And…I’m back

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Hi guys,  Long time no post eh?

It’s not for lack of things to post but more lack of time to sit down and document what I have been up to.  Right now I have a few spare minutes in the coffee shop to jot down a few lines.

Have been up to my ears in commissions for viking period legwraps (natural coloured and in woad and madder) and working with another artist on an environmental piece of tapestry\weaving – I would classify it as a bit of craftivisism.

To be totally honest I find I dont really like commissions.  I will do them sure, they pay the bills etc but I find them quite stressy.  My plan to handle this is to get ahead with items that people might be interested in owning and getting them into the shop.  Got a good deal of madder wools to make some items from.

I am also totally for natural fibres – as you have probably gathered but was fortunate to work with another excellent artist who paid for my time weaving (of all things) roadside trash and waste plastic into an experimental peice of art.  We made a tapestry\weaving of clouds (the picture shows the final work in situ at a recent weaving symposium) by spinning the warp and the weft out of plastic found plowin around in the Adelaide Hills and other waste.  Its amazing how aesthetic the piece turned out.  It had the second purpose of collecting mist\clouds and was therefore called a cloud catcher.  I am consideing getting and electric spinning machine just for future experiments with waste plastic while continuing on my journey of discovery with nature fibres and ancient fibres.

Tapestry Weaving.

2015/01/img_4514.jpg This is my first test tapestry I started last weekend with no cartoon, just making up the picture as I went with scraps of yarn. It turned into a nice beach, hills and sunset sky scene. I’m working on a more abstract piece above it using the remaining warp and throwing together a different sort of piece as I find out what you can and can’t do.

Earlier last year I decided I needed to learn how to weave tapestries so I had a use for my left over hand dyed and spun wools when I have woven something else. I set up one of my weaving looms and started ambitiously reading from books and trying to apply what I had read on my loom.

I did get a picture started, but shortly into it I realised I had laid the cartoon the wrong way and I was doing a super fine weave and well eventually I ran away from it and wasn’t enjoying it at all. (Yesterday I hacked the awful thing off the loom and tucked it away in a shelf.)

This year, 2015, I decided to go back to classes with my weaving teacher the wonderful Bev Bills and learn some basics about tapestries. Have only done one class with Bev so far and I have learnt more in that class than all my messing around at home.

I think I quite love being able to paint with yarns. Consequently a friend of mine who knows I weave and that I am getting into tapestry gave me a huge box of bobbins of all sorts of natural fibres. I spent an afternoon getting them all sorted into their respective colour groups.

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So exciting. I can’t wait to start designing cartoons and colours for a more organised tapestry.

Viking Age and Living History Wools in General

Getting wool from local sheep in Australia which the Vikings may have worn around 700AD onwards isn’t viable. Our breeds of sheep are very well up the evolutionary line. The first breeds of sheep documented in Australia were only arriving in the late 1700s http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/history_nation/agriculture/produce/wool/ and were Spanish Merinos and South African fat tailed sheep. To my knowledge there are none of the Swedish or Norwegian Ancient breeds here but there are some Finn sheep. (I would love to here from any sheepy people who are raising ancient breeds because I would probably want your wool ) So what was a girl into ancient vikings from Staraya Ladoga http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staraya_Ladoga in 700AD to do?

I was pretty sure the wool was going to be a heck of a lot different from what the modern world appreciates as wool and many Aussie re-enactors and living history people and I was quite right. Below is a picture of Spelsau Wool and Merino wool after they have been washed and then after they have been combed. The Merino is the lighter, finer wool. IMG_3931.JPG

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If you are serious about accurate living history you really have to think about the wools that were around at the time and I set out to look into this area which seems to have been neglected all the way down here in the Southern Hemisphere amongst those interested in this educational hobby. I don’t think people mean to, I just don’t think anyone stopped to think about the breeds of wool around in their chosen time periods. For many, wool is wool and they are unaware or unconcerned about the providence of their wools. I sat down and thought that perhaps I could do some of the leg work and some of the hard yards and even make these more accurate fibres available. I sat down to write this to introduce the subject and damn the torpedoes. I’ve got a much longer journey ahead and I would appreciate your help.

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So the first ancient breed I was able to get some wool from was the Icelandic sheep. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_sheep Evidently this breed has been in Iceland since the Vikings bought them there. It’s a long way from Staraya Ladoga. It’s a long way from anywhere but the creatures have not had too much chance to interbreed with other sheep breeds however they arrived much later than the 700s from what I have read. It’s an interesting hairy wool and spins very nicely on a drop spindle but wasn’t quite my period, I noticed they descended from sheep in Norway but I put that on the back-burner. I Nålebinded http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nålebinding some socks http://www.joanna-molloy.com.au/Joanna_Molloy/Viking_Socks.html with it and I made viking leg wraps with it which sold on ETSY as soon as I put them there. Here is a picture of them

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Next I tried to get some Russian sheep wool, the type I could find was Romanov sheep http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanov_sheep and I am not really sure how long this breed has been in Russia it seems they were only noticed in the 1800s. Not helpful. Not enough info and I can only translate so much Russian Cyrillic with Google translate. Still not happy but I played around with it, spun it on a drop spindle and then woven it on my floor loom into a beautiful shawl. Which is up on ETSY https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/200178406/earth-shawl? for those interested.

Then I found a lady from Norway who was able to provide me with Old Norwegian Spelsau http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spælsau and wild Norwegian sheep wool. This is another very interesting hairy wool that spins well and has long hair and wooly fibres. I spun a whole swag of that on my drop spindle and then wove a herringbone patterned shawl out of that. This one is not on ETSY its in my living history kit and comes out for exhibitions. Im rather proud of it. It is pictured here.

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I really am pretty happy with this wool, but its not from Sweden, and there seems to be evidence that Vikings who were hanging out in Staraya Ladoga were most likely Swedish.

I have been patiently waiting for a Swedish contact to move house and get back to me as she knows someone who has ancient Gutefår http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gute_sheep sheep and may be able to provide me with some, that will probably be the closest wool I can get to something that may have been worn by Swedish Vikings in Staraya Ladoga around 700AD. Phew. Mad I hear you say, well just a bit :). I really want to know what the wool and the fabrics were like.

I also inadvertently came across another reason why people doing re-enacting and living history might look at their woollens more closely. If there is no demand for supply, these ancient breeds will die out. I recently purchased a DVD from a fibre lady, Debra Ronson, to supplement my interest in ancient wools. She has made a little video promoting her DVD but she pretty much sums up the importance of rare wools as passionately as I would have to say on the matter so I will let her explain it to you here. http://youtu.be/zG8-zx3gt4M

Tapestry Beginnings

Yesterday I got my first ever tapestry started on a four shaft, table loom.

I’ve decided to use natural linen for the warp and wool bits and pieces I have around the house for the weft. Since it is my first one I am not expecting to set the world on fire and I am not going crazy with spending hours on predetermining colours, designs etc but if what I chose to weave works out it should look good.

It appears to be working so far, although I reckon I have chosen a pretty fine weave. I certainly don’t have all the professional tools and bobbins yet but I am making do and apart from glancing at books, a few you tube videos and a basic weaving background, my knowledge is pretty basic. I still quite don’t know how one attaches a cartoon when weaving in this manner but I am coping. Please be gentle with me oh more experienced tapestry artists of the world.

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