Who’s Responsibility is it to Keep History Alive?

Amongst the many things I enjoyed about my recent museum outing, talking to people about different spinning methods across different cultures and the importance of keeping cultural practices alive has stuck with me and I’ve been thinking on it. I’ve been watching some youtbe video and google translating the comments. There was one video of a young girl spinning in an Eastern European technique and there were a few comments by older women who were joyed to see a young person spinning because they worried the techniques would die out with their generation. There are many more videos of old women spinning and comments from other old women saying that their skills are dying out because they know no young people who spin using their traditional methods. Mr Norman Kennedy tells a story in one of his videos how he visited a community to see their traditional spinning, and was surprised to see them spinning not with the traditional technique but an American one. He asks them how they learnt to spin and the answer was not from their mothers or grannies but from (American) books.

It is SO EASY for skills like this to be lost. No one writes them down because everyone can do it. Better to learn by being shown anyway. Then technology takes the role of the hard work that was done by hand and people stop, they don’t care for the hard work their mothers’ used to do. Then, often when the skill is gone (or almost gone) a new generation comes along that is interested in preserving this skill, but can they? If there have been too many generations then maybe not. But what if someone from another culture took the time to document and learn the skill that their mother’s turned away from?

As a living historian I do what I do to keep history alive, I research the social history, the skills and traditions that were passed down. My main field of interest is Western Europe in the late 15th century. When researching spinning techniques I come across a lot of different techniques from Western Europe, from Eastern Europe, from Asia… and I always wonder the same thing. Why is nobody talking about these. After that I start wondering, whose job is it to talk about these? To keep them alive? Should future generations be punished because the generations now aren’t interested? Are we, those with an interest in fibre arts, with the money and time to peruse fibre arts as a leisure pursuit responsible?

The great American craft revolution of the 1960s and 70s was fantastic, it has kept so many crafts alive and rebirthed interest in many. But when it comes to spinning its drop spindle spinning, oh and there’s support spinning too. Grasped spinning hardly gets a mention because the American craft revolution passed it by.

Spinning gets broken up into three main categories, suspended, supported and grasped and within those categories there are many variations and many techniques that cross categories. If I was categorising spinning I might not chose these divisions, in the same draw I can use my spindle grasped, suspended and supported with hardly changing my technique! But I’ll work with the divisions I have.

Starting next week I’ll do a tribute to supported, suspended and grasped spinning, a different one each week, and aim to post a video a day showing the variety of methods seen throughout the worlds.

I’ll post these on my facebook page and then do a roundup at the end here, so if you don’t follow my facebook page then be sure to like it!

Back from the Museum

I had a great time yesterday at the Queensland Museum teaching people about spinning in the 15th century. I had some fantastic conversations. There were many good discussions about the social history of spinning, about the relative expense of linen and wool and how expensive clothes were in the middle ages compared to now. We also talked about the low quality of clothing today and how it starts right back at the fibre preparation stage. How many people these days list an apron or skirt in their will?


Photograph of Cathelina di Alessandri spinning thanks to Rosalie’s Medieval Women

Quite a few older women came up and talked about their grandmother’s spinning (on a wheel). One Irish women told me about how to boost productivity her family were given a spinning wheel in exchange for planting an acre of flax.


Left is a Hershey’s fibre arts spindle, right is an antique french spindle.

I also had sever men fascinated at the physics of spinning, one in particular who said I’d filled in the missing link in his knowledge of how textiles were made, which was wonderful.


15th Century Spinning’s Display at the Queensland Museum

I also had a lot of people who had seen different types of spinning in their travels (such as drop spindle spinning, supported spinning and different types of grasped spinning) who were very interested in the different techniques. The great thing about talking with the public is they don’t have an agenda to prove their way of spinning is right or deny the existence of certain spinning styles, so we can discuss them all.


Photograph of Cathelina di Alessandri spinning thanks to Rosalie’s Medieval Women

We recently got a video camera for using for our business, so we took that along and my partner took quite a bit of video, most of which I have to sort through. It was hard as I was usually surrounded by people, but here is a short snippet he got of me spinning.


There were also displays on illumination, needlework (specifically some beautiful gold work) and some artefacts that we got to have a up close look at, some of which we were able to handle.

Taking a Spin Around the Museum

This Saturday I will be off to my first event of the year! It’s just a short day trip to the Queensland Museum where I and a few ladies will be assisting with the behind the scenes tour of The Medieval Women as part of the Medieval Power exhibition. I shall be demonstrating spinning 15th century style with a distaff and handspindle. We shall also have demonstrations of goldwork embroidery, Illumination and a talk about the very secret sex lives of medieval women. So for those located in Brisbane, Australia, please feel free to drop by!

Cathelina di Alessandri spinning with a distaff and spindle


15th Century Sewing!

My other wordpress site Cathelina di Alessandri is set up to be navagated more like a blog. It’s got my 15th century spinning research on it as well as a lot of other stuff. My new 15th century Burgundian wardrobe and research will be posted on there, but it is more set up for finished articles than to show the research and construction process. Thus, 15th Century Sewing was born. It’s basically the sewing version of this blog. So if you’re interested in the creation of my new wardrobe, don’t forget to hop on over and follow the blog!

new dress


A 15th Century Burgundian Wardrobe, Photography and Wool

One of the great things about changing reenactment groups last year is the fact I am not restricted to 1480 Italian clothing. As much as I love that period, before I joined my old group I was interested in the clothing from other parts of Europe including Flanders and Burgundy. I’d done a LOT of research, but not much making and even less wearing. I have dresses I’ve never worn or have no reason to finish. That said, these dresses are all over ten years old so it is time for new dresses.


1460 Flemish outfit-an example of my early sewing

Over the next few months I’ll be making lots of beautiful dresses I’ve been waiting ten years to make and I’ll be posting them up over at my sister blog Cathelina di Alessandri so make sure to follow that one to keep up with my sewing progress.

It’s great to get back to crafting, the past few months I’ve been working on our business Make Your Own Medieval. I got some new photography equipment for my birthday so I’ve been re-photographing every product we sell, which is a time consuming but rewarding process. Here are the before and after pictures:

DSC_1316  Medieval reproduction of a strap end cast from brass for Cosplay, LARP and renaissance clothing and costume

I miss the red background but it was so hard to photograph consistently and was showing up from deep burgundy to pink depending on the photograph, and that didn’t look good. The white is less personal but much easier and less distracting too.

Running the business is great, we are meeting so many more people in the living history community and making lots of new friends. It (and changing groups) is allowing us to do many more events than we were previously able to. My partner’s re-enactment persona was always a merchant (and mine either a merchant’s daughter or wife) so re-enacting merchants also suits our persona’s. It is great being able to support the re-enactment community through the business and the support we have received from reenactors has been amazing.

On a spinning note, I’ve also acquired some lovely longer stapled fleece that I need to wash and comb, so keep an eye out for my progress with that on this blog.