Sunday, January 24, 2010

A passing thought

On the Ravelry group where I seem to be living at the moment, there's a thread for the 'Year of Making Stuff'. In it we egg each other on to greater feats, and enthuse, and feel inspired even while turning pale green with jealousy at some of the items some of us make. We're all making beautiful things, and learning new ways to make beautiful things. Sara Lamb's book Woven Treasures: one-if-a-kind woven bags inspired me to try pick-up weaving. It's a folk weaving technique, the sort of thing people have been doing for thousands of years to enrich their lives by making everyday objects a little more beautiful. As I reached into the sewing box to find a needle to finish the ends of the band I was struck by the way I took those needles and my other odds and ends for granted.
I don't know what brings these thoughts to mind. They're not random, they're always related to something I'm doing. Usually something that people just like me, my ancestors, have been doing every day for longer than I can think about. Baking bread, boiling water, spinning. I am so fortunate. I don't have to grind grain and gather wood to fire an oven for 3 hours to bake bread for an entire household for a week; I just buy flour and turn on the oven. If I want a hot drink, I turn a tap to get fresh, safe water that boils in minutes at the flick of a switch. If I want a needle, I take one from the packet I bought more than 20 years ago in Canada. For 60 cents I had 50 steel needles, incredibly sharp and fine, suitable for a variety of uses. I still have lots because I sew as infrequently as possible (I dislike fine sewing, so it's just as well I can buy ready-made clothes). By contrast, a thousand years ago, this one needle would have been someone's prized possession. Most people used bone needles. Even in the Middle Ages, metal needles were nothing like those in the packet I take for granted. Not to mention the crochet hooks, the scissors, the safety pins and dressmaking pins so cheap they're used in packaging the clothes we buy. To be thrown away, or sworn at when an overlooked pin finds its way into flesh as well as cloth.

After pausing to consider my good fortune, I did my best to finish the ends of my first pick-up band.
It's shown here above my first complex tablet-woven band. That tablet-woven band is a sad sight: now a bookmark, it was meant to be much, much longer, long enough to be a belt. But after spending several hours over the course of a week or so getting to grips with the diagonals, I worked out how to make the diamond 'eye' at right... and then, for some reason, I had to put the loom to one side. I did make some notes about what I'd done, but by the time I got back to it I'd lost the knack of doing the diagonals, and I think some of the tablets had been rotated by accident. That strip and its warp sat on the loom for the next three years, reproaching me. Occasionally I'd try to work out how to get back to the diagonals, fail, and put it to one side again. Until a month ago when, after another afternoon spent staring thoughtfully at it, turning tablets to and fro, I took Denny's advice and cut the dog off the loom. I can make another one. It is, after all, the Year of Making Stuff.
And I have been making stuff. There's been quite a lot of spinning, some of which is being knitted.
The 400m of cashmere/silk is becoming another shawl based on the Rampton Lace Swatch pattern. It's become overly difficult for a beginner, so that ball of Jo's red merino/silk will become yet another version, with the complex ending of the green as a variant for more knitters willing and able to keep an eye on the orientation of their YOs. I can't knit that lace AND remember to write down what I've done after wine, or when I'm tired, so I need some simpler knitting as well.
These will be fingerless gloves, a gift for a good friend. Apparently she has an opal ring in exactly these colours; how fortuitous! And when those are finished, I need a hat because the brown one I knitted in a hurry is both too short and too loose. And it's boring. The last installment of the Socktopus Fibre Academy, 'Magic Dust' batts from FeltStudioUK
became a bouncy woollen 3-ply that I think will do nicely. Can you see the firestar in it? My new hat will *sparkle*!
There is of course more spinning occurring; 2 oz of Switzer-land alpaca from SOAR on the Suzie. I'm practicing long draw because after I finish that it will be time to compete in the Ravelympics. My chosen project? Spin cotton warp and weft for a small bag, then weave it on the Schacht 'Flip' rigid heddle loom that hasn't yet arrived. We're getting close to the wire here. I need to know the grist I need to spin! In the interim, I also have to work out how to crochet a friend's knitted squares together to make a baby blanket.
When I finish *that*, there's the Christmas present that arrived last week. I wonder if the fates are telling me to spin that 100g of silk on a spindle?

And there's another big project hinted at by the background in all these images. To be fair, we don't have to MAKE anything from scratch, but still...
that's roughly 34 m^2 of solid oak floorboards to replace the worn and maltreated pine that is our current downstairs floor. Spinning wheel and cat for scale. That's a lot of work even starting with the boards made by someone else. I'm hoping for warmer weather for the project, because there's a chance that we'll have to mess with the central heating pipes and radiators to get some of the old boards out. The snowdrops know the sun is moving north once more.
If by any chance I have time to feel bored, I will warp the loom for another tablet-woven band.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A New Year at Clopton

New Year's Day dawned bright and so crisp it was downright *cold*. The hard frost meant the local clay would be frozen if I left early: a good day for a walk, and the history of the site I had in mind seemed appropriate for what we think of as the first day of a new year. I drove to Clopton, the best-preserved and most well-documented deserted medieval village (hereafter DMV) in Cambridgeshire. It's not far south and a little east of Hayley Wood.

View Larger Map

That patch of green pasture full of lumps and hollows was a thriving village 700 years ago. It lies on a south-facing hillside sloping down from the boulder clay plateau to the silts and clays of the Rhee valley. Look closely and you may be able to see the route of the road west, across the green, the line of Clopton High Street running south and curving away from the modern straight farm track, the hollows that mark man-made ponds, the site of the Bury, and of a second moated manor house... all that remains to mark the lives of thousands of people who lived here over the span of at least 2000 years.

I walked east from the junction of Croydon High Street and Croydon Hill, along the bridleway/track that was once a major road linking Biggleswade on The Great North Road (now the A1) with Arrington and Cambridge.
The village was extensively investigated in the 1960s, when archaeologists found the site was originally a Roman/early Anglo-Saxon settlement. In the 13th century it was so large that it required reorganisation: the hillside was terraced to provide more room for housing, the High Street was cobbled and realigned around the Churchyard, and the road to Croydon on which I walked was terraced and drained. Excavations found the Church, graveyard, Rectory, marketplace and various roads. What does it look like today?
Click to embiggen
More years ago than I want to think about (but a blink in time by comparison with the age of the site), I drew a reconstruction of the features found during the excavation. To my astonishment the board is still there...
The redrawn medieval illustration at bottom left shows an overshot watermill and eel traps in the millstream. The mill here was more likely to be undershot.

One of the manor houses, the Bury, was built on this mound; the moat is spring-fed, and was deep enough that a child drowned here in the 14th century. Walk south across the marketplace between the Bury and the Church of St Mary and, in the southeast corner of the pasture are the hollows that were millponds or fishponds.
Walk back up the hill towards the road.
This photo was taken standing on the High Street in what was once the marketplace. The scar in the hillside is a small quarry, dug long after people ceased to live here. In the 15th century the Manor was purchased by the Fisher family who, like many other landowners of the time, saw that the pastures and fields would be much more lucrative if used to grow sheep instead of crops to support a village. Grain prices were low, labour was expensive, and wool was very valuable. John Fisher and his son both had legal training at a time when litigation was expensive, and they began a campaign to force their neighbours off the land. Even the Clopton family did not escape: Robert and Juliana Clopton were imprisoned for failing to give up their manor house. Ordinary villagers had no chance: by 1525 only 5 labourers remained at Clopton. In 1561 only two houses remained; the village was declared extinct and merged with Croydon, to the east. Clopton Church was already ruinous, but stood until it was demolished in the early 18th century.

Another sign of time passing. This is the hollow body of a pollard elm that was alive and well in the field north of the village during the Middle Ages. Killed during the outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease, it was still upright when I first visited here, 20 years ago, but has since fallen and is slowly rotting away. Looking east, back the way I've walked, and see the track heading west, out of the pasture. It was worn into a hollow across the hillside – a hollow way - simply by the passage of feet over the centuries.
Clopton was much larger than the area preserved as pasture. There were houses in the arable fields to the west.
In the distance, to the left, you may just be able to see the moat of the second manor house shown on the reconstruction. A very brief (it was getting very muddy and I didn't want to stray from the right of way) excursion along the field margins yielded 1) a fragment of oyster shell, a long way from the sea: oysters were a popular foodstuff in Roman and medieval times. 2) fragments of medieval tile. 3) a bit of a guess, but I think this may be slag from minor ironworking. The iron-rich Greensand is not far away. 4) another fragment of oyster shell – but this time, it's Jurassic. Probably from the Oxford Clay, not too far away because it shows relatively little wear for something that was brought here by a glacier almost 500,000 years ago. I truly value the sense of perspective I gain from holding this assortment of stuff in my hand.
The path wends westward, but my shoes are picking up great clods of clay and I hate that. Time to head home and make lunch. No oysters, though.

Someone else's lunch or dinner. My glove points to the round entrance to a network of vole tunnels in the tussocky grass. Just visible against the dark ground in front of it are the white plumes of thistle seeds, minus the seeds, and some of the thistle seedheads have been diligently emptied. Perhaps there was a vole party here last week, under the snow?