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I’ve long been fascinated by Swedish folk art textiles and when I heard that Ystad museum had a temporary exhibition on woven cushions and wall hangings from the local area I just had to go there. The textiles dated from the 18th to the early 20th century, but they also had a few pieces showing the long tradition of these weaving types from very early on (Coptic, Viking Age, High Medieval etc). The exhibition really made me want to learn weaving! Not that I have time, nor space for a loom, but I guess you have to save some things for when you retire :-) . There is no catalogue for the exhibition – most of the items are privately owned – but the museum’s yearly publication Ystadiana deals exclusively with the exhibition. Lots of pictures, many close-ups, articles on pattern types, the weavers, how the items were used, and also a brief guide on how to weave the different types of weave that the cushions and wall hangings were made in: dukagång, halvkrabba, opphämta, krabbasnår and rölakan (“Himmelskt vackert. Vävnader från Österlen.” Ystadiana 2014).

(Comment if you want to see an image in higher resolution.)

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The exhibition consisted of five large cases, packed solid with textiles.

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Since I couldn't use the flash, you have to imagine everything just that little bit more colourful. The textiles were normally kept in chests, so they haven't been exposed to much sunlight.

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The patterns are geometric, but also include animals and people.

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Pretty star pattern.

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Deer, cockerels and people. And some geese in the background.

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All is not colour. Some of the wall hangings are white linen with parts of the weft in blue, red and grey wool.
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A few years ago I inherited, among other things, linen embroidery yarn. I don't really use linen yarn, and I could do with de-stashing. If anyone here is in need of vintage linen embroidery yarn, let me know, and you can have some. They are mostly various shades of pastels; blue, pink and green with some yellow and grey as well.

Deadline Saturday evening/Sunday morning (depending on where on the planet you are).

2014 crafts

Jan. 2nd, 2015 10:50 pm
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2014 was a rather meager year for crafting, but then again I did almost nothing in the first six months. I worked on the SCA bunting, and will continue to do so this year. I finished my needle book and my apple pin cushion, and have come quite a long way on my glass pouch. I have sketched the design for my friends' wedding cushion, and found out the hard way that a talent for drawing is awkward when you do the more stylised figures of scanian woollen embroidery. The people and animals come out looking all wrong and I have to re-do them.

embroidered needle book
Needle book

embroidered pin cushion with an apple split in half
Apple pin cushion

partly done embroidered griffin in split stitch
Griffin in split stitch, work in progress

No pictures of the bunting, I'm afraid; you'll have to be patient a bit longer.
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I might actually be finish this one before Christmas! (now where did I put the reverse fabric and the bag with the wool fill?)

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Has it really been two months since last post? Time does fly. But I haven't been sitting idle. The bunting is progressing and I hope that both sides will be done by the time we have our next event in late winter/early spring. There were a few setbacks, but more on that when I have something pretty to show you.

However, I urgently need to sort out the embroidery for my shot glass covers, as I have to have something small to bring for next crafting afternoon in London. It was a bit irritating to have to decline offers of homemade liqueurs and mead at events since I only had one cup and it was rarely conveniently empty. So I bought a replica glass (admittedly 18th century and not medieval, but I honestly don't care) and then realised I needed some way to transport it safely. The plan is making a lined and padded pouch. And of course it shall be embroidered! How else will I know it's mine? :-)

I also need to get cracking with the design for my friends' wedding cushion. Luckily there is no deadline for the embroidery, as they are already married and this is an agreed-upon present. But I have to have the design ready before I go home for Christmas since I have to buy the yarn there. It will be Scanian woollen embroidery, my own design but heavily inspired by 18th and 19th century cushions - wedding ones and normal ones. Doing the design will be fun, but I sort of dread having to decide on colour combinations. I would prefer not having to post sample threads back home and ask my mother to buy more for me, so I need to get it right at the first attempt. Six weeks to go...
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Now I can finally bring my pins and needles in something a bit more stylish when I'm going to events!

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It's the same pattern as the famous 14th century pouch at the V&A.

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Inside there is space for pins and needles, as well as a little pocket for spare yarn, needle threader etc. The M-rune in the corner is my signature.
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In the same vein that a cobbler's child won't have any shoes, I haven't got a needlebook to use when I'm at medieval events. Or rather, I started one, finished the embroidery and then never got around to do the last little bits. Shame on me! So now I have a mission to try to get this one done before next event.

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Doing the "lussenvlechten" to attach the lining.
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It's been a long time, but finally I'm getting back into the woollen embroidery. So much easier when you've been taking a break from brick stitch too, because once my brain is in brick stitch mode, it is very hard to get out of it.

There are a lot of things on my embroidery/sewing to-do list (here's a fun one to add to yours), so I can't promise myself the pin cushion will be done by Christmas. It would be nice though. Because that would give me a good excuse to start my deer and flowers cushion!

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It's getting there!
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It's been quite a productive weekend. Saturday was spent writing on things related to my Ph.D. proposal, and on Sunday I sat sewing. Almost one quarter of the vair background is done on the bunting. It may not sound like much, but it feels great. It's a bit tedious (I expect the griffin embroidery will be more tricky), but at least you can just have an audiobook going in the background and time will fly faster.
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Embarrassingly, I haven't done a single craft thing since Christmas. Not sure why I've had such lack of inspiration. Hopefully this will change as the evenings grow lighter and the temperature rises. However, I have other things on my mind which will have to take precedence.

But I have to start on the bunting soon: it's getting to the point of truly embarrassing. The SCA group I'm playing with have bunting with all the members' arms on. Some painted, some sewn. I'd like to say it's such a small thing it would be done in an instant, but when you decide on vair* as a background, it does mean fiddling around with lots of small pieces (on the other hand, there was no stupid conflicting with other persons' arms). I had my arms registred last year, so really, I should have done something about this a long time ago. Admittedly a lot of the wait was due to having to decide on a method: paint is easy, but textiles are my preferred medium. But I think I've got a working way of doing the vair...

*: the spell checker is not used to medievalists or heraldry and insists that I meant to write "fair".
parlstickare: Line of ants. One moves away from the line, saying "Ohh a book store. Shiny." (Bookstore = shiny!)
I've seen posts on this on the h-costume mailing list and the medic discussion list (I'm sure it's been floating around elsewhere too) and thought it was so awesome that you really had to know as well!

There's a kickstarter for making and publishing a book on three 16th century Austrian pattern books, the Nidermyer (1560), Enns (1590), and Leonfelder (1590) Schnittbuch. They are masters' books from tailors' guilds, with pattern drawings of all of the major garments and other items (saddle covers, tents etc) that a master tailor would be expected to make. The published book will also include information on fabric width, fabric types, sumptuary laws, etc.

16th century is not even my period of choice, but the topic is so interesting that I sponsored the book anyway. For only $45 you get the book (add $25 for international postage, equalling a total of c. £40, which is more or less what I would expect to pay for a similar book this side of the pond), and if you want to go upwards there are lots of really interesting things offered, particularly if you make reconstructions of 16th century clothing.
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I got the Oxbow 2014 bargain catalogue in the post the other day, and there are quite a few books that could be worth buying if you're interested in old textiles.

- War and worship. Textiles from 3rd to 4th century AD weapon deposits in Denmark and northern Germany concerns textile deposits from the bog sites of Thorsberg in Germany and Nydam, Vimose and Illerup Ådal in Denmark. The research has extracted a large amount of information allowing conclusions on status, origin, function and role in the deposits to be drawn. (£7.95)
- The Medieval broadcloth: The eight papers presented here provide a useful introduction to medieval broadcloth and an up-to-date synthesis of current research. The word broadcloth is nowadays used as an overall term for the woven textiles mass-produced and exported all over Europe, first produced in Flanders from the 11th century. As the concept of broadcloth has deriving from the written sources it cannot directly be identified in the archaeological textiles and therefore the topic of medieval broadcloth is very suitable as an interdisciplinary theme. (£7.95)
- Medieval textile and clothing 5: The fifth volume of this annual series features several articles examining the interaction of medieval romance with textiles and clothing. Other papers look at ecclesiastical attempts to restrict extravagance in secular women's dress, the use of clothing references to signal impending conflict in Icelandic sagas, the development and possible construction of the Tudor-era court headdress called the French hood, and the way Cesare Vecellio drew on both existing artwork and the Venetian image to present historical dress in his sixteenth-century treatise on costume. (£12.95)
- According to the catalogue, NESAT X is still on offer for £15, which is dead cheap considering how many articles it contains and how many time periods they span. However, the sales catalogue links to the full-price book on the website and I am not certain what price they want to sell it for...
parlstickare: geometric embroidery in bright blue, red and yellow (Brickstitch)
So that was 2013. A good year, if rather unremarkable eventwise. The main drawback was a computer ready for retirement mid-autumn, causing me to be without computer and internet until Christmas. Still trying to get a feel for the new one. There has been quite a few changes in software, not all of them for the better. Hopefully some of those might improve with upgrades.

Work was dominated by two huge rural sites, one Iron Age/Roman and one Roman. I’ve finished recording one of them and the other is still ongoing. I’m waiting for the phasing – a problem with large sites: ideally I should only record securely dated contexts, but if I have to wait for the phasing to be done, I haven’t got enough time for recording or analysis before the deadline – and once the phasing is done I can start analysing one site and do the final recording of the other.

I didn’t go to any conferences, but to two PZG meetings (i.e. the Professional Zooarchaeology Group, an association of zooarchaeologists in the UK who meet twice a year to discuss methodologies, new research, case studies etc), one on identification of canids (dog/wolf/fox etc), felids (cat/wild cat/lynx etc) and mustelids (badger/otter/marten/mink/weasel/stoat etc), and one on pathologies. Very fun and useful!

As I was without computer for so long, I thought I would have lots of time for crafts in the autumn. Erm, not so much. Or at least not in the sense of having things finished. I did finish my crocheted shawl I had been working on for a while, and it’s lovely and huge and warm. That was my first crochet since I guess I was about eleven/twelve. The pattern was very easy and very forgiving with uneven gauge. Thoroughly recommended. The only drawback is that it makes a equalsided triangle, and I would have preferred one with a wider angle so you could tie the ends behind your back without having a shawl that went down to your knees. Of course this is possible, by using other stitches, but it’s not something I would like to improvise as a beginner.
I also did a couple of needlebooks, some shown here, but the others are not entirely finished. The embroidery is done, but I need to add the lining and do the closing straps. I like brick stitch embroidery. It’s quite fast once you get the pattern (usually after the first two repeats) and enough mindless that you can combine it with watching tv.
In contrast, I haven’t yet quite “got” Scanian woollen embroidery, perhaps because it’s a figures, rather than geometric repeats. I’m still working on my pin cushion, but it’s perhaps telling that I started a new brickstitch needlebook rather than kept going with the pin cushion. However, I love the look of Scanian woollen embroidery, and I will persevere!

I also tried a different craft this year: wood carving. It’s something I’ve long wanted to do, but there hasn’t been many opportunities for it. There are weekend and week courses, but they are usually held somewhere in the countryside, and without a car they can be difficult to get to. Plus you have to add accomodation and food to the cost. But Barn the Spoon in London does day-courses, and I managed to book myself for one. If having the choice, his week-long courses (evenings, not full days) are probably better, as there is more time to absorb things. The day-course was eight hours, and after six I felt my brain was saturated with new knowledge. However, it was great fun and I’m now a proud owner of one spatula and two spoons. Not the prettiest spoons: chunky and uneven in the carving, but not bad for an absolute beginner. I can see the shapes of really pretty spoons inside them! Actually, one of the spoons turned out to be an awesome baking spoon, perfect for making doughs.

I went to two big dancing events: the Oxford Lindy Exchange and the Cambridge Lindy Exchange. Both had good bands to dance to and lovely dancers to dance with, but I think I prefer the Oxford exchange. Mainly because a sunny summer event (picknicks!) is far nicer than a rainy late autumn event. The Cambridge treasure hunt was quite fun though. Maybe we should nick the idea?

So what else did I do in 2013? I didn’t go to any plays, only saw two films (Much ado about nothing and Hobbit 2), didn’t travel abroad (apart from home to visit family and friends), but I did go to several exhibitions and read a lot of books.

I did some calculations and found out that there were so many high-profile exhibitions at the British Museum that it would be profitable to shell out for a membership. They are rather expensive, but you get free entrance to all special exhibitions, no need to book tickets, just go past the queue and head in! Quite good when all weekend tickets have been booked already on two exhibitions you just have to see. And 10% off shop and café is not to be sneezed at either, even if that’s not the main draw. So I got to see Ice Age art, things from Pompeii, South American gold artefacts and Japanese porn. I also saw the 17th century Cheapside treasure hoard at the Museum of London and the Viking exhibition at the National Museum in Copenhagen. The latter will come to the British Museum in spring, and since my membership card will still be valid then, I’ll probably see it again. After all, it’s free.

As usual, I read lots of books. I was very lucky this year, as my favourite author trio: Jo Graham, Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, all came out with books. What I really love about their writing is the solid sense of history. Admittedly I’m not an expert in any of the time periods they deal with, so there may be things other readers would raise their eyebrows for, but I can’t feel that the characters are spokespersons for modern people, as sometimes happens, or that period social norms are ignored for character convenience. Also, as one reviewer put it: “adult characters acting like god-damn adults!”
- The Emperor’s Agent is the second in Jo Graham’s series about Elza Versfelt (a.k.a. Ida St Elme), going from naive socialite in Directoriate France to Napoleon’s spymaster (think Judi Dench’s M). It’s based on Ida St Elme’s memoirs, but also connected to Graham’s other series, The Numinous World (Black ships, Hand of Isis, Stealing fire), which follows the reincarnated soul of a person, sometimes woman, sometimes man, always with an affinity to the divine (admittedly, far easier to be “god-touched” in ancient Egypt than in enlightment Paris…). Readers of both series will probably recognise characters from the ancient world popping up in their new bodies in 18/19th century France. This is not a strictly historical novel, perhaps more historical fantasy, as Graham uses reincarnation, gods and magical rituals to good effect.
- If I had been very lucky I would have got two books in 2013 from Jo Graham’s and Melissa Scott’s series The Order of the Air, about a avation team/members of a magical lodge in the late 1920s and 1930s. But due to marketing, only Steel Blues (#2) was published in 2013, and Silver Bullet (#3) is due early this year. This series is actually part of the Numinous World, although there is very little cross-over. Elza’s and Michel’s new incarnations have a brief interacting with the team in Steel Blues, but you wouldn’t need to read either series to enjoy the other one. Steel Blues is a great team adventure in the same style as the previous book in the series, dealing with a cross-continental aviation race, a stolen necklace with a curse on it, a Russian countess (alleged) and jewel thief (verified), and the unsolved murders of the New Orleans Axeman.
- Death by silver, by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, is a detective story/gay romance set in an AU Victorian England where magic not only exists, but is fully integrated in society. Magic (here: metaphysics) can for example be studied at university, there are reputable (and disreputable) dealers in enchanted objects, correspondence courses in magic suitable for housewifes etc. The story involves metaphysician Ned Mathey whose client was found murdered by an enchanted candlestick the day after Mathey had performed a curse-removing spell from all silverware in the house. Mathey brings in consulting detective Julian Lynes (an old schoolfriend and currently friends-with-benefits) in order to solve the mystery and clear his own reputation. Book two, A non-conforming death, is coming this year, and I’m really looking forward to meeting Mathey, Lynes and Mathey’s awesome secretary Miss Frost again.
- Another praised book was Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I expect to see shortlisted for the Tiptree award. In a far future world, where the Radch empire is expanding across space, one of its huge warship/AIs has found itself betrayed and almost entirely destroyed, its mind residing solely in a single ancillary (i.e. a human from a conquered world whose brain is entirely overwritten with the AI’s conciousness) soldier, rather than in the ship itself and in the hundreds of ancillaries it once was. And One Esk Nineteen is out for revenge, if she can get offworld and find the Radch emperor.
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One of the more irritating things to happen when you're packing the re-enactment kit for an event is to open the shoe box and find large mold patches all over your shoes (and five other pairs, and most irritatingly, the leather bottle Ludde made for me). Thankfully it was a SCA revel and not a highly authentic event, so I could get away with modern shoes under my dress, but still... At least I discovered it now and not sometime in spring.

So Sunday was spent wiping the mold of with 12% vinegar in hope that it would kill the spores, and then a wipe with water to rinse off the vinegar. Only the medieval shoes and my summer sandals could be saved, the rest were too badly affected and had to be thrown away :-( .

Everything wasn't affected, for example the leather in my pattens that the shoes were kept in was fine. I strongly suspect it is something in my Lundhag's leather polish that is extra yummy for mold spores, since the sandals had been thorougly coated before being put away in late August/September and they were really awful now. So now I have to find another leather polish for my shoes.

Readers, any tips on how to prevent this from happening next time?
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Dear readers, due to a computer mishap, I'm reliant on the local library computers until Christmas/New Years. Consequently, posts will be rare, but hopefully you can look forward to several finished project posts in January - after all, if I have no internet, no online books or movies, what else am I going to do in the evenings :-) .

That said, if you have access to BBC iplayer you have a few days yet to watch the program on English medieval embroidery. At least the first 20 minutes were good - can't vouch for the rest as the laptop became poorly.
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It's getting there. It was a bit of a culture clash, coming from the regular, turn-off-brain of brickstitch, particularly since that also covers the back of the piece (i.e. the thread always goes in at the top - or bottom), whereas the Scanian woollen embroidery is much more economical with the thread, and you only cover the front. Not to mention the difference in embroidering with wool on wool and embroidering with silk on linen. But I think I'm getting the hang of it now. I've been looking a bit at the other kits that you can buy at the Scanian handicraft shop - I don't think I'm quite ready for making my own patterns yet - and I could see the deer and flowers cushion looking pretty on my sofa... Perhaps something for Christmas, or for my birthday?

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If there were a few more hours in the day, the embroidery would be finished so much faster...

Pin cushion

Sep. 3rd, 2013 08:51 pm
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My next project is a combination of need and want: a much needed pin cushion with Scanian woollen embroidery. This kind of embroidery was common in the Scania province in southern Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries and has recently had a bit of a renaissance. These are common folk's embroideries, with flowers, people and animals in bright colours. Image google "skånskt yllebroderi" and you'll see loads of examples, some old, some modern.

I've wanted to try woollen embroidery for quite a while now, thinking of making a cushion or two for the sofa. But best to start with something small, and when I saw a pin cushion kit at the local museum last time I was at home, I figured that would be a good idea for a beginner's project. The motif (half-an-apple) comes from a coach cushion, made in 1830.

The kit contains everything you might need, except a pair of scissors. Fabric, yarn, filling, two embroidery needles, and most importantly, instructions. What colour goes where and what kind of stitches. Very good to know, so that you don't pick the wrong colour and suddenly run out of yarn when you have one third left of that bit to do.

The pattern is painted in white dots on the fabric, so the first thing I did was to pin the pattern to a piece of paper and put a pin through every single dot, thereby transferring the pattern for later use. Next step in pattern transferral is to draw a line between the dots, re-draw it to make it neat and tidy, transfer the pattern to hard see-through plastic, punch holes in that, and then use that as a template for other apple embroideries.

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The pattern pinned to paper

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Turn the paper over, and this is what you'll see.


Aug. 21st, 2013 09:17 pm
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It all seemed so easy: just do the last bit on the needlebook embroidery and sew the other half of the zip to the cushion. Won't take more than one afternoon/evening. Yeah, right... First there was legitimate interruptions by dancing - particularly since we had been invited to dance at a cd release party (I mean, how could I say no to that?), and then I found out that I had sewn the zip too close so I couldn't unzip it. So, rip the seam and start from scratch. Hopefully I'll be back at Sunday's level before going to bed tonight.

Updated mission: finish needlebook and cushion in the weekend. It's a bank holiday weekend. Surely I will be able to do this without too much interference...
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Crafting is going slowly. Right now I'm working on finishing my latest needlebook, mainly because I'm eager to start my new project, and leaving UFOs around is not a good habit. Today's mission is trying to finish the needlebook embroidery and sewing the zip to my new cushion cover. Hopefully my two UFOs can be ticked off the list before nightfall.

I was away yesterday on a meeting, and while my brain is eager to start engaging in lots of new interesting things, most can't be done until I'm either at work (tomorrow) or in the Natural History Museum's library (some future weekday). It may be for the best to have a slow relaxing day in the sofa today.

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My latest needlebook, in progress.
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My main embroidery thing for the last year or so has been brickstitch, a counted thread technique common in 13th-14th century Germany. The repeating patterns makes it an excellent technique to do in front of the tv or while listening to audiobooks, as you don't have to give the embroidery your full concentration. Or, at least not after the first two pattern repeats or so.

There are several different patterns used in the original textiles, and a good number has been charted by fellow enthusiasts, such as from Kathy Storm, Tristan, Helene and Richard Wymarc (among others). Some of the original pouches and altar frontals can be found in museums such as the Met or the V&A, but otherwise you are limited to those illustrated in Kroos' book Niedersächsische Bildstickereien des Mittelalters (1970). Unless of course you live near one of the monasteries in Germany which still own and display a few of the embroideries.

To experiment with different patterns I've done some needle books. Two of them were intended as leaving presents for two friends from Thamesreach (London), soon to be residing in An Tir (NW Canada/USA). Since they have now received the needle books, I can (finally) show the pictures.

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The patterns are drafted by Kathy Storm (Patterns #2 and #14), and embroidered in 60/2 spun silk from Handweaver’s studio. The border is made using lussenvlechten, where two loops of yarn are sewn to the fabric. I have no idea what this is called in English, so you'll have to make do with the Dutch term. Machteld from Medieval Silkwork has done a good tutorial of lussenvlechten, which was very helpful to me.

The fastening loops were made by the leftovers of the lussenvlechten, and as I conveniently used four strands in each colour, this translated as an eight-loop fingerloop braid with the following pattern: right 1 to left 4, right 4 to left 1, right 2 to left 3, right 3 to left 2. Repeat. What is important here, as not to repeat my mistakes, is to cut the loops open before you begin, untangle them and re-knot the loops. If you don't untangle them, and think that surely it must be possible to tighten the fingerloops enough while making the braid, you will find that you are wrong.

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This is how it's supposed to look. Note that the braid starts just at the needle book.

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And this is a sign of my optimism. The braid starts after a few millimetres of twisted yarn.
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