Group A Members: Helen Banta, Amelie Cook, Emma Jahn, Ben Scott-Lewis
Our lab this week was focused on the process of wool-working—specifically, the tasks of carding, spinning, and weaving. Our group was lucky enough to get to do the tasks in this order, so we got a chance to use the wool we carded ourselves in our spinning, and eventually in our weaving. We measured our qualitative data in terms of the physical and social qualities of each step, and we were able to measure some quantitative data in terms of size and/or weight.
Our group determined the process of carding to be much more physically exerting than the other tasks. Carding required some upper body strength to be able to comb through difficult knots and tangles in the wool. However, it was probably the most simple in terms of skill, and we were all able to pick up the practice quite quickly. Since we were so up close to the wool during this task, we had a chance to notice the qualitative differences between the types of wool; specifically Jacobs, Soay, Cotswold, and Leicester Longwool.
The Jacobs wool was pre-roved for us, so we were able to discover what the “cloud” result from carding should look and feel like before we carded. This wool had an almost striped quality to it, with brown, grey, and tan colors and long, soft fibers.
The Soay wool was not super well-washed and ended up being a little tougher to card because of its clumping qualities. This wool was mostly a darker brown color than the others, with some white mixed in.
Our group spent the most amount of time carding the wool from the Cotswold and the Leicester Longwool sheep. The Cotswold wool was naturally white, short, and very curly, although we mostly chose to card the dyed pink and green versions of this wool. The Leicester Longwool was grey, very long, and had crimp-like curls. It was one of our favorite wools to card because of its long, hair-like qualities.
Our overall quantitative data from carding was relatively small. We spent 30 minutes at the carding station in total and were able to collectively card one cloud of Cotswold wool and one cloud of Leicester Longwool wool.
During the spinning portion of the lab, our group began by spinning the pre-made roving that Alejandra gave us and gradually moved on to the wool that we had carded ourselves in the previous station. While spinning did not prove itself to be as physically exerting as carding, it was the most difficult wool-working task to master in terms of skill. The Jacobs wool roving and the Cotswold wool we carded were both very soft, fluffy types of wool, and we soon discovered that this meant that they had a higher chance of breaking while drafting. Figuring out a technique to prevent the wool from breaking was the most difficult part of the process, and reattaching the wool to itself was also a challenge. Everyone came up with their own technique for what worked best to reattach the broken pieces, such as mashing the wool back into itself, spinning the two pieces together, or even licking their fingers to moisten the wool so it would be more clingy.
Our group had the most success spinning with the Leicester Longwool that we had carded ourselves in the first station; the long fibers and clinginess of the wool made it easier to spin a consistently longer and thinner thread than we could achieve with the other wools. It was also less prone to breaking while drafting, which made it especially desirable. It was interesting to note that as we all got better at spinning, and no longer had to focus as hard on getting it all right, our conversations as a group began to flow. Spinning definitely seemed to be one of the more social wool-working activities that we participated in; we were so engaged in conversation that the hour of spinning seemed to fly by. This observation confirms what we learned from the literature about ancient women and wool work, as it seems that women often spun together rather than alone—and it’s clear that spinning together made the work go by much faster.
At the end of our hour of spinning, we each weighed how much wool we had produced. Amelie had spun 8 grams of wool, Helen had spun 12 grams of wool, Em spun 28 grams of wool, and Ben spun 31 grams of wool. While this quantitative data is interesting as it can help us to understand our own skill levels after an hour, due to our lack of overall proficiency in spinning, we cannot use these measurements to determine how much wool ancient women were able to spin in an hour.
Weaving was the most beginner-friendly out of the wool-working tasks we learned during lab. Everyone was able to pick up the basics within a few minutes of practicing. However, it did seem as if it would be a task that is difficult to be really good at. While our group could quickly learn how to move the weft through the threads and then pass the shuttle through, learning to incorporate patterns into the fabric was an entirely different ordeal. We determined that making a textile with patterns or designs must be a much steeper learning curve than the simple back-and-forth we were attempting.
Similar to spinning, weaving was conducive to conversation; in fact, as there were only two looms most of us were spinning while two people weaved. It seemed that the two tasks could often be done working in tandem. It was also probably the least physically exerting of the tasks—meaning that it might have been the easiest task to teach to children (perhaps along with spinning) to spark their interest in wool working.
We weaved for about 30 minutes and then counted the number of rows that we had added to each loom. Together with Group B, we wove 12 rows on Loom 1 and 10 rows on Loom 2. Again, our quantitative data in these cases is less determinant of how much people would have been able to weave in 30 minutes in the past. We were taking turns and we are still beginners, which means our weaving pace will be much lower than the pace of someone who has spent their life weaving.
By the end of the lab, each member of our group had achieved at least some proficiency in the three wool-working tasks we had learned. Our group also had a very special experience of getting to card our own wool, spin it, and then weave it onto the loom. The connection we had with these pieces of yarn that we had processed ourselves let us gain insight into what life was like before all our clothing and textiles were mass-produced. While our quantitative data demonstrates that we are nowhere near being a wool-working expert, our qualitative experiences show that we now have a better understanding of what it meant to live in these ancient shepherding communities and a greater respect for those who work with wool.