Saturday, March 31, 2012

Weaving, women and history

The last couple of weeks I have been immersed in reading a couple of books by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Dr. Barber is a professor emerita in archaeology and linguistics at Occidental College in California, and also a weaver since childhood. She has written a number of books, the two that I have been reading are The Mummies of Urumchi and Women's Work: the First 20,000 Years.

In The Mummies book Dr. Barber uses her knowledge of archaeology, linguistics and the craft of weaving to draw out some amazing information from her study of a set of mummies found in central Asia. The mummies were found in the 1980s and turned out to be several thousand years old. Due to the extremely dry conditions where they were dug up they were well preserved, the colours of their clothing as bright as anything you could buy new today. Dr. Barber could piece together interesting facts about how these people lived and where they came from just from the details of the construction of their clothing.

One of the interesting things about the mummies is that they are Caucasian, not Mongoloid. Their hair is brown and they have the big noses typical of Caucasians. Some of them are well over six feet tall. Urumchi is located in western China, an area now inhabited by Uighurs, who are also Caucasian in origin. It is quite possible that they are direct descendants of the people who left the mummies there. The mummies were collected from ancient cemeteries in the region, in particular from the Tarim Basin which is one of the bleakest deserts in the world.

Among other things Dr. Barber says that these were Indo-Iranian people who kept sheep and wove textiles from their wool. They also made felt products. One mummy had brightly coloured felt leggings, an infant wore a beautiful blue felt bonnet.

The Silk Road, the route taken by merchants and traders between the far east and the near east, passes through the Tarim Basin. One branch follows the northern edge of the desert, another follows the southern edge. Ancient documents describe some of the people living along that route, and between those documents and what can be gleaned from the mummified remains, it is probable that these were people who moved westward into that bleak part of the world in order to live in relative peace. They were not warriors.

The infant with the blue bonnet was buried close to another grave containing a man and two women. The infant was buried with a "baby bottle" fashioned from a sheep's udder. Dr. Barber guesses that one of the women in the other grave was its mother; someone tried to keep the infant alive with sheep's milk and a baby bottle but failed.

I am halfway through the other book, Women's Work. This book focuses on the ancient history of textile making, in particular spinning and weaving. It is rare to find textiles in very old archaeological sites, they simply don't survive. The mummies of Urumchi are very unusual in that regard. However, the imprint of textiles are sometimes found on clay objects, and sometimes clay or stone objects associated with spinning (spindle whorls) and weaving (warp weights) can be found. Also there are depictions of textile making in some ancient ceramics and wall paintings.

Ancient peoples were not particularly modest, they wore clothing for warmth and/or decoration, but not to hide "private" body parts. Also, they were more tolerant of cooler temperatures than many of us moderns are, going naked or near naked in temperatures most of us would prefer to be clothed in. Woven textiles were probably preceded by belts and string skirts. In fact Dr. Barber talks of a "string revolution", how a whole new dimension of tool making was opened with the invention of string. Think of all the things you can do with a bit of string.

Dr. Barber thinks that string skirts were probably the first bit of non-essential clothing invented. They would have been specifically intended to draw attention to a woman's fertility. Of course, you need something to attach the strings to, this would have been a kind of belt or strap, or girdle. The first fibres used in the making of these strings and belts would have been plant fibres like hemp or flax. These plants provide long strong and flexible fibres to work with. In those days wool was not yet available because sheep were not yet woolly. The first domesticated sheep would have been more hairy than woolly, and they would have been kept only for their meat. But along the way woolly sheep were bred and the multiple uses that sheep could be put to---meat, milk, wool---was recognized.

Wool is quite different from hemp or linen (flax). It takes a dye better and it is more stretchy. It is also a relatively short fibre. Yarn spun from wool is not as strong as the longer-fibred hemp and linen yarn. For this reason somewhat different weaving techniques were developed to handle it, in particular twill instead of plain weave, which put less tension on the warp threads.

In Egypt wool was rare, most clothing was constructed from linen. Since it does not dye well ancient Egyptian clothing was plain white. Instead of coloured textiles Egyptians adorned themselves with jewelry. In other areas where wool was more available people generally wore two or more layers of clothing, an inner plant-based layer and an outer wool-based layer. The wool layer could be brightly coloured and woven in interesting designs. Wool was scratchy so it was nice to have softer plant-fibres against one's skin. The French term "lingerie" derives ultimately from the term "linen".

Looms used for weaving were of several types. Egyptians used a horizontal loom staked out on the ground. This would have been very appropriate in a warm dry climate where you could set up outdoors where there is lots of space.

Another type was semi-vertical, the warp (the long direction of the textile) hung from a horizontal bar and was held in place by clay weights tied to the bottom end of the warp. This was the warp-weighted loom. This type of loom could be used indoors because it took up less floor space, it was better suited to cooler and wetter climates than a horizontal loom. But since it was set up to lean against another vertical surface, it could be moved around, indoors and outdoors if needs be. Warp weights have been found in many locations in Europe, it is safe to assume that this was the main type of loom used there.

The third major type was a vertical loom without weights, instead the warp was attached to both an upper and a lower horizontal bar. This type of loom was usually anchored to the floor by two vertical poles inserted in holes. It is thought that this was the main type of loom east of Europe since no warp weights have been found east of Kiev or south of the Black Sea.

Textile making was largely a women's activity. It was highly compatible with minding children and could be done in the home or nearby. Dr. Barber says that textile making was a hugely time consuming activity, more time consuming than anything else that humans did. Men also wove, but it was predominantly women's work.

Once invented, textiles became very popular and were in great demand. The earliest trade caravans packed tin for bronze making and textiles. Graves were filled with piles of clothing. It was also a prized item for theft; the word "robber" has the same root as the word "robe". Women in every culture spun and wove, it was probably considered as important if not more important than childrearing. Only highborn women did not, instead they were responsible for overseeing other women in those activities.

When industrialization got started in Europe, the first industry to be mechanized was textile making. This necessitated moving the activity out of the home and into the factory. Yanking women out of their homes and into factories was probably the single most disruptive aspect of industrialization.

Dr. Barber shows how the movement of peoples around Eurasia can be traced through the different styles and designs of textiles they left behind. The Celts of Europe are probably distantly related to the people of the Tarim Basin, as shown by their common use of twills and plaids, and also by some linguistic commonalities. Dr. Barber wrote these books in the 1990s when the use of DNA evidence for tracing human movements was still in its infancy; she looked forward to a time when that could be used to contradict or to corroborate her ideas about those movements based on her own studies of textiles and linguistics.

Other than Egypt Dr. Barber does not discuss the history of textile making in Africa, nor in the Americas. She touches only briefly on south and east Asia. Silk textiles were important in east Asia and cotton in south Asia and the Americas. Each of these types of fibres are quite different and require different techniques and tools for manipulating.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A very busy morning

Busy morning today. Got up early to go to the sawmill, I had called them a couple of weeks ago about getting lumber for new garden frames and was told that the guys are in the woods all day and if I want to talk to them I have to come early. I hate early. So today, two weeks later, I finally drag myself out there at 8am. Took Hapi with me so she wouldn't howl while I was gone, but had to put her in the front of the truck so there'd be room for the lumber in the back. And I couldn't let her out once we got to the sawmill due to the big black sawmill dog and the mud. Even if she managed not to get into a fight with the sawmill dog she would still have tracked mud into the truck cab. Mud in the back is one thing, mud in the front quite another.

They cut up some boards for me and loaded them into the truck. While that was happening the sawmill owner senior enquired as to my marital status, he opined that it was good for a single woman to have a Big Dog. I wondered if the big black sawmill dog was a statement about his own marital status or what.

I was home by 8.30am and Hapi never got out of the truck until then, I don't think she was impressed. After unloading the boards into the shed I put her back in the truck, this time in the back, and headed off to New Minas for errands and the Kentville Ravine for her walk.

The first stop was to pick up duck eggs for Easter Egg painting. Duck eggs are very good for this purpose because they are much smoother than chicken eggs. White chicken eggs are hard to come by these days, the ones in the grocery stores are all stamped and people who sell farm eggs these days only sell brown eggs.

The duck egg lady also sells dog food, she came out to give Hapi treats. Hapi busted the screen on one of the truck cap windows last year so she can poke her head out, I haven't bothered to repair it. So, the duck egg lady hands Hapi a dog treat and Hapi takes it delicately in her mouth and pulls her head in and deposits the treat on the floor and sticks her head out again for more. In this way she soon had a pile of almost a dozen dog treats before the duck lady stopped handing them out.

Next stop was Sobey's, where I hoped to use a raincheque to purchase my favourite chocolate bar but they still don't have them in yet. Then on to Cleve's to exchange a defective pair of hiking shoes for new ones, and Staples to get instructions for a screen kit I bought there a couple of weeks ago. The kit comes from Quebec and the installation instructions, four pages of them, are only in French. I can sort of read them, but I figured with four pages I should probably try to get the English instructions because somehow a four-page instruction set sounds complicated to me.

The Customer Service lady is amazed at the lack of English instructions. They have one more kit still on the shelf and it only has French instructions too. Customer Service lady calls someone from out back who is also amazed, but she goes on the internet and finds English instructions on the manufacturer's website. She prints off a copy for me. It is one page long, the actual instructions taking up less than half a page. We are all amazed. This kit is easier to install in English than in French?

After that my errands are done, so we head to the ravine. I let Hapi out and another truck pulls up too. Hapi and I head to the trail down into the ravine and I look back to see if I recognize the people in the other truck. It appears to be a couple without a dog, a third person is running to catch up with them. We head into the ravine and at the bottom of the hill I give Hapi one of her treats. She buries it by the brook.

Shortly we meet a lady with a young Nova Scotia Duck Toller, the duck toller is keen to play but Hapi does her usual growly aloof thing and walks away. The duck toller's owner asks if my dog dislikes puppies and I say No, she actually likes to play with young dogs but it takes her a long time to warm up. Hardly the words were out of my mouth and Hapi makes a liar of me, she turns and immediately starts chasing the young toller.

I used to have a duck toller so I am familiar with the breed, for those of you who are not they kind of look like a small golden retriever but are a little more hyper. Mine had white markings on his feet, face, chest and tail tip, but this one is all red.

The couple I had seen earlier catch up and I realize that the third person I thought I saw with them was actually their dog, a big black Great Dane. The Great Dane joins Hapi and the toller in play, but now the little toller is kind of freaked out at being chased by two very large dogs. He immediately lies down belly up. The two big dogs sniff him and back away. They stand there waiting, and eventually the toller gets up and runs off, the two big dogs in pursuit once again. They repeat this routine a couple of times and then the toller is more at ease and they just chase each other all around in circles.

Eventually we part company and I follow the folks with the Great Dane to the end of the ravine and then up through a junk yard and loop back down into the ravine on the other side. Hapi and the Great Dane are content just to explore and sniff things, although Hapi manages to chase a couple of squirrels. By the time we return to our trucks the two dogs are quite muddy.

While walking we were chatting about this that and t'other thing, and something they told me is that the coyotes around here were actually introduced by the provincial government. Apparently they introduced them to control the rabbits! That sounds beyond stupid. Don't know how one would check it out though.

I was going to stop at the hardware store to pick up hardware for the garden frames but by the time I was halfway home I decided I had done enough and it could wait for another day. Hapi and I got home again shortly after noon and that was a busy enough day for me!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Early spring playtime

This past week has been record-breaking warm here, downright hot (break out the shorts and T's time) on Thursday. Silly Nova Scotians who went south this week regretted it, the best of Florida was no better than here. Although I bet you could go swimming at the beach there; I don't think I would have chanced it here. We are almost back to "seasonable" now though, big high of +8C today ("seasonable" is +5C). For a couple of days it was cooler indoors than outdoors, I didn't run the furnace or light the fire for several days because the house never cooled off overnight.

I've been getting estimates on cutting down some trees on my property, a line of spruces along the south side, because they block the sun. It turns out that my neighbour on that side is very keen to see those trees gone and has gone so far as to offer to pay part of the cost. However most of the work will have to be done on their property, it is harder to get at those trees from my side than their side, so I am giving them a few days to think about that.

I am actually sitting on the fence on this issue, I like the trees and like the sound of the wind in them and the way that birds can hide in them. I have a feeling that if I cut them down I will discover that they contribute unforeseen benefits by their presence. Will I miss their shade? But having uninterrupted sun all summer long on my garden area would be nice. Presently no part of the back yard qualifies as "in full sun". I wish I could just trim those trees down to half-size, but that is just not doable. In the summer they provide shade for my house during the first half of the morning, I don't know how much of a difference that makes to the heating up of the house then. They don't provide any privacy.

Last night four of us went out for dinner and local theatre: a lovely little restaurant called Pizzazz Bistro and then on to Centrestage Theatre to see "Twelve Angry Jurors", a take-off on Twelve Angry Men. They had a mixed-gender jury.

The restaurant was truly excellent, we all ordered different things and we were all pleased with our food, we would have ordered different wines but ended up drinking the same wine, an Argentinian Malbec. For dessert two of us had cheesecake and two of us had apple cake. The desserts were all circular, and you could order a half-piece and get a semi-circular dessert instead. So many times I have split a dessert with someone that it is kind of nice that the restaurant provides half desserts.

The play was great, they did a great job of adapting it I thought. But I am not one to judge, having never seen the original. The theatre is tiny, I don't think it seats more than 80 or 90 patrons. It is very much a local theatre operation, the theatre staff, actors and many of the audience know each other and joke around (the instructions in case of fire were half serious half silly). All in all it was a most pleasant evening out: good company, good food, good theatre.

Earlier in the day I took Hapi out on the dikes and we met a lady walking her golden retriever. The retriever was young and wanted to play with Hapi, but she was all aloof and growly with the young dog. The woman recognized Hapi and told me her dog's name, Duncan. I remembered meeting her and her dog in the Kentville Ravine several months ago, before winter. Duncan was smaller then, not quite his full size. But I remembered that Duncan and Hapi had very much enjoyed each other, in fact it was the best dogplay Hapi had had since Hiro left.

After 20 minutes of ignoring Duncan Hapi suddenly decided she was ready to play with him, I think she even took Duncan by surprise since he had kind of given up on her by then. But they took off, chasing each other and running through the mud of the tidal flats and drainage ditches. It was a pleasure to watch, although Duncan's owner was concerned about having to load the muddy stinky dog into her car afterward. I suggested we take them to the "Duck Pond" in a nearby park to wash off. The pond is posted with No Dogs Allowed signs, but at this time of year I doubted anyone would accost us.

We got the dogs to the park and they leaped into the pond and had great fun play fighting in the water. They got so hyper that it was near impossible to recapture them and get them leashed up to go our separate ways. Afterward I realized I should have got contact info to organize future play dates for the dogs. Oh well, hopefully another time. At his full adult size Duncan looks smaller than Hapi but he weighs as much as she does. His coat is not nearly as fluffy as hers.

In spite of the wash in the pond, Hapi still stunk of the dike mud. It's not as bad as rolling in manure, but close. Good thing she is an outdoors dog.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More Baxter's Harbour photos

More photos of our walk on Paddy's beach over at the Baxter's Harbour blog. In particular a fabulous photo of Hapi.

Beachcomber asked me to post some of my photos on that blog, but as you will see her photos are so much better than mine that I feel quite inferior in that regard. She has an amazing talent for photography, not to mention a way better camera than mine.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Dog walk on the beach


Went for a walk on Paddy's Beach in the Harbour with beachcomber, who by the way won picture of the month over at Saltscapes Magazine. Not as warm as Thursday butstill sunny and bright. All the snow is gone but as you can see in one or two of these pics there is still a bit of ice.

Phoebe and Hapi chased each other around while Sheila and I clicked away with our cameras. She's expecting me to post some of my photos over at the Baxter's Harbour blog, but she is a way better picture-taker than I am so I think I will just post mine here.

We had a bit of a race with the tide, we knew it was coming in and parts of the beach disappear altogether at high tide so we had to be mindful of that. We timed it perfectly, with a foot or two of beach still left when we headed back.

The Harbour

Beachcomber photographing Hapi

The Harbour waterfall

Rock "drawings"

Beachcomber at work


Paddy's beach

Frozen waterfall

Waves on the cliff

Friday, March 9, 2012

...and the snow geese are flying

I saw snow geese the other day, another sign of spring. They say spring here is 2-3 weeks early. They've started sugaring off already. And all the snow around my place melted yesterday, I see bulbs sprouting. Somehow they got dug up last year and are sitting on the ground surface, not sure what they are yet but they're too big for crocuses or snowdrops.

I went to the Harbour because it was such a gorgeous day, sunny and warm. Ruth is off work for a week after surgery (good news surgery) and Nancy had the day off too (she does shiftwork). We sat on Nancy's deck, Val came by and we walked the dogs. Val's dog Phoebe narrowly missed getting a snout full of quills when she discovered a porcupine under a tree. The porcupine slowly climbed up the tree and I desperately started calling Hapi because she was off in the woods somewhere and I did not want her discovering that porcupine when it was right about her nose-height up that tree. We avoided disaster.

Last year when the time changed it felt way too early, still winter. But the clocks change this weekend and I don't think it will be too early.

Rainy and windy today but tomorrow will be sunny again and wHapi and I are going back to the Harbour for a walk on the beach with beachcomber. Also, the Women's Day Cafe is tonight, local musical women performing, a bunch of us are going to that.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The smelt are running

Today I was shopping at Sobey's, I went because they had my favourite chocolate bar on sale but I also checked out their seafood counter. They had smelt. I asked about them, the fish lady said this was their first batch, the run has just started. Smelt from Sobey's is not quite the same thing as eating them fresh from the river, but still, I asked for one meal's worth.

The best way to eat smelt is right by the river, fresh caught and fried up in butter. They are small enough that you pick one up by the tail and just eat it from your fingers. There are hardly any bones. When they are running, there are so many of them in the river that you can catch them in baskets.

Sunday night we were supposed we were supposed to get 5 cm of snow, but by morning it was obviously a bit more than that. More like 15 cm. It looked beautiful, light and fluffy, piled up on all the tree branches. Monday afternoon we got another 10 cm. but it didn't get much deeper because it was fairly warm and the snow was damp and packing down.

Today I took Hapi down to the Kentville ravine. We haven't been down there very much lately because the one public trail in has been a sheet of ice. It is so steep that it is impassable when it is icy. There is another trail, an 'authorized-personnel-only' trail which is not so steep or icy, but on weekdays the authorized personnel are out in force. I've gone down that trail on weekends with good luck.

Anyway, today the ravine was beautiful in the snow. Hapi ran through the snow looking very happy. She does figure eights around me and I swing my walking poles at her; she ducks and swerves and disappears into the woods, reappearing suddenly a few minutes later running straight at me.

A young couple with three pre-school-aged kids followed us down the trail into the ravine. The oldest girl was nervous of Hapi and kept her mother between her and the dog, but the littlest boy, just barely walking, marched up to Hapi and said, Woof! Woof! Hapi backed up and looked at me, uncertain whether she should be scared of him or not.

After the walk in the ravine and shopping at Sobey's I took Hapi to visit her little admirer, Sidney the King Charles Cavalier spaniel. Sidney is so funny, he really is completely enamored of Hapi and Hapi hardly knows he exists. Today Hapi was lying on the floor and Sidney came up and was sniffing her ear. He was literally blowing in her ear and she kept shaking her head and looking at him, What are you doing!?! She can't figure him out.

I've been having trouble with my knee lately. It started some time ago, I noticed that my knee hurt going up the basement stairs with a load of firewood. Then a couple of weeks ago it got worse, a really sharp pain that was there all the time. So reluctantly I went to the doctor. She thought it might be a meniscal tear and ordered X-rays, although she said if it was a meniscal tear it would not show up in the X-ray. However the X-ray showed significant arthritic deterioration which probably better explains the pain. So I've been on anti-inflammatories to bring down the inflammation and I am now on a wait list to see a physiotherapist. I don't know how long that will take.

The anti-inflammatories are tricky, either they are too weak to have any effect or they are strong enough to make the pain go away but they give me heartburn. There doesn't seem to be a happy medium. The latest anti-inflammatory I am barely tolerating, I will take it until the end of the week and then stop; hopefully the pain will too. At least it does not interfere with walking too much, climbing the basement stairs is the main problem. I've decided that it is because the stair risers are too steep and the treads too narrow. There's really not enough room to redesign them, more shallow stairs would just bring my head closer to the edge of the ceiling going down.

Really the only way to fix the problem is to put the stairs back where they were originally, but that's a major renovation I don't want to do. The only other alternative is to not put firewood in the basement. Have to think about that.

But the main thing is, the smelt are running, spring is just around the corner.