Friday, July 31, 2015

Ancient Greek Textile Book

From an Internet friend I learned about the existence of the following book:

Iris Tzachili and Eleni Zimi, eds.  Textiles and Dress in Greece and the Roman East:  A Technological and Social Approach.  Ta Pragmata Publications, 2012.  ISBN 978-960-98261-2-9.

Surviving textiles from ancient Greece and Rome are rare, and written material about survivals is rarer still, which is another reason why this book, a collection of articles prepared for a textiles conference, is of interest to students of ancient period costume.  I understand that one of the articles is about 4th century a purple silk textile with Roman-style tapestry inserts, woven in gold thread.

A quick Internet search revealed that an online bookstore based in Greece, Andromeda Books, sells this book for 19.17 € on this page.  They have one copy left.

Much as I'd like to (especially at this price) I'm not grabbing Andromeda's last copy, since I have little personal income and my husband and I are about to leave on a (mostly) prepaid two-week vacation. But if any of my readers are willing and able to jump on the opportunity, feel free! Alternatively, the ISBN and bibliographical information should enable interested costumers with limited funds to locate a copy by interlibrary loan.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Not a "Liebster" Award

My "Eura" dress
Stella Anderson of Historical Living with Hvitr has nominated this blog for something called the Liebster Award.

I have received a similar award before, years ago, the Versatile Blogger award. This sort of award is meant to be a way for bloggers to recognize fellow bloggers of quality. The idea is that each nominated person agrees, in turn, to nominate suitable blogs and asks each nominated blog to feature the award tag, to nominate a specified number of other bloggers, to answer questions about him or herself and/or the subject of his/her blogging, and to generate a question list for his/her nominees.

I am touched that Stella nominated me, and I have no problem with the idea of such awards/mutual support networks. However, my pleasure evaporated as I looked at the Liebster website (which happened because you're asked to link to that site as part of accepting the award). The Liebster website (specifically, the page with the Liebster award rules on it) is packed full of advertising by the woman who runs it for her services in teaching people how to monetize their blog and learn to blog more "effectively".

I don't like the idea of using the "award" mechanic as a way of advertising one's own commercial services. Moreover, my impression from the webpage is that the Liebster Award is a much better means for the Liebster Award's creator to get web traffic for her blog than it is for other bloggers to support each other and find new blogs of high quality but (currently) low readership.

On the other hand, I'm sure that Stella nominated me because she likes my work and wanted other people to see and appreciate it too.  I don't want to show disrespect to her by simply refusing to accept the award.  Thank you so much, Stella, for thinking of me and thinking well of me.

So what I've decided to do is to do all of the fun things about the Liebster award, such as answering questions, posing new questions, and providing a list of blogs I'd like to recognize as wonderful and worth reading. But I expressly do NOT intend to accept the Liebster award, and to that end I'm deliberately ignoring some of the "rules". Specifically, I'm not including the Liebster label on this post. Nor am I listing the Liebster Award rules in this post (anyone who is curious can use the link to the Liebster page above to look them up).

So here are my answers to Stella's questions:
1.  If you could make any costume from a painting/photo/movie/book, what would it be?
I don't really have a movie costume favorite. I'm more likely to be inspired by historical models than movie costumes. 

2.  What’s your favourite thing that you’ve made? 
The very first "Eura" style dress that I made; you can see a picture of it above.  It is wonderfully comfortable as well as being washable and attractive; I really love the red trim I found to put on it.  

3.  Have you ever worn a historical piece as an everyday clothing item, and did anyone notice?

Yes. My mother helped me make a Kinsale cloak from a silk wool twill, and when I was in college I wore it sometimes as outerwear with ordinary clothes. Unfortunately, it was a light enough fabric that it wasn't very warm, but it was a rosy red in color, and gorgeous!    I can't recall if anyone noticed or remarked about it, though.

4.  What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your sewing career?

Learning how to properly finish seams. I used to have real problems with this, both because I found it to be boring, and because my seam allowances were so irregular that binding them was a real problem. Since then I've learned techniques for doing a nicely finished hand-sewn seam, but I'm still at sea with regard to machine sewn finishings. 

5.  Do you prefer to use ready-made patterns, or draft your own?

I prefer to make costumes using measurements that dictate how big the pieces of the costume must be, which isn't exactly a pattern. If I'm making something more modern (say, from the 16th century onwards), I prefer to use a pattern because I don't have the faintest idea how to begin drafting a "modern" pattern. 

6.  What’s that one thing on your to-do list you want to do but keep putting off?  
Finishing the shawl I started for my Iron Age Lithuanian outfit (pictures here). It still needs to have the rest of the fringe added and some copper spirals sewn onto it. 

7.  Do you tend to plan costumes around personas you want to play, or construct personas for costumes you want to make?

I don't really have personae because I don't do reenactment, but it's closest to say that I construct personae for costumes I want to make because they look interesting or because I want to learn how it feels to wear them. 

8.  What’s that one piece of sewing-related equipment you’d really like to have?  

Historical Enterprises sells reproductions of Viking era thread winders made from bone or horn (buyer's choice). I'd love to have a few for my Viking sewing kit, but at $2.95 US each it seems kind of frivolous for me to buy them right now. 

9.  You, of course, are a modern person living in the 21st century. Do you think that has an effect on how you think about your historical projects?

Absolutely. It is hard for a modern person to think about clothing, and making clothing, in the same way that a person living in earlier times would, because clothing (even "expensive" clothing) is so inexpensive now, both in terms of the time it takes to make it and in terms of the cost of the materials and tools used to make it.

My favorite metaphor for how people must have considered the clothes they wore in pre-modern times is the automobile.  Like modern cars, clothing was expensive relative to food or other survival needs, but just as most modern people need to have and use a car daily, everyone needed to own and use clothing daily.  Similarly, the tendency was to patch (i.e., repair) and keep wearing their clothing for as long as possible, just as most people try to keep their cars drivable for as long as possible today.  Clothing was also a major item of status display, and poorer but ambitious people tried to obtain clothing that made them look as though their status was greater than it actually was, just as people try to obtain the nicest car possible for their money.     By the same token, just as rich people today have nicer cars and more of them, rich people in earlier times had more clothing and clothing made from more expensive materials than poor people did.  

After all these years of sewing, I've finally gotten pretty good at simulating the aspect of early clothing that involves making it with care to last, from good materials bought in as small a quantity that will serve the purpose. However, I have a very hard time treating my period clothing as though it is clothing I wear everyday.  For example, it drives me nuts if I get the least bit of dirt on any of the period clothing I've made while I'm wearing it, and that kind of mindset would have been impractical for someone living in, say, the tenth century. 

10.  If you had a time machine, what period would you visit first?

I would love to visit Viking age Scandinavia, but for me to use a time machine to do so would be foolish, because I don't know any of the Scandinavian languages well enough even to make my basic needs understood, which would make me very vulnerable to exploitation and worse.  So if I did have access to a time machine, I'd stick to the Philadelphia area right before the American Revolution, because that's far enough in the past to be interesting to me but not so far back in time that I couldn't make myself understood, and my handsewing is (probably just barely) good enough that I could have made money that way. 

11. What new project are you most excited about? 

I've been having trouble getting excited about costume with my employment situation so unstable, but the project I'm planning now--the sprang cap for the July HSM Challenge, is pretty exciting, because I've never tried sprang before.

Here are 5 blogs that I think are very much worth reading and why:

Pass the Garum. For sharing thoughts and experiments in Roman cuisine in a reader-friendly style.

A String Geek's Stash.  For bringing back to life excellent old research, and thereby showing us all a different way to use a blog.

A Stitch in Time. For countless wonderful and fascinating links relating to historical costume and archaeology and (occasionally) other subjects.

Opus Anglicanum. For her many inspirational displays of excellent period-style embroidery.

Medieval York | Eulalia Piebakere's adventures in recreational medievalism. For candidly showing us all the process by which she is growing as a scholar of historical food and costume.

Finally, although I'm not "nominating" anyone for the Liebster, but if anyone who reads my blog would like, just for fun, to answer any or all of the following questions, either in comments here or on their blog, please feel free!

1. What is the most authentic item of historical material culture (clothing, food, furniture, jewelry, tools) you have ever created and what did you do to create it?
2. Have you ever handsewn an entire garment?
3. What is the biggest mistake you've ever made on a historical 
costuming/construction project, and how did you go about trying to fix it?
4. Is your family involved in your historical culture hobby? How?
5. What originally got you interested in history?
6. Does your job relate to history or archaeology and if so, how?
7. What is the most interesting book on a historical subject that you have read?
8. If you sew historical costumes, do you also sew clothing for yourself for everyday wear?
9. Describe what your ideal historical costume would be like (whether or not you have attempted to make it for yourself).
10. What do you enjoy most about your historical recreation/costuming activities?
11. How did you originally learn about Loose Threads: Yet Another Costuming Blog?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fuzzy Hose

Yucca utahensis (Photo:  Wikimedia Commons)
From a very good friend, I learned of several similar, fascinating archaeological finds from the New World.  The write-up, complete with excellent  pictures (some of which are zoomable, to show greater detail), can be found on the Arizona State Museum's website, HERE.

The finds were made in Arizona about a century ago and date to about 1100-1300 C.E.  They are from the Anazazi or Pueblo culture. They are a kind of sock made from two fibers; the main weave is an open-mesh cotton, to which animal hair was originally fastened, though little animal hair remains on the surviving socks.  The socks, in turn, were originally twined onto sandal soles, which provided better durability.  The animal hair made the shoe/sock/sandal combination warmer, which matters at night in the desert.  The sandal sole part is made from braided yucca leaves;  Yucca is now, as it must have been then, a plant easily available in and about the American southwestern desert.

According to the Museum's description, the mesh part of the socks was made by a "looping" or "knotless netting" process that sounds a lot like what is called nalbinding with regard to ancient European finds, though to my inexpert eye the pattern of mesh looks rather different from the nalbinding patterns with which I am familiar.  No attempt to identify the type of animal hair used to cover the mesh is made in the museum write-up.  It does not look like any kind of wool, but is fine and fairly short, like the hairs of a dog's coat, which makes me wonder whether it's coyote hair; coyotes are also native to the area.  The result is a very practical piece of footwear for an arid desert environment such as the American southwest.

These finds show that the fact that, even with limited technologies, people can devise, and have devised, items of apparel that are attractive and provide the kind of function required by the climate of the area in which they live.  Although I typically find European costume history more interesting, the ingenuity of these shoe-socks (as the Museum calls them) is impressive and should not be ignored by people interested in the history of clothing.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lending A Hand

I'm writing this post to bring an interesting and odd find to the attention of anyone interested in late Medieval European clothing (esp. 15th century), because it offers an opportunity to help in a small important way, in historical costume research.

Today on, Beatrix Nutz, who is leading the research into the clothing-related archaeological finds at Lengberg Castle, posted a short note along with a picture. The note reads simply, "Help – I have a question. Has anyone seen this type of metal (iron and non-ferrous) eye-closure before? These have been found at Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol (Austria) and date to the 15th century. I am trying to find comparisons."

Although I don't usually post pictures from other sites that are not under a Creative Commons license or the like or unless I have special permission, I am reproducing Professor Nutz's photograph in the interest of amplifying the signal on her request for help.

I have never seen this type of closure in a medieval context (not that I have special expertise in that period of costume history).  It's very clearly not a hook and eye, and it doesn't really look like two "eyes" in search of a hook, to me.  Rather, it seems to be a kind of toggle (note how the loop on the item on the right is less wide but fatter in shape than the loop on the item on the left).  It appears that you would insert the "loop" on the rightward device into the "loop" on the leftward one to close your garment. 

If anyone reading this has any knowledge about other medieval finds of this type of object, please get in touch with Professor Nutz.  She is with the Archaeology Department at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Early Period Links

I'm still not ready to return to regular costume blogging, but over the past day I've found a number of fascinating Early Period links that I'd like to bring to the attention of my readers.  Most of these involve serious reproduction projects.

First of all, textile geeks and Early Period costuming buffs will want to check out Carolyn Priest-Dorman's latest post (just a day after her re-posted Viking double weave article) about her project to attempt to replicate textile specimen Jorvik 1307.  She started by spinning warp and weft yarns of  thicknesses and wool types to match the original.  I'm always humbled when I read about people taking clothing recreations to this level.

Over at The Reverend's Big Blog of Leather, I found an article by the eponymous Wayne Robinson describing how he made a pair of 6th-7th century CE Anglo-Saxon shoes he made, based on one of the Sutton Hoo finds.  Recent posts by "the Reverend" that are also shoe-related include this short post, with large, clear color pictures, about the world's oldest shoe, and this post and this post about late 16th century shoe horns.

From Irish Archaeology's website comes this recent article about an Iron Age body found in County Offaly wearing a very modern-looking leather-and-metal armband. Known as Old Croghan Man, the find is dated to between 362 BCE and 175 BCE. The article features a beautiful photograph of the armband that deserves a place on one of my Pinterest boards.

Finally, The Greenland Gown Project by Doreen M. Gunkel merits a serious look from students of early and medieval costume. She is in the process of making a replica of one of the 13th century Norse gowns discovered at Herjolfsnaes in Greenland.  She is starting by researching and searching for an appropriate breed of sheep from which to obtain suitable wool fleece to spin into yarn to use to weave fabric for the gown. Ms. Gunkel asks interested readers to register, but registration is free and gets you e-mail updates as she writes about new developments in the project. 

Happy reading!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Some Scholarship on Viking Age Weaving

At the moment, I'm kind of distracted, having lost my full-time contract job (the major source of my income) on Friday, so I'm not ready to blog about my sprang cap project, let alone start working on it.

Instead, I'd like to pass along a link of interest to Viking textile enthusiasts and weaving geeks.  My friend, Carolyn Priest-Dorman, reposted on her new blog, A String Geek's Stash, a great article from 2005 entitled "Viking Age Pick-Up Double Weaves from Sweden and Norway.  It discusses in some detail the Revsund border, the Överhogdal textiles, the Marby fragment, and the Kyrkås hanging.   Best of all (as is typical of Carolyn's work), it contains links to photographs of a number of the textiles discussed, as well as a substantial bibliography.

Although the pieces discussed in Carolyn's article probably came from wall-hangings or other non-clothing household textiles, they shed copious light on weaving techniques that were originally believed to post-date the Viking age, and I commend her article to the attention of anyone interested in Viking Age textiles.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

HSM #5--A 15th Century Cap

Right side veiw
Left side view
On Sunday, the very last day of May, I finally finished my 15th century linen cap for the May Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge.  The theme:  practicality. Tonight, I had my husband take photographs of the finished product, and they appear in  this post.

The cap was simple enough to make.  I followed Catrijn vanden Westhende's directions, including the size of the rectangle (though I cut a bit extra on the edges to allow for hemming). I used the photograph accompanying the directions to estimate the length of the tie string . So far as I could tell from the photograph, the tie string was about four times the height of the finished cap, which would be approximately 11 inches.  Four times 11 inches is 44 inches, which is close to four feet; thus, I made my string about 48 inches long, figuring that I could cut off some of the length and re-sew the end if necessary.  However, I did not use a "fine" linen as she suggests, since what I had on hand was the mid-weight linen that sells.  Instead, I made the tie string out of the linen--using the same folding and whipstitching technique I use to make Viking apron dress loops.  I don't know what Catrijn used for hers; her photograph is too small to tell.

The failure to use a crisper, stiffer linen may have been a mistake on my part.  As the photographs show (thanks again to my patient husband for taking them), my cap is rather limp.  But otherwise, the cap gives a pretty good period appearance, provided I am careful, when I fold back the cap, to make sure to fold back the top edge at least 2 inches (about 5 cm) and make sure that the back edge is fairly even and not pulled up too far in the middle by the tie string.  Even so, my flaps remain floppy, and don't form the kind of pretty pointed turnbacks that Catrijn's cap has.

It occurred to me that starching the cap might help with this issue  A quick search turned up this site, which claims that the use of laundry starch goes back to the 15th century, but it was a luxury item then, and probably not used by peasant women (except, perhaps, by laundresses advertising their skills). On the other hand, the cap stays on well and covers the head tidily, so it meets the "practicality" requirement of the challenge.  Possibly more experience on my part in fastening the cap onto my head will result in a prettier appearance.  My efforts tonight make the cap look much better than when I first tried it on Sunday night. 

HSM Challenge #5--Practicality

Fabric A scrap of  white linen roughly 11 inches by 22 inches (30.5 x 55.5 cm) for the body of the cap, and a second scrap, roughly 1 1/2 inches by 48 inches (3.8 x 122 cm) for the tie string, both torn from a length of linen that was left over from a previous shift project.

Front view
Back view
PatternCatrijn vanden Westhende's directions, referenced above, though it appears that no two costumers who have made such a cap have made it in the same way. 

YearCatrijn believes such caps are roughly late 15th century-early 16th century CE.  The images I've found on the Internet (mostly via the Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture website at support this belief.

Notions:   White linen 80/3 thread, Londonderry brand, that was left over from other costuming projects.

How historically accurate is it?   It's entirely handsewn and gives a good period appearance, and the economy of the construction method argues that the design of the cap might have arisen in period.  On the other hand, the linen is probably too limp and slubby for the period, and I have no idea if there is any actual evidence for the use of this type of construction in period.  So let's just say 50%, maybe.
Hours to complete: A bit under 3 hours, all told.

First wornRight after I finished it, and then for the photographs accompanying this post.

Total costZero.  All of the materials were leftovers from other projects--making the cap even more practical!

The Pinterest board I made to compare similar caps in medieval art also includes some caps by modern costumers/reenactors.  As I said above, it appears that no two costumers have made this sort of cap in the same way, but in my opinion Catrijn's patternless method is the simplest.