Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Long Overdue Diamond Twill Wool Update

About eight years ago, I looked on the Internet for sources of diamond/lozenge twill wool fabric, hoping to find a vendor selling some at affordable rates.  My problem with the available choices at the time was that the weave wasn't quite right, and the thread count was far too coarse to be desirable for apron dresses--the type of garment which I would be most likely to want to make from diamond twill wool. I checked out a number of potential sources, and reported on what I learned here, here, here, here, and here.

It recently occurred to me that it might be useful to look for diamond/lozenge twill vendors again, to see whether the availability, authenticity and/or cost have improved since my last posts on this subject.  It turns out that while new and in some cases more satisfactory fabrics have entered the market, some of the diamond twill sources I found in 2009 and 2010 no longer sell such fabric or are otherwise defunct.

For example, although the German vendor Naturtuche is still in business, and still sells fabric, its current diamond twill offerings are limited to a large diamond twill in natural linen and a bicolor wool diamond twill in brown.  Judging from pictures on the site, each diamond motif appears to be about 1-inch (2.5 cm) across.  The linen costs 23 Euros per meter and the wool costs 30 Euros per meter.  There are also lovely wools, not of a diamond twill weave but dyed with vegetable dyes (including madder and weld) that sell for 30 Euros per meter. Best of all (for someone who doesn't want to use a credit card to make fabric purchases across international borders), Naturtuche now accepts Paypal.

Handelsgillet, a Swedish vendor whose wools I discussed at some length, no longer sells diamond twill at all. Instead they sell what they call a Lodose diamond check, which is a reproduction of a later medieval fabric from Lodose where the stripes of a plaid, and only the stripes, are woven in broken twill and form a diamond twill motif where the stripes intersect.  It is an interesting and striking fabric, but not useful for my (Viking age) purposes.

I also wrote about Ardalanish Farm, a wool mill in the Hebrides, back in 2010.  They will sell you up to 4 meters of diamond twill wool tweed in two-toned, undyed wools, for £ 75.00 per meter, which is still well beyond what I'm prepared to pay, particularly as the fabric is fairly coarse in texture, which isn't right for the Viking age garments in which I am interested.

Regarding the other sources of usable diamond twill that I found, Sagnlandet Lejre in Denmark no longer seems to be selling diamond twill fabric, and Wollstoff is rebuilding its website, so I don't know what it may be selling. Wollstoff did not formerly sell to customers outside the European Community, and I have no reason at this point to believe that has changed.

Now, for some newer sources.

A vendor known as Elspeth on Etsy is selling bi-colored diamond twill for 385 SEK ($40 USD) a meter. That doesn't sound excessively expensive until one learns that the fabric is only 24 inches wide.  At that width, I would need at least three meters of fabric to make myself an apron dress, which adds up pretty fast.

Blue Wool Studio, a Lithuania-based seller also on Etsy, had for sale a  ready-made cloak plus several pieces of diamond twill fabrics dyed with natural dyes for a total of 2,880.70 SEK ($306.24 USD); her fabric is 36 inches wide.  The pictures of these fabrics are gorgeous, but the prices--though likely appropriate given the amount of skilled work involved--are still far beyond what I can hope to pay. Blue Wool Studio has sold those items since I began writing this post, though the site indicates that negotiating an order for a piece of fabric with specific characteristics (of size, fineness, and color) is possible.

One new source I found that I might actually be able to afford (soon) is a German site called Faserhaus. Faserhaus sells several different diamond and broken diamond twills. There are a diamond twill and a broken diamond twill fabric in undyed, untreated white wool.  The diamond twill costs 26.40 Euros per meter and is 147 cm (about 57 inches) wide.  Their broken diamond twill costs 23.20 Euros per meter and is 158 cm (about 62 inches) wide.  That's more than enough for an apron dress for me.  Faserhaus also sells a light weight, pale brown diamond twill wool (and two other neutral-ish colors also), 160 cm wide (about 63 inches), for 22.80 Euros. Some of the photographs include a marked ruler, and the diamonds appear to be about 0.8 cm tall by about 1.8 cm wide--a good size for an apron dress in my opinion.  I'm bad at doing fiber counts from photographs, but the diamond twills appear to be about 20 threads per cm and the broken diamond twill is finer--maybe 25 per cm.  That's a good quality for an apron dress, too.

Faserhaus accepts Paypal, and doesn't charge for samples (though they do charge 6.50 Euros for postage/shipping of samples to the U.S.)  I may well order some samples to assess the quality of the fabric. If I do, I will post scans of the samples and my observations on this blog.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Potential HSM Projects: 2017

The Dreamstress is continuing her popular web event, the Historical Sew Monthly:  a collection of historical clothing themes, a different one each month, to inspire interested costumers to make and compare suitable items.  Click on the "Historical Sew Monthly" image on the left-hand sidebar of my blog to be taken to a page that explains this web event in detail.

2016 was not a good costuming year for me.  I spent much of the spring ill and worried over taxes, and at the end of the summer our household income was dramatically slashed, which discouraged me from purchasing costuming materials for the projects I had originally meant to start. As a result, I made a few fitful attempts to start projects, but completed nothing.  However, our household's financial prospects for 2017 look rather better. Moreover, most of the HSM themes for 2017 fit well with several projects I have had planned, but never completed, in years past. The projects I would like to complete in 2017 I've listed below:  hopefully I'll have better success at project completion than I did last year.  The italicized sentences in the discussion that follows are quotes from the Dreamstress's description of each month's theme, which I've included only where the theme isn't obvious from the title.

January:  Firsts and Lasts.  Create either the first item in a new ensemble, or one last piece to put the final fillip on an outfit.  Either my plan for a sprang hair net (a final piece that could be worn with several of my Early Period outfits) or the hood for my völva costume (the first actual clothing item I will have made for this ensemble) would fit this theme, and I would like to do both this year.

My Hedeby dress
(Photo by my husband)
February:  Re-Make, Re-Use, Re-Fashion.  Some years ago, I made a Viking smokkr or apron dress from brown wool, using a pattern by Peter Beatson based on a find from Hedeby harbor (photograph on the right).  It was snug on me at the time--probably more snug in fit than any decent Viking woman would have worn her clothes.  Now, years later, it probably would not fit me at all; I have gained at least 15 pounds since I made the dress, mostly on the parts of my anatomy where the fit was originally the snuggest.  I would like to find some brown wool flannel, as close to the color and weight of the dress as possible, unpick the seams (or at least part of some of the seams), and see whether I can make the dress fit me properly.   If I can obtain a suitable wool fabric in a color close to the original brown, I could unpick appropriate seams and add gores to do the job (unfortunately, I no longer have enough of the original brown wool left).  I'm not sure I can get this done in February, but it's worth doing sometime in 2017, if I have enough time and find appropriate fabric.

March: The Great Outdoors.  The long, dark blue wool cloak that would be part of my völva costume is a natural fit for March's theme.

April:  Circles, Squares & Rectangles.  Many historical garments...use basic geometric shapes as their basis.  In this challenge make a garment made entirely of squares, rectangles and circles. Nearly every garment made before the 12th century (and many afterward) are based on squares, rectangles, and/or circles, including most of the items on my planned projects list.  The völva's hood would be a natural fit for this month's theme, as would the shift I intend to make for my Vendel period outfit.  The cloak, which I would make as a half-circle (pieced together from triangles if necessary) would also qualify.

May:  Literature.  My völva costume is, of course, an attempt to recreate the clothing of the traveling völva or wise woman described in Eric the Red's Saga, one of the literary masterpieces of the Viking age.  To have the costume complete, or nearly so, I would need to finish the hood, the cloak, and the wool shift by the end of May.  Unlikely, but a good objective.

June:  Metallics.  According to Eric the Red's Saga, the völva's cloak should be trimmed with "stones" set in metal. I have concluded that the stones would be set in wire-cradles made by a process resembling nalbinding. Again, I doubt I could finish this work by June, but it's very worth starting.

July:  Fashion Plate.  Since the Vikings didn't really have fashion plates in the modern sense, I have no clue how to proceed on this one.  I could try to make a costume based upon one of the Viking age pendants depicting a woman, but the details on those are pretty vague.  It may be something to consider, though.  One possibility would be to try to replicate the clothing on the figurine from Hårby, Denmark, since at least one scholar thinks that such figurines are symbolic figures rather than realistic, and on a certain level, the same is true of fashion plates, which depict the ideal figure contemplated by the styles of a particular period.  More on such a project below.

My Byzantine savanion
(Photo by my husband)
August:  Ridiculous.  Fashion is sometimes a little silly, and historical fashions can look particularly odd.  Make something that was considered outrageous in its own time, or is just utterly ridiculous to modern eyes.  I'm not sure what to do here, either.  The first Viking era items I thought of that fit into this description are men's wear (the extra-wide "puffy" Viking/Rus trousers for example), and I don't know any men who need clothing from that period.   I could make an argument, based in part upon the chess piece found by Elizabeth Heckett in County Meath, that in the latter part of the Viking age high-ranking women may have worn a wrapped linen headdress like the Byzantine one I completed years ago (which is arguably a bit ridiculous looking today), but (obviously) I have already made that item.  I need to think about this theme some more.

The "refugee" dress
September:  Seen Onscreen.  Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen...and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.  The only movie costume that ever inspired anything other than wry amusement in me from a historical costuming perspective is Eowyn's "refugee" costume from Lord of the Rings.  However, in my opinion that costume is more mid-to-late medieval in inspiration than Viking, and in any event, I'm not sure I'm inspired enough by it to try to design a historically accurate version.

But wait!  Eowyn's costume bears a surface resemblance to what we can see of the clothing on the Viking era figurine recently found in Hårby, Denmark.  That figurine shows a woman holding a sword and wearing an overgarment with no sleeves (or long sleeves?) and a deep V-shaped neckline. Yes, it's unclear at best how many different fabrics are included in the costume, but that's what makes recreation fun, right?

This is an interesting idea, though possibly it's not an idea I'm prepared to deal with this year.  I'll just pencil it in for now.

October:  Out of Your Comfort Zone.  Either my planned sprang hair net or my nalbinded mittens would qualify for this theme, and hopefully I can finish ONE of them by October!

November:  HSF Inspiration.    That is, make something inspired by someone else's HSM creation. I'll have to see what projects turn up on the HSM Facebook page, where costumers participating in the HSM (which used to be the Historical Sew Fortnightly, hence the difference in initials) post their creations.

December:  Go Wild.   You can interpret this challenge as an excuse to make something that incorporates animal print, or to simply make something wild and over the top.  The völva's hood is, according to the saga, lined with white catskin.  I will, of course, use fake fur, but that might be sufficient "animal" involvement to qualify.

So my list of potential projects is:
  • Remake my fitted brown wool apron dress [February]; 
  • Make a black wool hood lined with (fake!) catfur [January, April, December]; 
  • Make a blue wool cloak trimmed with stones set in wire frames [March, April, June];
  • Make a shift with the white wool I bought for the purpose years ago [April].
  • Make a reconstruction of the costume on the Hårby figurine [July, September]
  • Complete my nalbinded mittens [October]; 
  • Make a sprang hair net [October];
  • Complete the rest of the pieces of the völva costume [May].
Sounds like a plan to me!

Monday, January 2, 2017

An Interesting Viking Fabric

Fabric found against tortoise brooches from Bryndum
Church Grave No. 12  (Photo: Sydevestjyske Museer website).  

Happy (only slightly belated) New Year!

Yesterday, I found a news article from late 2016 from the Sydevestjyske Museer website.  The article, written in Danish by museum curator Michael Alrø Jensen, was about a new archaeological dig in Denmark; it can be read in Danish here.

The dig is of a Viking age burial ground, located at Bryndum Church.  Fourteen graves were found, and although only a third of them contained artifacts, some of those artifacts were very interesting.

In particular, Grave 12 contained a pair of tortoise brooches of a new type, along with an unspecified number of beads, and the remains of a knife that appeared to have been hung from one of the brooches.  The brooches preserved several layers of fabric, a close-up photograph of which appears in the article.   Interestingly, the caption in the article refers to the stripes shown above as "diagonal stripes" ("diagonalstriber" in the original).  I'm not quite sure what is meant, as the stripes above do not appear diagonal to me (though the fabric does have the diagonal ribs of 2/1 twill).  However, this fabric fits in well with the few other Viking age clothing textiles known to have involved a pattern, in that the stripes are small and modest, and small, fine patterns rather than bold large ones seem to have been characteristic of Viking age clothing.

The article closes with a promise of "exciting studies", and I agree.  I will be on the lookout for publication of a scholarly report about these fascinating finds.  The new brooch type is very interesting, and the layered textile clump measures roughly 5 cm by 10 cm (a substantial size for a Viking textile specimen).  Just thinking about what information can be gleaned from these items is thrilling to me.  If your costume interests involve the Viking age, put Bryndum Church on your radar; you'll want to read any publication of these finds too.

EDIT:  Corrected caption on photograph above, consistent with Anna-Carin's comment, since she reads Danish much better than I do.  She says that the textile was found on the front of the brooches, not the reverse as I'd originally reported in the caption.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Research On Hallstatt Band 3

Merry Christmas!  Here's a bit of a Christmas present for those of you interested in tablet weaving, and ancient period costume.

From the Finnish blog Hibernaatiopesäke comes a recent post about research on a tablet woven band from Hallstatt, including a chart showing the pattern for weaving the band and a recreation of the band.  The research and re-creation work was done by Mervi Pasanen and Maikki Karisto.  The relevant post may be found here. The post is written in Finnish with an English translation, and includes excellent color photographs of both the original and the recreated band.    Enjoy!

If I ever get my inspiration for actual costuming back, I will weave my own recreation of this find; it's a striking and attractive design.  

Monday, December 12, 2016

Lendbreen Weaving

In a publication called the Norwegian Textile Letter that has recently gone digital, I found an article about a wonderful experiment by some independent craftspeople.  The article may be read here.  It was originally written in Norwegian for a Norwegian museum's blog, and the article contains a link to the Norwegian original for readers who would prefer to read the original instead of the English translation in the Norwegian Textile Letter.

The article describes how three crafters--a Norwegian woman, a woman from the Shetland Islands, and a woman from Iceland--met, and decided to embark upon an ambitious project--to weave a reproduction of the diamond twill wool fabric that had been used to make the Lendbreen tunic, using a warp-weighted loom.

The story starts in 2013, when the crafters were contacted by the Norsk Fjellmuseum I Lorn (Norwegiean Mountain Museum, Lorn) with a request to borrow their warp-weighted loom for an upcoming museum display that would include the Lendbreen tunic.  A few weeks later, the museum called with a different request; to have the crafters weave a bit of diamond twill wool on the loom to be left on the loom as part of the display during that summer.

The crafters were a bit daunted at first, because the conservation report on the tunic had not yet been published, and they did not have access to the tunic itself.  However, it turned out that the photographs of the tunic that had been placed on the Internet were of good enough quality that they could determine necessary information (such as the thickness of the threads and the size of the diamonds) by examining them closely.   The article describes in some detail how they set up the loom in  three days "of fairly intensive work" and wove enough cloth "to see that our technique was correct", and the museum displayed the loom with that bit of weaving on it, along with the tunic.

I don't know enough about the cloth weaving process to appreciate the details in the article, but I commend it to my weaving-literate friends, especially those who have experience working with a warp-weighted loom.  It pleases me to find another instance of the Internet helping people with practical research into the material culture of the past.

Friday, December 9, 2016

More on the Enameled Viking "Button"

I am still intrigued by the enameled Viking "button" found in the Black Earth at Birka.

Because I don't know Swedish, I typed the text of the catalog card on the find into Google Translate (as best I could without rendering the diacritcal marks), and got the following output:
A round bronze buttons, 2.4 cm. in diam. upper surface slightly domed, cruciform divided into four fields, each field within a triangle. Falten inlaid in yellow enamel, cross and triangles in brown. During the button protrudes a flat ten, about 0.9 cm. tube, in which a hole is bored. F. 3 feet deep
Except for rendering "bronsknapp" as "bronze buttons" (plural), this is mostly comprehensible and quite interesting.   Although the enameling looks to me as though the triangles are dark red, one could certainly argue that they are reddish brown, and the photograph might make them look redder than they seem in person.  After I played a bit with the editing feature, Google Translate suggested that "flat ten" might mean "flat rod", which makes sense of the reference to a tube "about 0.9 cm" in the catalog entry. "During the button" was Google Translate's rendering of "Under knappen".  Based on the drawing, I suspect something like "Behind" or "On the back...of the button" would be a better translation of the original Swedish, though I can't be certain. Finally, I suspect that "F. 3 feet deep" refers to where the object was found--three feet deep in the black earth of Birka, without a body or building or other helpful context.

If this reading is correct and the object has a pierced rod on its backside, it doesn't seem much like a brooch or a button to me--at nearly a centimeter long the pierced tube is rather long for a button shank on a 2.4 cm button.

Again, any other comments (including on Google's translation) would be appreciated.

EDIT:  12/10/2016  See the translation of this paragraph by a Swedish speaker in the comments below.

2ND EDIT:  12/11/2016  I have been trying to think of uses for a button-like object with a long shank. It occurred to me yesterday that the yellow and brown/red enameled object from Birka might have been used as part of the closure for a purse.  Does anyone know of any purse finds from Europe from the Viking age that feature a similar type of button-like object?  Any information would be appreciated.

Viking Button?

Enameled bronze button from Birka.
Photograph:  Historiska Museet, Stockholm
Catalog text on the item.  Photograph; Historiska Museet, Stockholm.
The color photograph that appears as part of this post is from the on-line database of the Historical Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.  it is identified there as an cooper alloy button with enamel from the Viking Age that was found at Birka. The link to its entry in the Museum's database may be found here.

I have never seen a picture of such a Viking artifact before.  So I'm asking my readers about this Birka find.  It's a striking and beautiful design, and I'd like to have a better idea of how it might have been worn.  However, based on the information on the Historiska Museet's database page, it appears to have come from the "Black Earth" area, not from one of the graves.  That may mean that we know little about it.  Is anyone aware of any publications or reports that discuss this item?

EDIT (12/9/2016):  At the bottom of the database page I originally linked to, there's a link to this page, which contains the index card image now shown to the right.  Note the drawing showing a central shank with a hole in it on the rear.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Textile Book Sale!

Oxbow Books (Casemate Academic in the U.S.) is having an end-of-year sale, including some great deals on textile-related books.  This one is even better than the end of October sale, and requires no discount codes:  just some great prices.  This link will take you directly to the sale page.  I've listed all prices in USD, but the Oxbow page should have them in British pounds, and you can get a good estimate of the equivalent price in your currency from xe.com.

Not all of the 200+ books on sale are about textiles; some involve other kinds of archaeological studies. But the textile books may be worth your time, especially if you're interested in ancient times and the early Middle Ages.   Some of the more interesting ones (in my opinion) include:
  • Cardon, Dominique.  The Dyer's Handbook:  Memoirs of an 18th Century Master Colorist. Regular Price:  $75.00.  Sale Price $42.00.
  • Spantidaki, Stella.  Textile Production in Classical Athens.  Regular Price:  $55.00.  Sale Price:  $33.00.
  • Shaw, Maria C. and Chapin, Anne P. (eds.)  Woven Threads:  Patterned Textiles of the Aegean Bronze Age.  Regular Price:  $55.00.  Sale Price:  $33.00.
  • Harich-Schwarzbauer, Henriette.  Weben und Gewebe in der Antike: Materiality-Representation-Metapoetics.  (Weben und Gewebe in der Antike:   Materialität – Repräsentation – Episteme)   Note:  Most of the essays in this volume are in German.  Regular Price:  $49.99.  Sale Price:  $12.98.
  • Boudot, Eric and Buckley, Chris.  The Roots of Asian Weaving:  The He Haiyan collection of textiles and looms from Southwest China.  Regular Price:  $80.00.  Sale Price:  $53.00.
  • Harlow, Mary, Michel, Cécile, and Nosch, Marie-Louise (eds.)  Prehistoric, Ancient Near Eastern & Aegean Textiles and Dress:  An Interdisciplinary Anthology.  Regular Price:  $55.00. Sale Price:  $33.00.
Most of the above prices are for hardback books.  These titles are all available as E-books also, though the prices may be different. Depending on where you live, shipping costs may make the E-book version a more economical choice.

Happy hunting!