Friday, February 08, 2013

moonbeams on my linen

I've been wanting to experiment with moonlight bleaching of linen, ever since I first heard about it. Finally, this winter, I decided to give it a try.


I had a few pieces of linen tape, leftover from a practice project that was woven on my Double Hole Tape Loom. It is perfect for my experiment because it has a handspun linen background with the pattern in red silk embroidery threads. The idea behind the moonlight bleaching, as I was told, is to whiten the linen but not fade the color of the embroidery threads. When I first heard about this, it was something I was told, my great grandmother would have done, in her homeland of Austria/Hungary. Believing that the sun rays were destructive to linens, the women spread them on bushes . In mansions and castles, racks were made for this purpose. I suspect the custom was practiced in other places around the globe as well.


So, my experiment began in January, I wet my linen tape, and hung it on the clothes line. Not very scientific, I know. And I'm not nearly as good at taking notes of my results as Wendy (my ravelry friend and cohort in lunar lightening- from Canada- who is also experimenting with moonlight bleaching). And I do confess, that there were a few days that my sample was exposed to sunlight as well (OK, so I forgot it was out there a few times, life gets busy, and moonlight experiments are not first priority).

After the last full moon, I realized that the handle of the tape had changed considerably. The linen was no longer stiff, but soft and pliable. At first glace, it did not appear to have changed much, but when placed alongside of the other sample, I belive it has started to whiten! It shined! It glistened! It captured that silvery essence from the magic of the moonbeams! What do you think? Can you see a difference? Which tape looks lighter? Left? Right?


Looking for written material or documentation on moonbeam bleaching is hard to come by. There is very little information available. In present day book form, Linda Heinrich in her book (The Magic of Linen…) has a reference taken from “Krajina Textiles” Slovene Textiles, CIBA Review (1966/1):19 by B. Bela Racic.... and writes that‘bleaching by the light of the moon was an old Slav custom. And Bette Hochberg's "Spin Span Spun" also notes bleaching by sun and moon.

Thanks to GoogleBooks, I found a few references. And while there were no books or documents written specifically on the subject, there is mention of the practice contained in books on other topics. Now, finding exact methods...or written instruction on the how's and where's and why's of the process, that is more challenging! I did find a notation about Linen Manufactures of England sending their finished linens to Holland for bleaching ("as the dews and moonlight are there more constant").

My favorite reference is found a book written in 1836, by Robert Mudie (also the author of "the British Naturalist". Robert wrote this book with the title :" A Popular Guide to the observation of Nature". I enjoy the way he writes and the observations he makes on a number of different topics. Here is how he explains that moonlight is really sunlight:

"Now our moonlight really comes from the sun, and is reflected to us form the surface of the mmon, just as we can throw light in a dark room by a mirror, or by whitewashing a wall opposite the door on which light can fall. Now the heat of the sun's light, and also the greater part of the red rays, enter into and are absorbed by the moon : and thus moonlight wants the golden brightness of the direct rays of the sun, and is in consequence silvery, and has a little of a bluish tint in it."

And here, (about 2/3rd down the page) he makes note about the practice of moonlight bleaching:


And here, he explains why the moonlight is stronger in winter:


I will continue to experiment with the moonbeams on linen...there is another full moon in February, yet to come, around the 25th. There is a good chance there will still be a frost. The full moon in February is sometimes call the Snow Moon, or Hunger Moon. With winter storm Nemo about to pay us a visit, snow may still be on the ground by the 25th.


In preparation for more experiments, I am weaving more tape.


Three more tapes have been woven with my handspun linen for my current project. These will be sewn together. I'm learning a lot about how my handspun behaves as linen tape. There are areas where I have a bit of open weave, that I'm not sure about why that is happening. Is it due to my tension on the tape as I weave, or is it with the handspun variations in the thread itself? I'm using my handspun singles to sew the tapes together.


On the first try, it soon became apparent that if I intended to use a single to sew with, I should pay close attention to the direction of the twist. I'm using a back-stitch to sew the tapes together, and if the wrong end of the single enters the eye of the needle, I wind up going against the twist and the linen thread soon begins to pull apart.

8 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Yes, the left tape is clearly more white than the right one. I had no idea you could bleach with moon light. Of course when you realize it is really sunlight reflected it makes sense.

Interesting weaving. What do you do with these tapes??

thecrazysheeplady said...

Interesting, but the explanation does make sense. Yes, one is significantly lighter.

You were a soap winner :-).

Judy said...

Learn something new with each post. Left is definitely whiter. Very interesting. Stay warm

Leslie Shelor said...

I never heard of moonlight bleaching. Wonder if it works better in the north. Interesting!

d said...

what an enchanting idea! I always enjoy reading your blog!

knitmearchive said...

Wow, the one on the left is totally whiter. I never heard of such a thing but it makes sense!

Valerie said...

What an interesting experiment!! The left one is lighter on my screen. So interesting about the change in hand of the linen. I wonder if it is the moon, or the exposure to overnight temperature changes that makes the linen softer?

Such amazing stuff that cloth made from petroleum products cannot do.
Great post!

Cathy said...

Amazing to see such difference.

In college, some of the women used to moon bathe (for tan) - said their tans were more even. I always wondered about that.

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