Tuesday, July 19, 2016

More Web Resources

Regular readers of this blog know that I've posted several lists of "one afternoon tutorials"--projects which can be completed in a single afternoon by people with different skill levels and yet generate wearable items, or other kinds of useful items that can be part of a historical costume.  

In doing that, however, I have deliberately ignored other tutorials, which might be of equal interest to my readers, either because they require too many steps to be completed in a single afternoon or a higher level of starting skill, or both.

It occurred to me that I might do a useful service by suggesting places on the Internet where tutorials for more complex projects can be found, so that interested readers could search for tutorials, patterns, and other information about more complex projects that might suit their interests and needs.

Then it occurred to me that I need not mention those sites that have been the source of my lists of "one-afternoon tutorials", since having checked out those sites before, interested readers can simply return to them in search of new material, if they are so inspired.  But there are sites I have found on the Internet that are gold mines of information; I just haven't discussed them in my blog because they relate to historical periods in which I am (presently) less interested.

Some of my favorite sites for information on historical costume, and/or historical costuming, are listed under the heading "Resources" in the column to the left of this blog. Many of them have been around for nearly 20 years--yes, they go back nearly to the beginning of the World Wide Web--but they still contain extremely useful information and are worth exploring if you are interested in costume for the relevant period/s of history.  The following sites are not quite as old, but do contain much valuable information.
  • YouTube.  Do not underestimate the power of YouTube.  It can be searched, like Google (which now owns it), and it contains a multitude of videos about historical costuming, makeup, and hairstyles, including a vast array of video tutorials.  Many of them are excellent.  Some of them qualify as "one-afternoon" tutorials, but others don't.  In recent blog posts, I have embedded links to some YouTube videos of interest to me, including tutorials by Janet Stephens, the "hairdressing archaeologist", and lectures by archaeological scholars such as Neil Price.  
  • Your Wardrobe Unlock'd.  This is mostly a paid subscription site (there are some articles available for free). However, it contains excellent information from long-time historical costumers who do very good research. It has especially useful information for Western world costuming for the 16th-19th centuries.
  • Historical Sewing.com. This site is all about 19th century costume and sewing for women's wear. I wish it had been around when I was last interested in making myself 19th century costume.
  • Susanna Broome. Susanna has produced a number of pamphlets on how to craft Viking Age clothing for men and women based upon solid research into the archaeological finds and the recent theories about what those finds tell us. She even has booklets on how to recreate known Viking age nalbinding finds and tablet-woven bands that do not require knowledge of brocading. Look to her blog for information about her booklets and research, and to her Facebook page, Viking Age Clothing, to purchase her booklets (and learn which merchants are authorized to resell those booklets).
  • La Cotte Simple. A wonderful site, full of detailed tutorials about fitted late medieval fashion, for women and men.
  • Koshka the Cat. She has a great collection of tutorials she has written on how to make a number of different garments, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Caveat emptor; not everyone who posts a tutorial will be interested in obtaining a high degree of historical accuracy, and some such posters may be unaware that their approach will not result in a garment or outfit that is period or close to period in appearance, materials, construction, etc.  But that's part of the fun of exploring the Internet; unexpectedly finding a source of information for an area of sewing, or of history, that you thought nobody in the world but you cared about.

Go forth and explore!  And have fun.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Latest Crop of Tutorials

Sometimes, when I am tired enough not to want to try to be creative but not tired enough to sleep, I like to browse the Internet for interesting resources. It's at times like those I collect one-afternoon tutorials to share with my readers.  The collections get published on months, like this one, where I haven't had the time or inspiration to engage in costuming activities worth blogging about, or to put in the time and thought to write as many interesting posts as I would have liked to have done.

Anyway, here's the latest batch of tutorials.   Have fun with them!
  • How to make Grindle buttons. What are Grindle buttons, you may ask? They are similar to Dorset buttons, for which I published a link to a tutorial previously. This tutorial is from Mackin-Art.
  • How to make a 19th century winter hood for a woman or a girl, courtesy of Romantic History Historical Clothing
  • How to make a Viking "treasure" necklace, by the Viking Answer Lady, Christie Ward. (Scroll down to the bottom of the linked pages to find it.) The link explains what a Viking treasure necklace is, and describes the proportions used for stringing the beads and pendants used in such a piece.*
  • Lauren Reeser over at American Duchess provides this tutorial on how to make a woman's 1920's bathing suit. Better still, she gives information on how to plausibly fake one if for some reason you don't have time for even a quick sewing project. 
  • Here's a great tutorial for making a simple leather money pouch, based upon a Norwegian pouch from the 13th-14th century CE, courtesy of Katafalk.
  • Also from Katafalk:  a simple (i.e., without embroidery) version of St. Birgitta's cap.  
  • From Medieval Silkwork, how to make a number of basic tassels at one time. Tassels are indispensable for Assyrian costume, 1860's Western women's fashion, and certain items in the Middle Ages, and possibly for other periods as well.
  • And, finally, from Eulalia of the Medieval York blog: how to make a very simple pennannular brooch, which works for early period costuming well into the Middle Ages.
* There is some question whether "treasure" necklaces were strung in quite the manner seen in the reconstructions, though, because the original stringing cord does not survive in most finds, raising a question as to the order in which the pendants and beads were originally strung.  The tutorial above replicates the look of such finds as they have typically been reconstructed by museums, which may or may not be the way these necklaces were originally strung.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Køstrup Dress--The Pleats

A few years ago, Hilde Thunem published a web article about her examination of the surviving fragments from the Køstrup smokkr or apron dress, and updated her broader essay about Viking apron dresses to include a discussion of how she believes that dress was made, with pictures of an apron dress she made for herself based on her in-person analysis of the Køstrup fragments. 

Last year, I found a paper on the web by Nille Glaesel, who many people consider to be an expert on apron dress construction, about her theories of how the Køstrup smokkr was made.  Like Hilde Thunem, Ms. Glaesel has also had an opportunity to examine the Køstrup finds.  Unlike Ms. Thunem, Ms. Glaesel has significant experience, not just with sewing period clothing but also with weaving tablet-made bands and using a warp-weighted loom to make fabric.  Her experience leads her to some interesting conclusions that are different from Hilde's. (Because the paper is located in the files of a closed Facebook group, I am not comfortable with making it available for free download here. Interested readers of this blog may wish to seek and obtain admission to the group "Scholarly Discussion on Viking Age Clothing" to obtain a copy.)

In the meantime, I would like to summarize Ms. Glaesel's approach and conclusions here, as they provide excellent food for thought, not only about apron dress construction in general, but on how to make deductions based on archaeological finds.  Since I began writing this post, I have found descriptions of two other reconstructions of the Køstrup smokkr and have incorporated them into this discussion.

Ms. Glaesel titled her paper, "The Køstrup Apron Dress Interpreted by a Crafter".  As was true for Hilde Thunem, Ms. Glaesel's experience in making apron dresses has greatly influenced her conclusions about the construction of the original.  Unlike Hilde Thunem, Ms. Glaesel not only sews her own Viking clothing, but she also has experience with weaving cloth on a warp-weighted loom like the looms used by Viking women, and her experience in weaving cloth has significantly influenced her thoughts about the construction of the Køstrup smokkr.

Nille Glaesel's paper discusses several different issues that relate to how the Køstrup smokkr, but in this post I will only comment on what is perhaps the most obvious question, namely, how the pleats in the center front of the smokkr were created and secured.

The Smokkrs.   Hilde Thunem had some difficulty coming up with an effective method for securing the pleats on her Køstrup smokkr.  After an initial unsuccessful attempt to fix pleats in position by steaming, she ended up creating her pleats by drawing linen threads through the relevant section of fabric, and then anchoring them with stitches placed on the inside of the garment, perpendicular to the pleats (see Alternative 3 in the construction section of her paper).

In contrast, Ms. Glaesel believes that the pleating found in the Køstrup fragment was created while the dress fabric was still on the loom, by pulling certain threads in the woven fabric tight while the fabric was still on the loom and then steaming the fabric to set the pleats after the weaving was complete (page 5, see also page 21). Because she believes this is how the pleating is done, she also believes that the pleats ran the entire length of the dress from top to bottom, and that the pleated section was sewn into the dress after the pleating was completed--though she admits that she cannot tell whether there is evidence of a seam beside the pleated portions (page 6).

Jenn Culler, in making her own Køstrup reconstruction, mostly agrees with Hilde Thunem.  Like Nille Glaesel, Jenn is a weaver (though she used a modern loom, not a warp-weighted loom, to create the fabric for her smokkr). Jenn has said that she believes that the method of creating the pleats while the dress is on the loom is "far more tedious of a process than simply drawing the pleats on a thread after the garment is crafted."  She believes that stabilizing stitches made on the inside of the garment are plausible, even though stitch holes do not appear on the surviving pleated fragment, in part because "[s]titches added from behind could penetrate the web of the textile, without impaling individual weaving threads."*  The stabilizing stitches for Jenn's pleats are whip stitched on the inside of the garment.

Finally, Kristine Risberg took a somewhat different approach to making and stabilizing the pleats on her Køstrup smokkr.  Kristine, like Jenn, drew up the fabric into pleats with linen thread, which she left in place "because I don’t know if the pleating would hold should the thread be removed." However, she also chose to back the pleated area with a piece of linen--an approach Hilde originally tried but ultimately rejected.  It should be noted, however, that Kristine's approach resulted in pleats that are much wider than the pleats on the original Køstrup dress: 8mm wide, instead of 2-3 mm wide.

My Thoughts.

For my part, I think that the very narrowness of the original pleats is inconsistent with the idea that any kind of lining or backing was used for the pleated section.  If such a lining was used but dissolved in the grave, the resulting pleats would now appear wider and looser than they actually are, as Kristine's smokkr indicates.

I also think that it is likely that the pleats were formed by drawing threads through the pleated areas, and likely kept in place with stitches taken across the back side of the pleated area.  Why?  Because it seems likely to me that the time it would take to boil enough water to produce a suitable amount of steam, and the effort it would take to attempt to steam the pleated fabric above the open-fire-heated cauldrons used for cooking, would have made efforts to steam-set such pleats impractical.**  That would be particularly true if, as Nille Glaesel believes, the pleats extended all the way from the top of the apron dress to its bottom hem (an issue as to which there currently is no evidence whatsoever).  

I do not have difficulty believing that linen gathering and stabilizing stitches would have dissolved in the grave.  It is generally believed that linen undergarments, at least, were quite common in Viking times due to the presence of scraps preserved near metal grave goods and by the discovery of linen-processing tools.   Except for tiny scraps preserved by proximity to metal items, however, linen is not found in Scandinavian graves.  In addition, Hilde notes that there are gaps in the weave of the tablet-woven band at the top of the Køstrup dress, a feature best explained by the dissolution of linen or other vegetable fiber threads underground. 

As for Nille Glaesel's suggestion that the pleats were formed as the pleated strip was being woven,   I am inclined to believe this method of pleating viable (because Ms. Glaesel is the only one of the reconstructionists who has woven fabric for her apron dresses on a warp-weighted loom, the type used during the Viking age), but any argument that this was the method actually used on the Køstrup smokkr is refuted by the fact that the pleated area does not show seams on both sides of the pleated area.  I do not see how the weaving method  Ms. Glaesel proposes could be used to pleat only a portion of a larger sheet of fabric, and that is the only possibility that would be consistent both with pleating the fabric while it was on the loom and with the lack of seams on both sides of the pleated section.   In addition, as I said above, I do not think that it would be practical to set pleats in fabric with steam using Viking age technology, and Ms. Glaesel proposes this technique also.

So at this point, I believe that Jenn Culler's method of pleating and stabilizing the pleats is most consistent with the available evidence.*** Unfortunately, a definitive conclusion to these questions will not be possible unless another, better-preserved pleated apron dress find is located.

Nille Glaesel's paper also discusses the question of how the tablet-woven band found in the Køstrup grave was fastened to the top of the smokkr, but I will talk about that in another post.

*   See this blog for yet another reconstruction which uses construction techniques similar to Jenn Culler's.


** Volker Bach noted, in Compleat Anachronist No. 156 (Society for Creative Anachronism, Second Quarter 2012) that it is nearly impossible to reach a full rolling boil using the cooking technologies available in the Carolingian Era: 
"Carolingian cooks mostly used woodfires, and it is likely that the most common technique was boiling or simmering in clay pots. These would slowly have built up to a gentle heat. Cooking food at a rolling boil is almost impossible in them, and their results are best replicated by gently baking a cooking container or cooking on a gentle heat. ... Metal cookware was probably confined to larger households. ... Still, a cooking vessel suspended over a fire is not going to produce the concentrated heat of a modern stovetop unless it touches the flame directly." (p. 26).
In Daniel Serra and Hanna Tunberg's book, An Early Meal:  A Viking Age Cookbook and Cultural Odyssey (ChronoCopia Publishing AB 2013) the authors note that boiling in metal cauldrons over a wood fire was a common food preparation technique among the Vikings (p. 23) but they do not state or even suggest that a rolling boil was used.  Moreover, the authors state that most of the foods cooked would have been porridges and stews, and these are foods typically cooked (even today) by long simmering, not vigorous boiling.  The point is that boiling water hard enough, and for long enough, to produce sufficient steam to fix pleats in fabric, should not be assumed to have been a simple matter with Viking era technology.

*** No, I did not reach this conclusion because of my fondness for whip stitching in sewing period clothing!  Also note that, despite her original attempts to steam-set the pleats in her smokkr and to stabilize the resulting pleats with a backing of linen, Hilde Thunem's final smokkr deals with the pleats in much the same way as Jenn Culler's--i.e., creating them with drawn threads and stabilizing them with stitches taken on the inside of the garment.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reconstruction of the Lendbreen Tunic

A few months ago, I posted about a joint project to reconstruct the Hammerum dress, which dates to about 100 CE.  A video showing the reconstruction process had been posted to YouTube, and I wrote about it here

Yesterday, I found another reconstruction video on YouTube.  This one is a reconstruction of the Lendbreen tunic, a male garment found intact due to the melting of a glacier in Oppland County, Norway.  Because that garment received even more press attention than the Hammerum tunic, I figured that information about its reconstruction would be of interest to my readers.

The Lendbreen tunic dates to approximately 300 CE. Unlike the Hammerum reconstruction video, this one was recorded in Norwegian, but there are English subtitles throughout.  So it should be possible for an English-speaker to obtain useful information from the video even if it is watched without sound (though one misses out on the baaing of the sheep that way).

The video begins with the finding of the tunic.  It turns out that Norwegian archaeologists have been visiting areas where glaciers are melting, to see what artifacts may be emerging from the ice. That is how the Lendbreen tunic was discovered.  The video emphasizes that this is the oldest garment ever found in Norway--about 1700 years old.

The archaeologists deduced that the garment belonged to a slender young man, based upon the garment's cut and size.  It had also seen very heavy wear while it was in service.  It was well-made from diamond twill wool, but no human remains have been found near it, and no other artifacts, so how it came to be in the ice remains a mystery.

Like the Hammerum dress reconstructors, the Lendbreen tunic team started by getting native wool from sheep.  They chose wool from Villsau sheep, an old Norwegian breed they judged to be closest to the wool that would have been available during the early Iron Age when the tunic was made.  The video shows the wool being pulled off of the sheep in a process called "rooing" in English.  Doing so better preserves the natural qualities of the two-layered wool of the Villsau sheep--the tough water-repellant outer fibers and the soft, insulating under coat.

Because it would have taken hand-spinners 15 weeks to spin the 2.5 kg of wool necessary for the cloth to make the tunic, the Lendbreen reconstruction team chose to compromise by having the Villsau wool mechanically spun.  The spun thread was woven on a warp-weighted loom.  Curiously, though the fabric was woven in a diamond twill from light and dark threads, the impression given by the fabric from a short distance is simply of a mottled or heathered color; one needs to look "real close" to detect the diamond weave pattern.  The resulting fabric was turned over to seamstresses to be cut based upon a pattern prepared from the original tunic, and sewn by hand.

Although this video does not go into the level of detail about the actual reconstruction work that the Hammerum video did, it still provides insight about the effort required to make clothing in early times, and the effort and skill necessary to make hard-wearing garments that were attractive.  It is well worth the time of anyone interested in early period clothing and clothing history.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

New Light On the Viking "Valkyrie" Figures

Reconstruction of Birka grave 581
(image from Neil Price's
April 2016 presentation)
One thing that I find frustrating about my study of Viking costume is the lack of useful detail in Viking period art.  Of course, in every period artists suppress or distort certain details while clearly rendering others in order to achieve various artistic effects.  But Viking art is not representational in the way that late medieval or early modern art is, and it can be difficult to tell what types of features the lines, circles, and zigzags that appear on the clothing worn by the figures in brooches and pendants are meant to depict.

Of interest with regard to the interpretation of female figures in Viking Age art in general and the "valkyrie" figures in particular is the lecture in the embedded video by Neil Price, Ph.D. (The conference took place in Spain last April, and the introduction is in Spanish, but the lecture itself is in English.) Dr. Price is with the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University in Sweden.

The lecture recorded in the video at the right is about Viking Age depictions of women, including but not limited to women wielding or carrying weapons. In his lecture, Dr. Price compares three different types of female figures that appear in Viking Age jewelry and carvings--all of which are typically called "valkyries".  The types are: 1) figures in long robes with knotted ponytail hairstyles, usually holding out a drinking horn; 2) figures in long robes with ambiguous hairstyles, holding a big round shield and a sword; and 3) brooches showing two figures--one on a horse with long hair and weapons and one standing in front of the horse with a shield. Dr. Price observed that we do not know that all of these figure types were intended or understood by the Vikings to depict "valkyries".  He also observed that in Old Norse, the names given to valkyries in the sagas are words for the horror and chaos of battle, suggesting that valkyries were seen primarily as terrible goddesses of battle and not as brave shieldmaidens or horn-bearing women welcoming the brave dead to Valhalla.

Silver terminal for cap found in Birka grave 581.
Photo from the Historiska Museet, Stockholm.
The most interesting part of the lecture (starts at approximately 28:19) involves a very recent re-analysis of the skeletal remains of Birka grave 581. Four different osteologists independently concluded that the skeletal remains in grave 581 are those of a woman, which suggests that that grave is the final resting place of a woman who was not only buried with many weapons, but was dressed like a Viking man, complete with a hat with a dangling point ornamented with a silver terminal (see the image to the left) and "poofy pants".

Detail from the Oseberg cart.  Wikimedia Commons
 (photo by Annie Dalbéra, Paris, France)
Dr. Price is convinced that the woman in grave 581 was a warrior and was buried dressed as a man.  From listening to his lecture, I received the impression that his conclusion was not based upon fabric remains (he does not mention that there were any, and in any event the study of textile remains is not his specialty) but from the other contents of the grave.  Most of the grave goods of Birka 581 are war equipment: they include a sword, a shield, a spear, an axe, a long fighting knife, a bow (with a full quiver of arrows) and, significantly, two horses.  Dr. Price found the presence of the two horses particularly important because professional warriors needed to have multiple horses, in the event one horse was too exhausted for battle when it was time to fight. In addition, grave 581 contains a silver cone-shaped object typically interpreted as the terminal of a "Santa Claus" style cap, which has been associated by scholars and reenactors with men. (A copy of the grave reconstruction image that Dr. Price used in his lecture is reproduced at the top on the left.)

Although Dr. Price's conclusions arise from art analysis and skeletal analysis, they have a number of implications for Viking Age clothing, including, I think, the following:
  • Some women--possibly not many, but we have no way to tell how many--were professional fighters who dressed as men.
  • The different types of female images in Viking Age art may represent women with different societal roles, and cannot be assumed to represent a single style of female costume.
  • The figure with the long necklace and the short skirt/tunic/kilt on the Oseberg cart (shown above--see the figure on the far left) may well be a woman.  I had been skeptical about this interpretation before, but the osteological findings from Grave 581 tend to support it.
  • The common practice of sexing graves by examining the grave goods alone (e.g., presuming graves with tortoise brooches and bead strings are female and grave containing weapons are male) needs to be reexamined.  Dr. Price commented to this effect in his lecture.
It will be difficult to abandon the practice of using jewelry and weapons to sex graves because many Scandinavian Viking Age graves simply do not contain sufficient skeletal remains to allow a determination of sex, but if we are to determine how women and men lived and dressed during the Viking Age, we need to obtain as much information from the evidence we have as possible, and seek not to rely upon easy assumptions.  In any event, the grave 581 skeleton reminds us that we have far to go in our attempts to reconstruct Viking culture.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Woman in Blue--A Final Note

It turns out that to purchase a copy of the National Museum of Iceland's 70-page exhibition volume about the "Woman in Blue" would cost approximately $78 USD. That's about $24 USD for the book's price, about $31 USD for postage to the US, and about $23 USD for customs charges! So I won't be buying the book any time soon, alas. 

For those of my readers who can't arrange a quick trip to Iceland to buy the book there, I figured I'd end the month of May, and my series of  "Woman in Blue" posts, with a shout out to the blog of Marled Mader. Marled and Marianne Guckelsberger worked together to make a reproduction of the apron dress worn by the Woman in Blue, based upon information available in the National Museum's book. They recorded their progress step by step on Marled's blog, Archäotechnik - textile Fläche. If you want to read each entry starting with the first one (there are 12 of them), go to this page and start with the link for "Teil 1" under the heading "Island-Projekt".   The last installment includes some marvelous pictures of the finished dress.

As the title indicates, Archäotechnik - textile Fläche is written in German, but using Google Translate on each entry results in a translation that is mostly intelligible to an English speaker.  I think it's a very worthwhile read for those interested in the Viking apron dress and how it may have been made, and worn.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tablet Weaving Patterns from the Past

Three pieces of tablet weaving showing the "ramshorn" pattern
which is NOT PERIOD for the Viking era or any pre-modern cultures.
Photo by Cynthia M. Parkhill depicting her own work (found on Wikipedia).
Early Iron Age tablet woven band from
Hallstatt salt mine (found on Wikipedia)
When I first became interested in early period costuming, I wanted to learn period techniques for ornamenting the clothes I was making.  That's why I taught myself the rudiments of tablet weaving in the first place.

As is also true for many people who attempted to learn about tablet weaving in the early 1990s, the first book I encountered that purported to teach the basic technique was Candace Crockett's book Card Weaving (The link is to Amazon, but the book is available both new and used from other places). The pattern shown in the photograph to the right, called the "ramshorn" pattern, though attractive, dates to 20th century CE Anatolia and is not even remotely plausible for earlier periods. Early period designs tend to be based on diamonds or triangles, like the Hallstatt band shown to the right.

The disconnect between the information I could obtain about tablet weaving (very modern) and the information I could obtain about period tablet-woven bands (very sparse, and concentrated on brocaded designs that still intimidate me to contemplate, two decades later), led me to shy away from further experimentation with tablet weaving.

But things are different now.  Now it is possible to obtain many articles, and even some books, that I could not afford during the 1990s as free downloads on the Internet.  And now there are more costumers who publish the fruits of their own research, much of it of excellent quality.

Some of those costumers who are making information about how to tablet-weave reproductions of accurate, early period designs.  For example, Shelagh Lewins has recently posted a page containing PDFs with directions for recreating specific tablet woven bands that have been found by archaeologists, including the narrow Oseberg band (early 9th century CE Norway), the Laceby band (7th century CE Anglo-Saxon), the Snartnemo II band (6th century CE Norway).  The relevant page on Shelagh's website is here.

In addition, Susanna Broomé, of Viking Age Clothing, has recently published a booklet of instructions and information about four Viking Age tablet woven bands that can be recreated with basic tablet weaving technique.  Susanna also sells patterns,  instructions for making good quality well-researched reconstructions of Viking Age clothing from her website.  The page about Susanna's booklet on tablet-woven bands may be found here.  Interested readers can order Susanna's booklet from the resellers she links to here, or order it from her directly through her Facebook page, as I am planning to do.

I have some excellent fine yarn, and a good sturdy table-sized tablet weaving loom that would be perfect for weaving some of the bands that Susanna and Shelagh discuss.  After I finally complete my sprang hair net, I intend to experiment with some of those designs.  I encourage interested readers to do likewise.