Friday, January 22, 2021

A Sad Farewell

Long time readers will recall my (few) posts about Sugar, my first cat.   Today, Zola, Sugar's successor, died at the age of almost 9 years, of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  My first post about him after we adopted him can be found here.   I'm not feeling more like talking about his passing just now; you can find more about that at my Instagram account, here

Zola, at about 5 years old.

Friday, January 15, 2021

New Viking Clothing Web Exhibit

Recently, the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, reconstructed two complete outfits, a man's outfit and a woman's.  The man's outfit is based upon a grave in Bjerringhøj, in Jutland, Denmark.  The woman's outfit is based upon a grave at Hvilehøj, also in Jutland.  Both are dated to the 10th century CE.  

The University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History has created a virtual web exhibition based on these costumes, which may be read and viewed here. Further discussion may be read on the reconstruction project's Instagram, which can be accessed here. This post is based upon the information that appears in that web exhibition. 

Left: reconstruction of the costume of the man buried 
at Mammen, Denmark. Photo via Wikimedia Commons*

As has almost always been the case with Viking age grave finds, the textiles recovered from the grave are sufficiently small that ascertaining what scraps came from which garments or items of grave furniture is a matter of interpretation.  The results of the interpretation by the Danish archaeologists may be seen in the photographs of the exhibition.  However, to whet my readers' appetites for viewing the web exhibition, I will provide a brief summary here.

Both the man and the woman are depicted as wearing outer garments made from fur; a cloak in the case of the woman and a coat in the case of the man.  Both wear goatskin shoes, in styles copied from shoes found in Hedeby.  The man's clothes also drew upon the textile finds in the man's grave at Mammen (also in Jutland), which has also been dated to the 10th century. 

The man's clothes feature a belt that ends in large triangular pendants.  The insides of these pendants are decorated with nalbinded fabric fashioned of silver and gold threads, rather like the large bands (believed to have been cloak ends) of the Mammen costume.  His undyed wool shirt is decorated with colored embroidery of a number of different motifs, including motifs found on the man's tunic at Mammen.  The reconstruction includes tablet woven bands trimming the edges of the shirt sleeves and pants, but the grave find appears to indicate that the Bjerringhøj man's shirt was trimmed with red silk fabric in a samite weave, decorated with a gold-thread heart motif.  That fabric was reproduced separately, and a photograph of the reconstructed samite also appears in the web exhibition.

The woman's gown is made from wool, with woven-in geometric designs in the chest area (because all of the geometrically decorated wool in her grave was found in the chest area). Remains of tablet woven bands with metal threads were found in her grave, and appear as part of the edging on her fur cloak.  No brooches, either tortoise-shaped or otherwise, were found in the grave, and therefore none appear in the reconstruction, but some glass beads were found, which are reproduced as a necklace.  A Frankish coin from the middle of the 10th century appears to have been the centerpiece of this necklace.

Without more specific information about the actual textile scraps recovered, it is impossible to deduce all of the reasons supporting these costume interpretations (e.g., why was the man's costume reproduced with yellow pants?).  I will be looking out for a report of the reconstructions, and reviewing the Instagram account of the project very closely!

EDIT:  (1/17/2021)  I recommend checking out the project's Instagram (link above).  It contains a number of pictures not featured in the web exhibition, including a back view of the man's reconstructed coat.

* Nationalmuseet - The National Museum of Denmark from Denmark, CC BY-SA 2.0

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Wealth of Tutorials

Recently, I learned that the Handcrafted History blog contains a wealth of free tutorials--51 to be exact--for projects of various complexity and length. The blog is a wonderful place to explore, particularly if your costuming interests lie in the medieval period.  

Many of the tutorials are in English, though some are in Swedish.  Many of them are for 15th century clothing, though by no means all--there are a few tutorials for Viking age clothing. and one for a "bathhouse babe" type of sleeveless shift.  All are well-illustrated with color photographs.  I suspect that the ones in Swedish could be adequately navigated by English-speakers using Google Translate.

Linda, the blogger, runs a small (mostly) historical clothing business.  You can find her on Instagram (where I first found her), Facebook, Etsy, and Patreon.  Her Etsy site sells kits which consist of patterns and instructions to make small projects.  Note that if you decide to contribute to her Patreon account, she will be able to make more free tutorials available on her blog.   

EDIT:  12/22/2020 Corrected description about Linda's kits, which include patterns and instructions but NOT materials.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Newly Discovered Viking Burial in Central Norway

Beads found at Hestnes, in Central Norway.
(Photo: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum)
This week, I read an article about an archaeological dig this fall by archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology ("NTNU").  The dig was in Central Norway at Hestnes in Heim municipality.  The article appeared in, and can be read here

The researchers were surprised to discover a grave, because no other graves have been found anywhere nearby.  Even more interestingly, the grave was nothing like any other Viking era grave finds in Central Norway.  It was a chamber grave, of which few if any have been found previously in this region.  Such graves are characteristic of more urbanized areas than Central Norway, such as Birka and Hedeby.  It was possible to tell the burial had been a chamber grave from the imprints left were the supporting poles had been, the remains of the chamber walls, and the size of the "chamber" where the remains lay.  The way chamber graves are built, the "chamber" is dug into the earth, and a lid is placed upon the top after the deceased person and her grave goods have been deposited.  This particular grave has been dated to between 850 - 950 CE.  

The article from does not mention any textile remains, but there were a number of jewelry finds, including a pair of double-shelled tortoise brooches, a tri-lobed brooch, and a large number of tiny beads.  A photograph of the tiny beads that appeared in the article is reproduced with this post.  339 of the tiny beads had been located as of when the article was written, each of which is between 1-2 mm in size.  Beads in that size range are typically called "seed beads" today, and they have been, and still are, used for embroidery on clothing.  The article observes that, according to one of the NTNU researchers, a similar find at Hedeby has been interpreted as containing the remains of beaded embroidery.  

The tortoise brooches, which at other sites have been found to contain bits of textile from the dead woman's clothing, here contained fragments of bone and teeth, which have not yet been analyzed.  A spindle whorl was also found in the grave.  

It was suggested by one of the researchers that the woman had come to Hestnes from the south (e.g. closer to Hedeby or nearby areas) and had been buried with jewelry characteristic of her home region.  

I will be looking out for analyses of this grave in the hope that some textiles, or other materials giving a clue as to her costume, are eventually located.  I will also look out for articles on other Viking women's graves containing large numbers of seed beads.  Perhaps we are looking at the first hints of finds showing another distinctive fashion among some Viking women.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Textile Search of the Ashmolean Collection

Today I learned that it's easy to search, and locate pictures of, historical textiles in the Ashmolean's Eastern Art collection in Oxford, England.

To do that, hit the "Online Collections" button (it's aqua in color) to get to this page, and then hit the "Collection Online" link at the type of the second page to get to this page, which has a search box.  Type "textile" into the box and click the word "search" or "advanced search" to get to this page and look for what you want.  It's a great resource for finding non-textile artifacts in the Museum's collection as well. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Sack Cloth Fashion

Feed sack of the type used for clothing.  Found on Wikimedia Commons
Feed sack of type used to make clothing.
(Wikimedia Commons).
Normally, I don't read or write much about clothing in modern times.  It usually does not interest me as much as trying to plumb the mysteries of vanished Viking costume, or admiring the graceful drape of ancient Roman clothing or of the full heavy gowns of Europe's high Middle Ages.  But this week I found an interesting article in Piecework magazine's new, online newsletter that I think is worth sharing with my readers.

It's an article about the clothing Americans made with used feed and flour sacks during the period from the 1910s to the 1950s. Most of this clothing was made during the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, when money was dear, everyone was suffering together, and if you had to spend money on anything you wanted to get as much for it as possible.   The article may be read here; it's likely you will need to create a login to read it, but doing so is free of charge.  You can create your login here.

In our present age of disposable packaging (light cardboard, easy to tear paper or plastic) it's hard to imagine making anything out of feed sack material that anyone would be willing to wear.  But the feed sacks of the time were made from good quality cloth, usually cottons--osnaburg, sheeting, percale, muslin.  The lighter sacks (used for flour) made good underwear, while the stronger feed bags were used for shirts, dresses, aprons, trousers.  The design of the resulting garments, of course, was limited only by the imagination and skill of the woman doing the sewing, and the number of feed sacks available to her.

Originally, all such sacks were white, and women who were not willing to clothe their families entirely in white would dye them.  But by the mid-1920s manufacturers printed labels in ink that could be washed out, or on separate labels that could be removed, and they began making the bags out of gingham or good quality prints that would not look out of place when the sacks were used as clothing.  The Piecework article starts with a nice photograph of a young girl in a feed sack dress.  

Manufacturers continued to make feed sacks from patterned cloth into the 1950s, but by that time World War II rationing was over and the Great Depression was at best a fading memory for many.  In the post-war era of prosperity, women could afford to buy fabric intended for home sewing of clothes, or even ready-made clothes themselves.  By the early 1960s, the day of feed sack fashion was over.  

The article is nicely illustrated, well-written, and has its own bibliography.  I recommend it to readers interested in the clothing of early 20th century America.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Returning to Gokstad?

The Gokstad Ship.  Photograph by Karamell, 
found on Wikimedia Commons

In 1880, a 9th century CE Viking ship was discovered in a burial mound on farmland at Sandar, Sandefjord, Vestfold, Norway. The ship, the largest Viking age ship found in Norway,  is on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. 

The mound contained more than just the ship.  It contained the grave of a man, aged approximately 40 to 50 years old, powerfully built and between 181 and 183 cm (roughly 6 feet) tall.  The bones of twelve horses, six dogs, and a peacock were laid out around him.  The grave contained other goods, including three small boats, a tent, a sledge, and riding equipment.  Gold, silver, and weapons were surprisingly lacking, suggesting that the grave may have been robbed in antiquity.

Or so the current state of public knowledge goes.  I learned tonight that Aarhus University Press is planning to augment that knowledge with a three-volume series of books, called "Returning to Gokstad," that will review the Gokstad finds: 1) in light of other visits to the site over the last few decades; 2) other ship mound burials from Hedeby, Ladby and Sutton Hoo, and 3) the results of applying new scientific techniques to those finds, such as iron provenancing, aDNA, isotope analysis, osteology, and new dendrochronological results.  

What interested me in the book is the suggestion that there may be new textile information in it also.  Specifically, I found a rumor that there is an article in the first volume of the series about the textiles at Gokstad, written by Marianne Vedeler.  

The first volume is listed on the Oxbow Books website with a projected publication date of this year, but it is not yet available for purchase.  However, it can be preordered through Oxbow (but not through Oxbow's American affiliate Casemate Academic; I could not find any mention of the book at that site).  Likely it may be available for pre-order from bookstores in Scandinavia as well, though I haven't attempted to track such stores down.   

I doubt I will be able to afford the first book, let alone the set, but I am making a note to myself to look for the first book, and try to obtain it by interlibrary loan after it comes out, to see what textile information I can find.