A Belt for Mark

by Halima al-Rakkasa

Preamble

I've been playing with sprang for a few years, in snippets of time, making little pouches for largesse. Those wee projects are wonderful for allowing experiments without requiring commitment of large blocks of time. I've learned that synthetics are OK yarns, but not wonderful, that cotton can make -wonderful- projects providing it has enough twist, that wool's propensity for catching is out-weighed by the beautiful result, and that linen creates lovely definition of pattern provided it has enough twist.

A few things I've kept for myself: a long pouch in Egyptian cotton (that looks a bit like that in a miniature, but without the miniature's tassel), a small wool pouch (dyed with onionskin, spun and plied on a handspindle), a cap in Egyptian cotton that goes under my headdress. And I have all those learning pieces (they are -not- mistakes!).

I put off creating a belt because, well, it's a longer project. Then Master Mark asked for one ("braies cord"), specifically in the Bishop Timotheos style. How can I resist any further?

Synopsis

Belt: sprang, in wool, in period color(s), in period design, approximately 2 inches (5 cm) wide by a waist circumference of 34-ish inches plus whatever it takes to tie it
Test with commercial wool yarn of size similar to the handspun. First one with 12 wraps (equalling 24 warp yarns). Second one with 24 wraps (48 warp yarns).
Final piece using spindle-spun natural grey wool 2-ply yarn, 18 wraps (36 warps) to come closer to target dimensions.

Begin with soumak, a doubled yarn twined about itself so that every wrap goes under a warp yarn; two rows to create a herringbone. Stabilizes ends.

Standard sprang technique, incorporating grouped warps to create a pattern of six holes in a triangle.

Repeat soumak to stabilize section, and visually define it.

Main section using alternating rows of Z- and S-twisted pairs.

At center, with no more room to work, chainstitch warps of top side, then underside, and tie off to finish.

Discussion

This piece is "in the style of" the pants' cord of Bishop Timotheos, buried in southern Egypt, as recorded in "The Clothing of a Fourteenth Century Nubian Bishop" by Elisabeth Grace Crowfoot, published in "Studies in Textile History" and edited by Veronika Gervers.

On the first piece, I discovered how much more resilient wool is than cotton or linen, especially in longer projects. The springy quality of the wool meant that the piece was incredibly enthusiastic about creating coils, no matter the washing and pressing; with some serious steaming, it might be convinced to lie flat, but any encounter with water would re-energize it.

When I saw that curl appear, I tried switching the direction of the twisting of the yarn pairs every inch or so. That created alternating sections of curl. I tried switching the twist direction every couple of rows, and that was better, but wobbly.

In the second piece of 24 wraps, the wobble was reduced but still there.

Further delving into Peter Collingwood's book on sprang yielded a method that resulted in alternating rows of Z- and S-twisted pairs, and a flat piece of sprang!

This technique of reversing alternating rows to create a flat piece is not prove-ably medieval period. However, for all the antiquity of the technique, used around the world (websites listing artifacts available upon request), there are an insufficient number of extant items to say it was never used in this fashion. What we have shows sprang was used for caps, hairnets, pouches, leggings, and belts, with the use of combinations of Z- and S-twist to create texture and pattern, and using grouped yarns to create mesh patterns.

Technique is as follows, working right to left as usual; note that a -full- twist is required, but is half-undone in the succeeding row:

Z
Begin with: lift bottom 2 out to R, let the left-most drop over the first top warp, thereby holding right-most bottom warp at top and right-most top warp at top beside it.

Continue with: lift bottom warp up to right and then over top warp, dropping it so that the top warp stays on top.
End with the full twist of the right-most of the part and the last top warp dropped.
S
Begin with: interlink the two right-most top threads so that the left of the pair lifts up and over the right, and around to remain up, while the formerly right-most warp drops to the bottom.

Continue with: press top warp to the right, down and around the next bottom warp to return to the top again.

End with interlinking the last two warps so that the left-most twines around and remains at the top.
Repeat the above, alternating Z and S until done; finish with chaining warps or running a stay-thread between the top and bottom warps.

The take-up was negligible; a yarn stretched taut at eight feet is now seven feet relaxed and completed. This is best worked stretched out, as working it around a frame tripled or quadrupled the time (perhaps because it was wool and "sticky"); when I finally laid it out on a 1x2 board to sprang it, I discovered I could finish three to three and a half inches per hour (but double that, because three inches at one end is also three inches at the other!). I estimate the next one will take 12-16 hours to complete; I have to test that figure!

I like the result. So much so that it is hard to let it go to its proper home. I plan to make more!

More photos of this project