Monday, 24 August 2015

Heirlooms and Heritage

August's HSM challenge is Heirlooms and Heritage.   Since I'm mostly interested in very early periods, I've chosen to focus on the heritage side of the coin and celebrate my Danish ancestors by recreating the belt from Borum Eshøj.  There are other similar belts from Egtved and Trindhøj, so it's not unreasonable to think my ancestors in Sjæland might have worn belts like these.

The belt is a warp faced tabby, with the warp ends finished off as decorative tassels.  Structurally it's quite simple, but it uses different coloured wools spun in different ways for decoration.  This kind of decoration is typical of Scandinavian Bronze Age textiles.  They don't seem to have used dyes, but sheep's wool does naturally come in a range of colours and this colour variation was used to create multi-coloured fabric.  Shadow stripes made from a combination of S spun and Z spun yarns were also popular, and some items were embroidered.  In short, textile decoration in Scandinavia at this time focused on texture and subtle colour variations, rather than the bright colours that were popular in the Aegean.

My reproduction belt.

The shadow stripe I tried to make didn't come out as well as I hoped.  It is there, but you have to look hard to see it. I think the primary reason is that the S spun yarn I used was very loosely spun, so once it is woven you can't easily see the direction of the spinning.  The shadow stripe is easier to see in the middle section of yarn, which is the yarn I spun myself and is spun a lot more tightly, but the stripe doesn't come through so well with the loosely spun commercial yarn.

The yellow line shows the direction of the shadow stripe.  You can see it when you know what you're looking for, but it isn't very clear.

I had a problem with finishing off the ends too.  I couldn't quite figure out from photos how the original was done, and had to improvise a bit.  I wouldn't say the result is bad - it works and I like the way it looks, but it's not a good reproduction of the original.  That may not be too much of a problem because all the Bronze Age Scandinavian belts that have survived are a bit different in terms of design and construction.   Still, it annoys me.

On the whole though I'm happy with my belt.  It looks nice, it was fun to make, and it's a fairly good representation of some of the decorative techniques used in Bronze Age Denmark.

The Challenge: Heirlooms and Heritage.

Fabric: The belt contains something like 120 meters of woolen yarn in two slightly different colours.  The original Borum Eshøj belt was made with undyed wool, but a lighter coloured fleece was used for the middle section of the warp.

Pattern: N/A.  It's a simple warp faced tabby so doesn't require a pattern.

Year: Around 1,350 BCE.

Notions: N/A.

How historically accurate is it?  I think maybe 80% as a reproduction of the Borum Eshøj belt.  As a generic Bronze Age Scandinavian belt it may be a little more accurate, since they weren't all exactly the same.

Hours to complete: About 18, including spinning.

First worn:  Not yet.

Total cost:  $23 for two balls of wool.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Loom setup for the Borum Eshøj project

You know what's great about warp-weighted looms?  You don't need any equipment at all.  You just need a couple of sticks and something to weight the ends with.

I've now finished setting up the loom for my Bronze Age belt.  As I said previously, I re-spun some of the warp threads to get a combination of S-spun and Z-spun threads.  Now they're all ready to go.  Today,  we're going to look at a quick and easy way to make loom weights, and how you can produce a piece of weaving that is longer than the height of your loom.

Warp weighted loom all ready to go.

The belt from Borum Eshøj is a warp-faced tabby weave, which I find is fairly easy to make on a warp weighted loom.   In general, however,  a warp weighted loom is trickier to work with than something like a table loom.  This project is not too bad because it's a narrow band and uses sturdy yarn, but it does require a certain level of manual dexterity.

As you can see, the warp threads are arranged in groups, and each group is attached to its own weight.  There's a group of homespun threads in the center, and a group of commercially manufactured threads either side.

In Ancient Textiles: Production, Crafts and Society, Marie-Louise Nosch noted that the Borum Eshøj belt's warp threads are divided into groups of 8 like rune staves (the runic alphabet is made up of groups of eight letters, called staves), and she wonders if this was intended to have magical significance.   In Viking Age Scandinavia the number eight did have magical or supernatural connotations.  It occurs in Viking magic inscriptions relatively regularly, and there are also references in the sagas to textiles with magical properties woven into them.  It's likely that number magic was one way of doing this.  This is an interesting idea, but the belt from Borum Eshøj predates the earliest known runic inscriptions by some 1500 years so I don't know how likely it is.  I guess it's possible.  Stephen Flowers*, who is a leading authority on Viking runic magic, believes that the Vikings' magic practices belong to a very old tradition that was in place well before the runic alphabet (and that, esteemed readers, is a little preview of my October project).

Anyway, I did the warp in groups of 8 like the original, because why not?

Let's talk about loom weights.  Loom weights provide tension for the warp threads while you're weaving, and if the warp is made of wool it will stretch slightly.  This is good, it helps keep your weaving nice and tight.  Different yarns need different weights, and there is a bit of trial and error involved in figuring out how much weight you need.  I find commercial yarns intended for knitting are very stretchy and need heavier weights.  The yarns that I spun are spun more tightly and less inclined to stretch, so a lighter weight is fine.  The homespun threads are the ones in the middle, and they only need a 150 gram weight.  A 250 gram coffee mug worked well for the commercial yarn, but I didn't want my coffee mugs bashing together and chipping, so I've used dried lentils weighed out into plastic bags.  Feel free to use other things besides lentils, the sky's the limit here.  Anything that can be conveniently weighed out into small bags will get the job done.

In the ancient world loom weights were made of clay or stone because these were cheap and readily available.   Today,  dried lentils (or rice, or corn kernels) are cheap and readily available, and the benefit of using them is that you can adjust the amount of weight you use very easily and precisely.

Now that we've covered off loom weights, what happens if the piece of cloth you want to make is longer than your loom is tall?  For reasons that should be fairly obvious,  the height of a warp weighted loom is limited by the height of the weaver.  It's still possible to make a longer piece of cloth on the loom, if you roll it up around a bar at the top.  Take a look at this picture of Penelope weaving her tapestry:

Image found here.

You can see that she has a big roll of finished cloth rolled up around the beam at the top of her loom.

This next photo shows how I dealt with the warp ends.  You can see I've tied a knot in the bundle of warp threads, part way down their length.  The weight hangs from this knot.  When I want to weave the rest of the warp, I'll untie the knots, wrap the belt around the header bar to pull it up, and reattach the weight further down the warp threads.  I can repeat this process as many times as I need to, until I reach the end of the warp.

*For everything you ever wanted to know about runes and the magical properties Vikings ascribed to them, read Stephen Flowers' doctoral dissertation Runes and Magic.  

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Linothorax vs modern projectiles

Earlier this year I made a linothorax of the kind used by Alexander the Great's army.  That was a lot of fun, but making armour is only half the story.  The important question is: what sort of protection does it provide?  When Aldrete and co made their linothorakes, they tested them against the kind of arrows that were used in ancient Greece and found that the linothorax was very effective at stopping these arrows.  I don't have access to reproduction ancient Greek arrows, but in my family we like target shooting and we have several modern projectile weapons available.  This weekend dad and I tested the linothorax armour against an airgun, a slug gun, and a crossbow.  We learned that the person in most danger during this process is actually the shooter.

Now, just to recap, my linothorax armour is made the same way it was made in ancient Greece, using layers of linen fabric laminated together with rabbit skin glue.  This test patch is about 10 millimeters thick.  The thickness isn't exactly even across the whole surface, but close enough.  The linothorax functioned a lot like a Kevlar vest, by dispersing the energy of an impact.  Armour like this is good at protecting against blunt force trauma, and it will also give protection against edged weapons.

Here you can see what happened when we shot the armour test patch with an airgun: not much.

These shots were fired from 18 meters (top right corner) and 5 meters.  Interestingly, there was no difference in the degree of penetration.  There wasn't any.  The BBs bounced, leaving only tiny dents in the surface of the armour.  This gun will quite happily embed BBs in plasterboard or weatherboards, but linothorax armour absorbs and deflects the energy of the shots.

The airgun, plus the little dents it made.

Next up is a spring loaded slug gun with a rifled barrel, which belonged to my grandfather.  We tried both flat-head slugs and pointed slugs, and they all bounced.

The impacts from the flat-head slugs are ringed in yellow, and the pointed slug impacts in red.  Other than creating different shaped dents, there was no difference between them.

Next up is a pistol crossbow with a 50 pound draw, which is more like the kind of weapons the armour would actually have been used against.  Like the BBs and the slugs, most of the crossbow bolts bounced off the test patch without penetrating.

This photo shows you exactly how far the crossbow bolts bounced.  Circled in yellow is the crossbow, showing where it was fired from, 3 meters away from the target on this occasion.

A couple of bolts did stick in the test patch.  They went through all the linen layers, but only just.  The tips stuck out the back only a millimeter or so.  If you were wearing the armour you'd get a small scratch at worst and probably not even that, since the Greeks wore clothing under this armour.

For comparison, here's what happened when we fired the crossbow at a plastic shotgun target.

We learned that plastic does not provide effective protection against crossbow bolts.

Linothorax armour, however, does provide effective protection against crossbow bolts.

If you look carefully, you'll see that part of the bolt's steel tip is still visible above the surface of the test patch.  It has only stuck in the material and has not gone through.

We didn't test the armour against a shotgun this time.  For that we'll need to go to the shooting range and put some decent safety precautions in place.  Based on these tests, there is likely to be a significant rebound problem.  Whether the shot will be able to penetrate the test patch is a bit more difficult to predict, but will depend on the load.  It won't stop buckshot, but then very few things do.  Bird shot, however, will be interesting.  I expect the test patch to offer at least some degree of protection against bird shot.