Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Where Does The Needle Point?

World's Oldest Needle.  (Pictures:  Russia 24, Vesti)
From The Siberian Times today comes a dramatic discovery:  a 50,000-year-old bone needle that is 7 cm (about 2 3/4 inches) long, that was recently found in a cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia.

In one way, that fact is not so surprising. Because it has been established that human body lice were already common about 170,000 years ago, and that body lice cannot live on a person who is not wearing clothing, it follows that clothing, and the tools necessary to make it, go at least that far back in time. (To get an idea of where we fit into the story, modern humans, which bear the scientific name Homo sapiens sapiens, go back approximately 200,000 years.)

Illustration showing bracelet find and reconstruction
of its original appearance.  Image credit:
Vera Salnitskaya, Anastasia Abdulmanova
What no one appears to have talked about, before now, is the impact of extinct members of genus Homo or even subspecies of Homo sapiens upon the history of clothing.

The needle was found in a place called the Denisova Cave, which is associated, not with modern man, but with an extinct subspecies called the Denisovans or homo sapiens altai.

In other words, it was not made by the species we think of as ourselves.

Archaeologists have been exploring the Denisova Cave for quite a while now and are far from finished.  The article includes pictures of other finds, made in 2008.  This find included a broken stone bracelet made from a polished, deep green piece of chlorite about 40,000 years ago.  This precisely-shaped band has a round hole neatly drilled in the middle--perhaps for a pendant of some kind on a leather strap.

Nor were the Denisovans necessarily the only Homo genuses in the clothing history picture.  The Siberian Times article calls attention to the fact that the existence of this bracelet demonstrates that the Denisovans were more technologically skilled than the Neanderthals, who were roughly contemporaneous with them.  More importantly, other discoveries from the Denisova Cave include DNA evidence that, at least in Siberia, homo sapiens sapiens interbred with both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

What is of interest to me are the implications of these needle and jewelry finds on costume history. One clear implication is that the fashioning of clothing and adornments predates homo sapiens sapiens. Perhaps more importantly, the presence of these items confirmed that homo sapiens altai shared our need for clothing and our love of adornment--and makes it much harder not to consider these species to be a human as we are.   As the excavations at the Denisova Cave progress, the time is coming when we will need to reevaluate and expand the history of human clothing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Tale of Three Tutorials

Last month, I talked about how historical costuming tutorials posted to the Internet may vary greatly in the degree of authenticity they may provide.

By chance, a few days after that post was written I found a perfect illustration of the point I was trying to make. Specifically, I found three different tutorials, from three different people, all purporting to teach the reader how to make a version of a particular historical garment--the Skoldehamn hood.

The Skoldehamn hood is part of a suit of largely intact clothing that was found on a bog body in Norway that has been to the 11th century CE.  The body was originally found in 1936, so well preserved that at first the finders thought they had discovered the victim of a recent murder.

Dan Lovlid is the scholar currently studying the Skoldehamn garments.  My costuming friend, pearl, excellently paraphrases Lovlid's description of the surviving hood on her projects page, here (scroll down to about the middle of the page for the section about the hood).  She reviewed the descriptions by Lovlid and other scholars of the hood's construction and describes the hood as follows:
The fabric of the hood is a woolen 2/2 twill, believed to have originally been dark brown in color, with the warp dark grey and the weft a lighter grey, giving an overall buff (yellow-brown) appearance. ... The cutting pattern appears to have used this fabric very efficiently, as the pieces were comprised of rectangles and squares, all approximately 30-60 cm wide. ... The gores in the front and back of the hood, while not unusual in their placement, are unusual in that they are not curved along the bottom edge. In fact, they are simple squares, that effectively widen the skirt of the hood, so that it can fit over the shoulders. It measures approximately 138 cm around the hem.
According to Løvlid, the hood is made from three pieces of wool, not four. The main part of the hood is actually a single piece, that was split up the middle to form the face-hole, except for the final 2.5 cm, and possibly a 1 cm section between the face-hole and front gore.  The top of the hood has an angled seam, that is deeper at the front than the back, giving the hood a protrusion on top that looks similar to a cockscomb. This also causes the hood to sit further forward, providing more protection for the face. The top edges, forming the cockscomb, had been turned inward and sewn together with whipstitches in a grey-brown thread from along the top of the hood A second seam in a darker brown, beginning near the face-hole ran 3-8 mm below this edge, while a third (seemingly from the same wool as the hoods' warp) is parallel at 10-15 mm from the top. Finally, a fourth seam creates the comb at its final height of 22 to 27 mm. The front and back gores are attached with whipstitching in dark brown wool, which simultaneously tacked the seam allowance to the outside of the hood. The bottom edge of the hood is whip stitched, with neat stitches that run parallel to the grain of the fabric, and there is no evidence that the hem was folded over. 
Thicker wool, now brown but originally red and yellow, was possibly meant to be used in a simple embroidery. A red thread is used on the right-hand side of the face opening, running over the top of the hood for 15 cm, before being replaced by a yellow thread that continues to the bottom, in whipstitch. These threads were knotted at both the start and end of their paths. A second golden-coloured thread decorates the back seam of the hood, but this 'embroidery' is described as an oblique basting stitch. Although all these seams appear to have been sewn from the outside, that does not necessarily mean these stitches were 'decorative' and in a contrasting thread. ...
Two cords, one on each side of the head below ear-height (13 cm from the bottom hem), were sewn on, and were preserved as being tied underneath the chin. The left-hand cord is fully preserved, and 6 cm long with a tufted end, that is covered with a little piece of green woven fabric. It was braided with two pairs of olive-green, and two pairs of red-brown threads in a clockwise spiralling pattern (all internal citations omitted) (boldface emphasis added; italic emphasis in original).
I have quoted this discussion at length as a demonstration of how some easily available "Skjoldehamn Hood tutorials" on the Internet differ widely in the techniques used and the appearance of the final product from the surviving garment.  I have emphasized the primary elements of the physical construction in the above description.  Let's compare the three tutorials I found to this description in order of decreasing resemblance to the original.

1.  Kristine of Náttmál published this tutorial describing how she made her version of the hood. The best part of this tutorial is that Kristine expressly takes note of all the places where she did things differently from what can be observed on the original garment.

Kristine preserves the three-piece aspect of the pattern, and uses a split in the main piece for the face hole, as was true of the original. However, she uses running stitch to join the pieces and then creates felled seams with whipstitches. In addition, she lines the hood, even though there is no sign of a lining of the original, and thus she folds all of the edges to the inside.  With regard to the top seams, that create the cock's comb effect, she uses only a single seam.  Kristine's version adds the cords, but makes a single color cord with a lucet instead of doing a four-strand fingerbraid in two different colors.  She also omits the allegedly decorative stitching in red and yellow.  Finally, Kristine sewed her hood with linen thread, not wool as used in the original.

2.  The woman who blogs at takes much simpler approach; her tutorial can be found here.  She also correctly uses three pieces of fabric for the hood, but does not cut a slit in the big piece for the face; instead she cuts it as a much longer rectangle than in the original design, folds this long piece in half lengthwise, and fits the smaller square pieces into the bottom. She does not use a seam to make the "cock's comb" at the top of the hood, and she omits the cords on the back. Like Kristine, she sews her hood with linen thread using a running stitch but finishes edges and seams with whipstitch.  However, her versions of the Skjoldehamn hood are unlined, like the original. Her tutorial is aimed at people who want a hood that looks at least somewhat like the Skjoldehamn hood (it lacks the coxcomb shape to the top of the hood and the closer fit around the face) but is simpler and faster to make.

3.   I also found a tutorial on Imgur, here. This tutorial, by probablyilsa, recommends cutting a set of three pieces out of both an exterior fabric and a lining, sewing each set together, putting the lining inside the hood exterior (right sides together) and then turning the resulting hood right side out to complete the process--which is a modern lining technique.  She also recommends cutting part of one edge from each of the two square gores before sewing them to the main piece, on the ground that this will make it easier to sew in the gores.  Interestingly, probablyilsa recommends stitching around the face opening (though she doesn't suggest this is meant to be decorative).  As with the design, there are no top seams and no back cords, and the face opening is even wider than the face opening in the design.  There is no indication of the type of stitches used, and it is possible that this pattern is meant to be sewn using a sewing machine (though the writer does not say so). The tutorial is labeled an "Easy Skjoldehamn Hood", though that may only be true for people familiar with modern sewing techniques.

I've discussed these tutorials to make the point that it's useful to understand what you're trying to accomplish with your project before you choose a tutorial to help you create it.  For example, if you want to try to duplicate the exact look of the Skjoldehamn hood, or understand how the medieval techniques used in the original affect the sewing process, you should work with Kristine's tutorial, because that tutorial preserves a lot of the steps that would have been involved in making the original and explains what she's left out.  If you want a simple hood that looks somewhat like the Skjoldehamn hood and are willing to do some handsewing to achieve that objective, the tutorial may work for you.  Finally, if you need a lined hood that can be run up quickly on a sewing machine, the Imgur tutorial would suit you best.

In short, don't take all advice you read on the Internet (including mine!) at face value.  Don't be afraid to review carefully whatever tutorial you're thinking of using and doing some research of your own before making a choice.  Not every historical costuming project needs to be a museum-quality replica. Only you can decide what compromises you are prepared to make and what level of consistency with the original will satisfy you.  Just remember:  All tutorials for a historical style are not necessarily alike.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Historical Tidbits

A while ago now, I found an interesting book on the Casemate Academic (formerly David Brown Book Company) website.  Casemate is the American affiliate of Oxbow Books, which sells many wonderful books relating to archaeological research, including archaeological research involving clothing and textiles.  Because the price was low (only $12.00 USD).  I purchased it. Here's the bibliographical information:
Nosch, Marie-Louise, Feng, Zhao, & Varadarajan, Lotika, eds. Global Textile Encounters (Ancient Textiles Series vol. 20) (Oxbow Books 2014).
As the title implies, the theme of all the essays in the book is how clothing and textile designs are inspired by contacts with foreign regions.  Most of the essays are short and informal--perhaps a bit too informal for publication in most academic journals.   However, they still have interesting snippets of information for students of historical textiles and costume.  The amount of photographs in this volume are limited, but the ones that appear are in color and of excellent quality. 

For the convenience of my readers, I have replicated below the list of the essays in the book, to make it possible to judge whether the book is worth $12.00 USD to you.  I found most of them--including those relating to clothing and textiles outside of my primary period of interest--to be fascinating.  
1.   Textiles and Elite Tastes between the Mediterranean, Iran and Asia at the end of Antiquity: Matthew P. Canepa.

2.   Palla, Pallu, Chador: Draped clothing in ancient and modern cultures: Mary Harlow.

3.   From Draupadi to Dido: The duties of dress in paintings inspired by the Mahabarata and the Aeneid: Linda Matheson.

4.   The Kaftan: An unusual textile encounter in the Scandinavian Late Iron Age: Ulla Mannering.

5.   Ancient Running Animals: Tablet-woven borders from China and Norway: Lise Ræder Knudsen.

6.   The Development of Pattern Weaving Technology through Textile Exchange along the Silk Road: Zhao Feng.

7.   The Earliest Cotton Ikat textiles from Nahal ‘Omer Israel 650-810 CE: Orit Shamir and Alisa Baginski.

8.   Northerners – Global Travellers in the Viking Age: Eva Andersson Strand.

9.   Unravelling Textile Mysteries with DNA analysis: Luise Ørsted Brandt.

10. The Traceable Origin of Textiles: Karin Margarita Frei.

11. The World of Textiles in Three Spheres: European Woollens, Indian Cottons and Chinese Silks, 1300-1700: Giorgio Riello.

12. Chinese Silks in Mamluk Egypt: Helen Persson.

13. Woven Mythology: The Textile Encounter of makara, senmurw and phoenix: Mariachiara Gasparini.

14. Textile in Art: The influence of textile patterns on ornaments in the architecture of medieval Zirikhgeran: Zvezdana Dode.

15. Coromandel Textiles: The Changing Face of Consumer Demand and Weavers’ Responses 16th to 18th Century CE: Vijaya Ramaswamy.

16. The Jesuit Dilemma in Asia: Being a naked ascetic or a court literate?: Selusi Ambrogio.

17. “The Colourful Qualities of Desire”: Fashion, colours and industrial espionage: Vibe Maria Martens.

18. Fashion Encounters: The “Siamoise” or the Impact of the Great Embassy on textile design in Paris in 1687: Corinne Thépaut-Cabasset.

19. The Chinoiserie of the 17th to 18th-century Soho Tapestry Makers: Mette Bruun.

20. Exoticism in Fashion: From British North America to the United States: Madelyn Shaw.

21. Textile symbolism and social mobility during the Colonial Period in Sydney Cove: Judith Cameron.

22. The Impact of British Rule on the Dressing Sensibilities of Indian Aristocrats: A case study of the Maharaja of Baroda’s dress: Toolika Gupta

23. Re-imagining the Dragon Robe: China Chic in Early Twentieth-Century European Fashion: Sarah Cheang.

24. Sari and the Narrative of Nation in Twentieth-Century India: Aarti Kawlra.

25. From Cool to Un-cool to Re-cool: Nehru and Mao tunics in the sixties and post-sixties West: Michael Langkjær.

26. Too Old: Clothes and value in Norwegian and Indian wardrobes: Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Lill Vramo and Kirsi Laitala.

27. A ‘stinging’ textile: Cultivation of nettle fibre in Denmark and Asia: Ellen Bangsbo.

28. Fist-braided Slings from Peru and Tibet: Lena Bjerregaard.

29. Parsi Embroidery: An Intercultural Amalgam: Shernaz Cama.

30. The Navjote Ceremony and the Sudreh Kushti: Lotika Varadarajan.

31. Globalization, Identity and T-shirt Communication: Karl-Heinz Pogner.

32. India to Africa: Indian Madras and Kalabari Creativity: Joanne B. Eicher.

33. Textile: The non-verbal language: Jasleen Dhamija.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

More Web Resources

Regular readers of this blog know that I've posted several lists of "one afternoon tutorials"--projects which can be completed in a single afternoon by people with different skill levels and yet generate wearable items, or other kinds of useful items that can be part of a historical costume.  

In doing that, however, I have deliberately ignored other tutorials, which might be of equal interest to my readers, either because they require too many steps to be completed in a single afternoon or a higher level of starting skill, or both.

It occurred to me that I might do a useful service by suggesting places on the Internet where tutorials for more complex projects can be found, so that interested readers could search for tutorials, patterns, and other information about more complex projects that might suit their interests and needs.

Then it occurred to me that I need not mention those sites that have been the source of my lists of "one-afternoon tutorials", since having checked out those sites before, interested readers can simply return to them in search of new material, if they are so inspired.  But there are sites I have found on the Internet that are gold mines of information; I just haven't discussed them in my blog because they relate to historical periods in which I am (presently) less interested.

Some of my favorite sites for information on historical costume, and/or historical costuming, are listed under the heading "Resources" in the column to the left of this blog. Many of them have been around for nearly 20 years--yes, they go back nearly to the beginning of the World Wide Web--but they still contain extremely useful information and are worth exploring if you are interested in costume for the relevant period/s of history.  The following sites are not quite as old, but do contain much valuable information.
  • YouTube.  Do not underestimate the power of YouTube.  It can be searched, like Google (which now owns it), and it contains a multitude of videos about historical costuming, makeup, and hairstyles, including a vast array of video tutorials.  Many of them are excellent.  Some of them qualify as "one-afternoon" tutorials, but others don't.  In recent blog posts, I have embedded links to some YouTube videos of interest to me, including tutorials by Janet Stephens, the "hairdressing archaeologist", and lectures by archaeological scholars such as Neil Price.  
  • Your Wardrobe Unlock'd.  This is mostly a paid subscription site (there are some articles available for free). However, it contains excellent information from long-time historical costumers who do very good research. It has especially useful information for Western world costuming for the 16th-19th centuries.
  • Historical This site is all about 19th century costume and sewing for women's wear. I wish it had been around when I was last interested in making myself 19th century costume.
  • Susanna Broome. Susanna has produced a number of pamphlets on how to craft Viking Age clothing for men and women based upon solid research into the archaeological finds and the recent theories about what those finds tell us. She even sells booklets on how to recreate known Viking age nalbinding finds and tablet-woven bands that do not require knowledge of brocading.  Look to her blog for information about her booklets and research, and to her Facebook page, Viking Age Clothing, to purchase her booklets (and learn which merchants are  also authorized sources of those booklets).
  • La Cotte Simple. A wonderful site, full of detailed tutorials about fitted late medieval fashion, for women and men.
  • Koshka the Cat. She has a great collection of tutorials she has written on how to make a number of different garments, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Caveat emptor; not everyone who posts a tutorial will be interested in obtaining a high degree of historical accuracy, and some such posters may be unaware that their approach will not result in a garment or outfit that is period or close to period in appearance, materials, construction, etc.  But that's part of the fun of exploring the Internet; unexpectedly finding a source of information for an area of sewing, or of history, that you thought nobody in the world but you cared about.

Go forth and explore!  And have fun.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Latest Crop of Tutorials

Sometimes, when I am tired enough not to want to try to be creative but not tired enough to sleep, I like to browse the Internet for interesting resources. It's at times like those that I collect one-afternoon tutorials to share with my readers.  The collections get published on months, like this one, where I haven't had the time or inspiration to engage in costuming activities worth blogging about, or to put in the time and thought to write as many interesting posts as I would have liked to have done.

Anyway, here's the latest batch of tutorials.   Have fun with them!
  • How to make Grindle buttons. What are Grindle buttons, you may ask? They are similar to Dorset buttons, for which I published a link to a tutorial previously. This tutorial is from Mackin-Art.
  • How to make a 19th century winter hood for a woman or a girl, courtesy of Romantic History Historical Clothing
  • How to make a Viking "treasure" necklace, by the Viking Answer Lady, Christie Ward. (Scroll down to the bottom of the linked pages to find it.) The link explains what a Viking treasure necklace is, and describes the proportions used for stringing the beads and pendants used in such a piece.*
  • Lauren Reeser over at American Duchess provides this tutorial on how to make a woman's 1920's bathing suit. Better still, she gives information on how to plausibly fake one if for some reason you don't have time for even a quick sewing project. 
  • Here's a great tutorial for making a simple leather money pouch, based upon a Norwegian pouch from the 13th-14th century CE, courtesy of Katafalk.
  • Also from Katafalk:  a simple (i.e., without embroidery) version of St. Birgitta's cap.  
  • From Medieval Silkwork, how to make a number of basic tassels at one time. Tassels are indispensable for Assyrian costume, 1860's Western women's fashion, and certain items in the Middle Ages, and possibly for other periods as well.
  • And, finally, from Eulalia of the Medieval York blog: how to make a very simple pennannular brooch, which works for early period costuming well into the Middle Ages.
* There is some question whether "treasure" necklaces were strung in quite the manner seen in the reconstructions, though, because the original stringing cord does not survive in most finds, raising a question as to the order in which the pendants and beads were originally strung.  The tutorial above replicates the look of such finds as they have typically been reconstructed by museums, which may or may not be the way these necklaces were originally strung.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Køstrup Dress--The Pleats

A few years ago, Hilde Thunem published a web article about her examination of the surviving fragments from the Køstrup smokkr or apron dress, and updated her broader essay about Viking apron dresses to include a discussion of how she believes that dress was made, with pictures of an apron dress she made for herself based on her in-person analysis of the Køstrup fragments. 

Last year, I found a paper on the web by Nille Glaesel, who many people consider to be an expert on apron dress construction, about her theories of how the Køstrup smokkr was made.  Like Hilde Thunem, Ms. Glaesel has also had an opportunity to examine the Køstrup finds.  Unlike Ms. Thunem, Ms. Glaesel has significant experience, not just with sewing period clothing but also with weaving tablet-made bands and using a warp-weighted loom to make fabric.  Her experience leads her to some interesting conclusions that are different from Hilde's. (Because the paper is located in the files of a closed Facebook group, I am not comfortable with making it available for free download here. Interested readers of this blog may wish to seek and obtain admission to the group "Scholarly Discussion on Viking Age Clothing" to obtain a copy.)

In the meantime, I would like to summarize Ms. Glaesel's approach and conclusions here, as they provide excellent food for thought, not only about apron dress construction in general, but on how to make deductions based on archaeological finds.  Since I began writing this post, I have found descriptions of two other reconstructions of the Køstrup smokkr and have incorporated them into this discussion.

Ms. Glaesel titled her paper, "The Køstrup Apron Dress Interpreted by a Crafter".  As was true for Hilde Thunem, Ms. Glaesel's experience in making apron dresses has greatly influenced her conclusions about the construction of the original.  Unlike Hilde Thunem, Ms. Glaesel not only sews her own Viking clothing, but she also has experience with weaving cloth on a warp-weighted loom like the looms used by Viking women, and her experience in weaving cloth has significantly influenced her thoughts about the construction of the Køstrup smokkr.

Nille Glaesel's paper discusses several different issues that relate to how the Køstrup smokkr, but in this post I will only comment on what is perhaps the most obvious question, namely, how the pleats in the center front of the smokkr were created and secured.

The Smokkrs.   Hilde Thunem had some difficulty coming up with an effective method for securing the pleats on her Køstrup smokkr.  After an initial unsuccessful attempt to fix pleats in position by steaming, she ended up creating her pleats by drawing linen threads through the relevant section of fabric, and then anchoring them with stitches placed on the inside of the garment, perpendicular to the pleats (see Alternative 3 in the construction section of her paper).

In contrast, Ms. Glaesel believes that the pleating found in the Køstrup fragment was created while the dress fabric was still on the loom, by pulling certain threads in the woven fabric tight while the fabric was still on the loom and then steaming the fabric to set the pleats after the weaving was complete (page 5, see also page 21). Because she believes this is how the pleating is done, she also believes that the pleats ran the entire length of the dress from top to bottom, and that the pleated section was sewn into the dress after the pleating was completed--though she admits that she cannot tell whether there is evidence of a seam beside the pleated portions (page 6).

Jenn Culler, in making her own Køstrup reconstruction, mostly agrees with Hilde Thunem.  Like Nille Glaesel, Jenn is a weaver (though she used a modern loom, not a warp-weighted loom, to create the fabric for her smokkr). Jenn has said that she believes that the method of creating the pleats while the dress is on the loom is "far more tedious of a process than simply drawing the pleats on a thread after the garment is crafted."  She believes that stabilizing stitches made on the inside of the garment are plausible, even though stitch holes do not appear on the surviving pleated fragment, in part because "[s]titches added from behind could penetrate the web of the textile, without impaling individual weaving threads."*  The stabilizing stitches for Jenn's pleats are whip stitched on the inside of the garment.

Finally, Kristine Risberg took a somewhat different approach to making and stabilizing the pleats on her Køstrup smokkr.  Kristine, like Jenn, drew up the fabric into pleats with linen thread, which she left in place "because I don’t know if the pleating would hold should the thread be removed." However, she also chose to back the pleated area with a piece of linen--an approach Hilde originally tried but ultimately rejected.  It should be noted, however, that Kristine's approach resulted in pleats that are much wider than the pleats on the original Køstrup dress: 8mm wide, instead of 2-3 mm wide.

My Thoughts.

For my part, I think that the very narrowness of the original pleats is inconsistent with the idea that any kind of lining or backing was used for the pleated section.  If such a lining was used but dissolved in the grave, the resulting pleats would now appear wider and looser than they actually are, as Kristine's smokkr indicates.

I also think that it is likely that the pleats were formed by drawing threads through the pleated areas, and likely kept in place with stitches taken across the back side of the pleated area.  Why?  Because it seems likely to me that the time it would take to boil enough water to produce a suitable amount of steam, and the effort it would take to attempt to steam the pleated fabric above the open-fire-heated cauldrons used for cooking, would have made efforts to steam-set such pleats impractical.**  That would be particularly true if, as Nille Glaesel believes, the pleats extended all the way from the top of the apron dress to its bottom hem (an issue as to which there currently is no evidence whatsoever).  

I do not have difficulty believing that linen gathering and stabilizing stitches would have dissolved in the grave.  It is generally believed that linen undergarments, at least, were quite common in Viking times due to the presence of scraps preserved near metal grave goods and by the discovery of linen-processing tools.   Except for tiny scraps preserved by proximity to metal items, however, linen is not found in Scandinavian graves.  In addition, Hilde notes that there are gaps in the weave of the tablet-woven band at the top of the Køstrup dress, a feature best explained by the dissolution of linen or other vegetable fiber threads underground. 

As for Nille Glaesel's suggestion that the pleats were formed as the pleated strip was being woven,   I am inclined to believe this method of pleating viable (because Ms. Glaesel is the only one of the reconstructionists who has woven fabric for her apron dresses on a warp-weighted loom, the type used during the Viking age), but any argument that this was the method actually used on the Køstrup smokkr is refuted by the fact that the pleated area does not show seams on both sides of the pleated area.  I do not see how the weaving method  Ms. Glaesel proposes could be used to pleat only a portion of a larger sheet of fabric, and that is the only possibility that would be consistent both with pleating the fabric while it was on the loom and with the lack of seams on both sides of the pleated section.   In addition, as I said above, I do not think that it would be practical to set pleats in fabric with steam using Viking age technology, and Ms. Glaesel proposes this technique also.

So at this point, I believe that Jenn Culler's method of pleating and stabilizing the pleats is most consistent with the available evidence.*** Unfortunately, a definitive conclusion to these questions will not be possible unless another, better-preserved pleated apron dress find is located.

Nille Glaesel's paper also discusses the question of how the tablet-woven band found in the Køstrup grave was fastened to the top of the smokkr, but I will talk about that in another post.

*   See this blog for yet another reconstruction which uses construction techniques similar to Jenn Culler's.

** Volker Bach noted, in Compleat Anachronist No. 156 (Society for Creative Anachronism, Second Quarter 2012) that it is nearly impossible to reach a full rolling boil using the cooking technologies available in the Carolingian Era: 
"Carolingian cooks mostly used woodfires, and it is likely that the most common technique was boiling or simmering in clay pots. These would slowly have built up to a gentle heat. Cooking food at a rolling boil is almost impossible in them, and their results are best replicated by gently baking a cooking container or cooking on a gentle heat. ... Metal cookware was probably confined to larger households. ... Still, a cooking vessel suspended over a fire is not going to produce the concentrated heat of a modern stovetop unless it touches the flame directly." (p. 26).
In Daniel Serra and Hanna Tunberg's book, An Early Meal:  A Viking Age Cookbook and Cultural Odyssey (ChronoCopia Publishing AB 2013) the authors note that boiling in metal cauldrons over a wood fire was a common food preparation technique among the Vikings (p. 23) but they do not state or even suggest that a rolling boil was used.  Moreover, the authors state that most of the foods cooked would have been porridges and stews, and these are foods typically cooked (even today) by long simmering, not vigorous boiling.  The point is that boiling water hard enough, and for long enough, to produce sufficient steam to fix pleats in fabric, should not be assumed to have been a simple matter with Viking era technology.

*** No, I did not reach this conclusion because of my fondness for using whip stitching in sewing period clothing!  Also note that, despite her original attempts to steam-set the pleats in her smokkr and to stabilize the resulting pleats with a backing of linen, Hilde Thunem's final smokkr deals with the pleats in much the same way as Jenn Culler's--i.e., creating them with drawn threads and stabilizing them with stitches taken on the inside of the garment.

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.