Wednesday, December 18, 2013

HSF 2014: Possibilities

The Dreamstress plans to run her popular Historical Sew Fortnightly ("HSF") again in 2014.  For those unfamiliar with it, the HSF is an Internet event where interested historical costumers try to complete a historical costuming project that fit into themes she proposes, every two weeks and then post photographs of the results on their websites and on her Facebook page for the project.

I used the HSF this year to muster sufficient motivation to complete the himation I had planned to make several years ago, but had not succeeded in starting.  That is the point of the event--to motivate costumers to finish planned projects they could not quite find the will to complete.

Now, while most people are winding down their costume-related projects before the holiday, I figured I should think about projects I'd like to do that will fit into the proposed HSF challenges for 2014.  The first six challenges, according to the Dreamstress website, will be as follows:
  • #1: Make Do & Mend due Wednesday 15 January.  "Use this challenge as an opportunity to get your historical wardrobe in order by fixing any little bits that have worn out and gone wrong.  Alternatively, you could focus on the historical precedent of making-do by re-making something into a historical garment, whether it be a bodice from a worn-out skirt, a chemise from old sheets, a bosom-friend from an old cardigan, or a new historical hat from an old modern one etc."
  • #2: Innovation - due Saturday 1 February.  "To celebrate the way inventions, introductions and discoveries have impacted fashion, make an item that reflects the newest innovations in your era."
  • #3: Pink - due Saturday 15 February.  "Make something pink!"
  • #4: Under it All – due Saturday 1 March.  "Make the foundations of your outfit: the things that go under it to provide the right shape and support, and to protect your fancy outer garments from sweat and grime."
  • #5 Bodice - due Saturday 15 March.  "Make a bodice – a garment that covers the upper body.  You can either abide by the strictest historical sense, and make a ‘pair o bodies’ for earlier periods, or a matching but separate upper half, in later periods, or can explore the idea of bodices in a more general sense."
  • #6 Fairytale - due Tuesday 1 April. "In this challenge, imagine your favourite fairytale set in a specific time period, and make a historical garment from the fairytale.  Your fairytale can be classic, modern, Western, non-Western: as long as you can articulate why you think it qualifies then it counts!"
What can I come up with?  More precisely, what can I make with materials in my stash or that I can acquire cheaply?

Challenge #1.  This is easy.  I need to lengthen my himation by at least 3-4 inches (even belted) for it to be period correct, so my first project will be lengthening the himation

Challenge #2.  Another, better-fitting, Hedeby-style apron dress.  The most innovative garment I know of for my general areas of historical interest is...the Viking smokkr or apron dress, of which I have made ... many.  On the other hand, I have two planned ensembles which require an apron dress--my planned reconstruction of the Pskov apron dress find and what I was calling my "Birka" outfit but which may make better sense as a "Hedeby" outfit (more on that later).  Either would be fine for the challenge, though I think I used the fabric planned for the Pskov dress for my wrapped fitted dress, so I'm probably looking at making the dress for my planned Hedeby project for this challenge.
Man's waistcoat, 1777-85 (V&A photo)

Challenge # 3.  A sprang hairnet.  I have no problem from a historical perspective with making a pink garment for Early Period.*  Dyestuffs were often expensive and the dyeing process in early times probably made much use of "exhaust baths"--dyeing solutions that had been used at least once already but still had enough strength to dye fabric a paler shade.  Moreover, until fairly recently in history the color "pink" was not associated with femininity or effeteness.  As late as the 18th century at least, fashionable "real" men continued to wear pink.

No, my problem is simply that I don't like pink that much.  Because I don't like pink that much, (1) most of the historical garments I have were not chosen to go well with pink and, more importantly, (2) I don't have any suitable pink fabric in my stash for an Early Period project (the remaining scraps of the bright pink synthetic brocade from which I once made a disastrous 1890s ballgown don't count).

Man's Waistcoat, c. 1790-99 (V&A photo)
I was about to give up on even trying the "pink" challenge until I realized that there *is* a short project I've been thinking of doing for years which would only require a small amount of yarn but could be used to generate a period garment--sprang!  Sprang is an ancient art that involves twining thread or yarn around itself in patterns to create small items, usually things like head coverings, pouches, and belts.  A number of sprang hairnets have been found in pre-Viking graves, and I've wanted one for years.  I could buy a skein of 100% wool in a pink that strikes my fancy and use an improvised frame (this fiber artist has experimented with a number of different sprang frames improvised from common household materials) to see whether I can achieve something both reasonably attractive and wearable.

Challenge #4.  A wool shift.  Three of my long-term ensemble projects--the Hedeby, Pskov, and Vendel outfits--all require a shift to be made.  I have the fabric for the Vendel shift.  Because I did not know that there was evidence that shifts were often linen during the Vendel period, my fabric is 100% wool.  Can I tolerate 100% wool next to my skin?  We'll see. If not, I can always wear one of my linen shifts underneath it.

Challenge #5.  A bog blouse.  This one is tricky for a early-period enthusiast.  Most early period garments that are not underwear and cover the torso cover much more than just the torso--and thus fall outside any reasonable definition of "bodice."   And at this point in my life I have neither the money nor the desire to craft a 17th-18th century or Victorian garment.

What does occur to me is that some of the Danish bog finds include a short-sleeved blouse that is waist length or a bit more.  I made myself one such blouse long ago, and it is all hand-sewn, but at the time I had no access to 100% linen or wool fabrics, so the garment is a fake linen made from purest polyester.  I have some credit saved up with, so I could use some of that credit to order a meter of linen for free, and make another such blouse.

Challenge #6.  A völva's attire?   I'm not that much of a fairy tales fan, and trying to make a garment, or an outfit, based upon the Sagas (or, even more awkward, trying to make an outfit or garment based upon a non-Viking fairy tale extrapolated into Viking cultural terms) will either end up in my duplicating something from the above list or, worse, will result in a project I don't like well enough to finish.

Then it occurred to me that I could attempt to recreate the much-discussed costume of the Viking seeress, or völva, from the Saga of Eric the Red.  That episode has at least the air of the supernatural, and is as close to a "fairy tale" as I'm likely to get in a (roughly) Viking era context.

The Viking Answer Lady quotes and translates the saga description of the woman's costume here. The part of her translation relevant to the costume reads as follows:
...then she was dressed like this, so that she had a blue mantle fastened with straps, and stones were set all in the flap above; on her neck she had glass beads, a black lambskin hood on her head with white catskin inside; and she had a staff in her hand with a knob on it; it was made with brass and stones were set above in the knob; she had a belt of touch-wood, and on it was a large skin pouch, and there she kept safe her talismans (taufr) which she needed to get knowledge. She had on her feet shaggy calfskin shoes with long thongs and large knobs on the ends of those. She had on her hands catskin gloves, and they were white inside and shaggy.
Now there is NO WAY I would ever use catskin in a garment, even recycled catskin (though I understand that cats were sacred to Freya and the symbolism is probably why catskin was chosen).  However, suitable substitutes might be found, and the entire costume may not require that much time to make.  The real problem with a völva costume would be finding suitable fabric that fits within my miniscule budget soon enough that I would have time to make the relevant costume items. (The saga does not say what the seeress wore beneath the mantle, and I bet my wool shift from above would serve just fine).

One thing I could do is to just make one component of the costume--perhaps the hood would be a good candidate.  For example, I might find a fake or real Persian lamb garment in a thrift store that I could dismember to make a hood from it.  I can probably fake the rest of the costume items until I finally get the time to make them.  I need to think about whether I'm prepared to embark on this one, but this is project at least a possible candidate for the challenge.

As we get into 2014, I will write up posts on my plans for the individual projects, as well as progress reports and posts upon completion, with pictures.  Please feel free to share ideas with me and my readers in the comments.

* For my purposes, "Early Period" includes any time period from the period when humans first started to make clothing until roughly the end of the Viking age.


  1. I would love it if you had a go at the volva outfit! I had a bash at it myself last year, and I'd love to see someone else's interpretation. I used white rabbit skin for the gloves, and one of my conversation openers was to go up to people and ask them what animal they thought it was. Some people guessed rabbit, but not a single person corrected me, or even looked sceptical, when I told them "Nah, it's cat."

    1. Hi, Jenny! I would love to see a picture of your interpretation some time. Thanks for your comment.

    2. I don't have a picture for the whole outfit, but I was similarly determined not to spend a lot of money. I think I was using a different translation to yours, as well. For the blue cloak, I dyed two wool blankets and sewed them together, and embroidered the opening down to the floor (rather than putting gems on) and I got a staff. The bit that really stumped me was how to make shoelaces that are more worth mentioning than a gown!

  2. Hi, Jenny! Thanks for stopping by.

    Around here, finding used wool blankets is even harder than getting inexpensive wool fabric--otherwise that's what I'd do!

    I will probably end up using my plain wooden staff unmodified, as you did. I think the shoelace part can be easy (possibly not cheap though I have to do so hunting); find four interesting brass beads and thread them onto the ends of leather thongs. My current idea is to do that, sew a fake-fur cuff that hides the entire ankle area, and lace it onto my shoe and leg with the thongs.

    One thing I think I may do is to "embroider" glass gems onto the cloak edges with shisha techniques. I'm still not convinced that any "gems" reached all the way down the front though; I'm inclined to concentrate any bling or blingy effects on the top half of my body.

    What did you do about the hood, though? It's the hood that has me stumped. I own a black hood of a suitable design; but it's cloth, not leather. I can ignore the leather part of the description and just tack, or sew, bunny fur or white fake fur around the inside edge. Or I can make a complete new hood and give a a full or partial lining--but that may be more than I can afford right now.

  3. Ooh, I look forward to seeing these! I've got challenges 1 to 3 on the go at the moment, and I'm going for the Early Period as well. I've got an Italic spectacle fibula plus a central European pendant and ring for challenge 1, and a reproduction of the Egtved skirt underway for challenge 3. Like you I have no problem using madder shades for Bronze Age Europe, though my wool is a fairly dark crimson type colour that wouldn't have resulted from an exhaust bath.

    1. I would like crimson much better, but the challenge is for "pink" so pink it is. This is the yarn I have in mind.

    2. I look forward to seeing the results of your challenge work too! I've wanted a spectacle fibula for a long time, and an Egtved skirt, but don't trust my wire bending that much (on the first hand) or my patience on the other (re: the skirt). Best of luck!

    3. That's a very nice yarn.

      As to the spectacle fibula, the trick seems to be getting wire of the right tensile strength. Galvanised tie wire is great, but needs to be given a bronze coating. Copper electrical wire will also get the job done if it's thick enough. I will need luck for the skirt! Researching it was fun and weaving it might not be too bad, but I'm having to spin about 100 meters of double plied cord. It is a learning experience. I'm learning that spinning is boring.