Looking Forward

I know it’s only April, but the second half of 2016 is going to get crazy. I’m having wrist and elbow surgery in the next few weeks. That’s going to be super exciting…but in 6 months, it will be like nothing had ever happened. At least, that’s what the surgeon says. The first couple of months will apparently be rough – like can’t pick up a glass of water or lift over a pound. That, my friends, will put something of a hitch in my creative giddyup. Yes, I can (and may) dust off the tambour frame and do some left-handed embroidery like I did last summer. I’m on a scribal and hand-sewing roll over here. You must forgive my pouting and foot stomping. In my head, I will be teaching myself to do calligraphy with my toes and never getting to be a Laurel because my hand won’t work right ever again. And then I’ll never be employed, and we will go bankrupt and lose the house, and rats will bite our faces in our cardboard alley house, all because I needed 15 minutes of wrist and elbow surgery. Kevin tells me I worry too much and looks at me like I’m crazy when I tell him these things. BUT ONLY ONE OF US IS GOOD AT PREPARING FOR EVERY TERRIBLE EVENTUALITY, AND  IT IS DEFINITELY NOT HIM. Apparently, they didn’t cover that in his PhD program.

I’ve decided to spend my non-arting time building relationships with people in my kingdom, instead of being so achievement-oriented. And do research, since I figured out how to impersonate my husband in the library system and get things through ILL. (I know, I’m such a badass.) So, before there is a rogue laser surgery accident that cuts off my arm like Luke Skywalker, I am only doing the art I want to do for fun. (Plus, a couple of scrolls for the kingdom, because I feel guilty only doing what I want to do for my own enjoyment….maybe I should go back to therapy.) For example, I have tortured myself and figured out how to warp my fancy, more period loom, and it only took six months off my life. Now I can weave with uneven tension and raggedy edges! So proud. SO PROUD.

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Then, there’s job stuff. Pulling up roots in Austin and moving to Savannah wasn’t easy. August will mark the end of our second year here, and the second was definitely better than the first in many ways. In other ways, it’s been brutal – like when it comes to finding work for me. Coddled in my special Austin-y bubble, I had no idea a decade in internet marketing wouldn’t just let me work anywhere. I’ve wrestled with what to do instead. Hundreds of job applications, random part-time/temporary gigs, a lot of volunteer work, and a lot of expensive testing later, I’ve come to a few conclusions. I like helping professions the most. I would hate being a school teacher. Marketing work is something I’m damn good at but carves away at my soul. Perhaps I should have listened to my lifelong love of medical things and science and mostly-nonexistent squick factor a long time ago, because it turns out that it’s pretty easy to turn your existing bachelors into a BSRN if you had really good grades. I could have been earning a lot more money doing something I’m certain I’d really like.

Because it’s always better to figure out something late than to never figure it out, I’m heading back to school to be a nurse. I have a couple of semesters of prerequisites to do first. Let us all pray to our preferred deity that I get A’s, because I’m probably going to die of anxious flailing if I screw this up and have to figure out what I want to be when I grow up one more damn time. My type-A self is already not dealing well with the uncertainty. Like, I don’t know if I’ll qualify to get into nursing school, and I spent an hour this morning worrying over whether or not I should pursue a nurse practitioner program or a physician’s assistant one once I have enough years of clinical experience to go to grad school. I come by this flavor of crazy honestly and am not alone. My BFF/Laurel is currently back in nursing school to renew her license, and she’s taking an optional final because she has a 99.3 in a class and wants the hundred. I would take the 99.3, so I’m obviously way less high strung. Super chill over here…yup.

Weaving is hard, and I am not good at it

Weaving looks easy on videos. Just pass the shuttle back and forth, raise and lower the warp to create a shed between each pass, and magically fabric appears. Truthfully, the actual practice of doing the weaving isn’t hard for me. It’s relaxing.

Warping the loom is a different story. I have two looms: one with a bunch of horizontal pegs mounted to a perpendicular board (like an inkle loom), and a hybrid loom that I had custom made a couple of years ago, where the warp threads are wound around opposing cylinders that can be locked in place. Both looms are pretty portable. The first is easier to warp, since the threads stay under tension as you wind them around the pegs. Unfortunately, I’m limited to the length proscribed by the number of pegs. It’s long enough to trim out a neckline and two sleeves, but that’s about it. The hybrid loom lets you have a warp as long as you want, which is great. But to wind that up, you have to be able to keep a large number of threads from getting twisted and tangled in the process. This part is harder than it might sound…

loom 1Yesterday, I spent almost all day trying to warp the loom with a simple design. I carefully worked with the string going through the cards in small groups. I made sure there were no twists or tangles. I wrapped the long ends of the thread up carefully, to keep them from tangling. All the way across the loom, bit by bit, I tied my cards up and attached them to the loom. I began turning the handle to wind up the warp at one end, and tangles start appearing at the other. Awesome.

The more I try to smooth it out and figure out what’s going on, the more tangled things get. Threads that were cut with precision to equal length are suddenly several inches off for no apparent reason. What. The. Heck. It’s like I’m only capable of making this work badly. Every thing I do that *should* help makes it worse. So I decided to cut my losses and cut off this crazy mess at the bottom, and just re-tie the little thread groups. So I lose a foot or so of weaving. So what?

SO THAT WAS A BAD DECISION. I turned the little wheel back the other way, to find a good even spot to start cutting the warp. And somehow, that was like back-combing the straight even part. The tablets slide back, and it poofs up into a rat’s nest just like hair. And then the cards started flipping and dropping in random clumps while I’m trying to do that. And then, all of a sudden, we had this salvageable mess. I shoved it under the coffee table to sit in time out for a while, until I can determine if it’s actually a loss or not. I’m pretty sure I would pay for two new things of crochet cotton if it means not having to comb out this mess of snarled thread and try to re-thread the cards with it.

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Posaments!

For the uninitiated, posaments are these fantastic metal bits of ornament that were applied to clothing in Birka, Sweden during the Viking Age. There are braids and continuous knotwork strands that are made in the hand and carefully tightened to form beautiful knots. If I am interpreting the archaeological finds correctly, they’re rare enough in graves that not everyone had them (status symbol, no doubt). There are enough posaments that reenactors have a number of designs and applications to choose from, should they wish to incorporate them. The fantastic Silberknoten site has beautiful examples she’s recreating from various graves. Eithni is also recreating them grave by grave. Her project at Gulf A&S was truly fantastic, and her tutorials have been very helpful. You can look at the originals and work out how to do the knots yourself, but I need a tutorial.

If you want to slap some fancy metal on some fabric, Birka is not the only contemporary settlement that has really cool metal ornaments on clothing – there are others in Sweden, Finland has some great stuff, there’s wire weaving, and there are woven bands of varying complexity from various Viking world locations that have metal brocaded through them (a project on my list!). Many of these other projects require less expensive materials or have the ability to substitute something much less expensive, like very fine brass jewelry wire for gold.

The originals were made primarily with straight gold wire, and some with very fine tin/silver alloy wire that’s coiled around a silk core. This is called tenntråd, and you can order it on Etsy or from Sweden. It’s not cheap (~$3/m), particularly since you are using 2-4 strands at a time to make the patterns. There’s a little piece below (about 8″/20cm) that I’ve put on a smokkr panel, and it’s about $10 worth of material. Making little rows of it to go down the bands of silk across a man’s chest on his tunic could easily cost $50 for small and uncomplicated posaments. Because of that, I looked for viable alternatives and tried them out.

Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck.
Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck. I could potentially run a very fine wire down the center and try it again since the lack of structure a wire would give made it hard for the knots to keep a distinct shape or look crisp.

 

Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.
Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.

And then there was Gulf. Violet was asking random vendors about whether or not they carried tenntråd. I thought it was for her. Then we met some fantastic OOK Viking Laurels from An Tir, and one of them casually mentioned that she had enough for a handful of people if anyone wanted to learn to make them. I barely refrained from shouting, “TAKE MY MONEY!” And that’s how I got a tiny purple bag of magical tenntråd. Because it’s coiled, it’s forgiving of being made to curve this way and that. Because of the silk core, it doesn’t behave like wire. It’s seriously worth the money if you want to try to make posaments because it gives perfect results (once you figure out how to make the knots). There are a few things I’ve found where I struggle and struggle, then try the historical material or tool, and the heavens open for the angels to sing. A well-cut quill. Rectangular construction. Tenntråd.

My first knot with the tenntråd! It's the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures.
My first knot with the tenntråd! It’s the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures. Only in soft focus, so that you know my practice knot is artisinally-made with craftsmanship for Instagram.

 

My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards...they're not supposed to be.
My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards…they’re not supposed to be. Notice their size in comparison to the weave on my jeans. Posaments are surprisingly small, for the most part.

 

This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they're spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery.
This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they’re spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery. I used tiny blue silk thread to attach the posament, because I couldn’t figure out how else to get it on.

I’m making a stronger effort to be more authentic in my portrayal, which means being more focused on a time and place instead of being a magpie and popping together shiny things from a more generous swath of time and geography. I’m doing more research, paying closer attention to the most likely interpretation of a find instead of trying to stretch the possibilities to fit what I want. The upside is that research is fun for me, and learning the details impresses me with the cleverness and workmanship of the people whose graves we’ve dug through. The downside is that by the time I have completed a project, I’ve invariably done more research and am now displeased with some aspect of what I made and want to redo it. All of that is to say that while I’m think this smokkr panel I made is beautiful, and people have been fawning over it, the silk strips are too wide, and I shouldn’t have the embroidery on there like that, I don’t think. Or if I do leave it on (which I will, because I did some itty bitty stitches on that silk), I should fill it in with stitching in silk, like the examples they found in Oseberg, which likely came from the British Isles.