This newsletter is transcribed from the Fibre Guild’s old website.
Newsletter for Twelfth Night A.S. XXXVII
From the Editor
Welcome to the first issue of the Fibre Guild of Lochac Newsletter.
That’s a fairly boring name, so if anyone has a better suggestion, please forward it to the Chronicler.
Many apologies for this being late, there is a long list of mundane reasons for that, which we won’t go into here. One way of ensuring that future issues are more timely is to submit copy. You can send in patterns, articles, letters, reviews, whatever fits within the policy of the Guild. What’s the policy? Keep reading.
You’ll also find current rankings, the beginning of our comprehensive shopping contacts list and a few useful bits of information in this issue. Plus a wish-list, which every member is free to add to. There is a minimal contact list in this issue as I have not received releases from most people, but if you are happy for your contact details to go into future newsletters so that you can be contacted by other fibrecraft devotees in your area, please send me an email. This newsletter does not represent official SCA policy on anything, and doesn’t even represent guild policy unless specifically stated. There is currently no charge for the newsletter, but forwarding a booklet of 50c stamps to me (address in Regnum) to help with postage would be greatly appreciated.
Official Guild Policy
The Official Guild Policy reads as follows.
Aims of the Guild
- To promote knowledge of the fibre arts and crafts by teaching and sharing our knowledge through spoken and written forms.
- To produce items of fibre work in whatever form.
- To research the fibre arts and crafts of the middle ages specifically, and fibre arts and crafts generally.
- To meet at the Crown events with the view of sharing our knowledge and examining our works.
- To advise the state of the fibre arts and crafts to the Lochac Arts and Sciences minister as required.
Rankings within the guild, are for guild use and do not denote awards or titles of Lochac.
Unranked or new to guild
Has made one piece in chosen area [eg novice weaver]
- Has made five pieces or more in chosen area
- Has done some research
- Has shared knowledge with at least one other person
- Has done substantial research
- Has taught classes on the subject
- Has good knowledge of the subject
- Has produced a masterwork
- Fibremaster – master in 5 or more areas
- Reports to Lochac Arts and Sciences minister as required
- Organises meetings at Crown events
- Organises competitions as applicable
- Co-ordinates with other officers
- Maintains the register of rankings
- Reports advances in rank at crown events
- Maintains a collection of articles by members of the guild and brings them to crown events as required
- Receives articles from members and arranges for their publication
- Provides a copy of each published article to the librarian for the guild records
Patron [not strictly an officer]
Supports the guild
What are you looking for, what do you want to learn or read about? Pop a note into the newsletter and we will try and match your wish up with an answer.
- Mistress Miriam Galbraith wishes to read about fibrecrafts she’s never heard of before, so that she can learn how to do them. We’d say ‘overachiever’, but she gives great classes, so instead we should all support this mission. Get in touch with her through the newsletter. She’s already there on everything from finger braiding to lacemaking, though, so the more esoteric, the better. (Webmaster’s note: the Mailing List would be a better way, now)
- Yolande wants to find a supplier of flax line (not tow) in Australia or New Zealand.
- A number of people at November Crown were interested in when things started. What are the first documentable examples of specific fibre crafts? What crafts are included within our time frame and what aren’t. Articles on any item relating to this general topic would be warmly welcomed.
Recently I attended a great class taught by Diana McAuliffe of the Spinners and Weavers Guild of NSW on flax spinning. We were taught to spin line, the long strands of flax fibre that are taken from the stem of the plant; tow, the shorter fibres that are left behind; and rovings, the commercially prepared short fibres that are combed into a fairly smooth roving similar to those available from wool or cotton.
I’d like to give some notes on line spinning here, as it is the art that carries the most mystery, but it’s not that hard if you put a bit of work into it.
First, you must prepare your line flax. It is sold in bundles called stricks. There is an article in itself on choosing flax, but we’ll save that for later. If your line is prepped, you should not need to hackle it, but if there are rough patches, you will. Talk with your supplier about this as hackling is yet another article, and another piece of equipment.
The piece of equipment that you will need to spin flax is a distaff. Some wheels come with these upright sticks jutting above the wheel and frame. It’s very easy to make your own from a piece of dowel, though. You will have seen women spinning with these in Gothic illuminations and Flemish paintings, often their distaffs were simple sticks, tucked under the arm or supported through a hole in their spinning stools.
Attaching the flax to a distaff, called dressing the distaff, is something of a trick and for the beginner flax spinner, a cone distaff is the easiest to work from. You can make your own with either two of the large (about 30cm high) plastic cones that yarn is wound onto commercially, or some cardboard and newspaper.
For the latter, take 1m2 of light cardboard or thick paper and make a cone shape that is about 40-45cm high and 20-25cm diameter across the bottom. Tape the shape. Trim the bottom roughly flat, then stuff with newspaper at the top, place it onto your upright distaff and pack the paper around it.
If you are using a piece of free dowel as your distaff, about 150cm is high enough and you should tie it securely to your rear chair leg in two places, as the tension while you are spinning will make it tilt annoyingly if it is tied in just one.
If you are using the plastic cones, you will dress one cone, then slip the second one loosely over the top. Flax is spun off the bottom of the cone shapes to keep the fibres from tangling.
Take your strick of flax and separate out a ‘finger’, about 25g of flax. A lot of flax is sold in 100g stricks, so one quarter. It’s about the amount of fine hair that would make up one part of a plait. You can go up to 100g at one time, but less is easier while you learn.
Comb your own fingers gently through the flax, making sure there are no rough patches that would need to be hackled. In the absence of a hackler, you can use a steel cat comb if you have to, just comb smoothly but firmly to remove the hard vegetative material while keeping the fibres smooth.
Now, hold the finger of flax by the root end, which is the roughest end, and shake the fibres out gently. Divide the finger into four, each bundle should be quite small. Spread each bundle of fibres separately into an oblong of finely criss-crossed fibres. The fibres should still be arranged very roughly along the one horizontal axis that we will call the oblong’s length. Along this axis the fibres form an interlocking mesh, the width of which should be about the same as the height of your cone distaff.
Repeat the process with all four sections of the finger, laying the oblongs neatly on top of each other as you finish. To dress the distaff, place the cone at one length end and roll the cone along the oblong, making sure that the fibres along the bottom edge are firmly around the cone. The fibres at the top will make a kind of pleat. If you have a home-made cone, use a length of nylon ribbon to firmly but gently tie the flax to the cone using a ballet-sipper style criss-cross and tying off at the base of the cone. If you are using yarn cones, simply stick the second one over the top of the dressed cone. Return the cone to the distaff pole.
Now, before you begin to spin, you will want something to help you spin wet. Flax, unlike wool, is best spun with the fibres wet. There are a number of ways that you can do this including drop spindling with the fibres running through your mouth as they pick up twist. This is about as pleasant as licking a Christmas’s worth of stamps.
You can use a bowl of water, or continually lick your own fingers, or else use a jar of flax mucilage made from pouring 500mL of boiling water over a dessertspoon of flax seeds (cheap at health food stores). Allow to sit for a few minutes, stir occasionally, the flax seed will make the water thick and gummy. You can also boil it all together for a few minutes. Strain while still warm as it will thicken more as it cools. You can use the strained seed with porridge or muesli as it is very good for you, or straight into the compost. The mucilage can be stored in small jars in the freezer until needed, although it lasts several weeks in the fridge. It feels pretty slimy, although it gives a great deal of assistance in smoothing and cohering the yarn for the beginner.
If you are using a bowl of water or mucilage, place it where you can easily dip the fingers of your drafting hand into it while you spin.
Flax spins best with an S spin, so make sure that your starter yarn also has an S spin.
As for the actual spinning, I’m afraid we’ll have to workshop this in the future as I can’t really describe the techniques properly at the moment, having not had enough practice in talking about it and barely enough in doing it. Two things to note are that you should move the cone on the distaff or the distaff itself around so that you are drawing fibres down evenly as you progress, and that you can tuck the double plastic cone arrangement under one arm if you do not have a distaff at all or are drop-spindling.
Diana was kind enough to give me a few spare cones if anyone is local or is travelling to Sydney in the near future you can email me to arrange pick-up should you want a set. I’m afraid postage isn’t possible.
Book reviews – Linen: Hand Spinning and Weaving
“Linen: Hand Spinning and Weaving”
This is one of those marvellous books that tells you everything you want to know when you first become enthused about a particular topic, and still rewards the reader later when they’ve achieved a degree of proficiency in their interest.
Divided into chapters covering all the various aspects of linen fibrecraft from spinning to finishing woven cloth by way of weaving, dyeing and processing both yarn and fabric, Baines provides a great potted history along with her well-tested tips. An English craftsperson specialising in linen, she has a great gift for making complicated instructions seem simple. Her photos on dressing a spindle are the first that I have ever been able to follow without having to go back over the accompanying text several times, and she gives multiple methods for any tasks that have complex elements.
Best of all she offers methods for spinners and weavers using all types of technology, so spindles and great wheels are addressed alongside modern wheels, and looms from the simple to the most complex are catered to in the patterns that she offers (with a caveat that a tougher type will be required for heavy cloths).
Sadly, this book is out of print and hard to find, so do snap up copies if you see them, there will always be a market for it in the guild, as it is easily the best book on the topic that I have come across. A great bonus is the appendix on growing and harvesting flax, for those with big dreams and bigger garden space available.
Book reviews – A History of Hand Knitting
“A History of Hand Knitting”
At the risk of sounding like a Sunday paper film critic, this is the knitting book you must read, at least once.
Rutt is one of those delightful people who sets out to tell the whole story of a subject. His scholarship has been called into question on occasion, but he is still widely cited across the board, and he admits himself that he was not able to form a complete picture of early knitted textiles. Instead he starts with the Egyptians and ends in the 1980s, along the way richly illustrating his text with photographs of surviving knitted works through the years (in black and white for the most part, but well shot). There is an excellent range of period and near-period garments for the SCA knitter to be inspired by, and fascinating tour through the regional knitting styles of Britain, Europe, Asia and the Americas for the interested knitter.
Rutt’s style is investigative but welcoming, and he provides several patterns for the novice who doesn’t feel up to an original charting. Once again this book has, unfortunately, become out of print, but second-hand copies are available and many guild libraries stock copies. Heartily recommended.
A note on out-of-print books, there are a number of services available to source them within a given price range on the internet. Recently Mistress Bess Haddon of York has started acting as an agent for book sales at a very reasonable commission. I have found her service to be efficient and very cost-effective, a book that I could not find for less than A$300 on Amazon was obtained for A$100 through Bess. Others may not have such good fortune but she is worth bearing in mind.
|Eleanor of the Orkneys
|Eurgash the Faithful
|Eyrika von Teklenburg
|Isabeau La Rochelle
|Madelaine de Bourgone
|Margie of Glen More
|Miriam de Mont Noir
There are a number of ranked guild members I have no details for this month, future newsletter issues will include updates. Please contact the Chronicler if your name is spelled incorrectly, as I am going from a handwritten copy of a handwritten copy. A reminder that Laurels who were Laurelled for textile arts immediately receive a Master ranking in those arts.
You know that feeling, when you’ve been hunched over a piece of card weaving for an hour trying to get the tricky bit just right, and your back feels like a pretzel. It’s not good for you. Spinning and weaving cause a lot of stress on the body, much of which can be alleviated through a series of regular stretches before, during and after you work.
In a shameless breach of copyright I have copied this stretch diagram out of “Stretching” by Bob Anderson, ISBN 0 936070 22 6, which can be ordered through Dymocks. I have been using Anderson’s stretches for years and they’re the only things that keep me functional with all my mangled body parts and long hours at the computer.
Interlace your fingers, then straighten your arms out in front of you with palms facing out. Feel the stretch in your arms and through the upper part of your back. Hold for 20 seconds, do at least twice.
You can also use the same motion but directly above your head to stretch out both sides of your upper body and your arms. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds and repeat three times. You can follow this with a stretch that starts with your hands in a similar above-the-head position, but has the hands clasping each other loosely instead of interlaced, then stretch to on side pulling gently on the top hand with your lower hand, keeping the arms as straight as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, once each side.
Do these three stretches every half-hour while you work to iron out the kinks.
This column deals with all the controversial topics such as when did knitting really begin, and can you document crochet?
This month: why we should have a different name. I think that the Fibre Guild sounds like All Bran. We should change our name to the Spinners, Weavers and Associated Textiles Guild, because the acronym is SWAT and that would be extremely cool. Or if anyone speaks Italian, the word for Guild is Arté, and we just need a descriptor to go with it, everything sounds much better in foreign, you know. Except for Welsh, which only sounds good when spoken by Welsh people.
Please submit a topic for next month, or I will and then we’re all in trouble!
Petlins17 Cavell Ave, Rhodes. Ph (02) 9736 1501
Petlins stock a wide variety of fibres and yarns, plus an extensive assortment of spinning and weaving tools, ranging from looms and wheels to chairs, raddles and shuttles. Linda is very patient with beginners and will talk you through what is best for the job you have at hand, plus show you basic techniques. If you need more help she also runs regular classes. Peter can make pieces to order, or put you in touch with other craftspeople to fit your needs. They are very friendly and welcoming, although the shop is only open limited hours, Thursday and Saturday the last time I checked. However there is an excellent mail order service available and they will post out samples for a small fee. Second hand items are also bought and sold at good prices.
NSW Spinners and Weavers GuildPO Box 578, Burwood NSW 1805
If you live in NSW, and have even the vaguest interest in spinning and weaving, join this guild. For a small fee of $40 per annum you will have access to the guild library, free mini workshops and study groups, a regular newsletter (unlike some newsletters produced by tired, overworked people �) and best of all, the guild shop and sale tables where you will find a range of fibres at bargain prices, and often equipment at prices to match. Actually, they’re not the best, the other members are, and in half an hour they’ll have you more inspired and more filled with useful tips than the average six-week course.
There are regular courses run for very reasonable fees that will help you pull your skills together far more comprehensively than self-directed work can, and the various study groups will push you in directions you didn’t think possible. Moreover, there is a genuine interest in reproduction textiles and methods, and you will find your own efforts supported by the women and men of the guild, all of whom are fundamentally fascinating in their own right.
- Guildmaster: Morag Freyser
- Librarian:Mistress Marit the Wanderer
- Chronicler: Yolande Kesteven
- Patron: Master Sir Ragnar Magnusson