Monday, June 25, 2018

A Viking Wood Frame Bag

The completed bag.
Though I didn't manage to finish my Hedeby bag in April, I have finished it at last!  See the photographs accompanying this post.

I very nearly made the seam allowances for the lining bag too narrow.  The problem with doing that is that stitching too close to the edge of my moderately coarse linen can result in having the stitches pull out of the linen in wear. however, I succeeded in making my seams narrow enough that all raw edges were enclosed and the structural part of each seam was sewn through two folded edges, which should make it strong enough for a durable lining.

Because I made the seams on the lining bag so narrow, the lining is bigger than the felt outer bag, though that's not a big problem in use.  A slightly bigger problem is the fact that the felt seams are thick enough that the frames don't quite sit squarely where they should, making the bag a tad lopsided.  It still seems solidly functional, however. 

With regard to the "trim", I ended up cutting a strip of the amber wool about 4 inches wide and folded both edges under.  The top folded edge was stitched the top edge to the top of the bag, and the bottom edge was stitched to the body of the bag.  After that, I sewed the frames to the bag by stitching each wool tab down separately to the bag, first on the inside of the bag, then on the outside. 

The steps involved in my method of construction, in order, were as follows:

Looking into the bag, showing the lining.
1.   Whipstitch the edges of the felt bag together (treating the bag as I had pinned it together for the last post on this subject as the wrong side of the bag, since both sides are very similar in appearance).

2.   Add a running stitch close below all of the whipstitched edges.

3.   Turn the felt bag right-side out.

4.   Cut an approximately 4-inch (about 10 cm) wide strip of the thinner amber fabric, turning the long edges under, and stitch the strip to the bag at the top.

5.  Stitch the lining pieces into their own bag shape.  Here, I folded each raw edge inward, whipstitched along the folded edges, and then sewed underneath the matched edges using running stitch.  Note:  the lining bag stays inside-out.

6.   Sew the bottom of the amber wool strip to the body of the bag.

7.  Stitch each frame to the top long edges of the bag by running tabs of wool felt through each of the slots in the frames, turning the edges under, and whipstitching the edges of each tab down.

Top of bag.  This picture shows the colors best.
8.  Place the linen lining bag into the felt bag and line it up properly (so that the narrow sides of the lining are against the narrow sides of the felt bag).  This guarantees that the seams of neither the felt bag nor the lining will be visible in use.

9.  Fold the top edge of the linen lining bag under (i.e., so that the raw edge would be against the inside of the felt bag).  Whipstitch the top folded edge of the linen lining to the top inside of the felt bag.

10.  Thread the cord through the holes in the wooden frame pieces, and tie knots in them to secure them in place.  The photographs show how the cord was threaded through the frames and how the bag stays closed naturally when worn.

For the Historical Sew Monthly fans among my readers, here is the challenge-critical information.

The Challenge--May: Specific to a Time [of Day or Year]

Material:  Wool felt for the bag, medium-weight linen for the lining, cotton cord for the handle, and a thinner, paler wool fabric sewn on to the outside of the wool felt for decoration.

Pattern:   I was inspired by Kristine Risberg's pattern on Nattmal, though I ultimately made my design, as I've discussed in an earlier blog post.

Year:  Roughly 10th c. CE.

Notions:  Dark brown silk thread from Guttermann to sew the bag together (though the originals might well have used linen or wool) and light gold silk Gutterman thread to sew the lining.  Also two birch wood frames based on Haithabu designs that I purchased on Etsy.

How historically accurate is it?  We only have surviving frames, not complete bags, among the Viking finds, so that's hard to ascertain.  My frames are ridged and black on the sides, suggesting that some kind of woodburning technique was used to cut them out; so far as I know, that method would not have been used in period.  I tried to stick to period materials and stitches, though I suspect that wool cord, not the cotton cord I used, would have been used to make a wool bag in period, and probably such a bag would have been stitched with wool or linen thread, not silk.  However, all of the material types I used (birch wood, wool, linen, silk) were available in Viking Age Scandinavia except (probably) for the cotton cord, and we do not know what weights and weaves of materials were actually used for similar bags.   In addition, although whipstitch and running stitch were used in period garments, I'm not sure that my particular combination of the two was used for seam construction in period; I'd have to recheck my sources.

Overall, I'd give my bag an historical accuracy rating of 70% at best. 

Hours to Complete:  About 6 hours, exclusive of time spent selecting materials and planning the design.

First Worn:  I haven't "worn" it yet since I have not visited any good venues at which to wear my Viking attire lately.  But since it will be useful to have a hands-free bag to carry necessary items any time that I'm wearing my Viking clothing, it will definitely see some use.

Total Cost:  $37.18.   I paid $15.00 for the wood frames (postage was free), $10.95 for the brown wool felt for the outside of the bag (inclusive of postage), and $11.13 for the amber wool for trim (inclusive of postage).  The linen used for the lining, cotton cord for the handle, and sewing thread all came from my stash.  All prices are in U.S. dollars.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Haithabu Bag--A Progress Report

Bag with frames pinned on, via the wool tabs
Though I have missed the April deadline for HSM projects featuring unusual closures, the bag I intended to make using reproduction wooden frames based upon Hedeby archaeological finds is well underway.  I have sewn together the outside of the bag (i.e., the wool felt part) and have sewn the amber strip of wool to the edge of the bag opening, but have not sewn the bottom edge to the bag lower down.

The pictures show the amber strip as pinned down on the bottom.  One of the pictures shows the frames pinned onto the bag via the felt tabs.  That picture gives the truest impression of the color of the amber wool; the picture showing the bag from the broader side without the frames gives the truest impression of the shade of the brown wool.   As usual, each picture is clickable to get a larger image.  The picture quality is not as good as I'd hoped--my digital camera is old and getting crotchety, and trying to take a photograph before your batteries crap out is not the best path to quality photography.

Inside of the bag.  No lining yet.
Bag showing one of the narrow sides.  
Bag from the broader side.
Because the felt is stiff, the bag looks more like the flat-bottomed clasp bags of the 1950s and 1960s than I had expected, but in my opinion it remains a plausible design.  Possibly it would be more useful and look less odd if it were made up in leather; after all, the leather Sami bag Kristine Risberg discusses on her blog looks rather like a modern "hobo" bag.  The stiffness of the felt also means that the seams are quite thick, which may affect how the frames sit on the bag when the tabs are sewn down.  I probably will turn under the ends of the tabs before stitching them down, to give a more even look.

I've spent about two hours on this project so far (exclusive of planning and blogging).  That may mean that for many people, making such a bag is not a one-afternoon project, especially if one makes one's own frames.  One can simplify the task by selecting materials that are easier to work with, or that one has more experience working with than I have with sewing wool felt!

At the rate I'm going now, I will probably finish the bag by the end of June, if not before.  That makes for awkward timing in terms of the Historical Sew Monthly challenges.  April's challenge was "Buttons and Fastenings", but I missed that deadline.  I could probably have justified submitting the bag for May's challenge, "Specific to a Time [of Day or Year]," because the Vikings probably didn't use bags of this type except when they were traveling someplace (e.g., to a marketplace such as Birka).  But I didn't finish in May either, so the applicability of that rationale is also a moot point.  June's challenge is "Rebellion and Counter-Culture," which doesn't apply because there's nothing rebellious about making or using a functional item such as a bag, and there was no "counter-culture" in Viking Age Scandinavia so far as I am aware.  September's challenge ("Hands and Feet"; make an accessory for either) and November's Challenge ("Purses and Bags") are good fits for the project, as I've said before, but I'm not going to refrain from finishing this item for that long if I can finish in June.  So I guess I'll call this a late submission for May's challenge.

I'm happy with the bag so far.  It's quite sturdy, and I think I will like the look of the amber and brown wool combination when it is done.  There will be more pictures then, and I will definitely post on the HSM Facebook page also.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Viking Grave-Goods Book

Casemate Academic is having a 20% off sale on certain Viking Age-related titles from now until June 30, 2018.

Of particular interest to me is the following book:
Harrison, Stephen J. & O'Floinn, Raghnall.  Viking Graves and Grave-Goods in Ireland. 
National Museum of Ireland (2015).
Casemate Academic's page describes the book this way:
The volume is the first comprehensive catalogue and detailed discussion of over 400 artifacts from more than a hundred furnished Viking graves in Ireland, many published for the first time. The volume includes the first detailed study of the archives of the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy and of the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland, key resources for those interested in the history of museums in Ireland and in 19th and 20th century collectors and collecting. The grave-goods (both Insular and Scandinavian) are the subject of detailed examination, with separate sections devoted to weapons, dress ornaments and jewelry, tools, equestrian equipment and miscellaneous artifacts. The volume also contains a discussion of grave distribution, form, orientation, ritual and contents. While much of the text is given over to the Kilmainham-Islandbridge burial complex - now confirmed as by far the largest cemetery of its type in the Viking west - the monograph also includes details of the Viking graves from elsewhere in Dublin, and from the rest of Ireland.
At this point, I cannot afford even the $60 USD sale price for the book, but if it's really good I will try to obtain it through interlibrary loan.  So I ask my readers:  Have any of you had a chance to read/look at this volume?  Is it well illustrated? Does it have interesting things to say about jewelry and clothing/textile related finds, both Irish and Scandinavian?  Please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Review: Extending Knowledge of Costume Through Art Analysis

From the Casemate Academic website

From the Casemate Academic website
The two books I have obtained for my costume history library most recently involve very different historical periods but a common method; they both seek to increase our knowledge of clothing from their respective periods through a through analysis of period art.

These are the books I mean (links below are to the hardback editions, but e-book versions of both are available, and my copy of Woven Threads is an e-book):

I have finished reading Iconic Costumes, but am still thinking my way through the material, and I am still reading Woven Threads.  Even so, there are some observations I would like to make about both that, in my opinion, demonstrate that both books are well worth reading.

Iconic Costumes seeks to obtain information about costume from the Migration Period through the Viking Age by examining and analyzing the details of artistic depictions of human beings in of Viking and pre-Viking Age Scandinavian art.  Most of this art is in the form of carvings on artifacts such as the Oseberg cart, guldgubbar (tiny, thin gold-foil plaques found in graves), or jewelry.  In contrast, Woven Textiles primarily analyzes surviving frescoes from buildings erected by the Minoan and Mycenaean Bronze Age cultures in order to learn more about costumes and patterned textiles depicted in those frescoes.  Both books reference non-artwork archaeological finds to support their conclusions.

Professors Shaw and Chapin have an easier time than Professor Mannering, for all that few textile remains survive from either culture, because despite its peculiar lack of perspective to a modern eye, Minoan and Mycenaean art is much more representational than early Scandinavian art, and has the additional benefit of having been originally created in color (and the colors survive to a surprising degree) while early Scandinavian art is mostly sculptural in nature.  Early Scandinavian art is also highly stylized, and the human figures depicted are nearly always too small to show much detail.  The Aegean frescoes often showed human figures life-sized, or close to life size, and many of them survive nearly complete and in good condition.  Even the fragmentary frescoes have much to say about patterns that may well have been used to decorate fabric.

That being said, both books manage to answer a significant question relevant to the history of clothing for their period of study.   It's the same question for both books:  Does period art really reflect what people actually wore as costume?

The authors' answer in both cases is "yes."  Having observed and analyzed most of the human figure representations dating from Iron Age Scandinavia, Professor Mannering observes: 
The vast majority of the iconographical costumes recorded are encountered in the archaeological textile and clothing material.  At the same time, there is information on the depictions [sic] that is not seen in the archaeological textile finds and vice versa. ... 
A typical male outfit in the Late Iron Age consisted of trousers, a tunic with sleeves, a rectangular cloak, belt, and shoes, while a typical female outfit included various dresses, skirts, blouses, cloaks, hairnets, and shoes, demonstrating both continuity from previous periods and new trends. ...
Generally, the investigation shows that the depictions represent clothing items that occur in the archaeological record. ... Thus, the depictions reveal costume items, e.g., kaftans, female jackets, and skirt and blouse ensembles that most likely were present in the archaeological record in the Late Germanic Iron Age, but that have not been positively identified yet.  They also demonstrate that the female dress most likely was long-sleeved, something which has not yet been securely documented via the archaeological record. (pp. 176-177) .
Professors Shaw and Chapin focus more of their efforts on comparing Minoan and Mycenaean styles by means of the surviving pictorial art.  They rely heavily on Elizabeth Wayland Barber's work as support for their conclusion that the patterns observed in clothing shown in fresco art could have achieved on textiles.  Like Professor Mannering, they conclude that certain patterns likely were used on real clothing from the fact that the same patterns turn up in clothing depictions on multiple frescoes.   However, there are enough surviving decorated fragments of cloth in archaeological finds to support Professor Barber's belief that patterned cloth was produced in the Aegean during the Bronze Age.  There is also support in contemporary Egyptian tomb art, which shows foreigners wearing garments, decorated in patterns, that compare closely to the Aegean fresco designs.

In general, Shaw and Chapin show that the creation of patterned textiles (whether through weaving, embroidery, applique, block printing, or other textile-related arts) came from centralized workshops, centered upon the great palaces of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, and that such items were worn only by the elite; ordinary folk made do with plain cloth.  It appears that Mycenae produced less elaborate fabrics and costumes, and reserved the more elaborate ones they did produce for unusual occasions.
Artistic evidence for how the Minoans themselves defined the luxury in luxury textiles is not confirmed by recent archaeological discoveries surveyed in Chapter 2.  Artists working in the Neopalatial era depicted their best fabrics as finely woven with colorful and complex patterns and embellished with decorative borders, fringes, and tassels; these pictorial details are consistent with the bits of surviving textiles.
*   *   *   *
The few fragments of cloth--all linen--that survive from Mycenaean contexts support the impression that Mycenaean textiles were plainer and less decorative than textiles of the Minoan era.  Linen fragments found in Grave Circle B at Mycenae and in a tomb at Ayia Kryiaki on the island of Salamis, for example, were tabby-woven (a plain weave) and undecorated.
*   *   *   *
Some Minoan-styple forms of costume, particularly festal attire with flounced skirts, continued to appear in Mycenaean art, particularly in procession frescoes, but the fanciest rapport patterns of earlier generations were replaced by simple striped designs or by fabrics woven with uncomplicated all-over scatter patterns.  Decorative bands that reinforced edges, seams, and hems on bodices, skirts, and tunics were still made by the Mycenaean weavers, but even these were plainer than before.  (Chapter 9, italic emphasis in original).
Both books are well-illustrated with excellent photogtaphs of items of the period artworks that were analyzed.  Understandably, most of the illustrations in Iconic Costumes are black and white or line-drawings, but there are also some color pictures of actual clothing finds and guldgubbarWoven Threads includes both color photographs of surviving frescos and portions of frescoes as well as colored illustrations of particular pattern motifs.

There is a large amount of food for thought in both books.  (For example, Professor Mannering concludes that the scale of the female figures in period art makes it impossible to draw conclusions about women's wearing of the two-brooch costume--e.g., the "apron dress" or "smokkr".)  I think people interested in the history of clothing should read them, whether or not they are interested in the clothing of the Bronze Age Aegean or Iron Age Scandinavia, just to observe how the authors analyze and apply the different types of clothing evidence available to them.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Meaty Item

Readers with long memories may recall that I have written, in the past, about costumes made of meat and other foods.  I used to think that this sort of costume was a purely 20th century form of humor, but the photograph with this post shows that I am wrong.

I recently re-discovered a photograph I once found on the Internet, dated April 1894.  It appears to the left side of this post.  Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I found it.  It appears to be from a newspaper, and records that the gentleman won 40 guineas as first prize at a fancy dress (i.e., costume) ball in Covent Garden.

He is not wearing bacon.  But he is dressed in a costume meant to depict him as a side of bacon.  That is, if a side of bacon wore a hat.  

It seems to me that someone should compile a history of historical costume that focuses on costumes meant to depict strange and fantastical subjects.  The 16th century concept of a masque involved such costumes, and the costumed parties would participate in a kind of skit, often based on mythological themes.  Masques may have involved concepts that are in better taste than a side of bacon, but the ultimate purpose--entertainment--was the same. 

If any of my readers are aware of other manifestations of the modern idea of a "costume" before the 20th century, please let me know in the comments.   Otherwise, have a great April Fool's Day!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Paper on Advanced Tailoring Based on Lengberg Finds.

About two months ago, I posted a link to a YouTube presentation about how analysis of some of the 15th century Lengberg Castle finds support the use of unusual techniques in tailoring for women's garments.  

Today, I found a paper on  The paper is a more formal write-up by Dr. Nutz, Rachel Case, and Marion McNealy of their hypothesis.  It was presented at the North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles (NESAT) at the Czech Academy of Sciences last year.  The paper is illustrated with photographs and reproductions of period art, and though the images are in black and white, they include photographs of completed reproductions based on the authors' theories and other material that compliment the slideshow. 

Anyone interested in the history of tailoring, or late medieval women's clothing, should check out this paper.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The "Bag" Part of the Hedeby Bag--Construction

Bag pattern
Over the last few days, I have been thinking about cutting my fabric for the wooden-framed Hedeby bag, and how the bag should go together.

A lot of the people who have made such bags simply cut a piece of fabric for the body of the bag that is twice as long as the intended depth of the bag, fold the piece in half, and then sew up the piece on both sides.  This type of construction has the advantage of not requiring any seam along the bottom of the bag, making the resulting bag stronger.

The downside of this construction is that the amount such a bag can contain is very limited relative to its depth.  It would be fairly simple to give the bag additional volume without making it deeper by adding bottom gores (thus making the bottom of the bag much wider), but doing so would create structural weakness by adding seams in areas that need to be weight-bearing. 

Outer layer with gores pinned in.
The Sami bag Kristine Risberg talks about in her post uses a somewhat different approach to increase volume.  It appears to have a circular or oval piece set in along the bottom of the bag.  This way, there is no bottom seam, just a seam that runs along the bottom edge of the bag, all around the sides at the bottom of the bag.    For a small bag that is unlikely to need to hold much, this much labor struck me as excessive for some reason.  And it also adds potential structural weakness.  Now, instead of having one piece of fabric for sides and bottom, there are three pieces; one for each side and one for the bottom.  That still seemed to create weakness.  On the other hand, the gores in the sides approach, though still involving three pieces, allows one large piece to be used for the wider sides and bottom, preserving much of the strength advantage of the fold-over design.

Then I started thinking about ways to add side gores.  The most attractive possibility that occurred to me was to add gores on the side that are narrow isosceles triangles.  This gives width to the bag without surrendering the strength and integrity of the folded bottom.  Though I'm no graphic artist, it is easier to explain what I mean with a diagram (see the graphic to the right of this post).  I've also included a photograph showing the gores pinned where they will be sewn.  Poor quality though it is, the photo gives a better idea of the finished bag's shape than the pattern sketch.

Under this plan, the lining will feature the same shapes as the exterior felt fabric, but since linen frays while felt does not, the lining pieces will have to be cut a bit larger than the main bag pieces--enough to allow for flat-felled seams.  That is desirable because linen, unlike wool felt, does fray, and the lining will suffer closer contact with the contents of the bag than the outer bag will.

I really like the bag shape the side-gore setup provides, so I'm going to use it.  After sewing the out and inner bags together, I will turn the outer bag right-side out, and stitch the frames to the bag using the tabs.  Once that is done I will insert the sewn linen lining (which will be a second bag, in effect), turn the top edge of the lining over, and whipstitch the lining and bag together along the top edge all around.    I have not yet decided whether I will apply the amber wool strip before, or after, stitching the frames on.  If I do so afterward, the top edge of the amber strip will lie against the bottom edge of the wool tabs holding the frame in place.

This approach will be different than that used on any of the bags I've seen pictured on line.  I'm excited to find out how (or whether) it will work.