Monday, August 31, 2015

The Fabric Has Arrived!

The fabric that has arrived are the two fabrics I needed for my lined wrapped apron dress:  the chocolate brown wool and the off-white mid-weight linen.  It's late, and I'm not up for adding the necessary photographs to show the wonderfulness of the combination of fabrics that I'm planning, but I should be able to get to that in a day or two.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lining a Single-Wrapped Apron Dress

Since my last post, I received the linen that I had ordered for my September Historical Sew Monthly project, the linen-lined wool apron dress.  To my surprise and dismay, I discovered that the fabric in question contains spandex.  (At least, it has enough stretch that it would be hard for me to believe that it doesn't contain spandex.)  Given the color and fine weave of the cloth, it would make a lovely pair (maybe two pair?) of underpants, but using such a stretchy cloth would do nothing to tell me how lining a wool wrapped apron dress with period linen.  So I shall have to obtain some more appropriate linen elsewhere.  Perhaps I have a large enough piece of linen in my stash (or can piece one together) for this project after all; I should check.

In the meantime, this may be a good time to think about how I should construct the apron dress.   I don't mean details about the width or length of the dress.  As I said in my original post, the fragments in Birka grave 464 do not provide sufficient information about how long the dress must have been or even clearly rule out the possibility that the dress was shaped like a tube; it was my decision to see how a wrapped dress that did not violate the known details of the grave 464 find would behave in wear.  

However, that still leave plenty of construction issues.  All we really know about the grave 464 garment is: 1)a piece of silk was folded over the top edge of both the wool outer fabric and the linen inner fabric; 2) it had at least one short loop attached to the top edge; 3) a top corner of the wool, located about 4-5 cm from the outside edge of the tortoise brooch, was mitered, and; 4) the dress was at least hip length.  To give a better idea of the kinds of detail I have in mind, I should list the construction assumptions I'm prepared to make for this project (which include) issues that cannot be resolved on the basis of the find and size dimensions necessary to make it wearable by me), and issues that might be resolvable by closer scrutiny of the find:


1.  Fabric Length and Width.    Based upon my prior experience with wrapped apron dress construction and my current budget constraints, I plan to use a single piece of wool about 60 inches by 36 inches, and a similarly-sized piece of linen, for this project.  

2.  Loop Fabric.  I prefer matching the loop fabric to the outer fabric, but if that turns out not to be possible (i.e., if it turns out I need every inch of the 60 inches to go around me properly), I'll use linen for the loops.  Use of linen loops on wool apron dresses is a well-established phenomenon among the Birka finds.

3.  Warp direction.  Based upon the plans above, I need the 60-inch side of the fabric to go horizontally around my body.  That likely places the warp horizontally and the selvages at top and bottom of the piece, with the maximum length of the garment being one yard (36 inches).  

Construction Issues:  

1.  Length of silk band.  A wrap-around apron dress is typically going to be at least 10 inches longer than the wearer's widest torso measurement.  Should the silk band wrap the entire top length?  Should it leave the mitered corners free?  It does not appear that the silk strip in grave 464 at Birka had silk lapped over the mitered corner.  I am inclined to have the band stop just short of the corners, because the way I would think to do it there would be no need of the silk there to join the linen to the wool.

2.   Double fold the silk?  In other words, would the edge of the silk be folded inward at the point where the band was stitched to the top of the apron dress on either the outside or the inside (as a modern piece of bias tape is often folded)?  I think it would make sense to do things this way, unless I find out that information from grave 464 dictates otherwise before I start sewing.

3.  Miter all corners?  It seems reasonable to do so.  I would place the linen and wool together, wrong sides touching, and miter the corners together that way.  This would also serve to protect the sides.

4.  Enclose linen in corners/sides?  Yes (see above).

Now that I've done more of the planning, I need to make certain I can lay my hands on enough linen to complete the plan.  I'll post again when I have the fabric lined up.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Return To My Roots: HSM #9--Color Challenge Brown

The September challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly is simple:  make something that is brown in color.  I was having trouble deciding upon a suitable project for this challenge, when I had an idea based upon my roots--the Viking apron dress or smokkr.  Because so many people have made apron dresses (and posted pictures of them on the Internet) since I first became interested in the Vikings, I had begun to believe that there really aren't any research-related reasons to make new apron dresses any more.  However, I may have stumbled upon a project that might be educational, and enough fun to be worth doing.

Despite the number of different styles of apron dress that I have made, I have never attempted to make an apron dress that is lined.  The evidence in favor of lined apron dresses comes from Birka, particularly grave 464.  Hilde Thunem translates the description of the relevant part of the grave 464 textile find in her long article discussing the evidence for Viking apron dresses:
Attached to the remains of a linen loop (1-2) was a fragment of fine dark blue wool (6). The wool had a linen fragment (4) lying against its inside and a silk band (3) had been folded over the top of both fragments (like a bias tape). ...
The woman in this grave was probably wearing a blue woollen smokkr, lined with linen and decorated with a silk band along the top of the dress. A small fragment of linen from the serk (5) was lying on top of the loop, indicating that at least in this case the smokkr had been worn directly over the serk (fig. 464:6). The top of the silk band, and thus the top of the smokkr, reached about 2 cm up into the brooch. This means that the front loops of the smokkr was fairly short and would have been completely covered by the brooches. ...
The grave contains several other fragments of the dark blue wool. One that seems to have been torn off from the brooch fragment is folded along two sides, creating a corner about 4 cm outside of the edge of the brooch (464:5). It is unclear whether the vertical edge of this corner was hemmed or if it was fastened to another piece of the smokkr.
It seems clear that the silk piece covering the top edge (and it had to be the top edge, because a loop was also fastened to it) functioned partly to bind a piece of linen to the wool.  How big the piece of linen originally was remains a question (and Hilde Thunem notes that Agnes Geijer thought that the linen lining of the garment in grave 464 was only partial).  So I started thinking about the reasons why people choose to line garments.  Two substantial reasons occurred to me:  to make the garment warmer, or to stiffen or otherwise change the drape and behavior of the garment in some way.

Warmth may have been a factor, certainly, with any item of Viking clothing, but stiffening would only matter if the garment in question were not an untailored garment such as a peplos; peploses work best with soft drapey fabrics than with stiff ones.  For a wrap-around garment, increased stiffness might actually work better unless you're going for a form-fitting sarong type of garment.

The mitered corner was only 4 cm (not quite 2 inches) from the outside edge of the tortoise brooch; that is approximately the same place where the seam appears on the Køstrup apron dress fragment.  Whether that location means that any seam along the edge of the corner would end up running underneath the arm would depend upon the size of the wearer.  On me, 4 cm from the outside edge of my brooches would place the seam very close to my armpit.   However, if the corner edge was not part of a seam, mitering it (which I have never thought to do on any of my earlier wrapped apron dresses, for some reason) should tend to make the open edge stand upright up and not flop over when worn.  Front corners that do not flop make a wrap-around style apron dress look better, in my opinion. 

In any event, making a fully-lined apron dress would show me whether such an apron dress would be comfortable and easily wearable, which to me makes the construction of such an apron dress an interesting project.

I have some red silk that I can use for the top-edge binding.   I have just ordered a yard of cream-colored linen that should serve for the lining, and am planning to buy a yard of chocolate brown wool for the apron itself.  (The grave 464 find was dark blue, but other apron dresses have been found to be brown, and brown is the color for the September challenge.)  Both fabrics are about 60 inches wide; a yard of each would make a suitable single-wrapped dress that, on me, would be about mid-calf length.  All we know about about the length of the dress in grave 464 is that it was at least hip length (because scraps of the same wool were found underneath a work brooch located at about hip level), so a mid-calf length should be fine for this project.

Hopefully, I'll be able to complete this project before the end of September.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


The twelfth North European Symposium of Archaeological Textiles ("NESAT") took place last year in Hallstatt, Austria.  Though to my knowledge the book containing the papers presented at that conference has yet to be published, the table of contents from that volume and several of the papers from it have turned up on  Membership in is free, and is not confined to professional scholars.   

What I'd like to do here is point out some of the currently available material for my readers, so that they can save up for the NESAT XII book if they wish or simply use the material itself if it meets their needs.

The conference program for NESAT XII (68 pages long, with article abstracts) is here, and the table of contents for NESAT XII may be downloaded here.

The papers I have seen from that NESAT volume that are available for free download so far are:

Cybulska, Maria and Mianowska-Orlińska, Ewa.  Analysis, Reconstruction and Interpretation of Two Early Medieval Embroideries from Kruszwica, pp. 311-320.  (This one is posted in Scribd format.  I was able to download it, but I can't recall if I have a Scribd account; if you don't, you may be unable to download/read it.)

Gleba, Margarita.  Production and Consumption: Textile Economy and Urbanization in Mediterranean Europe 1000-500 BCE (PROCON)pp.  261-270.

Nutz, Beatrix. Mining for Textiles -- Textiles for Mining,  Preliminary Report on Textiles from Gold Mining Sites in Austria, pp. 25-42.

The paper that excites me the most, however, is not available for free download.   Predictably, it is about Viking era clothing:  Hana Lukešová.  Old Fragments of Women’s Costumes from the Viking Age – New Method for Identification.  pp. 145-154.  Professor Lukešová's abstract states: 
"The first step in the working method involved a detailed study of the textile fragments. A computer programme for vector drawing was used to assist in the synthesis of complicated finds. The second step was to compare the stains and imprints on the textile fragments with the shape of the metal objects that possible to find a correlation between the textile and the metal. In the third step, a portable XRFspectrometer was used to check the elements present in the stains on the textiles. These were then compared to the element spectrums of the metals that were found close to the textiles."
The abstract states that all of this elaborate pattern-matching has allowed her to create "distinct reconstructions of many of the finds, and to expand the knowledge of the details of women's costumes from the Viking Age in the western Norway region."  I can hardly wait to see what Professor Lukešová has come up with in the way of reconstructions.  (The abstract admits that most of the textile finds come from the chest area, so "the features of complete women's costumes have intentionally been left open").

There are other interesting topics being addressed in this NESAT, including:  Bronze Age tailoring; Chinese silks found in the Merovingian graves in the Saint-Denis Basilica in France; the Dätgen trousers (roughly contemporaneous with the Thorsberg trousers); a reconstruction of a Renaissance era coif found in a Copenhagen moat; and a study of embroidery on Bronze Age costumes from Scandinavia.  Clearly we historical costumers have some excellent research to look forward to and to support our own work.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Ancient Greek Textile Book

From an Internet friend I learned about the existence of the following book:
Iris Tzachili and Eleni Zimi, eds.  Textiles and Dress in Greece and the Roman East:  A Technological and Social Approach.  Ta Pragmata Publications, 2012.  ISBN 978-960-98261-2-9.
Surviving textiles from ancient Greece and Rome are rare, and written material about survivals is rarer still, which is another reason why this book, a collection of articles prepared for a textiles conference, is of interest to students of ancient period costume.  I understand that one of the articles is about 4th century a purple silk textile with Roman-style tapestry inserts, woven in gold thread.

A quick Internet search revealed that an online bookstore based in Greece, Andromeda Books, sells this book for 19.17 € on this page.  They have one copy left.

Much as I'd like to (especially at this price) I'm not grabbing Andromeda's last copy, since I have little personal income and my husband and I are about to leave on a (mostly) prepaid two-week vacation. But if any of my readers are willing and able to jump on the opportunity, feel free! Alternatively, the ISBN and bibliographical information should enable interested costumers with limited funds to locate a copy by interlibrary loan.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Not a "Liebster" Award

My "Eura" dress
Stella Anderson of Historical Living with Hvitr has nominated this blog for something called the Liebster Award.

I have received a similar award before, years ago; the Versatile Blogger award.  This sort of award is meant to be a way for bloggers to recognize fellow bloggers of quality. The idea is that each nominated person agrees, in turn, to nominate suitable blogs and asks each nominated blog to feature the award tag, to nominate a specified number of other bloggers, to answer questions about him or herself and/or the subject of his/her blogging, and to generate a question list for his/her nominees.

I am touched that Stella nominated me, and I have no problem with the idea of such awards/mutual support networks. However, my pleasure evaporated as I looked at the Liebster website (which happened because you're asked to link to that site as part of accepting the award). The Liebster website (specifically, the page with the Liebster award rules on it) is packed full of advertising by the woman who runs it for her services in teaching people how to monetize their blog and learn to blog more "effectively".

I don't like the idea of using the "award" mechanic as a way of advertising one's own commercial services. Moreover, my impression from the webpage is that the Liebster Award is a much better means for the Liebster Award's creator to get web traffic for her blog than it is for other bloggers to support each other and find new blogs of high quality but (currently) low readership.

On the other hand, I'm sure that Stella nominated me because she likes my work and wanted other people to see and appreciate it too.  I don't want to show disrespect to her by simply refusing to accept the award.  Thank you so much, Stella, for thinking of me and thinking well of me.

So what I've decided to do is to do all of the fun things about the Liebster award, such as answering questions, posing new questions, and providing a list of blogs I'd like to recognize as wonderful and worth reading. But I expressly do NOT intend to accept the Liebster award, and to that end I'm deliberately ignoring some of the "rules". Specifically, I'm not including the Liebster label on this post. Nor am I listing the Liebster Award rules in this post (anyone who is curious can use the link to the Liebster page above to look them up).

So here are my answers to Stella's questions:
1.  If you could make any costume from a painting/photo/movie/book, what would it be?
I don't really have a movie costume favorite. I'm more likely to be inspired by historical models than movie costumes. 

2.  What’s your favourite thing that you’ve made? 
The very first "Eura" style dress that I made; you can see a picture of it above.  It is wonderfully comfortable as well as being washable and attractive; I really love the red trim I found to put on it.  

3.  Have you ever worn a historical piece as an everyday clothing item, and did anyone notice?

Yes. My mother helped me make a Kinsale cloak from a silk wool twill, and when I was in college I wore it sometimes as outerwear with ordinary clothes. Unfortunately, it was a light enough fabric that it wasn't very warm, but it was a rosy red in color, and gorgeous!    I can't recall if anyone noticed or remarked about it, though.

4.  What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your sewing career?

Learning how to properly finish seams. I used to have real problems with this, both because I found it to be boring, and because my seam allowances were so irregular that binding them was a real problem. Since then I've learned techniques for doing a nicely finished hand-sewn seam, but I'm still at sea with regard to machine sewn finishings. 

5.  Do you prefer to use ready-made patterns, or draft your own?

I prefer to make costumes using measurements that dictate how big the pieces of the costume must be, which isn't exactly a pattern. If I'm making something more modern (say, from the 16th century onwards), I prefer to use a pattern because I don't have the faintest idea how to begin drafting a "modern" pattern. 

6.  What’s that one thing on your to-do list you want to do but keep putting off?  
Finishing the shawl I started for my Iron Age Lithuanian outfit (pictures here). It still needs to have the rest of the fringe added and some copper spirals sewn onto it. 

7.  Do you tend to plan costumes around personas you want to play, or construct personas for costumes you want to make?

I don't really have personae because I don't do reenactment, but it's closest to say that I construct personae for costumes I want to make because they look interesting or because I want to learn how it feels to wear them. 

8.  What’s that one piece of sewing-related equipment you’d really like to have?  

Historical Enterprises sells reproductions of Viking era thread winders made from bone or horn (buyer's choice). I'd love to have a few for my Viking sewing kit, but at $2.95 US each it seems kind of frivolous for me to buy them right now. 

9.  You, of course, are a modern person living in the 21st century. Do you think that has an effect on how you think about your historical projects?

Absolutely. It is hard for a modern person to think about clothing, and making clothing, in the same way that a person living in earlier times would, because clothing (even "expensive" clothing) is so inexpensive now, both in terms of the time it takes to make it and in terms of the cost of the materials and tools used to make it.

My favorite metaphor for how people must have considered the clothes they wore in pre-modern times is the automobile.  Like modern cars, clothing was expensive relative to food or other survival needs, but just as most modern people need to have and use a car daily, everyone needed to own and use clothing daily.  Similarly, the tendency was to patch (i.e., repair) and keep wearing their clothing for as long as possible, just as most people try to keep their cars drivable for as long as possible today.  Clothing was also a major item of status display, and poorer but ambitious people tried to obtain clothing that made them look as though their status was greater than it actually was, just as people try to obtain the nicest car possible for their money.     By the same token, just as rich people today have nicer cars and more of them, rich people in earlier times had more clothing and clothing made from more expensive materials than poor people did.  

After all these years of sewing, I've finally gotten pretty good at simulating the aspect of early clothing that involves making it with care to last, from good materials bought in as small a quantity that will serve the purpose. However, I have a very hard time treating my period clothing as though it is clothing I wear everyday.  For example, it drives me nuts if I get the least bit of dirt on any of the period clothing I've made while I'm wearing it, and that kind of mindset would have been impractical for someone living in, say, the tenth century. 

10.  If you had a time machine, what period would you visit first?

I would love to visit Viking age Scandinavia, but for me to use a time machine to do so would be foolish, because I don't know any of the Scandinavian languages well enough even to make my basic needs understood, which would make me very vulnerable to exploitation and worse.  So if I did have access to a time machine, I'd stick to the Philadelphia area right before the American Revolution, because that's far enough in the past to be interesting to me but not so far back in time that I couldn't make myself understood, and my handsewing is (probably just barely) good enough that I could have made money that way. 

11. What new project are you most excited about? 

I've been having trouble getting excited about costume with my employment situation so unstable, but the project I'm planning now--the sprang cap for the July HSM Challenge, is pretty exciting, because I've never tried sprang before.

Here are 5 blogs that I think are very much worth reading and why:

Pass the Garum. For sharing thoughts and experiments in Roman cuisine in a reader-friendly style.

A String Geek's Stash.  For bringing back to life excellent old research, and thereby showing us all a different way to use a blog.

A Stitch in Time. For countless wonderful and fascinating links relating to historical costume and archaeology and (occasionally) other subjects.

Opus Anglicanum. For her many inspirational displays of excellent period-style embroidery.

Medieval York | Eulalia Piebakere's adventures in recreational medievalism. For candidly showing us all the process by which she is growing as a scholar of historical food and costume.

Finally, I'm not "nominating" anyone for the Liebster, but if anyone who reads my blog would like, just for fun, to answer any or all of the following questions, either in comments here or on their blog, please feel free!

1. What is the most authentic item of historical material culture (clothing, food, furniture, jewelry, tools) you have ever created and what did you do to create it?
2. Have you ever handsewn an entire garment?
3. What is the biggest mistake you've ever made on a historical 
costuming/construction project, and how did you go about trying to fix it?
4. Is your family involved in your historical culture hobby? How?
5. What originally got you interested in history?
6. Does your job relate to history or archaeology and if so, how?
7. What is the most interesting book on a historical subject that you have read?
8. If you sew historical costumes, do you also sew clothing for yourself for everyday wear?
9. Describe what your ideal historical costume would be like (whether or not you have attempted to make it for yourself).
10. What do you enjoy most about your historical recreation/costuming activities?
11. How did you originally learn about Loose Threads: Yet Another Costuming Blog?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fuzzy Hose

Yucca utahensis (Photo:  Wikimedia Commons)
From a very good friend, I learned of several similar, fascinating archaeological finds from the New World.  The write-up, complete with excellent  pictures (some of which are zoomable, to show greater detail), can be found on the Arizona State Museum's website, HERE.

The finds were made in Arizona about a century ago and date to about 1100-1300 C.E.  They are from the Anazazi or Pueblo culture. They are a kind of sock made from two fibers; the main weave is an open-mesh cotton, to which animal hair was originally fastened, though little animal hair remains on the surviving socks.  The socks, in turn, were originally twined onto sandal soles, which provided better durability.  The animal hair made the shoe/sock/sandal combination warmer, which matters at night in the desert.  The sandal sole part is made from braided yucca leaves;  Yucca is now, as it must have been then, a plant easily available in and about the American southwestern desert.

According to the Museum's description, the mesh part of the socks was made by a "looping" or "knotless netting" process that sounds a lot like what is called nalbinding with regard to ancient European finds, though to my inexpert eye the pattern of mesh looks rather different from the nalbinding patterns with which I am familiar.  No attempt to identify the type of animal hair used to cover the mesh is made in the museum write-up.  It does not look like any kind of wool, but is fine and fairly short, like the hairs of a dog's coat, which makes me wonder whether it's coyote hair; coyotes are also native to the area.  The result is a very practical piece of footwear for an arid desert environment such as the American southwest.

These finds show that the fact that, even with limited technologies, people can devise, and have devised, items of apparel that are attractive and provide the kind of function required by the climate of the area in which they live.  Although I typically find European costume history more interesting, the ingenuity of these shoe-socks (as the Museum calls them) is impressive and should not be ignored by people interested in the history of clothing.