Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Oldest Surviving Roman Body Armor

A recent article from Archaeology in Europe News reports on the find of a nearly complete set of Roman body armor found in the Teutoberg Forest in Germany.  This forest was the site of a disastrous Roman loss to German forces in 9 CE.  Archaeology In Europe News links to the original article from The History Blog, which can be viewed, complete with pictures, and read here.

The armor in question is of the type called a lorica segmentata--a set of largish iron plates shaped to fit around the body and laced together.  The armor was found by metal detector scan during an excavation in the summer of 2018.  Unsure exactly what the item was and knowing only that it contained a lot of metal, the entire block of soil containing the find was dug up whole and shipped to the Münster Osnabrück International Airport, which was the only nearby facility with an X-ray machine large enough to fit the soil block into.  The resulting X-ray revealed only a series of nails, which likely fastened a wooden crate large enough to hold the metal object, but did not penetrate the soil block.  The find was transferred to the Fraunhofer Institute in Fürth, which has a large CT scanner, and only after the CT scan did it become clear what the find actually was, and how it had to be excavated. 

The armor was collapsed and crushed together by the weight of the soil pressing upon it for two millennia. Despite that fact, and despite the extreme corrosion of the metal itself, the armor is surprisingly well preserved, complete with "hinges, buckles, bronze bosses and even extremely rare surviving pieces of the leather ties."  Plates from the shoulder and chest that were not in the original soil block have also been recovered.  There were no arm plates, which has been attributed to the design of this early piece.  Restoration of the armor is currently ongoing.

The find also contains an iron collar connected to a pair of handcuffs.  This item, also called in modern times a shrew's fiddle or a neck violin, was used on slaves and other captives; it indicates that the legionary who wore the armor had been captured, probably after the Teutoberg Forest battle.  

I love learning about finds like this, because it confirms that we have not learned all there is to know about the past. Archaeology continually uncovers artifacts like this one, which extend our knowledge of history.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Bit of Nalbinding, and a Status

I have done nothing relating to costuming this month.  Mostly that's because I've undertaken a temporary job, working for the US Census Bureau.  It has left me with zero time and energy to do anything extra.

But I did find a video that mentions an insole with nalbinding on it.  The video is by the Medeltidmuseet in Stockholm, and as you might expect, it is in Swedish.  However, it gives a look at a leather sole with a bit of nalbinding along one edge.  This find is dated to 1300-1400 CE.  The link can be found on the Nalbound blog, here, which is in English and gives a bit of perspective on the find.  (Kudos to Anne Marie Decker, who writes the Nalbound blog.)

Was this bit of nalbinding part of an insole?  Or is this evidence of a nalbinded sock with a leather sole attached?  The blogger at the Nalbound blog thinks it's an insole because the "row [of nalbinding] appears to follow the edge of the leather sole. That direction under and along the arch does not match the row direction that I see in contemporaneous nalbound socks."  It's an interesting look into a different way that nalbinding might have been used during the medieval period.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Maori Textile

Bearded Man in a kākahu (by Albert
Percy Godber, Wikimedia Commons) 
The EXARC site ( has created a new subpage dedicated to articles about historical and archaeological textiles.  You can find that page on the EXARC site, here.  

One of the recent featured articles is about a recreation of a Maori ornamental band.  It looks superficially like a tablet-woven band, but is actually worked in a technique called tāniko, which does not use tablets at all.  Instead it is a kind of weft-twining, where strands are twined or twisted around warp threads--more like sprang, or a basket making technique than like the weaving with which most of us are familiar.  Tāniko was used to make the ornamental band that edged a kākahu, a special cloak made for people of high rank.  The photograph that appears with this post shows a man wearing a kākahu, though not the one in Stockholm.

The band discussed in the EXARC article is from a cloak known as the Stockholm cloak, from the location of the museum that now houses it--the Ethnographical Museum of Sweden.  The cloak was collected during Captain James Cook's first visit to Aotearoa, the "big island" of New Zealand, in 1769 and thus is over 200 years old. The article about the Maori band can be found here, and some useful information about textile crafts in New Zealand can be found in the on line Encyclopedia of New Zealand, here

During the Migration Period, Scandinavians used tablet weaving to create borders for the cloaks of their chieftains; the Hogom textile was such a garment.  And although the weft-twined band on the Stockholm cloak was made by a different technique, it features a geometric pattern (see pictures in the EXARC article) that any early European chief would have appreciated.  People are people, and they enjoy badges of honor in the form of expensive and unusual clothing, no matter where they are from.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

An Inspiring Needle

Back in April, I reviewed two books by ChronoCopia Publishing:  A Handbook of Men's Clothing and Handbook of the 15th Century and A Handbook of Women's Clothing of the 15th Century.  Daniel Serra of ChronoCopia Publishing also asked me to review the following book about nålbinding:

Pasanen, Mervi.  With One Needle:  How to Nålbind. (ChronoCopia Publishing AB 2019).

Mervi Pasanen originally published this book in Finnish. When it came out, I lamented the fact that I wouldn't be able to read it, even if I could afford it.  With One Needle  makes that content available to English speakers, and I have been sent a free copy in order to write this review.  

I am always on the lookout for new books about nålbinding, because I have struggled for some time to learn the art, and am continuing to struggle to do so.  Though I have learned enough to nålbind an undistinguished cap for myself, I have failed several times now at making mittens or socks, and every time I take the craft up again after a hiatus, I have to re-learn the basics nearly from scratch.  So when I was asked to review With One Needle, I hoped that Mervi's book would finally help me reach the level of understanding I need to succeed at retaining basic nålbinding skills once and for all.

The first thing one notices about this book is that the production level is very high.  The paper is glossy and of good quality, the font is attractive and easily readable, and there are many clear and beautiful color photographs.  The cover photograph shown above gives a good idea of how much artistry was devoted to the photographs in the book.

As I read the book, I tried to look at it in terms of how it would be viewed by a total novice to nålbinding, which was not difficult since I'm not that far from being a novice anyway.  And although Mervi's book includes a tutorial for several different nålbinding starts, it's not really the best source available for teaching people who are new to the art how to begin nålbinding. Why?  Largely because there are not enough photographs of every step of the process.  If, like me, you have trouble telling right from left when looking at an object and also have poor visualization skills, you will find that Mervi's photo essay on nålbinding starts does not give you *quite* enough information to advance your game.

But even though Mervi's book may not be the best way for a total beginner--or even a serial beginner like myself--to learn nålbinding does not mean that the book is of no value to nålbinding enthusiasts.  To the contrary, there are many useful things a discerning reader with an interest in nålbinding can take away from Mervi's book.  Here are some of my takeaways from the book:

1.     Inspiration.  With One Needle is packed with dozens of clear, full color photographs demonstrating techniques and interesting projects.  Just finishing the book made me want to get my needle out and start looking for colorful yarn to attempt one of her projects.

2.     Useful Techniques.  From Mervi's book I gleaned the realization that the same basic technique can be used to put a thumb onto a mitten or a heel on a sock.   Mervi also gives the best photographic description I have seen of how to do a Russian join, which is a technique for incorporating a new piece of yarn onto the working yarn.

3.    Helpful Facts.  When I was first exploring nålbinding, I found a photograph of an archaeological find of a thigh-length, nålbinded stocking, and I wondered how such items could be made since nålbinded works are not very stretchy compared to knits.  It turns out that you have to take a lot of precise measurements of the various parts of ankle and leg that the sock must fit and thus tailor it to the wearer.  The book also says that certain stitches are stretchier than others, and thus may be more appropriate for high socks.  Mervi also provides useful measurement and proportion information for the construction of socks in general.

4.   New Stitches.  Mervi's book contains tutorials for learning a number of different variations on Finnish stitch that I've never seen anywhere else.

5.   Expert Techniques.  Have you ever seen photographs of modern nålbinded garments that appear to have a braided edge?  This book contains directions how to do that technique as well.

In short, I recommend this book most strongly for nålbinders of intermediate level--people who have made enough garments using nålbinding that they are looking for new projects to expand their skill with the technique.  However, even for people like me who are still struggling, the book is a fun and thought-provoking read, and an inspiration to increase my skills so that I can try some of the more challenging projects in the future.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

One Afternoon Tutorials--Aprons!

Today's collection of one-afternoon projects is about aprons.

Aprons appear to have been made throughout history, and could be practical or ornamental (like the bronze ornamented one found upon the woman in the Eura grave in Viking age Finland, or the 16th-17th c. lace aprons worn in France and elsewhere in Europe).

Aprons come in a wide variety of styles and fabrics.  Work aprons can be as simple as a piece of cloth with a band sewn to the top, to tie around one's waist, but can also be full length overgarments.  There are a plethora of modern apron projects to be found on the Internet also; ruffled bib or half-aprons in cheerful colors or patters; silly "chef's aprons"; pinafore aprons for little girls; and more!  Because this is a historical blog, I have stuck to patterns/tutorials for historical designs instead of diving into the vast array of modern patterns of all types. 

Please don't assume that, because I have listed only one pattern for a period, that the pattern shows the only way aprons were made in that period!  Although I have not conducted detailed research on the subject, there appear to be a variety of different apron designs for every historical period, and no reason to believe that aprons didn't vary by region as well.

Because I am not (yet!) a reenactor and have no present need for a practical period apron, I have not tried out any of these designs (except for the Eura apron, which I did a bit differently).  As always, do your own research to ascertain whether a particular tutorial suggested here will work for you.
  • Viking Apron Dress:  Viking apron dress designs are still conjectural, but two types have a substantial amount of evidence and support; the pleated-in-the-front tube (Kostrup) and the fitted tube (Hedeby).  The tutorial featured here is from the Handcrafted History blog and is a fairly typical fitted tube kind of pattern (though not necessarily what was used at Hedeby).   We don't know if the Vikings used the apron dress as we would an apron (to protect other clothing) but we do know that some aprons (notably lace aprons--17th-18th centuries) were worn for style purposes, so I am adding an apron-dress pattern to this list.  Note:  Making such a garment might take longer than a single afternoon if you stitch it entirely by hand.
  • Eura (Finland):  Based upon an archaeological find near Eura in Finland that has been dated to about 1100 CE.  The apron appears to have been simply made of a length of cloth, belted to the body with a piece of tablet weaving, but it was clearly an ornamental garment because the bottom edges was decorated with designs crafted from small bronze coils.  Making and sewing on the coils would likely take the making of such an apron outside the range of a one-afternoon project, but finishing the apron by fringing the bottom and hemming the other edges is another possibility and would be fairly quick to do.  A diagram illustrating how archaeologists believe the Eura apron was made may be found here; the original blog site (which was used by a Finnish college student to house her thesis) is no longer live.   
  • Medieval:  Here are several different types of medieval period apron.  Edyth Miller of The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist provides instruction on a type of late medieval apron associated with midwives--it's a full body overgarment.  Edyth's tutorial is here
  • Medieval, part 2:  The second type of apron is a smocked top apron tied around the waist; you can find it in Matilda La Zouche's LiveJournal here. (Note:  If you have not done smocking before, you may wish to look for instruction on how to do smocking before you attempt this kind of apron.  Gina's Medieval Silkwork blog gives a list of smocked apron tutorials, with links, here.  She includes Matilda's tutorial, but you may wish to try some of the others, which give more detailed instruction about doing the actual smocking.)
  • German Renaissance: (15th-16th centuries)  Genoveva has a video tutorial she claims will teach you how to do a smocked apron, much like the medieval ones above, in one hour!  Find it here.
  • 18th c. work apron.  Burnley & Trowbridge have a series of three excellent clear videos demonstrating how to make a basic 18th century style work apron.  The set is in the "Sew Along" playlist; you can find the first one on YouTube here.
  • Regency:  The blog Sewing Empire features two different apron styles for the Regency period:  this one for a quick waist-length apron, and a second one for an apron with full-body coverage.  
  • Victorian:  Sew Historically has a tutorial on how to make a "pinner", an apron with a bib that pinned onto one's clothes. Find it here.
  • Edwardian:  From a blog called Cranial Hiccups comes a tutorial for a rather plain and basic, full-body apron; find it here.
  • 1920s:  Also from Cranial Hiccups comes this 1920s apron tutorial; yes, it's a period tutorial, complete with an image containing the actual period pattern!
Feel free to dive into the Internet (Pinterest is not a bad place to start) to look for other possible apron DIYs/how-tos/tutorials and patterns.  Have fun!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

One Afternoon Tutorials--For the Hands

This month's collection of tutorials consists of quickly made items that are worn on the hands or arms.  I couldn't find any jewelry items I had not featured before, but there are still a surprising number of tutorials available.  The types of items they produce include mittens, gloves, mitts (i.e., sleeveless gloves), muffs, and cuffs.

As always, I have not tried out these tutorials, unless my description expressly says otherwise.  That being said, I read the tutorials and limit the ones I include to those that appear from my experience to be workable by a reasonably experienced sewer.  Just about all of these items are for historical items belonging to 18th century European clothing, but some may be adaptable to other periods.

Now, on to the tutorials!
  • 18th century mitts.  This tutorial comes from the blog A Sartorial Statement.  It makes up a pair of 18th century mitts, which in this case are gloves made without fingers or any covering for the fingers where the shaft comes up the arm to the elbow.  They could be made from kidskin, wool, silk, lace, or almost any fabric, depending on whether the intended use is for formal dress or just to keep warm.  The Sartorial Statement's tutorial gives a technique for making mitts, more than an actual pattern; you will need to be guided by your own research to achieve the specific result you want.  For a more scientific approach that will help you make your own mitt pattern, see SewLoud's bloghere
  • 18th century muffs.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, well-off women often kept their hands warm with muffs--a kind of cushion with a tunnel through the center into which the hands would be placed.  Koshka the Cat features both a muff (base) pattern and a muff cover pattern on her blog, The Fashionable Past.   That way, one can make only one muff base and have a coordinating muff for every outfit by making an array of different muff covers.  Again, your research will be necessary to come up with suitable fabrics and patterns.
  • 17th century gloves.  This tutorial comes from Tammie Dupuis at The Renaissance Tailor,  The site has many other tutorials (she calls them "demonstrations" or "demos") as well.
  • 18th century sleeve flounces. Eighteenth century gowns, particularly formal gowns, have a kind of ruffle along the ends of the sleeves; these are known as flounces.  Not sure what I mean?  This tutorial from The Fashionable Past will clear that up for you, and show you how to make them yourself.  
  • 18th century cuffs.  Don't care for sleeve flounces?  Some 18th century gowns have pleated sleeves, and The Fashionable Past has a tutorial for those too.  You can find that tutorial here, also with helpful photographs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Lego Fashion

Lego blocks isolated on the white background

Free photo 6223582 © Tomas Valenta, Bm Association -
This post is the opposite of your normal April Fool's Day post, which usually attempts to make a hoax sound as though it's a real event.  This post is about something that sounds as though it should be a hoax, but isn't--namely, making dresses out of plastic Lego blocks.

At Comic Con back in 2016, Star Wars voice artist Ashley Eckstein wore a gown made from Legos. Pictures of Ashley wearing the Lego gown may be seen here, while workshop photos of Ashley's gown may be seen here.  The small 2 x 2 Lego blocks seem to have been preferred for the creation Ashley is wearing. 

If you think a Lego dress would be impossibly heavy to wear, think again. This CNet article describes the construction of a plain black Lego gown, made with 12,000 Lego pieces, that weighed only 7 pounds. Ordinary day wear in the late Victorian era often was much heavier.  

Finally, has a tutorial on how to make your own Lego dress. The tutorial only makes a dress with a Lego-covered panel--not a dress that is completely covered with Legos. It may still be worth looking into if you like the idea of Lego Fashion. 

Happy April Fool's Day!