An Anglo-Saxon Cyrtel: Spinning

All yarn in this gown was hand spun using a spinning wheel with the exception of the sewing thread for which I used a low whorl spindle. Before the 14th century, yarn would have been entirely spun using a spindle as spinning wheels in any form were not yet introduced to England (Walton-Rogers, 1745). I chose to use a wheel in the interest of having this project finished within a nine-month time. I found in the past that I spin approximately 100 yards of singles yarn per hour from combed fiber on a low whorl spindle. In the same period of time, I can spin over 350 yards per hour on a spinning wheel. Even with the speed of the spinning wheel, the spinning of the yarn for his project took over 100 hours.

I used commercially prepared combed wool top to save time as well. Analyzed yarns from existing textiles indicate a majority were spun from parallel fibers likely prepared using wool combs or directly from the wool staple. (Walton, 315) Worsted yarns are preferred for long wearing fabrics with good abrasion resistance and which show woven patterns well. From previous experience I have learned the preparation of the fiber from the raw wool, including grading, scouring, and combing would have added at least 10 hours per pound of wool to the project – an additional 60 hours.

All yarn spun for the fabric itself was spun singles (no ply). The thread used for the seams of the cyrtel was spun Z and plied S to reduce abrasion during stitching.

Fig. 1 – Yarn Diagram
Fig. 2 – 17,000 yards of yarn

The warp yarn was spun at approximately 36 wraps per inch with an angle of twist of approximately 25°. I spun approximately 9,000 yards of yarn Z (fig. 1) for the warp and dyed using madder, a dye found in many of the textiles at Coppergate (Walton, 1989, 400). (see Appendix A for process) I used alum as a mordant (Walton, 401) with cream of tartar as a levelling agent and soaked the yarn in the madder overnight. The color was not as rich and red (fig. 4) as I had hoped, but several factors could have been at work there: I was dyeing three pounds in a crowded pot resulting in a lighter color, I only soaked the madder for three days as opposed to a longer period to extract the dye so less dye was present in the bath, and I may have had the temperature of the dyebath too high to extract the best reds. The result was a nice coral color, which could also be considered an exhaust bath color in the period. In addition, I did not stir the dyebath often enough which gave the yarn uneven color across the skeins. I tried to minimize the differences while warping by setting up four skeins (or balls) at a time and mixing them as I warped. It did not work as well as I had hoped and gave some striping to the finished fabric.

Fig. 3 – Madder dyed yarn and fiber

The weft was spun at 28 wraps per inch with a twist angle of approximately 25°. The 7,500 yards of the weft warn was spun S (fig. 1) and was dyed using Queen Anne’s Lace (daucus carota) also know as Wild Carrot. (fig. 4). I did not have access to weld (at least not for free!) nor did I have time to grow a plot large enough to dye the three pounds of wool. I used 5 plastic grocery bags and picked the plants from a vacant lot cutting the flowers with about six to eight inches of stem. Interestingly, there is seed evidence for weld in use during this period, but no textiles have survived with the dye still in the wool like that of the alizarin (madder) or indigotin (woad). Since so many plants will give yellow dye and weld dyestuffs were found at Coppergate (Walton, 1997, 1766), I feel confident in using the color in the weft. It is possible that the yellows from weld are more fugitive than that of madder and woad and as such did not survive as well. I used alum and cream of tartar as the mordant and soaked the yarn for 10 minutes. The yarn was so bright I was afraid what would happen if I left it in the pot overnight! (fig. 5) I did not set the twist in any of the yarn specifically – I felt that the dye process would take care of setting the twist for me. I was right. I was concerned I would not dye enough fiber or spin enough yarn from the dyed fiber and would be forced to try to match color at a later time. As such I chose to dye yarn as opposed to the fiber itself.

Fig. 4 – Queen Anne’s Lace dyebath
Fig. 5 – Queen Anne’s Lace yarn and fiber

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