Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fastest Project Ever!

My new Roman earrings
After failing even to begin four of the last six challenges, and finishing another one (the bog blouse) more than two weeks late, I am really happy to have a challenge I could finish on time, namely, my Roman earrings for this fortnight's HSF challenge.  I made them yesterday afternoon, doing a step at a time in between other chores that I was supposed to be doing.  ;-)

Threading the pearls onto the head pins was easy.  So was adding the crimp rings and closing them. But the crimp covers nearly turned out to be my undoing. I kept dropping them, and had a hard time keeping them in place long enough to apply the pliers in order to close them over the crimp rings.  They did not want to fit neatly over the crimp rings, and I bent one slightly trying to get it in place.  However, I finally managed to get them more or less closed and in position without mangling them too badly, and the earrings are small enough that it's nearly impossible to detect the mangling while I''m wearing them, unless you stand close enough to me to touch my nose with your nose.

Stephens's video claims that the Romans liked the s-hook design because it made it difficult for precious-bead earrings to accidentally fall out.  The same factor makes them tricky to insert at first (particularly since my head pins are especially thin and fragile).  However, by the time I got the second one in place for the first time, the process was going better.  I still have spare crimp rings, too, so if I ever have to remake them all I'll need are new head pins and a new set of crimp beads.

My current plan is to get enough beads make a matching necklace for the final challenge of HSF 2014 ("All That Glitters").  That will give me more incentive to finally do the makeover my Roman garments.  I find I'm looking forward to that.

The Challenge:  #7 Tops and Toes

Fabric:   No fabric involved.  The earrings are made from two 10 mm rose gold glass pearls, two rose gold filled head pins, two crimp rings and two rose gold crimp beads. 

Pattern:   I followed Janet Stephens' tutorial video on how to make Roman earrings, except I added a crimp cover over each crimp ring to make it look as though there is a gold bead above each pearl.

Year:   First century C.E., more or less.  Jewelry styles often persist longer than clothing styles do, so similar earrings may have been worn centuries earlier or centuries later than the time period during which we perceive them as having been fashionable.

Notions:  See above.

How historically accurate is it?   The design and shape are period.  Gold wire and beads and glass pearls also are period.  However, some of the jewelry findings and the specific techniques (i.e., using pre-made head pins, crimp beads and crimp rings) are not.  So let's say 50%.

Hours to complete: Probably no more than 5 minutes all told (6.5 minutes, if you count the time I spent reviewing the Janet Stephens instructional video).  Possibly less.  If I'd had better tools for handling the crimp covers, it might have taken as little as a minute and a half.

First worn:  Only to confirm that I could put them on and take them off.  I need to get photographs of myself wearing them soon.

Total cost:  $9.16, including shipping!  (Pity I didn't save this one for the "under $10" challenge!)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Bog Blouse, Complete

New bog blouse--Front
Offered for your examination; my (rather) late Bog Blouse for HSF Challenge #5.  Once I finally nerved myself to start it, the Bog Blouse didn't take that long to complete (though it took longer than I'd hoped; see below).  During a less busy month, I might actually have managed to complete it close to on time.  So why did I hesitate?  Because I was afraid I would not be able to remember where to place the necessary cuts and would ruin my fabric to no avail.

In an attempt to avoid this fate, I dug out the original bog blouse I had made years ago from imitation polyester linen. Surprisingly, it still fits me quite well. Because the original blouse was long enough to tuck into my bog skirt as I wished, I decided to use it as my pattern in placing the cuts for this version. Photographs of my old, poly "bog blouse" (which was also hand-sewn) and the finished product for this Challenge appear below.

My fears, it turns out, were not groundless.  As I tried on the blouse-in-progress, I could tell that it was more snug through the body than the original. Worse still, the arms appeared to be too tight around the bicep and through the armpit, as I had feared, knowing that my biceps are now larger than they once were.  Yet I couldn't risk not making fully enclosed seams, in light of the fact that the raw edges of the fabric were already very frayed, particularly along portions of the main horizontal seam across the back and under the sleeves.  (I improvised by cutting small strips from the leftover linen pieces and stitching them over the areas where the seam allowance was closest to non-existent.)
New bog blouse--Back

Careful trying on of the blouse while I was finishing the seams has convinced me that the new blouse fits adequately, though it's more snug than the poly-linen version I made years ago. I'm a bit puzzled about the difference in fit, but the fact that the 100% linen I'm using frays so badly (forcing me to use more fabric width in sewing the seams) may have had something to do with it.  Or maybe it's just the fact that I can't measure by "eye" very well--and that's what I tried to do in making the cuts for the sleeves.

The Challenge:  #5  Bodice.

Fabric:   One yard of tabby-woven 100% linen in "natural", a grayish brown, from

Pattern:   Deduced (by others) from actual Scandinavian finds.  I used my last version of this kind of garment to place the cuts for this one.

Year1350 B.C.E., more or less.

Notions:  Londonderry 100% linen thread, in white, 80/3 thickness.  As always when I sew with linen thread, I run the thread over a cake of beeswax a few times each time I rethread my needle, before beginning to sew.  A bit of colored cord (in red or blue wool, perhaps, though I haven't found a supplier for such stuff since Wooded Hamlet stopped selling it) stitched around the neckline would have looked marvelous, but no such ornamentation appears in the archaeological finds, so (with regret) I did not attempt to add any.

My original, poly-cotton bog blouse
How historically accurate is it?  The basic pattern is from the Borum Eshøj find (other bog blouses are a bit different in cut if not in principle).  As far as I am aware, all of the bog blouses that have been found have been made from wool, not linen, but there is increasing evidence that more linen was worn in Scandinavia, and worn earlier, than was previously supposed.  Also, I do not know what types of stitches were used to make the Borum Eshøj blouse or other blouses of this type, so I finished my seams in much the same manner I used for my Byzantine himation. The originals might not have been finished in that manner because they are wool which has less tendency to ravel, but linen blouses of the same type (if any existed) might well have used a flat-felled or other seam treatment that encloses all raw edges.  So maybe 60-70%.

Hours to complete:   Roughly 4 hours, done in bits and pieces whenever I had a few minutes to spare over most of the last two weeks.

First worn:  Not yet.   I've only tried it on to check the fit.  I will try it on with the wool skirt originally made for the poly-cotton version of the blouse, and post some pictures of the outfit soon.

Total cost$0.  The fabric I got for accumulated store credit only, and the thread was originally purchased long ago for other projects.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Völva's Costume

For HSF Challenge #6, I have decided to attempt to construct the costume of the völva in the Saga of Erik the Red.  Though it's not a fairytale, it is a story with supernatural components whose historicity is debated. That makes it enough of a "fairytale" for my purposes.

In an earlier post, I discussed my ideas about the "touchwood" belt she is described as wearing in the saga, but there are many other components to her costume.  To get a better idea of what would be involved in making a complete völva costume, let's take another look at the relevant passage from the saga:
The völva from the Saga
...then she was dressed like this, so that she had a blue mantle fastened with straps, and stones were set all in the flap above; on her neck she had glass beads, a black lambskin hood on her head with white catskin inside; and she had a staff in her hand with a knob on it; it was made with brass and stones were set above in the knob; she had a belt of touch-wood, and on it was a large skin pouch, and there she kept safe her talismans (taufr) which she needed to get knowledge. She had on her feet shaggy calfskin shoes with long thongs and large knobs on the ends of those. She had on her hands catskin gloves, and they were white inside and shaggy.
To actually make the costume, I will need to think about each item the völva is described as wearing, and make decisions about what the description is trying to get the reader to visualize.  Only then will I be able to consider how to make a costume that will evoke that visualization, or how to make components for this costume that are not grossly inconsistent in appearance with what I know of women's costume during the Viking age and immediately after.  The image to the right is a sketch that shows the result of my reasoning process about what the saga is describing.  Since it's very unlikely that I will be able to finish the costume by April 1 (the HSF # 6 deadline) I can at least discuss the reasons for my design choices now, and perhaps get further ideas from my readers before I begin making anything.

The saga description gives us most of the direct information available to answer that question, but before examining the saga description in detail, there is one question that has to be answered first, namely...

What was worn underneath? All of the items of the völva's attire that are described in the saga are what a modern costumer would call outerwear and accessories; except for the belt, we have no idea what she is wearing beneath her mantle. 

On one of my Pinterest boards, I have collected images of different people's ideas of what the völva in the Saga of Erik the Red wore (or at least what a völva generally should look like).  Many of these images show the völva wearing the tortoise brooches associated with the smokkr or apron dress.  The symbolism of the smokkr with brooches, however, seems inappropriate to me.  Whether or not the smokkr was associated with a woman's marital status or her socio-economic status, neither set of symbolic implications is a good match with the idea of völvas and other seidr workers as being outside of (though respected by) the rest of Viking society.  Lyonel Perabo's recent article about seiðr-practitioner in Viking society concludes, with regard to völvas:
All in all, [sic] would rather emphasize the fact that in virtually all of the accounts or references to völva, she appears to be an outsider figure. She either has no apparent or permanent place in the society she evolves in (Örvar-Odds saga, Eiríks saga Rauða) or is clearly associated with liminal and distant areas (like the grave in Baldrs Draumar and Laxdæla saga). Such a vision of the völva is very much in line with the idea of seiðr (and seiðr-practitioner) coming from outside the civilized society of men that we discovered in Chapter I (B). (p. 9).
If our völva is not wearing a smokkr, she must at least be wearing a long tunic, as the artwork indicates almost all women in Viking society who were not thralls wore.  Thor Ewing has observed that clothing descriptions in the sagas refer to most Viking attire, even that of high-ranking people, as being undyed. Dyed clothing in the sagas is usually blue, though a high-ranking chieftain might wear red.  These observations have, so far, been borne out by the few scraps of fabric that survive from the graves of wealthy Vikings.  So if our Viking shamaness is wearing a dyed tunic beneath her cloak, it is probably also blue.

However, I have decided that the white wool shift I am making for my Vendel costume will serve as  the garment the völva wears beneath her mantle.  This choice seems fitting to me for several reasons.  One reason is personal economy--I have white wool in sufficient quantity, and was planning to make a long tunic from it anyway. But this choice is also consistent with the symbolism and with color references in other sagas to clothing.  A white wool dress would most likely have been made in period with undyed wool.  Since it would have had to have been made from the fleece of a white sheep, it would have been relatively rare--appropriate for a shaman of high rank. Persons with special connections with the world of the gods and the supernatural throughout antiquity--druids, Vestal Virgins--wore white.  The catskin linings of the völva's hood and "gloves" (more on the "gloves" below) are also white. Granted this is all speculation, not proof, but it's at least speculation based upon some facts.

...a blue mantle fastened with straps, and stones were set all in the flap above...  In the Viking world, dyed clothing was much more prestigious than undyed clothing.  As I alluded to above, most references in the sagas to dyed clothing that have a color ascribed to them are described as blue. Penelope Walton Rogers's study of Norwegian and Danish wool fragments found that most of the fragments that tested positive for dye substances contained indigotin--the substance that makes blue.  This makes practical sense as well; Ewing points out that dyed clothing, especially if dyed in dark hues, is easily discernible from a distance; this is a useful characteristic for clothing worn by people who travel widely through wild country located in cold climates, as the völvas did.

Cnut holding his "mantle with straps"* 
I had a revelation about the "straps" while I was planning this project. For years, whenever I re-read the phrase "a blue mantle fastened with straps," I would wonder what the saga author could have meant.  I once saw a reconstruction sketch by a reenactor suggesting that there might be three straps, fastened with knobs or buttons to each edge of a semicircular cloak.  That image has a pleasing symbolism about it (there are three Norns, for example), and I was prepared to adopt it for this costume.

Then I thought about artwork from the late Viking era, and it occurred to me the saga could well be referring to a type of closure that is much, much simpler.

The image to the right shows King Cnut, a Viking who became King of England late in the Viking age.  He is partly wearing, partly holding what appears to be a long cloak with long wide ribbons--or straps--with triangular ends.  It has been suggested that the gold and silver ornamented silk strips found in the Mammen chieftain's grave were straps that fastened the chieftain's marmot-fur-lined wool cape. During the 10th through 12th centuries, a number of semicircular mantles or capes survive that are associated with monarchs or other high-ranking people.  Is the saga's author trying to tell us that the völva wore a similar cloak, with long ties or straps, that was a symbol of her high rank? Certainly the manner in which the chieftain defers to her in the saga is consistent with the idea that she was viewed as a very high-ranking person.

So to make this cloak I will need dark blue wool, preferably in a coating or other heavy weight, and some kind of fabric for long tie-strings or straps.  The last batch of dark blue wool coating I had I used for my Byzantine mantion.  I chose to use light blue wool to trim the mantion, and that cloak was made to be fastened with a brooch, not straps--both factors that make it unsuitable for re-purposing for the völva costume.  But now that I have a regular income again, I can look for and buy some dark blue heavy wool for a special cloak for this project.  My idea is to make a semicircular cloak, no shorter than mid-calf-length (as shown in my sketch), and more likely ankle or ground length.  As for the straps, I have some light blue silk purchased for another project that I could turn into long ties for the cloak, possibly in conjunction with a second fabric to give the straps a bit more body.  I have some dark blue suit-weight wool that is too fine for anything else Viking--perhaps I can make the straps from it and cover them with the light blue silk.  The saga does not say that the "straps" themselves were ornamented, so I see no need to ornament them though perhaps a bit of simple embroidery would not be out of place.

The final element of the mantle description, however, continues to baffle me.  What is the "flap above" to which this translation of the saga refers? Does this phrase refer to the edge of the hood?  Could the mantle have had a collar that was so adorned?  Is the reference to adornment on part of the mantle straps themselves?  Possibly this reference is a mere artifact of the translator's struggle; the translation of the saga that appears in the Icelandic Saga Database, for example, says simply "she had a blue mantle over her, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems quite down to the skirt," without mentioning any flap at all. I can't think of any basis to prefer any one of these interpretations over the others.   I would be grateful for any insights or ideas any of my readers might have on this issue.
My Princess of Zweeloo beads

I would like to ornament the edges of the mantle with glass stones, but I can't figure out how to fasten them in place without resorting to fabric glue, which seems very inappropriate for this project. Again, suggestions would be appreciated, but until I come up with a way to solidly affix red stones (my preference, as shown in the sketch) along the cloak's edges, I prefer to leave the cloak undecorated.

...on her neck she had glass beads...   I originally made the glass-bead necklace shown to the left to wear with a Princess of Zweeloo costume, long ago (that is one reason that it has so many "flower" shaped beads on it).  However, a number of the beads on the strand are consistent with Viking era designs, so this necklace will do.  Perhaps when I feel more motivated, I will assemble a new necklace, just for this costume.

My hood
... a black lambskin hood on her head with white catskin inside...  So far as I am aware, the Vikings did not wear hooded cloaks; thus, it seems most likely that the hood referred to in the saga is a separate garment that covered only the head and shoulders, like the hoods of the early Middle Ages, or the Orkney Hood (but without the long fringe that is such a striking feature of the Orkney Hood).  The photograph to the right is a black wool hood that I made long ago and, unlike most of my early efforts, I continue to be pleased with it. It is completely reversible; the fabric on the other side is a red silk-wool twill. Although it is not made from "lambskin" as required by the saga, it has the correct early medieval shape--nearly square, with a small point near the crown of the head--though it would be better if the hood fit a bit more closely to my head.  What I originally thought of doing was to sew a broad band of high-quality fake fur (tissavel) onto the red side of the hood, near the edges, in order to give the impression that the hood has a white, fur lining. Now that more money is coming in, I may simply buy enough black lambskin and some white tissavel (high-quality fake fur) and make a new hood in the same shape--assuming I can recall or reconstruct how I made the hood in the first place.
My staff

...a staff in her hand with a knob on it; it was made with brass and stones were set above in the knob... I own a plain, wooden staff, made for me by a friend from a piece of maple.  A proper staff, either made entirely from brass with a knob set with stones (the most logical way to construe the language above) or from wood but topped with a brass knob set with stones, would cost much more than I am willing to invest in this project (possibly several hundred US dollars), and I am reluctant to alter my friend's gift by fastening a knob to it, even if I could find a suitable one.  So I will use my wooden staff as-is, reluctantly disregarding the saga text in this respect.

a belt of touch-wood...  I discussed the nature and possible construction of the völva's belt in a post a few months ago.  My conclusion is that the belt was made of a substance that today is called "tinder fungus" or amadou, which is a type of fungus that when dried is excellent for starting controlled fires and which can be treated to be sufficiently durable for clothing.  It has been pointed out that strips of the fungus may merely have hung from an ordinary belt, but it seems to me that that might not have been unusual enough to merit mention by the saga author.  Moreover, amadou could have been fashioned into an actual belt, and small pieces of such a belt could be cut, from time to time, for tinder.  Such economy of use seems very characteristic of the Vikings to me.  Thus, I am still inclined to fashion a belt from a strip of heavy felt.

Drawstring pouch
...a large skin pouch...  I have a large suede drawstring pouch not unlike the Oseberg pouch in shape.  Because of where I stood to take the picture (see left), it looks smaller than it is.  It is approximately 5.5 inches (14 cm) by 8 inches (24 cm) long, which judging from what I know of surviving finds would be "large" in a Viking era context.  Note too that the Viking age pouches that fasten with a flap tend to be associated with men.  Although the evidence I've seen is very tenuous, drawstring pouches seem to have an association with women's magic-making equipment (see Fugelsang, p. 22, and the Oseberg pouch itself).

...shaggy calfskin shoes with long thongs and large knobs on the ends of those...  The pictured shoes are actually Minnetonka brand moccasins; they were the first shoes I bought to wear with my Viking garb.  Minnetonka is an American shoe manufacturer that sells many styles of shoes based more or less on traditional American Indian footwear. With the tell-tale metal "conchos" removed from each shoe, this pair of mocassins look somewhat like a certain style of Viking era low boot or high shoe. (I say "somewhat", because they are obviously not made with turnshoe-style construction; the stitching that fastens the upper to the part containing the sole is external and plainly visible as this photograph shows.) However, my planned costume is more of a "costume" than a historical recreation, so I plan to engage in a costume-style trick to address the shoe issue.  I plan to sew a high cuff from shaggy fake fur, replace the tie thongs with much longer ones, slide the cuffs onto my legs over the tops of the shoes as though they were leg-warmers, and secure the cuffs in place by wrapping the tie-thongs of the shoes around them, adding large brass beads to the ends of the thongs to give the moccasins a plausible resemblance to the saga description.
My "Viking" moccasins 

Probably the völva wore her shoes with some kind of stockings.  I can use modern wool stockings or my hand-sewn linen stockings for the purpose, since they will not show when the costume is worn.

...on her hands catskin gloves, and they were white inside and shaggy...  As I discussed in an earlier blog post, existing finds of winter handwear from Viking age Scandinavia all consist of mittens, not the multi-finger-compartment hand garments we now call "gloves." The fact that these hand coverings were lined with "shaggy" fur tends to confirm that they were mittens, since it would be much less difficult to line a mitten with shaggy fur than to line a glove with shaggy fur.  If I can obtain suitable some lambskin or other thin leather cheaply enough, I will make a pair of mittens from it and line, or at least partially line, them with tissavel.  Alternatively, if I can find a suitable pair of leather mittens as a thrift store or EBay find, I will use those, possibly adding a partial lining (i.e. at the wrist) of tissavel to stand in for "shaggy" fur.

If I am lucky, I can assemble the components of this costume that I don't already have in time for HSF #10--Art! Wish me luck.

EDIT:  (4/3/2014)  It occurs to me that I could sew beads (possibly even gemstone beads) along the front edges of the cloak.  This may not be what the saga composer had in mind when talking about "stones set all in the flap above" but it would contribute to the exotic effect, if nothing more.  Semiprecious stones (carnelian or rock crystal) would be period and impressive but expensive; red glass would be as showy, and cheaper.  I'll need to think about this idea some more.


Image of King Cnut and Queen Emma presenting a cross to Hyde Abbey, from an illuminated manuscript, Liber Vitae, 1031, Stowe Ms 944, folio 6, The British Library.  This version scanned in from Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England, William S. Konecky Assoc. (2000), and made available on Wikimedia Commons.

Ewing, Thor.  "‘í litklæðum’ – Coloured Clothes in Medieval Scandinavian Literature and Archaeology."  Published on the author's eponymous website at    Last accessed on March 22, 2014.
Fugelsang, Signe Horn.  "Viking and Medieval Amulets in Scandinavia."  Fornvannen, vol. 84, pp. 15-27 (1989).

Lucas, Rebecca.  "Three Icelandic Mittens."  Published on the author's website at  Last accessed on January 21, 2014.

Mould, Quita, Carlisle, Ian & Cameron, Esther.  Leather and Leather-Working in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. pp. Council for British Archaeology (May 2004).

National Museum of Denmark.  "The Grave from Mammen--The Costume."  Published on the museum's website at Last accessed on January 21, 2014.

Perabo, Lyonel D. "The Image of Seiðr in Old Icelandic Literature: Consistency or Variation?"  Available on and last accessed on March 21, 2014.

Raymond, Catherine.  Loose Threads:  Yet Another Costuming Blog.
    "The 'Touchwood' Belt," published December 25, 2013 at

    "Viking Pouches?",  published September 4, 2013 at

     "A Little Detour into Glove History,"  published March 23, 2013 at

      "More Semicircular Cloaks," published November 24, 2009 at

     "In search of semicircular cloaks, published October 24, 2009 at

Walton, Penelope. Dyes and Wools in Iron Age Textiles from Norway and Denmark. Journal of Danish Archaeology, vol. 7, pp. 144-158 (1988).

Ward, Christie.  "Women and Magic in the Sagas: Seiðr and Spá." Published on the author's website, The Viking Answer Lady, at  Last accessed on January 22, 2014.

Ward, Christie, "Viking Age Fire-Steels and Strike-A-Lights."  Published on the author's website, The Viking Answer Lady, at Last accessed on January 21, 2014.

Wikipedia.  Article on Fomes fomentarius.  Last accessed on January 21, 2014.

Wood, Jacqui.  "The Orkney Hood:  An Ancient Re-Cycled Textile."  Published on Saveock Water Archaeology at and available as of January 21, 2014.

*  Uncredited photographs shown with this post were taken by me.  Single-starred images are from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

HSF Challenges: An Update

Because I have fallen behind on the Historical Sew Fortnightly ("HSF") Costuming Challenges, I am rethinking which projects I will do for which challenges.  I've also had some new ideas for a few of them:

# 8:  UFOs and PHSs--due Thursday, May 1.  Hopefully I will be able to complete my red Hedeby apron dress for this one, though I will be out of town on May 1.

# 9:  Black and White--due Thursday, May 15.  This is when I'd like to complete my wool shift, if not before.

#15:  The Great Outdoors--due Friday August 15.  I'm kind of phobic about exposing my historical clothing to hard wear.  So maybe the thing to do is start small--with a pair of sewn stockings!  Here I'd want to use wool, and wash them so they both shrink some AND become felted.  Some of the blue flannel I bought for my (formerly) Birka overtunic would work very well for this.

#24:  All That Glitters--due Thursday, January 1, 2015.  I had an inspiration that doesn't require me to learn brocaded tablet-weaving during what promises to be a very busy year!  I can simply make a beaded necklace that goes with the Roman earrings I am making for Challenge # 7.  It should be easy to find rose-gold-filled beads and pink gold pearls, and the results will be pretty, shiny, and wearable with modern clothes as well.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Bog Blouse

Egtved Girl's costume*
Borum Eshøj woman's costume*
I just realized that, due to my new employment, I have already missed the deadline for Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #4, the "Under it All" challenge for which I intended to make the wool shift.   Since there are other challenges that the shift will fit into, I will make it anyway, but for now instead of starting it, I should be doing Challenge #5, the "Bodice" challenge, which is due March 15.  Fortunately, my planned project for this challenge is not only simple, but requires so little sewing that it should be quick to complete also.

For the bodice challenge, I plan to make what I'm calling a "bog blouse"; the kind of elbow-length blouse found in the Egtved Girl's grave and other Bronze Age bog finds.  The challenge calls for making a "bodice," and this type of garment is as close to a separate bodice as one gets in European costume history before about 1500 C.E. or so.

The "pattern" is very simple.  All you need is a rectangular piece of fabric.  You make two cuts in the sides, each about equal to the distance between the desired armpit location and the desired sleeve end.  Fold down the top portion of the rectangle to make the sleeves, and cut a suitably-sized slit for the head.  Fold the two flaps created by the cuts toward each other, and seam together for the body of the blouse.  Hem and finish the seams as necessary for your chosen fabric, and it's done! This woman made a blouse based upon the same pattern for an HSF challenge in 2013.

The original blouses of this type were made from wool, but given the poor survival rate of linen in Scandinavian soils, archaeological finds of flaxseed as early as 100 C.E., and recent evidence indicating that linen, hemp and nettle apparently were used to make fabric and clothing earlier and more commonly in Scandinavia than was previously supposed, it did not seem too speculative to make such a blouse from linen. When I got the idea for this project, I had about $13 USD worth of credit at, the web store where I buy most of my linen for Early Period projects.  So I used my credit to obtain a meter of medium-weight linen fabric in a brownish-gray color the seller calls "natural".  A photograph of the fabric appears on the right-hand side toward the bottom of this post.

My fabric (photo by me)
Undyed linen can be different, pale colors ranging from light brown or yellow to gray depending on how it is processed.  The "natural" linen I purchased was shown as a light reddish brown on the website, but looks more gray in reality, which in my opinion makes it truer to the place and period of my costume.  I don't plan to try to copy the Egtved girl's skirt; instead, I will wear a long wool plaid fabric skirt that I made  long time ago which is based on the Borum Eshøj and Huldremose finds. The Borum Eshøj find consists of several graves, one of which is a woman, estimated to have been in her mid-40s, who was wearing a complete blouse and a long wool skirt. There is no blouse in the Huldremose find, but the National Museum of Denmark's page on the Huldremose woman indicates that linen fibers were found close to her body, suggesting that she might actually have been wearing a blouse or shift made from linen next to her skin that has almost completely vanished with decay.

After I complete the blouse, I will try it on with the skirt and post photographs and relevant construction details.  Eventually, I hope to have a sprang hairnet to wear with it also.

EDIT:  3/19/2014  Revised the first paragraph to say what I meant it to say originally (I haven't even gotten to cutting into the wool for the shift, so far).

*All images from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise credited.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Washing the White Wool

Today, I washed the white wool fabric that I am going to use for my Vendel period shift.  I washed it in the washing machine, on cold water on the "delicate" (<i>i.e.</i>, slowest agitator setting).  Now it is hanging as best as I could manage in my basement to dry.

The fabric feels nearly dry to the touch already, and does not seem to have shrunk noticeably in size. Unfortunately, due to the geography and condition of my basement, I cannot stretch the fabric out fully to dry, so I will probably have to iron it when it is nearly dry to smooth it out for cutting my shift.  But so far the experiment seems to have been a success.  It would be great if the washing also has the effect of making the fabric less itchy against my skin; I'll find that out as I progress.

EDIT:  (3/3/2014)  After I wrote my post, I got a brainstorm.  I set up the ironing board and spread the fabric out carefully across it.  As a result, it is now quite dry and also almost as smooth as if I *had* ironed it.   I haven't made any measurements, but I don't detect any significant shrinkage and although the fabric feels a bit thicker, the weave is still visible. Success!  Next, I have to find a few moments to cut my pattern pieces out; then, I'll be able to work on the stitching whenever I have a spare moment.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Paperback Edition of Glaesel Book

A few years ago, Nille Glaesel, who makes Viking age clothing reconstructions for the Lofoten Museum in Norway, published a substantial hardcover book about her clothing research and clothing construction methods that is beautifully illustrated with many full-color photographs of her work and was accompanied by copies of the patterns she has developed.  Unfortunately for me, the book was, and is, very expensive (over $100 USD a copy on Amazon, and significantly more if you need to obtain a copy on the used book market).

Now, Ms. Glaesel has published a paperback, English-language version of her book. Amazon is selling it here for a bit under $50 USD, and other big book stores appear to be selling it for about the same price--a price that's significantly less than her hardcover edition. Amazon includes a "look inside" preview of the book. I saw the hardcover original, once, and the new paperback edition seems to have a slightly different organization but covers much the same material. Moreover, at $50 I might be able to afford, and willing to buy, it soon. I have heard a lot about people's reactions to the hardcover edition, and would like to have the paperback for my library, if only to gain a better understanding of the choices she made in her reconstructions--and perhaps of her reasons for making them.

Those of my readers interested in at least seeing what Ms. Glaesel's reproductions look like before they decide whether to purchase her book can check out pictures of them for free at her blog, Vikingdrakt.

EDIT: (2/25/2014) I'm editing this to answer Krin's question, because for some reason I can't post a comment (even though I successfully did so as recently as yesterday). Originally, I screwed up the link to where Amazon is selling the book. I've fixed it now; please let me know if it still fails to work.

The title of the book is kind of odd, which is why I didn't cite it in the post originally. The current volume is titled "Viking: Dress Clothing Garment" (or "Viking Dress Garment Clothing" if you go by the actual front cover of the book instead of what Amazon is calling it). If you want to track it down you're probably better off going by the ISBN. ISBN-10: 1494475227; ISBN-13: 978-1494475222. By the way, don't expect the book to contain a lot of research. My look at the hardcover version suggests that it's mostly interested in showing pictures and giving directions to make Viking clothing according to her ideas--she doesn't really discuss sources. Still, I'm hoping to get at least a general idea about the reasons for her choices.

The Wool Shift

Wool fabric for my shift
My new job is turning out to be sufficiently time-consuming and exhausting that I may not get to start, let alone finish, my pink sprang net by March 1. However, I do intend to make such a project, and write about it, whether or not I manage to finish it for an HSF challenge.

In the meantime,. I'm going to tee up the next HSF project.  My project for the fourth HSF challenge "Under It All" will be a white wool "shift" to wear as the basic layer for my planned Vendel costume and, hopefully, to also serve as the basic layer for my proposed recreation of the völva's costume from the Saga of Eric the Red (Challenge #6).  

There is nothing elaborate about this proposed garment.  It will be a simple, long tunic, with a keyhole neckline and sleeves down to the wrists, probably ankle or instep length.   The pattern will be much like Cynthia Virtue's pattern for medieval tunics, but with fewer gores.   I will use a similar seam treatment to the one I chose for my himation, which works even better on wool; I may also sew the seam allowances down since, in theory, this garment is to be worn next to my body.  A photograph of the chosen fabric appears to the left.   The actual color is lighter--a much paler, warm cream color than that shown here, but in the same general color range.

The only decision I need to make before cutting is whether I prewash the fabric first.  I customarily prewash fabric for garments I expect to clean by throwing them in the washing machine, but I wear my wool garments so seldom (and so carefully) that I do not need to wash them; I air, or spot-clean, or (very rarely) take them to a dry cleaner.  

I don't recall how much of the white wool I purchased.  From eyeballing the fabric, I seem to have about 2 1/2 yards; just barely enough for an ankle or instep length garment, but only if there is no fabric shrinkage, or very little fabric shrinkage.  As I see it, there are three different ways I can proceed:

1.   Do not prewash the fabric, and resign myself to minimal cleaning/dry cleaning of a white garment, for as long as I have it.
2.   Prewash and dry the fabric exactly the way I treat most other washable garments, namely, wash in cold water and then put it in the dryer until dry.  This works fine for linen and cotton, but would probably result in major felting and shrinkage of wool.  (My ancient dryer has two primary settings; air tumble forever without drying anything, and hot).
3.   Prewash the fabric in cold water, but hang it up to dry--and prepare myself to do this with the finished garment.  This may or may not prevent felting (and I'm not terribly worried if the fabric does felt somewhat), but should eliminate the majority of the shrinkage.

Listing the arguments like this makes the correct choice obvious, in my opinion.  I will prewash the fabric in cold water (on the "delicate" setting) and let it dry on its own, even though I'm still a bit nervous about washing "regular" wool.  I'll just have to see how that works out.