Studying an ancient textile: Learning the how

So much for thread. To determine how I actually have to set up the loom and how high the quality of the cloth is you have to look at several elements. The first is the relationship between the vertical (warp) and horizontal (wefts) threads; are they close together or spread apart, how many are there, and how do they intersect with each other? Because this fragment is composed of several different pieces I have to examine each and take the average values since I don’t want to replicate each piece exactly as it is; that is way too time consuming!

The best measure of how good a piece of cloth is is counting the number of threads per inch. If you have ever bought sheets, you know this as a thread count. You also will have noticed that the higher the number, the softer the sheet. If the wefts are closer together or plain weave you measure them. If the warps are closer together and it is difficult to even see the wefts you measure the warps. There are little magnifiers that help us do this and the average thread count I came up with was 40 wefts per inch. This fragment is woven in plain weave so I measured the wefts.

40 per inch. Great. It doesn’t sound like a lot but when you are making it by hand it is very difficult to get the thread that thin (you will see a lot of complaining once I start spinning). I honestly don’t know if I will be able to manage 40, we’ll see.

I also had to measure the size of each triangle and the parts of each triangle to determine the way the loom would have to be set up.

I measured the two long sides as will as the height of each of the steps

The average width was nine and a half inches and height nine inches which isn’t really big and the steps mean that I won’t actually be weaving a nine by nine and a half inch rectangle so its even less really.

At least it will be pretty easy to weave. Plain weave is easy because you just have to pass the wefts over and under the warp, no fancy tricks involved.

Over and under, easy enough!

Getting the loom set up will be something else though, because other elements of the structure are frankly crazy. These are explained in the “What is a Wari tie dye” page and I will go into more detail as I begin the long journey of putting this together. I will simply end this section by saying that unraveling these more complex steps cannot be accomplished simply with the right equipment. You need to have a degree of what I call textile literacy, an understanding of how textiles work and what has to have been done in order for a certain effect to be achieved.

In the same way that we all learn to read and write in different languages, people in the Andes learned (and still learn today) to weave and understand these methods of production. This textile would have been recognized as a symbol of status because everyone knew how difficult it was to make and therefore how rich and powerful you had to be to own it. I will explain more about this in the next post about why they invented such crazy methods.

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4 Responses to Studying an ancient textile: Learning the how

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3. Nancy Latham says:

How interesting your work and methods are! Thank you so much for allowing us to read this article and see the photos. I am a life long lover of textiles and had I known about such things, I would have loved to train as a conservator. (I like fiddly hand work requiring patience so I think I would have been good at it, too.)

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