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), enhancing the period appearance while 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 awhile, 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.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Even More "One Afternoon Tutorials"

Here is another assortment of "one afternoon tutorials."   I'm posting them now because I noticed, after I'd written most of this post, that this set consists primarily of aprons, caps, and other items that arguably protect either bodies or clothes.  Since the March Challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly, has the theme "Protection", now is the perfect time to share these how-tos.
  • How to make a D-shaped Medieval veil, by Elina of Neulakko.
  • late Medieval double apron by Edyth Miller at The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist.
  • Information on how to make and wear a strophium (a simple breast supporting undergarment used in ancient Rome, and possibly also in the early Middle Ages) by fru Þora Sumarliðadóttir of More Than Cod
  • A free partlet pattern, with instructions, and instructions for making a lower-class Elizabethan apron and neckcloth, can be downloaded here, courtesy of Margo Anderson.
  • An entire web page of variations and instructions for making different 18th century caps, courtesy of Sue Felshin; the page can be accessed here.  
  • How to sew a simple 18th century style shift, by Rebecca Wiese; the tutorial page is here
  • How to make a fichu collar for a late Victorian bustle gown, courtesy of A Frolic Through Time; the tutorial may be found here
If hand-sewn, Edyth's apron and Rebecca's shift might take longer than an afternoon to complete if the maker is not accustomed to lots of hand sewing.  Perhaps these projects should be reserved for a long, summer afternoon, or even sewn by machine if completing the item quickly is essential.  The rest of the projects here should be easily completable by even an inexperienced maker in an afternoon.  Try them out, and have fun!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Biggest "Damn Little" Ever

Okay, enough linky posts.  Time to finish writing something serious and post it.

Long-time readers of this blog know that I have long been fascinated by the subject of women's costume in Scandinavia during the Viking age, particularly the overdress/jumper/pinafore-like garment often referred to by English-speaking scholars of costume as the "apron dress."*  Recently I've begun to take stock of how the available information about archaeological finds relating to apron dresses and the theories that information has spawned have changed over the past two decades.

I originally started making and wearing Viking "apron dresses" in the early 1990s.  One of my primary motives for doing so at the time was to get a better sense for what sorts of designs might plausibly have been used, and what sorts of designs were impractical or for other reasons unlikely.  At that time, I had heard of few of the archaeological reports on Viking age finds, and I did not have copies of the few reports I knew to be important.  Mostly, I had second or third-hand reports by other historical costume enthusiasts summarizing what the archaeological reports said.  What I was doing wasn't really "experimental archaeology" for reasons Katrin Kania discusses in this post (e.g., I didn't have a "key question" that I was testing, let alone one that could be answered by means of a repeatable experiment), but making all those apron dresses taught me a fair amount about sewing and provided me with a framework that would help me increase my understanding of the nature of the problem as I obtained increasing amounts of information about the archaeology relating to apron dresses.

However, since I became first interested in apron dresses, three things have happened that have greatly affected amateur research into apron dress design.

First, it has become much easier to obtain copies of archaeological reports, even quite rare ones, from the Internet.  Buying books published in other countries, learning about different theories and reports through web searches, and discussing ideas with other interested scholars everywhere has increased the available pool of information--and disinformation--about the "Viking apron dress" way beyond what was available to me, as someone who did amateur research in spare moments as a hobby, twenty years ago.

Second, the Internet has made it possible for other amateur reconstructionists like me to post pictures of the dresses they have created based on their understanding of the archaeological research. I did not realize what a great number of dress variations there are until I started Pinterest boards to collect pictures of other costumers' apron dresses and images showing other costumers' apron dress patterns.*  I began to do this not just to collect pretty pictures (though I greatly enjoy looking at pretty pictures of other people's costumes, authentic or not) but to see whether I could spot any trends in the reconstructions.

The only trend I spotted is that most of the currently viewable reconstructions on the Internet are clearly based upon published archaeological finds.  The two most common are fitted tube-style apron dresses, based upon the Hedeby harbor find, and a tube with pleats in the front, based upon the Køstrup find.  A smaller subcategory found nowadays includes open-fronted tube dresses with a hanging panel suspended over the opening, based upon an analysis of period art and, to some extent, the Birka archaeological evidence, by Flemming Bau. A few hardy souls have attempted to make reconstructions of a garment found wrapped around a pair of tortoise brooches in a grave located at Pskov in Russia.  I find this trend encouraging, since it seems to have made more eccentric attempts at amateur reconstruction of apron dress less common, and has increased the general level of knowledge about women's clothing in the Viking age in the SCA and reenactor communities.

In addition, a growing number of costumers have blogged, in detail and with photographs and other illustrations, detailed descriptions of how they made their own apron dresses and why they made the choices they made in designing them.  Some of the more thoughtful Internet articles/posts of this sort have been composed by Jenn Culler, Catrjin vanden Westhende, Margaret Sanborn, and Hilde Thunem.

Third, the mere fact that other reconstructions can be, and are, easily published on the Internet means that people feel freer not just to post their own creations, but to base new apron dresses upon other people's creations--whether or not those creations have any significant archaeological or other scholarly support.  Though more apron dresses are now based, however loosely, upon archaeological finds, there are still an awful lot of design variations, possibly more than pearl's list from several years ago** indicates, and the list continues to grow.

Does all of this mean that we now know all that there is to know about Viking apron dresses, if not women's clothing in the Viking age in general?  Far from it.  For a start, we have yet to discover a complete or nearly complete apron dress in a grave, as we have done with a Middle Byzantine shirt and a Roman era costume from Denmark.   As is clear from the articles I have cited in this post, all of the published archaeological textile finds that are believed to have come from Viking age apron dresses are fragmentary. Deducing what those finds can tell us about the clothing from which they came is how archaeologists have come up with the theoretical designs (fitted tube; pleated tube; open tube with front cloth) that have been promulgated in the scholarly literature thus far.   But we still lack confirmation that any or all of these theorized designs were actually worn by Scandinavian women during the Viking age.  (For example, the Hedeby fragment may have come from an undergown, or a sleeved overgarment, and not an apron dress; it was found with other fabric  remains that had apparently been used as ship caulking rags, not in association with tortoise brooches or even human female remains.)

Even assuming that at least the fitted tube and the pleated tube styles correctly represent actual garments that were worn, we still lack considerable information about where these styles were worn, and who wore them.  For example, the Køstrup find is not unique.  As Hilde Thunem notes in her article, at least one find of a finely pleated wool fabric that may have been part of an apron dress was made in Vangsnes in Norway.  The existence of that find raises all kinds of questions.  Were pleated apron dresses native to Norway, or was the woman in the Vangsnes grave someone who had moved north from Denmark?  Were pleated apron dresses rare, common, or in-between? Did apron dress styles change over time, and if so, was the pleated dress a late style (the Køstrup find is 10th century) or an early style that somehow survived?

And there are many other questions that cannot be answered on the basis of the known research. Here are some of the other unanswered questions that particularly strike me when I look at current apron dress recreations.
  • Was the apron dress worn by all classes of women or only certain ones?  The characteristic brooches and loops have been found in graves with different quantities of grave goods though, arguably, not in the wealthiest graves.  However, the most famous wealthy grave without apron dress loops or brooches, the Oseberg find, appears to have been robbed in antiquity and may lack such evidence for that reason.
  • Was the apron dress worn by children?  A lot of reenactors have assumed that they were, and I have seen pictures of some very clever brooch-free adaptations of apron dresses worn by toddlers, and even babies. Unfortunately, skeletal remains in Scandinavia are usually too fragmentary to make a study, like the one Penelope Walton-Rogers made of early Anglo-Saxon graves to determine the typical age of 6th century Anglo-Saxon women wearing the peplos as an overdress, viable.***
  • What colors were used for apron dresses?  To date, the only apron-dress finds of which I am aware as to which the color has been discerned by chemical testing or otherwise have been either dark blue or dark brown, even though apron dresses were made (often, if not exclusively) from wool, which can easily be dyed in a wide range of colors with Viking age technology.  
Hilde Thunem has remarked that "The answer to what we know about Viking clothing can be summed up in two words; 'damn little.' " Despite the results of patient professional analysis of the finds at Hedeby, Køstrup, and elsewhere, that remains as true today as it was in the 1990s.  There are simply too few actual textile finds upon which to base solid generalizations at this point in time, and that's a lack no amount of re-creation experiments inspired by the few finds we have can remedy.

So what can be done?  If we are going to actually learn more about what Viking women wore and what their clothes looked like, we need to do more than make pretty dresses based on the little information we have; we need to get more information, somehow.

One possibility is to compile data about actual archaeological finds and see whether any patterns emerge.  With the creation of and the possibility of ordering archaeological reports from major booksellers or directly from the publishers via the Internet, this type of analysis is open to every interested person.  Although I would personally regret seeing historical costume enthusiasts, SCA members, and reenactors stop making more different beautiful apron dresses, I think that everyone's time might be better served by better organizing some of the data we do have, so it can be analyzed for patterns that might give us more costume information.  For example, pearl prepared a table listing the various fabric loops found in the Birka graves, with information as to the fabric from which the loops were made (i.e., linen or wool) and, where possible, the fabric from which the garment beneath the brooches was made.  Her table can be found on, and downloaded from, this page.

All of us (including me!) should think about gathering similar information from the reports we have, and making it available on the Internet, for everyone to use in advancing our knowledge of Viking era costume.

*    Thor Ewing has suggested that the Vikings themselves might have used the term "smokkr" for the sleeveless overdress with loops that I am calling "apron dress"; this is a clothing term that comes from a Viking poem called the Rígsþula.  Ewing, Thor.  Viking Clothing 37-38 (Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2006).  The term is related to a verb meaning "to creep through", which is an apt description of an apron dress if the garment was tube-shaped, but not if it was a wrapped sheet (as Agnes Geijer suggested was the case with regard to apparent fragments found in some of the Birka graves).  Because we cannot yet rule out the possibility that some of the Birka fabric fragments may have come from an apron dress that was a wrapped sheet or pair of sheets (which one would not need to crawl or climb through), I am reluctant to adopt the term smokkr, at least at this point in time.

**    A few years ago, my friend pearl attempted to compile a comprehensive list of amateur apron dress reconstruction variants based upon the Hedeby fragment; her report may be found here.  (Log in for Dreamwidth required).

***   Professor Walton Rogers studied early Anglo-Saxon graves with paired shoulder brooches and concluded, based upon age estimates of skeletal remains in one region of Great Britain, concluded that the peplos was worn primarily by women "between menarche and menopause," i.e., by women of child-bearing age.  Rogers, Penelope Walton.  Cloth and Clothing in Anglo-Saxon England 178 (Council for British Archaeology 2007).  Unfortunately, Professor Walton Rogers could not expand this analysis to other regions because in other regions skeletal remains were too fragmentary for age-at-death estimates to be possible.