Sunday, August 17, 2014


For HSF Challenge # 20, Alternate Universe, I have decided to make a costume based upon this description from M.A. Foster's novel 1979 science fiction novel, The Day of the Klesh:
Basic forms of Ler clothing remained static, and were oriented toward one or another of the four elementals [sic], Fire, Air, Earth, Water.  Stel was a gauzy, translucent, loose blouse, tied with ribbons at the top, which has a loose, open neck; below, it fell about to the hips, where it was tied with another ribbon.  Dhwef was a long, wide, trailing loincloth, the ends falling to the feet.  The upper end was usually held in place by a string of beads or, in extreme cases, a chain of flowers.  The mode most common to wearing of the Dhwef could be politely described as the "mood conducive to amorous dalliance." It could also be described as an invitation to the same.  Needless to say, after the Ler manner this was behavior governed by the Water Elemental.  (p. 46)
The ler in Foster's novel are a species of human that were created in our near future by genetic engineering that was intended to create a superhuman race.  It didn't quite work. Ler (usually not capitalized in this or Foster's other two related novels) are short and slight of build--they appear like androgynous children to humans. They are, on average, more intelligent than homo sapiens sapiens, but the most significant differences between humans and ler are two-fold; they have eidetic memory, and a very low birthrate. Although ler reach sexual capability in their teens, as humans do, they are not capable of siring or conceiving children until they reach their 30s. Incessant sexual activity during the infertile period is supported and encouraged by ler culture, and Foster's books describe that aspect and other aspects of ler culture in surprising detail.   Anyone who is interested in learning more about the ler and the world of Day of the Klesh should read that book and its two prequels, which Wikipedia describes here.

The costume described in the passage above is worn by ler adolescents/young women who are in this infertile sexual phase and, as Foster archly says, looking for "amorous dalliance."  At 55 I'm a bit too old (and a bit too wide) to look like a proper ler, but I do look younger than my age, and the culture of science fiction conventions is pretty tolerant.  So I may as well make it now and wear and enjoy it while I still can!

The costume should be simple and quick to make; it consists of a blouse and a loincloth that would look a lot like a long skirt in wear.  The stel sounds to me very like The Dreamstress's Deco Echo blouse, but made from a translucent fabric and with ribbons tying the neckline as well as a tie at hip level.  In the novel, of course, explicit sexual display was the point of the costume, but I'm not prepared to be that explicit on the Internet, so I will probably model the finished product over an opaque camisole top (or perhaps chicken out and just make the blouse from opaque cloth like the Deco Echo blouse). Foster's description of the lower body garment, the dhwef, is vaguer still, but John Norman, another science fiction/fantasy writer of the period, described a plausible way to make such a woman's loincloth in his non-fiction book, Imaginative Sex:
A cord may be tied about her waist.  It should be tied in such a way that it cannot be casually yanked loose. It supports, say, a rectangle of silk in the front and rear, thrust over and behind the cord.  If it is desired a long piece of silk can be passed over the front cord, between her legs, and then up and under, and over, the cord in the back.  It should then be made snug to her body.  (pp. 249-250)
I already have a string of beads for my waist (part of a Migration Period costume) that could serve as the "string of beads" to support the type of loincloth Norman describes (which I'll wear over bikini briefs, of course).  To make the loincloth appropriately "trailing" I could shape it so that the hem is wider than the portion that fits against the body.

This costume should be inexpensive to make because it can be made entirely from synthetic fabrics, and I'd prefer to make it from synthetics so it will be easy to care for.  A soft gauze would be suitable for the stel, and a silk substitute such as a rayon or polyester charmeuse would do for the dhwef, but what is puzzling me is color choice. Should the colors be light, dark, or bright?  Would patterns be appropriate?  If so, should both top and bottom be made from patterned fabric, or should just one or the other be patterned? Should the patterns match, harmonize, or clash?  And what kind of patterns would be appropriate?

Foster notes that the ler are famed for their appreciation of subtlety, and what seems hopelessly drab to a human could well have a subtle appeal for a ler.  That probably means that very bright or very dark colors are probably out. I'm thinking that I should choose a pale solid color for the stel and a drapey rayon with a small geometric pattern or perhaps stripes for the dhwef.  With luck, I should be able to find something that fits within those parameters, though I haven't been pleased with the patterned rayon fabric I've seen on the Internet so far. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ideas for a Roman Necklace

I have been planning for months now to make a necklace with good quality rose gold fake pearls and rose gold findings for Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge No. 24, "All that Glitters," to coordinate with the earrings I made for Challenge No. 7. It was my original thought that I'd string rose gold pearls of two different sizes, using rose gold plated beads as spacers.

A few days ago, however, I learned that Janet Stephens has done her own video on how to make a common style of Roman necklace, which she refers to as a "beaded chain" necklace.  The video in question appears to the left of this post.  Despite the name, no actual chain is involved.  Instead, you string each bead on a small piece of wire and bend the ends into small round loops.  Then, you connect each pair of beads with a third piece of wire (or a modern jump ring), until you have "chained" all of the beads together.  Add a simple hook to one end, and you have a necklace.   Stephens gives directions for making your own clasp from the same wire used to make loops for the necklace, but I had already ordered a rose gold plated hook-and-eye clasp that looks very similar to the wire clasp Stephens shows the viewer how to make, so I will use that for my necklace.

If I adopt this approach, I won't need rose gold spacer beads; I could use just rose gold pearls.  However, lovely as the pearls are, they don't "glitter."  I thought it would be lovely to intersperse the rose gold pearls with gold foil glass beads (i.e., clear glass beads with gold foil inside), but I couldn't find any evidence that foil beads are period for ancient Rome.  I settled upon faceted pink glass beads with an iridescent gold luster.  Probably that kind of color isn't period either, but faceted beads are, and an ambitious glass maker might have come up with such a color as a one-off experiment with trace additions to the glass, right?  ;-)

So I have already ordered the clasp, jump rings, and the iridescent beads.  I guess that means I"m committed to this plan.  I can hardly wait to see how it all turns out.

EDIT:  (8/15/2014)  I have ordered all of the components except for the rose gold wire, and I have a potential source for that.  There's no rush, since the deadline is New Year's Day and the idea is to complete each challenge no earlier than about a month before.  But it will be good to see whether the pearls and iridescent pink glass look good together before I start working on the necklace!

1st EDIT:  (8/17/2014)  I received my pearls and the iridescent beads yesterday, and I already have to change my plan.  The holes in the beads are too small to take 18 gauge wire, and the iridescent beads are way too dark--they look dreadful with the pearls.  I can still buy rose gold (filled or colored) metal beads instead, but I'm now uncertain about whether to stick with the beaded chain idea, since I'd probably have to use a 20 gauge wire or smaller to make the necklace work.  The best part about the beaded chain idea is that it lets me make a necklace of the size I want with significantly fewer beads, so I'm not ready to give up on that quite yet.

2nd EDIT:  (8/19/2014)  I have a solution; there's a website that sells the same color of pearls I've been using, so I can use 18 gauge wire after all.  Though I hate the additional expense, I can always use the other pearls for another project.  My plan now is to make a beaded chain necklace with the new pearls  and with smaller rose gold-filled beads.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

HSF #13--A Coppergate Cap

Because I was planning to be away on vacation for most of the week of July 14, I needed a quick project (again!) if I was going to participate in the "Under $10" challenge.  It took me a while to decide upon one that fits in with my interests, but I finally hit upon one I find very satisfying.

Recently, I managed to obtain a copy of Penelope Walton's (now Penelope Walton Rogers) book on the textile finds at the Coppergate site in York, England.  The book has been out of print for years and the cheapest copy I have ever seen on the market before now was priced at nearly $200.00 USD.  So I was pleased when ALibris, acting on a wish list reminder I'd left years ago, sent me e-mail about a copy that was available for about $33.00 USD after including shipping costs from Germany. In reading the book, I was particularly impressed with the precision of Walton's description of the silk cap found at Coppergate.  I knew I had some unused silk purchased for another project in more than sufficient quantity (about a yard and a half), so I decided that a Coppergate cap would be my $10 project.   I almost finished the cap on July 14, but because we were scheduled to leave for vacation early on the morning of the 15th, I didn't quite manage it.  However, I was able to finish it today, so now here it is, along with my ruminations on making and wearing the cap.

The completed cap
Cap inside out, showing the inside seam
I wanted to make the tie strings from the same silk used for the cap--but realized, in the nick of time, that it would be nearly impossible to tie such a slippery silk securely to itself.  The worker who made the original cap must have come to the same conclusion, because Walton detected vegetable fibers consistent with linen at the points on the cap where the tie strings must have been sewn.  I could have used some of my leftover white ramie for the tie-strings, but I wasn't able to find it after a quick search--and didn't have the energy or time to make a more intensive search for it.

I attempted to use the dimensions of the original cap--roughly 23 inches by 7 inches.   This piece of fabric produces a very shallow cap compared to the one I made previously.  It occurs to me that the original might have been for someone with a much smaller head than mine, but it's also possible that the overall effect shown in my pictures was the intended one--without additional evidence, it is impossible to tell.  In addition to the shallowness of the cap in generaly, sewing the curve along the back of the head was problematic.  Walton said that the cap was sewn up in the back with a curve ending at a point about two inches (50 mm) from the rear corner, but when I did that, my cap still had a small, nubby point, and not the smooth curve over the top of the head shown in Walton's sketches.  So I re-sewed the seam a few more times until I got a curve that better approximated Walton's sketches.  As a result, I had two points to fold aside inside the cap, not just the one Walton reports on the original (see photograph above).

Since the original cap was not found in a grave, there's no evidence about how it may have been worn.  I came up with three ways (see photographs below). One is to tie it under the chin.  A second is to tie it under the chin, but with the edges of the cap tucked behind the ears, and the third is to tie it at the back of the neck, under the occipital bone.  In all three pictures, I am wearing the cap with my hair fastened into a bun just above the nape of my neck.  That hairstyle give the cap the most flattering shape; the problem with the cap forming a "point" at the top of my head was more obvious and less attractive when I did not do this.

All three methods look pretty similar in wear, though I prefer tying the cap in back because it hides the darker linen tie-strings and produces a slightly more becoming position of the front corners.  With or without a bun, however, this cap is much more attractive than my last attempt to make such a cap with the tie-strings fastened directly to the bottom corners.  The higher location for the tie-strings is also consistent with Walton's finding of linen fragments and indications of tie-fastening-stitches about 5-6 inches from the lower corners of the original cap.

One final note:  Walton's sketches show a series of wrinkles while the cap was in wear, parallel to the line of the shoulders.  My design fits too closely over my head to produce such wrinkles.  Could it be that the original was that much shorter (or longer) than the head of the original wearer? Or perhaps the fact that the original seems to have been made of a less slippery silk in a different weave (tabby) made the difference.  I may have to make another cap to see whether I can come up with a theory on this subject.
THE CHALLENGE:  #13 -  Under $10

Fabric:   A rectangular piece of fine white silk twill, about 23 inches by 7 inches, purchased long enough ago that I don't remember the price (but a piece small enough for this project would have been well under $10).  Also some scraps of natural-colored linen, from the fabric I bought for the bog blouse project, to make into tie strings.

Tied at back of head
Tied under chin, in front
Pattern:  I  followed Penelope Walton's detailed description of the nearly complete silk cap found in the Viking age levels of the Coppergate (York) dig, from her book The Archaeology of York:  Vol. 17: The Small Finds, Fascicule 5: Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate pp. 360-363  (York Archaeological Trust 1989).

Year:   Approximately 975 CE, according to Penelope Walton. 

Notions:  Gutermann brand silk thread, in white.

How historically accurate is it?   Mostly. The pattern, even down to the size of the rectangular piece of fabric used to make the cap, is based on Walton's description of the actual find.  I incorporated a selvedge along one long edge in cutting the rectangle, like the original, and hemmed the piece all around with a rolled hem using silk thread, like the original, and the original has vegetable fiber remains in the right place to suggest that it had linen tie strings.   I also took care to place the tie-strings in the approximate location suggested by Walton's examination, and tried to sew the back seam curve in a similar position.  However, my silk fabric is a 2/2 diagonal twill, not a tabby, and it's a balanced weave, unlike the original (though it's roughly comparable in fineness to the original).  The original was not tested for dyes, and is now a golden brown, though Walton suggests that an undyed silk likely would have been a pale gold, not white, in color.  (Some of the photographs make my cap look gold, even though the fabric is snowy white; the photographs showing the cap in wear give a more accurate impression of the color.)  So about 70%-80%.
Tied under chin, behind ears

Hours to complete:   About 3 hours.  The original had a rolled hem on all four edges (even though one was a selvedge), and that hemming was the slowest and most finicky part of the job, and not just because I'm inexperienced at doing rolled hems.  The technique I learned for rolled hems requires you to crease the edge, a little at a time. With linen (and ramie, where I first tried it out) this is easy, because the fabric will stay creased once you've creased it.  Silk won't, though it may retain the mark of the crease for a bit while the fabric unbends. That means you have to grip the fabric by the fold while you're putting the stitch through it, and repeat the entire crease/grip process for each individual stitch, which is exhausting.  Also, I found it difficult to place the stitches so that the raw edge is completely curled under and hidden.  (It didn't help that my fabric had a fringe of loose threads extending a few millimeters beyond the selvage area.)

First worn:  For the photographs accompanying this post.

Total cost:  $0.00; I've had the silk fabric and thread for years, and I'd acquired the linen as part of a different project.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Latvian Cloak

For fans of early medieval Baltic culture:  Peter Beatson recently published a brief, but well-illustrated article about a 9th century Latvian cloak found in a bog.  Unlike many cloaks finds from the Baltic, this one is undecorated, but like most other finds it is made from dark blue wool--and the excellent black-and-white photographs Beatson has included with the article show that it's a 2/2 diagonal twill.

His article can be read here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Bag Tunic--Egyptian style!

Now, with Egyptian flair!  
Hold the wall, like an Egyptian.
Since I couldn't fit the more Egyptian-looking of the bag tunic photographs into the other post, I figured they could stand alone, here.

The Bag Tunic, in wear

Here are some photographs of my computed Egyptian Bag Tunic.  Please excuse the lack of sand, sun, bazaars, and pyramids, since we don't have any of those scenic elements where I live.  Also, the tunic is a bit rumpled, since by now it has been rolled, folded and just plain tossed a number of times.  All of these photographs were taken by my patient husband.

I had photographs taken with each of the two different ways that I devised for belting the tunic, but I find that I can't tell them apart for certain now that I'm looking at them!  I've also experimented a bit with some more-or-less period Egyptian accessories.  

My next Egyptian tunic will definitely be a Deshasheh tunic, and I want to take my time with it, since properly made it could become part of my regular wardrobe.  This one is a bit too full to wear for ease and comfort, and the wool cord around the neckline, through really sharp looking, prickles just a bit.
Belted under the sleeves.
Belt through the sleeves?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dartmoor, in 2000 BCE

Totanac figure wearing ear spools*
Maya ear spools made of jadeite**
By now, most people interested in early period historical costuming have probably read something about the Bronze Age archaeological find in Dartmoor, England. The first article I saw on the subject was this article in The Guardian. This website by the Dartmoor National Park Authority contains more information, both about the archaeological work and about each of the components of the find, and I commend both to my readers' attention.

The most striking detail about the find, as all of the news coverage has noted, are the wooden buttons or studs.  They are significant from a history of technology perspective simply because they are direct evidence that wood turning was practiced in Great Britain 4,000 years ago--no finds have demonstrated wood turning at such an early date before.  (The archaeologists believe that the studs were locally made because analysis of the wood indicates that they were made from the wood of a tree known as a spindle tree, a type of tree which still grows in Dartmoor.)  
Faience ear spool-Egyptian Middle Kingdom***

From a costumer's perspective, the studs are also interesting because of the possibility that they were worn as ear ornaments.  (There is an opposing theory that they might have been some kind of dress fastener, though I think it's harder to see how the objects in question could have been used in such a capacity.)  Similarly shaped ornaments have been found in archaeological contexts for other cultures, such as the Mayans, the Totanac (ancient Mexico), and the ancient Egyptians.  The famous mask of King Tutankhamen, and many images of the Buddha, show earlobes with holes wide enough to support this type of ornament.  So it doesn't seem beyond possibility, to me, that people in Dartmoor were wearing such studs, or ear spools as they are also called, 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.

However, there are other interesting artifacts related to costume, even more interesting than the debatable ear spool find, that the popular press has not bothered to discuss.  The Park Authority's website describes these with tantalizing brevity:
  • A cloth and leather belt?  Another artifact is a textile, woven from nettle fiber, with two rows of leather binding and a fringe of leather triangles, made from calfskin, stitched to the outer edge.   Chemical analysis failed to detect traces of dye in this object.  Currently it is thought that the object, measuring 345mm (about 13.5 inches) by 260mm (about 10.3 inches) may have been part of a belt.  
  • An armband?  A band 175mm (about 7 inches) long was discovered to have been woven from cow hair.  It is ornamented with round objects that have been determined to have been made from tin.  Tin is available in the Dartmoor area, but this artifact is the earliest example from a prehistoric context demonstrating its use.
  • Beads!  Over 200 of them were found, 7 of them made from Baltic amber.  About 90 of them were made from shale, and over 100 were fashioned from clay.  One, a large barrel-shaped bead, is also made from tin. This assortment is the largest number of beads found to date from a single Early Bronze Age burial in South West England.  
Archaeological finds excite me, no matter what period and culture is involved, because they are an opportunity to watch the boundaries of our knowledge of historic costume being expanded.  As science becomes able to discern greater amounts of information from minute scraps of textile and other objects, the possibility of learning what men and women were wearing in Bronze Age Dartmoor grows.  I hope to live to see much more of this process unfold.

*      Photograph from Wikimedia Commons.
**    Photograph from Wikimedia Commons. Artifact from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
***  Artifact and photograph From the Virtual Egyptian Museum, Accession number AI.VS.00336.

Monday, June 30, 2014

HSF Roundup

I am overwhelmed with how many projects the Dreamstress has managed to complete for the Historical Sew Fortnightly, even during a year where life is catching up to her much more than usual.  Of the twelve challenges presented by the Dreamstress for the first half of 2014, I have completed only these four:
  • #1: Make Do & Mend: due January 1.   I added a strip onto the bottom of my Byzantine himation so that it would be properly long enough.  Not a lot of work was involved, but the result was very satisfying.

  • #5: Bodice - due March 15.  I made a "bog" blouse--a Bronze Age Scandinavian garment of which several examples have been found--from natural colored linen instead of wool.  Photographs of me wearing it may be seen here

  • #7: Tops & Toes – due April 15.   Of course, all I made was a simple pair of ancient Roman styled earrings, of which I need to get a better photograph, but you can see what they look like here.  

  • #9: Black and White – due May 15.  This was the ancient Egyptian "bag tunic" with the simple trim.  I only finished it this past weekend, and have yet to ask my husband to take some photographs of me wearing it to post here.
However, I'm still optimistic.  I still intend to work on the sprang hairnet, the Vendel tunic, and the herringbone wool apron dress I planned to make for some of the early challenges, and I might actually get to complete them in time for some of the challenges later in 2014.   We'll see what I can manage to do as the year progresses.