Archive for July, 2012

I have taught two naalbinding classes, made progress on my fishing net, made one bag and started another, made an antler needle and started an antler pin. The things I didn’t get done include learning to tablet weave (though I have started to warp the cards), cow’s hair naalbinding strainer, and a satisfactory fishing line. Tomorrow will be very busy trying to finish projects, including more sprang and the bowstring, and saying good-bye to the good friends we have among the staff.  My list of new projects isn’t really new – most are things I had wanted after the last visit and either didn’t get to or had forgotten why I needed them. The include new linen tunics, a lighter wool apron dress, coat, ball, and many decorative bone and antler bits. I now have a moose jaw bone to carve and a tooth to turn into an amulet – both gifts from Thora and her daughter Emma. I’ll miss this magical place.

This photo shows Aesa, Emma, Thora and Jorunn at the outside cooking fire.


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We got a pale pink with our birch dye experiment.

We had used a copper pot with brook water, and didn’t have any other mordant. After we finished, Thora told us that she uses an iron pot with really salty water in order to get a nice dark pinky-orange.  Since we didn’t have access to an iron pot here, I’ll try this again at home.

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Dyeing experiments

The horsehair with salt water in a copper pot gave almost no colour. The alder with brook water in a copper pot did give a pale greenish yellow.


Today we tried using the inner bark of a birch. I broke up the bark into smallish pieces, then soaked it for about 24 hours. We used brook water and a copper pot, and simmered the wool for a couple of hours. The exact timings for all the dye projects are very approximate as we don’t have watches. The dye pot comes out after lunch dishes have been cleaned, and we have until around 4:00 or 4:30 to finish each day. With good advance planning, the wool might be in a hot dye pot for about two hours, but it is very likely that it gets less – we keep forgetting to wet the wool, or decide on a mordeant, or the fire needs restoking, or we need more water, or something…

My other fun project has been slyng, or whipcording. I used two strands of my dyed grey, one of brown, and one of yellow (from Queen Anne’s Lace). This isn’t a great picture of the final product, but I like that it is hanging at this historic site.

Today I also whittled an extra bobbin for horsehair braiding. I have decided that slyng may be my best option for a splicing on one end. I tried the twist and ply method and found it difficult to splice. Splicing a three-strand braid was no better. The continuous strand method that is documented much later would likely work very well, but I don’t think I can justify it in this context.


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Strings and Dye

I have been asked to make a replacement bowstring for the bow here at l’Anse aux Meadows. Knowing nothing about archery, I have done a quick bit of researcher with our resident archers and consulted Russ back in Peterborough. Russ is a recognized expert in research on medieval archery. Based on their advice, I’ll be making a four or eight strand slyng (whip cording) bowstring out of either hemp or linen threads, depending on the thickness of the cord desired. This will form a tight round braid. I’ll start the slyng part-way down the threads so that I can make a loop and splice in the ends as I braid. The other end will be finished with a boyer’s knot (timber hitch). Accoreding to Russ, early medieval bowstrings may have been thinner than we use today, and may or may not have had a serving (the reinforced bit on the middle of the bow string). The line will be waxed. There is no direct evidence from the Viking lands at that period, so he is extrapolating from a bit later.

The request for a bowstring was prompted by my experiments with horsehair braid for fishing line. It is also made using loops at the end, but splicing the ends of the loop into a braid using this incredibly fine yet stiff material is a pain. It holds reasonably well, but I’ll reinforce it with a whipped cord. My next experiment will be to twist and ply the hairs; this will make splicing much easier.

Yesterday’s big experiment was dyeing with horsetail plants. We used a copper pot and seawater, with some alder twigs for a mordant. I’m not sure we had enough, and I would have liked to add club moss, but hadn’t had time to collect it. I have no idea how much club moss is required to extract sufficient alum. Today we will add in the wet wool and simmer it for a while, then let it cool for another day.

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My Viking gang is back at l’Anse aux Meadows Newfoundland again, and I have been keeping busy. The first day we went on a bog walk to identify plants, possibly useful for dyeing or foodstuffs. I’ll post pictures of them separately, as a few need to be re-taken (it was pouring rain and hard to focus the camera).

Today I worked on my fishing net, started a net bag for washing fleece in the brook, and did some spinning and whittling. I made an antler needle and started work on a spoon.I borrowed a bone book-making tool as a gauge for the net back, and I love it – so much smoother than a wooden gauge. I’ll be adding that to my list of things to make when I get home. It’s amazing how tiring this work can be, and how much longer it takes than one thinks. We were on-site from 10 am until 5 pm, and I didn’t take time out to do anything away from my work station. I even ate there. My biggest break was braiding the hair of several girls and women, and one of the men – he was working outdoors and it was flying alll over the place! My fishing net is indoors this time, which makes things somewhat easier, or at least warmer.

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In preparation for my next Viking re-enactment adventure, I decided to refresh myself on whipcording (also called slyng), a way of making braided cord using bobbins. One of the references I found mentioned braids using more than four strings, so I started trying to track down instructions for them. I never did find any, but I came across instructions for trollen braid. Trollen braid appears to be completely out of the Viking period, but the instructions pointed at a way to make the kind of braid I was looking to make. One of the references for whipcording also had a Renaissance painting of a woman doing whipcording using a distaff to suspend her bobbins. Tonight I cut out some blocks of wood to carve into bobbins, and I’ll look early next week for a stick I can use as a distaff. The perfect stick would have a piece I could sit on to hold it in place (L shaped), but I have a belt I can use to hold a straight stick, if that’s all I can find. I’m looking forward to this new experiment.

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