Thursday, November 12, 2015

HSM #9--The Lined, Wrapped Apron Dress Complete

Bottom corner, from the inside
Front view
Although it has taken me an additional month just to get the silk strip and loops sewn onto to the top of my lined, wrapped apron dress, the dress is finally complete. Here it is!  I have included close-ups of the corners and of the top edge both from the right side and wrong side, despite my less than stellar hand work, for those of my readers who want a better idea of exactly how it was made.  (I hope to replace the shots of me wearing the dress with clearer ones shortly.)

I realized, in the end, that I do not have enough information about the Grave 464 find that inspired this project to know exactly how the lining might have been  secured, or even whether the entire dress was lined (though I think this was likely, if the dress truly was a wrapped-sheet type of dress). So I proceeded in a manner that would solidly fasten the wool and linen together without leaving raw edges, and covered the raw edge of the wool at the top with a pieced strip of my silk. The result gives the general idea of what a lined wrapped apron dress would be like in wear, but hardly qualifies even as an attempt to make a dress that is consistent with the fragments in Birka Grave 464.  

So here is how I made the dress.  

Small loop, from the inside
First, I laid the linen on top of the wool, wrong sides together, matching the fabric edge to edge as best I could. That meant matching the selvages on one side, and cutting a strip off of the other side, partly to attempt to (roughly) even out the differences in the fabric size, and partly to obtain a strip of fabric from which to make the loops.  Wool apron dresses with linen loops are common at Birka, but I had less of the linen than I did of the wool, so I didn't wish to cut the linen.  (If my piece of wool had been small enough that I wanted to avoid cutting it as well, I would have used scraps of linen from my stash for the loops, but I like having matching wool loops better, and at least one period apron dress find has matching or mostly matching loops.)  The top was chosen so that the longer side would wrap around me; in other words, the fabric was aligned so that the dress would be about 36 inches long from top to bottom.

Next, I folded the top corner diagonally on the top and side to square it off (see picture), double folded the wool over the linen to enclose any raw edge, and stitched the two together using a whipstitch.  I continued this process along the bottom and other side, folding the corners but not cutting them (see pictures) as is common with modern mitering technique.

Finally, I cut two pieces of my silk, each about 3 1/2 inches wide and stitched them together end-to-end to make a strip long enough to cover the entire top edge of the dress. I folded all four sides of the strip to hide the raw edges.

And that is where I ran into a problem.

Because the linen and wool pieces aren't quite the same size, I had to figure out how to stitch the silk onto the top of the dress without (1) allowing any of the raw edge of the linen to show, and; (2) without having the line of the silk across the front of the dress look crooked or uneven.

What I ended up doing was a three-step process. First, I whip stitched the folded edge of the silk onto the linen lining, about 1 cm beneath the top edge of the linen.  Then I whip stitched the top edge of the linen to the wool, as close to the top edge of the wool as possible.  Finally, I folded the rest of the silk strip forward, over the top edge of the wool (with the raw edge of the silk tucked underneath) and stitched the silk onto the front of the dress, adjusting the visible width of the strip as necessary.

Left side view
Right side view
The most obvious difference between this dress and my wrapped, unlined, linen apron dresses, is that this dress is noticeably heavier than the other apron dresses I've made, except maybe for the Hedeby-style dress I made from heavy cotton denim. It's surprisingly warm and it hangs well--even better than my pure linen apron dresses.  Moreover, the way the dress wraps across the front conceals the fact that the line of the silk trim is (still, despite adjusting) uneven.  The unevenness in the hem caused by the fact that this is a wrapped garment shows, very slightly, at the bottom center, but is less conspicuous than with the wrapped linen apron dresses I have made.

Overall, I'm happy with the way the dress came out. Though I don't have enough information to guess how close I might have come to the way such a garment could have been made during the Viking period, let alone how the garment in Birka Grave 464 really was made, the project shows that a lined apron dress would have been wearable and comfortable.   As to whether one considers it attractive, it's not particularly sexy to modern eyes, but it has a clean dignity to it that is reminiscent at least some of the Viking images of women.

HSM Challenge #9--Color Challenge Brown

Fabric A yard of very dark brown mid-weight wool, about 58 inches wide; a yard of cream-colored mid-weight linen, about 57 inches wide; and strips cut from a quarter-yard of silk taffeta.  The silk I had previously bought for another project, but the wool and linen were newly acquired.  

Pattern:  None needed.  The dress is based upon Agnes Geijer's theory that at least some apron dresses may have just consisted of a flat piece of fabric with loops sewn to the top edge that is wrapped around the body and fastened with pins.  (Perhaps older women wore wrapped apron dresses while younger women wore more fitted ones resembling reenactors' dresses based upon the Hedeby find?)  To the extent my limited information about the fragments found in Grave 464 at Birka, I tried to make the finished garment consistent with that information.    

Year:  The Viking age.  I think Grave 464 is one of the earlier Birka finds (9th century C.E.) though I'm not certain of that, and I don't know the extent to which anyone has attempted to date the finds in that particular grave.

Notions:   Dark brown, 100% silk Gutermann thread for stitching the wool and linen together along the sides, and some dark red 100% silk Gutermann thread for stitching the silk band in place.   Both were from my stash.

How historically accurate is it?   Not as accurate as I'd like it to be.  I don't really know whether the silk was folded at its outside edges where it attaches to the wool.  I suspect, though, that the silk actually found in Grave 464 was heavier and less prone to raveling than mine, and thus would not have required the foldovers on the edges of the silk that I needed to make on my silk.  Also, my wool and linen fabric pieces were slightly different in size and I didn't want to cut into the wool (which was the larger of the two) very much because I wanted to make sure there would be enough width that the dress would wrap around me comfortably.  As a result, in some places the linen and wool do not meet at the top, so the silk strip covers both but doesn't enclose them at the fold the way the original apparently did.  Because of this, I had to stitch the wool and linen together *before* folding the silk over both, and I know of no evidence that that was done on the original.   In addition, I don't know whether the corners of the dress were mitered in the modern fashion or only folded over to square them up, and I used silk thread, while the original was probably sewn with linen or wool.   So I don't rate the historical accuracy higher than about 50%, at best.

Hours to completeI didn't keep track very closely, but I think about 6-7 hours, spread over several non-consecutive days.

First worn:  To determine the correct placement for the loops.  When making an apron dress, I typically pin all the loops to the top of the dress with safety pins and try the dress on to determine whether the placement is appropriate before stitching them in place, and that's what I did here as well. The first real wearing was for the photographs accompanying this post.

Total cost About $45.00 USD (not counting the cost of the spandex-containing linen I'd bought to use for the project originally and had to replace).    

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why Knowledge of Historical Clothing Matters

While searching the Internet for articles on textiles and archaeology, I found a very interesting article on from late 2011.

The article claims that a clothing detail discovered via archaeological textile remains answered, at least in general terms, the question of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (a number of early manuscripts, some of which are copies of portions of the Bible.  

According to the article, it turns out that approximately 200 textile fragments were also found in the Qumran caves in Israel, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.   Study of the fragments indicates that at least some of the fragments were originally part of items of clothing.

All of the fragments were plain, undecorated, undyed (and in some cases bleached) linen.  That is unusual because, during the era to which the finds are dated (between the 3rd century BCE and 70 CE) most clothing in what is now Israel was made from wool, not linen, and similar textile finds from the same region and period were often dyed in bright colors or otherwise decorated.

The archaeological team believes that the proximity of so much linen near the scrolls themselves indicate that the scrolls were produced by the Essenes, an order of monks who lived near the caves. Literary evidence indicates that the Essenes believed in cleanliness, dressed in white, and preferred to keep their skin dry, all of which suggest that they wore linen.

Unsurprisingly, some scholars disagree with this theory about where the linen fragments came from. However, whether the Essene origin of the linen, and the scrolls, is correct, the research indicates that clothing evidence is important.  Evidence of what was historically worn by a people is important, not simply to show how people lived in the past, but to confirm or refute evidence as to what people lived in a certain place, or did certain things--such as writing the Dead Sea Scrolls.   It is part of the physical evidence that allows us check and confirm our understanding of history.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Tale of Two Reconstructions

Yesterday I found a fascinating article that (for once) for once, has nothing to do with Viking age or other early period clothing.  The citation of the article is:
Davidson, Hilary & Hodson, Anna.  Joining forces: the intersection of two replica garments, in Textiles and Text:  Re-establishing the Links between Archival and Object-based Research (Archetype Publications 2007), pp. 204-210.  
When I went back to post a link to the article, the PDF was no longer available, but interested readers may well be able to obtain the article by inter-library loan. The book is available expensively from the publisher and there are a few inexpensive used copies listed on; it may be available from other sources as well.

The article describes the authors' experience with two different replicas of Early Modern clothing. One author made a "pair of bodys" (a corset-like garment) based on instructions in Juan Alcega's Tailor's Pattern Book of 1589, using period techniques and materials, while the other made a toile based upon a surviving early 17th century blackwork jacket, sewn by machine using modern materials. Later, they placed the garments on a mannequin, with the jacket toile over the bodice. To the authors' surprise, this conjunction of the two "replicas" (I'm using quotes because the toile is not a replica in the ordinary sense) was more enlightening about the cut and fit of the garments than either replica had been alone. Ms. Davidson and Ms. Hodson note that the bodice and jacket, when shown in the positions in which they would have been worn show that both garments have the same back waist length "and exactly reflects the proportionate back-waist lengths shown in sculptures" which was not clear from examining the jacket alone. (p. 208). The conjunction of the two garments also showed that the unusual neckline of the jacket made sense when it was worn over the bodice:
The top edge of the bodice threw into relief the natural meeting point of the two curved front sections. This was not evident when the jacket lay flat or when tried on a mannequin or model without a period undergarment. The apex of the curve matches the top of the bodice, after which the two front sections meet smoothly down the centre front. (p. 208)
Even more interestingly, the two garments together fit four different women of different proportions surprisingly well:
It has so far been worn by four women, and a mannequin, of different heights and proportions. Providing the back edges were laced fully closed, the bodice consistently achieved the required cone shape, as it gives structure independent of the natural shape of the body underneath. The busk creates a straight line from the waist to the bust that disregards the body’s curves. This refashioning provides a basic uniformity of shape and structure that can be exploited by external garments, like the jacket. On the same range of wearers, tested after realising this material relationship, the toile alone was ill-fitting and shapeless by comparison with the universal fit it achieved when relying on the bodice’s body-regulating framework. (p. 208)
I highly recommend this article to any of my readers not familiar with it, particularly readers interested in Early Modern costume. It is a marvelous illustration of the importance of undergarments in achieving period fit, as well as a powerful argument that recreations of garments that are sufficiently exact can, in and of themselves, provide researchers with much of the context they need to understand how the garments had to have been used.

Monday, September 28, 2015

HSM #9--A Progress Report

I spent this past weekend at the home of friends in Maryland, just hanging out, and managed to complete much of the work on my lined, wrapped apron dress.  All that I need to complete is sewing the silk strip across the top and adding the loops.  The prospects for completing it before Wednesday (the end of the month) are very good indeed.

EDIT (10/1/2015):  The prospects for completing the dress by the end of September were good, but not good enough.  I should have it done within the next few days, though.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Bartholomaeuskirche Finds

Today, I would like to discuss grave finds that I expect will interest Suvia, whose primary area of costuming research is the Merovingian period.

In 1992, an early medieval burial consisting of the remains of two young children, one cremated, one not, was found beneath Bartholomaeuskirche. Bartholomaeuskirche translates (so I understand) as "St. Bartholomew's Church", and it is the cathedral in Frankfurt, Germany (and is also referred to as Frankfurt Cathedral). The Bartholomaeuskirche find has recently come back into the news because an analysis of the finds has finally been published. The book, written in German, can be purchased for 34,95 Euros here, and its existence is making me think about resuming my efforts to learn German. For now, I will have to be content with the news article on the Archaeology News Network ("ANN") site, which may be read here.

According to the ANN article, the find consists of the remains of two children, each about four years old at the time of death.  The remains of both were found in a single coffin.  One wore gold and jewels in the Merovingian style, while the other, who had been cremated, had been wrapped in a bearskin and was found with animal teeth, supposedly as was part of pagan traditions from Scandinavia at that time.  The archaeologists have dated the grave to between 700 and 730 CE-- the early 8th century.  The burial place was originally a priest's residence near what was then a very tiny church.

The "mystery" referred to in the article's headline is the fact that we do not know who the children may have been, let alone why they were buried so closely together.  The article reports the surmise that they may have been a boy and a girl promised to each other in marriage for some reason.  Even more frustrating is the fact, reported in the article, that Frankfurt does not have many surviving textile or metal material culture remains from the 8th century, so life in the city itself at that time is its own mystery.

What frustrates me about the article--and makes me want to see the book published about the finds--is the fact that there were clearly surviving textiles associated with the Merovingian girl.  The ANN article states:
Fine clothing found on the girl's body, including a tunic and shawl, and jewellery made of gold, silver, bronze and precious stones – including ear and finger rings, armbands, a necklace and brooches – are clear indicators of her high status.
The article includes some wonderful photographs of the gold jewelry, including several rings and a necklace with multiple pendants.  But there are no photographs of the clothing, and not even any indication whether the clothing survives mostly intact, let alone what materials it was made from or any details of how it was made.

Anyway, if anyone purchases the book, or has other information about this find, please let Suvia know, and let me know what you've learned in the comments!

Anna Zariņa's Legacy

From Balticsmith's post on the Facebook group Viking Era Textiles and Fiber Arts, I learned tonight that archaeologist and costume historian Anna Zariņa passed away earlier this year.

I knew that Professor Zariņa was the authority on early Latvian costume, but Balticsmith's post includes a short obituary/biography that underscores the impressiveness of her achievements.  She was born into a farming family.  Her original degrees were in agriculture and home economics, but while she was at university she was exposed to Latvian folk costume and began to study it. Eventually, she learned archaeological field methods and began expanding her research into Latvian prehistory, as far back as the Bronze Age.

In short, if you know anything at all about Latvian costume, chances are you are recalling something Professor Zariņa wrote, or a summary of something Professor Zariņa wrote that was written by someone else.

Balticsmith's post includes a link to a PDF copy of a book by Professor Zariņa whose title means, in English, "Garments in Latvia from the 7th to 17th Centuries." That book can be downloaded from here.  It is written in Latvian, with a German language summary, but it is well-enough illustrated that it should be of use, and of interest, to costume scholars who don't read Latvian.  I am passing the link on in the hope that it will be of use to researchers interested in clothing of the Baltic countries.  Professor Zariņa's legacy is the knowledge she researched and published, and I can think of no better way to honor her than to use and spread that knowledge.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Good Early Period Links

Even though I'm still dealing with more personal, professional, and household problems than doing costuming, I continue to trawl the Internet in my spare time for interesting information on historical costume (particularly Viking costume).  Recently, I've found some links that I'd like to share.

SCA member Álfrún ketta has a lot of good information on her blog, A Wandering Elf's Journey. Like me, she writes about early period clothing and books that address it. In particular, I recommend the following articles from her blog:
  • Viking Textiles: A Deeper Look at Plaids, Stripes, and Checks. A summation of textile finds from the Viking age that are plaid, striped, or checked, with lots of pictures. The big news, other than how few of them there seem to be, is that the plaids, stripes and checks tend to be very subtle.
  • Viking Embellishment and Embroidery. A three-article series on how the Vikings ornamented their clothes. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here. All three are illustrated with excellent photographs of existing finds.
I have also found some interesting early period studies on 
Finally, I found a paper that Nille Glaesel wrote about her reconstruction of the Køstrup apron dress. She reaches some interesting conclusions, based upon her knowledge of use of the warp-weighted loom and her own reading of Hilde Thunem's paper about that dress.   I can't find the place I've downloaded it from; when I do, I'll post the link here.  I also intend to blog about my thoughts on Ms. Glaesel's paper soon. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Fabric Has Arrived!

From top to bottom; binding, dress, lining
The fabric that has arrived are the two fabrics I needed for my lined wrapped apron dress:  the chocolate brown wool and the (replacement) off-white mid-weight linen.  It's late, and I'm not up to adding the necessary photographs to show the wonderfulness of the combination of fabrics that I'm planning right now, but I should be able to get to that in a day or two.
Good view of the wool's weave but the color is off.
EDIT (9/1/2015): Here are a few quick pictures of the three fabrics I've obtained for the project: the wool for the outer layer of the apron dress, the linen for the lining, and the red silk for the top trim/binding.  

The wool is a mid-weight wool with a slightly napped finish, and the linen is's best-selling middle-weight linen in an off-white color.  I bought the red silk several years ago.  It doesn't show up as well in the photographs, but it's a taffeta weave and supposedly is 100% silk in fiber content. The top photograph gives the best rendition of the colors of the fabrics and the best view of the linen's weave, and the bottom one best shows the weave of the wool.  Both pictures should be clickable for a better detail view.

Now I have suitable fabrics for the project!  Hopefully the construction will also go well.