Monday, May 17, 2010

Sprang has sprung!

No, that's not a typo and this is not a post about the changing of the seasons.

On Saturday I attended the Stonebridge Schola, a very pleasant event at a very lovely location in the Barony of the Bridge. (Or, if you're not a member of the SCA, Rhode Island.) There were classes on a number of topics including how to measure a body for a pattern -- which was something I really needed to learn and the class was not only informative and hands on -- the instructor had us taking measurements on each other -- but we came away with a detailed handout giving us the measurements to take and diagrams of from where to where each measurement is taken.

The other Really Cool class I took was an introduction to Sprang. There was also an intermediate class, but as I'd never spranged before, I decided discretion is the better part of valour and I should get comfortable with the beginning aspects of it before I dive in deeper.  See -- I can learn from my mistakes! I can be taught!

Sprang is kinda sorta like netting, but knot quite, and it's almost like weaving, but has no weft and it's not really braiding either. There are some pictures on Phiala's String Page and a good detailed description of the craft as well.

It is however a very neat way to play with twisted string and while a beginner can turn out a simple pouch or bag in an hour or two, an expert can produce absolutely gorgeous lacy concoctions. It's a very old craft -- because in its essence it is so simple -- all you need is a frame (or at least some way of anchoring both ends of the piece while you're working on it), a couple of sticks and some string. I suspect it was "unvented" (to use Elizabeth Zimmerman's term) by a number of different cultures quite independently.  Mind you, I suspect the same of most of the basic fiber arts -- because whoever you are and where and whenever you are, you need clothing, shelter, and bags to carry stuff in and all these can be produced by making and manipulating string and there are only so many ways you can manipulate string.

Our ancestors were very smart and practical people. They didn't always have time or resources to waste, so they needed things that worked. Bags were one of the really early essentials -- because putting the stuff you have to carry in a bag leaves your hands free while keeping all the stuff together. And by "really early" I mean pretty much as soon as we started walking upright and carrying stuff -- think paleolithic or neolithic. A good bag is light and expandable. You don't want to have to carry a whole bunch of extra weight if you can avoid it -- there's only so much weight you can carry anyway and if your bags are 1/2 or even 1/4 of that weight, that's  a lot less food, trade goods, or personal stuff you can carry. It's also a good idea to have a bag which is flexible about capacity. At the beginning of a day of gathering, you're not going to have a lot of stuff in the bag, but at the end of the day it'll be full (or so you hope). With trading the reverse is likely. A string mesh bag meets both these needs -- it's light and adapts to its contents. It's also easy to repair if it gets a hole in it -- another important consideration when you're short on resources. For these reasons, it's not surprising that the oldest sprang items found are bags and that they date from around 1400BC.  Sprang is a technique that's as old as string itself, and I suspect that if we haven't found any that are as old as some of the spindle whorls that have been found, then it's only because they haven't survived.

 So now I have yet another fiber technique to play with. This is a Good Thing. And one of these days I will wrap my brain around naalbinding. SRSLY. But now instead of slaving away over a hot computer in the data mines, I want to be sitting outside enjoying the spring weather and making stuff with Sprang. When I have finished something Sprangy there will be pictures. Honest!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Appearances can be deceiving.

I'm almost certainly not the only person who's done this: Buy a skein of the most gorgeous hand-dyed yarn, or a chunk of wonderful coloured roving and dive in to it's artisanical glory only to come up empty.

Then the beautiful dye job turns to mud in your hands. The colours blob and pool. They lose their individuality and spark, becoming a muddy indistinct mess.

This came up a lot in my thoughts over the weekend. I went (as usual) to the NH Sheep and Wool Festival, in scenic Contocook, NH. It was a bad day for colour selection -- grey and rainy, nothing much really shone. I pawed through several vendors sock yarn offerings, finding nothing that sparked my imagination. I ended up buying some lovely wool/mohair blend roving to spin my own sock yarn. Mostly because the vendor had spun up samples of all her rovings, so you could see what it might come out like. There were a few others doing the same thing. Unfortunately none of them had anything I wanted.

I did buy one skein of sock yarn though, in assorted shades of moss and pond scum green. Nothing there to lighten the mood of the day, but the subtly of the colours should lend themselves to a nice complicated pattern.

Although I've currently got 2 pairs of socks on-going -- one for myself in Plymouth Sockotta, and one for my son in Patons Kroy -- I started another pair last night. This is Fire Island Studios yarn in a colour she calls Stargazing. It's bronze, navy and purple. I did the toe of the first sock last night and have worked a couple more rounds this morning while watching paint dry databases process themselves and I've decided that I don't like the way the colours are striping. This gives me a couple of choices. I could try again with different needles and a different stitch count, or I could frog the sock and start over, using the yarn for Skew. Because, right now, I don't want to knit another mostly stockinette sock -- it's a bit on the boring side. Nor do I really want to knit more ribby socks. I've got lots of those. I was considering making another pair of Paraphernalia socks (someone else's picture is here,) but I don't think the colour striping will work with this yarn. I'm wearing my completed Paraphernalia socks today and that yarn (Indie Dyers' Lemon Tree) was a bit busy for the pattern, the Fire Island yarn would be even more so. The new grunge green yarn would be perfect for something like Paraphernalia, or some other as yet to be designed cable extravaganza.

I dunno. Maybe I'll satisfy my itchy knitting fingers with a bit more of the Sockotta sock, I'm on the leg of the first one and doing a 2x2 twisted rib: Simple enough to remember, but a bit better looking than a basic rib.

I picked up a Jumbo flyer for my Ashford Joy spinning wheel at the weekend too. It requires some disassembly and reassembly of the wheel to install it though. It came with one jumbo bobbin, but will take standard Ashford bobbins as well, so I should be able to use it for plying and get bigger skeins.  Perhaps I'll get it going this week. I have stuff that needs to be spun.

Also at the NH Sheep and Wool, there was a lady demonstrating the use of a great wheel. She was very happy to talk to another enthusiast, and gave me some useful tips. This is good as I'm demoing/teaching it on May 22nd. Perhaps I should practice that before I get sucked into modifying the Joy. I'm teaching spindle spinning this weekend at the Stonebridge Schola too. So I need to sort out all my kits, spindle collection, and so on. Busy Hugh is busy. No wonder I don't blog here much.