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Something is really bugging me

I'm current reading The identification of Lace by Pat Earnshaw and there is a section that is really bugging me. Is this right?

Embroidered Laces -Cutwork...The linen was handspun and handwove. It's handspun nature is identifiable by the frequent joins in the thread since only short lengths could be spun at a time and each join was makred by a slight lumpiness. Before the mid sixteenth century only a distaff existed, but then a form of spinning wheel with the wheel turned by a foot treadle, so that it left both hands free, was invented. In spite of later improvements to the spinning wheel, no truly mechanical spinning of linen was possible until 1825, and even then the threads were relatively coarse. Pg 25

I've been hearing most of my SCA "life" that slubbiness is not a preferred quality in fabric and that the quality of spinning/weaving in period is much better than common expectation. To the point that raw silk is frequently held up as being improper since people who could afford to have silk imported would not have paid for that poor a quality. So reading this strikes me as "typical mundane person assuming that things can only be done well with technology". On the other hand this is a lace scholar who has a very good reputation so in theory should know what she's talking about.



( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2006 05:26 pm (UTC)
Obviously this person has never heard of a great wheel. I don't have sources with me here at work, but there were certainly spinning wheels pre-16th century, starting out with the great wheel (which goes back at least to the 13th century) and getting smaller. And I'm not even good at linen, and can personally spin an unbroken length of whatever I want...there are slubs when I do it, but that's because I'm bad at it not bcause it can't be done. Though I have heard the same thing about *better* linen being handspun...

It sounds like this person is a lace scholar but not necessarily a history-of-fiber scholar, especially for fibers before lace really existed...
Jun. 16th, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC)
Quite possibly. I really didn't think this sounded right. Once again I'm reviving my interest in doing a class about the types of lace. I am now thinking I want to find a book on the history of thread.
Jun. 16th, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC)
I know that spinning linen in a factory produced stuff so inferior they didn't even try for a very long time. Something about not being able to regulate the dampness, I think.

I've never tried spinning linen, but I'm sure that it would make a nasty thick/thin/slubby mess because that's what my wool looks like :)

I have lots of information about silk if you ever want to know that stuff, too. I'm not even sure they made silk noil in period (haven't found a reference to it, raw silk references in period usually refer to reeled silk still in the gum). I haven't read anything that says that silk was spun in period. But duppioni is a slubby reeled silk that was made in period and considered lower quality than standard silk. wormspit.com has a lot of silk reeling info
Jun. 16th, 2006 06:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Yes, at some point I would like to know more about period silk. I'm not there yet simply because I can't deal more than reading about and making lace until AT LEAST Pennsic.
Jun. 16th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC)
You can get a very fine and even thread spinning off a distaff. Flax stricks are roughly a yard long. AnneLiese's website has great pictures of dressing and spinning off a distaff. As for spinning flax on a wheel, I heard something about how in the 1800's they would put people in a damp basement because you need moisture to spin flax. Archaeological digs show knotches in teeth of people from the continuous line of flax being spun and wetted through the mouth. Then there's Egyptian linen that was spun green, woven, then retted which gave it that gauze quality.
Jun. 16th, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)
Is what I was thinking. Although I have never done spinning and have NO INTEREST in starting, it seemed to me after doing it for years you'd get really good and therefore could do fine and even without problems.
Jun. 16th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
Flax wheels often have a depression where a bowl of water can be placed, to keep the fingers damp.

I'm having a hard time accepting the green spinning of linen. Perhaps it was lightly retted first? As I understand it, retting allows the hard, unspinnable, outer cover to be removed from the fiber more completely and easily. Or perhaps it could be a very different plant, that was still flax, but was prepared differently than the flax we have today. Hmmm... That annual flooding might have done some retting for them.

Please, may I have a Time Machine, just for a week or so? I've got a few things I'd like to go check. ;)
Jun. 16th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
Gee, you too?
Jun. 16th, 2006 09:23 pm (UTC)
She discusses moisture when talking about the Stuart Kings understanding the value of lace

...hours of slow painstaking labour in highly uncomfortable cow byres, where the moist warmth emanating from the cows below kept the fine flax thread supple and the hands of the lacemakers from becoming stiff with cold. pg 8
Jun. 16th, 2006 07:33 pm (UTC)
She is talking out her hat.
Before the mid sixteenth century only a distaff existed So what the hell did they spin with? A distaff is a raw fiber holder, you can use one with a wheel (and should do if you're spinning linen)

Great wheels, as your other respondent said, were around by the 13th century. I'm not sure when the Charka was invented (in India) for spinning cotton, but I think they've been around at least that long.

I've seen the Shroud of Turin. That's handspun linen. It is not slubby, it's actually very fine and even (which is one of the reasons they seem to think it's relatively modern, or did till they carbon dated part of it). I've seen other SCA period garments in the V&A, some amazing rennaisance altar cloths, and ecclesiastical drag and the quality of the handspun and hand woven fabric is phenomenal -- never mind the quality of the embroidery!

She needs a visit from the Clue Fairy, or failing that, from AnneLiese :)

"Laceweight" wool yarn is 2,600 yards/pound and up. An average drop spindle can hold between one and 2 ounces of single-ply yarn. So we're talking skein lengths upwards of 162.5 yards, probably topping out at about 400 yards of the really fine stuff (wool or linen). Even I can get a good 200 yards of laceweight wool yarn on a spindle, and I'm not that good. I can't spin linen worth a toot, so my linen is a bit thick and slubby. But that's not because it can't be spun better than that, only because *I* haven't spent the time learning the tricks of it.

She's certainly no scholar of the history of fiber/fabric, perhaps she got her reputation from others as ignorant.

Can you write to her and ask her, politely of course, WTF?
Jun. 16th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)
Book was written in 1980 with the 3rd edition coming out in 1994. I really hope she's learned something since then since she's also come out with The Threads of Lace from Source to Sink

I have a feeling at least a little bit of thread history is going to end up in my class when I get around to teaching it. Especially since if you Goggle her name you come up with LOTs of people referencing her.
Jun. 16th, 2006 07:49 pm (UTC)
She knows lace, not spinning. A distaff is an object used for holding unspun fibers. It does not do any spinning. If I bribed my cousin to stand near me and hold my fiber, my cousin would be my distaff. I could stand in the woods and use a tree as a distaff. I could attach a distaff to my hat. Somewhere I've got pictures of a woman using a drop spindle and a distaff. The distaff stick end is tucked under her arm, into her belt. The business end holding flax, is well above her head, putting the part she needs to keep an eye on just at eye level. Spindles, drop spindles, whorls, wheels; those put the twist into the fiber. If you have long fiber, you use a distaff with a long handle.

The term 'Luddite' is also to be considered. Luddites were technophobes who would riot and prevent or tear down mills and factories, frequently spinning and weaving establishments. We are still dealing with Luddites today. They are the folks who say that using a cell phone will give you cancer, or cause gasoline to ignite as you fill your tank. We know that's not true, but how many gas stations have signs telling you to turn off your cell phone?

Great wheels are easy to build and treadle-flyer wheels require more skill. There were three significant improvements to the early spinning wheel, which was turned using one hand, whether great or not. The other hand was busy controlling the fiber as it was being spun or as it was being wound onto the spindle. It was a two step process of spinning, then winding. The first improvement would be the Minor's head, or acceleration through gears/wheels, allowing twist to be created much faster. The second would be the treadle, for foot power. The third would be the flyer, or the take up system that allows fiber to be spun and wound at the same time. Using a flyer, spinning becomes a one step process. Treadle-flyer wheels are documented back to 1524. The Minor's head was added by Amos Minor in 1803. (Bette Hochberg, 'Spin Span Spun')

I've got an acceleration head on the treadle-flyer wheel in my living room. It is an option to use it and I've got options on how to brake my flyer, as well. I like that wheel because I can configure it for a wide variety of fibers and yarns.
Jun. 16th, 2006 07:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I've got a copy of the Threads of Lace book at home and I think it's going to end up being high up on my list of books to read at this point.

I figured between you and darkeros you could answer my question regarding spinning wheels with who knows how many other people having answers from the drop spindle point of view. Not sure how many people I know who have worked with linen though.
Jun. 16th, 2006 08:41 pm (UTC)
The Luddites have gotten a load of bad press (mostly because they lost).

Their opposition to the technology was economic -- the new power looms and power spinning machines meant than inexperienced weavers and spinners could produce yarn and cloth almost as good as that produced by hand by the experienced folk. The mill owners were hiring inexperienced people, paying them less than they had to pay the experts. The experts, who'd been making good money found themselves in the untenable position of either having little or no work, or having to go to work on the new technology for a lot less money.

They went after the machinery, not the mill owners. On occasion mill owners came out to protect their property and got hurt, some were killed, but they were not the Luddite's targets, the machinery was.

It was a very complex time socially and economically. Not a good time to be poor, or see your means of earning a living disappear.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber's book >a href="http://www.woolery.com/Pages/coversweave/womenswork.html> Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years</a> is an excellent source on how it was done the way it was and why it took so long for the technology to change.

She proposes that leisure and plenty are the mother of invention, not necessity -- because it's only when you've got time and extra "stuff" that you can afford to experiment. If you're scrabbling to survive, you have neither the time nor the extra stuff to experiment with better ways of doing something.
Jun. 16th, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)
Cool :) Thanks for the reference, I'll be looking for it. The Luddites are mentioned in the history of lace chapter in this book.

In 1816 Heathcoat's mill in Loughborough was attacked by the Luddites, who championed the cause of those workers who had been made redundant by the new-fangled machinery, and his 55 lace frames were distroyed. Pg 17
Jun. 16th, 2006 08:39 pm (UTC)
And the other quaint bit about this is that handspinning linen produces a much finer thread than machine spinning, which is why you can't get linen thread as fine as Victorian lacemaking linen thread anymore - most linen production is mechanized now.
Jun. 16th, 2006 09:21 pm (UTC)
She talks about thread quality in the history section as well. In reference to lace in the 1st quarter of the 17th century she says

...made of the exceptionally fine flax thread of northern Europe which for more than 150 years has never been repeated, perhaps because some change in climatic conditions affected the sturdiness of the flax plant or caused a particular variety of that species, Linum usitatissimum, to die out

Jun. 16th, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC)
Possible. However, it's more likely that the early mechanical spinning machines required a different sub-species that was tougher and produced a less fine thread. So that was cultivated over the finer plant.

Across the board, the ancients (i.e. almost everyone from the Egyptians to Northern Europeans in the early 17th century) were able to produce superior texiles to those we currently use in both fineness and quality of materials.

There's a team of forensic textile experts who're working on comparing Mallory's 1924 climbing equipment to that of modern climbers. The BBC had an interesting report the other day. It's not just the fabric, but also the tailoring. Mallory's gear was bespoke tailored. Most modern climbers -- even the professionals-- buy ready-made clothing. That's indicative of how far we've fallen, that even professionals don't see the value of having their specialised clothing tailored to fit them.

(I should stop, I'm getting perilously close to ranting in your journal -- you've hit one of my hot buttons )
Jun. 17th, 2006 01:38 am (UTC)
Do you hear me complaining? I find your rants and arguments very interesting.
Jun. 17th, 2006 03:57 am (UTC)
No, I don't hear you complaining, but it's not very polite all the same. Not when I have a whole journal of my own.

BTW -- we are getting together at Pennsic aren't we? I'm camping with Quatrefoil somewhere in the N10 - N12 range IIRC. I'll be there both weeks.
Jun. 17th, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
Yep we are. I'll probably be spreading my time between Padraigh's Ale House (where I'm registered), House Quacheri (where D is registered) and merchants (LLT and frederich will be working/camping with North Star Armory).

If things work out right and my office gives me leave I'll be up the 2nd Saturday and staying through the end.
Jun. 30th, 2006 07:48 pm (UTC)
Hey Orla, it's Ysabel/Katherine. Just say your journal so I am late to post. Excellent comments, all. I agree - historical handspun is much finer than machinespun. Todays laser-controlled robots *might* now be able to equal the hands' tiny musculature and nervous relay system, but now everyone has gotten out of the habit of caring how fine fabric is, it isn't a status item anymore. There are Egyptian fabrics that have never been equalled for fineness, I was happy to see the comment about weaving with some extraneous matter and then retting it off later - makes a lot of sense. Wealthy women's linen garments were see-through.

When I spin wool, I have to add slubs so it looks "handspun," otherwise it is perfectly even.

And never, never, never trust anyone's comments about how slow it is to spin, weave, or make lace. It is only slow because we revivalists have not had experts to learn from. At the folklife festival, I have watched Thai, Indian, and UAE expert weavers weave a width of cloth at a pace of a half inch a minute, and I saw a bobbin lace weaver doing the same - her hands looked as though they were dancing.
Jun. 30th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
Hi. Yep, depending on the pattern I can get up an inch an hour or more in bobbin lace, and I'm not nearly as fast as I would be if I did it for a living.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )


Orlaith Carey

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