Posts Tagged With: central asia

Spinning Wheel Project: The just under $20 Historical style Spinning Wheel

Some may have noted that I have a slight…interest…with researching yurts, Central Asia, nomads, the Silk Road, etc.  Some may also have noted that I also have a tendency towards fiber tools and fiber.  In the past couple of weeks some of the research I’ve been working on has worked it’s way into being a rough but extremely useful fiber tool. I’m really tickled.  Rurik and I worked together.  I did the research, pattern development, testing, critique, string tyeing, and held things.  He did the screwing, drilling, cutting, chiseling, and glueing.  It was actually a really fun date night and following day:>.  I have no doubt that the next one will take less time for the initial set up.

Here is the first of what I hope to be several better made Spindles Wheels.  The origin of the Spinning Wheel was either India or China and is a hotly debated topic but the tech of these original wheels can be found in various styles thru out the Silk Road areas. There are only a few illustrations of these wheels in period but I feel that this design holds with the basics of those illustrations and with commonly used Asian style wheels.  These wheels made their way into Europe and underwent various changes to give us out modern European type wheels as well as historical Great Wheels.  In India the Spindle Wheel, known as a Charhka, became the focal point of Ghandi’s nonviolent movement to win freedom from Britain.  There are a number of styles of the upright spindle wheels still in use thru out India, Asia, Central Asia, and some Islamic counties.

Here is our first Spindle Wheel.  I need to learn how to do this better and come out with a more finished wheel.  That being said it spins like a dream and I can spin high quality silk embroidery thread on it already. I’m tickled to have a wheel that will be appropriate for my persona use within the SCA context:>. It is traditionally used for Silk reeling, spinning, cotton, and winding bobbins so this one tool provides multiple functions.  I like to sit on the floor with it either in front or beside me to spin.  The sound of the fiber on the point is very soothing and spinning on this wheel can provide a very calming experience:>.
The wheel itself is made out of inexpensive soft wood and cost $19.54 in supplies.  I used knitting needles given to me by a friend and wooden wheels I had on hand from Michael’s as well.  The string was also from stash.

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Weaving Projects: How to make a Yurt Band on a Nomadic Ground Loom, Part One

Yurt Band
Yurts have a long history of use in Central Asia and are comprised of a circular lattice wall, roof poles, and a roof ring.  Straps are woven and wrapped around the lattice and the roof poles to help tighten and strengthen the structure.  In keeping with the nomadic lifestyle the traditional loom used is a ground loom.    The ground loom is traditionally staked out beside the yurt and can feature either a continuous warp or have the warp stretched the entire length of the piece.  This loom can be used to weave the straps and bands used for yurts as well as pile, soumak, and kilim technique carpets.  In creating a yurt band one source cites that it can take between 1 and 3 years to complete the band.

The band we bought at Pennsic this past summer measures 48 feet long and appears to be made of hand dyed and hand spun wool or wool/goat mix fiber.  The fiber itself is coarse and strong.   The wool yarn is formed of a tightly twisted 2 ply yarn.  The band is 48 feet long, 16 inches wide, and has a weaving sett of 16 ends per inch. The weft is brown and in areas where a lot of picking up of the design has occurred the brown weft shows through in between alternating rows of dark and light warp.  Verla Birrell lists  a two pick up stick method to achieve this which appears  very labor intensive.   The main theme of the band remains fairly constant but has a few variations which may have been mistakes, learning opportunities, or simply stem from a desire to do something slightly different.  These instances could also mark a place where a different weaver began working the design although there doesn’t appear to be any distinguishable difference in how tightly the weft has been beaten in those areas from the rest of the piece.  The colors are lovely though a bit faded, attesting to the age of the piece and it’s use outdoors as a band.   I believe the original colors may have been traditional pairings of red and blue, blue and white, and brown and white.   Interestingly the band fits our 16 foot diameter, amateur built  yurt perfectly and ties on at the doors exactly.


The design starts with a solid reddish row which is the background row.  The next row is red with blue pebbles ie. two red picks, 2 blue picks, 2 red, 2 blue, etc.  When the pattern  is on the solid background row it has pebbles of background within the design every pair…RRRRbbRRbbRRRR…but when the pattern is picked in a speckled or pebbled row the pattern is solid with no pebbles/speckles.  The piece is warped so that all the patterning on it is done in pairs causing two of each color to be picked up to achieve each part of the design if you were to graph it out on paper.  Bands of plainweave stripes separate the central design on either side then a smaller framing design is used followed by a wide band of plainweave on both sides of the main design.  There are no more than 3 row floats used in the design which is very important with this method for durability.

beginning of band

The method of weaving used to make the band is called the Warp Substitution Method.  With this type of weaving a loom with 2 sheds using 2 pickup sticks or 4 to 6 heddles can be used.  The simple 2 shed ground loom is used traditionally in Central Asia and fits the need for sparseness of equipment and ease of transport.   Yurt bands are a traditional item to weave and are, according to traveler Karen Page who is a noted felter and teacher, easy to find right now in town markets  in Kyrgyzstan although her pictures were of very brightly, probably analine or acid dyed pieces.  One  photo on the website Flickr actually showed a non-traditional hybrid style of rigid heddle loom at use in a business to produce yurt bands.  Unfortunately the photo was oddly labeled and I have yet to be able to relocate it.


If you go to about halfway down the page there is a picture of a young Karakalpak woman using a ground loom to create a yurt band.  It appears to be a continuous warp.  The person has a padded seat which rests with one layer on top of the warp just woven and the rest underneath it.  From the tripod hangs only one heddle and behind it a shed stick is placed to create a second shed.  Variations of this basic loom appear to be fairly universal in the Yurt dwelling nomad cultures who are still practicing traditional weaving and can also be found in the Middle East among nomadic, rug weaving groups.  The simplicity of this loom seems to suggest that the method of warping it would be the pairings of light and dark warp threads which would initially create a solid light shed then a solid dark shed when the sheds are changed.


The use of Pickup weaving forms the basis of the warp substitution method or pebbleweave method.  According to Birrell (p. 121) its been used since “remote” times in Africa, Syria, Norway, and Sweden.  In North America, Mexico, Central America, and South America it is woven by indigenious populations.  “Warpfaced belt weaves containing pickup patterns which resemble someof the workof the Peruvian Indians of today, hae een found in ancient Peruvian sites which may date back from 2500 to 1200 B. C.” (Birrell, p. 121).  The conditions in these areas was favorable for the perservation of textiles in graves just as in the Tarim River Basin finds along the Silk Road sites in Central Asia.  Unfortunately I have not been able to find records of extant pieces of this technique yet for Central Asia although there are other examples of advanced techniques such as tapestry, soumak, kilim, and brocade. There are two items to consider for this technique: first is that warp faced patterns are best created when the pattern yarns contrast starkly in color and value from the yarns used for the background hence traditional pairings such as black and white, red and blue, yellow and green, and so on.  The second is that the yarns used to form the pattern can be heavier then those of the background to give more visual weight to the design thereby causing it to pop out at the eye of the viewer.  This is not true, however, for the yurt band from Central Asia that we purchased on consignment from a merchant at Pennsic.  In the actual weaving of this type of piece knitting needles or pickup sticks can be used for picking the pattern and speeding the design work although a skilled weaver could easily use their fingers on smaller width pieces.  The “sheds found beneath the picked up yarns are held open with shed swords turned sideways in the warp”. (Birrell, p. 123)

Interestingly the Central Asia yurt bands which use the warp substitution method share many similiarities with pebbleweave bands from Central and South America in terms of both design and technique.  These bands are also known as Peruvian Pebbleweave.   Marla Mallett’s article discusses technique generated designs and may be applicable to this situation.

…to be continued with instructions and photos forthcoming…


“The Textile Arts” by Virla Birrell

“The Art of  Bolivian Highland Weaving: Traditional Techniques for the Modern Weaver” by Majorie Cason and Adele Cahlander

“The Book of Looms” by Eric Broudy

“Spinning and Weaving with Wool” by Paula Simons

“Folk Designs From the Caucasus for Weaveing and Needlework” by Lyatif Kerimov

“Inkle Weaving” by Helen Bress

“The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book” by Rachel Brown

Web Resources Eve the Just’s Pickup weaving tutorial Eve the Just’s video tutorial (use the blue and white method) An awesome site about the people, culture, and history of Karakalpakastan Sara Lamb’s tutorial and exceptional site (hint, she has a Yurt) Wonderful site on Beduin Ground looms which are very similar to Central Asian ground looms

Additional book for cardweavers wishing to create a similiar look using cardweaving…

“Two-Hole Andean Pebble Weave for ages 10 and up” by Linda Hendrickson

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Felt items throughout History project: The Tarim River Basin Mummies

I am working on compiling a list of all the extant felt items I can find in historical order.  First the Tarim Mummies and related finds then I will move on to S. I. Rudenko’s “Frozen Tombs of Siberia” and work on the Sycthian finds followed by Aural Stein’s finds. This is a quick overview for historical reenactors in research for arts and sciences projects and as a simple jumping off point to help educate those unfamiliar with the long and amazing history of Felt.  This doesn’t represent every single felt find and is meant to whet the appetite for deeper research into the subject and not as a comprehensive guide.

The earliest  reference I have found to felt comes from J.P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair’s book “The Tarim Mummies and states that a felt rug dating to 2600 b.c. was found in Beycesultan in Anatolia on the floor of a shrine.   The Catal Huyuk excavations were lead by James Mellaart from 1961 to 1965.  Mellaart was a British archeologist researching the oldest evidence of a city.  This was a Neolithic era trade city with evidence of both trade and religious activites.  In the course of the excavations  two pieces of evidence  for a well developed use of felt were discovered.  The first is artistic in nature from a chamber which had a mural painted onto the wall which measured 6 x 4.5 meters (Johnson, p. 124) and which used curvilinear decorative details stylistically  similar to those still used in the region for felt carpets.   The second evidence was  found in the 1963 excavation in which pieces of fiber fragments believed to be animal in origin were found by an botanist working with the expedition by the name of Hans Helbaek.  Catal Huyuk is believed to have had a thorough knowledge of the use of both woven and plant based fibers from as early as 6500 bc to 6300 bc.  For an indepth discussion of Catal Huyuk and early fiber production Elizabeth Barber is a wonderful and informative author whose books carefully balance with necessary archeological facts with easy to follow explanations of the actual production techniques believed to have been used for felting, weaving, and sewing.

Two wonderful books about the Tarim Rive Basin Mummies of Central Asia…
“The Mummies of Urumchi” by Elizabeth Weyland Barber
“The Tarim Mummies” by J.P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair

Prefelts—The stockings of the mummy Ur-David, also known as Charchan Man,  from Ancient China—first mentioned on page 8.   ” knee high socks of matted wool fibres (not quite felt) were as brightly colored as a rainbow- with horizontal stripes of flame red and golden yellow, but occasionally alternating with the most deliciously faint blue imaginable”. (Mallory and Mair, p.8-9) If you look closely at the bottom of the visible sock it appears to have felted and the customary pebbled surface can be seen up past the ankle but that could also be a trick of the light or a result somehow of the burial.   By the top of the sock, however, the wool appears loose and not fully enmeshed as it would be with true felting so it’s definite that it has not been fulled.

The felt in the pictures of the mummy, named Ur-David,  is beautiful and extremely colorful like roving for sale currently on or eBay and just as bright as any acid dyed piece.  It’s absolutely amazing how well preserved and bright the colors are.  By wrapping the roving around the legs then putting on the leather boots then walking about the wool would have started to felt to itself just as wool stuffed into the soles of shoes will felt with constant use.  The mummy must have been a man of importance as he was found buried with ten hats.   A picture of the Ur-David mummy, the woman, and the baby found buried with him can be seen at…

Zaghunluq Tarim Mummies, Cherchen / Qiemo, Xinjiang, China

Felt Hat

Felt Hat 1000 b.c.

The blanket stitch borders of this hat stand out and are still used as an edging by modern embroiderers which is a wonderful testament to the cleverness and resourcfulness of these people.

Baby with Blue Bonnet

This baby was found in the grave with Ur-David and is assumed to have been in his family.  The baby’s head is wrapped with a brilliant blue bonnet of wool felt which I’m still trying to determine whether it’s true felt or prefelt like the man’s leg wrappings.

Felt hat on a Tarim mummy


and another at

Tarim Mummy

While the above hat with blanket stitching appears to have been made as a flat felt piece then stitched together these two mummies appear to have felt hats that are seamless.  Both techniques are used in modern felting.  Below are links for instructions…

Fabulous Felt Hats” by Chad Alice Hagen

The Beauty of Loulan

The “Beauty of Kroran” or “The Beauty of Loulan”, found in the Uyghur region along the Towan River had a foot of hair which was “rolled up within a distinctive headdress made of felt over a woven base and topped with two goose feathers”. This statement makes me anxious to learn more. Is the woven base a separate piece with a secondary piece made of felt over it or is it the earliest know example of “laminate felting” which is currently being taught in several variations throughout the modern felting world? How is the felt joined to the woven base or is it joined at all?  Further into Mallory and Mair’s text (p. 212) a more complete description is given saying she “wore a woollen hood consisting of an underlay of two pieces of dark-brown woollen cloth covered by a weather-resistant felt overlay.”  Is this two undercaps, a single cap of woollen fabric with a seam, or laminated felt?  The answer to that question would tell us immediately whether or not laminate felting was used. Certainly the technology existest to lay out a layer of felt then a loosely woven piece of wool fabric then more wool to continue with the felting process. When taking a class from Mehmet Ghirgic and Theresa May-Obrian the “canvas” that we used was muslin fabric on one side with felt embedded into it on the otherside. We were able to use less wool and get a very sturdy yet supple result. The mummy dates circa 2000-1800 b.c. and has been made into a national icon and source of pride for the Uyghur people. —This link has a more complete photo.

A similiar grave find of a woman from approximately the same time period  of circa 1800 b.c. revealed a yellow felt hat decorated with red cords while the mummy of an old woman wore a cap of dark brown felt with an outer cap of yellow felt which was adorned with 2 feathers.  In a cementary know as Ordek’s necropolis the grave of a young man yielded another felt hat which was of a similiar style and had 5 feathers in it for ornamentation.  These hats had common elements of feathers, cord, and earflaps which could be tied under the chin and were found on both male and female mummies.

The finds made in the Tarim Basin contained pieces of textiles made of felt, wool, silk, cotton, and even one pair of pants made from a repurposed tapestry thought to be imported from the West based off the style of weave and dyes used in it.  (Mallory, Mair, p.155)  The earliest finds contain the simplest textiles with complexities such as seams, dyeing, and ornamentation appearing as the centuries went by.  The felt found in these graves included blankets, rugs, socks, hats, and dolls.

For further information for modern  laminate felting, nuno felting, and Osman felting

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