Sunday, December 14, 2014

More on the Lengberg Bras

NESAT XI also contains yet another article by Beatrix Nutz about the Lengberg "bras."
Nutz, Beatrix.  Bras in the 15th Century?  A Preliminary Report.  NESAT XI, pp. 221-225.
As my regular readers likely will recall from some of my previous posts, Professor Nutz has previously published a number of short articles in non-scholarly publications about the Lengberg finds.  For that reason, much of what appears in her NESAT XI article is unlikely to be surprising to an avid historical costumer who has been following the news coverage of those finds.  There are some tidbits of interest, however.

1.  Virtually all of the fabric finds at Lengberg are linen (a switch from the usual situation in northern Europe, where most pre-modern archaeological finds are of wool).  There are only small surviving scraps of wool and silk among the Lengberg garment fragments, and they come in virtually all colors of the rainbow.  Professor Nutz mentions fragments of wool in "various shades of blue, red and green but also purple and very dark, almost black, blue or brown."  She also mentions "fragments of silk containing the colors yellow, purple and green."  (p. 222)

2.  Most of the Lengberg finds are of upper body garments, or of the upper body portions of garments that tend to cover both the upper and lower body.  No "clearly identifiable parts of skirts" have been found.  Professor Nutz theorizes that this is because skirts tend to consist of larger pieces of fabric which are interrupted by few seams, making them easier to re-purpose.  Bodices, on the other hand, are much smaller and have many seams.  (p. 222)  Having tried to rip apart my husband's worn shirts for rags, I agree that it's much more difficult to rip, and thus re-use, sleeves and collars.

3.  Of the Lengberg linen garment finds, Professor Nutz identifies four as resembling modern bras. For purposes of her article, a garment "resembles" a modern bra if it has a separate cup for each breast.  (p. 223)  Two of these are more like very short, sleeveless blouses with breast cups, and one is very like a modern long-line bra, except that it has lacing holes at the side.  These styles make sense in light of the fact that 15th century fashion feature snugly fitting undergowns; but their existence may require re-evaluation of the modern theory that the undergowns themselves were constructed to support the breasts without the need for a supportive undergarment.

4.  Professor Nutz concludes her article by discussing the question of dating the fragments; are we sure that they belong to the 15th century?  She concludes that we can be sure that they do, for four reasons:  a)  All of the "bras" use textile construction techniques that were commonly used during the 15th century; b) other garments and articles found with them (such as coinage and shoes) are clearly 15th century; c) the needle lace decorating the bras resembles lace made by a technique called punto in aria, which was developed during approximately the same time period in nearby Italy; and d) fiber samples from two of the bras were carbon-14 dated to the 15th century.

So it appears that garments substantially identical to the bra were in use during the 15th century, at least in Germany.  That fact suggests an interesting question--why did they go out of fashion? Possibly the change in fashion from a controlled, but natural silhouette to the more rigid, conical silhouette possible with the 16th century corset drove it from favor.  Whatever else they may be, the Lengberg bras are a reminder that clothing does not progress in leaps, but in zigzags, and apparently rational garments can go out of fashion for so long that they need to be reinvented.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Disappointment!

As I review the NESAT XI papers, I find that some of the articles that I expected to find fascinating are disappointing, because circumstances have limited the amount of clothing information that can be gleaned from them.  The most severe disappointment, for me, was the article about the Cloonshannagh bog find:
Heckett, Elizabeth Wincott.  The Lady of Cloonshannagh Bog:  An Irish 7th Century AD Bog Body and the Related Textiles, NESAT XI, pp. 167-172.
Knowing that this article would be in NESAT XI was exciting for me, because there has been little archaeological work published from Ireland to allow the recreation of clothing from any period before early modern times.  Most of the information used to recreate historical Irish clothing comes either from the limited pictorial evidence or (primarily) from literature.  To find an intact and clothed bog body, particularly from as early as the 7th century, would be an enormous boon.

Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure whether the Cloonshannagh find might have been such a boon, because the body was "discovered" by workers operating a peat cutting machine.  The machine "scattered her bones and shredded her clothes," as Professor Heckett says in her paper.  As a result, textile fragments--over 138 of them--were recovered from the bog randomly.  

Professor Heckett was not deterred by the unfortunate circumstances of the find.  She patiently reassembled the skeleton as well as could be done, matched the textile fragments by type and reassembled them, and then used evidence of the parts of the skeleton with which each textile fragment was associated in order to make tentative deductions about the garments the dead woman must have worn to her grave.   The information Professor Heckett obtained in this manner sheds a surprising amount of light upon the dead woman and her clothing.

The first, and most obvious discovery Professor Heckett discusses in the NESAT article, is that the woman's clothing included seven different types of cloth, and six of the seven were of good quality, being well woven and well-spun.  Five of the textiles were twills, one was a fine quality tabby, and the last a poor quality tabby.  The variety, quantity, and quality of the textiles indicates that the dead woman was of high status.

The largest of the textiles, referred to in the article as "textile A", appears to have had a long, shaggy pile, that likely was created by working thick pieces of yarn into the cloth during the weaving process.   This cloth appears to have covered most of the woman's body, and Professor Heckett that it may have been a cloak, as "Ireland has a long history lasting into the 19th century of shaggy pile cloaks and capes".  If this textile is indeed part of such a cloak, it would be the earliest known example of such a shaggy pile cloak.  (p. 167).

Fragments of textile B were found stuck to the inside surface of the cloak (Professor Heckett was able to distinguish the inside surface from the fact that "small pieces of a different cloth attached to the underside side were also attached to a rib bone") (p. 167)  It is now a dark reddish gray in color. Professor Heckett suggests that this different cloth, textile B, may have been part of a garment, perhaps an outer tunic.

Textile C was the only textile in the find that was a ribbed tabby weave.  The 2-ply thread from which it was woven was z-spun but s-plied; the warp was tightly plied, while the weft was thicker and much more loosely plied.  These specimens are associated with the pelvic area of the skeleton, and Professor Heckett suggests that they may have been part of "a woven band attached to a belt or to some other article of dress."  (p. 167)

Textile D had a human hair attached to it, and textile E was directly attached to a rib bone, indicating that these two fabrics were worn close to the woman's body.  Professor Heckett suggests that textile E was part of a leine, the primary tunic of the Irish.  Textile E was woven in a 2/1 twill, using different colors for the warp and weft and thus was "two-tone" in color.  Textile F was very loosely woven, also two-tone in color with the warp a dark reddish brown and the weft a "strong brown"; Professor Heckett theorizes that this fabric might have been part of a head-wrapping or veil.  Finally, textile G was also two-tone, with the warp threads being dark reddish brown and the weft threads being "black and lustrous."  (pp. 167-168)

Because of the scattered condition of the Cloonshannagh find, we cannot make guesses as to the cut of the woman's clothing.  However, the textiles are consistent with other research showing that in the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish women wore one or more leines, brat or heavy cloak, and a head covering.  The textiles are also interesting in that they include two examples of 2/1 twill (textiles E and G), which are unusual for early medieval Ireland; tabby weave was typical.  This information is at least reasonable consolation for the disappointment of not having found the lady's grave intact.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

So close!

After reading Marianne Vedeler's book Silk for the Vikings, I was eager to find a modern reproduction of a period patterned fabric (I don't expect to find silk samite, but was hoping for a reproduction using some other weave) which I could buy in a small quantity to trim Viking attire.

So I was really excited to find a Czech site called Sartor. Sartor will do reproductions of any historical pattern that enough people are willing to pay for, but what caught my interest was this page where they claim to be selling a Persian textile from the Oseberg find. 

The page discussing the Oseberg textile reproduction included a link, supposedly to web articles about the find.  The first article  cited showed a picture of the patterned silk samite strips Professor Vedeler discussed in her book--but that fabric wasn't the design Sartor has reproduced. Instead, Sartor reproduced a different textile, a photograph of which also appears in the article, captioned as follows: 
"Persian textiles also travelled east along the Silk Road; this reproduction is from one housed in the 8th century Shōsōin (正倉院) Imperial Repository in Nara, Japan. Private collection Great Britain."
The second article paraphrased the first one, and included the same photographs, including the photographs of the Oseberg textile and the 8th century Persian textile Sartor has reproduced.

Although Sartor's "Oseberg" textile isn't really from the Oseberg find, it is an early Central Asian type of silk design, similar to the silk fabric used for trim in the Pskov dress and found elsewhere in the Viking world, so it would not be inappropriate for me to use it for Viking garb. However, I don't really like the design and colors of Sartor's "Oseberg" textile, even though it's ideal for my purposes in many ways (it's made from 100% polyester, comes with either a gold, red or black background and only costs $15 per meter). What I do like, and may well be equally plausible in light of Professor Vedeler's conclusion that some Viking silks may have come to Scandinavia via Byzantium, is this 9th-10th century Byzantine textile reproduction. It's a silk-rayon blend and is selling for $24.51 per meter--plus about $16.00 shipping to the U.S.  Even if I only buy half a meter of the stuff, I'd still be paying nearly $30.00 USD for the privilege of using strips of it to trim my future Viking garb.  I need to think for a bit to decide whether I want to do that.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Battle Plan, Post-Contact

Among military gamers (and serving military personnel, for all I know) there's a saying:  "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."  This means, more or less, that no matter how good a plan is, real-world circumstances may reveal that it has so many problems as to be unworkable, or incapable of achieving the desired victory.

That's the sort of thing that's happened to my project for Historical Sew Fortnightly #20--Alternative Universe.  I planned to make a costume based upon the science fiction of M.A. Foster; specifically, a costume intended for "amorous dalliance" by a member of the constructed human subspecies featured in Foster's books called the ler.  This was to consist of a loose translucent blouse that tied at the hip and shoulder, and a long, flowing loincloth.  Because I saw the loincloth as the "easy" part of the project, and because I've been unusually busy at work, I figured I would wait to start until the loincloth fabric arrived.  

Well, the loincloth fabric didn't arrive from India ("Indian fabric") until a few days ago--shortly after the HSF #20 project deadline.  So any costume I make for Challenge #20 will be late (or will be forced into the "Re-do" Challenge or some other challenge).  

The fabric itself is great in some ways.  The color and motifs are exactly as pictured on the Etsy website of the vendor from whom I bought the fabric.  Unfortunately, the fabric, though very light, is not flowy; it's crisp and stiff--not at all what Foster's book depicts or the effect I wanted to achieve. It's possible that a few washings may soften it somewhat; I'm going to try that next.

But I have a bigger problem--the amount of fabric I have for the loincloth.  Because the price of this fabric was $12.00 USD a yard, I tried to economize by purchasing only two yards of the stuff. However, experimentation reveals that if I use the tuck-the-fabric under a belt in front and back method I planned, the loincloth will, at best, be knee length, not ankle or floor length as the book describes and as I wanted.   Grr.

The fabric is 44 inches wide.  I can cut it in half--into two 22-inch, two-yard long pieces--and sew them together, end to end.  This should be more than long enough for a tucked loincloth, but will be so narrow as to expose most of my thighs, which is also not an effect I intended.  Clearly, the economy I attempted to practice was a false one, because now I need to obtain MORE fabric to get the effect I originally visualized.  

But I still want to make the costume (especially since my husband really liked the glimpse he caught of me trying to tuck the too-short Indian fabric through my bead belt) so, poor economy or not, I'm going to proceed.  The question now is how, or whether, I can redesign the costume to get some use out of the fabric I already have--namely, the thin yellow jersey (jersey) and the Indian fabric.  These are the alternatives that occur to me: 

1.  Buy some plain sandwashed rayon fabric (2 1/2 yards at least) in a nice color (brown, say) for the loincloth and tuck a narrow panel of the Indian fabric over it, as an overlay.  Make the blouse from the jersey as originally planned.

2.  Give up on using the Indian fabric for the loincloth altogether.  Buy plain sandwashed rayon or something similar and use it for the loincloth; make the blouse from the jersey as planned.

3.  Buy some plain sandwashed rayon fabric in brown for the loincloth.  Make the blouse from alternating panels of the Indian fabric and the jersey.  Or (better) use the Indian fabric for the long, sash-like bottom piece of the blouse (the piece that ties at the waist), and make the rest of the blouse from the jersey.  

Right now I'm leaning toward alternative 3, but I will cheerfully listen to advice about how to proceed.  If you're at all interested in this costume idea of mine, please step up and let me know what you think in the comments.

EDIT (11/22/2014):  I took Beth S.'s advice (see Comments) and bought a yard of a soft, thin jersey to piece in to my fabric where it won't show (i.e., as the part that will actually touch my crotch). Now to do the actual washing and sewing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

False Colors

Over the years, I have obtained copies of all of the NESAT issues.  Only a few of them are photocopies of dubious pedigree (though I have always sought to obtain copies of the NESAT books on the open market, and have only resorted to photocopies, for research purposes, when market copies have proved unavailable).

NESAT XI, the latest volume, is striking for the dramatic increase in articles that are based expressly on scientific experiment and unusual research techniques.  Consider the following:
  • Solazzo, Caroline; Peacock, Elizabeth; Clerens, Stefan; Dyer, Jolon M.; Plowman, Jeffrey E.  Potential of Proteomics for the Analysis of Animal Fibres in Archaeological Textiles. (pp. 139-144) Discusses analysis of protein complexes in archaeological animal fibers (which is called a "proteome") to deduce the origin of such fibers.

  • Wiesner, Ingrid; Stelzner, Jörg; Ebinger-Rist, Nicole.  Virtual Analyses of Neolithic Textiles (pp. 109-118).  Discusses use of computer modeling of neolithic fibers to "see" areas of the fibers that cannot be seen without destroying or damaging the find, in order to make deductions about the find (such as the fiber manipulation techniques used to create it).

  • Llerg, Yolanda; Riera, Santiago; Servera, Gabriel; Miras, Yannick; Eusebi Garcia-Biosca, Joan; Miguel, Marina; Picornell, Llorenç; Cabanis, Manon.  The Application of Pollen Analyses in the Study of Burials and Related Textiles:  The Studied Cases of King Peter The Great's Medieval Grave and the Prehistoric Funerary Cave of Cavades Pas (Spain) (pp. 119-123). Discusses analysis of pollen found in and on archaeological textiles for use in ascertaining information about burial practices.
I am pleased to see that scientific progress is continuing to enable archaeologists to obtain more and more information from very small or very damaged textile and other grave finds.  But it strikes me that it can be even more useful to have information that warns us that our tests may not be telling us the entire story.  Such information has been supplied by an experiment performed by M. Ringgaard of the University of Denmark, called "Migration of Dyes in Wet-Site Archaeological Textiles."  Copies of the NESAT posters, which describe the experiment briefly in both English and German,  describing this experiment may be found on line here.

Ringgaard devised a simple text, which began with dyeing swatches of wool and silk with different, specific, natural dyes--indigo, cochineal, madder, weld, oak galls, and walnut--and keeping records of which dye or dyes was used on each.  Some of the swatches were dyed using mordants, and records of which swatches used which mordants were kept also.  Some of the samples had white, undyed wool swatches fastened to them. All of the samples were then buried in boxes filled with waterlogged peat and the boxes were stored in a greenhouse at a stable temperature and humidity level.  At different times ranging from 8 months to 4 years after burial, some of the samples were removed, freeze-dried, and subjected to photo diode array analysis for dye substances. 

M. Ringgaard found that both dyes and mordants leached from the fabric samples.  In the case of the samples buried with white wool samples attached, the leaching process often clearly visible, but the fabric that had been leached into in this way tested positive for dye.  More interestingly, dye from some of the dyed fabrics was detected in fabric swatches that had been dyed with a different dye than the one detected by analysis, suggesting that migrating dyes do not always (or only) migrate to the nearest textile.  M. Ringgaard observed:
Although no significant trace of indigo was found in the “migration patch,” indigo was found in two swatches – weld (reseda luteola) - dyed – that had been placed next to an indigo-dyed textile during the burial. If it had not been known the textile was dyed with weld only, the interpretation of this analysis would have been that the textiles originally were dyed green.
M. Ringgard concludes, "If more than one dye is traced in an archaeological textile, one has to consider if this is an intended mixture of dyes or if it could be due to migration from other sources."

In my opinion, the implications of these results are twofold.  First, the fact that a textile tests negative for the presence of a dye substance may not mean it was not originally dyed.  Significant migration of dyestuffs took place in M. Ringgaard's experiment over a course of months or years.  Many archaeological textiles have been buried for centuries, and any dye substance in them may long since have leached away, forever lost to researchers.

The second possibility is just as troublesome.  Over years, or centuries, a dye substance might leach away from a textile, not into the ground, but into a different textile, giving the impression that the second textile had been dyed even if it had not been, or that it had been dyed with different substances than those that were actually used to dye it, resulting in the possibility of a faux "green" type of result.  

M. Ringgaard proposes that dye testing should be performed on multiple samples taken from different parts of the same textile, to see whether the results vary dramatically in terms of what dyes are detected and, hopefully, ascertain whether migration of dye or mordant has affected the test results.  This may turn out to be a successful corrective measure, but the study is a useful reminder that neither a positive nor a negative result for the presence of a dye can be entirely trusted.  The Ringgaard experiment has shown that dye substances can migrate away from fabric buried in wet ground and raises the possibility that prior testing results have, in effect, clothed some textile specimens in false colors.  Anyone researching the history of early costume needs to keep that possibility in mind.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Christmas in October

Why is it Christmas in October, you may ask? Because today, the copy of NESAT XI I ordered from The Book Depository finally arrived! 

For those of my readers whose costume interests different greatly from mine, NESAT is an acronym. It stands for "North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles". Such a symposium has been held every three years since 1981, and has grown from a tiny event for a few textile specialists into, in the words of co-editor Johanna Banck-Burgess, "an interdisciplinary and international symposium, whose members have significantly contributed to the recognition of textile archaeology in many disciplines concerned with culture history." (page 15)

The parcel I ordered today contains the papers presented at the eleventh such meeting, which was held in Esslingen, Germany in 2011, and a CD-rom containing shorter presentations called "posters". I first became interested in the NESAT volumes when I learned, two decades ago, that many of the papers in those volumes involve archaeological research with a strong bearing upon the history of costume in my period of greatest interest, i.e., before the year 1000 CE in northern Europe. As Ms. Banck-Burgess observes in her Preface, the NESAT now includes articles about finds from all over Europe (there are articles in NESAT XI about finds in Italy and in the Balkans, for example), although the majority of the papers presented and published still involve northern Europe. 

In the next few weeks, as I grab precious minutes to read through the articles (and enjoy the CD-rom), I will write brief posts sharing tidbits about the articles that have interested and enlightened me the most.  Apologies in advance to those of my readers who have already bought and read this fascinating volume.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Visiting a Magyar Jurta

While I was looking for pictures of interesting items to add to my Pinterest board, I found an interesting website called "A Magyar Jurta". According to the author's description, this blog was started as a place to house her research into "Magyars of the conquest era," though she also writes about the costume of the Iron Age Finns and the Vikings (both of whom were roughly contemporaneous) and other cultures as well. She has supervised the construction of a reconstructed costume of a ninth-century CE Magyar woman, and posted excellent pictures of its components.

I commend her site to my readers for its attempts to assemble information on difficult-to-research subjects.