Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Sigtuna Bag

I have found a photograph of the wooden frame that inspired the frames on my Viking bag.

The photograph belongs to Tomáš Vlasatý. Tomáš runs a website called Projekt Forlog, which features articles, mostly in Czech but sometimes in English, about various aspects of Viking age material culture.  Google Translate does a pretty good job with the Czech articles, and I commend them to the attention of any Viking era enthusiasts among my readers.  Readers interested in helping to support Tomáš's research can donate on the Projekt Forlog page or on the project's Patreon page, here.

Tomáš confirmed that the Sigtuna frames are 480 mm (48 cm or nearly 19 inches) long.  He also told me that the frames are in Sigtuna Museum in Sweden, and still have textile fragments clinging to them.  Because he was clearly unhappy with the fact that the chart I found had ended up on Pinterest without his permission, I asked only to link to the photograph of the actual Sigtuna frames, which you can see here. He obtained the information from Anders Söderberg of the closed Facebook group “Doba vikinská – Viking Age”.  The textile bits clinging to the frame look like the remnants of a coarse wool twill.

So my frames are based upon the Sigtuna find and are very small in comparison with the originals.  However, finds from Birka and Hedeby include designs made in different sizes, so it is not impossible that a small version of the Sigtuna frames might have existed.   But next time, I'll be a bit more cautious and do more checking before taking a casual representation about a "based on a find's" provenance for granted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Tiny Epiphany

I had a tiny epiphany last week.

I saw a YouTube video about handspinning--(not sure if it was the same video I'm attaching to this post) and I realized something that hadn't occurred to me before.

A hand spindle is nothing more than a stick--often a  stick that is tapered at both ends and thickest in the middle.  It's used to twist raw fiber into a smooth strong thread.  During the Middle Ages, whorls (the weight that makes the spindle spin at a particular rate to twist the fiber) were not permanently glued to the stick.  That not only means they could be easily replaced if the whorl broke, but they could be swapped out for different whorls.  Being able to change whorls matters because in general, the lighter the whorl is, the more twist it imparts to the fiber, and the finer the resulting thread is likely to be.  Heavier weights tend to result in slower spinning, the better to make thicker threads that need less twist.

All of that I had known before.  But what I realized in watching the video is that a spinner could use more than one whorl to obtain the particular speed of spin of a spindle.  (Take a look at the video above starting at about 1:47).  That means she could, at least in theory, change the spindle weight in tiny increments to achieve the type of thread she wanted to make.  It could also be used to improve the performance of a particular spindle/whorl combination, as Lois Swales indicates in the video.

It goes to show that one should never assume one knows everything about a particular subject; thinking about a topic from a different angle can result in new knowledge.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Probably Not a Haithabu (Hedeby) Bag

When I bought the wooden frames I used in my Viking period bag, I assumed that the maker was correct in attributing them to a Haithabu (Hedeby, Denmark) find.  I made this assumption because the shape is similar to frames shown in photographs of finds from the harbor that are displayed in the Hedeby Museum.

Yesterday, however, I found some infographics on Pinterest claiming that the particular shape of frame that I used is from a find, not from Hedeby, but from Sigtuna in Sweden. This infographic in particular. The shape they attribute to a Sigtuna find is an exact match for my bag frames.  Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find additional information to confirm whether the infographic is correct. 

In addition, if the infographic is correct, my frames are much smaller than the original find. The infographic claims the Sigtuna find was 48 cm long--that's nearly 19 inches. My frames are 22.5 cm (9 inches) long.  So at best my bag is 50% historical, and it may well be based upon a find that was nowhere near Hedeby!

I will see whether I can find out more about the particular find that inspired the frames I bought.  In the meantime, apologies for misleading anyone.

EDIT (7/5/2018): Thanks to the commenter who pointed out that I'd incorrectly stated that 48 cm is nearly 12 inches (it's significantly larger). I've changed it above.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

New Project--The Völva's Mittens

Because I'm still more likely to complete a shorter project rather than a long one, I have been thinking about another short project to start working on since completing my Hedeby bag a few days ago.  

It occurred to me that a good project might be to make a pair of mittens for my völva outfit, using the pattern for the Icelandic mitten from Akranes that is found in the "Caps and Mittens" booklet (I have the previous edition, which was called "Smaller Garments") booklet sold by Susanna Broomé on her Facebook page and website, Viking Age Clothing.  I have found several blog posts by bloggers who have made their own copies of these mittens, here (scroll down for the English translation) and here. For more about the facts relating to the Akranes find, see my friend Rebecca's page, here.

The Akranes mitten was found on the Akranes penisula near Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1881 and, as the pictures on the various sites I have referenced show, has a flaring cuff and is long enough to cover the ends of the wearer's sleeves. It is a good design for someone who travels extensively in the wintertime, as the völva in Eric the Red's Saga is said to have done.

The völva's mittens are described as "catskin gloves, and they were white inside and shaggy," but what handcoverings survive from the Viking age are mittens, so far as I am aware. The Akranes mitten was sewn of heavy wool fabric, without a lining, but it uses a simple enough pattern that I think I can adapt it for the mittens of the völva's outfit.

Because I will not kill a cat for this project, or deal with vendors who have, I will be making a lined mitten, with white faux fur on the inside and leather on the outside.  I have a scrap of soft brown sueded leather that might serve for the outside of these mittens, and I have ordered some white faux fur from an EBay vendor.  I will need to hunt down a leather needle in my stash of sewing equipment, as well as an appropriate thimble, to do the handsewing for this project.

EDIT:  (7/5/2018)  The faux fur I'd ordered from EBay had such a minuscule pile that it did not look like fur, so I've sent it back for a refund.  I've ordered a different piece of faux fur from a different vendor that I hope will serve my purposes better.

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. (Note:  The inside edges and the outside edges were stitched separately; I did not try to make each stitch go through both tabs.)

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.  The bag stays closed best when the contents of the bag have substantial weight (like, for example, an apple, or a smartphone).

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.