Monday, July 21, 2014

HSF #13--A Coppergate Cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year:   Approximately 975 CE, according to Penelope Walton. 

Notions:  Gutermann brand silk thread, in white.

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

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

First worn:  For the photographs accompanying this post.

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Latvian Cloak

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

His article can be read here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Bag Tunic--Egyptian style!

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

The Bag Tunic, in wear

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dartmoor, in 2000 BCE

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

HSF Roundup

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Bag Tunic, Complete

I have finally finished the Egyptian bag tunic I decided to make for the "Black and White" HSF Challenge.

As I feared, I did not manage to finish it for the May 15 deadline. By May 16 I had succeeded in cutting the keyhole neckline, sewing the side seams, and fringing the hemline.  I stitched the seams simply by folding each edge and whipstitching each folded edge together on the wrong side of the garment.  I was planning to enclose the seam by folding the edge back toward the seam and stitching them together, but that may create an awkward lump at the point where the bottom of the armholes starts, so I'm tempted to leave the seams as they are.   

The tunic didn't get done on May 16 because, after sewing up the sides and cutting the neckhole, I tried the tunic on, and found to my dismay that it was way, way too long.  Unbelted, at least six inches of tunic trailed on the floor, making walking impossible. With the tunic belted, I looked as though I was wearing a marshmallow.  Not a good look for me, or for anyone.  

So I cut about 5 inches off of the bottom of the tunic, and started fringing it again.  Now it is just long enough to lie upon my instep when unbelted.  I have to belt the tunic to make the width of it manageable. I've found that there are two viable ways to belt it.  The first involves running the belt through the armholes and tying the belt in front, so that it passes around the front and sides only, leaving the back free.  I like the look of the tunic when belted with this method, but the tunic doesn't seem to stay put very well this way; the cloth at the sides keeps slipping out and dragging on the ground, which usually means that one side soon becomes noticeably longer than the other.  The second method involves putting the belt around my middle from outside the sleeves while my arms are raised to at least shoulder height.  Tying the belt on this way holds the width in place better without looking too awkward; this seems to be the best compromise between grace and practicality.  

I folded the fabric over once around the armholes and sewed down the edges with a running stitch.  (I still dislike doing running stitch, but it doesn't show much in this particular location, and I need the practice.)  I didn't need to use a double fold because the sleeve end, like the edges that were seamed together, was a selvage.  

The neckline is finished with a rolled hem and the black cord is sewn around the finished edge, working from the reverse side so that the stitching doesn't show.  In the past, I have failed miserably at stitching rolled hems, but I discovered a website that explains the technique clearly enough for me to obtain a fairly decent-looking rolled hem; you can check out the directions I used here.  Once the neckline was hemmed, I used one piece of cord to trim the vertical part of the keyhole, and a second piece to trim the round part.  I allowed the cord to extend about 8 inches from each end of the curve so I can use the cord to tie the neckline closed, as in the sketch from Mary Houston's book that I reproduced in my last entry about the tunic. 

Overall, I like this tunic, but if I make another, I will make it narrower.  I should also see if I can find a fabric that is a bit drapier than the ramie I used here; I think that would result in a more graceful looking tunic. 

The Challenge:  #9 Black and White

Fabric:   Three yards of white ramie, purchased from a vendor on Etsy.

Pattern:   Pretty basic.  The tunic is nothing more than a piece of wide cloth, folded in half lengthwise and sewn down the sides at a distance of about 14 inches from the top fold, with a keyhole neckline placed appropriately on the folded edge.  I followed the information pack from the Petrie Museum on issues such as finishing.  Apparently, the Petrie's bag tunics are only shirt length (92 cm/36 inches long by 102 cm/40 inches wide), so I ignored their suggestions on proportions and made the tunic ground length and as wide as my fabric.  That may have been a mistake, but at least the results of it are interesting.  :-)

Year:   The Petrie Museum's bag tunics date to about 800 B.C.E.  They were worn during the Middle Kingdom, but became much more popular during the New Kingdom, according to the Petrie's on-line material on the subject. 

Notions:  Londonderry brand white linen thread, 80/3.  2 yards of black mohair cord from Wooded Hamlet Designs.

How historically accurate is it?   The pattern is based upon historical finds.  The ancient Egyptians were known for their ability to weave very fine cloth, and the sources I mentioned in my original post on this project suggest that they made ramie fabric, though it's unclear whether they used ramie for the clothing of living people and not just for the wrappings of mummies. I'm even less certain about the mohair cord, which is made from goat hair.  The ancient Egyptians certainly kept goats; but did they spin goats' hair into wool to make cord?  Did they use wool cord to trim their tunics?  I don't know; none of the tunics I know about have such trim on them.  Also, I can't be certain about the authenticity of my main construction stitches. All told, I'd say this one is about 60% accurate.

Hours to complete:   About an hour and a half for sewing the seams, 15 or 20 minutes to hem the armholes, approximately 30-40 minutes to try to even out the bottom fringe (the original fringe looked much nicer--I'm not much good at cutting fabric straight) and perhaps an hour to hem the neckline and add trim. Maybe four hours or so, but life kept interfering (which is why the finished product is about six weeks late).

First worn:  So far I've only worn it to check length and experiment with belt placement.  I hope to get some photographs to post here and on the HSF page by the end of this week.

Total cost:   A bit under $40.00 USD (nearly $30 for the fabric, including shipping, and nearly $9 for the mohair cord, including shipping).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Latest Viking Figurine

The latest find.   Photo: Østfyns Museer.
An alert reader of my blog recently brought my attention to a new metal detector find.  Although the article she told me about is written in Polish (and may be found here), the English-language archaeology magazine site Past Horizons also wrote about it in English, here.

This figure was recently found in a field near Revninge, in Denmark. Like the Hårby "Valkyrie" figurine, it has a hole in it that makes it wearable as a pendant.  Unlike the Hårby pendant, the body portion of the woman is intact, though it's done in a kind of flat relief instead of being sculpted in the round like the head. The figure has been dated to 800 C.E. and is thought to be a depiction of the fertility goddess, Freya.

Archaeologist Claus Feveile of the Department of Landscape and Archaeology at Østfyns Museums was quoted by Past Horizons as saying, “Small characters from the Viking period are extremely rare and Revninge-woman’s dress is incredibly detailed which will contribute to the discussion on the appearance of clothes and how they might have been worn.”  While I agree with Mr. Feveile that this figurine is much more detailed than previous figurines and will add to our knowledge of pre-Viking/Viking era Scandinavian costume, it will not end the more enduring disputes about women's clothing of the period.  To the contrary, it may inspire new ones.

Consider the specific features of the woman's dress and appearance that are clearly depicted.  They are:

Her hair.  It is drawn straight back from her face into a small bun, high on the back of her head. Unlike other Viking age depictions of women, there is no indication of a ponytail beneath; she is wearing a simple bun.

Her sleeves.  They end at the wrist, and are long enough that deep wrinkles show along her arms, suggesting that they were made close-fitting, but longer than her arms so that they need to be pushed up when she is wearing them.

The length of her dress.  Since her feet are clearly visible below its hem, her dress must be ankle-length.

Though evidence for these elements of Viking women's dress and appearance are useful, and confirmation of them has been scarce, they are the only unambiguous features of her costume.  Like the other female images of the period, most of the clothing details depicted in the Revninge figurine raise more questions than answers.  For example:
  • What is that band along her neckline?  The Past Horizons article suggests that this band might be a strand of beads, such as the strands, often found in graves, that Viking women wore between their tortoise brooches. However, there is no sign of tortoise brooches on this figure, and similar punched-circle detailing also appears in the section at the center bottom of the skirt, which would not be completely covered with beads in this manner.  (If such a beaded dress had been worn, we would be finding even more beads in Viking women's graves than the quantities that typically emerge.) If the band is embroidery, it appears to show a garment with a very low neckline. Are we seeing an overtunic or a smokkr (apron dress)?  If it is an overtunic, it is depicting a costume very different from the garments popularly associated with Viking women.

  • What does the area inside the band represent?  It seems clear that the garment with the wide banded neckline is not the woman's only upper body garment, since the vee is filled in by lines suggestive of pleats.  But those pleats do not run down the woman's body, as the few finds of women's undertunics/shifts suggest; instead they form a vee inside the vee.  Is this meant to be a stylized depiction of a pleated shift with a high round neck. or something else?

  • Is she wearing a belt? At first, I thought it clear that the woman is wearing a belt, though what kind
    Brooch from Bj. 466*
    is anybody's guess. Thin leather?  There's no clear sign of a buckle, but leather belts can be knotted too, though probably not in a bow as this belt appears to be knotted.  Tablet weaving? Cord? What are those circular things on the ends of the belt?  They do not look like knots.  They might be metal plaques, or beads of some kind.  Then I looked again, and saw that the raised borders that frame the vee-shaped area at the bottom of the skirt that is decorated with punched circles go all the way to the hem of her dress, which suggests that they may be decorative bands on the skirt.  I also noticed that the placement of her thumbs obscures whether she has anything around her waist at all.  Moreover, the three-lobed shape that rests over where the woman's navel should be isn't really a bow knot, as I had thought.  It looks more like a certain style of trefoil brooch that is found in Viking age graves--I've included a photograph of such a brooch to demonstrate what I mean.  Note the length of the three lobes of the brooch and the triangular motif at the center.   

  • Is she wearing a caftan?   It is believed that trefoil brooches like the one above were used to close outer garments, such as caftans or possibly shawls.  Could the figure be wearing a caftan?  The vee-shape with a contrasting texture inside it certainly suggests the opening of a coat, though the top part looks like more like a pleated or gathered shift.  

  • How many layers does she have on?   There are no markings on the figurine that unambiguously indicate whether she is wearing a sleeveless tunic or caftan (i.e., a long coat without buttons) over a pleated, extra-long-sleeved shift; a long-sleeved caftan over a dress and smokkr; a long-sleeved tunic over a shift; or something entirely different. 

  • What is that triangular "gap" at the bottom of her skirt?  It could be an underdress, showing beneath a caftan.  Or beneath an open-fronted smokkr.  Or a contrasting colored or patterned gore in a full-skirted overdress.  In short, it could be almost anything.  

  • And what about those odd patches of punched circles at the waistline, just above the woman's hands?  They do seem to match the "pattern" in the triangular gap, don't they?  Maybe the woman is actually wearing a panova (a Slavic-style overskirt that is roughly contemporaneous with the Viking period, and whose form is even more speculative than that of the smokkr).
In short, I'm not prepared to attempt to craft a recreation of the Revninge woman's costume, because I can think of too many possible items of clothing that she could be wearing.  Once again, new artistic information about Viking costume just gives rise to more questions that the new information cannot answer.  It's frustrating, and fascinating, at the same time.

*    I believe the photograph to be from Birka I: Die Gräber by Holger Arbman (Almqvist & Wiksells 1940), but I'm not certain. The photograph I have reproduced here is one photograph from of a full-page of photographs of trefoil brooches. You can see that page on my Pinterest board here.