Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Happy Frob

The brooch and beads, on the white wool for the shift.
I'd meant to spend January making the "foundation" garment for my early Norwegian and völva outfits--a long, white wool tunic.  January started busy, but I figured that I'd have plenty of time to start the project on Martin Luther King Day weekend. (the weekend of the third Monday of January, which this year was January 16-19; MLK Day is a national holiday in the U.S.).

Unfortunately, I got sick on the evening of January 16, with chills and fever, and my improvement was very slow.  Part of the problem for my doctor was figuring out what illness I had.  Was it influenza, or strep throat, or both?   I ended up taking antiviral medication until the strep throat culture test came back, finally, on Friday.  It was positive, so now I'm finally taking antibiotics. The net result is that I've gotten very little done over the past week, and am rapidly running out of January time in which to start (let alone complete) the tunic.

So I'll work on the tunic later (possibly for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge "Re-Do"). Yesterday, I cheered myself up by finishing a small frob that is to be part of the Norwegian costume. As the photograph shows, this consists of a large brooch that is a reproduction of one of the Bornholm grave brooches, with a swag of beads to hang from it.  It was surprisingly hard to figure out how to determine the length of the swag so it would lie flat, and probably I'll have to redo it at some point.  However, I managed to obtain a good combination of generic glass pony beads and pre-Viking age reproduction beads appropriate to the 8th century CE (the period of my planned costume), and just looking at the result makes me happy.

Note:  The reconstruction drawings show the original brooch as carrying five strands of beads, but that struck me as too cumbersome to wear (although, in retrospect, it might have been easier to string).  I still have plenty of pony beads left, so I might reconfigure the set to have five strands when I find an appropriate bead spreader.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Motherlode of Penelope Walton Rogers's Research

I learned from a friend of mine a few days ago that a number of the works of Penelope Walton Rogers, who has done much research on Anglo-Saxon and Viking era costuming, has been made available for free download from Pangur Press, the publishing arm of her business, The Anglo-Saxon Laboratory.

The downloads are available here.  They include a number of older books and articles that are out-of-print and hard to find; some of them are available for free nowhere else, so far as I know.   The more desirable ones, to me, are the following:

  • Walton Rogers, P., (2006), Costume in the Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Saltwood, Kent.  This work consists of three parts, all of which are downloadable on the Pangur Press site.  One is about costume accessories, one is about women's and men's costumes, and the other is about a weaving tool found at the site and includes a bibliography for all three parts of the work.
  • Walton Rogers, P., 1999, 'Identification of dye on Middle Saxon pottery from Christ Church College', Canterbury's Archaeology 1996-1997 (21st Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust), 36.  About one-paragraph describing an interesting find of interest to dyers.
  • Walton, P., 1988, ‘Dyes of the Viking Age: a summary of recent work’, Dyes in History and Archaeology 7, 14-20.  A reader of this blog asked me if I knew where to find a copy of this article a little while ago.  Now, I do!  


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Historical Sew Monthly--New Projects!

The Dreamstress decided that, to relieve stress on both herself and the other participants, this year's Historical Sew Fortnightly would become a Historical Sew Monthly, with projects due at the end of every month, instead of every two weeks.   I thought it might be useful to me, and amusing to some of my regular readers, for me to list my reactions to the various challenges, and the projects I'm planning to make for each.

JanuaryFoundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.   YES!
I still want to complete the white wool shift that was to be the foundation for both my early Norwegian outfit and my völva outfit.  The only trick may be finishing it on time.

February – Colour Challenge Blue: Make an item that features blue, in any shade from azure to zaffre. YES!
I could make either the overdress for my early Norwegian outfit (for which I already have fabric) or the völva's cloak (for which I'd need to buy fabric) for this one.

March Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.  MAYBE.
I have some wool that I'd overdyed rather poorly in a sky blue shade (so that it has a blotchy/streaky look).  Maybe that wool (which has been washed) would make a good pair of cut-and-sewn stockings?  There's more than enough fabric--maybe even enough for several pairs.  If I can find the pattern I made for myself the last time I made stockings, this could be a good project.

AprilWar & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear. Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace. PROBABLY NOT.  
I can imagine a lot of projects that might fit into this category: World War II dresses, Garibaldi blouses, Landsknecht outfits, French Revolutionary cockades. But none of these possible projects inspire me. I'll probably sit this one out.

May – Practicality: ... Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.  MAYBE.
The difficulty here is that, for anything before 1500, the "jeans and t-shirt" equivalent is, for sewing purposes, the same as the high-fashion one, except it's made from cheaper fabrics and/or is nearly worn out.  If I get a bright idea for this challenge, though, I'll join in.

June – Out of Your Comfort Zone: Create a garment from a time period you haven’t done before, or that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before.   YES!
The sprang frame I made last March is still sitting in my closet (to guard it from my new cat); I'd like to warp it and finish a sprang project this year if I can.

July – Accessorize: The final touch of the right accessory creates the perfect period look. Bring an outfit together by creating an accessory to go with your historical wardrobe.   MAYBE.  
I am planning to make bead strings for the rectangular brooch I'm going to wear with my early Norwegian outfit, but that won't take much effort (except in finding suitable beads at a suitable price). Perhaps I can make the hood for my völva outfit for this challenge.

August – Heirlooms & Heritage: Re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations. PROBABLY NOT.
I don't have much in the way of heirloom sewing equipment, and I know little enough about my ancestors and about early period clothing in their parts of Europe to be unsure what sort of garment to make.  Also, August is likely to be very busy for me this year.  I'm not sure what I'll do yet.

September Colour Challenge Brown: it’s not the most exciting colour by modern standards, but brown has been one of the most common, and popular, colours throughout history. Make something brown.   YES!
I like this idea--before the Bronze Age most clothing in northern Europe would have been the color of undyed wool, much of which is brown.  But I'm not sure what sort of garment to make this time around.  This one needs more thought.

October – Sewing Secrets: Hide something in your sewing, whether it is an almost invisible mend, a secret pocket, a false fastening or front, or a concealed message (such as a political or moral allegiance).   MAYBE.
I like this idea but I'm not sure how to implement it.  I'm reluctant to damage a garment just to be able to show off my mending skills.  I could try to add some fabric to my Hedeby dress to make it fit me better, but picking apart its solidly-sewn seams in order to do that feels more like a chore than like fun.  I need to think about this one too.

November – Silver Screen: Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV), and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.   PROBABLY NOT.  
I don't have a great deal of knowledge of movie fashions, and the movies that have bothered to depict early period events are usually so far off the mark that one would have to scrap the entire design to make a "historically accurate period piece".  I'll sit this one out.

December – Re-Do: It’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.  YES!
I will almost certainly miss one of the challenge deadlines, so it's likely I'll be doing this one, one way or another. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Roman Necklace

The complete parure.
The completed necklace.
Before life creeps up and mugs me again, I figured I'd make and share some photographs of my Roman necklace. The photograph showing the necklace in wear was taken by my wonderful husband.  

Because it's so shiny, it's hard to photograph the necklace in such a way as to give a good idea of its true color--the pearls are more pink than golden in color, contrary to what you see in the picture on the top right.  The photograph on the left of the post shows the necklace being worn with the earrings I'd previously made, using the same type of glass pearls.

Since I finished the necklace, I've been looking more closely at actual period necklaces of this type, and they do a better job of closing each loop; on some, the loops look as though the end of the wire is wrapped around the shaft, or at least is tucked inside the bead hole.  On the other hand, a piece of my necklace fell off while I was laying it out for the photograph, and I was able to correct the problem simply by squeezing the loop a bit tighter after reattaching the errant piece.
For comparison -- Necklace, Roman or Byzantine
c. 400 CE.  Photo:  Kunstpedia Foundation (

Unfortunately, when I was donning them for the photographs, the earwire on one of the earrings broke!  I actually put both earrings on for the photo session (though you can't see the broken one in the final photograph) but it would not stay put in normal wear; I'm going to have to re-make one of the earrings. Fortunately, the re-make will only require buying more earwires and finding the rest of my crimp rings, though it's annoying to have to remake the earring at all.

The necklace shown on the site dates to 400 C.E., but I've found necklaces of a similar design from about 100 C.E. onward.  It's a deservedly easy to make and wear style, and could even be worn with modern fashions.  If I end up making ancient Roman clothes, I will probably make a few more of these necklaces with beads of different colors.

EDIT:  (1/7/2014)  One commenter asked me how fake pearls were made in ancient Rome.  I didn't have time to do serious research on the subject, but I found several references on the Internet repeating the claim that the ancient Romans made fake pearls by coating glass beads with silver, and then adding a coating of glass on top of the silver. I'm not sure how effective this would have been or what the source of the claim was, though I'll continue trying to find out.  The first place I found it reported on the Internet was here:

EDIT:  (1/10/2014)  I have re-made my broken earring; now I have the full set again.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Roman Beaded Chain Necklace--Complete!

Happy New Year, everyone!  This post, my first post of 2015, will to document my completion of the last challenge I completed for the Historical Sew Fortnightly of 2014. 

The final challenge of the Historical Sew Fortnightly for 2014 was "All that Glitters".  The objective was to make a historical costume item that was shiny or glittery.  I had decided long ago to make an ancient Roman style rose gold pearl beaded chain necklace, to match the Roman earrings I had made for the "Heads and Toes" challenge.

Despite the fact that the jump rings I bought for the necklace are of a finer gauge than the wire I used for the rest of the necklace and my difficulties in making "tight little loops" of wire as Stephens's video directs, I think the necklace turned out rather well.   To my surprise, I needed fewer beads than I feared that I would need to make the necklace as long as I wanted it to be; the combination of jump ring connectors and wire links for each bead extends the length easily without requiring many beads. Perhaps that is why the Romans used this technique--it allowed the jeweler to use fewer precious stone beads (such as emeralds) to make a full necklace, and if the necklace broke, you were unlikely to lose more than one bead, if any.  

I'll post photographs sometime this weekend, but for now I want to record the basic statistics.

The Challenge:  #24--All That Glitters

Fabric:  None involved, since this item was made from Swarowski glass pearls, rose gold plated silver beads, rose gold filled  (I can't recall now if the wire is gold filled or plated); brass wire, and rose gold jump rings.    

Pattern:   I followed Janet Stephens' tutorial video on how to make a Roman beaded chain necklace. 

Year:   Roughly first century C.E. 

Notions:  Eight rose-gold plated silver beads, 8mm; eight rose-gold Swarowski pearls, 12 mm; 18 gauge rose gold filled brass wire in a surprisingly tiny quantity; about 30 rose gold wire jump rings in 20 gauge wire; and a pre-made rose gold wire clasp (gauge unknown, but thicker than 18 gauge).

How historically accurate is it?   The basic design is period.  The Romans used real pearls and metal beads in their jewelry, and so far as I know glass pearls also are period.  The main differences are that I used pre-made jump rings and a pre-made clasp.  So I'd say 90%.

Hours to completeAbout an hour and a half, not counting the time it took me to select all the materials and watch Janet Stephens's video a few times.

First worn:  Only to confirm that the necklace was the right length.  I will post photographs of the necklace in wear soon.

Total cost:  About $40.00 (including the round-nosed pliers I bought for the project; not including the beads I originally bought and ultimately rejected).  Now that I know how economical this type of design is and have some wire and jump rings left, I could make another such necklace much more cheaply.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Inspiration from a Christmas Present

This year was not a big year for Christmas presents at our house, but I did receive a wonderful present from my husband. Like most presents ha and I exchange, this one is a book.  Unlike most of the books I've received from him, this one blends elements of costume and military history.  Here's the citation:
Aldrete, Gregory S., Bartell, Scott & Aldrete, Alicia.  Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor:  Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
Though it's a small book, Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor contains a surprising amount of information, which I'll probably blog about after I finish reading it.  Right now, I'm more interested in talking about the experimental approach taken by the authors and their helpers took to their material, which is nearly as interesting as their discoveries.

The authors sought to maximize what information exists about the linothorax--a type of ancient body armor made from linen.  They reviewed the scholarly literature (surprisingly sparse), references in ancient writings, images in Greek art (surprisingly plentiful; the authors found nearly 1,000), and experiments with actual prototypes based upon their research.  

As I read, it occurred to me that one task Professor Aldrete and his colleagues performed might be useful to me as a researcher of Viking age costume; compiling a data base of human depictions in period art.  Unlike the art of the ancient Greeks, Viking art is not representational; it is highly stylized, sometimes to the point where it becomes debatable whether a particular figure was intended to be male or female.  Still, an actual list of pieces depicting human figures would be more useful to me than the Pinterest boards I've assembled, particularly if I group the items by date and find location.  Hopefully, I can begin the project this weekend.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Little More About Lengberg, Courtesy of Piecework

First of all, (since I haven't posted since before Christmas) happy holidays!

When I was in Barnes and Noble (a U.S. chain bookstore) doing some last minute Christmas shopping, I noticed that the current (November/December 2014) issue of Piecework magazine had an article about the Lengberg finds, so I bought it, to see how the author would address the topic. It turns out that the November/December issue is devoted to historical underwear, so the Lengberg linens make a reasonably good fit with the theme.  Here's the citation:
Ricketts, Laura.  The Case of the Medieval Bras.  Piecework, November/December 2014 (pp. 10-14).
Ms. Ricketts's article makes a few assertions that, given the informal approach Piecework takes to history, I'm not prepared to credit without further substantiation.  For example, Ms. Ricketts suggests, without flatly asserting, that the "bikini" style underpants were women's wear--ignoring the Durer art indicating that men wore such items.

More interesting, and even less credible in my opinion, is the author's assertion that the lacy decoration that appears on the bras is sprang. Sprang is worked with one continuous thread on a fixed frame.  If sprang fabric is cut, it unravels, so sprang can only be made and used in the shapes in which it was originally woven.  Yet the pictures of the Lengberg finds appearing with the article show small bits of lacy work which could not have been worked easily on a sprang frame, even a small one, and could not have been cut from a sprang frame and remained stable enough to sew into a garment.  I believe that Professor Nutz's theory that the openwork was a very early needle-lace, such as punto in aria, is much more plausible. Amusingly, the issue also includes a knitted lace project based on the Lengberg finds--a means of creating such openwork that is also more likely that sprang (and perhaps more likely than punto in aria, given that knitting was already known in Europe by the 15th century CE).

On the other hand, the article includes good color photographs of the Lengberg bras and some interesting tidbits of the history of some later versions of the bra that may be of interest.  Ms. Ricketts also attempts to come to reasoned conclusions about the origins of the bra.  Even though these attempts are unsuccessful, I think it's good to see such an approach tried in a magazine targeted at ordinary people.

N.B.  The same issue of Piecework includes an article by Chris Laning about medieval headwear and directions for knitting a medieval cap, for those who may be interested.

CORRECTION:  (12/28/2014)  My apologies for criticizing Ms. Ricketts for stating that the openwork on the Lengberg bras is sprang.  Carolyn Priest-Dorman has pointed out to me that Nutz's NESAT article states that the panel of openwork on the most highly decorated of the four bras found at Lengberg is sprang. (p. 223).   Nutz does not discuss why she concludes that this is the case, though the pattern in question (illustrated in the NESAT article, also p. 223) is the type of symmetrical design that is characteristic of sprang.  Nutz refers to at least some of the simpler openwork designs on the bras as "fingerloop lace and loop-stitch (needle lace)".  (p. 223).  I'm not sure what to make of these statements, but they are undeniably present in Professor Nutz's NESAT article.