Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Blue Iron Age Skirt--In Living Color!

Fortunately, I did not have a second misadventure with my February project; the Iron Age skirt I made fits just fine.  I persuaded my wonderful husband, Eric, to take some photographs of me wearing it with the bog blouse I made for an HSF challenge last year; this is the photograph that worked best with this post.  Unfortunately, the weather here is far too cold for me to want to wear such thin garments outdoors, so the backgrounds are not even remotely authentic. 

It occurred to me after I wrote my previous post about this skirt that I *do* have a source of suitable blue wool for my peplos.  I bought 5 yards of blue wool flannel some years ago, to make a copy of the tunic shown in the Historiska Museet's Viking woman's costume reconstruction. As I wrote here a while ago, I ultimately decided not to imitate the Historiska Museet's tunic, but I did not find a different use for the fabric. Last summer, I cut an approximately two-yard-long piece of the flannel to use as an impromptu cloak for an improvised costume, and that piece should be long enough for my purposes. Even if it's not, I can get more than enough fabric from the remaining three yards.  March's HSM challenge is "stashbusting", so such a use of my blue flannel should be ideal for March's project. Perhaps as the year wears on I'll have time to work on a project that requires more challenge to my skills. 

NOTE:  In my last post on the Huldremose skirt, I cited the Science Nordic article about Professor Mannering's latest work, which states that the lady's costume included "a petticoat of nettle."  Somehow, I missed that detail when I read the article the first time!  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

HSM Challenge #2--A Blue Iron Age Skirt, Completed!

Remember the last project about which I said, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy'?  Well, I had another "battle plan" moment when I tried to make my Vendel period apron dress.  

After I had hemmed all the edges of my fabric and sewed it into a tube, it became brutally clear that the amount of fabric I have was simply too narrow to make a properly draped peplos for me to wear--unless I pinned it on only one shoulder, and I know of no archaeological support for a one-shouldered overdress in 7th-8th century Norway. 

But I quickly discovered that the tube was perfectly sized to make a long drawstring skirt, of the type found on the woman found in the bog at Huldremose.  That seemed appropriate to me, particularly since it has recently been discovered that the Huldremose plaid skirt was actually a  blue plaid, and not the brown plaid that it appears to be today.  

The Huldremose skirt has holes carefully made a little below the top edge of the skirt and a thong threaded through them to serve as a drawstring, but my blue fabric is too thin to tolerate such treatment.  So I settled for shortening and evening out the top edge of the tube by cutting off about three or four inches or so, folding down the edge and sewing it down to make a drawstring channel.  Then, I cut down and sewed the cut-off fabric piece into a drawstring using the same sewing technique that is used to make apron dress straps (i.e., cut a strip of fabric a bit longer than you want the string to be, fold the sides inward, and whipstitch them together along the two folds; push the ends into the narrow tube you've created and stitch each end closed). 

So for the second time this year, I've completed a challenge with an item that isn't what I intended to make for the challenge.  Still, I'm happy with the skirt; that color is too lovely for the fabric to have continued to go unused.

HSM Challenge #2--Colour Challenge Blue

Fabric A yard of 60+ inch wide vintage wool fabric in a period twill weave.

PatternNone needed; this skirt, like the Huldremose skirt, is a tube with a drawstring at the top.

Year:   Sometime between 160 BCE and 340 CE.

Notions:   100% silk Gutermann thread in a similar blue shade.

How historically accurate is it?   Only somewhat.  The weave is period, the basic tube shape is period, and the color is not too unlike what might have been obtained with woad in period by a patient and skilled dyer.  But the original skirt didn't have a drawstring channel, and I've never heard of a period garment that used either a drawstring channel or used a cut-and-sewn strap for a drawstring.  So maybe 50-60%.

Hours to complete: About 2 1/2 hours, though I didn't keep track of my sewing time very closely.

First wornNot yet. I haven't even tried the skirt on; I've been too tired to do much as I'm fighting off what appears to be a bad cold.  Photographs will be coming soon (unless I've *really* screwed up and the skirt is unwearable).

Total costEffectively zero.  The fabric cost me less than $10 USD nearly 5 years ago, and I've had the silk thread for a long time from other projects.

EDIT:  (2/27/2015)  Huldremose is an early Iron Age find, a fact I keep forgetting, for some reason.  Since it's the inspiration for this costume item, I've corrected the title to reflect that fact.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Roman Buttons

Almost half a lifetime ago, I made myself a Roman tunic to wear as part of a costume for a live-action roleplaying game.  It was meant to be the kind of tunic where the top edge is fastened at intervals, so that bits of skin peep out between the edges.   Because I had no idea how such tunics were actually fastened, I simply sewed the edges together at intervals, and sewed shank buttons on top of the sewed portions for decoration.  

Pretty crude, right?  That's what I thought, and for at least the past 5 years I've been planning to remake the tunic to be more historically accurate.

A few weeks ago, however, I found (or, rather, re-found) a research article which suggests that my tunic may not have been quite as inaccurate as I'd thought.

The article is by Margarita Gleba and a colleague and it's available for free on Academia.edu here. To my embarassment, the article appeared in NESAT IX, and I had forgotten it if I'd ever read it.  Here's the full citation:
Gleba, M., and J. MacIntosh Turfa. “Digging for Archaeological Textiles in Museums: ‘New’ Finds in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,” in Archäologische Textilfunde—Archaeological Textiles. Proceedings of the 9th North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles, 18–21 May, 2005, edited by A. Rast-Eicher and R. Windler, pp. 35-40. Näfels: Ragotti & Arioli Print, 2007.
The article is about turning up textile finds that have gotten buried in museum collections and, therefore, gone ignored.  One of the more interesting finds discussed in Ms. Gleba and Ms. Turfa's article is a set of 44 bronze domed objects, so unmistakably shank buttons that they are described that way in the article, 37 of which still have threads in the hole in the shank. Originally, they were found among the personal effects of a young woman whose cremated remains were excavated in Vulci and were brought to Philadelphia in the late 19th century; the tomb from which the items came has been dated to c. 680 BCE.   The buttons are tiny; 5-7 mm in diameter and about 2 mm high. The thread is mineralized (i.e., the original fiber content has been replaced by mineral deposits from the metal), but microscopy indicates that it originally was linen. Moreover, the article mentions two other tomb finds in the University Museum's possession that included very similar buttons. Ms. Gleba and Ms. Turfa suggest that the buttons may have been used as decoration on clothing, particularly leather, given the thickness of the thread.

I'm not suggesting that the buttons rediscovered at the University Museum were used on a tunic--at 5 to 7 mm, they are too small for such use. However, the fact that these buttons have such a modern form shows that the Romans knew how to make such items, and might have made larger ones for tunics or other purposes.  That's why it's important to remember that absence of evidence is not proof of absence, and subsequent discoveries may show that some clothing technologies believed not to be available in a particular period were actually in use.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

HSM Challenge #2--Another Blue Apron Dress

My blue fabric
The February challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly is very simple--make something blue.

It has long been my intention to make the apron dress portion of my early Norwegian outfit from blue fabric, and I have some lovely blue wool that I bought years ago for the purpose.  The fabric in question is the same fabric I photographed my Roman necklace on, but the flash made the fabric look much lighter in shade than it really is.  The color is hard to describe.  It's too light to be a navy or a royal blue, and it doesn't have the green tinge of a teal.  However, it's not at all pastel, either. The photograph to the left (taken with the white wool for the shift I have yet to make for the same project) is pretty close to the true color.  I've used a up-sized piece of the above photograph for the background to this webpage.

There is no evidence that 7th or 8th century Norwegian overdresses had loops for brooches, so this project can be very simple.  All I'll need to do is measure a wide enough piece of my fabric to make a nicely draping peplos, sew it into a tube, hem the bottom and top, and voilà!  Another overdress.

I have never tried using tortoise brooches to fasten a peplos-style overdress.  It will definitely take some experimentation to locate the brooches in such a way that the dress will lie properly and look nice without loops, but I'm eager to try, especially since sewing such a dress should be pretty easy. I'm also thinking about purchasing another set of tortoise brooches, since early tortoise brooches were both smaller than their Viking era equivalents (about 2 inches/5 cm long) and very simply decorated or even plain.  Any suggestions as to where I can get such a pair of brooches cheap?

EDIT (2/4/2015):  This will be even easier than I thought--if it works at all. It turns out that I bought barely enough cloth (it was an Etsy bargain; the person was selling a vintage piece of a particular size, and that's what I bought) to go around my body comfortably while extending at least as far as my calves.  So the only choice I  have  now is how narrow to make the seam.  However, the best way to use the fabric would have me sewing selvage to selvage, so I can make the seam narrow without running the risk of having the cloth ravel.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Happy Frob

The brooch and beads, on the white wool for the shift.
I'd meant to spend January making the "foundation" garment for my early Norwegian and völva outfits--a long, white wool tunic.  January started busy, but I figured that I'd have plenty of time to start the project on Martin Luther King Day weekend (i.e., the weekend of the third Monday of January, which this year was January 17-19; MLK Day is a national holiday in the U.S.).

Unfortunately, I got sick on the evening of January 17, with chills and fever, and my improvement was very slow.  Part of the problem for my doctor was figuring out what illness I had.  Was it influenza, or strep throat, or both?   I ended up taking antiviral medication until the strep throat culture test came back, finally, on Friday.  It was positive, so now I'm finally taking antibiotics. The net result is that I've gotten very little done over the past week, and am rapidly running out of January time in which to start (let alone complete) the tunic.

So I'll work on the tunic later (possibly for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge "Re-Do"). Yesterday, I cheered myself up by finishing a small frob that is to be part of the Norwegian costume. As the photograph shows, this consists of a large brooch that is a reproduction of one of the Bornholm grave brooches, with a swag of beads to hang from it.  It was surprisingly hard to figure out how to determine the length of the swag so it would lie flat, and probably I'll have to redo it at some point.  However, I managed to obtain a good combination of generic glass pony beads and pre-Viking age reproduction beads appropriate to the 8th century CE (the period of my planned costume), and just looking at the result makes me happy.

Note:  The reconstruction drawings show the original brooch as carrying five strands of beads, but that struck me as too cumbersome to wear (although, in retrospect, it might have been easier to string).  I still have plenty of pony beads left, so I might reconfigure the set to have five strands when I find an appropriate bead spreader.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Motherlode of Penelope Walton Rogers's Research

I learned from a friend of mine a few days ago that a number of the works of Penelope Walton Rogers, who has done much research on Anglo-Saxon and Viking era costuming, has been made available for free download from Pangur Press, the publishing arm of her business, The Anglo-Saxon Laboratory.

The downloads are available here.  They include a number of older books and articles that are out-of-print and hard to find; some of them are available for free nowhere else, so far as I know.   The more desirable ones, to me, are the following:
  • Walton Rogers, P., (2006), Costume in the Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Saltwood, Kent. This work consists of three parts, all of which are downloadable on the Pangur Press site.  One is about costume accessories, one is about women's and men's costumes, and the other is about a weaving tool found at the site and includes a bibliography for all three parts of the work.
  • Walton Rogers, P., (1999), 'Identification of dye on Middle Saxon pottery from Christ Church College', Canterbury's Archaeology 1996-1997 (21st Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust), 36.  About one-paragraph describing an interesting find of interest to dyers.
  • Walton, P., (1988), ‘Dyes of the Viking Age: a summary of recent work’, Dyes in History and Archaeology 7, 14-20.  A reader of this blog asked me if I knew where to find a copy of this article a little while ago.  Now, I do!  
Enjoy!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Historical Sew Monthly--New Projects!

The Dreamstress decided that, to relieve stress on both herself and the other participants, this year's Historical Sew Fortnightly would become a Historical Sew Monthly, with projects due at the end of every month, instead of every two weeks.   I thought it might be useful to me, and amusing to some of my regular readers, for me to list my reactions to the various challenges, and the projects I'm planning to make for each.

JanuaryFoundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.   YES!
I still want to complete the white wool shift that was to be the foundation for both my early Norwegian outfit and my völva outfit.  The only trick may be finishing it on time.

February – Colour Challenge Blue: Make an item that features blue, in any shade from azure to zaffre. YES!
I could make either the overdress for my early Norwegian outfit (for which I already have fabric) or the völva's cloak (for which I'd need to buy fabric) for this one.

March Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.  MAYBE.
I have some wool that I'd overdyed rather poorly in a sky blue shade (so that it has a blotchy/streaky look).  Maybe that wool (which has been washed) would make a good pair of cut-and-sewn stockings?  There's more than enough fabric--maybe even enough for several pairs.  If I can find the pattern I made for myself the last time I made stockings, this could be a good project.

AprilWar & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear. Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace. PROBABLY NOT.  
I can imagine a lot of projects that might fit into this category: World War II dresses, Garibaldi blouses, Landsknecht outfits, French Revolutionary cockades. But none of these possible projects inspire me. I'll probably sit this one out.

May – Practicality: ... Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.  MAYBE.
The difficulty here is that, for anything before 1500, the "jeans and t-shirt" equivalent is, for sewing purposes, the same as the high-fashion one, except it's made from cheaper fabrics and/or is nearly worn out.  If I get a bright idea for this challenge, though, I'll join in.

June – Out of Your Comfort Zone: Create a garment from a time period you haven’t done before, or that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before.   YES!
The sprang frame I made last March is still sitting in my closet (to guard it from my new cat); I'd like to warp it and finish a sprang project this year if I can.

July – Accessorize: The final touch of the right accessory creates the perfect period look. Bring an outfit together by creating an accessory to go with your historical wardrobe.   MAYBE.  
I am planning to make bead strings for the rectangular brooch I'm going to wear with my early Norwegian outfit, but that won't take much effort (except in finding suitable beads at a suitable price). Perhaps I can make the hood for my völva outfit for this challenge.

August – Heirlooms & Heritage: Re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations. PROBABLY NOT.
I don't have much in the way of heirloom sewing equipment, and I know little enough about my ancestors and about early period clothing in their parts of Europe to be unsure what sort of garment to make.  Also, August is likely to be very busy for me this year.  I'm not sure what I'll do yet.

September Colour Challenge Brown: it’s not the most exciting colour by modern standards, but brown has been one of the most common, and popular, colours throughout history. Make something brown.   YES!
I like this idea--before the Bronze Age most clothing in northern Europe would have been the color of undyed wool, much of which is brown.  But I'm not sure what sort of garment to make this time around.  This one needs more thought.

October – Sewing Secrets: Hide something in your sewing, whether it is an almost invisible mend, a secret pocket, a false fastening or front, or a concealed message (such as a political or moral allegiance).   MAYBE.
I like this idea but I'm not sure how to implement it.  I'm reluctant to damage a garment just to be able to show off my mending skills.  I could try to add some fabric to my Hedeby dress to make it fit me better, but picking apart its solidly-sewn seams in order to do that feels more like a chore than like fun.  I need to think about this one too.

November – Silver Screen: Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV), and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.   PROBABLY NOT.  
I don't have a great deal of knowledge of movie fashions, and the movies that have bothered to depict early period events are usually so far off the mark that one would have to scrap the entire design to make a "historically accurate period piece".  I'll sit this one out.

December – Re-Do: It’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.  YES!
I will almost certainly miss one of the challenge deadlines, so it's likely I'll be doing this one, one way or another.