Sunday, June 28, 2020

An Inspiring Needle

Back in April, I reviewed two books by ChronoCopia Publishing:  A Handbook of Men's Clothing and Handbook of the 15th Century and A Handbook of Women's Clothing of the 15th Century.  Daniel Serra of ChronoCopia Publishing also asked me to review the following book about nålbinding:

Pasanen, Mervi.  With One Needle:  How to Nålbind. (ChronoCopia Publishing AB 2019).

Mervi Pasanen originally published this book in Finnish. When it came out, I lamented the fact that I wouldn't be able to read it, even if I could afford it.  With One Needle  makes that content available to English speakers, and I have been sent a free copy in order to write this review.  

I am always on the lookout for new books about nålbinding, because I have struggled for some time to learn the art, and am continuing to struggle to do so.  Though I have learned enough to nålbind an undistinguished cap for myself, I have failed several times now at making mittens or socks, and every time I take the craft up again after a hiatus, I have to re-learn the basics nearly from scratch.  So when I was asked to review With One Needle, I hoped that Mervi's book would finally help me reach the level of understanding I need to succeed at retaining basic nålbinding skills once and for all.

The first thing one notices about this book is that the production level is very high.  The paper is glossy and of good quality, the font is attractive and easily readable, and there are many clear and beautiful color photographs.  The cover photograph shown above gives a good idea of how much artistry was devoted to the photographs in the book.

As I read the book, I tried to look at it in terms of how it would be viewed by a total novice to nålbinding, which was not difficult since I'm not that far from being a novice anyway.  And although Mervi's book includes a tutorial for several different nålbinding starts, it's not really the best source available for teaching people who are new to the art how to begin nålbinding. Why?  Largely because there are not enough photographs of every step of the process.  If, like me, you have trouble telling right from left when looking at an object and also have poor visualization skills, you will find that Mervi's photo essay on nålbinding starts does not give you *quite* enough information to advance your game.

But even though Mervi's book may not be the best way for a total beginner--or even a serial beginner like myself--to learn nålbinding does not mean that the book is of no value to nålbinding enthusiasts.  To the contrary, there are many useful things a discerning reader with an interest in nålbinding can take away from Mervi's book.  Here are some of my takeaways from the book:

1.     Inspiration.  With One Needle is packed with dozens of clear, full color photographs demonstrating techniques and interesting projects.  Just finishing the book made me want to get my needle out and start looking for colorful yarn to attempt one of her projects.

2.     Useful Techniques.  From Mervi's book I gleaned the realization that the same basic technique can be used to put a thumb onto a mitten or a heel on a sock.   Mervi also gives the best photographic description I have seen of how to do a Russian join, which is a technique for incorporating a new piece of yarn onto the working yarn.

3.    Helpful Facts.  When I was first exploring nålbinding, I found a photograph of an archaeological find of a thigh-length, nålbinded stocking, and I wondered how such items could be made since nålbinded works are not very stretchy compared to knits.  It turns out that you have to take a lot of precise measurements of the various parts of ankle and leg that the sock must fit and thus tailor it to the wearer.  The book indicates that certain stitches are stretchier than others, and may be more appropriate for socks.  Mervi also provides useful measurement and proportion information for the construction of socks in general.

4.   New Stitches.  Mervi's book contains tutorials for learning a number of different variations on Finnish stitch that I've never seen anywhere else.

5.   Expert Techniques.  Have you ever seen photographs of modern nålbinded garments that appear to have a braided edge?  This book contains directions how to do that technique as well.

In short, I recommend this book most strongly for nålbinders of intermediate level--people who have made enough garments using nålbinding that they are looking for new projects to expand their skill with the technique.  However, even for people like me who are still struggling, the book is a fun and thought-provoking read, and an inspiration to increase my skills so that I can try some of the more challenging projects in the future.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

One Afternoon Tutorials--Aprons!

Today's collection of one-afternoon projects is about aprons.

Aprons appear to have been made throughout history, and could be practical or ornamental (like the bronze ornamented one found upon the woman in the Eura grave in Viking age Finland, or the 16th-17th c. lace aprons worn in France and elsewhere in Europe).

Aprons come in a wide variety of styles and fabrics.  Work aprons can be as simple as a piece of cloth with a band sewn to the top, to tie around one's waist, but can also be full length overgarments.  There are a plethora of modern apron projects to be found on the Internet also; ruffled bib or half-aprons in cheerful colors or patters; silly "chef's aprons"; pinafore aprons for little girls; and more!  Because this is a historical blog, I have stuck to patterns/tutorials for historical designs instead of diving into the vast array of modern patterns of all types. 

Please don't assume that, because I have listed only one pattern for a period, that the pattern shows the only way aprons were made in that period!  Although I have not conducted detailed research on the subject, there appear to be a variety of different apron designs for every historical period, and no reason to believe that aprons didn't vary by region as well.

Because I am not (yet!) a reenactor and have no present need for a practical period apron, I have not tried out any of these designs (except for the Eura apron, which I did a bit differently).  As always, do your own research to ascertain whether a particular tutorial suggested here will work for you.
  • Viking Apron Dress:  Viking apron dress designs are still conjectural, but two types have a substantial amount of evidence and support; the pleated-in-the-front tube (Kostrup) and the fitted tube (Hedeby).  The tutorial featured here is from the Handcrafted History blog and is a fairly typical fitted tube kind of pattern (though not necessarily what was used at Hedeby).   We don't know if the Vikings used the apron dress as we would an apron (to protect other clothing) but we do know that some aprons (notably lace aprons--17th-18th centuries) were worn for style purposes, so I am adding an apron-dress pattern to this list.  Note:  Making such a garment might take longer than a single afternoon if you stitch it entirely by hand.
  • Eura (Finland):  Based upon an archaeological find near Eura in Finland that has been dated to about 1100 CE.  The apron appears to have been simply made of a length of cloth, belted to the body with a piece of tablet weaving, but it was clearly an ornamental garment because the bottom edges was decorated with designs crafted from small bronze coils.  Making and sewing on the coils would likely take the making of such an apron outside the range of a one-afternoon project, but finishing the apron by fringing the bottom and hemming the other edges is another possibility and would be fairly quick to do.  A diagram illustrating how archaeologists believe the Eura apron was made may be found here; the original blog site (which was used by a Finnish college student to house her thesis) is no longer live.   
  • Medieval:  Here are several different types of medieval period apron.  Edyth Miller of The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist provides instruction on a type of late medieval apron associated with midwives--it's a full body overgarment.  Edyth's tutorial is here
  • Medieval, part 2:  The second type of apron is a smocked top apron tied around the waist; you can find it in Matilda La Zouche's LiveJournal here. (Note:  If you have not done smocking before, you may wish to look for instruction on how to do smocking before you attempt this kind of apron.  Gina's Medieval Silkwork blog gives a list of smocked apron tutorials, with links, here.  She includes Matilda's tutorial, but you may wish to try some of the others, which give more detailed instruction about doing the actual smocking.)
  • German Renaissance: (15th-16th centuries)  Genoveva has a video tutorial she claims will teach you how to do a smocked apron, much like the medieval ones above, in one hour!  Find it here.
  • 18th c. work apron.  Burnley & Trowbridge have a series of three excellent clear videos demonstrating how to make a basic 18th century style work apron.  The set is in the "Sew Along" playlist; you can find the first one on YouTube here.
  • Regency:  The blog Sewing Empire features two different apron styles for the Regency period:  this one for a quick waist-length apron, and a second one for an apron with full-body coverage.  
  • Victorian:  Sew Historically has a tutorial on how to make a "pinner", an apron with a bib that pinned onto one's clothes. Find it here.
  • Edwardian:  From a blog called Cranial Hiccups comes a tutorial for a rather plain and basic, full-body apron; find it here.
  • 1920s:  Also from Cranial Hiccups comes this 1920s apron tutorial; yes, it's a period tutorial, complete with an image containing the actual period pattern!
Feel free to dive into the Internet (Pinterest is not a bad place to start) to look for other possible apron DIYs/how-tos/tutorials and patterns.  Have fun!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

One Afternoon Tutorials--For the Hands

This month's collection of tutorials consists of quickly made items that are worn on the hands or arms.  I couldn't find any jewelry items I had not featured before, but there are still a surprising number of tutorials available.  The types of items they produce include mittens, gloves, mitts (i.e., sleeveless gloves), muffs, and cuffs.

As always, I have not tried out these tutorials, unless my description expressly says otherwise.  That being said, I read the tutorials and limit the ones I include to those that appear from my experience to be workable by a reasonably experienced sewer.  Just about all of these items are for historical items belonging to 18th century European clothing, but some may be adaptable to other periods.

Now, on to the tutorials!
  • 18th century mitts.  This tutorial comes from the blog A Sartorial Statement.  It makes up a pair of 18th century mitts, which in this case are gloves made without fingers or any covering for the fingers where the shaft comes up the arm to the elbow.  They could be made from kidskin, wool, silk, lace, or almost any fabric, depending on whether the intended use is for formal dress or just to keep warm.  The Sartorial Statement's tutorial gives a technique for making mitts, more than an actual pattern; you will need to be guided by your own research to achieve the specific result you want.  For a more scientific approach that will help you make your own mitt pattern, see SewLoud's bloghere
  • 18th century muffs.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, well-off women often kept their hands warm with muffs--a kind of cushion with a tunnel through the center into which the hands would be placed.  Koshka the Cat features both a muff (base) pattern and a muff cover pattern on her blog, The Fashionable Past.   That way, one can make only one muff base and have a coordinating muff for every outfit by making an array of different muff covers.  Again, your research will be necessary to come up with suitable fabrics and patterns.
  • 17th century gloves.  This tutorial comes from Tammie Dupuis at The Renaissance Tailor,  The site has many other tutorials (she calls them "demonstrations" or "demos") as well.
  • 18th century sleeve flounces. Eighteenth century gowns, particularly formal gowns, have a kind of ruffle along the ends of the sleeves; these are known as flounces.  Not sure what I mean?  This tutorial from The Fashionable Past will clear that up for you, and show you how to make them yourself.  
  • 18th century cuffs.  Don't care for sleeve flounces?  Some 18th century gowns have pleated sleeves, and The Fashionable Past has a tutorial for those too.  You can find that tutorial here, also with helpful photographs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Lego Fashion

Lego blocks isolated on the white background

Free photo 6223582 © Tomas Valenta, Bm Association -
This post is the opposite of your normal April Fool's Day post, which usually attempts to make a hoax sound as though it's a real event.  This post is about something that sounds as though it should be a hoax, but isn't--namely, making dresses out of plastic Lego blocks.

At Comic Con back in 2016, Star Wars voice artist Ashley Eckstein wore a gown made from Legos. Pictures of Ashley wearing the Lego gown may be seen here, while workshop photos of Ashley's gown may be seen here.  The small 2 x 2 Lego blocks seem to have been preferred for the creation Ashley is wearing. 

If you think a Lego dress would be impossibly heavy to wear, think again. This CNet article describes the construction of a plain black Lego gown, made with 12,000 Lego pieces, that weighed only 7 pounds. Ordinary day wear in the late Victorian era often was much heavier.  

Finally, has a tutorial on how to make your own Lego dress. The tutorial only makes a dress with a Lego-covered panel--not a dress that is completely covered with Legos. It may still be worth looking into if you like the idea of Lego Fashion. 

Happy April Fool's Day!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Two Late 15th Century European Clothing Handbooks

At the request of Daniel Serra of ChronoCopia Publishing, I am reviewing the following books.  They are very similar to each other and even contain some of the same content, so it makes sense to review them together:
Malmborg, A. & Schütz, Willhelm, A Handbook for Men's Clothing of the 15th Century: Historical Clothing from the Inside Out. (ChronoCopia Publishing AB 2018).
Malmborg, A. & Schütz, Willhelm, A Handbook for Women's Clothing of the 15th Century: Historical Clothing from the Inside Out. (ChronoCopia Publishing AB 2018).
These books are beautifully produced.  They are printed on thick, glossy paper and are lavishly illustrated with clear diagrams and large, full color photographs showing clothed figures excerpted from period works of art.  But these books are very short (48 pages each).  At $19.90 USD for each on, they are a bit more expensive than the titles in Osprey Publishing's Men-At-Arms series, which are the same length and are of similarly high quality with regard to paper, photographs, and layout.

These books are too brief to be a comprehensive guide to everything there is to know about late 15th century costume.  For example, they are too small to give much information about clothing patterns, or surviving items of period clothing, or to discuss differences in costume from one European country to another.

Are Malmborg and Schütz's  handbooks worth one's money and time?  I think the answer to that question is "yes," but only for people who are just starting to learn about late 15th century costume.

What kinds of information do these books provide?  That can be discerned by scanning through the books chapters and headings.  The book's contents are divided into three chapters:  "The Period;" "A Wardrobe;" and "Accessories."

"The Period" is subdivided into five sections: "Historical context;" "The dress idiom;" "Dyes;" "Fabrics;" and "Sewing Techniques."  "Historical context" briefly describes the political situation in Europe as it existed during the period.  "The dress idiom" describes the physical outline of period costume--what I think of as its "silhouette"--and mentions some of the features of that costume, such as pleats, layers, and the importance of fabric choice in displaying social rank.  "Dyes" describes the substances used to achieve fashionable colors, and images give a sense of how those colors appeared.  "Fabrics" discusses the types of fiber used in most period fabrics and the most popular weaves used, while "Sewing Techniques" illustrates the stitches used for clothing construction.  This chapter appears with substantially the same content in both books.

The "Wardrobe" has a separate section for each item that comprises a typical outfit for a man or woman of the period (depending upon which of the two volumes you are reading), from head to toe and from the skin out.  For each item, the reader is told the fabrics from which each garment is made, the garment's basic shape, and general information about construction, tailoring techniques, and fit.  Though no sewing patterns are provided, good general advice about how to construct each garment is provided.

The "Accessories" section describes non-clothing items that are nonetheless part of a typical outfit, such as pins, jewelry, and belts.  Finally, there is a page listing the sources of the images used in the book, and a separate page listing useful books to consult for further study of 15th century clothing.

The sort of information that these handbooks provide is the information needed to develop an "eye" for when a costume looks "right."  Information that fosters such an "eye" is immensely helpful because it guides the learner in determining which other books to buy or read. Having an "eye" for the costume of a period is essential in learning how to design and construct costumes that make the wearer look as though he or she has just "stepped out" of a period artwork.  It also provides a useful framework for delving into patterns and pattern books and for understanding the clothing of figures shown in period art.  But the would-be 15th century costumer or reenactor will still need to study further in order to learn enough to be able to construct convincingly accurate 15th century clothing.

For that reason, these books would better be described as "primers" rather than "handbooks". The term "handbook" is typically used for a start-to-finish reference guide to all of the essentials of a subject, and as such may be usefully consulted by those with prior experience in the subject.  Malmborg and Schütz's books are not "handbooks" in this sense.  People with experience making or studying 15th century costume will already know most of the information presented in these books and likely will not be interested in consulting them.

On the other hand, a "primer" is a short introduction to a subject, such as the type of short text given to children to teach them how to read.  Malmborg and Schütz's books are more like primers in that they teach the uninitiated how to "read" clothing images in period art and what types of information they will need to seek in order to sew convincing period clothes.

So these handbooks are not for everyone.  However, costumers who are beginning to develop knowledge of 15th century clothing, or historical fiction writers who are looking for enough costuming information to convincingly describe their characters, may find them a pleasant way to learn to visualize how a 15th century man or woman should be dressed.  For people in those circumstances, it would be hard to find an easier and better point of entry into the study of 15th century costume, and I recommend the books for that purpose.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Pleasant Surprise

Here's a little surprise for my readers--and me as well!

Daniel Serra has asked me to review some books from Chronocopia Publishing.  These are the books in question.  The links go to the page for each book on the Chronocopia website, though the books may be obtained from various booksellers as well.
Daniel is one of the co-authors of another Chronocopia book: An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey, which discusses the reasons what Viking food was probably like and why, and provides defensible period recipes for modern-day people like us to make.  I reviewed An Early Meal on my food blog, here. That review may be the reason why I've been asked to review the Chronocopia books mentioned above.

Chronocopia is being good enough to send me review copies.  After I have received and read them, I will be writing book reviews of all three for this blog.  Watch this space!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

One Afternoon Tutorials--Shoes

Since I have not attempted to gather shoe construction projects for my collection of "one afternoon tutorials," I figured that I would do that today.  

Now I have, in the past, posted links to tutorials for shoe ornaments (such as rosettes) or shoe modifications (such as shoe dyeing).  But those are different from making, from start to finish, a pair of wearable, at least plausibly period shoes in a single afternoon.

There's a reason for that.  Shoes have to be more than pretty; they also need to protect the feet and be reasonably comfortable to wear.  That means that most shoes are made from leather or similarly tough materials, not fabric alone.  The toughness of leather makes it physically challenging to sew, so making shoes from scratch usually takes much longer than a single afternoon.

That being said, there are historical shoe projects that can be single-afternoon tasks.  Two of the three tutorials here are for prehistoric shoes, and involve nothing more complex or strenuous than cutting and lacing pieces of leather to fit the feet.  
  • "Net-Top" Shoes.  This tutorial comes courtesy of Heather Rose Jones.  The historical examples of this style that Heather gives are associated with "barbarian" cultures of the late Roman Empire.  
  • "Iron Age" Shoes.  The designer of this tutorial refers to them as "Iron Age/Viking," but these designs are not Viking.  Like the "net tops" above they require cutting a single piece of leather in a manner that can simply be laced to the foot; the result resembles traditional Irish dance shoes more than anything else.  This particular design may not be historical, but lace-on shoes are documentable for early periods in Scandinavia and probably for Ireland and Scotland as well, and the result is not offensively anachronistic for other prehistoric cultures.
  • Regency era dance slippers. This tutorial describes how to sew Regency dance slippers by sewing machine; they have fabric uppers and light (synthetic) leather soles. [NOTE:  This tutorial is old (2010) and the internal links in it no longer work.]  These slippers are meant for wear indoors. [SECOND NOTE:  The recommended pattern mentioned in the tutorial, Butterick B5233, is still being sold but the current version does not include the shoe pattern featured in this tutorial.]
I have been looking for sandal tutorials but have not found anything that I think would, or even might, be a one-afternoon project.  If I find anything else of interest, I will share it.