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 had been produced 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 well-enough illustrated that it should be 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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lining a Single-Wrapped Apron Dress

Since my last post, I received the linen that I had ordered for my September Historical Sew Monthly project, the linen-lined wool apron dress.  To my surprise and dismay, I discovered that the fabric in question contains spandex.  (At least, it has enough stretch that it would be hard for me to believe that it doesn't contain spandex.)  Given the color and fine weave of the cloth, it would make a lovely pair (maybe two pair?) of underpants, but using such a stretchy cloth would do nothing to tell me how lining a wool wrapped apron dress with period linen.  So I shall have to obtain some more appropriate linen elsewhere.  Perhaps I have a large enough piece of linen in my stash (or can piece one together) for this project after all; I should check.

In the meantime, this may be a good time to think about how I should construct the apron dress.   I don't mean details about the width or length of the dress.  As I said in my original post, the fragments in Birka grave 464 do not provide sufficient information about how long the dress must have been or even clearly rule out the possibility that the dress was shaped like a tube; it was my decision to see how a wrapped dress that did not violate the known details of the grave 464 find would behave in wear.  

However, that still leaves plenty of construction issues I need to decide.  All we really know about the grave 464 garment is: 1)a piece of silk was folded over the top edge of both the wool outer fabric and the linen inner fabric; 2) it had at least one short loop attached to the top edge; 3) a top corner of the wool, located about 4-5 cm from the outside edge of the tortoise brooch, was mitered, and; 4) the dress was at least hip length.  To give a better idea of the kinds of detail I have in mind, I should list the construction assumptions I'm prepared to make for this project (which include) issues that cannot be resolved on the basis of the find and size dimensions necessary to make it wearable by me), and issues that might be resolvable by closer scrutiny of the find:


1.  Fabric Length and Width.    Based upon my prior experience with wrapped apron dress construction and my current budget constraints, I plan to use a single piece of wool about 60 inches by 36 inches, and a similarly-sized piece of linen, for this project.  

2.  Loop Fabric.  I prefer matching the loop fabric to the outer fabric, but if that turns out not to be possible (i.e., if it turns out I need every inch of the 60 inches to go around me properly), I'll use linen for the loops.  Use of linen loops on wool apron dresses is a well-established phenomenon among the Birka finds.

3.  Warp direction.  Based upon the plans above, I need the 60-inch side of the fabric to go horizontally around my body.  That likely places the warp horizontally and the selvages at top and bottom of the piece, with the maximum length of the garment being one yard (36 inches).  

Construction Issues:  

1.  Length of silk band.  A wrap-around apron dress is typically going to be at least 10 inches longer than the wearer's widest torso measurement.  Should the silk band wrap the entire top length?  Should it leave the mitered corners free?  It does not appear that the silk strip in grave 464 at Birka had silk lapped over the mitered corner.  I am inclined to have the band stop just short of the corners, because the way I would think to do it there would be no need of the silk there to join the linen to the wool.

2.   Double fold the silk?  In other words, would the edge of the silk be folded inward at the point where the band was stitched to the top of the apron dress on either the outside or the inside (as a modern piece of bias tape is often folded)?  I think it would make sense to do things this way, unless I find out that information from grave 464 dictates otherwise before I start sewing.

3.  Miter all corners?  It seems reasonable to do so.  I would place the linen and wool together, wrong sides touching, and miter the corners together that way.  This would also serve to protect the sides.

4.  Enclose linen in corners/sides?  Yes (see above).

Now that I've done more of the planning, I need to make certain I can lay my hands on enough linen to complete the plan.  I'll post again when I have the fabric lined up.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Return To My Roots: HSM #9--Color Challenge Brown

The September challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly is simple:  make something that is brown in color.  I was having trouble deciding upon a suitable project for this challenge, when I had an idea based upon my roots--the Viking apron dress or smokkr.  Because so many people have made apron dresses (and posted pictures of them on the Internet) since I first became interested in the Vikings, I had begun to believe that there really aren't any research-related reasons to make new apron dresses any more.  However, I may have stumbled upon a project that might be educational, and enough fun to be worth doing.

Despite the number of different styles of apron dress that I have made, I have never attempted to make an apron dress that is lined.  The evidence in favor of lined apron dresses comes from Birka, particularly grave 464.  Hilde Thunem translates the description of the relevant part of the grave 464 textile find in her long article discussing the evidence for Viking apron dresses:
Attached to the remains of a linen loop (1-2) was a fragment of fine dark blue wool (6). The wool had a linen fragment (4) lying against its inside and a silk band (3) had been folded over the top of both fragments (like a bias tape). ...
The woman in this grave was probably wearing a blue woollen smokkr, lined with linen and decorated with a silk band along the top of the dress. A small fragment of linen from the serk (5) was lying on top of the loop, indicating that at least in this case the smokkr had been worn directly over the serk (fig. 464:6). The top of the silk band, and thus the top of the smokkr, reached about 2 cm up into the brooch. This means that the front loops of the smokkr was fairly short and would have been completely covered by the brooches. ...
The grave contains several other fragments of the dark blue wool. One that seems to have been torn off from the brooch fragment is folded along two sides, creating a corner about 4 cm outside of the edge of the brooch (464:5). It is unclear whether the vertical edge of this corner was hemmed or if it was fastened to another piece of the smokkr.
It seems clear that the silk piece covering the top edge (and it had to be the top edge, because a loop was also fastened to it) functioned partly to bind a piece of linen to the wool.  How big the piece of linen originally was remains a question (and Hilde Thunem notes that Agnes Geijer thought that the linen lining of the garment in grave 464 was only partial).  So I started thinking about the reasons why people choose to line garments.  Two substantial reasons occurred to me:  to make the garment warmer, or to stiffen or otherwise change the drape and behavior of the garment in some way.

Warmth may have been a factor, certainly, with any item of Viking clothing, but stiffening would only matter if the garment in question were not an untailored garment such as a peplos; peploses work best with soft drapey fabrics than with stiff ones.  For a wrap-around garment, increased stiffness might actually work better unless you're going for a form-fitting sarong type of garment.

The mitered corner was only 4 cm (not quite 2 inches) from the outside edge of the tortoise brooch; that is approximately the same place where the seam appears on the Køstrup apron dress fragment.  Whether that location means that any seam along the edge of the corner would end up running underneath the arm would depend upon the size of the wearer.  On me, 4 cm from the outside edge of my brooches would place the seam very close to my armpit.   However, if the corner edge was not part of a seam, mitering it (which I have never thought to do on any of my earlier wrapped apron dresses, for some reason) should tend to make the open edge stand upright up and not flop over when worn.  Front corners that do not flop make a wrap-around style apron dress look better, in my opinion. 

In any event, making a fully-lined apron dress would show me whether such an apron dress would be comfortable and easily wearable, which to me makes the construction of such an apron dress an interesting project.

I have some red silk that I can use for the top-edge binding.   I have just ordered a yard of cream-colored linen that should serve for the lining, and am planning to buy a yard of chocolate brown wool for the apron itself.  (The grave 464 find was dark blue, but other apron dresses have been found to be brown, and brown is the color for the September challenge.)  Both fabrics are about 60 inches wide; a yard of each would make a suitable single-wrapped dress that, on me, would be about mid-calf length.  All we know about about the length of the dress in grave 464 is that it was at least hip length (because scraps of the same wool were found underneath a work brooch located at about hip level), so a mid-calf length should be fine for this project.

Hopefully, I'll be able to complete this project before the end of September.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


The twelfth North European Symposium of Archaeological Textiles ("NESAT") took place last year in Hallstatt, Austria.  Though to my knowledge the book containing the papers presented at that conference has yet to be published, the table of contents from that volume and several of the papers from it have turned up on  Membership in is free, and is not confined to professional scholars.   

What I'd like to do here is point out some of the currently available material for my readers, so that they can save up for the NESAT XII book if they wish or simply use the material itself if it meets their needs.

The conference program for NESAT XII (68 pages long, with article abstracts) is here, and the table of contents for NESAT XII may be downloaded here.

The papers I have seen from that NESAT volume that are available for free download so far are:

Cybulska, Maria and Mianowska-Orlińska, Ewa.  Analysis, Reconstruction and Interpretation of Two Early Medieval Embroideries from Kruszwica, pp. 311-320.  (This one is posted in Scribd format.  I was able to download it, but I can't recall if I have a Scribd account; if you don't, you may be unable to download/read it.)

Gleba, Margarita.  Production and Consumption: Textile Economy and Urbanization in Mediterranean Europe 1000-500 BCE (PROCON)pp.  261-270.

Nutz, Beatrix. Mining for Textiles -- Textiles for Mining,  Preliminary Report on Textiles from Gold Mining Sites in Austria, pp. 25-42.

The paper that excites me the most, however, is not available for free download.   Predictably, it is about Viking era clothing:  Hana Lukešová.  Old Fragments of Women’s Costumes from the Viking Age – New Method for Identification.  pp. 145-154.  Professor Lukešová's abstract states: 
"The first step in the working method involved a detailed study of the textile fragments. A computer programme for vector drawing was used to assist in the synthesis of complicated finds. The second step was to compare the stains and imprints on the textile fragments with the shape of the metal objects that possible to find a correlation between the textile and the metal. In the third step, a portable XRFspectrometer was used to check the elements present in the stains on the textiles. These were then compared to the element spectrums of the metals that were found close to the textiles."
The abstract states that all of this elaborate pattern-matching has allowed her to create "distinct reconstructions of many of the finds, and to expand the knowledge of the details of women's costumes from the Viking Age in the western Norway region."  I can hardly wait to see what Professor Lukešová has come up with in the way of reconstructions.  (The abstract admits that most of the textile finds come from the chest area, so "the features of complete women's costumes have intentionally been left open").

There are other interesting topics being addressed in this NESAT, including:  Bronze Age tailoring; Chinese silks found in the Merovingian graves in the Saint-Denis Basilica in France; the Dätgen trousers (roughly contemporaneous with the Thorsberg trousers); a reconstruction of a Renaissance era coif found in a Copenhagen moat; and a study of embroidery on Bronze Age costumes from Scandinavia.  Clearly we historical costumers have some excellent research to look forward to and to support our own work.