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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tying together a network of friends

This was my third visit to LAM, having previously gone as a tourist in 2006 and as part of the DARC team in 2010. I had already done most of my "must-see" sightseeing, so this time I was quite content to spend every day at the site with my friends from Newfoundland and Ontario. Once again, they were the best part of my experience and I couldn't think of anything I would rather do than play with them.
My "job" in DARC has evolved into one involving string. On the last visit, I worked a bit on my fishing net but didn't get very far. It turned out that the knot I was using slipped (just fine for lacemaking, where I learned it, but less effective if you want sturdy nets to catch fish). Ragnarr and Bjorn each taught me their preferred netting knot last time out. I took great pleasure this time in stringing up the net, having Ragnarr come over on the first day to inspect my work, and give me a big smile because I was now doing it right. I was able to do a lot of work on the net, including repairs to older sections where there were mistakes. Making a fishing net is a very evocative activity in Newfoundland, where many of the visitors come from fishing families. They enjoy sharing memories of repairing nets or watching their dads do so. I love the personal connection, and seeing how the site goes from being a museum to a "real" place.
On the way back from LAM, we stopped at the Fortress of Louisbourg, where I learned something about how to preserve my hemp net and fishing line with pine pitch. I'll be experimenting, now that I have found a source of pine pitch (my local tack shop). I also got ideas for other things made of rope, such as ladders, monkey fists, and boat bumpers, and will be researching evidence of their use in the Viking Age.
Most of my other string experiments this time were with slyng (whipcording). I made some cord using two colours of wool I had dyed and spun. Eventually, it will be used for straps or decorative trim.
I also used slyng to make a hemp bowstring with Jorunn. We started the braid a few inches down our cords, then looped the top and spliced the loose ends into the slyng. This gave a very sturdy loop for the top of the bowstring. The bottom end was simply finished with a thin cord whipping, and tied to the bow with a bowyer's knot (timber hitch). The bowstring was round and just the right size for the arrow nocks, although it doesn't have much spring. It was fun to contribute to the site by leaving an artefact behind.
Based on the bowstring experience I have decided that my next attempt at a horsehair fishing line will involve slyng. Historically, fishing lines were often made of horsehair, which is both strong and long-lasting. I tried various ways of making a fishing line while at LAM. There is evidence of twisted horsehair fishing lines date from around the 1400's, and the short sections of line were somehow knotted together. Remember, about 30 feet of line is needed, and good horse tails are rarely much longer than about 25 inches. My first attempt with twisted line was a complete failure. The line was just too slippery to be knotted or hold a splice. The next attempt, joining short lines made from plain three-strand braids was equally impossible. Since simple knots didn't work, I tried making a loop and splicing the end bits into my braid. Although splicing a loop worked somewhat better, spliced loops could only be used on one end of the line (loosening the braid and stuffing the ends in didn't work) . I still needed to knot the other end. Splicing a continuous braid might be a little sturdier, but a slyng braid is much tighter than a three-strand braid, so that's what I will be trying next.
The other thing that I enjoyed at LAM was doing the hair of my friends each day. It wasn't exactly rope, but it did involve lots of braiding. I experimented with different braids, found ways to disguise modern hairstyles, and provided another connection point for visitors to relate their daily lives to those of the Viking Age Norse.
Diane, aka Auðr

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