The Språng Journey of Halima al-Rakkasa

Welcome to my world of twisted threads and tangled fingers…
and exploring an ancient technique of making unique fabric: Språng.

I like finding things, learning things, and sharing what I find and learn. With språng, that rabbit-hole started with my desire for a closer-to-accurate suit of clothes for my 11th century Dimashqi persona. Being in a small town, research means google-fu, which is much easier now than it used to be with only the research librarian to rely upon. Fortunately, I learn well by reading, and I adore trying things to see what happens. This is an attempt to give you some of the “moments” I have encountered along the way, memory allowing. (Lesson learned: Record the dates and resources as you go!)


How Did This Journey Begin?

In the process of upgrading my clothing, circa 2005, I found “Clothing of a 14th Century Nubian Bishop” by Elizabeth Crowfoot in Veronika Gervers’ Studies in Textile History.

In addition to line drawings and descriptions of the clothing, there was a reference to a plain språng fragment used as a sash or drawstring. This was the opening, the beginning, the hook.

I found a number of instructions online and a couple of books, but none very clear. Then I ordered an inter-library loan of Collingwood’s “The Techniques of Sprang”. Because he described every movement in detail, it became my favorite functional reference.


Journey Highlights

In the Beginning

Being that it was a new craft for me, I knew I needed to make a few pieces. For practice, I made dozens (probably more) of wee drawstring pouches in linen, and in cotton. This gave opportunity to play with pattern all the way to completion. Perfect practice makes perfect. (They went to Kingdom and Principality largesse.)

My first pouches had the drawstring go through the end loops that were mounted on the beam-sticks (which hold the warp within a larger frame). Later pouches had eyelets for drawstrings, once I learned that lace-type stitch.

Pouch in linen for largess, circa 2010; fingerloop braid drawstring
Early pouch of linen, one of many donated to largesse of Tir Righ and An Tir, circa 2010.
Variations on the theme of interlinking: color; twist patterns made by changing twist direction of the stitch; grouping of warps in a stitch; and combinations.

Experimenting with the basic technique suggested other ideas for use of twist for patterns, and color effects.


2008 – Tir Righ Investiture

2008 November 22, Tir Righ Investiture A&S Competition, I set up a display and demo of språngwork on a small pouch. You can see, in this photo, one vertical frame, and one lying down. The one flat on the table is an old fabric store trim reel.



Also on the table is a small golden pouch made from wool yarn that I spun and dyed with onion skin.


2010 – for Mark der Gaukler

view of the loom with språng

Around April of 2010, Master Mark der Gaukler asked for a braies cord of språngwork. Inspiration came from the drawstring of the trousers of Bishop Timotheos, as described by Elizabeth Carefoot.

My experiments to that point suggested that a flat-worked piece would always spiral, not a comfortable thing for a drawstring of that size. However, Collingwood suggested using alternating rows of Z-twist and S-twist to counter the spiral.

I rigged an eight-foot long 1″ x 4″ to hold my beam-sticks, and mounted a long warp of acrylic yarn (moth-proof and washable).

I started with two rows of soumach twining, and then some plain språng with added eyelets in a triangular pattern. The main body was those alternating Z- and S-rows, and finished the mid line with chaining.

Close view of decorative ends of belt

With the “take-up” (inherent in weaving and braiding, using up some of the warp length in the working of the yarn), the final result was about six feet long.

This was a very satisfying project to puzzle over and complete as something close to my vision of it.


2011 – Tir Righ A&S

Then, in 2011, I finally got a reasonable handle on språng “lace” or openwork beyond single eyelets.

View of black and white yarn on loom

The black-and-white cap at the Whitworth caught my eye for its relatively simple and striking colors, and the lacey patterns that differed on the two colors. I used fibres I had on hand: fine black wool yarn; white linen yarn; and red wool fleece.

Hair net from the Whitworth Art Gallery

2011 Oct 22, Tir Righ A&S Championship, single entry: “A Språngwork Headdress in the Coptic Era”; this is a black wool and white linen cap based on one in the Whitworth Gallery, University of Manchester. The wool for the forehead band spindle-spun, and woven on a backstrap loom. The warp for the cap was mounted on chopsticks, and anchored to a four-foot 1×4.

Close view of sprang hair net

I worked the wool and linen on my plank “frame”. (Notice the grouping of warps as the work came closer to the mid line.) For the forehead band and drawstrings, I used my hookless spindle to turn the red fleece into yarn, and plied the red yarn. The forehead band of white linen and red wool was woven on a backstrap loom. The matching cords were plied, again, with a spindle.

Final assembly involved stitching the forehead band to one end of the fabric, running a cord through the mid line, stitching up the two sides, and inserting the single drawstring in both sides of the back loops.

All the parts of the hair net
Halima with display Tir Righ 2011

It was about time I made a decent backstrap for my loom. This runs across the back of my hips, with the tails on either end of the warp beam; with the other end of the warp tied to a solid object, leaning back a bit adds tension to the warp to make it easier to weave. The other parts are: heddle bar; shuttle; sword; and a warp spreader.


2012 – An Tir A&S

In 2012, bouyed by my experience with my single entry in the Tir Righ Arts and Sciences Competition, I wrote to the British Museum about one of their språng items on display. The curators were kind and helpful, though not able to give me additional information.

By February, I had exchanged emails with the Met Museum (curators Marsha Hill, Morena Stefanova, and Linda Seckleson). They suggested publications for further research. I was not able to get the one German publication suggested, and did find the article, “In situ: What the Find SpotTells Us about Sprang Fabrics” by Petra Linscheid (in ‘Textiles in Situ: Their Find spots in Egypt…” etc, Riggisberger Berichte, Vol. 11, 2006). Three layers, three headdresses on a skull! Cap, tailed bonnet, etc. She also posted on www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/textil/hairnets.html in 2002 regarding two styles of cap (densely worked wool cap, and linen and wool hairnet).

My queries regarding how the museum determined it was a child (by size), and determined the date (well…). Back and forth a few times, I suggested the headdress resembled items elsewhere that were dated a few centuries later. I received an email back that, based on our conversations, they decided to change the find’s date much closer to my thinking!

It was this museum piece where I learned about uneven tension between the two ends, on moving the twists in order to control the fall of the midline. This piece had been worked by pushing the twists firmly to one end, and the echoing twists more gently to the other. When the looser end was split into a pair of tails (by removing one thread), the tails were long enough to wrap around the head.

Since I loved the pattern, I carried that thought forward.

Online, I found Door E. Seiwertsz van Reesema’s Egyptisch Velchtwerk, and “Een Oud-Egyptische Muts”. Google Translate played hob with it, translating from Dutch to English, but extrapolation of “wire” to “thread” helped me work out some of the other text. Although I learned much from it, I don’t agree with her interpretation of how the “tailed bonnet” was worn.

(I also found a “Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art”, and ‘Three Egyptian Turbans of the Late Roman Period’; details will be used in a future version of the headwrap.)

2012 March 3-4, single entry An Tir A&S Competition: “Coptic Wrapped Språng Headdress”: a white linen and purple wool version of a “headdress from the head of a mummy of a child” (Accession Number: 90.5.33), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(My documentation was unusual in that the re-creation was described before description of the original; don’t do that.)

I had some issues with recreating the pattern, and opted to finish it more simply. Another item I want to return to for further effort.


2018 – Tir Righ A&S

Display for red cap, 2018 Tir Righ A&S

2018 Sep 22, Tir Righ A&S Championship, single entry: “Early Period Språng Cap”: a red patterned cap based on a Coptic period design, with backstrap-woven forehead band.

This was my first competition piece where I incorporated ideas from various pieces into an original design, rather than attempt to copy an extant item.

Done in long-fibre cotton (it’s what I had), I used the stitch pattern from the single-color Coptic wrapped headdress in The Met, the overall shape of most Coptic short-tailed caps in the Kelsey, and the thick-and-thin woven forehead band of cotton and linen from several fragments at the Kelsey.

As an aside, I received many compliments on the handout! This is my current favorite to wear.

Hand-worked cap or hairnet using ancient techniques.
Made by Halima, this cap is created from elements of several fragments and finds.

Fun Things

Some things that are not necessarily SCA period, but are either plausible, or just fun. Possibly both.


Pouches for largesse

Most of my classes involve teaching people språng work through these useful items. We start with plain work, and we try for the eyelets (my personal preference) for the drawstring; those who are familiar with plain work get to try twist-patterns.

These pouches are fun for me! My first ones of this style were sized for cellphones, with a hanging loop for the belt. Made in acrylic yarn, they are both padded, and hard-wearing. Not only cellphones, but pottery cups benefit from the protection these pouches offer.


Silk garters for Aspasia Bevilacqua

Yellow silk garters for Aspasia Bevilacqua

Aspasia Bevilacqua was looking for garters to go with her new set of clothing. Fortunately, she had some lovely silk yarn of the correct color. After some measurements, and some test runs, I turned an embroidery slate on its side to warp the yarn. I took a bit of a gamble by working each garter separately, the gamble being that the twist must be packed with even tension; however, I measured the warp for both at the same time, and could compare the completed one with the second one as I went. The pattern is created by changing the direction of the twist.


Caps

Everyone needs a sexy cap! One is in acrylic yarn, and the other in wool yarn. With the elasticity of the fabric, one size pretty much does fit all. Note that the mid line is visible half-way up the fabric. The top of each is gathered on a cord and tied; that gathering isn’t seen often in period items, but does exist. The opening is chained to provide a relatively firm (if elastic) edge. As you might notice, these demonstrate my favorite twist pattern.


Shoppers

Shoppers (grocery bags) in cotton. The single color is large and robust, and the ecru and pink has further patterns and integral handles.

As we remove plastic bags from our household, it became an opportunity to do more språng! (Sewn shoppers just didn’t get me excited.) Made in cotton, they are easily machine washable, and expand to hold almost anything you please. These projects were large enough that I used a Salish-type tapestry loom as my frame. For all the immensity of the single-color shopper, making the lark’s-head loops for the drawstrings took longer than the entire body of the bag, which was time-consuming enough. (I’ve been asked if someone could buy one of these. At minimum wage, these are beyond the pocketbook of most people. On the other hand, I teach; it’ll take around forty or so hours to make a shopper.)


Did someone ask “Do you teach”?

Yes, I teach classes. In-person classes may include a kit of a simple frame, beam sticks, multiple thin sticks to maintain the twist while working, yarn, and a latch hook to chain the mid line and ends. I use a simple crochet hook for the last couple of rows of work, and a blunt needle for whatever sewing is needed to join edges.

Språng class kit, with two demo frames plus completed samples.

Tools are not complex! As you see, a smaller project will fit into a ziploc bag.

You can make a frame out of bent willow, or a trapezoid of branches, and be very early traditional. You can use a standing tapestry or Salish-style loom as a frame. Yet, my first frame was a wire, office in-basket.

Your beam sticks can vary according to the size of project. My small projects tend to be on chopsticks or sturdy knitting needles.

Yarn should be smooth, at least for the first few projects. For cotton, use #3 or #5 crochet cotton. If using wool (or acrylic), look for smooth worsted yarn with multiple plies. Have some sturdy extra yarn for mounting your beam-sticks to your frame.

Instruction is available.


What is ahead?

First try at interlace

I have more learning ahead about intertwining, supplemental warps, and doubled fabric.


Left: from Dagmar Drinkler. Right: from Vittore Carpaccio, “Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at Ponte di Rialto”, circa 1496 CE.

I’d like to make the apparent onesie of a Persian archer, or some tights like those of the gondoliers.

Also on the list is finding a copy of “The evolution of the Islamic Vestimentary System”, which describes about 70 items in the Geniza Trousseaux, of which more than half are veils and headwear.


What is Språng?

This is a textile technique for making fabric from thread/yarn, much like braiding. Peter Collingwood, noted textile artist, describes it succinctly as “plaiting on stretched threads”. Threads are anchored at both ends, or laid out in a circular warp, and manipulated in a braiding fashion.

As each twist is formed and pushed to each end, the fabric is built both above and below the working area. The resulting fabric can be very elastic (with interlinking), or less so (with interlacing). With the third technique of intertwining, many open, closed, and layered fabrics can be created. One of the creative challenges is that the final size of the product is restricted to the threads laid out in the beginning.

The triplet image shows differences between interlinking, interlacing, and intertwining. Complexity comes with grouping twists, with color, and with layering.

To date, I have only explored the first two of the three basic techniques, especially interlinked.

What is Interlink Språng?

Example of interlink språng

Think “chain-link fence”: that’s the basic structure of interlink. The simplest fabric is made by twisting pairs (usually) of warp yarns, exchanging each forward warp with a back warp as a stitch; to ensure the linking, the start of alternating rows exchange two front with one back warp, and continuing with the usual one-and-one stitch. The stitches are done in the same order, the same direction (either Z-twist or S-twist), unless a pattern is introduced.

What is Interlace Språng?

Think “bias”; the simplest one is single warps, front and back, in a stitch. However, to create the bias, rows alternate in the direction of the twist. Interlace is not quite as expandable as interlink, yet provides opportunity for another type of pattern creation.

Where Does Språng Originate?

Map showing marks of where språng items or signs of existence were found.

The bulk of found items are in Egypt, with a wide range of techniques. A few pieces have survived the bogs of northern Europe and Scandinavia, such as a hairnet from Bronze Age (circa 1400 BCE) Denmark. The Viking/Migration Era left us a couple of twist-patterned stockings. And a few pieces have survived from the Middle Ages in Europe. In the British Museum is an Elizabethan curtain of språng.

We also have evidence in paintings, frescoes, redware pottery, and woodcuts.

Until recently, I’ve ignored the western hemisphere; now I can include the two pieces from North America (New Mexico, and Arizona), and the tassels from Peru and Bolivia!

See the appendix below for a somewhat more detailed list.


Resources

Regarding the references… They all present språng a little differently: the words describing techniques differ from one author to another, and some work from a different side of the warp. Some just mention språng.


Museums of Interest: Note that some museums are not necessarily up on textile genres, so sometimes språng is listed as knitting, or worse. In order of interest.


Appendix – Extant Examples

Språng timeline of finds/sources/hints, more or less, from an overview by Collingwood.


Borum Eshöj hair net
Bredmose/Arden cap

Bronze Age (circa 1400 BCE)

Borum Eshöj, Jutland, Denmark – hair net (back of the head); fine, two-ply wool.

Bredmose bog, Parish of Store Arden, Denmark. “The Arden Woman” (AKA “Bredmose woman”); cap or hood of fine wool; stripes of S- and Z- twist.

Southern Jutland, 1300 BC; “The Skrydstrup Woman”; horse hair hairnet, with cap in two-ply wool over top. Elaborate hair dressing.

Late Pre-Ceramic (c 1100 BCE)

Peru – cylindrical bags and fabrics; possibly cotton.

Hallstatt period (800-500 BCE)

Haraldskrer Mose, Skibetparish, T~rrildherred (Haraldskar Bog at Vejle, Denmark) – hair net of wool singles.


Peru (500-300 BCE)

Paracas Cavernas – decorative pieces with complex base pattern, and figures worked into them.

Peru (300 BCE – 500 CE)

Nazca – includes complex wool neck coverings, and simple interlaced bags.


100 CE

Vindonissa, Switzerland – fine wool with triple twist interlinking.

La Tène Period (500 – 50 BCE) – charred items that includes a fragment of interlinking.


Greece (500 BCE and onwards)

Greek finds – vase paintings showing women with frames, and items on the wall behind them. Språng items on coins, sculptures, and paintings.


Roman Iron Age

Blidegn, Denmark – fragment of interlinking.


Tegle “stocking”

Migration Period

Tegle, Jaeren, Norway – earliest in Norway; tubular fabric with twist patterning; both ends finished with tablet-weaving.


Viking Period (c 850 CE)

Oseberg, Norway – signs of tools, and (elsewhere) fragments and “impressions” on various items.

Micklegate Bar, York, England – two-ply wool stocking in twist-patterned stripes.


Achmin, Egypt (mostly) – “Bags” and caps in Coptic graves, in undyed linen and/or dyed wool; finds include turbans and other garments; much complex patterning.


Latvia, Ikšķiles Zariņu cemetary. Image is a replica of an 11th century sprang belt from Grave 8. At the National History Museum of Latvia (http://www.history-museum.lv/english/pages/krajums/izpete-atdarinajums.php).




Iceland – språng altar cloths listed in church inventory.

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1100-1300 CE

Mule Creek Cave, New Mexico, USA – a strip of two-ply cotton with hole designs on interlinking.


Tonto Monument shirt

1300-1500 CE

Arizona State Museum – Salado språng tunic, AKA Tonto Monument shirt; 14th C, in cotton.
SPRANG TUNIC –
Culture: Salado – Dates: ca. AD 1300-1450
– Location: Tonto-Roosevelt Basin, central AZ
– Material: cotton
– This sleeveless tunic was made by a non-loom technique known as sprang which creates an interlinked structure. The fiber is handspun cotton. The design motifs–running triangles and in-terlocking rectilinear scrolls–are also found on contemporary painted pottery and petroglyphs.)]
(Quote from https://nautahistoriae.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/c3e3d-2007sprangavs.pdf.pdf)
The museum now displays an accurate reproduction by Carol James, Winnipeg, Manitoba. She has documented the entire process of creating it, and notes the team members involved.


Mary at the Loom


Slovenia, 1504 CE; Mary at the Loom, fresco at the Church of St. Primus and Felicianus.


15th C

Switzerland – fabric with complex hole designs, some embroidery.



16th C

Belgium – woodcut of a woman working at a språng frame.

Planet Venus and her children


France; “Planet Venus and her children“, early 16th C, in the book “Die textilen Künste“, by Leonie von Wilckens – engraving of a woman working at a språng frame.


17th C

Transylvania – silk caps and girdle.

Scandinavia – references in written records to språng work in inventories, wills, and autobiographies.

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This above list is limited to what Peter Collingwood found, as of 1974, with some additions from me, and only those items within the SCA time period; imagine what else has been found since then. These are also part of my inspiration, along with museum pieces.


The journey has not yet ended.


16 Replies to “The Språng Journey of Halima al-Rakkasa”

  1. Great presentation! Sprang is one of those things I have long wanted to learn, but I am very much a hands-on learner when it comes to manual crafts–it has to become muscle memory. I remember when you first showed the black and gold cap and being completely blown away (I still am)–I had not realized that sprang could be so versatile and delicate! I hope one day to be able to learn it directly from you, face to face.

    Thank you for the extensive list of references. And major score at the museum! You’re one of the reasons curators are finally taking SCAers and their research seriously.

    Well done! 😀

    -Arlys o Gordon, OL, OP

  2. Thank you for sharing. I first learned of sprang recently, and it’s really eye-opening to see all the amazing things that you have made with this technique. The review of extant findings is also pretty amazing. I hope to someday attend an in-person class from you!

    1. Thanks for viewing my exhibit! Språng just seems to have so many uses, so I’m trying them all. Because, why not? I encourage you to explore; in my presentation, I plan to show a few more extant pieces -and- show a quick how-to (not complete, by any stretch of the imagination) on the giant demo frame. Maybe that’ll get you started? Have fun with it, and here’s hoping we can have a class together!

      Halima

  3. Great work! As someone who struggles to maintain focus in most endeavors (often moving on to the next ‘shiny’ thing), I really appreciate seeing your progress over the years. It’s really neat and gives me hope that one day I’ll gain enough practice in something to be as good as you are with språng now 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Isabella! I can easily relate to the “next ‘shiny’ thing”! There are times I am completely frustrated with the limitations of a single body and a 24-hour day.

      If it helps, look for things that are, by nature, incomplete, or hard to research, yet… intriguing enough to keep returning. I haven’t so much maintained a focus as I just constantly return; new research turns up, or someone does something I haven’t done yet, or cogitation has revealed one more secret. I’m never “finished”; I can’t dust my hands off and say, “It’s done,” because another idea has occurred to me. I wish that for you: constant inspiration!

  4. Interesting and very complicated looking. Does the style that produced the onesie and leggings take more time than more traditional weaving? As a visual person I would have loved to see some video of how it works, might be time to go looking to help me wrap my head around it. Love the progression.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Alasdair!

      Time… That’s hard to say.

      With traditional weaving, after the measuring of warp, sleying it (putting onto the loom, alternating between heddle frames), and weaving, you’d still need to cut it, fit it, and sew. The cutting and fitting would be dealing with bias for non-wool fabrics; wool often has enough stretch to not need the bias consideration.

      With språng, after the measuring of warp, stretching it on the frame, and working the warps (no weft), you’d still need to sew two edges together, and… put on. The elasticity of the resulting fabric provides all the fitting, and the color treatment is decided with the initial decision on size.

      I encourage you to explore språng further! Tag me in Facebook sometime, reminding me about språng videos, and I’ll post some for you.

      Halima

  5. Wow, I did not realize how intricate and versatile sprang could be! I am re-energized to get back to doing some more 😉
    This article is awesome. I am particularly intrigued by the sprang hose, but I really want to make myself a hat ;P
    cheers
    Tanikh

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