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!

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