Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Warp Weighted Loom Update #4: Loom Weights

In the last update, I defined what I meant by 'Iron Age' so I could provide an approximate date range--and by extension, the geographical area--I was researching. The term can encompass an enormous range of dates, and describe lots of different people. Another thing that a slightly broader 'Iron Age' definition can provide is providing lots of different styles to try out, from anything between weaving patterns, fibers, and loom weight design. This brings me to my current update, which is in regards to loom weights.

Loom weights are the unassuming tools used for warp weighted looms, which have a pretty obvious function: adding tension to some of the weaving threads in order to facilitate the weaving of other yarns in between these weighted threads. Specifically, they add weight to the warp yarns to remove most of the slack an otherwise untensioned yarn would have inherently. This form of tensioning warp yarns was spread over a large geographical area, from Egypt to Ireland, traveling in a westerly direction. For a greater explanation of how the warp weighted loom came into existence and how the technology traveled geographically, read the lovely chapter regarding looms in E.J.W. Barber's book entitled Prehistoric Textiles.

In archaeological contexts, looms weights (and spindle whorls) are often found within the confines of houses, and occasionally they are found at kilns (not typically at industrial kilns). However, the association with these contexts doesn't given scientific proof that if things which look like loom weights are found in houses and at kilns, they are in fact not necessarily loom weights. Frustrating, I know. But it's important to find ways to confirm that these objects are mostly likely loom weights. As of now, the current amounts of research available to those inquiring about these objects is paltry. Textile studies is gaining ground with new research into identifying how the shape and weight of loom weights can influence the types of cloth produced, and using experimental archaeology to bring new insights to old artifacts.

In the paper Shape of Things: Understanding a Loom Weight (Martensson 2009), the author comments that her investigation into replicating warp weighted woven textiles using authentic tools is part of a pilot study--sometimes the answers present themselves in practice. This was an amazing read for me, since I secretly desire to be an experimental archaeologist (among other things). I will do my best to summarize the findings, but you should read this paper if you can find it--check your library.

The author found a correlation between the bottom line of the warp threads (where the loom weights are attached) being as wide or slightly wider than the top border and producing a length of fabric which is easy to weave and almost perfectly rectangular. Her other tests included using fewer warp weights or many warp weights and assessing the changes in width of the fabric when comparing the top to the bottom. More tests should be conducted to verify this research, which may have already occurred, just to further confidence levels in the greater archaeological community. The results of these experiments are so crucial to our understanding of the kinds of woven textiles people were making without requiring preservation of the actual textiles, and aids archaeologists who are trying to determine whether a community was producing cloth on a family-needs level or on a larger economic-needs level.

Some of the important minor epiphanies included the necessity that all of the loom weights hang at the same level to minimize the abrasion of warp threads as the counter-shed is created during the weaving process. This seems like a 'duh' moment, but as I've learned personally, sometimes doing an experiment helps us to understand why things are the way they the time I stupidly warped my loom with a lace silk single. Those basic rules come back to bite us, but are otherwise archaeologically impossible to identify on the face.

The results from these experiments will certainly encourage archaeologists who find these kinds of artifacts to accurately record the weight of the loom weights, and their thickness. Based on this information and the documented empirical results, archaeologists can make preliminary deductions about the textile-producing capabilities of a group of people, thereby furthering our understanding of the entire site, not just the stuff which preserves. In addition, by recording the weight and thickness of the loom weights, textile experts can perform further experiments without needing to see the weights in person and record these characteristics.

For my personal goal of making a woven length of fabric with a warp weighted loom, this is practically a how-to guide for making the desired British Iron Age loom weights, and setting up the loom for an optimal weaving process. As I begin the next process, actually crafting the loom weights and building the loom frame, I'll flesh out more of Martensson's paper. I also hope that the next warp weighted loom update won't take so long to publish...I've been caught up with another paper that I'm writing, which will hopefully be ready to submit to a journal in July.
I've also updated my bibliography, in case you are keeping up with me:

Current Bibliography:
Albarella, U., Johnstone, C., & Vickers, K. (2008). The development of animal husbandry from the Late Iron Age to the end of the Roman period: a case study from South-East Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35(7), 1828-1848.
Andresen, S. T., & Karg, S. (2011). Retting pits for textile fibre plants at Danish prehistoric sites dated between 800 bc and ad 1050. Vegetation history and archaeobotany, 20(6), 517-526.
Degano, I., Ribechini, E., Modugno, F., & Colombini, M. P. (2009). Analytical methods for the characterization of organic dyes in artworks and in historical textiles. Applied Spectroscopy Reviews, 44(5), 363-410.
Frei, K. M., Berghe, I. V., Frei, R., Mannering, U., & Lyngstrøm, H. (2010). Removal of natural organic dyes from wool–implications for ancient textile provenance studies. Journal of archaeological science, 37(9), 2136-2145.
Good, I. (2001). Archaeological textiles: a review of current research. Annual Review of Anthropology, 209-226.
Joosten, I., van Bommel, M. R., Hofmann-de Keijzer, R., & Reschreiter, H. (2006). Micro analysis on Hallstatt textiles: colour and condition. Microchimica Acta, 155(1-2), 169-174.
Mårtensson, L., NOSCH, M. L., & STRAND, E. A. (2009). Shape of things: understanding a loom weight. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 28(4), 373-398.
Rast-Eicher, A., & Bender Jørgensen, L. (2012). Sheep wool in Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science.
Ryder, M. L. (1987). The evolution of the fleece. Scientific American, 256(1), 112-119.
Strand, E. A., Frei, K. M., Gleba, M., Mannering, U., Nosch, M. L., & Skals, I. (2010). Old Textiles—New Possibilities. European journal of archaeology, 13(2), 149-173.
Tomlinson, P. (1985). Use of vegetative remains in the identification of dyeplants from waterlogged 9th–10th century AD deposits at York. Journal of archaeological science, 12(4), 269-283.
Vanden Berghe, I., Gleba, M., & Mannering, U. (2009). Towards the identification of dyestuffs in Early Iron Age Scandinavian peat bog textiles. Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(9), 1910-1921.
Viklund, K. (2011). Flax in Sweden: the archaeobotanical, archaeological and historical evidence. Vegetation history and archaeobotany, 20(6), 509-515.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dye Testing: Brand 1 Results

As many of you know, I'm in the process of testing some acid dyes from different brands to see which one I like best, and which will fit my needs. I have 3 brands to test, and the results so far are interesting. I'm testing out only the primary colors offered by each brand, plus black, so I can get custom colors by blending the primary colors together. I'm fairly confident that at this point I don't really need to have a huge variety of colors on hand to mix into new colors.

I've tested all of Brand 1 dyes, yellow, red, blue, and black:

In general, this brand dyes fairly well. But I have two problems with this brand. The first is, it doesn't dye the merino very well, and I'm not sure why. In all of these samples, I dyed BFL, merino, faux cashmere, icicle, and silk noil in order to be consistent. It's quite possible that merino has a longer dye absorption time than the other fibers, since in every case, the merino turned out lighter than the other wool sample (BFL). A smoother surface will cause more solid reflection of light, thereby giving the fiber a dark, shiny appearance. Silk is notorious for this property. Still, I'm not quite satisfied, and I want the colors on the merino to be darker.

One solution is to only put merino in the dyebath at a time, but that's too limiting for my tastes. The other is to just not use this brand for my dyeing needs, since historically, I always dye merino. The second problem occurred with the black dye. I always create dye solutions (dye mixed with water) so I don't need to mess with dye powders, and I always shake them well both when I create the mixture and before I measure out what I need. The black dye looked like it should, thoroughly mixed, without lumps, and smooth instead of goopy.

When I was removing the fibers from the dyebath, however, there were these large, nearly solid pieces of black dye floating in the water. I've never seen this before, and I'm also curious why this happened. I'm not much of a chemist, but I do have a working knowledge of how chemistry works. A high temperature could break down the dye molecules, resulting in this strange clumping of the dye bits which didn't attach to the fiber...but since I was dyeing silk, and silk shouldn't be heated above 180F, I'm fairly confident that the dyebath didn't get too hot. And if it did get too hot for the dye at 180F, how am I supposed to use this dye color at all? That's the minimum temperature for wool to take on the dye, and the maximum temperature for silk.

The goal of this whole process is to see which of these dye brands will work for me without needing to purchase from different companies. With the black dye not working for me at all, and the merino problem, I'm afraid that this brand isn't the one for me.

I just have one more sample to dye for Brand 2, then I'll post the results from that testing soon. Sorry for the huge gap in posting here, but my momma came to visit us for about 2 weeks and we were mega busy. I'll post some interesting things I found around Seoul while she was here, and give you a nice taste of her gorgeous pictures--she's an excellent photographer!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Solving Problems: Making Two Different Batts Behave Like One

I've been saying this for a few weeks now, but I finally got around to trying out a new kind of drive band for Beth, my Kromski Minstrel wheel. I made the mistake of not buying more drive bands while in the States over the summer, so when my last band broke, I needed to figure out how to replace it. My previous bands were made of flax (linen), and since I didn't have any flax fiber on hand at the time, I had to turn to my environment. I found some crafting twine (probably) made of flax, which might work as a drive band (in a pinch). I'll talk about the results of this fun little experiment later, but I wanted to talk about the fiber conundrum I experienced while testing out the craft twine.

I rifled through my stash to find a small bit of fiber that I could spin for my drive band experiment, but which would also result in usable quantities of yarn in the end (no more mini skeins in my stash, please!). I came across a blend of merino/alpaca that I made a few years ago, plus a bit of carded alpaca which didn't get blended, and a short sample of the plain alpaca spun up. I decided to use up all of the fiber, but the bit of unblended alpaca wasn't the same size as the blended batt. I rolled the larger batt around the smaller batt and began spinning my giant batt roll. That worked for the first 30-ish yards, but since I was spinning very different fibers--alpaca being very slippery in comparison to the merino--I had to keep readjusting the batts every couple of yards. How annoying. Plus, all of the flipping and re-rolling I did thoroughly coated my shirt (the lap was protected) in fiber.

And then I engaged in the act of learning. The re-rolling was a real pain because I hate stopping when I'm spinning. In fact, if I had a continuous supply, I would just never stop spinning. So, I rolled up the batt with the smaller, alpaca batt in the middle, and loosely wrapped and tied the batt roll together so I didn't have to stop as frequently. I think the wrapping path is key to preventing slippage of the inner batt while also allowing the fibers under the wrapping to draft easily.

Since I don't have pictures for this stage, start with placing your larger batt 'pretty' side down on a table, and place your smaller batt inside the larger batt. Now, you can roll this up any which way you'd prefer, but what I did for this particular yarn was to wrap the larger batt around the smaller batt once. I ended up with a cross section which had the dark, unblended alpaca in the center, with the blended alpaca/merino around the outside. You could also wrap it up like a jelly roll, in which case the cross section would look more like a cinnamon bun. Or you might even roll it along the diagonal for interesting color changes as well. There are lots of batt rolling possibilities to play up color and texture. Experiment.

Wrap some scrap yarn around the rolled up bundle starting from the top and spiraling down to the bottom, then spiraling back up. I tried to cross the yarn when I could so that the bundle was stable without being too tight. I tied the ends as a bow, then started spinning. This prevented the super slippery alpaca fibers from slipping around in the initial loose bundle I made, and it was very easy to decide if I wanted more of the unblended alpaca batt or the merino/alpaca batt. I did this by drafting more from the middle of the bundle rather than from the outside. The bundle also made it easy to transition from one batt to the other, and I could use this transition to either throttle the transitions to make them short, or apply a metaphorical brake to make the transition more subtle. The result was a yarn which was fairly easy to spin, but one where I could really be creative with how the colors played out on the yarn.

Over the 250 yards of the yarn, I needed to stop only a few times, and that was only because vegetable matter didn't fall out on its own. I also used these opportunities to make drastic transitions in the yarn, to balance out my smoother transitions while I was spinning. I'll probably add this to the video queue, but I wanted to explain why this was a brilliant way of keeping your batts under control. It's easy and effective, which allows my brain to mull over the Wicked Witch's motivations in Once Upon a Time. You know, the important questions in life. :)