebinding as “primitive knitting.”  Primitive is most often used in a pejorative sense, implying not only from the fuzzy past, but also meaning “being little evolved, uncivilized, characterized by simplicity or crudity.”

You call this unsophisticated?

When I finally saw examples of Naalebinding, my first thought was “there’s NOTHING primitive about this!”  In fact, Naalbinding is a complicated series of intricate loops created with yarn threaded through a large needle’s eye, rather than looped with two straight needles, as we know knitting today. I will agree that this form of constructing garments is primitive, but only if we use THIS definition: primitive: “not derived by something else; basic.”

Naalbinding needles

Naalebinding is primitive in that it is the first form of knitting. Nothing about it is “crude, unevolved, uncivilized.” The technique produces quite lovely, smart, well-designed material objects such as dense, warm mittens, socks, hats, and sweaters. So, our 8,000 year-old ancestors not only made warm clothing to survive their winters, but they also expressed themselves creatively in design…isn’t creative expression the most basic way we are distinguished from animals?


Spinning

The Free and the Strange…

Spin-Off magazine and website is, of course, the authoritative site for all things spinning. If you haven’t been there–GO!  However, be prepared.  I have found the sheer volume of information on the site can be…well…really overwhelming for someone who still has everything to learn. So today I wanted to point out two very interesting areas within the website that you can get to straight from this blog, and avoid the frustration of wandering around lost!

Lovely illustrations

The first area is a marvelous resource for information parceled out in manageable chunks–and it’s all FREE! The Spinning How-To page is a listing of short downloadable pdf’s on basic topics such as Introduction to Spinning, and Finding Balance.


The illustrations in a few of these little brochures are simply lovely, and satisfy my need to see the topic rather than read about it. Susan Strawn Bailey is credited for these elegant line drawings.

Plus, I love Spin-Off’s philosophy behind providing these simple and beautiful brochures–small print on the back cover reads, “For the general advancement of the spinning community.”

The second area I want to show you is in the Forum.  It’s an ongoing discussion of What’s the most adventurous fiber you’ve ever spun? Dryer lint?  The cotton from inside a pill bottle? Long locks of someone else’s grungy hair to be spun and made into a belt for his girlfriend?  EWWWW……

Now I don’t want to get snobby here, because I have definitely been bitten by the spinning bug, and one day if I run out of wool to spin, I just might find myself behind the camel shed at the zoo digging around for fiber…though I think I can safely say I’ll stay away from the human hair belt.


Photographs

More Pilgrim Thoughts

Mom and Dad's corner

I discovered on my visit to Plimoth Plantation that each dwelling mirrors one of the Pilgrim’s homes, reconstructed based on the diaries and journals they kept, and the archeological evidence unearthed, and on artifacts that were kept in families through the centuries. Though some were a bit larger than others, they shared more similarities than distinctions.

One room with open hearth

Each home was one or two rooms with an open hearth in one of the corners with a chimney directly above, and usually a loft for the children or boarders.  The homes had similar sparse furnishings–a bed in a corner, a trunk or two, a few baskets, some cooking utensils, and a shelf upon which sat the family books and table settings.

Before my visit to Plimoth Plantation, I had thought that when each family moved out of the colony on their own, they would choose large pieces of land–claiming acreage like they did in Oklahoma and Texas a couple centuries later.  But far from it!  Each adult in the colony looked forward to paying the collective debt, and then receiving their share, which was one acre per adult in the household and 1/2 acre per child.  What??  The families settling the new world would end up with less than five acres apiece?

It was then that a few thoughts came together for me. These folks came across the sea to purposefully begin a township with trade and merchants.

Leyden Street in 1627
Leyden Street today -- not much different than 1699

Though they needed to plant seed for corn, and herbs for cooking and medicine, nobody was hankering to go west as farmers and ranchers and leave civilization behind. These folks were bringing civilization, and looked forward to being in it again.  The difference in the new land for them was not city life and country life, but rather city life without religious persecution. (Unless, of course, you weren’t a separatist.)

The kitchen garden

They eagerly looked forward to the annual ships arriving with the goods they were used to in Holland and in England–fresh, ready-made clothes, sugar, and spices.  As they began to build their homes, they sent orders back to England for windows, dishes, linens, baskets, and other items they been without for a few years.

Basically, the Pilgrims were camping–roughing it by choice, until that glorious day when the debt was paid, and they could begin to invest in their livelihoods and build proper houses along Leyden Street.

A proper Pilgrim home
Spinning

Pilgrim Fabrics

Mrs. William Bradford, hemming an apron

I’ve been traveling to Plymouth, MA from Texas for work over the last few months. As is typical of most business trips, I wasn’t seeing anything in the town other than the car, the hotel, and the conference room at the office. Finally, I just couldn’t bear it! Plymouth, of all places! I had to see at least something Pilgrim-ish, or never eat Thanksgiving dinner again. So, on my final trip, I went a day early to hang out at Plimouth Plantation,  a “living” museum of the village that operates perpetually in the year 1627. I was particularly interested in….of course…fabrics.

Mrs. William Bradford, enjoying the lovely weather while hemming an apron, was kind enough to let me get up close to see the weave on her clothing.

Notice the stitching on the hem

I asked her if anyone in the village had a spinning wheel (yes, they talk only in character!) and she said, “Oh, no! We buy our clothes ready made when the ship comes once a year.”

These actors were very knowledgeable, actually, about the characters they were portraying, and also lots of details about the village–Mrs. Alden was even cooking a tansy (spinach, bread, & eggs), taking coals from her open hearth and sticking them under an iron skillet on little legs to cook it. Fascinating!  My taxi driver said the actors come from all over the country and stay 6 months at a time in houses near the village. They study up on the history of the period, read the journals and diaries left behind, and love to chat about 1627! (The Pilgrims arrived in 1620.)

Sturdy cloth to withstand wear and tear

I also learned that back in Holland, where they lived as a community for some years before coming to Plymouth, this group of women did not do much spinning of their own to make fabrics.  Living in the large city of Leyden, they purchased their clothing ready made, or bolts of cloth if they wanted to sew something on their own. But it bears repeating that although they themselves weren’t the ones spinning the threads that were ultimately woven into the fabrics they were wearing or purchasing….someone’s pair of hands were, since every thread woven into a cloth in 1627 was handspun and handwoven!

Bed curtains for warmth and privacy in the one-room cottages


Peace, Spinning

Time at the Wheel

“Good,” Arabella told me, “you understand the basics.  Now what you need is time at the wheel. Nothing else can teach you what you need.”

Click here to go to post

As I come to the end of the marvelous green bump that MonChere brought me on Mother’s Day, I have tangible evidence of the truth of Arabella’s statement.  The green bump (that’s what a large roll of roving is called) spun into about 9 skeins. Oh, the difference between the first skein and the last!

As beginning spinners, we are inconsistent in the size of yarn we are spinning, and also in the amount of twist we are adding to the yarn in the spinning process. The result is a finished yarn that is really too curly and twirly to be usefully knitted. (Which is one reason why you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on the wool you are learning upon!)

Notice the "skinny" strands and the "fat" strands

In this first skein, notice the uneven strands–some are “skinny” and some are “fat.”  This occurs when the spinning of the singles is uneven–of course, the hallmark of a beginner!  This is one of the skills that can only be gained by “time at the wheel.” Spinning such a large bump of wool gave me enough time at the wheel to really improve on my consistency.

Another issue for beginners is “overspinning,” which is also a consistency issue. It happens when too much twist is added to the single during spinning. When plying two singles, spinning in the opposite direction from which the singles were originally spun “balances” the finished yarn as they are twined together–except when both singles are inconsistently overspun. Then you just get what’s pictured here–evidence that this spinner needs more time at the wheel!

It does happen, though.  The improvement does happen. Compare this last skein (hooray!) with the first above. Notice the evenness of the strands compared to each other, and the evenness of the whole skein compared to the first. This last skein even felt completely different in my hands as I wound it–lighter, fluffier, balanced.

The yarn is more consistent

As for the improvement, I can’t tell you what to do specifically, except keep spinning. It’s very strange, really. A spinner begins as an uncoordinated, goofy, stumbling upon oneself, uncertain being, but sticking with it, somehow she manages to bring it all together by not thinking about it, but simply doing it. Time at the wheel, says wise Arabella.

Spinning

Views Top 1,005!

Thank you, thank you! Today my statistical charts tell me that this blog has been viewed 1,005 times since I started it a mere 10 weeks ago. It is very gratifying to know that you all find these random thoughts interesting enough to keep coming back. Who knows what we’ll uncover!

My daughter Ginny took this photo at Young Life Camp in Colorado