Thursday, June 1, 2006

Smelting Fleece, or Fleecing the Smelt, or...

Okay, so it's a weird title for a post, but it works for me.

We didn't actually do any smelting, just prep work for it. The actual smelt is still a week and a half away.

For those of you who haven't been following me around for the past year, or haven't wandered anally retentively through each and every last post in the archives... I have this weird hobby where I sometimes get to dress like a woman who might have lived in the Viking Era, and do things that Vikings might have done, and get paid for it too. When I'm not getting paid, I do research.

For me, that research has turned me into a fibre junkie. You know - natural dyeing, spinning, weaving, etc. No, I don't knit. *gasp* It just isn't my thing.

For Darrell and the boys, it's iron smelting. Originally, I think he wanted to smelt iron the way the Vikings would have done it. Lots of serious research on archaeological remains and all. Now I think he's just obsessed.

Not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I'm obsessed about fibre. Or fiber, depending on your country of origin or spelling preferences. Despite being fiercely Canadian in so many other spelling matters, I must confess - I prefer 'fiber'.

So where was I?

Right - last weekend. Last weekend, the hubby and I went up to the Wareham Forge homestead and the fun ensued.

First, let me talk about the weather - both days had temperatures in the 30's with a humidex that pushed it into the 40's. Now, let's set the scene on the ground. The Wareham Forge homestead has something called an esker running through it - picture lots and lots of annoying stones with a sprinkling of topsoil.

So Saturday morning dawns and we sit around drinking coffee, until the urge to move hits us - the boys go outside to sweat and toil, and Vandy and I make good our escape.

We went off to a little bit of fiber heaven - also known as a sheep farm.

We got there just as the last sheep was being shorn, so unfortunately I have no 'before' pictures.... just the naked sheep. Their eyes reflect strangely when a flash is used.

We did get there in time to watch the farm's doggie getting sheared...

And we met Elvis...

Don't ask. I don't know why this rooster was named after the king of rock and roll.

Vandy and I both came home with fleeces. Mine is from a sheep named Ely, and she's a moorit (reddish chocolate brown). Vandy's sheep was named Greta, who is a musket (light greyish-brown). Yup, that's right. Sheep grow themselves in colour. It's not all white.

Sorry, no pics of the fleece. I just wasn't thinking. If you want to see coloured sheep fleece, you can go back to February's archives and watch me playing with a black Icelandic fleece.

Anyway, I'm all keen to send my fleece off to a fiber mill to get turned into commercial roving. That experience with the black Icelandic was enough to teach me that I really just don't like the processing parts of preparing the fleece for spinning and that someone else with big modern machines can do it for me with much gratitude. See? This is where researching the Viking methods and the fiber junkie go their separate ways.

It's okay, it happens to the best of us. The key is to not pretend or deny that we're substituting a modern method. And to not use the modern method when the museum is paying you. It's an important detail.

Which brings me to the smelt preparations.

When we got back from the sheep farm, we were stunned (okay, I was - I'm not sure about Vandy) to see four large wooden posts sticking out of the ground near the pond. And the ground had been flattened, and railway ties added to make for a firm edge to the pond. That's the part that relates back to the obscene temperatures and the rock infested ground. It was the beginning of this....

.... which actually got roofed the next day. Imagine doing all the physical labour involved to dig out holes for the posts, and carving the riverbank with that heat, and rocks a'plenty. I would have played the girl card if I'd been there.

The next day 'though, I did help out...

... by mixing up the clay cobb with Selena, so that Kevin (the bent over guy) could make the smelter itself. Kevin took our cobb in handfuls and deposited them between two metal forms ....

... and then Ken took a big stick and tamped it all down nice and tight.

Now of course, the Vikings wouldn't have had nice flat metal sheets to help make a smelter, or newspaper so the clay releases cleanly. But that's some of those modern methods that make our life easier thing that we don't pretend about.

The guys who've done the research theorize that the Vikings _might_ have used wooden forms to make the smelter and then just burned them down around the smelter since the wood will burn at a lower temperature then the clay. There's no archaeological evidence about the _method_ of building a smelter. There's very little archaeological evidence about how it was _used_ in this era.

That's where we get the concept of experimental archaeology. Take what we do know, and try to make it work.

But I digress.... here's Kevin putting the finishing touches on the smelter building.

Darrell's got some good shots in his temp folder, taken the day after we all left.

There'll be all kinds of pictures and words about this most recent project on the DARC website eventually, in the Iron section. Neil's slower to write those up then the bloggers amongst us are.

*sigh* Now, I'm doing it. I'm actually getting quite tired of the way the group is getting taken over by the iron smelting, but here I am blathering on way more about it then the fiber stuff, and showing y'all lots of pics.

So.... anyway, when we got home from that excitement there were a few more flowers out in the garden. Here's one to tide us all over til the next post. It's the very last tulip picture of the year.



Craftygrrrl said...

sadly I was unable to attend the shearing but some lovely friends will be picking up jesse's fleece at murder melee for me.

If you are looking for a mill I highly recommend Lindenhoff but be prepared to wait a few months for your fleece to come back as they are very busy but so worth the wait! They processed the white Alpaca fleece I bought last summer and it is great!

Diana said...

Sounds like a perfectly marvelous way to spend a weekend. (That is one strange rooster, though. I had to look and look at the picture to figure out where the head was.)

Mother of Invention said...

Wow! You have an interesting hobby! Not into fibre myself, besides Raisin Bran! HA! But it is so nice to see a Canadian Blogger! I look at quite a few and yours is the first I've come many are from the USA.
There are just certain things we can relate to better from inside the same county!

Saga said...

Very interesting to read about your and your family's ventures in viking age living history, since its also my hobby. Just wonder at what occasions/places you do living history. I mean: here in the North we do it in cooporation with the local historical museums, but where do a canadian do it...?