Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Flax Process

The 50th annual Goschenhoppen Festival was yesterday and Friday and I was able to go for a short while on Saturday morning. The heat was too brutal for a prolonged visit or an afternoon trip. I spent about an hour and a half there, mostly looking at the spinning and textile related areas. They put on a great flax demonstration. From their patch of flax growing:
To their demo of flax drying after retting:
Removing the seeds:
Flax breaking:
And scutching:
And hetcheling:
And finally spinning:
All the demonstrators are very informative and open to questions. They made me want to grow my own patch of flax next year!
In the next post I'll show photos of other textile demos.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Spinning Flax

For the past five years or so the guys in our reenacting group have put up a display of 17th century weapons at Dixon's Gunmaker's Fair in Kempton, PA. This year I wanted to demo spinning but had to come up with something that would relate to 17th century weapons. So I decided to try spinning tow to make match cord. Match cord is needed to provide the spark that ignites the gunpowder in the pan of a matchlock gun making it go BOOM. But how was match cord made in the 17th century and before? So far I have only found references to it being "twisted" and made of flax or hemp. I still haven't received the hemp I ordered 2 weeks ago but was lucky enough to get in touch with Johannes Zinzendorf from The Hermitage which is about an hour an a half from my house. He had tow, I just had to go get it. I was looking forward to seeing the hermitage again as I had taken my very first ever hearth cooking class there in the mid 1990s. The place has grown and I was thrilled to be able to see the spinning and weaving house. Two big barn looms and at least 10 tape/box looms were great to see, but their collection of spinning wheels was wonderful. They had a tow wheel! As we were walking out of the building I asked Johannes if he had a Picardy wheel. He wasn't familiar with the term but said he had a wheel that couldn't figure out.
My first thought was "cool old spindle wheel with a crank and treadle." I thought the cone on the end of the spindle was protection from the sharp point. Then I put on my glasses and realized it was an end piece to a picardy flyer! (pardon my really crappy phone pictures but I forgot my camera.)
Johannes had been trying to get the wheel to spin but was having no luck. He was thrilled to hear about the missing flyer part and how it would work. I was thrilled to actually see a Picardy wheel and get a sense of the scale of the orifice! It's an amazing little wheel and I hope they can now get it working. With tow, and some flax too, in hand I braved torrential downpours for the ride home.

Spinning tow went better than I thought it would
I am waiting for pictures of actual match cord from the 17th century then I can figure out how many strands to ply. After that the cord will be soaked in lye water (wood ashes and water) then saltpeter. Our group is getting quite a collection of matchlocks so it would be great to have authentic cord.

At the end of the day I tried spinning long line flax and what a treat it was after spinning tow. Tow is scratchy and coarse, flax is smooth and fine. I used Caroline, the Country Craftsman wheel, for the demo since I didn't want to take the antique wheel out in rough conditions (it was supposed to rain and even though we were under a canopy I didn't want to take any chances.) But I can't wait to try flax spinning on my 200 year old flax wheel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cicada Killer Wasp

Saturday morning there was a pile of sand on our patio (our patio is slate pavers laid on a bed of sand.) By Sunday afternoon the pile of sand was quite large and a paver was starting to sink.
We thought the culprit was a mole or vole, but late Sunday night we saw it.
It is a Cicada Killer Wasp. Alan saw it pushing about 1cc of sand behind it as it backed out of the hole. Apparently these wasps are solitary, do not sting unless provoked, and dig tunnels, then catch a cicada and drag it into the tunnel. The female lays one egg in the cicada and then buries it in the tunnel. I also found a picture of the wasp taking a stink bug down it's tunnel.
This is a very good article on the wasp from The Atlantic magazine. So we will let this one do it's thing and move the table away. I'm not sure we will be able to wait a year (for the new wasp to emerge) to fix the sinking paver though.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bridge Decking

Even with the horribly hot temps this weekend Alan was able to finish up the decking for the bridge.
The rise in elevation that the bridge makes isn't that clear in the above photo.

Alan was able to stay reasonably cool since the site is over the stream and in the shade. He also had a box fan keeping a steady breeze blowing.

There is still a bit of dirt fill needed on the house side of the bridge and I am still deciding if I want/need a railing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Getting Ready to Build the Bridge

Taking down the old bridge was the first task. Alan has now finished building up a stone wall to hold back the soil he will add to replace that which was worn away from the bank.

We bought the pressure treated wood for the frame and somehow managed to get 16 foot boards in our E150 van.
Of course this weekend is supposed to be beastly hot again so we shall see how much work can get done on the bridge.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Spinning Wheels Part I (Or How to Repair a Broken Flyer)

Let me introduce Caroline. She is a 1970s Country Craftsman I recently bought for $45.
She was being sold by a family cleaning out their basement. The wheel had belonged to the man's mother; although he doesn't think she used it for spinning. He just remembers it as decoration. It was made by Rooney and he retired in 1982 so it is older than my oldest son. Caroline is missing the last piece of the distaff and the flyer was broken. The family were thrilled that we would be fixing it up and using it as a spinning wheel.
Now that she is all repaired she spins like a dream. I can spin so much finer on this wheel than on the Louet.
My husband Alan will now take over this post and explain his repair.

The flyer came repaired with hot glue and was not only a mess but was drastically out of alignment. Removing the glue was easy as all I had to do was reheat it and wipe it off. A mild wire brushing removed most of the visible residue. There were small pieces of the flyer missing and since there was old dried glue soaked into the joint it was doubtful a simple new glue-up was going to hold. The real solution was to remove enough old wood to glue in a sizable block of new wood and re-drill the hole for the spindle.

I selected hickory from a previous project to use as the fill-in block. Hickory is a great wood for this application since it resists splitting on the grain.

First thing is to make a template. Align it as best as possible and establish a square reference line, in this case its the long axis between the wings, that will be used later to find the center for drilling the spindle hole. The template will also be used during the glue-up.

Squaring off from the reference line and marking the flyer pieces for trimming out the bad joint.

The new wood block glued in place. The block is oversized at this point as the excess will be sanded away once the glue has set. There is a small piece of parchment paper under the joint to keep it from being glued to the template. Any clamping arrangement will work as long as it puts adequate pressure on the glue surfaces. Fit it up before applying the glue to make sure your clamping arrangement will work.

The glued-up and sanded flyer. (the yellow color is due to the lighting/camera)

Not knowing how the flyer was broken in the first place, I thought reinforcing the joint with a 1/4 inch wood dowel would be a good idea. The flyer is set up in a jig for drilling the 1/4 inch hole. A useful tip to know is that soft wood dowel from a home center or hardware store is actually smaller than the  advertised size. This drill bit is just under 1/4 inch to make sure the dowel will be snug. After the hole is drilled support the flyer well, dribble glue into the hole, and gently but firmly drive the dowel through. Later when the spindle hole is drilled it will intersect and go right through the dowel.

Back on the template to find the center line for the spindle hole. Taking half the distance between the wings of the flyer and making a right angle line through the joint shows where the hole will go.

Squared up on the drill press and well supported for the through hole. The spindle is a precise 1/4 inch but has slightly over sized splines at the end to hold the flyer so it's important the hole is drilled to exactly 1/4 inch, clean and true.

The completed assembly ready to go back on the spinning wheel

And now a little dissertation on the repair versus replacement philosophy. Though it would not have been very difficult to replicate the whole piece or have it replaced by a professional, I get a great sense of gratification that comes from restoring what one craftsman has painstakingly made with the expectation of lasting for generations. Saving the original from an early demise brings continuity to the project as a whole and is also by proxy a communication from one craftsman to another. It shows appreciation and respect for both the piece and it's creator. Also, the ideology of repair delays the universal law of decay, which will destroy all things given enough time. A pleasant afternoon in the shop becomes in a small way a defiance of the universe itself. How about that!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Demolishing the Old Bridge

This old bridge's time was up.
Not only were some of the boards missing, the end opposite the house had slid down the bank about two feet. It was impossible to take a wheel barrow across the bridge and stepping onto the bridge when it was wet and slippery was just plain dangerous.
After stripping off the planking the supports came up easily with a tug from the tractor.
The replacement bridge will be a simple flat structure spanning across the stream. The south side will be about two feet higher in elevation. We debated steps/no steps/arched etc. but I need to be able to take a hand cart across the bridge. So a simple structure it will be; which will also be simpler and easier for Alan to build. We'll have a hand rail on one side so I can pretty it up with some flower boxes.