Adventures in Research
By THL Cassandra of Glastonbury (Alexis Abarria)

This tale starts with a loom and a desire to exhibit my weaving. After getting miserable results in bean count arts-and-sciences (A&S) competitions displaying hand-woven trim and cloth, I asked for advice.
I was told that the problem was not with my work but with my venue and display. Bean counts were not my best form of competition because my work is not flashy. Bean counts are ranked by the general populace. "Try formal A&S competitions," I was told. "And find a way to display your work that is pleasing to the eye."
The improved display was easy. I got a quilt rack. It keeps my cloth and trim organized and off the tables. I even have a mini-rack to use if all I am displaying is trim. The rack puts the cloth at eye level and is designed for displaying work. Problem solved.

The Need to Research

Research was another issue. I just wanted to weave. Why did I need to read about other people weaving? I had my hands full with designing trim, looking at four-harness patterns, and responding to four looms with projects begging for my attention. I had not figured out that research would be a great way to spend hot summer days when I did not want yards of cloth wound around by my legs.
I found the criteria for the "Weaving-Loom" category in the SCA’s A&S Handbook and off I went. Since the loom was warped and I had already started weaving, I did my research backward from what I had started. Never again! Bad move! I was fortunate that I was able to document what I had already woven. The criteria proved to be a valuable starting point.
My first foray into documentation at the Regional level netted encouragement and useful pointers. I repaired the documentation in time for the Kingdom level A&S competition. The useful pointers included questions about where I would have gotten my raw materials and what I planned to do with the finished article. I am embarrassed to say that I had not thought that far ahead.
The kingdom-level A&S competition was different. I have since formed the opinion that judges should be warranted and pass a written comprehension test after I read a comment wondering what I was going to do with what I had woven. Was I going to use it for trim or a belt? (NOTE: the title on the documentation was "Inkle Woven Trim"). To be charitable, if I had spent all day staring at cloth and documentation, I would probably be lucky to remember my own name. But once again, I did find some useful comments and suggestions. Having judged, I understand much better about brain overload and judging out of one’s area of expertise.

More Research

With the first attempt out of the way, I started to really hit the books. In an Internet weaving group, I innocently asked for further reading material. That is when I first heard the term ‘archaeological textile.’ Get thee to a library.
I found that the inter-library loan system is my best resource. Librarians are very helpful people. Let’s just say the file of books they ordered for me is a thick one. Not all of the books were helpful, but when I found a good one, it more than made up for all the books I merely skimmed.
I suggest that you take any recommended reading list with caution. The writer has his/her own area of focus and it may not match yours. Also since the writing of the list, several new and wonderful books have been published.
I spent months alternating between weaving and reading for the next Regional competition. I severely revamped my documentation. I added many pictures of woven goods and drafts. I kept finding many good bibliographies on the Internet and through e-groups. I read my way through them. By the next regional competition, I had better documentation and an understanding of research.

Delving Into the Arcane

I found the next stage is a search for the obscure and unusual - cloth of gold, shaggy pile, Norwegian tapestry, medieval weaving guilds. Don’t worry - you will get it out of your system - after weaving or writing an article. Can’t let the research go to waste! Also, be prepared to find a book or article pertaining to your topic right after your work is made public.

Branching Out

So where do we go from here? Look up and down the process of your research. What are your raw materials and what is your finished product used for? My line looks like this: raw fiber – yarn – dyeing – WEAVING – sewing into something – embellishment – wearing.

Living History Research

My research has entered another phase. I call it, “living history.” This operates on one principle – does it work? Consider the following:

· Can one person perform the art/science or does it take two? How much help would you have really had? How much help do you have now? I cannot employ a spinning woman, but I can buy commercially spun yarn.
· When would I have found the time to do my art/science? Is it my job, hobby, or one part of my duties?
· What would have been my distractions - family, children, and household chores?
· How comfortable is the garb? (If this is not your best court garb, can you do daily chores in it?)
· Is the garb a fire hazard? (ie, unfitted Viking aprons without a belt)
· How badly will it show stains and wear? Does that matter? The difference is between Twelfth Night court garb and Pennsic garb.
· How long should I expect the item to last? And did it?
· Does the garb waste a lot of material? (With the effort it takes to weave, it’d better not - consider that silk velvet went trade weight for gold.)
· How stable is the weaving pattern? (Long floats snag easily. If the cloth is to be used for curtains to hang around the bed, not a problem. But this is not a desirable feature for a cloak.)



Summary

Research does not have to be scary or drudgery. You can find it a never-ending source of inspiration and ideas. Get thee to a library!