Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lending A Hand

I'm writing this post to bring an interesting and odd find to the attention of anyone interested in late Medieval European clothing (esp. 15th century), because it offers an opportunity to help in a small important way, in historical costume research.

Today on, Beatrix Nutz, who is leading the research into the clothing-related archaeological finds at Lengberg Castle, posted a short note along with a picture. The note reads simply, "Help – I have a question. Has anyone seen this type of metal (iron and non-ferrous) eye-closure before? These have been found at Lengberg Castle in East Tyrol (Austria) and date to the 15th century. I am trying to find comparisons."

Although I don't usually post pictures from other sites that are not under a Creative Commons license or the like or unless I have special permission, I am reproducing Professor Nutz's photograph in the interest of amplifying the signal on her request for help.

I have never seen this type of closure in a medieval context (not that I have special expertise in that period of costume history).  It's very clearly not a hook and eye, and it doesn't really look like two "eyes" in search of a hook, to me.  Rather, it seems to be a kind of toggle (note how the loop on the item on the right is less wide but fatter in shape than the loop on the item on the left).  It appears that you would insert the "loop" on the rightward device into the "loop" on the leftward one to close your garment. 

If anyone reading this has any knowledge about other medieval finds of this type of object, please get in touch with Professor Nutz.  She is with the Archaeology Department at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Early Period Links

I'm still not ready to return to regular costume blogging, but over the past day I've found a number of fascinating Early Period links that I'd like to bring to the attention of my readers.  Most of these involve serious reproduction projects.

First of all, textile geeks and Early Period costuming buffs will want to check out Carolyn Priest-Dorman's latest post (just a day after her re-posted Viking double weave article) about her project to attempt to replicate textile specimen Jorvik 1307.  She started by spinning warp and weft yarns of  thicknesses and wool types to match the original.  I'm always humbled when I read about people taking clothing recreations to this level.

Over at The Reverend's Big Blog of Leather, I found an article by the eponymous Wayne Robinson describing how he made a pair of 6th-7th century CE Anglo-Saxon shoes he made, based on one of the Sutton Hoo finds.  Recent posts by "the Reverend" that are also shoe-related include this short post, with large, clear color pictures, about the world's oldest shoe, and this post and this post about late 16th century shoe horns.

From Irish Archaeology's website comes this recent article about an Iron Age body found in County Offaly wearing a very modern-looking leather-and-metal armband. Known as Old Croghan Man, the find is dated to between 362 BCE and 175 BCE. The article features a beautiful photograph of the armband that deserves a place on one of my Pinterest boards.

Finally, The Greenland Gown Project by Doreen M. Gunkel merits a serious look from students of early and medieval costume. She is in the process of making a replica of one of the 13th century Norse gowns discovered at Herjolfsnaes in Greenland.  She is starting by researching and searching for an appropriate breed of sheep from which to obtain suitable wool fleece to spin into yarn to use to weave fabric for the gown. Ms. Gunkel asks interested readers to register, but registration is free and gets you e-mail updates as she writes about new developments in the project. 

Happy reading!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Some Scholarship on Viking Age Weaving

At the moment, I'm kind of distracted, having lost my full-time contract job (the major source of my income) on Friday, so I'm not ready to blog about my sprang cap project, let alone start working on it.

Instead, I'd like to pass along a link of interest to Viking textile enthusiasts and weaving geeks.  My friend, Carolyn Priest-Dorman, reposted on her new blog, A String Geek's Stash, a great article from 2005 entitled "Viking Age Pick-Up Double Weaves from Sweden and Norway.  It discusses in some detail the Revsund border, the Överhogdal textiles, the Marby fragment, and the Kyrkås hanging.   Best of all (as is typical of Carolyn's work), it contains links to photographs of a number of the textiles discussed, as well as a substantial bibliography.

Although the pieces discussed in Carolyn's article probably came from wall-hangings or other non-clothing household textiles, it sheds copious light on weaving techniques that were originally believed to post-date the Viking age, and I commend it to the attention of anyone interested in Viking Age textiles.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

HSM #5--A 15th Century Cap

Right side veiw
Left side view
On Sunday, the very last day of May, I finally finished my 15th century linen cap for the May Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge.  The theme:  practicality. Tonight, I had my husband take photographs of the finished product, and they appear in  this post.

The cap was simple enough to make.  I followed Catrijn vanden Westhende's directions, including the size of the rectangle (though I cut a bit extra on the edges to allow for hemming). I used the photograph accompanying the directions to estimate the length of the tie string . So far as I could tell from the photograph, the tie string was about four times the height of the finished cap, which would be approximately 11 inches.  Four times 11 inches is 44 inches, which is close to four feet; thus, I made my string about 48 inches long, figuring that I could cut off some of the length and re-sew the end if necessary.  However, I did not use a "fine" linen as she suggests, since what I had on hand was the mid-weight linen that sells.  Instead, I made the tie string out of the linen--using the same folding and whipstitching technique I use to make Viking apron dress loops.  I don't know what Catrijn used for hers; her photograph is too small to tell.

The failure to use a crisper, stiffer linen may have been a mistake on my part.  As the photographs show (thanks again to my patient husband for taking them), my cap is rather limp.  But otherwise, the cap gives a pretty good period appearance, provided I am careful, when I fold back the cap, to make sure to fold back the top edge at least 2 inches (about 5 cm) and make sure that the back edge is fairly even and not pulled up too far in the middle by the tie string.  Even so, my flaps remain floppy, and don't form the kind of pretty pointed turnbacks that Catrijn's cap has.

It occurred to me that starching the cap might help with this issue  A quick search turned up this site, which claims that the use of laundry starch goes back to the 15th century, but it was a luxury item then, and probably not used by peasant women (except, perhaps, by laundresses advertising their skills). On the other hand, the cap stays on well and covers the head tidily, so it meets the "practicality" requirement of the challenge.  Possibly more experience on my part in fastening the cap onto my head will result in a prettier appearance.  My efforts tonight make the cap look much better than when I first tried it on Sunday night. 

HSM Challenge #5--Practicality

Fabric A scrap of  white linen roughly 11 inches by 22 inches (30.5 x 55.5 cm) for the body of the cap, and a second scrap, roughly 1 1/2 inches by 48 inches (3.8 x 122 cm) for the tie string, both torn from a length of linen that was left over from a previous shift project.

Front view
Back view
PatternCatrijn vanden Westhende's directions, referenced above, though it appears that no two costumers who have made such a cap have made it in the same way. 

YearCatrijn believes such caps are roughly late 15th century-early 16th century CE.  The images I've found on the Internet (mostly via the Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture website at support this belief.

Notions:   White linen 80/3 thread, Londonderry brand, that was left over from other costuming projects.

How historically accurate is it?   It's entirely handsewn and gives a good period appearance, and the economy of the construction method argues that the design of the cap might have arisen in period.  On the other hand, the linen is probably too limp and slubby for the period, and I have no idea if there is any actual evidence for the use of this type of construction in period.  So let's just say 50%, maybe.
Hours to complete: A bit under 3 hours, all told.

First wornRight after I finished it, and then for the photographs accompanying this post.

Total costZero.  All of the materials were leftovers from other projects--making the cap even more practical!

The Pinterest board I made to compare similar caps in medieval art also includes some caps by modern costumers/reenactors.  As I said above, it appears that no two costumers have made this sort of cap in the same way, but in my opinion Catrijn's patternless method is the simplest. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Two Epiphanies About The Völva's Outfit

Between work, taxes, and illness, I've spent more time thinking about historic costume than making, researching, or blogging about it so far this year.   Unfortunately, with summer (and summer events) starting here, I don't expect that to change dramatically.  However, in the last few days I experienced two epiphanies--two sudden revelations--that relate to my proposed völva outfit, and I'd like to share them here, because I think they may be interesting, and because my readers may have additional insights that would improve upon them.

Posement from Birka grave 832*
The first epiphany relates to this part of the saga description of the völva's cloak:  "...she had a blue mantle fastened with straps, and stones were set all in the flap above...."   The "flap above" is still a mystery to me, but I recently found a photograph of a Viking age artifact that shows how the "stones" on the völva's cloak might have been "set." That photograph, which appears to the left, is a textile fragment bearing a piece of a posement, i.e., an  ornament worked from precious metal wire.  The fragment came from grave no. 832 at Birka ("Bj. 832), and it now resides in the Historiska Museet in Stockholm. (Many thanks to Alicja Jaczewska, because I found the photograph on her Pinterest board.)

What makes this artifact relevant to the völva's cloak is the fact that the posement includes a stone, probably made of glass, in a mount made from wire like the rest of the posement.  (The stone is the bluish lump on the right edge of the fragment.) 

The effect of this "mount" looks very much like modern shisha embroidery, which uses thread to mount bits of mirrors or metal onto clothing.  The difference is that thread alone won't suffice to mount a glass stone onto fabric--but a mount woven of wire would be sturdy enough, and like the rest of the posement, it could simply be sewn onto the fabric.  For all we know, the fragment from Bj. 832 could have ornamented a cloak, with the knotwork section decorating the edge, and the stones sewn onto the fabric beside it. 

The second epiphany relates to the völva's "touchwood belt."   I'm not sure what inspired this idea, but it makes better sense of my theory of how the touchwood belt was worn and used than any suggestion I have discussed so far.  My concern about the belt was how a substance as soft and shreddable as touchwood could be made into a belt that was strong enough to support the völva's large pouch but still remain potentially usable as tinder.

I was mentally reviewing the Bj. 832 fragment when this idea for the belt came to me.  What if the belt were made from pieces of touchwood, rolled into longer strands and braided?  The use of multiple strands would make the belt more attractive and better suited to cinching clothing, but each strand could still be soft enough that bits could be teased out for use as tinder if required.

The change in theory suggests a new idea for replicating the belt--raffia!  Raffia is cheap, comes in brown (giving it the look of touchwood) and could be twisted into strands for braiding.

For the first time in months, I am getting excited about the völva outfit again, even though the idea of fashioning enough wire mounts to trim the edges of a long cloak feels as impossible to me as flying to the moon by flapping my arms.  Although I may not have the skill to pull that idea off, the Bj. 832 fragment provides tangible support for the idea that important people may have worn cloaks decorated in that manner.  I will have to keep my eyes open for other finds that may provide further support.

*  The photograph appears in the searchable online database of the Historiska Museet, a/k/a the Swedish Historical Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Brief Observation about the Skjoldehamn Hood

19th century Finnish woodsman
Readers of this blog with an interest in the costume of the residents of Scandinavia during the Viking age will doubtless be familiar with the Skjoldehamn find; a body with a complete costume consisting of a shirt, an over-shirt, belt, trousers, foot-wrappings, socks, shoes, and a hood that was found in northwestern Norway during the 1930s. Originally feared to be the body of a recent crime victim when it was first discovered, the age at death, ethnic origin and gender of the body continue to be debated, with the latest hypothesis (by Dan Halvard Løvlid) being that the buried person was Saami from late in the Viking period.

A few months ago, I stumbled across the image to the right in a web article about Finnish axes.  The image was captioned:
Karelian man in a woodsman's outfit with the distinctive “kukkeli” hood and a Karelian type axe with partial collar of the shaft. Louis Sparre 1892. Source “Kalevalaseura – The Kalevala Society of Finland”.
I don't know much about Finnish axes, either in the 19th century or otherwise.  What struck me about this image is that the hood the man is wearing is made in the same shape as the Skjoldehamn hood, though the man shown wearing it is a 19th century CE Finn; not a Swedish Viking, and not a member of the Saami people.   It raises interesting questions about the culture to which the wearer of the Skjoldehamn outfit belonged, as well as questions about how much utility lies in using later period costumes as a basis for inferences about clothing worn by earlier cultures.   If any of my readers know anything more about the above image and its provenance, please let me know in the comments.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Another Opportunity!

As I mentioned before, the spare brooch I offered a few weeks ago to the first interested reader of this blog is not the only duplicate item I have that might be of interest of readers of this blog.  Here's another one:

As some of my readers may be aware, books in Osprey's various military history series vary a lot in quality, both in terms of the clarity of the writing and  the depth and documentation of the information provided. This one is better than average.   It has a lot of good, clear photographs of period art (i.e., frescos, pottery remains) showing military figures in action, and some photographs of surviving weaponry and armor remains, in addition to Osprey's famous artwork depicting reconstructed figures.  In fact, as one of the reviewers of the book on noted, the book concentrates more on clothing, armor, and weaponry than on period battles, fighting and tactics.  If period clothing, armor and weaponry are among your interests (and if you're reading this, likely they are), you may want this book.  It's in brand new condition.  If you would like more information about the book, please check out this page on Osprey's web site.  (There is a "look inside" link on the page which for some reason was not working for me; this Amazon page provides views of the table of contents and quite a few other pages, including pages with illustrations, inside the book.)

Bronze Age Greek Warrior currently retails for $18.95 USD/£11.99.  I'm certain I paid less (I bought it on EBay, and the only reason I would do that with a book in print would have been to get a bargain), but I cannot find the original item write-up on EBay and the packing slip does not state the price I paid.  Moreover, Paypal doesn't keep records far enough back for me to locate the payment record that way.

So I will handle this item the same way I handled the brooch, i.e., by setting a price low enough to make this a reasonable purchase even if I end up sending it halfway around the world.   I will send the book to the first person who contacts me (via comments or otherwise) who is willing to pay $12.00 USD plus shipping by book rate (or the equivalent, if such a rate is applicable in shipping to the buyer's address).  My e-mail address is cathy at thyrsus dot com.

EDIT:  (5/26/2015)  I have an interested party for the book.

EDIT:  (6/4/2015)  I've learned tonight that the person who bought it has just received it.