Thursday, March 18, 2010

Second part of the Viking Weaving Saga!

Originally “plucking” or rooing the sheep was the way to get the fibres from the sheep or picking up the fleece fluffs left in the landscape. The Icelandic sheep start to loose their fleece when spring comes around.

Rooing of a Shetland sheep, a breed close to the Icelandic sheep in breed characteristics:

When pulling at the fleece of an Icelandic sheep the wool will come off quite readily - if it is the right time of the year and the sheep’s body is ready to shed its winter coat. The sheep isn't left completely 'naked', there is a fine new coat already growing as the old coat sheds.

To get the fleece from modern sheep breeds it is necessary to either use hand shearers or to bring in a professional shearer with electric clippers.

The professional sheep shearer can do in 3-5 minutes what I attempted one year with hand-clippers. It took me 1 1/2 hours to shear the sheep and she wasn’t exactly thrilled, and I decided that from now on it was better to let someone who was fast and efficient and knew his/her way through the whole procedure do the job.

Two photos of my cross bred ewe Dotty having her yearly 'do' by Lukas.

The Icelandic fleeces I purchased for the L’Anse aux Meadows project were not plucked, but were shorn with electric clippers by Lukas in the spring of 2009.
Enjoying the sun, and calling her babies, where did they go and will they recognize her!

Next time: fleece preparation for the viking project.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

1/4 into the New Year!

Well, I guess you could say I lost track of time. Even with the best of intentions to spend time with words and thoughts the months fly by when one is having fun and staying active, then..... the words get left behind to be picked up at a later date.
In the fall of 2009 I was approached by a curator from Parks Canada who was looking for a weaver interested in doing some woven pieces for one of the viking houses in L'Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

Photograph of sketch for the Viking Age tapestry, one of many tapestries given as a gift for Queen Margrethe II of Denmark for her 50th birthday.

Needless to say I almost (almost) lost my voice and ability to express myself coherently in the excitement to be offered such an opportunity. I did manage to say yes, and I did manage to put together a proposal about how I was planning to proceed and come up with the finished product and an agreement was reached.
I knew I needed to be done with the two pieces by the end of February 2010 and it felt like I had a long, long time to work at this, after all it was 'only' late October.
Anita (the curator) had left a couple of books with me - Woven into the Earth: Textile Finds in Norse Greenland by Else Ƙstergaard and Viking Clothing by Thor Ewing. These were nice thick and dense books on the subject and to this I could add countless other books in Danish which I had collected years ago all somehow related to doing research on the subject of vikings and their history also pertaining to textiles.
And I have to confess, I didn't sit down to read each book fully, I scanned and added and subtracted, looking through the books again and again and each time taking notes on what I should or should not be doing.

In order to be as authentic as possible Anita had asked to have the pieces spun and woven from Icelandic sheep fleeces. She knew there was a flock of that particular breed on top of the mountain close to where I live. I just happened to know the people who own this sheep flock, so that was another set of exciting circumstances. I was able to drive up the mountain before the snow started flying and look at the sheep and their precious fleeces. Fortunately there were still boxes with some of the best of last year's fleeces available. I purchased three and took home one extra for 'just in case'.
Icelandic fleece staples in a pile!

Initially I was thinking that, "oh, no problem!", I will just spin the yarn in the grease, 'tog' (coarse outer hair layer) and 'thel' (soft undercoat) all together right from the staples I easily pulled out from the fleeces I had acquired. I spun some sample yarn, just to see and was getting excited about putting it on the small table loom to do a sample piece. In between spinning for the first 'trial' I kept reading and taking notes and........ I realized that there was no way that I should be spinning the two layers of wool all together in one big pile. To really look to my viking roots I had to try to be as authentic as I could be living now and not then.
Over Christmas when my hands were getting tired of cooking meals and hanging out with lots of people I made a decision to get in gear. I sat down in front of an enormous pile of fleece and started to separate the tog from the thel. Lots of pulling on staples (locks of hair/wool), one at a time.

Staples separated fr0m pile!

Originally large viking combs would have been used to clean and separate the fibres, but.... I am a modern viking and have not retained the knowledge of how to use these sharp and dangerous instruments in my subconscious memory. I chose to use 'elbow grease' instead of

investing in large amounts of band-aids.
Separating fleeces like this takes time, lots of time. Lots of radio listening or audio tape/CD listening and some tv-listening took place.
My hands got softer and more delicious by the minute, there is nothing like natural lanolin to make your skin feel really alive and happy.

And finally two staples pulled apart, tog - long and hairy and thel - short and fluffy/woolly

And coming up shortly is the next chapter of this exciting journey, which if all goes well will take me to L'Anse aux Meadows in early June to hang my finished creations.