Saturday, May 14, 2016

More About "The Woman in Blue"

In my last post, I drew my readers' attention to a Viking age burial in Iceland that was discovered in 1938 but has only recently been analyzed.

A reader of my blog, Marled, who with a colleague has been experimenting with weaving and then sewing a reproduction of the woman's apron dress (see the comments on my last post), mentioned to me that the National Museum of Iceland has, in conjunction with a related exhibition, published a book about the analysis of the woman's remains and grave goods.   So I started looking on the Internet for a way to obtain the book.

I did not find any sites selling the book (yet), but I did find something else of value:  a YouTube video recording, made in August 2015, of a symposium where members of the study team delivered oral presentations about their findings.  I've embedded it below. The first presentation was delivered in Icelandic, but the rest are in English; the English language presentations begin at approximately 23:45.

Unfortunately, the video is not of the highest quality. The filmed images are somewhat blurry, making the slides used by the presenters hard to read and making it nearly impossible to see details in any of the photographs.  The audio portion of the presentation, though clear, is marred by a distracting shushing sound that persists from beginning to end.  But the information in the symposium video makes it worth viewing despite these technical flaws.

Two of the English language presentations summarize: 1) the conclusions reached upon the basis of analysis of the woman's teeth and skeleton, and 2) conservation of the woman's jaw remains for future analysis.   Those topics, though interesting, are outside the scope of this blog.

However, the last English presentation is solidly within the scope of this blog. That is Michele Hayeur Smith's presentation, which starts at about 1:08:46. Ms. Smith's topic was the analysis of surviving textiles and jewelry of the woman.    Because readers can watch the video for themselves, a detailed summary of Hayeur Smith's talk would be superfluous, but a brief summary of the points of historical costuming interest may be useful.  That is especially true because Hayeur Smith, aware that most of her audience wasn't expert in the details of textile archaeology, spent a lot of time relating basic information (like weave types) and skimmed over some details of the finds.  
  • A pair of tortoise brooches and a trefoil brooch were found in the grave.  The tortoise brooches are type P-52 and the trefoil is P-91.
  • Four different types of fabrics were found in the woman's grave:  a scrap (believed by Hayeur Smith to have been a patch) in tabby weave identified by microscopy as linen; a 2/2 twill in wool, which Hayeur Smith believes to be an apron dress strap; a piece of tablet weaving; and a "wadmal" piece.  However, one of the presentation photographs looks as though it depicts diamond twill, not wadmal.
  • Traces of the linen were also found inside one of the brooches, so Hayeur Smith believes that the woman's underdress was linen.
  • The 2/2 twill and the diamond twill were found to contain indigotin, the dye substance in woad (and indigo) that produces blue. 
  • The tablet woven band appears to have been a starting border; it is an integral part of the fabric fragment of which it is now a part, and was not sewn on.  
  • The tablet woven band was not dyed; it appears to have been a natural cream color and brown.
  • The thread from which the linen and twill were woven was Z-spun in both the warp and the weft.
Having listened to Hayeur Smith's talk, I am even more interested in the exhibition volume.  I also plan to listen more closely to the talk to see whether I can tease out more details that I missed, or pinpoint ambiguities to resolve.  If any of my readers obtain more information, please feel free to raise it in the comments.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Woman in Blue

Recently, I stumbled across some articles about a new exhibition at the National Museum of Iceland. The exhibit relates to a grave, excavated in 1938, whose finds have recently been subjected to study using modern scientific methods. The exhibition is called "The Woman in Blue" is called that because textile finds from the grave show that the woman was wearing a blue apron dress when she was interred.  The best news article I've found discussing the study and its conclusions may be read on the Science News website, here

I am reporting on this study because it includes costume textile finds, though the news coverage gives very little information about them.  There is more discussion of the woman's jawbone and teeth, which were tested and have yielded interesting information about their owner.  According to the Science News article:
  • The woman was between 17 and 25 years of age when she died;
  • She was born around the year 900 CE;
  • She was not born in Iceland, but came there either from southern Scandinavia or the British Isles (unsurprising, since Iceland was originally settled sometime between 871 and 930 CE, according to the article);
  • The weaving techniques used to make her apron dress are consistent with those used in 9th-10th century CE Norway or (presumably contemporaneous) Celtic (Irish?) techniques.
The multi-national team that performed the study delivered a poster presentation on it at the 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists on April 14, 2016.  A full citation of the presentation, listing the members and the institutions involved, may be seen here.  

According to Science News, there were tortoise brooches in the grave;  one of them ended up pressed against the woman's face, preserving bits of her skin.  That development that will greatly enhance analysis (DNA analysis is being performed on the remains now) to learn more about the woman and her origins, though it is not relevant to the costume aspects of the find.

I am hoping that the study members will eventually publish a research paper with more information about the textile finds.  Any information that might permit a tentative reconstruction of the woman's apron dress would greatly add to our knowledge of Viking age women's costume.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Another Crop of Tutorials

While unwinding from work and finishing taxes, I've found some more one-afternoon historical garment tutorials that I thought it would be fun to share.
  • Make yourself a kappe.   A kappe is a kind of late 15th century south German wool, pull-on cap with self-fringe.  The blogger who wrote the tutorial, known as Lady Ursula von Memmingen in the SCA, provides copies of images of period art showing that the kappe was worn by men and women, and could be solid color or made from panels in two different colors. It is a practical garment, and sufficiently modern looking that one could make it for everyday wear.
  • Or a spangled strand, for decorating hair or headdresses for more formal women's late 15th-early 16th century German garb. This one is also from Lady Ursula, and is also accompanied by images from period art. The end result might still have a modern use, if you like decorating your hair with sparkly strands.  It should be a super-quick project.
  • How about a 16th century partlet, using this partlet pattern from the Truly Hats Store? In addition to providing the free pattern, Truly Hats sells pre-embroidered replica linen fabric, at $25.00 for a half-yard (a quantity sufficient to make a single partlet for most people), making it possible to complete an amazingly period-looking garment in an afternoon. 
  • Here's a quick tutorial on how to sew freehand the vine scroll embroidery seen on the Mammen (10th century Viking) cloak, courtesy of opus anglicanum.
  • Or you can make yourself a ribbon rose, for Victorian or early 20th century millinery or other uses, courtesy of Jennifer Rosbrugh of
This batch of tutorials was brought to you courtesy of the letter C (for costume), the letter H (for history) and the letter P (for Pinterest).  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Belated April Fool's Joke

I was unable to find a suitably clothing-related joke for an April 1 post this year, but right after April 1 my husband found an interesting post on Google Plus about a Roman blind skirt

The pictures show a rather attractive midi skirt that can "adjust" to a tiered knee-length skirt.  So how do I know this post is an April Fool's joke? There are several reasons. First, it was posted by a company whose other products are all window treatments. Second, the pricing. To get a price quote, you need to enter a waist measurement and a length (in cm, mm, or inches). The resulting prices are absurdly high for a skirt (over 5,700 pounds sterling!).  Third, most of the Roman blind window treatments the company (called English Blinds) sells are made from patterned cloth, but none of the alleged skirts are.  It seems to me that if a window treatment company sold a skirt, it would make it available in at least some of its best-selling patterns.  Finally, the line about the skirt having a "child safety device" for the adjustment mechanism takes the page over the top, at least in my opinion.  

Happy (belated) April Fools' day!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Some Inspiration for April

After my last post on the sprang project, I managed to get my sprang frame set up for another try at winding on the yarn, when I unexpectedly came down with the flu last week! I spent most of last week in bed, and most of this week pretending I was well again but feeling as though I am only at half-strength.  So the sprang project is being pushed off, again.   Sigh.

In the meantime, I found the video tutorial below. It's about how to use a wire technique like trichinopoly -- a type of wire ornamentation like the wire ornaments found in graves in Birka -- to make settings for stones.  I have been hoping to find such a tutorial for a while, since the völva outfit I am still planning to make requires a cloak set with "stones," and I've been thinking of working on the cloak for the April Historical Sew Monthly project.  Perhaps learning this technique will give me something costume-related that I can (finally) make progress on this year!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Set up for Sprang: A Question

The discussions I've had, on this blog and elsewhere, about how to properly set up a frame for working sprang have left me with a question. Fortunately, the Internet has given me a clear and simple way to ask it.  

The video shown at the right is a basic tutorial on sprang by den Blauwen Swaen (the Blue Swan). She has set up her sprang sample on what looks to be a warp-weighted loom, winding the yarn around sticks that are a permanent part of the loom.

Other tutorials, however, maintain that the sticks around which the yarn is wound for sprang have to be suspended, because sprang work generates "take up" that requires adjustment of the tension after a while, which is done by winding the sticks around the strings on which they are suspended so that there is more room to work.

But that method is not what Blue shows here, and I've done enough digging to know that she is not alone.

So my question is this:  Is it possible to set up yarn for sprang working between two sticks whose distance from each other cannot be adjusted?  If so, why do so many people show the adjustable or "floating" stick method?  What am I missing here?

If you have answers, or any thoughts on the issue, please feel free to comment here, on my account at Google Plus, or wherever you can reach me.  I'd like to have a better idea of the answer before I finish setting up my frame for a second try (though I've come up with a way to adjust tension, just in case).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Sprang Project: Boot, and Reboot?

First attempt to prepare the frame
Finally ready  (I thought!)
On the last Saturday evening of February, I finally dragged my homemade sprang frame from my closet and wound my yarn onto it. Afterward I took pictures; the best of the lot is attached.  (See the picture on the left.)

It is surprisingly tricky to set up a sprang frame. What you have to do is wind a continuous piece of thread or yarn around the two suspended bars, with enough consistent tension so that you end up with an even-numbered block of threads, all lying evenly side by side whether you look at the loom from the front or from the back, without any thread crossing over any other thread.   It took me about a half an hour to wind the thread on appropriately, even though I only have the yarn wrapped around about 90 times.  To make matters worse, by going with the inexpensive, versatile option of using PVC pipe for my frame and bars, I made the set-up process tougher, because the yarn tended to slip-slide on the bars as I wound the yarn around them.

I realized as I worked that there seems to be some kind of dirt on parts of the yarn which wasn't there when I first bought it, but I figured I wouldn't worry about that now.  With any luck, I said to myself, it will come out after I wash (carefully, of course, since the yarn is 100% wool)  my finished cap.

A day or two later, I took out the frame again, and realized that at least half of the threads were way too loose to try to work with; it needed to be rewound and retied to the frame.  After wrestling with the threads for another hour and a half later, I finally got them to lie properly with an adequate amount of tension. (See the picture on the right.)

Tonight, I started attempting to work my first piece of sprang.  I got through the first row--struggling, because (among other things) the section of threads is too wide for me to stick my hand through. Worse still, when I got to the end of the row I still  had four back threads left!  So I removed my stick, figuring I'd have to remove whatever twists I'd managed to apply and start over.

And as I was wrestling with the threads, the frame fell apart.  (So much for the theory that I didn't need to use glue on my PVC joints.  Or maybe not--maybe I just needed to twist and shove the PVC pieces comprising the frame together, harder.  It seems stable enough now.)

I decided not to try to untangle the mess of yarn I finally got free of the frame after cutting my stretcher bars off the frame.  I have plenty of fresh yarn, so I'll just set up my threads from scratch, using large (12-inch) chopsticks) as the suspended stretcher bars.  (At least that solves the dirt problem!)  The chopsticks are a more appropriate thickness for end loops for the cap I'm trying to make anyway, and the yarn is more likely to stay where I put it on the wood.

On the other hand, using thinner sticks makes it harder to find the shed, and harder to tell whether the strings are lying properly, side by side.  Particularly since my frame is big enough that I can't place it, say, between two chair backs and expect it to stay still while I work on winding yarn, with tension, evenly between the two chopsticks.

If anyone has advice on how to actually get the thread woven around the two suspended bars/sticks/stretchers (whatever you want to call them), I would appreciate it!  I can't start making the cap I'm trying to make without setting up the frame all over again.

EDIT:  (3/3/2016)  Corrected the language in this post as requested in Katrin's comment (see below), to remove references to "weaving" and "warping" because sprang, unlike most other forms of textile manufacture, does not use warp and weft or a process that is at all like weaving.