Friday, September 28, 2012

Steel needles in the Low Lands

I went off to Flanders without crocus cloth.

Here in California, it tends to be dry enough that my knitting polishes my needles as fast as they can oxidize, and with a reasonable amount of knitting, my steel needles stay shiny and smooth.  That turned out not to be the case in the Low Lands. Even knitting with a coarse, oiled wool, over the course of a week the steel turned gray.

 It was not really so bad, I was traveling and knitting with them where-ever,  and being less slippery, they were less likely to fall out and go where-ever needles go on the train. Over all, in a month, I lost one needle.

Nevertheless, those remaining needles are going to get a good rubbing with crocus cloth for wondering abroad without protection.

The only knitter that I met in Europe that uses a knitting sheath was a Docent at the Anne Franks House Museum in Amsterdam.

I looked and did not see any knitting sheaths.  As part of Monument Day and there was a large street market in Delft, with a large number of antiques dealers.  Two said they had knitting sheaths at home, but never brought them to street markets because such things never sell.

The only other person that I saw knitting in public was the lady that ran the sewing and knitting department at Bon Marche in Paris.

A train did not come, so I taught an 8-year old girl waiting next to me on the platform how to knit and gave her needles and yarn to knit a scarf.  Actually, it was my wife that did the teaching.  She does not knit, but she is a much better knitting teacher than I am.  Anyway, there is one more knitter in Amsterdam.

The lesson from the trip was the very high quality of spinning in Flanders circa 1500, and the fact that they were working with wool/silk blends at that time.

Fractured History

"All the history texts" say that Flanders got rich selling cloth.

They may have made their money selling cloth, but the quality of their spinning was a major component of their success in textiles. They were very good spinners.

This can be seen by comparing Flemish tapestries to tapestries from other regions during the same periods. The Flemish spinning is finer and more uniform. The uniformity is what matters.  Consistent thread thickness allowed the Flemish tapestries to have really straight lines.

Look at the best Belgian lace. The thread is finer than what was being used by other lace makers.  And again, the uniformity is astounding.

With machine spun thread, we are accustomed to very uniform spinning.  However, those old spinners of Flanders produced hand spun thread and yarn of great uniformity.

And they were great dyers. The perfect color across huge tapestries shows that they really knew how to produce consistent colors in a huge variety of shades.

The folks in Flanders may have been the best weavers in the world, but they were likely also the best spinners and dyers.