Saturday, November 10, 2018

The History of Spinning--Shorter than we'd thought?

Archaeology has a way of taking what we thought we knew of history and changing it so that our understanding of human history and technology is broader and deeper than it was before.

A recent study by Dr. Margarita Gleba, of the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Susanna Harris, of the University of Glasgow, of European and Near Eastern archaeological textiles from over 30 different locations and spanning the time period from 4000-500 BCE, has brought to light an astounding fact.  The threads in those textiles were not produced by spinning!

They were spliced.

Producing thread by splicing means that pieces of fiber are twisted together, one at a time to make the thread, instead of being twisted together continuously with the aid of a spinning spindle.

It is highly significant that the textiles which Drs. Gleba and Harris analyzed were all made from linen. Linen fiber is significantly more difficult to spin into thread with a spindle.  But if the linen plant is partially processed by retting--a controlled rotting process--the fibers that are produced can be spliced into thread.

A spliced thread is not as strong as one that is spun.  So if one was splicing thread to be woven into cloth, it would be important to strengthen the thread.  The simplest way to do so is by plying--twisting one or more spliced threads together.  And when Drs. Gleba and Harris examined the threads in the linen textiles (ranging in age from the Neolithic to the early Iron Age)  that is exactly what they found.  Their paper notes that when thread that has been spliced in one direction is plyed with another thread in the same direction, the resulting thread may look as though it had been spun.

Aside from requiring us to reconsider the age of spinning as a thread making technique, the analysis of Drs. Gleba and Harris explains something that had always puzzled me, namely, why linen fabric seems to have been so common in early Europe and the Near East. The use of spliced thread to create linen textiles goes along way toward explaining that.  Such linen did not need the invention of the spindle, or the elaborate fiber preparation process necessary to create spinnable flax fibers.

An article from Current Archaeology reporting on the discovery of Drs. Gleba and Harris can be read here. Dr. Gleba's and Dr. Harris's article can be read and downloaded on the Springer website (it was published as Open Access) here.  Thanks to Katrin Kania for posting the link to the Current Archaeology article.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Gores with a Wrapped Aprondress--Another View

Quite a while ago, I attempted to combine a wraparound Viking apron dress with gores, to give more room and a nice flare to the skirt.  My result was awkward looking, and based on how it came out, I decided that it was implausible, at best, that Viking women would have added gores to a wrapped dress.

Recently, however, I found a picture of a garment based on the same idea on the blog A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle, now revamped and renamed A Most Peculiar Seamstress.  You can see a picture of Sarah's dress here, although the accompanying post doesn't really discuss its construction; it mostly talks about what she did with the wrapped apron dress after it was vandalized by carpet beetles.

Sarah's dress does not look at all like mine; it is sleek and its hemline is beautifully even.  Of course, my wraparound dress was made from linen.  Sarah's dress was made from wool (which is why the carpet beetles were eager to eat it).  That would have made a considerable difference to the way the dress hung and draped.  I shall have to write to her and see if she can tell me more about her design.

At any rate, Sarah's successful design contradicts my original conclusion and leaves open the possibility that gored, wrapped apron dresses were worn by some Viking women.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Next Up: The Lambskin Hood

A hood I made many years ago.
The socks are done, the mittens are (probably) under control, or will be soon.  Now I'm thinking of the next item I want to make for my völva outfit--the lambskin hood.

At least one translation of the Saga of Eric the Red describes the völva as wearing "a black lambskin hood, lined with white catskin."  I have a sizable piece of white faux fur, purchased to make the mittens, and I recently found on Etsy a vendor that is selling pieces of black lambskin suede at a very affordable cost--perfect for what I have in mind! 

I even have a pattern.  When I first started making historical costumes, many years ago, I made myself a fully reversible medieval hood, using a fine red silk-wool twill fabric on one side, and a heavier black crepe (probably polyester, I didn't care about fiber type then) on the other.  It resembles the Skoldehamn hood a little, but it does not have either the ties or the cord edging that shape the Skoldehamn hood.  The photograph shows the hood in question.

When I made this hood, I knew nothing of how medieval fabric was woven, or why most early medieval garments are made entirely from geometrically-shaped pieces.  Thus, my hood used a straight piece for the hood proper, buy a rounded piece for the bottom.  However, it should be possible to tweak the design slightly to make a very similar design entirely from geometrical shapes.  I will want to make a pattern from the hood, rather than dismembering it--it is still very usable and too nice to destroy! 

Once the pattern is completed, sewing the new hood should be much quicker than making the original hood was.  All I'll need to do will be to sew the faux fur lining and the leather, insert the lining into the leather, and sew the two together along the bottom and edge of the hood.  All of the stitching will be in straight lines.  It *should* be simple, but it would not be surprising for unexpected difficulties to arise.

Watch this space for future developments.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Another Pair of "Catskin" Mittens

While web surfing today, I found to my surprise that Susanna Broomé, the women who runs the website and business, Viking Age Clothing, is making her own pair of "catskin" mittens based on her pattern for the Akranes mittens!  A picture of her work in progress can be seen here on her business's Facebook page.  In the accompanying post, Susanna makes it clear that she is basing the project on the völva's mittens described in the Saga of Eric the Red.  However, she is using white rabbit fur, not faux fur, to stand in for the "catskin" lining.

Meanwhile, I have gotten bogged down and have not progressed on my mittens; I'm trying to decide whether to recut some of my faux fur pieces and start over or just unpick stitches and proceed with what I have.  In the meantime, I have two related projects in mind that should be much simpler and that I'm likely to get to first.

Susanna is a much better seamstress than I, but I find it flattering, somehow, that she agrees that the Akranes mittens make a good starting point for the völva's mittens.

EDIT: (10/26/2018)  Susanna finished her mittens!  You can see a picture of them on her Facebook page here.  Looking at them makes me think that perhaps I should just buy enough black lambskin to make the outside layer black, also.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

One Afternoon Tutorials--A Little Something Different

It's been a while since I posted a collection of quick costuming projects.  The current selection includes directions for items both practical and unusual.
  • From Anna's blog, Anachronistic and Impulsive, comes a pattern, instructions, and some documentation material about how to make an Archaic period Greek peplos.  Bonus:  full color photographs of several of the peploses Anna made, and of an exhibit showing several statues of the period, both as they look today and as they may have looked when the paint on them was fresh.
  • Also from Anna's blog, a pattern, instructions, and documentation material for an Archaic Period himation.
  • Mad about Viking fashion?  Too broke to afford a princely-looking pair of tortoise brooches?  Visit Vorpal Rabbit's blog and learn how to make a great pair--from Sculpey!  Obviously, this isn't a technique (and doesn't involve a material) that was used during the Viking age, but the process of planning and carving a suitable design from Sculpey will teach one more about Viking tortoise brooch designs than simply picking up a pair from Raymond's Quiet Press or another vendor who caters to the Viking reenactment market would do.
  • If the Italian Renaissance is more your thing, try this quick and easy Vorpal Rabbit project--ribbon-tied dangling earrings.
  • Finally, I recently found a different pattern for a one-hour 1920s dress than the one Kass McGann posted a few years ago. Here it is, courtesy of Bianca, The Closet Historian.
Good luck, and have fun!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mitten Progress Report

Last night, I traced the pattern for the mittens on my faux fur, which will be the inside layer of the mittens.  

The good news is that I don't need to fell any of the seams on this project.  The leather outer layer will not ravel, and unfelled edges of the faux fur I'm using for the lining will not shed appreciably because they will be trapped inside the mitten itself when it's completed.  Also, though the directions say to use running stitch for the seams, I've been using whipstitch because the outside of the lining layer will not be visible once the mittens are complete.

The bad news is that I have had to rip the thumb free from the first mitten three times so far because I had not properly mated it to the rest of the mitten!  As near as I can tell, that's because I really should have sewn it on from the wrong side, even though the directions say to mate the thumb to the side piece right sides together; I still could have done that if I'd taken seriously the part about gathering the base of the thumb piece to fit.  the instructions say to sew the circular base of the thumb section to the side piece (which has a circular section) before sewing the two side pieces together, but I couldn't figure out how to fit the thumb base in correctly so long as the two side pieces were separate.

So tonight I sewed the other side piece partway on, and that did finally make it possible for me to get the thumb sewn in place. The poor thumb is somewhat twisted, probably because I didn't gather the  area of the side piece to fit the circular base of the thumb, as the directions require.  However, I may be able to fix that after the fact or may be bold enough to open some of the stitching and re-do it.    I will definitely gather the other side of the mitten so the two will fit together.

I also spent some time last night looking to see whether I have a needle for sewing leather.  The answer turns out to be that I have one but only for use with a sewing machine, not for sewing by hand.  So I will have to acquire one before I start the outer layer of the mittens.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Skoldehamn Socks--Finished!

The finished pair of socks.
In wear.
Here is the pair of wool socks I made, based upon the socks in the Skoldehamn find.  I've included photographs of the socks alone, both right-side out and inside-out, as well as showing them on my feet.

Each sock is made from only two pieces of cloth, but it took me a surprisingly long time to figure out how the pieces had to go together to fit my feet. Once I did so, however, the socks went together quickly.  I seem to have twisted them in sewing them together, just a little, and both are a bit large in the heel and narrow through the toes (which is no surprise, since I have very narrow heels relative to the width of the front part of my feet).  Overall, though, the fit is good if a bit closer than I prefer.  However, I think that if I put the socks on my clean feet right after I wash them, while they are still wet or at least damp, I will obtain a more comfortable fit.
In wear, from the side.

I have more sensitive feet than average, but even so the under-the-foot seam did not bother me as much as I expected.  I attribute this primarily to the qualities of my wool (which had been pre-washed before it was sent to me).  The wool is both soft and surprisingly stretchy, and I think those attributes enabled me to get a satisfying result; I'm not sure it would be possible for me to get a comfortable fit using the Skoldehamn pattern with stiffer cloth.
Inside-out (on the left) and right-side out (right).

The original socks were worn with leg wraps, which extended over both the trousers and the tops of the socks.  However, so far as I have been able to ascertain, the Skoldehamn shoes were pretty low--no higher than the top of the ankle bone at the sides.  Both pairs of shoes I use with my Viking costumes come up well over the ankle bone.  As the picture shows, they are high enough to support the open sides of the socks without leg or foot wraps or other ties.

Worn with the Viking boots I usually wear.
The Skoldehamn socks also appear to have been worn with pieces of wool wrapped around the foot; Hilde Thunem notes that it's not possible to tell whether the foot wraps were wrapped directly over the naked feet before the socks were put on, or were simply wrapped over the outside of the socks.  I don't have enough fabric left over from this project to try to make proper footwraps, but I may look through my stash to see if I can find enough wool fabric to make some and then try wrapping them at least over the outside of the socks, because my socks fit too snugly for an inside-the-sock approach to work.

As the above comments imply, this project turned into more of a learning experience than I had anticipated, and took longer to complete than I'd expected (Susanna Broomé's booklet classifies the socks as an elementary level project) .  However, it was still a success, since I got a usable set of socks out of it, and was a short project despite the minor difficulties.

After I finished the socks, it occurred to me that this project also falls within the ambit of the HSM challenge for August--Extant Originals.  However, since the Skoldehamn originals are not complete, and I finished this pair in September, not August, I prefer to submit my socks under the September challenge.  

Sole-side up.
The Challenge:  September--Hands and Feet

Material:  100% woven wool fabric, in a 2/2 twill weave.

Pattern:  Susanna Broomé's pattern for the Skoldehamn socks (part of the clothing of the person whose remains were found at Skoldehamn) in her booklet, Smaller Garments.

Year:  Late 10th-early 11th century CE.

Notions:  White linen Guttermann thread from my stash; I drew each thread across a cake of beeswax for ease in sewing.

How Historically Accurate Is It?:  About 80%.  The actual Skoldehamn socks have survived only as incomplete pieces.  Photographs of those pieces, along with detailed descriptions in English, can be found in Hilde Thunem's article on Viking age hose, here.  For my socks, I acquired a similar wool twill, and have sewn the socks in running stitch with the seam felled by folding over the sides away from the running stitch and whipstitching them down, consistent with the seams on the originals.

But my pair differs from the original in certain respects.  For example, some of the original sock pieces have blanket stitch along the edges instead of folded-over, overcast edges, but I decided to go with the whipstitching all of the outside edges down instead because I am more comfortable with that technique.  Also, because of the shape of my feet (as noted above), I altered the placement of seams some.  In addition, I used linen thread instead of wool thread, and double-folded all seams and edges, instead of simply finishing seams by folding the edges away from the location of the running stitches and whipstitching across the raw edges.

Overall, the resulting pair of socks is by no means a copy of the originals, but is, I think, made with appropriately historical techniques and materials.

Hours to Complete:  About 5 hours.

First Worn:  I tried them on while sewing them to help adjust the fit, and wore them for a bit before taking the photographs with this post to see if wearing them helped make them more comfortable.

Total Cost:  $10.50 (including shipping) for the 18 inch (approx. 46 cm) by 29 inch (approx. 74 cm) piece of wool fabric I used.  I already had the pattern, and the linen thread.