Category Archives: Craft

Talking Craft: Textile

There’s not much craft progress to report today, but I have some more linguistic trivia for you.

Handwoven scraps and samples.

As you almost certainly know, for most of the industrialized world, handspinning and weaving are specialty crafts and hobbies more than a central part of daily life. But textile production has been a driving force behind human innovation and industrialization for millennia, and that left a mark on our language. Common words like “textile”, “cloth”, and “fabric” come from old, old roots, and have relatives that may surprise you.

For instance, the word “textile” has cousins that we use all the time whether or not we work (or play) with fabric. It can be traced directly to the Latin word texere “to weave”, which in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *teks. This root was inherited by the Indo-European languages, where it took on various forms and meanings. Among its older and more obscure descendants, we have Old High German dahs “badger” and Sanskrit taksan “carpenter”. Others that might be more familiar include modern English “text”, “technical”, and “architect”. For my French-speaking readers, this is also the origin of tisser “to weave”.

(In case you’re still curious, the word “cloth” came to English through the Germanic branch from another Indo-European root, *gleit-, which had a meaning along the lines of “to cling to”. Like “textile”, “fabric” came through Latin, but from Indo-European *dʰabʰ “to fashion, to fit”.)

Okay, I got sucked into the Wiktionary web. The word under discussion is supposed to be “textile”, if you’re confused. Anyhow, a few members of its family tree jumped out at me:

  • Latin texere: weave; plait; construct with elaborate care
  • Greek techn: art, craft, practical skill

I like thinking that our crafting terms are related to words with these cheerful connotations. Of course, so are the words “tissue” and “technophobe”, but let’s take what we can get.

Now, it’s back to the workbench. Spring is on its way, and I’ve got two of my favorite things on my mind: trees and miniatures. A tiny treehouse may be in the works. Where’d I put the superglue?

(Sources for this post: Merriam-Webster.com, wiktionary.org, myetymology.com, wordsmith.org. Fact-checking is never discouraged.)

Sometimes the magic works…

I am constantly surrounded by a variety of projects in different stages of completion. As much as I try to be conscientious about finishing them, I’m never certain which ones will make it all the way from idea to finished item and which ones never make it past a conceptual stage. The frenzied and involuntary planning mindset that strikes me with a brand new idea is always the same, but sadly, its priorities are often out of sync with what reason would recommend.

A pile of scrapped plans.

When I ordered my nice new kantele, I was planning to construct it a gig bag, a light case to carry it around. Although I had plans and a parts list, this is one of those ideas where time and budget actually made it more practical to purchase a pre-made bag. (For one, I don’t own a sewing machine.) As much as I enjoy creating my own things, I can’t make everything myselfotherwise I’d probably have built the harp, too.

Yeah, I’m all talk.

I console the yearnings of my creative soul by pointing out to it the appealing embroidery on the yoga bag. As far as my dreams of luthiery go, well… I have no consolation, although I did build a plywood lyre for a long-ago Latin class.

Other projects get lost along the way, and find themselves mired in a state of potentially permanent incompletion. I find it a bit distressing to have these lying around my studio and usually find something to do with them, but there are a few that still sit waiting to be put to use. Short, flawed samples of tablet weaving come to mind.

They do make wonderful cable ties!

Another class of projects is that of the almost-finished. The failing here is in discipline more than in craftsmanship.

My first rag rug. One day soon it will be hemmed. Honest!

But there are indeed finished projects, with all of their various levels of success.

I won’t lie: I liked this one.

It’s satisfying to finish a project, but that’s not always why I make things. I love exploring ideas and testing hypotheses, improving my skills and learning as I go. Since the only deadlines and objectives of Crafting Time are my own, I’m able to follow a whim and see what happens. This occasionally means rebelling against the more organized part of my mind that grumbles and demands an orderly step-by-step approach. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Thus, I’ve abandoned the long-awaited tambour project. Anyone who enjoys this sort of hobby has to be willing to let go of a non-starter. I suppose that in the abstract there’s no shame in letting go. Of course, it’s not really that easy to give up! So instead of cutting the project off the loom, or simply tossing my efforts in the samples bin, I took the warp in a new direction.

When my crafting buddy came over last weekend, we had planned to spend the afternoon spinning away. Instead, we gravitated to the loom, then occupied by some uninspiring white plain weave. My friend was not yet a weaver, so I handed her a shuttle, and the next thing I knew, she was weaving away like a duck in water. (If ducks wove. What a dreadful simile.)

Since we only had a few minutes for an impromptu lesson, I did the hemstitching and finishing, but the rest is chopsticknitter‘s excellent work.

I taught someone to weave! At least a little bit. It was very very exciting, and my friend’s enthusiasm inspired me to make better use of the warp than simply stabbing at it glumly with an embroidery needle. After she left, I quickly wound some of my handspun onto a bobbin and threw it through a plain-weave shed, just to see what would happen.

Nothing fancy. Actually pretty sloppy. But I’ve decided to devote the rest of the warp to experimentation, and I’m back to my usual excitement about weaving. So I’ve learned two things: that teaching someone a craft you love is delightful, and that in certain circumstances, abandoning a project gives you the creative kick in the pants you need. I’ll let you know what comes of it all.

Blank canvases and incremental progress

It’s been another quiet week over here on the crafting front. Actually, I spent most of my crafting hours setting up new projects. On the loom is the plain weave sample for my experiments with tambour embroidery. Even though I’ve been looking forward to this project, now that I’m finally ready to begin, it’s unexpectedly daunting.

What would you do with a blank square and a needle?

I did make a bit of progress on my tapestry. Unfortunately, I’m one of those irritating people who is irritatingly sensitive to the lack of daylight, so I don’t usually get to tapestry in the evenings. This little guy below is proceeding at the rate of a couple of hours a week. I’m not going to worry about calculating how long it’s going to take to finish: the slow pace and the ongoing creative process are what make tapestry weaving so special and meditative. As well as a good exercise in patience.

What is it? I’m hoping that by the time it’s done, you’ll be able to figure it out.

When it comes to spinning, I’m still working on the Sweet Georgia roving. In about half an hour, I’m getting together with a friend for a day of yarn creation, so there should be either progress or hilarious failure to show you soon.

The failures would be more entertaining if the roving weren’t so beautiful! I don’t know if these pictures capture it well enough. The colors practically glow.

A question for you readers: I’m hoping you enjoy these ongoing-project posts, but I’d like to keep branching out. Would you be interested in seeing more language-of-craft posts? In-depth descriptions of particular projects? Maybe even tutorials? This blog has been online for a month now, and while I’m getting a bit more comfortable with the blogging voice, I’d love to hear what kind of content you like best. Thanks for sticking around!

A Miniature Post

I have constructed a mead hall!

Well, half of one. In 1/24 scale.

One foot in model-land is equivalent to half an inch in ours.

Why a mead hall? I’m not actually sure. This is why I need to keep records. I’ve always enjoyed building miniature things, but the Anglo-Saxon idea was hatched last summer when I was on an Old English kick.

Now, I did some preliminary reserach on miniature-making and English history, but when it comes to authenticity, I’ve assigned no particular date to the building, and the construction techniques are based heavily on superglue. If these facts horrify any historians or miniature enthusiasts out there, I sincerely apologize.

Every mead hall needs a nice fire pit.

I started out by making a few artifacts: a fire pit, a two-beam loom, and some long tables and tablecloths. (I don’t think the tablecloths actually appear in any of these photos, but they do exist.) Most of the model itself is made of wood scraps from the hobby store, stained with a mixture of instant coffee and a bit of water and finished with a coat of shellac.

A miniature miniature workshop.

After the skeleton was finished, I acquired a folding table and put together a rough cork base for the model to rest on during construction. Sadly, it quickly outgrew the table.

Next came many hours with the instant coffee, and the addition of more artifacts. I also started adding wall panels. For anyone who might be inspired to take on a similar project, let me tell you that the cosmetic difference between painstakingly crafted wattle-and-daub walls and slapdash craft-painted basswood walls is negligible. Don’t bother.

An assortment of artifacts, with a paperclip for scale.
A closeup of the roof (which was originally a grass mat intended for pet bunnies) and a banner. There were supposed to be more banners, but embroidery at this scale is a pain and I haven’t managed to muster enough willpower for the task yet.
A rather disorganized meal. These things are actually too small and light to move around by hand, so I have to arrange them with tweezers. As you can see, I did not do so before this photo was taken.

Of course, there are plenty of tasks waiting to be done! Among them:

1) A floor, made of… something. According to my reading, timber is actually not the most historically probable. (I don’t have a source handy, but it’s somewhere in a stack of papers in my studio.) However, a dirt floor seems difficult to represent convincingly. I experimented with painting the cork on which the whole miniature building rests, but that was a no go. Other options? I’ve heard about a substance called paperclay, but it’s not available where I live. I do have some straw-like substance that might make convincing rushes, and I’m considering affixing the straw to a solid floor finished with a mix of craft paint and cornstarch.

2) A diorama-style backdrop for the shelf where the as-yet-unnamed hall now rests. As you can see, the current landscape leaves something to be desired.


3) Lamps, specifically cressets (a cresset being “an iron vessel or basket used for holding burning oil, pitchy wood, or other illuminant and mounted as a torch or suspended as a lantern : a fire basket.” Thanks, Merriam-Webster!). I keep trying to make these out of wire, but no success yet.

4) More chairs. Perhaps not the most interesting aspect to a blog reader, but I actually lost one of the seats for the central dais. (A common problem when you’re working with furniture the size of a thumbnail and have an unusually strong tendency to misplace things.)

5) Some Staffordshire Hoard goodies, of course! Have any of you ever worked with metal clay?

Despite these fledgling ideas, this whole project has been stuck in a state of semi-completion for months now. I’m hoping this post will inspire some reader comments to help me get it back on track!

(I’m also looking for suggestions for WordPress editors. I’m about to resort to Notepad out of frustration with this browser-based editor, which appears to be a close relative of the gastropods.)

A Short Post

I’ve always been a multi-crafter more than a specialist in any one technique. Weaving and spinning are rapidly coming to the forefront of my interests, but over the years I’ve also enjoyed metalworking, calligraphy, embroidery, stamp carving, and various mixed media projects.

Blogging, itself, is somewhere between a craft and a hobby. So, it really should have been obvious from the beginning…

… it takes time! I’m working on a more substantial post about my miniatures, but in the meantime, I thought I’d put up a couple of photos of the projects I’ve been talking about on the blog.

No surprises here: just weaving and spinning!

Also in the hobbying realm, I’m deciding how to allocate my craft-and-hobby budget for next month. I’m torn between a small kantele for my music and a miniature inkle loom for my tablet weaving. (You may accurately observe that these are both compact items. Maybe someday I’ll have a dream workshop equipped with a full-sized propane torch, a lathe, a drill press, and similarly delightful implements, but for now, many of my tools and hobbies are miniaturized by practicality. I mean, aside from the enormous floor loom.) I have a large psaltery from Musicmakers and like the idea of augmenting my collection with a more portable instrument, but the inkle loom would probably be more strictly useful. I’m finding backstrap weaving too uncomfortable these days. Thoughts from any weavers out there?

And there was weft

(Or as my father would undoubtedly remark, “and weft wuz“. Hi, Dad!)

It’s been a busy week here with lots of errands and not so much crafting– or writing– time. There are a few projects in the works, but first, some glamour shots of my new spindle.

I was recently given a Spindolyn, which is wonderful, but less portable than I’d hoped. My initial plan was to cart the Spindolyn to and fro as a travel spindle, but even with the case I concocted for it, I’m afraid of damaging the brass quill and throwing off the balance. I decided that the Spindolyn would be happiest staying home, but that still left me with a yen for a portable bottom-whorl spindle.

I saw this charmingly named “Delft” set on Etsy last summer and was immediately won over by its handpainted appeal and matching wristaff (I sense a post on the word “distaff” coming up!), but the listing was taken down soon after and I assumed the set had been sold. When the listing reappeared, I considered it fate and snapped it up.

And just in time for my last spinning class, it arrived!

A friend of mine with much more photographic skill than I has taken some better photos that I hope she’ll let me post over here.

Front: fractal spinning. Back: any-which-way spinning.

In said spinning class, I also happened to learn about the technique of fractal spinning. I decided to give it a try, and spun up a bit of colored roving. The roving didn’t split quite evenly, so the colors don’t match up perfectly, but I’m pleased with the effect. This is also the first finished (albeit tiny) skein that I’ve produced off of the Delft spindle.

So, that’s the spinning. There are also exciting goings-on in the weaving department: I finally found some rug weft!

The weft is actually composed of scraps from a textile factory, and it is working beautifully. For one thing, each strip is very long. Instead of sewing strips together, I’m actually cutting them to fit onto my shuttle. The only challenge so far is that the fabric is somewhat elastic, so I have to be careful not to allow it to stretch when I pull the shuttle through.

One more status update: a while back, I mentioned that I wanted to try some on-loom embroidery. Naturally, this is not an original idea, but it was surprisingly difficult to find information on the topic. After searching the internet without much success, I stumbled across a copy of a book that may prove useful:

I’ll be reading this book and coming up with ideas as long as the rug is taking up the loom.

Talking Craft: Thrums

As a kid, I had a penchant for unusual science fair projects. One year I undertook a detailed investigation of the limbic system. (I’d gotten hold of an illustrated anatomy book and liked the shape of the fornix.) But my favorite was the topic I chose at the age of eleven: etymology, the study of word histories and not of insects. Not that there’s anything wrong with insects, but my delight was in gluing a bunch of Greek and Latin roots to magnets, sticking them to the back of cookie sheets, and encouraging my fellow preteens in the haphazard construction of classical-sounding if ungrammatical neologisms.

A very few years later, I started studying Tolkienian linguistics.* Aside from permanently establishing my nerd credentials, this led me to approach morphological paradigms and grammatical structures in a way that many modern language courses, well, don’t. This interest led more or less directly to my university studies in linguistics. These days the field encompasses rather more than the casual collection of Greek roots**, but I still have considerable affection for good old dictionary-style etymology.

So what does all this have to do with the professed theme of this blog—crafts?

A surprising quantity of terminology from weaving and other ancient handicrafts survives into modern (if specialized) English. I’d like to make exploration of this terminology a regular series on this blog, so let me know if this sparks your interest!

Today’s word is one I mentioned in my last post: thrum. According to the traditional definition, thrums are loom waste: the scraps of warp (yarn) remaining after a piece of cloth has been cut off a loom. Merriam-Webster gives this etymology:

  • Middle English, from Old English –thrum (as in tungethrum ligament of the tongue); akin to Old Saxon thrumi end part of a spear, Old High German drum end part, fragment, Old Norse t-hrömr edge, verge, brim, Greek tramis perineum, term n boundary, end — more at TERM

Observation 1: thrum is a distant cousin of terminal. It is, indeed, the terminal portion of a warp.

Observation 2: Tungethrum is a fantastic word.

Thrums on the loom.

Webster’s also gives the obsolete but interesting definition of “a ragged beggarly lout”. There’s a joke in there somewhere about people who buy weaving equipment.

Anyhow, I get the distinct impression that weavers have been faced with the problem of what to do with thrums for as long as there have been weavers, resulting in such inventions as hooked rugs and thrum-decorated garments like these and these (using unspun roving rather than loom waste). Thrums seem like they ought to be useful, but if anyone has any suggestions for dealing with the heap below, I will be most grateful.

Continuing the blog theme of tangled yarn messes!

*On the off chance that you share this particular hobby, the lack of mutation in the compound of my blog title is out of fondness for the word “tintinnabulate”. I suppose a more probable but less reduplicative Sindarin name would be something along the lines of Tithinniel.

**Which might indeed be more entomological than etymological.