Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reconstruction of the Lendbreen Tunic

A few months ago, I posted about a joint project to reconstruct the Hammerum dress, which dates to about 100 CE.  A video showing the reconstruction process had been posted to YouTube, and I wrote about it here

Yesterday, I found another reconstruction video on YouTube.  This one is a reconstruction of the Lendbreen tunic, a male garment found intact due to the melting of a glacier in Oppland County, Norway.  Because that garment received even more press attention than the Hammerum tunic, I figured that information about its reconstruction would be of interest to my readers.

The Lendbreen tunic dates to approximately 300 CE. Unlike the Hammerum reconstruction video, this one was recorded in Norwegian, but there are English subtitles throughout.  So it should be possible for an English-speaker to obtain useful information from the video even if it is watched without sound (though one misses out on the baaing of the sheep that way).

The video begins with the finding of the tunic.  It turns out that Norwegian archaeologists have been visiting areas where glaciers are melting, to see what artifacts may be emerging from the ice. That is how the Lendbreen tunic was discovered.  The video emphasizes that this is the oldest garment ever found in Norway--about 1700 years old.

The archaeologists deduced that the garment belonged to a slender young man, based upon the garment's cut and size.  It had also seen very heavy wear while it was in service.  It was well-made from diamond twill wool, but no human remains have been found near it, and no other artifacts, so how it came to be in the ice remains a mystery.

Like the Hammerum dress reconstructors, the Lendbreen tunic team started by getting native wool from sheep.  They chose wool from Villsau sheep, an old Norwegian breed they judged to be closest to the wool that would have been available during the early Iron Age when the tunic was made.  The video shows the wool being pulled off of the sheep in a process called "rooing" in English.  Doing so better preserves the natural qualities of the two-layered wool of the Villsau sheep--the tough water-repellant outer fibers and the soft, insulating under coat.

Because it would have taken hand-spinners 15 weeks to spin the 2.5 kg of wool necessary for the cloth to make the tunic, the Lendbreen reconstruction team chose to compromise by having the Villsau wool mechanically spun.  The spun thread was woven on a warp-weighted loom.  Curiously, though the fabric was woven in a diamond twill from light and dark threads, the impression given by the fabric from a short distance is simply of a mottled or heathered color; one needs to look "real close" to detect the diamond weave pattern.  The resulting fabric was turned over to seamstresses to be cut based upon a pattern prepared from the original tunic, and sewn by hand.

Although this video does not go into the level of detail about the actual reconstruction work that the Hammerum video did, it still provides insight about the effort required to make clothing in early times, and the effort and skill necessary to make hard-wearing garments that were attractive.  It is well worth the time of anyone interested in early period clothing and clothing history.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

New Light On the Viking "Valkyrie" Figures

Reconstruction of Birka grave 581
(image from Neil Price's
April 2016 presentation)
One thing that I find frustrating about my study of Viking costume is the lack of useful detail in Viking period art.  Of course, in every period artists suppress or distort certain details while clearly rendering others in order to achieve various artistic effects.  But Viking art is not representational in the way that late medieval or early modern art is, and it can be difficult to tell what types of features the lines, circles, and zigzags that appear on the clothing worn by the figures in brooches and pendants are meant to depict.

Of interest with regard to the interpretation of female figures in Viking Age art in general and the "valkyrie" figures in particular is the lecture in the embedded video by Neil Price, Ph.D. (The conference took place in Spain last April, and the introduction is in Spanish, but the lecture itself is in English.) Dr. Price is with the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University in Sweden.

The lecture recorded in the video at the right is about Viking Age depictions of women, including but not limited to women wielding or carrying weapons. In his lecture, Dr. Price compares three different types of female figures that appear in Viking Age jewelry and carvings--all of which are typically called "valkyries".  The types are: 1) figures in long robes with knotted ponytail hairstyles, usually holding out a drinking horn; 2) figures in long robes with ambiguous hairstyles, holding a big round shield and a sword; and 3) brooches showing two figures--one on a horse with long hair and weapons and one standing in front of the horse with a shield. Dr. Price observed that we do not know that all of these figure types were intended or understood by the Vikings to depict "valkyries".  He also observed that in Old Norse, the names given to valkyries in the sagas are words for the horror and chaos of battle, suggesting that valkyries were seen primarily as terrible goddesses of battle and not as brave shieldmaidens or horn-bearing women welcoming the brave dead to Valhalla.

Silver terminal for cap found in Birka grave 581.
Photo from the Historiska Museet, Stockholm.
The most interesting part of the lecture (starts at approximately 28:19) involves a very recent re-analysis of the skeletal remains of Birka grave 581. Four different osteologists independently concluded that the skeletal remains in grave 581 are those of a woman, which suggests that that grave is the final resting place of a woman who was not only buried with many weapons, but was dressed like a Viking man, complete with a hat with a dangling point ornamented with a silver terminal (see the image to the left) and "poofy pants".

Detail from the Oseberg cart.  Wikimedia Commons
 (photo by Annie Dalbéra, Paris, France)
Dr. Price is convinced that the woman in grave 581 was a warrior and was buried dressed as a man.  From listening to his lecture, I received the impression that his conclusion was not based upon fabric remains (he does not mention that there were any, and in any event the study of textile remains is not his specialty) but from the other contents of the grave.  Most of the grave goods of Birka 581 are war equipment: they include a sword, a shield, a spear, an axe, a long fighting knife, a bow (with a full quiver of arrows) and, significantly, two horses.  Dr. Price found the presence of the two horses particularly important because professional warriors needed to have multiple horses, in the event one horse was too exhausted for battle when it was time to fight. In addition, grave 581 contains a silver cone-shaped object typically interpreted as the terminal of a "Santa Claus" style cap, which has been associated by scholars and reenactors with men. (A copy of the grave reconstruction image that Dr. Price used in his lecture is reproduced at the top on the left.)

Although Dr. Price's conclusions arise from art analysis and skeletal analysis, they have a number of implications for Viking Age clothing, including, I think, the following:
  • Some women--possibly not many, but we have no way to tell how many--were professional fighters who dressed as men.
  • The different types of female images in Viking Age art may represent women with different societal roles, and cannot be assumed to represent a single style of female costume.
  • The figure with the long necklace and the short skirt/tunic/kilt on the Oseberg cart (shown above--see the figure on the far left) may well be a woman.  I had been skeptical about this interpretation before, but the osteological findings from Grave 581 tend to support it.
  • The common practice of sexing graves by examining the grave goods alone (e.g., presuming graves with tortoise brooches and bead strings are female and grave containing weapons are male) needs to be reexamined.  Dr. Price commented to this effect in his lecture.
It will be difficult to abandon the practice of using jewelry and weapons to sex graves because many Scandinavian Viking Age graves simply do not contain sufficient skeletal remains to allow a determination of sex, but if we are to determine how women and men lived and dressed during the Viking Age, we need to obtain as much information from the evidence we have as possible, and seek not to rely upon easy assumptions.  In any event, the grave 581 skeleton reminds us that we have far to go in our attempts to reconstruct Viking culture.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Woman in Blue--A Final Note

It turns out that to purchase a copy of the National Museum of Iceland's 70-page exhibition volume about the "Woman in Blue" would cost approximately $78 USD. That's about $24 USD for the book's price, about $31 USD for postage to the US, and about $23 USD for customs charges! So I won't be buying the book any time soon, alas. 

For those of my readers who can't arrange a quick trip to Iceland to buy the book there, I figured I'd end the month of May, and my series of  "Woman in Blue" posts, with a shout out to the blog of Marled Mader. Marled and Marianne Guckelsberger worked together to make a reproduction of the apron dress worn by the Woman in Blue, based upon information available in the National Museum's book.   They recorded their progress step by step on Marled's blog, Archäotechnik - textile Fläche. If you want to read each entry starting with the first one (there are 12 of them), go to this page and start with the link for "Teil 1" under the heading "Island-Projekt".   The last installment includes some marvelous pictures of the finished dress.

As the title indicates, Archäotechnik - textile Fläche is written in German, but using Google Translate on each entry results in a translation that is mostly intelligible to an English speaker.  I think it's a very worthwhile read for those interested in the Viking apron dress and how it may have been made, and worn.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tablet Weaving Patterns from the Past

Three pieces of tablet weaving showing the "ramshorn" pattern
which is NOT PERIOD for the Viking era or any pre-modern cultures.
Photo by Cynthia M. Parkhill depicting her own work (found on Wikipedia).
Early Iron Age tablet woven band from
Hallstatt salt mine (found on Wikipedia)
When I first became interested in early period costuming, I wanted to learn period techniques for ornamenting the clothes I was making.  That's why I taught myself the rudiments of tablet weaving in the first place.

As is also true for many people who attempted to learn about tablet weaving in the early 1990s, the first book I encountered that purported to teach the basic technique was Candace Crockett's book Card Weaving (The link is to Amazon, but the book is available both new and used from other places).   The pattern shown in the photograph to the right, called the "ramshorn" pattern, though attractive, dates to 20th century CE Anatolia and is not even remotely plausible for earlier periods. Early period designs tend to be based on diamonds or triangles, like the Hallstatt band shown below.

The disconnect between the information I could obtain about tablet weaving (very modern) and the information I could obtain about period tablet-woven bands (very sparse, and concentrated on brocaded designs that still intimidate me to contemplate, two decades later), led me to shy away from further experimentation with tablet weaving.

But things are different now.  Now it is possible to obtain many articles, and even some books, that I could not afford during the 1990s as free downloads on the Internet.  And now there are more costumers who publish the fruits of their own research, much of it of excellent quality.

Some of those costumers who are making information about how to tablet-weave reproductions of accurate, early period designs.  For example, Shelagh Lewins has recently posted a page containing PDFs with directions for recreating specific tablet woven bands that have been found by archaeologists, including the narrow Oseberg band (early 9th century CE Norway), the Laceby band (7th century CE Anglo-Saxon), the Snartnemo II band (6th century CE Norway).  The relevant page on Shelagh's website is here.

In addition, Susanna Broomé, of Viking Age Clothing, has recently published a booklet of instructions and information about four Viking Age tablet woven bands that can be recreated with basic tablet weaving technique.  Susanna also sells patterns,  instructions for making good quality well-researched reconstructions of Viking Age clothing from her website.  The page about Susanna's booklet on tablet-woven bands may be found here.  Interested readers can order Susanna's booklet from the resellers she links to here, or order it from her directly through her Facebook page, as I am planning to do.

I have some excellent fine yarn, and a good sturdy table-sized tablet weaving loom that would be perfect for weaving some of the bands that Susanna and Shelagh discuss.  After I finally complete my sprang hair net, I intend to experiment with some of those designs.  I encourage interested readers to do likewise.

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!