TBT: Iron Age Tunic, TBT to the Future

In 2014, an iron age tunic was discovered along with a cache of artifacts that were previously frozen in a Norwegian glacier. The tunic was woven, had been patched several times, and had sleeves added after the original garment was made. More details about the textile and its construction are in this article, while the full archeological details are here, including the significance and interpretation of the find. Easier to digest is this video made about the reconstruction of the tunic, which shows both the original and the reconstruction.

It’s interesting to imagine what will survive the present age and how it will be interpreted in the future. We currently produce massive amounts of clothing to the point where, especially in Western culture, it is considered by some to be wasteful. The slow fashion movement is a reaction to clothing as an extension of consumerism, but I would also argue that knitters, crocheters, and weavers have long been rebelling against industrialized, consumer fashion. Handmade clothing (knit, crocheted, woven, hand stitched, handmade in any step of the process) is so much more than a utilitarian body covering or a fashion statement with all its cultural baggage – handmade clothing is all of that and more; a signifier of care and love from one person to another, a signifier of uncommon skills, and probably more that I’m not thinking of at the moment. Handmade clothing just means more than mass produced items, and not just because handmade clothing is unique.

I suspect I could continue along these lines for quite some time, so I’ll spare you by asking you to imagine future throw back Thursdays featuring garments you’ve made, handmade garments given to you, or your current personal wardrobe favorites that you would want to survive.

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Weaving? Weaving.

I’ve been intrigued but daunted by weaving since a few of my knitting & spinning friends started and I swore I wasn’t going to add it to my repertoire. The cost of additional equipment also put me off, even starter rigid heddle looms range from around $100-$300. And floor looms, perhaps the ultimate in looms, take up a lot of space.

After some reading, mainly Hand/Eye, an excellent art & craft blog, I realized that not everyone who weaves uses a floor loom, that really weaving requires that your warp threads be under tension Weaving (anything from cloth to rugs) is still a source of income for many people in non-western countries, something that’s easy to forget in the land of cushy convenience. So I made my own backstrap loom following instructions from Weavezine using oak dowels I had around from making my own niddy noddy, clothesline rope, and scrap fabric for the backstrap.

After getting everything together, I decided to skip the first recommended project and just began making a back strap, the second project. I clamped some scrap wood to a table, as shown on Weavezine, for an improvised warping board and wound white Bernat Handicrafter Cotton for the warp. I made lease sticks from 12″ crafter’s dowels that I got at JoAnn’s for something else and followed the pictures on Weavezine to get set up and started.

I had problems, of course – like making continuous string heddles instead of making heddles on a stick. The back loom bar, the one that attaches to a stationary object, kept slipping to one side and pulling everything with it, including any tension I had on the warp; I eventually hooked the back loom bar around my feet to get enough even tension with the backstrap. I also didn’t realize the difference between a balanced weave (what I thought I was making, where the warp & weft are equally visible), warp-faced weave (what I was really making, in which the weft is hidden by the warp), and weft-faced weave (the opposite of warp-faced), so I used a different yarn for the first inch or so before I realized that it wasn’t going to be visible at all.

I learned a lot from all the problems I had and the backstrap came out pretty well:

I decided I wanted to more than warp-faced weaving on a backstrap. I considered making or getting a rigid heddle, which would allow me to make a more balanced weave. I looked at other loom options, like tapestry weaving and using yarn on a potholder loom or making my own frame loom. I even considered a floor loom (and still daydream about using or having one) but started looking instead at table looms. During one of my ebay forays, I discovered vintage Structo Artcraft Looms and decided to keep an eye out for a reasonably priced one (i.e., something under $150). In early June, I ended up with this little Structo Artcraft 440/4, with a 9″ weaving width and 4 harnesses. It came complete with a project from the 50s still on it, as evidenced by the July 1955 calendar page used in winding on the warp threads.

I cleaned the loom, oiled the spots that needed oiling, made a raddle with some wood we had around + finishing nails + the cutest clamps ever, and improvised a warping board.