Weeks 9-10 Group D Lab Data: Construction

The construction of our Anglo-Saxon mortuary house spanned four days, from Wednesday May 26th to Wednesday June 2nd, with construction occurring on Wednesday, Friday, Monday, and then again on Wednesday to finish up. The Weather Gods cancelled our Thursday lab, so this was how we made up for it. 

Day 1 – May 26th

On the first day of construction, Group D was tasked with setting out to the brush pile to gather materials for the base of the structure while other groups gathered material for the wattle walls. Our mission was to collect four timbers, around four feet long and four to six inches in diameter, for posts, as well as about sixteen other timbers, four to six feet in length and two to three inches in diameter. We spent about thirty five minutes looking through the brush pile, as it took us about ten minutes to walk there and ten minutes to walk back, as well as five to ten minutes to get organized and wrap up. 

We ended up with nine potential posts and twenty-two thinner timbers for our other purposes. These timbers are going to be our posts as well as our lintels, roof rafters, sills, and our ridge pole. 

Day 2 – May 28th

The next day, our group was tasked with working on the foundation as other groups started their wattle walls. We started by choosing our patch of land, a small flat grassy area, and laid out our foundation measurements. We hammered wooden stakes into the ground marking a rectangle that was four feet by five and a half feet, then we proceeded to outline the rectangle with our shovels. Our next step was to dig down about two inches and prop the turf up. We then carved rectangles out of the turf and set them aside to later be the turf roof, ensuring that the grass was kept separate from the dirt. 

We then used the shovels and post hole digger to create four post holes and one center hole, each about ten inches to a foot deep, and about ten inches in diameter. We found when placing the posts that two of the post holes needed to be dug a little deeper to ensure level posts for later lashing lintels. When the posts, each about four feet long, were placed into the post holes, we filled the holes with the nearby dirt and tamped them down until the posts could stand on their own at about three feet high. We ended the lab by lashing our lintels and place sills, making sure everything was secure so that we could lash our roof rafters the next day. 

Our base structure sans roof rafters!

Day 3 – May 31st

It was time to lash our roof rafters. We made three pairs of timbers, each involved timber being four feet long . We attached them at a ninety degree angle and placed them in such a way that the height from the point of the rafters to the lintel would be approximately half the height of the lintel to the ground. We were successful, as the height of the walls were just under three feet and the height of the rafters was just under a foot and a half. 

Our base structure, completed with the roof rafters!

Day 4 – June 2nd

The final for Group D in this construction was creating the thatch side of the roof. We did this by collecting the straw we had piled up, avoiding the wet straw, and making bundles to attach to our roof. We collected the bundles to be between four and six inches long, as well as four to six inches in diameter, as any thinner would have been too thin and fall through the wattle of the roof. We used “staples” made of green twigs to hold our bundles together and in place, secured to the wattle of the roof. We made five rows of thatch, with each row containing between eight and ten bundles of thatch, as some were smaller than others or due to the springiness of the staple required another bundle to be placed next to it in support. 

Wooden “staples” to hold straw in place

Group Data Reports

Introduction

Groups A, C and B in that order.

For this lab we set out to make four different types of cheeses as an introduction to hands-on work in experimental archaeology. We conducted our cheesemaking on Mai Fete island, where we had access to one in-the-ground fire pit alongside two above-ground pits brought from the lab in Anderson. Once we arrived at the island we split into three groups: Teams Mozzarella and Ricotta using the above-ground pits with Team Mysost at the in-ground one. 

While our primary goal was to succeed at making our cheeses, we also embarked on this lab with the goal of getting acquainted with the difficulties and process of conducting experimental archaeology. We had already become acquainted with the spaces that we will be working with last week on our walking tour, but this lab introduced us to the tools (like the temperature gun and scales) processes (thorough data recording) and working with our teammates. 

During this lab the questions we wanted to answer included:

  • Is it possible to make mozzarella, ricotta and mysost using firepits?
  • How long does it take to make these types of cheeses?
  • What does homemade cheese taste like compared to other cheeses?
  • How does using an open fire impact the process? How hard is it to keep the temperature steady? How important is it to keep the temperature steady?
  • What other major challenges are there making cheese in this environment?

With our questions and goals in mind, we set out to make our cheeses, or at the very least learn something from our failures.

Basic Rennet – Process

The process for the basic rennet was very similar to the one described in David Asher’s book on cheesemaking. We began by adding our milk to the cauldron, then stirring in the mixture of vinegar and water that would get it to the desired acidity. While this was happening, we prepared the fire for heating up the milk, making an “upside down” fire. 

The milk was then placed over the fire, where it was brought up to 90°F/32°C (though group A heated it to slightly above this temperature before they could pull the cauldron off the fire). Next, the rennet tablet dissolved in water was added, and the waiting game began. During this time we wanted to maintain the temperature at 90°, but it seemed that proximity to the fire and the cauldron helped keep the heat in and maintain the temperature without needing to return the curd to the fire (except group B, who had to return the cauldron to fire once, about 16 minutes in, and group C who briefly returned to the fire before it overheated the cast iron). After about 15 minutes, we tested for the clean break, then waited more if it failed. Once the clean break was achieved, we cut the curds, first vertically and then attempted horizontally. 

Again, we waited another 15 minutes, while occasionally stirring the now broken-up curds. After 15 minutes, we checked to see if the consistency of the curds was correct. Once we had achieved the resistance on the outside, silky on the inside texture, we prepared the cheesecloth-lined sieves for separating the curds and whey.

We then carefully poured the mixture into the sieve, leaving us with the leftover whey in a bowl, which we then transferred into the milk jugs or used for the next step of the process and the curds in the cheesecloth.

We then removed some of the curds from the cheesecloth and pressed them into the cheese forms, where they dried for several hours until we flipped them over. The rest of the curds were then used for the other types of cheese, mostly mozzarella. 

On class Friday after the lab we removed the cheeses from the forms, salted them, and had our final taste-test. 

Materials: 

  • 1 gallon of whole milk
  • 1 rennet tablet
  • 1/4c of vinegar
  • Cheese cloth
  • Colander and collection bowl
  • Cauldron
  • Stirring spoon 
  • Salt (used the next day)

Results

The following are the results of the process of making basic rennet cheese from the three groups. 

The variables we choose to spotlight are as follows:

  • Time elapsed: Knowing how long a process takes is one of the most important pieces of data that can be gained from experimental archaeology
  • Initial Weight of Milk: Used for comparing to the weight of whey and curds at the end of the process
  • Milk Temperature Average: Does a higher or lower temperature than the recommended 90° impact the cheese?
  • Final Weight of Whey: How much of the milk is left over?
  • Final Weight of Curds: How much of the milk becomes usable curd?
  • Taste Test: Is what we made worth eating?
GroupTime Elapsed Initial Weight of MilkMilk Temperature AverageFinal Weight of Milk (Whey)Final Weight of CurdsTaste Test!
A50 minutes from milk put on fire to whey drained3920g92.3°F1173gWas very salty on the outside as we had just salted it, but overall it tasted good.
B40 minutes3948g87°F had to place pot on the fire again after removing from heat2811g1874gVery mild taste (just like milk)
C60 minutes3935g84° F3126g1180gVery little to no taste, the salt provided most of the flavor.

Mozzarella

Group A attempted to make Mozzarella from both their leftover curds and the leftover curds from the Ricotta group. The Mozzarella process consisted of heating water to approximately 150°F, placing strips of the finished curd into the water for four to six minutes, removing them and testing how well they stretched (with the goal of taffy-like consistency) and then placing them back into the heated water and finally a saline bath. 

Over the course of the Mozzarella making process the temperature of the water was attempted to be kept steady at 150°, but varied from the highest recorded temperature at 170°F to the lowest at 135° during the last batch when the fire was dying out.

The first few attempts were largely unsuccessful, but by the third or fourth ball we were able to somewhat consistently produce cheese that had some degree of stretch (though still far from the ideal taffy) and was reported to taste like Mozzarella. However, these semi-successful balls came with one fatal flaw: squeakiness. The halfway point between stretchy Mozzarella and essentially a salty version of the basic rennet resulted in cheese that squeaked as it was eaten, which was a somewhat unpleasant experience. Some people did bring home several of the most successful Mozzarella balls and reported that it melted well and they were able to cook with it successfully, with far less squeak.

The semi-success of the Mozzarella demonstrates that it is in fact possible to make Mozzarella in the conditions we had, however it would likely take many more days, weeks or even years to perfect keeping the water at a consistent temperature and removing the cheese from the water at the right time to achieve perfect stretch.

Ricotta

Group B attempted to make Ricotta cheese out of the leftover whey from the making of Rennet curds. The group used their leftover whey and some from group A to gather 1 gallon, altogether. They boiled the gallon of whey, which took about 16 minutes, and then added 1/4c of vinegar. The whey was then brought back from a boil and quickly removed from heat. The whey was then left to sit for 5 minutes. The whey was then put through a fine strainer to attempt to get the Ricotta separate from the whey. The group was unable to get the solids to collect in the cheesecloth, even when doubled. So the group repeated the above steps again to try to separate the ricotta more. 

One large problem was that the whey took a long time to drain from the cheese cloth, so the group hung the cheese on the provided tripod and squeezed out the liquid. In the end the group had less than a 1/4c of Ricotta and it “was still very liquid and thin, and had a strong and unpleasant vinegar taste and smell”, the group didn’t even keep the Ricotta to the next day because it had such an unpleasant taste.

The measurements from the Ricotta process:  

  • Initial Whey weight: 3922 g
  • Final amount of ricotta: About a ¼ cup
  • Leftover whey: 3140 g

Note: some whey was lost to transfer, drip draining and evaporation.

Mysost

After making the rennet cheese, Group C attempted to make Mysost, a common Norwegian product made from leftover whey that appears as a paste-like substance. After the rennet cheese process, the group had about three-quarters of a gallon of whey to work with so they acquired leftover whey from Group A in order to complete the gallon of whey needed for the mysost making. The group started this process at 2:37PM by pouring the whey into the cast iron. At 2:40PM, the whey was placed over the flame on the fire grate with the lid on to bring it to a boil. 

Over the course of the next two hours the group monitored the whey as it boiled inconsistently, forcing a close observation of the fire and its intensity. This presented itself in a multitude of alterations made during the two hours, such as placing a lid on the cast iron in order to contain the heat, which would improve the boiling but result in it frothing over on multiple occasions. After roughly an hour, the whey in the cast iron had decreased in volume by at least half but there was no change in color.

 At 3:55PM, the volume had reduced to ¼ of the original, which made it very difficult to maintain a constant boil for the whey. The group tried fanning the flames and adding more logs, which allowed a brief rolling boil at 4:16PM. At 4:18PM, after the mysost seemed slightly darker in color, the group added the cream while stirring vigorously, at 4:30PM the group began to see the whey finally thicken. Finally, at 4:45PM the whey had thickened to the point where it began to look like a paste and the color darkened to a caramel. The group then scraped the mysost out of the cast iron and into a measuring cup. The mysost was thick but still able to be poured. After immediately transferring the mysost to the measuring cup the group taste tested the product, determining it was saltier and sweeter than they had anticipated. Upon trying it the next morning, however, the mysost had settled into a salty taste that made it less pleasant.

Conclusion and Takeaways

The most exciting part of this lab was discovering the real life difficulties and fun parts of making cheese. One of the more annoying things about cheesemaking was all of the bugs. They were very attracted to our cheese, some landed in our cheeses and died there. Not only was it hard to keep flies out, there ended up being lots of ash and smoke which gave our cheeses weird tastes and made lots of us feel a bit unsanitary. The most difficult part, however, was keeping the fire and our cheese at constant temperatures. Lots of us wondered how cheesemakers could’ve kept the cheese at a constant temperature without a thermometer. The fire tending also seemed to be a full-time job. We had to decide if we needed to add more logs to get it hotter or attempt to maneuver our pot to keep it off of the hottest parts.  

While we had some setbacks while making the cheese there were lots of fun parts. The best part was that all three groups were able to make the rennet curds and form them into lovely cheese blocks. We might not all agree if the curds tasted good, but they were definitely edible. The mozzarella group was also very successful, so it was fun to try out that cheese. Also lots of us were able to take home the cheese and share it with friends, or see what happened to it after a couple days. 

Even though cheese making is a well documented field and lots of experimental archaeology has already been done on this topic, we enjoyed gaining knowledge and practice in this field. This lab deepened our understanding of how experiments of this variety work. We were able to collect data about the feasibility of different cheese making but also gain first hand experience on what cheesemaking would and wouldn’t have been like.

Group Data Reports

In this lab, we were tasked with beginning the weaving process. Unfortunately, the sheer complication and time-consumption of setting up the warp-weighted loom hampered the process––we have not yet begun weaving, and the lab has been extended somewhat indefinitely into the following week. Even though as a class we didn’t technically complete our task, it has been very illuminating to experience the detailed process of preparing to weave a piece of fabric on a warp-weighted loom.

Moving within our predetermined lab groups (A, B, and C), we were assigned to take over specific loom set-up tasks in shifts, since the limitations of space meant only a few people could effectively work on the loom at one time. Most of the time, while a given group was working on the loom, the members of the other groups would continue the tablet-weaving process, which we had begun on Monday and continued on Wednesday.

Some research goals and questions we considered:

  • To produce enough fabric to create a “peplos-type” gown for our reconstructed outfit
  • To understand the basic principles of weaving on the warp weighted loom
  • To compare warp-weighted loom weaving with other forms, including rigid frame and tablet weaving methods
  • How much time and forethought would you need to put in if you needed a length of homespun fabric?
  • How does technology transfer between weaving cloth and any other crafts?

Tablet Weaving

The first part of this lab was tablet weaving, which became an ongoing process throughout the week. We began by each taking our warp threads from among the three colors of wool we had: the blue, orange and yellow wool we had dyed during week five. We selected twenty-four threads of one color and sixteen threads of a second color. Then we each took a set of ten cards and numbered them from one to ten.

We threaded each card using one of two patterns. For the cards numbered one and ten, we used only threads of our primary color (the color with twenty-four threads). For the cards numbered two through eight, we threaded the holes labeled A and B with our primary color, and the holes labeled C and D with our secondary color. We then tied the end of our threads together, and secured them with a length of hemp cord.

Next, we fastened the closed end to a clamp to create tension, and slid the cards down the length of the threads to comb and detangle them. With about ten inches left at the bottom, we tied another knot and used another piece of cord to secure the threads in place.

With the setup complete, we were finally able to begin the tablet weaving itself. We left one end secured to the clamp, and attached another end to ourselves, either to a belt or to another piece of cord. Then we took another thread of the primary color to use as the weft and wrapped it around our fingers to form a small hank.

The process of tablet weaving went as follows: first, we pulled the weft thread between the warp threads, leaving a small loop behind. Next, we turned the cards (we began with all of them facing in the same direction, and we turned them in the same direction). Then, we slid the cards along the threads to beat down the weft (and used a small ruler for the same purpose). Finally, we pulled the loop through. We did these steps turning the cards eight times in one direction, followed by eight times in the other direction in order to unravel the threads beyond the cards.

The process described above makes a woven fabric with borders in the primary color and horizontal stripes. However, we also experimented with adding other patterns. Each of these involved changing the orientations of the cards without passing the weft. This allowed us to make diagonal and zigzag patterns. We also flipped some of the cards vertically, changing from S to Z threading, and allowing us to create diamonds and chevrons. The finished products of our tablet weaving could be used as belts or cuffs.

Set-up

GROUP A –– Threading cards

To begin the setup of the loom, Group A measured threads out for the tablet woven border. They took forty-eight yards of yarn, and cut that into two-yard lengths. They then threaded the yarn through the cards, and followed the tablet weaving process described above. Once the woven border was created, it was attached to the upright loom.

GROUP B –– Assembling the loom

This group had the task of putting the loom together from the component parts we made in an earlier lab. This was fairly straightforward. We leaned the two forked uprights against the wall, with the flattened side facing out, and settled the top bar in the forks where it was chiseled to be able to fit. (For further stability, we chose a spot in the room where one upright could also be leaned into a corner.) We measured that the base of each upright was about 93 cm from the wall, or around three feet.

Then we attached the shed rod with pegs, placing it in the lowest pair of drilled holes so that it was up against the uprights on either side. With two of our forked pegs, placed in a pair of holes near the center of the loom, we created a place for the heddle rod. We then tied a length of string to the sword-beater, so it had a loop to hang from, and the loom was fully assembled. 

GROUP C –– Setting up weights and weft

The first step in the process of preparing our loom weights was to organize them by size and weight. After we had weighed all the weights, we separated them into pairs of approximately the same size and shape. For each pair, one weight would be attached to the back warp threads and one would get attached to the front warp threads. One challenge we faced was that not all of our weights were uniform, so some pairs were not evenly matched. In total, there were 32 weights, each with an average weight of 180 grams. 

The second step in preparing the loom weights was to tie strings to each weight to create a loop. This allows for the warps threads to thread through the string loop rather than the weight itself. This makes it easier to have more warp threads per weight and it protects the warp thread from the roughness of the clay.

For setting up the weft thread, we created hanks. To do so we used the butterfly technique to wrap approximately 40 yards of weft thread. Each hand should last for about 10 cm of fabric. We made 4 hanks in total. In doing this process, we played around with the size of loops we created to try and get the most effective size hank.

Warping

Next, we began the process of warping the loom. We placed a cone of yarn on the ground, below the tablet woven border. We then pulled a loop of thread through the shed, and wrapped it around several pegs until it reached 5m in length and was looped around the bottom peg. Then, we rotated the cards to change the shed, and beat down the thread. We needed about 50cm worth of tablet-woven border to create the correct number of warp threads, and all of the groups took a turn, each completing about one-third of the warping. Though there was a learning curve, this part of the process went relatively quickly: Group B timed their work, and found that they completed 10cm of tablet weaving and warping in 12 minutes. 

Once we finished the warping, Group B lashed the tablet woven border to the top. This was done by tying either side of the woven piece to the top rod, to keep it in the right approximate place. Then we tied the hemp cord around the rod, and started wrapping it around the rod multiple times, picking up about an inch-worth of the tablet-woven border each time and pulling it snugly against the top rod.

More specifically, this was done by holding the active cord in one hand beneath the shed, passing the spool of cord up through about every six warp threads, pulling the cord up and over the rod and passing it behind, and then passing the spool under the cord held in the other hand. This didn’t really create knots, but it helped maintain the tension to hold the border to the rod while we continued working, and it allowed us to space out the lashings so we weren’t stretching any of the warp thread out of place. At the end of the tablet woven border, we tied a knot around the bar once more to secure the lashing.

Having previously tied the two ends of the warp, Group B cut through the loop at the end, bisecting each warp thread so we would have the front warp and the back warp. After cutting them we had to spend some time separating the two groups, because in the warping process they had gotten somewhat tangled and twisted. By pulling gently and moving upwards towards the lashed woven border, we were finally able to separate the front and back threads, effectively creating the open shed. From here we could begin weighting the warp threads.

Weights

The first step in attaching the loom weights to the warp thread was to separate the warp threads into even sections. To get the correct tension for the size of our weights and loom, we attached 7 threads to each individual loom weight. We untangled the thread and created bundles of threads to tie to the weights. It was quite difficult to untangle the thread, but we managed to separate the threads enough to tie the weights on. We had some threads that ended up in the wrong bundle, but we reorganized the threads as we tied the weights on.              

To attach the weights to the warp, we used slip knots and daisy chains. We first warped the back of the shed. When tying the weights onto the warp it was important for the weights to hang below the shed bar, but above the ground to allow for the movement in changing the shed. We also made sure to keep the pairs together as we tied the back of the shed. After the back was complete, we tied the weights to the front section of warp threads, keeping in mind the same considerations about height off the ground. We used the daisy chain method to keep the extra length of warp thread from getting tangled on the ground. One challenge that arose was that some of our weights slipped out of their knots and fell too low. To solve this, we tied the weights to the loom slightly higher than before, and we made sure that the knots were tight. 

Once completed, there were 16 weights in the front and 16 in the back, so 32 weights in total, each attached to 7 threads on average. From this we can estimate that we had a total of approximately 224 warp threads.

Final Steps

Once the weights were attached, Group B completed the two remaining steps before we could start weaving. First, we had to chain the warp in order to keep the threads organized and evenly aligned. This will help avoid tangling and twisting once we start weaving, making the process much more smooth. To complete this step, we started with the back half of the warp, tying one end of our hemp cord to the left upright, passing the spool behind the threads, and making a slip knot in the cord near the first warp threads. With three people, the process was simple: one person held the cord and spooled it out as needed; another person worked out which were the next threads to be chained up by looking closely at the tablet woven border which began our warp, preparing them in pairs; finally, a third person chained the pairs with the cord, pulling the cord from behind the threads through a loop at the front and tugging it so there was a bit of slack.

When we finished the back warp, we knotted the cord and moved the entire chain down so it rested close to the weights, then tied either side beneath the shed rod. We then repeated the process on the front half of the warp threads. It was very time consuming work, but it made a big difference in the way the warp hangs––it was much more organized after chaining.

The final step before we could start weaving was knitting the heddles. For this, we lashed a length of pipe from the Makerspace to the back of the two uprights as our helper rod, directly behind the heddle rod, which was resting against the uprights on the front side of the loom. Tying our hemp cord to the heddle rod, we began the long process of passing the cord over the heddle rod and to the right of each front warp thread, then over the helper rod and to the left of each back warp thread, coming around under the helper rod and to right of each back warp thread, then up from under the heddle rod (through the same space we initially went through. This captured the back threads while missing the threads at the front. Each pass through was secured with a kind of twisted knot, or a buttonhole stitch. This was a little finicky and very time-consuming, especially with the amount of warp threads we have, and we were significantly limited by the fact that only one person can effectively knit the heddles at a time. 

In retrospect, the flexible pipe was not the best material for the helper rod. When we tugged the knots tight, the pipe would flex forward, so although we did our best to maintain approximately the same tension for each of these heddle loops, some of the loops ended up shorter or longer than others (particularly they got shorter the more we kept going). It shouldn’t have too great an impact on the actual weaving process, but it might mean the two sheds are not as clean and evenly parallel as they could be.

Conclusion

Although we were not able to begin the weaving process on the warp-weighted loom and will have to continue that at a later time, we were still able to gain valuable insights from the setup process. Many of the questions about our ability to create fabric and what it is like to work with the loom will have to be answered as we move into the actual weaving. However, the setup illuminated one major insight: it takes an incredible amount of time and patience to set up this type of loom. Based on our experience during this lab, we can assume that it would take a significant amount of time and forethought to create a homespun clothing item. 

In comparison, table weaving turned out to be a rather fast process, with many people in the class finishing their first tablet weave by the end of the week. As we progress with our loom in the coming days and begin weaving, we will hopefully have the opportunity to answer some of the research questions that remain unanswered and be able to better compare different types of weaving. 


Group Data Reports

In this lab, we were tasked with beginning the weaving process. Unfortunately, the sheer complication and time-consumption of setting up the warp-weighted loom hampered the process––we have not yet begun weaving, and the lab has been extended somewhat indefinitely into the following week. Even though as a class we didn’t technically complete our task, it has been very illuminating to experience the detailed process of preparing to weave a piece of fabric on a warp-weighted loom.

Moving within our predetermined lab groups (A, B, and C), we were assigned to take over specific loom set-up tasks in shifts, since the limitations of space meant only a few people could effectively work on the loom at one time. Most of the time, while a given group was working on the loom, the members of the other groups would continue the tablet-weaving process, which we had begun on Monday and continued on Wednesday.

Some research goals and questions we considered:

  • To produce enough fabric to create a “peplos-type” gown for our reconstructed outfit
  • To understand the basic principles of weaving on the warp weighted loom
  • To compare warp-weighted loom weaving with other forms, including rigid frame and tablet weaving methods
  • How much time and forethought would you need to put in if you needed a length of homespun fabric?
  • How does technology transfer between weaving cloth and any other crafts?

Tablet Weaving

The first part of this lab was tablet weaving, which became an ongoing process throughout the week. We began by each taking our warp threads from among the three colors of wool we had: the blue, orange and yellow wool we had dyed during week five. We selected twenty-four threads of one color and sixteen threads of a second color. Then we each took a set of ten cards and numbered them from one to ten.

We threaded each card using one of two patterns. For the cards numbered one and ten, we used only threads of our primary color (the color with twenty-four threads). For the cards numbered two through eight, we threaded the holes labeled A and B with our primary color, and the holes labeled C and D with our secondary color. We then tied the end of our threads together, and secured them with a length of hemp cord.

Next, we fastened the closed end to a clamp to create tension, and slid the cards down the length of the threads to comb and detangle them. With about ten inches left at the bottom, we tied another knot and used another piece of cord to secure the threads in place.

With the setup complete, we were finally able to begin the tablet weaving itself. We left one end secured to the clamp, and attached another end to ourselves, either to a belt or to another piece of cord. Then we took another thread of the primary color to use as the weft and wrapped it around our fingers to form a small hank.

The process of tablet weaving went as follows: first, we pulled the weft thread between the warp threads, leaving a small loop behind. Next, we turned the cards (we began with all of them facing in the same direction, and we turned them in the same direction). Then, we slid the cards along the threads to beat down the weft (and used a small ruler for the same purpose). Finally, we pulled the loop through. We did these steps turning the cards eight times in one direction, followed by eight times in the other direction in order to unravel the threads beyond the cards.

The process described above makes a woven fabric with borders in the primary color and horizontal stripes. However, we also experimented with adding other patterns. Each of these involved changing the orientations of the cards without passing the weft. This allowed us to make diagonal and zigzag patterns. We also flipped some of the cards vertically, changing from S to Z threading, and allowing us to create diamonds and chevrons. The finished products of our tablet weaving could be used as belts or cuffs.

Set-up

GROUP A –– Threading cards

To begin the setup of the loom, Group A measured threads out for the tablet woven border. They took forty-eight yards of yarn, and cut that into two-yard lengths. They then threaded the yarn through the cards, and followed the tablet weaving process described above. Once the woven border was created, it was attached to the upright loom.

GROUP B –– Assembling the loom

This group had the task of putting the loom together from the component parts we made in an earlier lab. This was fairly straightforward. We leaned the two forked uprights against the wall, with the flattened side facing out, and settled the top bar in the forks where it was chiseled to be able to fit. (For further stability, we chose a spot in the room where one upright could also be leaned into a corner.) We measured that the base of each upright was about 93 cm from the wall, or around three feet.

Then we attached the shed rod with pegs, placing it in the lowest pair of drilled holes so that it was up against the uprights on either side. With two of our forked pegs, placed in a pair of holes near the center of the loom, we created a place for the heddle rod. We then tied a length of string to the sword-beater, so it had a loop to hang from, and the loom was fully assembled. 

GROUP C –– Setting up weights and weft

The first step in the process of preparing our loom weights was to organize them by size and weight. After we had weighed all the weights, we separated them into pairs of approximately the same size and shape. For each pair, one weight would be attached to the back warp threads and one would get attached to the front warp threads. One challenge we faced was that not all of our weights were uniform, so some pairs were not evenly matched. In total, there were 32 weights, each with an average weight of 180 grams. 

The second step in preparing the loom weights was to tie strings to each weight to create a loop. This allows for the warps threads to thread through the string loop rather than the weight itself. This makes it easier to have more warp threads per weight and it protects the warp thread from the roughness of the clay.

For setting up the weft thread, we created hanks. To do so we used the butterfly technique to wrap approximately 40 yards of weft thread. Each hand should last for about 10 cm of fabric. We made 4 hanks in total. In doing this process, we played around with the size of loops we created to try and get the most effective size hank.

Warping

Next, we began the process of warping the loom. We placed a cone of yarn on the ground, below the tablet woven border. We then pulled a loop of thread through the shed, and wrapped it around several pegs until it reached 5m in length and was looped around the bottom peg. Then, we rotated the cards to change the shed, and beat down the thread. We needed about 50cm worth of tablet-woven border to create the correct number of warp threads, and all of the groups took a turn, each completing about one-third of the warping. Though there was a learning curve, this part of the process went relatively quickly: Group B timed their work, and found that they completed 10cm of tablet weaving and warping in 12 minutes. 

Once we finished the warping, Group B lashed the tablet woven border to the top. This was done by tying either side of the woven piece to the top rod, to keep it in the right approximate place. Then we tied the hemp cord around the rod, and started wrapping it around the rod multiple times, picking up about an inch-worth of the tablet-woven border each time and pulling it snugly against the top rod.

More specifically, this was done by holding the active cord in one hand beneath the shed, passing the spool of cord up through about every six warp threads, pulling the cord up and over the rod and passing it behind, and then passing the spool under the cord held in the other hand. This didn’t really create knots, but it helped maintain the tension to hold the border to the rod while we continued working, and it allowed us to space out the lashings so we weren’t stretching any of the warp thread out of place. At the end of the tablet woven border, we tied a knot around the bar once more to secure the lashing.

Having previously tied the two ends of the warp, Group B cut through the loop at the end, bisecting each warp thread so we would have the front warp and the back warp. After cutting them we had to spend some time separating the two groups, because in the warping process they had gotten somewhat tangled and twisted. By pulling gently and moving upwards towards the lashed woven border, we were finally able to separate the front and back threads, effectively creating the open shed. From here we could begin weighting the warp threads.

Weights

The first step in attaching the loom weights to the warp thread was to separate the warp threads into even sections. To get the correct tension for the size of our weights and loom, we attached 7 threads to each individual loom weight. We untangled the thread and created bundles of threads to tie to the weights. It was quite difficult to untangle the thread, but we managed to separate the threads enough to tie the weights on. We had some threads that ended up in the wrong bundle, but we reorganized the threads as we tied the weights on.              

To attach the weights to the warp, we used slip knots and daisy chains. We first warped the back of the shed. When tying the weights onto the warp it was important for the weights to hang below the shed bar, but above the ground to allow for the movement in changing the shed. We also made sure to keep the pairs together as we tied the back of the shed. After the back was complete, we tied the weights to the front section of warp threads, keeping in mind the same considerations about height off the ground. We used the daisy chain method to keep the extra length of warp thread from getting tangled on the ground. One challenge that arose was that some of our weights slipped out of their knots and fell too low. To solve this, we tied the weights to the loom slightly higher than before, and we made sure that the knots were tight. 

Once completed, there were 16 weights in the front and 16 in the back, so 32 weights in total, each attached to 7 threads on average. From this we can estimate that we had a total of approximately 224 warp threads.

Final Steps

Once the weights were attached, Group B completed the two remaining steps before we could start weaving. First, we had to chain the warp in order to keep the threads organized and evenly aligned. This will help avoid tangling and twisting once we start weaving, making the process much more smooth. To complete this step, we started with the back half of the warp, tying one end of our hemp cord to the left upright, passing the spool behind the threads, and making a slip knot in the cord near the first warp threads. With three people, the process was simple: one person held the cord and spooled it out as needed; another person worked out which were the next threads to be chained up by looking closely at the tablet woven border which began our warp, preparing them in pairs; finally, a third person chained the pairs with the cord, pulling the cord from behind the threads through a loop at the front and tugging it so there was a bit of slack.

When we finished the back warp, we knotted the cord and moved the entire chain down so it rested close to the weights, then tied either side beneath the shed rod. We then repeated the process on the front half of the warp threads. It was very time consuming work, but it made a big difference in the way the warp hangs––it was much more organized after chaining.

The final step before we could start weaving was knitting the heddles. For this, we lashed a length of pipe from the Makerspace to the back of the two uprights as our helper rod, directly behind the heddle rod, which was resting against the uprights on the front side of the loom. Tying our hemp cord to the heddle rod, we began the long process of passing the cord over the heddle rod and to the right of each front warp thread, then over the helper rod and to the left of each back warp thread, coming around under the helper rod and to right of each back warp thread, then up from under the heddle rod (through the same space we initially went through. This captured the back threads while missing the threads at the front. Each pass through was secured with a kind of twisted knot, or a buttonhole stitch. This was a little finicky and very time-consuming, especially with the amount of warp threads we have, and we were significantly limited by the fact that only one person can effectively knit the heddles at a time. 

In retrospect, the flexible pipe was not the best material for the helper rod. When we tugged the knots tight, the pipe would flex forward, so although we did our best to maintain approximately the same tension for each of these heddle loops, some of the loops ended up shorter or longer than others (particularly they got shorter the more we kept going). It shouldn’t have too great an impact on the actual weaving process, but it might mean the two sheds are not as clean and evenly parallel as they could be.

Conclusion

Although we were not able to begin the weaving process on the warp-weighted loom and will have to continue that at a later time, we were still able to gain valuable insights from the setup process. Many of the questions about our ability to create fabric and what it is like to work with the loom will have to be answered as we move into the actual weaving. However, the setup illuminated one major insight: it takes an incredible amount of time and patience to set up this type of loom. Based on our experience during this lab, we can assume that it would take a significant amount of time and forethought to create a homespun clothing item. 

In comparison, table weaving turned out to be a rather fast process, with many people in the class finishing their first tablet weave by the end of the week. As we progress with our loom in the coming days and begin weaving, we will hopefully have the opportunity to answer some of the research questions that remain unanswered and be able to better compare different types of weaving. 


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