The word Sprang is originally from the Swedish language (meaning to spring or jump) and it refers to a unique kind of textile. It’s neither weaving nor netting – it’s more like a type of braid.
Sprang is created when warp threads are systematically twisted around one another, and as a result looks a bit like netting, except it’s not looped or knotted. It predates knitting by many centuries, and since there is no weft it is not weaving either.
Sprang has been used for more than 3000 years to make flexible items like bags, stockings, sleeves, and hairnets. Examples can be found in archaeological collections from around the world, and as a practical craft technique it’s likely that it was discovered independently by many groups, including ancient Greeks, ancient Peruvians, Northern European Celts, the Hopi and Navajo.
The most ancient example of sprang to be found so far is this hairnet which was buried with a bog body in Bredmose, Denmark, and dates from around 1400 BC.
Many other examples have been discovered dating from the European Iron Age and early Medieval periods. And although there are no surviving examples from the Greek Bronze Age, the sprang loom can be clearly seen in artwork, such as this painted dish.
Image from: Jenkins, I. and Williams, D. Sprang Hair Nets, Their Manufacture and Use in Ancient Greece, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 89, No. 3 (1985) pp. 411-418
The basic technique of twisting the threads is fairly simple to learn, although I have to admit that I had at least a dozen false starts … with the entire project unraveling! Finally, I have produced a recognizable example, with the help of all of the references listed below. The sticks hold the last few rows in place, and all except the last one can be removed as the work progresses. Everything that happens at the top of the loom is also twisting in reverse at the bottom, so the sprang grows at twice the speed.
You can do a “Z” twist, so that the ‘stitches’ wrap to the left like this ///// or you can do an “S” stitch with the ‘stitches’ going the other way \\\\\. Using both of these directions in a single item will help the sprang to lie flat, rather than curling up in one direction or the other. And once the work meets in the centre, it can be anchored with a firm stitching row which replaces the last stick, and prevents it all from un-twisting again.
Here is my sprang with “Z stitches” at the top, and “S stitches” in the bottom few rows.
Here you can see it on the Salish loom.
And this is the sprang when it’s done … a very flexible textile.
In fact these techniques have never gone out of style in many parts of the world. There are communities in Eastern Europe and in South and Central America where it is still a popular craft, used to make everyday items like sashes, hair nets, shopping bags, and hammocks.
There are also crafters – both ancient and modern – who have developed sprang techniques to a level of great artistry. It’s worth having a look at Pinterest for sites like this with more fantastic examples. http://sashweaver.com/sprang.html
Prehistoric Textiles, by Elizabeth Barber
The Techniques Of Sprang: Plaiting On Stretched Threads, by Peter Collingwood
And here’s a very helpful series of youtube videos – this is lesson 1: