Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Resolutions--The Historical Sew Fortnightly

Happy New Year, everybody!

December 2018 kind of got away from me.  By the time I had time to work on one of my projects, I was out of motivation to do so.

But this is a New Year, and with it, a new set of Historical Sew Monthly challenges!  To see them, click on the "Historical Sew Monthly 2019" image on the top left corner of my blog, or go here

Some of this year's challenges have me totally stumped, while others give me scope for finally finishing so many different projects that I'm not sure where to start.  Here's some examples based on my thinking so far.

March:  Sewing Kit.  I could use my tablet weaving loom and tablets, I suppose.  But I'd rather stretch the definition of "sewing kit" another way, by finally making the copper needlecase I've been thinking about trying for so many years now.

April:  Upping your game.  That sprang hood project still chides me, from the depths of my closet.  

June:  Favourite Technique.   Almost any of my Viking age sewing project would fit here, since my favorite technique is whipstitch, and all of my handsewing involves whipstitch in abundance.  Maybe this is when I finish my white wool tunic (for the völva and Vendel outfits).

September: Everyday.  The white wool tunic works again here.  Also the peplos I want to make for my Vendel outfit.

October:  Details.  The Kostrup apron dress comes to mind, as it's the details of how the dress is pleated and how the bit of tablet weaving is attached that inspired the project in the first place.

November:  Above the Belt.  Several orphaned projects work here, because they involve headwear.  They include the catskin hood, the D-shaped veil, and the sprang hood for that matter.  If I'm lucky and well-organized, maybe I can finish all three in November.  

December:  On A Shoestring.  This challenge appeals to me, because money remains a bit tight here.  But I'm having trouble thinking of a project I can start anew and finish cheaply, especially if one is to count the original cost of my stash materials.  Maybe something in the Linens (February) category?  I need to think about this one. 

Any ideas?  Please feel free to pass them on in the comments!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Ioncell--Fabric of the Future?

For the first time in quite a while, a new fabric has been invented--ioncell!  A good news article about it can be read here.   Though that article is more than four years old, ioncell has only recently drawn public attention again, when Jenni Haukio, the wife of Finland's President, Sauli Niinistö, wore an evening gown made from it.  A news article about her gown may be read here, and a photograph of her wearing that gown may be seen here.  The video to the right shows the process of creating ioncell fibers.

Ioncell was invented in Finland at Aalto University and the University of Helsinki.  It is made from a process that creates new fiber by dissolving wood chips, recycled cotton fabrics, or paper waste, and the creation of ioncell fiber does not create any hazardous materials.  Since it can be made from materials that would otherwise be thrown away, it can help eliminate waste as well.  Plans are underway in Finland for industrial level production of the fiber, which they hope can commence in the early 2020s. 

Finland banned placing cloth waste in landfills some years ago.  At present, most cloth waste is therefore burned for energy, a process which generates some carbon emissions. A different process that would allow cloth remains to be made into new fiber with discharging carbon into the atmosphere is thus of great interest there.  

Making fiber from reused cotton and paper sounds more appealing, to me, than making it from petroleum products.  Hopefully, the new fiber will not push natural fibers like wool and linen out of existence.  But if ioncell takes off in popularity, it may change forever what cloth is worn in everyday life.

Thanks to Katrin Kania, whose blog first made me aware of ioncell.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Lambskin Hood--Not Yet Ready for the Lambskin!

Last night, I spent some time attempting to modify my pattern for the völva's  black lambskin hood.  I don't really want to order the lambskin until I have a much better idea exactly how big a skin I'm going to need, and whether my white faux fur is large enough for the hood lining.  

It turns out that part of the charm of my generic medieval hood, the red-and-black reversible hood I'm using as the basis for my pattern, is that it's oversized all over.  The hood is at least 3 inches too long for me, which is what gives it its appealing drape.  

However, I never wanted the völva's hood to have the same exact shape as my old hood.  In my opinion, the völva's hood should be not be square like the Skoldehamn hood, or tailed like a later medieval hood, but should follow the curve of the head, like the Coppergate cap does.  But when I pinned the top of my existing hood to create that curved shape, I discovered that, suddenly, the back cape area looked baggy, misshapen, and unattractive.  

Now I think that what I need to do is to make a full mock-up of the hood in scrap fabric, so that I can repin and recut the pieces until the result assumes the shape that I want.  Then I can disassemble the mock-up, use the pieces to cut and sew the völva's hood lining, and order the black lambskin for the outside of the hood to complete the outside of the hood.

In the meantime, once I finish a few necessary tasks, maybe I can return to the mittens, or start the völva's white tunic.  At least I know how to cut and sew a suitable long tunic.  

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The History of Spinning--Shorter than we'd thought?

Archaeology has a way of taking what we thought we knew of history and changing it so that our understanding of human history and technology is broader and deeper than it was before.

A recent study by Dr. Margarita Gleba, of the University of Cambridge, and Dr. Susanna Harris, of the University of Glasgow, of European and Near Eastern archaeological textiles from over 30 different locations and spanning the time period from 4000-500 BCE, has brought to light an astounding fact.  The threads in those textiles were not produced by spinning!

They were spliced.

Producing thread by splicing means that pieces of fiber are twisted together, one at a time, to make the thread, instead of being twisted together continuously with the aid of a spinning spindle.

It is highly significant that the textiles which Drs. Gleba and Harris analyzed were all made from linen. Linen fiber is significantly more difficult to spin into thread with a spindle.  But if the linen plant is partially processed by retting--a controlled rotting process--the fibers that are produced can be spliced into thread.

A spliced thread is not as strong as one that is spun.  So if one was splicing thread to be woven into cloth, it would be important to strengthen the thread.  The simplest way to do so is by plying--twisting one or more spliced threads together.  And when Drs. Gleba and Harris examined the threads in the linen textiles (ranging in age from the Neolithic to the early Iron Age), that is exactly what they found.  Their paper notes that when thread that has been spliced in one direction is plied with another thread in the same direction, the resulting thread may look as though it had been spun.

Aside from requiring us to reconsider the age of spinning as a thread making technique, the analysis of Drs. Gleba and Harris explains something that had always puzzled me, namely, why linen fabric seems to have been so common in early Europe and the Near East. The use of spliced thread to create linen textiles goes along way toward explaining that.  Such linen did not need the invention of the spindle, or the elaborate fiber preparation process necessary to create spinnable flax fibers.

An article from Current Archaeology reporting on the discovery of Drs. Gleba and Harris can be read here. Dr. Gleba's and Dr. Harris's article can be read and downloaded on the Springer website (it was published as Open Access) here. Thanks to Katrin Kania for posting the link to the Current Archaeology article.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Gores with a Wrapped Aprondress--Another View

Quite a while ago, I attempted to combine a wraparound Viking apron dress with gores, to give more room and a nice flare to the skirt.  My result was awkward looking, and based on how it came out, I decided that it was implausible, at best, that Viking women would have added gores to a wrapped dress.

Recently, however, I found a picture of a garment based on the same idea on the blog A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle, now revamped and renamed A Most Peculiar Seamstress.  You can see a picture of Sarah's dress here, although the accompanying post doesn't really discuss its construction; it mostly talks about what she did with the wrapped apron dress after it was vandalized by carpet beetles.

Sarah's dress does not look at all like mine; it is sleek and its hemline is beautifully even.  Of course, my wraparound dress was made from linen.  Sarah's dress was made from wool (which is why the carpet beetles were eager to eat it).  That would have made a considerable difference to the way the dress hung and draped.  I shall have to write to her and see if she can tell me more about her design.

At any rate, Sarah's successful design contradicts my original conclusion and leaves open the possibility that gored, wrapped apron dresses were worn by some Viking women.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Next Up: The Lambskin Hood

A hood I made many years ago.
The socks are done, the mittens are (probably) under control, or will be soon.  Now I'm thinking of the next item I want to make for my völva outfit--the lambskin hood.

At least one translation of the Saga of Eric the Red describes the völva as wearing "a black lambskin hood, lined with white catskin."  I have a sizable piece of white faux fur, purchased to make the mittens, and I recently found on Etsy a vendor that is selling pieces of black lambskin suede at a very affordable cost--perfect for what I have in mind! 

I even have a pattern.  When I first started making historical costumes, many years ago, I made myself a fully reversible medieval hood, using a fine red silk-wool twill fabric on one side, and a heavier black crepe (probably polyester, I didn't care about fiber type then) on the other.  It resembles the Skoldehamn hood a little, but it does not have either the ties or the cord edging that shape the Skoldehamn hood.  The photograph shows the hood in question.

When I made this hood, I knew nothing of how medieval fabric was woven, or why most early medieval garments are made entirely from geometrically-shaped pieces.  Thus, my hood used a straight piece for the hood proper, buy a rounded piece for the bottom.  However, it should be possible to tweak the design slightly to make a very similar design entirely from geometrical shapes.  I will want to make a pattern from the hood, rather than dismembering it--it is still very usable and too nice to destroy! 

Once the pattern is completed, sewing the new hood should be much quicker than making the original hood was.  All I'll need to do will be to sew the faux fur lining and the leather, insert the lining into the leather, and sew the two together along the bottom and edge of the hood.  All of the stitching will be in straight lines.  It *should* be simple, but it would not be surprising for unexpected difficulties to arise.

Watch this space for future developments.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Another Pair of "Catskin" Mittens

While web surfing today, I found to my surprise that Susanna Broomé, the woman who runs the website and business, Viking Age Clothing, is making her own pair of "catskin" mittens based on her pattern for the Akranes mittens!  A picture of her work in progress can be seen here on her business's Facebook page.  In the accompanying post, Susanna makes it clear that she is basing the project on the völva's mittens described in the Saga of Eric the Red.  However, she is using white rabbit fur, not faux fur, to stand in for the "catskin" lining.

Meanwhile, I have gotten bogged down and have not progressed on my mittens; I'm trying to decide whether to recut some of my faux fur pieces and start over or just unpick stitches and proceed with what I have.  In the meantime, I have two related projects in mind that should be much simpler and that I'm likely to get to first.

Susanna is a much better seamstress than I, but I find it flattering, somehow, that she agrees that the Akranes mittens make a good starting point for the völva's mittens.

EDIT: (10/26/2018)  Susanna finished her mittens!  You can see a picture of them on her Facebook page here.  Looking at them makes me think that perhaps I should just buy enough black lambskin for the hood to make the outside layer of my mittens black, also.