Sunday, 31 August 2008

Hatters Bow/ Bow Carding

Various sources indicate to me that it was highly likely that wool was carded, ie prepared for felting and spinning in different ways including with a carding bow. This is an aspect of working with wool that I wanted to bring to the felt-makers workshop at Kentwell Hall this year. I have compiled this information from a variety of sources most importantly my felt-makers yahoo group who have been very generous with their information and experiences. I hope you find it of interest.

The bow is suspended from the ceiling and there is a pile of locks on the workbench below the bow that look like they have been loosely opened. When the bow is plucked the vibrations pick up some of this fibre and "open" it up more and then deposit it on the other side accumulating a downy pile as the process proceeds. The person who told me about this could not understand how it would work until she saw the process and then of course it all made sense and she says it really is a simple thing.

One web site has some pictures from Panouckes Encyclopaedia. These very old sketches illustrate various aspects of felt hat making including this "ancient" form of bowing. http://www.hatshapers.com/Felting%20Info.htm (the hatshapers web site has some other interesting stuff about felting that you may want to look at as well).

There is evidence of bowing taking place in Britain. To give you an idea (although later in history) here is a link to a woodcut of a bow in use in Britain during 19th century.
http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/Qv3p15UwIQI86QU6odMAEA?authkey=sz9Ih_BXCK8 . You can see that the bow is longer than the person holding it, it is suspended from above and it is held at a slight angle. You can also see the "pick" held in the figure's right hand. This is used to pluck the string and the vibrations of the string assist the fibres to separate. The text indicates that the "hatter's" bow used in hat-making factories was "essentially the same as the bow used in Turkish workshops".
In Turkey the bow is called a yay (I sort of like that – it sounds happy!) There are all sorts of fantastic web sites with examples of felting but Theresa May-O’Brien has a dedicated album with pictures of a bow carder in action
http://www.woodscapeartistry.com/photos/album/traditional-yay/
It shows Turkish felt-maker, Mehmet Girgic, preparing wool with a yay that he had made. This gives you the idea of size. You can see that the bow itself is quite thick and rigid, not at all like an archery bow. It is not expected to be flexible rather as a base to hold the gut string. The dimension of the bow is thick to allow the person using it to hold it comfortably or has a strong handle to rock it back and forth.
The yay is suspended from the ceiling (by the handle part if there is one) and there is a rocking motion involved in its use. Remember this is a repetitive action, the handle needs to allow the user to slip their hand in but be tight enough allows the user not to have to expend energy holding the yay.The gut string needs to be quite thick (I have been given various suggestions of between 5 and 12 strands of gut plied together). There is a special way of tensioning the string around the wood piece; you need to be strong for this!
Another essential part of the tool is the mallet with which you tap the string to create the vibration to pluck the wool apart. Mehmet uses a heavy, round mallet with a lip around the top for plucking at the string.
Mongolia is another cultures still using this technique for carding. In Mongolia the bow is called a “num”. The num is strung with animal intestine and includes a wooden hinge permitting the movement of the string. The device is pegged down at one end and the wool piled on top of it, and then the bow string drawn back and forth to separate using the bow, the wool becomes even softer and whiter than when beaten with sticks according to the more traditional method. The bow is made from birch and 10 - 15 cm in length (I think this means the distance from the wooden part of the bow to the string) , the bow string's length should be 2 metres."(Mongolian traditional methods of feltmaking" by B. Erdenettseg 2004)

One felt maker told me that in Hungary, the felt hat makers use a bow to break down the carded merino into finer fibre length. The bow is suspended above the worktable by a strong cord. The bow is held in the hatters left hand parallel to the table. The bow is heavy, even though it is supported, so it takes great strength to hold it like this.
When she saw this being done the string was several inches above the pile of fibre. The gut string was plucked with a wooden "pick" rather than a mallet. The tool had a pointed spinning top-shaped knob on the end and was about 6-8 inches long with a handle was large enough for a man's hand to hold comfortably.
She says that the string was taut enough to make a sound like an upright bass being plucked and had about the same deep note as a bass. The Hungarian Hatter she saw plucked his bow in time to the jazz music he was listening to on the radio! The string vibrated and caused the fibres below it to shake apart. In this case, it didn't touch the fibre at all, but the fibre fluffed out into the air and onto the table. The fibre was fluffed this way several times. It caused the fibres to break down into smaller pieces. Eventually the hatter used the vibrations to throw the fibre across the table into the bell shape of the hat he was going to make. She tried this herself, but her arm wasn't strong enough to support the bow. It dipped down into the fibre, getting it all stuck to the string. This was considered quite bad to the Hungarian hatter.

Others have seen pictures of the bow being used in Kashmir to fluff the fibre for the numnah felts and the bow is also used in North Africa and India to card cotton fibre. There is a story about M.Ghandi and his carding bow while in prison somewhere.
http://www.weaversstudio.com/products/handwovens/khadi/Khadi%20Presentation.ppt this is a really beautiful power point presentation about preparing cotton fibres which you might just enjoy for the sake of it.

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