Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Jamestown and Indian cordage

Recently we spent a very pleasant afternoon at Jamestown. Like Williamsburg, this is another trip into the past, and especially the beginning of settlement of this Virginia area.

The first area we visited was the state park. This is the actual land of the original settlement, although none of the original buildings are there anymore. In fact, the entire visit consisted of a five mile drive through swamp land. I was amazed just how desolate it was. I did not see any wildlife, not even water fowl. Part of the road looked like this:

Along the five mile drive, there would be pull offs, with sign boards explaining important parts of the settlement. It was interesting reading. But imagine my surprise when we pulled up to this sign:

Yes! they actually raised and reeled silk worms at the original Jamestown. I could not get the photo clear enough for you to read the words. It explains that the business of silk was moderately successful, because it was so expensive to bring silk to the colony. However the inferior quality of the fabric, along with the 'horrific' smell, meant the industry eventually died out.

After this drive we went to the actual rebuilt Jamestown location. This has a brand new visitor center, lots of history and artifacts, a movie about the history of Jamestown as well as a recreated Indian village and settlers fort. When you walk out of the visitors center and down the path, you ease back into time and finally see this in the trees:

The reenactors were dressed in lovely buckskin, used original antler tools and had a primitive garden growing. Although their survival no longer depends on their skills, these people were doing the daily life of the Indian, at least for their eight hour shift! I was fascinated by the construction of the hut, made with stitched together reed. Here's a picture of the outside of the hut:

And even more authentic, this inside of the hut:

I spent a long time talking to one lady that was weaving a basket from cordage, made with grass. She had a younger girl, twisting and twirling the strands, with her fingers and on her knee. It's your very basic finger spinning, and was the basis for all of the fiber work done by these Indians. Even sinew would be corded in this fashion, and then hung with a weight to stretch and bind the cordage into a tight bond. If you are not familiar with this method of making cord, go here and look at the left hand side bar for a moving illustration.

I found that website while research a plant mentioned to me while I talked to the Indian man that was making bowstrings. He said that the Indians had discovered that sinew strips had the problem of stretching when they got wet, and that was disasterous when used for bowstrings. At some point they started using the inner bark of the dogbane plant, which will strip out in very fine fibers once the plant stem is dead. This website gives some good information on just how the plant is used, and how to strip the fiber from the bark. It is a wide spread plant and could have been used to replace the hemp industry if persued. But like all things of history, once a course is set, it seldom seems there is room for new ideas.

I left the Indian village musing over just who first discovered those fibers in that plant stem. Was some Indian lady, sitting in her hut, fussing about the fibrous content of this stem? Did her husband, picking up the discarded strands try and handle it like the sinew bowstring he usually made? Or did some Indian youngster pick it up, practice making cord and tie up their hair for the next day's work only to have another friend pull it out as an emergency bowstring! Ah, it was a fun muse.

Since Jamestown is the location of the landing of the ships, they have two recreated ships there on the water. These can be boarded and explored while several historical folk answer questions. The settlers left England late Dec, about five days before Christmas. Oh what a Christmas that must have been, that first on out on the high seas. It took them until almost May 1st to reach Jamestown and they lived all of those months on three tiny ships. They did not just sail straight across the Atlantic (or as it was known in that period of time in England, the western sea). They went south to the islands, and hopped along there following the gulf stream and then up again north on that same gulf stream. Thus it took them those many months to make the trip.

Here's a picture of one ship, the Susan Constant:

After those close quarters of the ship, how wonderful it must have been to be on land. The settlers had plenty of materials to work with, but oh how hard that work must have been to build even one house. This roofing was thatch:

And the sides, mud and waddle:

But second after building a roof for their heads, was the church. And it was by far the most beautiful of what I saw at Jamestown, for all of it's simplicity it still speaks of worship and hope and love.

All people will see history in their own eyes, and so this was a fiber slant to Jamestown's history. There is much much more there to see and do, and each visitor will bring their own slant to the history.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Colonial Williamsburg

Recently, my husband and I spent three days at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. It is a vacation I recommend for children and adults alike. If you go, give yourself plenty of time, this is best experienced at a leisurely pace, with lots of time to stop, look, listen and talk.

The reconstructed town has many buildings, some famous, like the govenors palace (not shown here) or the capitol building, shown here:

I especially loved the windows and that is why the picture is included in this post. This building was the heart of the government. Trials occurred here, delegates met to discuss, much as our government representatives do today, about the mundane issues of keeping a government afloat. However there was one special issue during this period, that of the declaration of independence from the mother country. As the guide walked us through the building and talked of how it all happened, it made history come alive, just like reading a historical novel.

Most of the building though are the common shops and houses. As you stroll along the street many of these are open and available to the public, like the silversmith's house, shown below.

Did you know that in those days you could take a silver spoon to pay for an item? They would snip off and weigh the silver based on the current price. As for your poor mutilated spoon, well you could take that to the silversmith and have him recreate a new one for you, although it would probably be the smaller sized salt spoon.

Being in the medical profession, my favorite building was the apothecary. This was run by a doctor and his assistant. When you walked through the door, this is what you would see:

These bottles and jars are not original to Williamsburg itself, but are from England at the exact same period of time. They were in fantastic shape for over 200 years old! When you were ill, you went to see the doctor at the apothecary. He had his office behind the storefront, and would decide what you needed to buy to make you better. You of course had brought your own bottle and jar for whatever ointment, tincture, herb, or other exotic types of medicines of the day. If for some reason you had to have the doctor come to your house, the bill would include not only the housecall fee and medicines, but also a price per mile he had to travel. The thought was if he had to close up his business just to go see you, you had to pay for that loss of income! So the era of the friendly housecalling doctor was much yet to come.

Several of the homes were open for touring, a nice look into the daily life of the colonials. Just to get this post back to the fiber theme, here is a picture of a lady's dressing table:

Those are hand embroidered kid gloves, and very lovely indeed.

Most larger households had what they called a 'working yard'. The mistress of the house was in charge of all of this. The out buildings may include kitchens, smoke houses, gardens, orchards, blacksmith and stables. In one working yard, we were able to visit the weavers place.

Here's what you'd see as you walk into the door:

There was a weaver working at a large loom, making a bed rug. She was very willing to talk about her daily work and I learned some interesting facts. First of all, even though there were many spinning wheels there, she said that these colonials were actually wealthy by that day's standards, due to the sale of tobacco. And so just like us today, when we need a large amount of yarn for weaving, they _bought_ their yarn! But another interesting historical fiber tidbit is that when the weather was rainy and the slaves could not work in the field, many would spend time carding and spinning yarn, which was theirs to keep.

The weaver said that the yarn hanging above her loom was from a longwool breed, natural dyed. I felt some and it did have a rough hand to it. However, she showed me a woven piece requested by the mistress that was made in a very soft wool, so they must have had some shorter softer staple wool available.

Here's a picture of the yarn:

There was a great wheel there of course:

But look at this next picture closely, I found this much more interesting than the great wheel. It is a quill wheel, and I had never seen one before.

If you look you can see what looks like a playing card, and that is exactly what it is, I saw a deck of cards for sale in the printer shop. They were using them to make quills for the great wheels bobbin. I know corn husks are more traditional, but this was an urban area! Or maybe it's just an interesting past time, to amuse a child while the mother spun on the wheel.

This photo comes under the 'I find that hard to believe' category, but I think I have the story straight from the weaver. It is a small replica version of an actual bed rug from the colonial period of time. Rugs were not put on the floor, but were used on beds for warmth. I can believe that part. What I find hard to believe is that that design is truly of the period, look how 1970's it looks!

When I finally left the weaver's place I strolled around the rest of the working yard. There was a lovely dovecote, as well as gardens with fall crops still in great production. Under a tent, two basket makers were showing how the wood was thinly shaved and used to weave all styles of baskets. My favorite was a tiny one hanging from the tent pole, that contained suet for the birds.

Here's how they used twigs in part of the chicken coop:

Very different from our modern day chicken coops. However, somethings don't change and here's a photo of the rabbit hutch to prove it:

These are just a few of the hundreds of photos I took while there. Digital cameras are wonderful when traveling. Each evening I went back to where we stayed, downloaded the photos to the laptop, and sorted and labelled them while it was all fresh in my mind. So different than the albums of photos I have from my vacations in the 80's! Just where was that place in that photo? Ah, the wonders of technology arrived just in my time of failing memory!

Next post: Jamestown


Thursday, October 05, 2006

yak fiber and simple knits

It's been awhile since I have had a large spindle spinning project. I wanted something to take to our Tuesday gathering at Barnes and Nobles. This group started out as a spinning group, but we have evolved into more of a knitting group although almost all of the group does spin. I had read on the internet a push for the first week of Oct to be a 'show off your skills' week, so I decided it was time to do some spinning in public.

I purchased this yak fiber last year, because I have never had the opportunity to spin this fiber. I bought it from Little barn

It is a natural deep rich brown color and is as soft as angora. I was surprised though by the short staple. Most fibers are barely a half inch long. I first tried using my small combs to pull some top, but there was no way to comb a fiber that short. So I got out my hand cards that I use for angora and carded about 2 oz. The photo shows one roulog from that carding. It spins very nicely as a carded fiber, although I am not going to get it as thin as I originally envisioned the final yarn. I am thinking it will take me a year to spin all of the 8 oz I bought, because just spinning for an hour at the get together, barely touched the 2 oz I had carded. If it continues to spin this way, I am hoping to have enough 2 ply yarn for a cozy bed jacket for myself, or maybe in these days I should say, a computer jacket!

After pontificating in my last post about knitting to a new level of perfection, I have to meekly back up and submit my vacation knitting, a very simple knit toy for a coworkers baby. The pattern is from Oat Couture

It's an easy and quick knit done in a chenille yarn, stuffed and then a face embroidered on the front. The body is the same for all of the animals, but there are directions for knitting different ears, and embroidering different faces. It must not really matter though, because when I gave it to the coworker at the shower, she said, 'what a cute bunny!' Well they do know I raise and love bunnies, so it was a natural mistake, but in truth, the one I knit was suppose to be the kitty :)