Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wasn't that a party!

[PhotoKeith, the ferry captain]
When it rains it pours, and it comes down in clumps. Today it was raining boats and batteries. First my scale for weighing fibre needed a new battery, so it was out of use. Then my electric assist BionX bike battery was declared dead. They costs a fortune so I may have to revert to old fashioned muscle power all the way (think hills, think mountains. Uggg). Then we went to town in the boat to visit friends and when we returned to the marina to come back the boat would not start. Battery problems. So we had to take the ferry.
We got to the ferry passenger waiting room with 30 minutes to kill. Three people dressed for the Arctic, were there, carrying large plastic garbage bags full of something heavy. Turns out they had sunk only an hour or so ago. They were in an open 16ft boat heading over to the island and it was a bit rough out. I suspect the boat might have been a bit overloaded, so when they took water over the transom, the pump couldn't keep up and they took on more and more water, quicker and quicker. Two of them were just here for a week from Toronto (they came, they sunk, they left). The water came up so quick that the woman barely had time to dial 911 saying 'we're going down'. Luckily there was a boat nearby who heard their yells and hauled them in. Interestingly, the woman made the rescuer save her cell phone before she was pulled from the water.
Other passengers waiting for the ferry had already heard the news on CBC. News does travel very fast.
By the time we all heard the story, the ferry was 30 minutes late. We phoned only to be told the ferry would be an hour late as it had had a collision with another boat who had been speeding across the harbour with no lights on.
It wasn't until the next day when a neighbour told us the whole story. A friend had stopped by to ask for a ride around the island to look for his truck. Apparently there had been a party and he couldn't remember where he had left his truck. He mentioned a few people who had been at the party and it included he driver of the lightless boat as well as the driver of the sunken boat. Must have been quite the party!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coast Salish Blankets - a Mass Spec Update

[PhotoSalish robe, 1838-1842, Wilkes Expedition,
from the Smithsonian collection, #E2124-0]
Big news in the Coast Salish weaving world. Researchers from York University analyzed nine Salish textiles (blankets, trump lines) at the Smithsonian to try to determine what fibres were used. They used a mass spectometry technique (a way to identify molecules by their mass) to solve the question 'is there dog hair in the blankets?'  
This question has been nagging at those interested in these blankets for a long time. It is a weird question. We have Coast Salish oral history telling us this is so. We have written logs/diaries by early explorers like Capt. Vancouver, also saying dog wool was used. We have artists who wrote and even painted what was probably a wool dog (Paul Kane). But we still want 'proof'. Interesting that 'proof' has a hierarchy, which I suspect goes something like this: artwork somewhere at the bottom, then oral history, written diaries and logs, official documents, and then there is scientific 'proof' at the top. And even scientific proof has hierarchies depending on what is trying to be proven.  'Proof' has layers. One layer of proof builds upon another until you have the full story of the 'ultimate truth'. Different layers take a weak proof like a myth and builds onto it. Each layer builds more certainty in the proof. Add more layers, and the myth solidifies until you have an irrefutable fact. More proof makes it more solid, like a textile.
[PhotoSalish robe, from the
 Smithsonian collection,E1891-A]
With the wool dog fibre, the proof story goes something like this:

  1. Oral history tells of the wool dog and it's wool being used in blankets and robes..
  2. Early explorers (Capt. Vancouver) records the use of dog wool in textiles.
  3. Early artists (Paul Kane) painted a dog that could be a wool dog and wrote of wool dogs, but artists license means this in not 'proof that the dog existed or looked like what Paul Kane sketched or painted'.
  4. Eye-balling the fibre in Salish blankets show at least two different fibres, but many animals, like the Mtn Goat have an outer coat and a downy coat. So even if there are two different types of fibre, it doesn't prove that they belong to two different animals.
  5. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) was used to look at fibre magnified to see differences, but it wasn't reliable for fibres that are very old as fibres can wear. A new fibre will easily show the scales on the outside but old fibres rub and wear down those scales, so it isn't conclusive when looking at the outside of the fibre. And even if the old fibre was in really good shape, we need a wool dog fibre as the baseline to compare with. How can we identify a wool dog fibre if we don't know what one looked like in the first place? No wool dog, no proof.
  6. Carbon isotope analysis - This research showed that some fibres came from an animal that ate a diet of marine food. Wool dogs were fed salmon, but carbon isotope analysis can only prove that the animal did eat marine food but can not 'prove' that the marine food was salmon, nor that animal eating the marine food is a dog. See this blog for more info.
  7. 1997, Osteometry (analyzing the bones) showed that there were two species of dog in the Pacific Northwest coast. This helped prove that there was intentional breeding to keep the two species apart. Why would they want to? There must have been a benefit in keeping the breeds pure, but what that reason was we can only surmise it was for the wool of one of the species. A forensic artist used the bones to sketch out what the dog could look like and there is a resemblance to the Paul Kane sketch and painting. But that doesn't prove it.
  8. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) analysis - split hairs. Someone came up with the idea that if SEM wasn't reliable for old worn fibres, then what about the inside of the fibre? Split the hair and then magnify it. Lo and behold, it turns out that the inner hair tells a lot and is very useful for telling fibres apart. But, you still need to know what a wool dog fibre looks like in the first place.
  9. Then, in 2006 in a dusty drawer somewhere in the Smithsonian, someone finds Mutton, a wool dog' or at least what is left of Mutton -- his pelt, which had been donated to the museum sometime. We now have a wool dog fibre! We have the baseline to compare old robes and blankets with.
  10. Back to SEM and now we can compare a Mtn Goat fibre with a wool dog fibre. Check out the picture in this blog posting.
  11. DNA analysis has been used to identify DNA in a Salish Blanket as being from a dog. Other blankets showed DNA from a Mtn. Goat. So DNA can be used to identify fibres in textiles. We are still waiting to hear more about this ongoing research at the Smithsonian.
  12. Mass spectometry - identifies dog hair in the textiles and this is the research that was recently announced.
Yes, there now seems to be 'scientific proof that dog hair was used in some Salish blankets. Or put another way, there is now 'scientific proof' that what people said, saw and wrote about did indeed exist. And, we now have a host of techniques that can be used to help identify dog hair being used in blankets.
Click here to see all my posts on the wool dog and Salish blankets.
Here are a couple of books you might be interested in: 
Working with Wool, a Coast Salish Legacy . Although it looks at the history of the Cowichan Sweaters, it covers the history of the wool too.
And Paula Gustafson's Salish Weaving . Although it is out-of-print, it is currently the best book available on the history of Coast Salish weaving. I am awaiting eagerly Leslie Tupper's book which I believe should be close to being available.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The commute home

[PhotoWalking home]
[PhotoWalking along
the waterfront]
[PhotoView from the boat]
[PhotoView from the golf cart]
This is my wordless Wednesday posting, albeit a day late.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spider Silk

[Photo by Victor Patel, Wikipedia]
I am always amazed that beings other than humans can spin and not only spin but their spinning is the envy of other beings, enough that those beings covet the spinning and use it. Take moths and silk. Bugs, yes bugs, make silk and we humans have learned how to unwind the moth's cocoon and use the silk threads. Or birds, like hummingbirds, who use spider silk to help hold together their nests of moss. It's right out of a fairy tale, nests made of spiders silk and moss! Or take us humans, we too can use the spider silk. Humans have used spider silk for gloves (a short-lived fashion in France), making fishing lines, lures (Solomon Islands), nets (Asia) and even bandages. and recently works of woven art. See my earlier blog about the Golden Orb spider and the incredible weaving made from it. Here's a video of it:


And check out this TedTalk below to find out more about spiders and spider silk:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shetland wool - It's a first!

Shetland wool has now received protected status. Just as Champagne, or Feta and Camembert Cheese is protected, ie. you can't sell products using those names, unless of course, you have produced them in those geographic areas that hold the right to use those names. So Shetland wool is the first non-food item to be protected in the EU.
More good news to the Shetland Islanders who are finally making more money from shearing their sheep than it costs to shear them.  

see earlier blog about the Shetlands.

[PhotoNot perfect but close enough
 to 1 TPI]
Speaking of Shetland wool, I have an assignment to spin a 2-ply yarn at 1 Twist Per Inch. Sounds easy. It wasn't! I finally achieved something close to that using a lovely Shetland combed top that I bought from Jamieson and Smith Woolbrokers in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. This is a beautiful wool, a pleasure to spin and knowing the fineness one can spin this, it was, in a way, a shame to spin it so thick. But, I was pleased with how it came out. Now I just wished I had purchased more. But you can order it online here.