What can female reenactors can do?

I read a blog post recently saying one of the down sides of re-enacting was being a female reenactor as they weren’t allowed to dress as a male off the battlefield and women were only allowed to do four things in their camp—and spinning wasn’t even one of them!

So I thought I’d start compiling a list of historically accurate tasks, crafts and roles for female personas and make a page for these on my other blog.

So, if you have anything you’d love me to add to the list, leave a comment!

 

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Photograph of Cathelina di Alessandri spinning thanks to http://rosaliegilbert.com/

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

New Spinning Video– Slow Motion!

So Just a quick update to bring you all a new spinning video. My friend took this of me at a living history event.

Many of you have asked how much spin I get from each turn of the spindle when I’m holding it in my fingers. Is it just one turn? Up to now I’ve been trying to describe in words, but now you can see for yourself.

Back in Time Again

I haven’t had much time to spare recently for this blog, but I haven’t forgotten it! I’ve got some wonderful comments to reply to still so no, I’m not ignoring you if you’re asked me a question, just waiting for the chance to answer it properly and not rushed.

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This weekend I’m heading back to the 15th century again and I hope to be taking a video camera with me. The event is a reenactors only event so we can use cameras openly as long as we don’t leave them lying around when they are not in use. If I can take a video camera I should get the chance to take some videos of me spinning.

Are there any requests on what you’d like to see in the videos? Anything you’d like to see closer up? Let me know and I’ll try my best to make it happen.

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In the meantime, happy spinning!

 

Back to the 21st century!

Well I’ve almost finished unpacking and am in the process of catching up with my 21st century life.

I had a fantastic time in 1480. My demonstrations went well. As the organisers had listed my fingerloop braiding under activities for young children I took plenty of thick wool for kids to braid with and on the sunday the half hour demo just kept going and going and there was fingerlooping being taught for almost an hour and a half! As people left more people came to take their place. I taught the easy four loop braid which gives a spiral pattern and for those that did that well and wanted to learn another I taught them various five looped braids, either the broad or the round.

Finally the last person finished and we packed up, but the children in our encampment had gotten the fingerlooping bug and they spent hours making lacing ties for their dresses!

Spinning went well, better on the Sunday and I had more people interested in it on the sunday also.

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This was taken by my friend on Saturday of me spinning. I’d just started with a new spindle and for some reason picked it up upside down! When I wound the thread on for the first time I realised and put it the right way up.

Off to the 15th century again!

Once again I’m off to the 15th century at the Abbey Medieval Festival.

Set up starts tomorrow and I’ll be leaving on friday and back on monday. Maybe I might even have some photos to share?

I’ll be doing a demo on fingerloop braiding which I’ve done for the past few years and is always popular. This year it’s been featured on the ‘what to do with young children’ list so I’m making sure to be taking some thick, brightly coloured wool set up for some simple braids so if there are kids wanting to have a go they can make a braid more quickly than with cotton.

I’ll also be doing a talk/demo on ‘how to turn straw into gold’ which covers how flax becomes linen and the spinning technique in the 15th century.  I’ve been working on wooden dowel spindles and clay whorls incase I run out of enough spindles for people to try spinning on. It’s the first year I’ll be doing this one and it clashes with a drop spinning class so I’m not sure how many people I’ll have to it, but best be prepared.

Large cop and many things to do!

Well it’s been a while since my last post! I’ve been very busy (sadly not with spinning related things) including helping organize a major event to raise money for a local museum.
The first reenactment event for the year, History Alive, is here already and takes place on Saturday and Sunday. The plan is for me to arrive on Friday morning and help set up and stay through until Sunday night. I say that’s the plan because, with rather ill timing, I am sick! I am resting up and hoping to be well. This is our winter in the Southern Hemisphere and though many of my readers might not think our weather is cold, it gets very cold (for me!) at night time this time of year, especially in a 15th century style tent.

I have a Victorian ball dress to make for the 27th but I’m not feeling up to fitting the mockup of the bodice right now so I’ve been working on my spinning and using this time to get it all ready for HA as well as the next major event, the Abbey Medieval Tournament.

I’ve had a few UFOs sitting on my spindles so I’ve cleared most of them off. I had been spinning my first attempt at hand combed wool (I used dog combs because I can’t justify the expense of real combs) which was turning out ok, but a little coarse and lumpy. I’ve taken that off my distaff and have put on some more of the organic wool I’ve been spinning for the most part. I wanted something easy to spin at the event! But also I’ve been inspired by a thread on one of my ravelry groups entitled “large cop, small spindle” and want to make an entry on it and I have plenty of this wool to spin and nothing to stop me.  I’ll be interested to see how big the skein turns out. It will be good to say to people “a full spindle of my usual spinning weight can give me around this many metres of yarn.” And if people ask how long spinning takes I can say “it takes me this time to fill up a spindle and that time to ply the same amount.”

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I started spinning for my large cop, small spindle yesterday afternoon.This is my first spindle of singles so far. I’m already down to my smallest whorl (a new addition from ebay, a stone whorl that is supposedly from ancient Rome) but I think I’ve got a lot of yardage left to spin before I go no whorl and a lot to spin after that. I move to a lighter whorl when my thread keeps breaking.

At the Abbey Medieval Tournament I’ll be presenting a talk/have a try on my spinning method so I’ll need to prepare for that also.  I want to put together some pictures showing the process of taking flax from seed to cloth (as many medieval images as I can!) as well as some images showing the spinning method used.  I also need to get my dad to help me with my flax distaff. I’ll also be carving some spindles out of wooden dowels and making some more clay whorls for people to have a go on. Finally I need to put together some starter spinning kits to sell, not to make money but to give people the chance to try their hand at spinning now rather than having to go away and source/make the materials themselves. My mission is to get more people (especially reenactors) interested at recreating 15th century spinning techniques and if I break even money wise then that’s a bonus!

I hope to do a proper update soon talking about my current techniques and my new whorls (I have two!) but for now that will have to wait.

Research and documenting how they spun.

So I was telling my mum about my recent spinning research and she asked me why I had been working so hard to document the style of spinning I was doing. I explained to her that a lot of people think the 15th century paintings show an artist’s depiction of spinning and it wasn’t actually how people spun. She asked me why they thought that and… I couldn’t answer her.

So I’ve been thinking.

First off, historically people did spin with the method many hobby hand spinners use today, I’m not saying it’s a modern method or was never used historically.

This is how they spun in ancient times in Greece and Egypt.

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Kinda like today’s spinners and even though there’s a distaff it’s hand held so there’s still a hand taken up with holding the fibre and the other hand is used to spin the spindle and draft the fibre.

I understand that in the Americas they spun (and still do) using the drop spindle method.

I believe in many parts of Europe they moved from the ancient method to the one I’m exploring. Of course, I have to research where abouts in Europe they did that and it’s entirely possible several methods were used depending on what they were spinning.

Spinning was once a chore. It was a task that had to be done constantly. Every thread in every dress, every shirt and every bedsheet had to be spun by a person somewhere. The sails on ships? Those too. It was hard work, as many things once were. Then the industrial revolution happened and a lot of that hard work was taken out of people’s houses and given over to machines. People didn’t have to do that work any more and because it was work, why would they continue? They didn’t teach their children because why would their children want to learn how to do all that hard work their parents used to have to do?

Hand spinning now days has become a hobby in many parts of the developed world. We don’t have to do it, and see it as a craft. But by the time we started seeing it as a craft those who used to do it day in day out for producing cloth to stay warm and dressed were all dead. The knowledge hadn’t been passed on.

But the industrial revolution didn’t happen everywhere. Spinning didn’t get mechanized everywhere. Indeed, there’s places today where people still spin because they need to. For them it is still work.

I’ve read a few stories online of spinners who have relatives in these places, where spinning is till a job, and they ask their relatives to help them with their spinning and the relatives are shocked. “Why would you want to do that hard work? You can just buy what you need!” they say. A lot of the time they think it strange or silly or a waste of time to make what you can afford to buy and have access to cheaply.

But for one reason or another, we like to spin. So where do we look to learn how to spin? To the people still doing it. I know there’s lots of how to spin books and videos and websites and many of the ones I find are by Americans. Lots of them have traveled to or lived in countries where people still spin, but because these people are Americans usually they’ve been to countries in the Americas where people use the drop spindle method. So this is what they learn. Which I think is fantastic, but…

Drop spinning is often the method people learn. So when a medieval historical reenactor learns they should be spinning every chance they get and they hop online to see how to do it they are presented with two methods. Drop spinning or the supported spinning (often with tiny spindles in little bowls or big ones on the ground rolled along the thy.) The supported spinning looks nothing like what the medieval folks did so they learn drop spinning because that’s the other way.

Maybe they notice their arm positions aren’t the same as in the medieval manuscripts but then again all the pictures of spinners are painted the same anyway so it’s probably just artistic shorthand to depict a spinner. Holding your spindle out like that looks graceful. We know how to spin therefore we know how they span.

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If we come at things from the angle of “we don’t know how they spun in the 15th century in Europe, lets research” then none of the evidents points towards the drop spinning style you see most modern spinners doing. At least, I haven’t seen any. They may have used the drop spinning method but I can’t find any evidence of it* therefore I won’t use it. As a living historian I recreate what I see evidence of. That’s why I took up fingerloop braiding rather than making lucet cord. I had actual manuscripts from the 15th century telling me how to braid and pictures of people fingerlooping in the 15th century and cords that had been identified as being made from fingerloop braid. At the time the only evidence for lucet braid was “some possible lucets from viking times were found and they has lucet braid in the 17th century therefore it continued in all the years between.” Considering people from all around the world invented fingerloop braiding independantly from one another, it makes sense that lucet braiding could have been used in the viking times, lost then re-invented later. Well, three times, because I once watched a child invent lucet braiding. Keep in mind, I haven researched lucett braiding for a good 7 years, more research may have come to light since then but 7 years ago there was only stacks of evidence for fingerloop in the 15th century and none for lucett.

 

So, that’s my theory, what do you think?

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*Yes, there is evidence they suspended their spindle for a part of the spinning process. I do this also, but it is different from drop spinning as many of us know it. I’m going to write a post up about the differences soon!

 

 

I’m off to the 15th Century

This weekend I’ll be off camping—15th century style.

I’m in a living history group and every year we take part in the Abbey Medieval Festival, the biggest of its kind in the southern Hemisphere. This year it started on the 30th of June with a medieval banquet they hold every year on the weekend before the tournament—which is the main attraction. The tournament runs on Saturday the 7th of July and Sunday the 8th, though the re-enactors get there as early as Thursday and stay as late as Monday.

There are usually around 35 different re-enactment and living history groups that go each year and each group is given a plot of land at Abbeystowe. These plots are arranged by time, so my group will be camping near all the other 15th century groups.  My group is big on living history so if you wander past our encampment you will see some beautiful 15th century styled tents (quite a few, actually. We have quite a high tent to person ratio because, well, we love our tents! Some are furnished with historically accurate furniture and furnishings so come, take a look), an awesome camp fire where we do all our cooking, a whole series of tables set up as dining tables, sideboards or places to play games or do crafts on and a bunch of people in 15th century Florentine dress going about their daily tasks. We’re often seen eating (we love to do this also. We have a whole tent just for storing and preparing our food!), playing games, doing embroidery, making fingerloop braids, kneading bread, making pasta, cooking the dinner or any number of tasks! This year I hope to be spinning which will be a first for me. Members of the public can wander along at any time and have a chat to find out what our life is like or they can come along to one of the scheduled times for a demonstration of something specific. But wait, there’s more! That’s just our encampment I’ve talked about. Now times that by thirty-something. Yup.

But wait, there’s more! As well as the encampments there are other arenas. There’s the main tournament field, the jousting lists, the archery range and smaller areas such as the village green and there’s almost always something going on there, be it a dancing lesson or a full scaled battle.

But wait! There’s more! How could I mention Abbey without mentioning the shopping? Or the street performers? No wonder tens of thousands of people visit each year.

It’s held at around the same time each year in Queensland, Australia. You can see where it’s located here http://candela.com.au/abbey/tournament/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/AMF_LocationMap_2010.jpg and while you’re at it take a look at the main page here http://abbeytournament.com/ where you can read more about it.

I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I can return with some more spinning practice under my belt! Literally, that’s where my distaff will be…