Today, there’s progress going on with the Bernuthsfeld project – finally, after the conference and event marathon of the last few weeks. It’s nice to settle down again and get some actual textile work done for an actual project, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the lasting smell of birch leaf dye on some of the fabrics.

It’s also, as always, utterly fascinating to see how many details you need to know to replicate something, or at least get close to replicating it. I’m very sure that the original maker of this tunic, made out of previously used fabric pieces, didn’t bother about many of the steps, or was indifferent regarding which piece of fabric got to sit on top of its neighbour and which got to sit underneath… but for us, trying to keep as close as possible to the original, this is of course a thing to think of (and to look for in the many lists and photographs we made during our documentation session).

Snapshot of me doing documentation of the patches of the original tunic - which was then turned into a pattern...

Snapshot of me doing documentation of the patches of the original tunic – which was then turned into a pattern…

There’s no such thing as a perfect replica of a historical fabric, due to oh so many reasons – and one of them is that you never get all the data you would need. As I’ve recently told somebody, it’s not a question of if you forget to look for a given detail, or take a note, or manage to take a decent picture of a detail that you later on need – it’s a question of when you discover that you missed this something, and how many of these discoveries you make, and how bad the missing links are for your overall picture and process.

That said, up until now, there’ve been a few hitches – some of them due to misunderstandings or misinterpretation of the conservation reports, one of them due to an actual error in them, and none of them really ruinous. I’m hoping like hell it will stay like this!

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As one of the programme points during the Textile Forum, we went on an excursion to see the special exhibition “Expedition Mittelalter” at the Schnütgen-Museum in Cologne. If you can arrange it, I heartily recommend going there, as you will get treated to a lot of beautiful things usually buried in the archives. This includes, obviously, textiles.

Among them: a puzzling (at least to me!) embroidery of a horse or unicorn on a black (yes, black) linen background, dated to the 15th century. An incredibly beautiful reliquiary bag embroidered with silk in counted stitch and with a flat gold strip (also puzzling, because I have no real idea on how that strip was stitched in, and oh what would I give to see the back of that thing!). Plus a plethora of other textiles. Oh, and the Anno chasuble – a samite cloth dyed with real mollusc purple, dating to about 1000.

As opposed to most special exhibitions in German museums, in this case all the objects are from the hosting museum’s own archives, and so you are allowed to take photographs for private purposes (no flash and tripod, so come prepared with a steady hand).

The only downside is that there is no catalogue. There’s a comic book that you can complete with a kind of treasure hunt during the exhibition, which is nice and fun in its own way, but nothing even remotely helpful if you’re trying to learn more about the individual objects. But yes, that’s the only downside, and the pieces themselves are really making a visit worth its while.

The exhibition will run until January 28, 2018, so there’s still a bit of time to travel there.

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The stacks on my desk have shrunk a bit (at least enough so that I don’t get an instantaneous flight reflex when entering the room), the cat is happily draped over my forearm again, putting her paw on my touchpad at the most inopportune moments, and most of the stuff that I dragged half across the country is back in its proper place on the storage shelf.

Not that I’m out of things to do, mind you – there’s more sorting to do, the stack of emails is still towering, and of course after the season is before the next one. Which means there’s planning for events, planning for markets, and planning for the next Textile Forum.

Especially the latter is interesting, as we’re considering making a few changes to the programme structure, and to the conference as a whole. The aim of these changes will be to become more accessible to participants who can’t spend a whole week at a conference. Of course, we want to get it right, so I’m currently working on a little survey to send around. There are also plans to slightly re-structure the website and to add some more things as information about past experiments, tests, trial runs and topics. It’s all very exciting, and I hope the survey will give us a good amount of feedback on which to act, so that our little conference can saunter on into the future, doing an even better job at connecting people from the practical side of historical crafts to researchers looking at the actual pieces.

Like everything, making a survey turns out to be a time-eater, though. And even if I’m tempted to go on straight away working on it… I’ve already done enough survey drafting for today – I need to get a few other things done.

Such as putting the remainder of the goods into their place. And finally finishing an article that is due…

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I’m back at the work desk, trying to battle my way through stacks of paper that needs to be taken care of, as well as stacks of email that has to be dealt with. It’s amazing how many mails can run up in just a few days of not-really-in-the-office time!

The symposium last weekend, by the way, was an utterly wonderful thing – not only did I get to meet a lot of lovely people again that I meet way, way too rarely, there were also a number of new faces to finally connect with the names I’ve been reading here and there, over and over again during the last years.

Add to this a number of really interesting and well-presented papers, a concert featuring medieval music in the beautiful Marienkirche with its astounding acoustics (and I still have a selection of earworms from that), a wine tasting with wines made from old grape varieties (including the wine that saved Oswald von Wolkenstein’s life as he held on to the barrel when shipwrecked, and a wine that has been processed following exactly the instructions in the Capitulare de Villis, down to reconstructed tools), common meals both in the conference place as well as in the evening, and you have a wonderful event that I would call wildly successful – and I do hope that it will not have been the only or last one of its kind!

Now, though, the season of events and conferences is finally over for me, and there’s hope of things becoming a little calmer again. Which includes a chance of actually getting back on top of the things stacked here, both physically and virtually…

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Seven years ago today, the Most Patient Husband of Them All and I had a party. To celebrate.


As you do when you are getting married.

So guess who’s not doing any work today? And celebrates, again, instead?

Because finding someone you can talk to, and laugh with, and share all your ups and downs with; someone who copes with your small and large faults and peculiarities; someone who is happy when you are and would like to lift you up when you are down – finding someone like this is the greatest thing on this planet, and it should be appreciated and cherished day by day.

Obviously you can’t have a party every day because of it. But you definitely can once in a while. Also a great reason for having some cake! (If you need a reason for cake, that is…)

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My bags are packed and I am off again once more – the celebratory conference of IG Wolf is taking place this weekend, starting this evening, and it’s promising to be a really interesting programme. The conference includes a concert and a wine-tasting evening with old grape breeds, plus a variety of different papers during Saturday and Sunday, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting a whole lot of old friends, acquaintances and colleagues there that I only get to see quite rarely.

My own presentation will be on Sunday morning, I’ll be back home on Sunday night, and then I am just as happy to not be travelling for a while. If it feels like you’ve been living out of a bag for weeks, it’s probably time to slow things down for a bit and not rush around through half of Germany for a while!

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I am back home from the Forum, and it was wonderful – a whirlwind week, as it usually is. Every time, I am surprised at how quickly time flies past when we are in Mayen, and every time I’m delighted with how much is happening. Little detail problems are suddenly thrown into the spotlight, and then people throw themselves at the problems and try to figure out how something was made, or why something might look as it does.

This year, we had an array of really interesting discussions and tests. The effects of the de-gumming on silk when dyeing was one of them, and first results were really interesting – the de-gummed silk takes on less colour than the gummy silk. A number of little test skeins were dyed, and they have gone home with Ruth, who will do light-fastness, wash-fastness and rub-fastness tests with them in order to see how well the dye sticks to the various samples.


Silk being dyed…


…and the skeins after rinsing.

We also had some reeling of silk, some tablet-weaving and, to my great delight, some hacking of slits into pieces of silk to explore the pinking and slashing techniques. That was not only extremely interesting, but also a lot of fun – and the slashing does explain why some fabrics might have been woven in just the way they were done.

There were also really good discussions about swastika motifs in tablet weaving and the problems this motif can lead to today (especially if you are based in Germany), and discussions about the terminology of wild vs. domesticated silk.

And of course there was lots of coffee. There was chocolate. There was the traditional stroopwafel spinning…


it was a wonderful week!

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