Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Tale of Three Tutorials

Last month, I talked about how historical costuming tutorials posted to the Internet may vary greatly in the degree of authenticity they may provide.

By chance, a few days after that post was written I found a perfect illustration of the point I was trying to make. Specifically, I found three different tutorials, from three different people, all purporting to teach the reader how to make a version of a particular historical garment--the Skoldehamn hood.

The Skoldehamn hood is part of a suit of largely intact clothing that was found on a bog body in Norway that has been dated to the 11th century CE.  The body was originally found in 1936, so well preserved that at first the finders thought they had discovered the victim of a recent murder.

Dan Lovlid is the scholar currently studying the Skoldehamn garments.  My costuming friend, pearl, excellently paraphrases Lovlid's description of the surviving hood on her projects page, here (scroll down to about the middle of the page for the section about the hood).  She reviewed the descriptions by Lovlid and other scholars of the hood's construction and describes the hood as follows:
The fabric of the hood is a woolen 2/2 twill, believed to have originally been dark brown in color, with the warp dark grey and the weft a lighter grey, giving an overall buff (yellow-brown) appearance. ... The cutting pattern appears to have used this fabric very efficiently, as the pieces were comprised of rectangles and squares, all approximately 30-60 cm wide. ... The gores in the front and back of the hood, while not unusual in their placement, are unusual in that they are not curved along the bottom edge. In fact, they are simple squares, that effectively widen the skirt of the hood, so that it can fit over the shoulders. It measures approximately 138 cm around the hem.
According to Løvlid, the hood is made from three pieces of wool, not four. The main part of the hood is actually a single piece, that was split up the middle to form the face-hole, except for the final 2.5 cm, and possibly a 1 cm section between the face-hole and front gore.  The top of the hood has an angled seam, that is deeper at the front than the back, giving the hood a protrusion on top that looks similar to a cockscomb. This also causes the hood to sit further forward, providing more protection for the face. The top edges, forming the cockscomb, had been turned inward and sewn together with whipstitches in a grey-brown thread from along the top of the hood. A second seam in a darker brown, beginning near the face-hole ran 3-8 mm below this edge, while a third (seemingly from the same wool as the hoods' warp) is parallel at 10-15 mm from the top. Finally, a fourth seam creates the comb at its final height of 22 to 27 mm. The front and back gores are attached with whipstitching in dark brown wool, which simultaneously tacked the seam allowance to the outside of the hood. The bottom edge of the hood is whip stitched, with neat stitches that run parallel to the grain of the fabric, and there is no evidence that the hem was folded over. 
Thicker wool, now brown but originally red and yellow, was possibly meant to be used in a simple embroidery. A red thread is used on the right-hand side of the face opening, running over the top of the hood for 15 cm, before being replaced by a yellow thread that continues to the bottom, in whipstitch. These threads were knotted at both the start and end of their paths. A second golden-coloured thread decorates the back seam of the hood, but this 'embroidery' is described as an oblique basting stitch. Although all these seams appear to have been sewn from the outside, that does not necessarily mean these stitches were 'decorative' and in a contrasting thread. ...
Two cords, one on each side of the head below ear-height (13 cm from the bottom hem), were sewn on, and were preserved as being tied underneath the chin. The left-hand cord is fully preserved, and 6 cm long with a tufted end, that is covered with a little piece of green woven fabric. It was braided with two pairs of olive-green, and two pairs of red-brown threads in a clockwise spiralling pattern (all internal citations omitted) (boldface emphasis added; italic emphasis in original).
I have quoted this discussion at length as a demonstration of how some easily available "Skjoldehamn Hood tutorials" on the Internet differ widely in the techniques used and the appearance of the final product from the surviving garment.  I have emphasized the primary elements of the physical construction in the above description.  Let's compare the three tutorials I found to this description in order of decreasing resemblance to the original.

1.  Kristine of Náttmál published this tutorial describing how she made her version of the hood. The best part of this tutorial is that Kristine expressly takes note of all the places where she did things differently from what can be observed on the original garment.

Kristine preserves the three-piece aspect of the pattern, and uses a split in the main piece for the face hole, as was true of the original. However, she uses running stitch to join the pieces and then creates felled seams with whipstitches. In addition, she lines the hood, even though there is no sign of a lining of the original, and thus she folds all of the edges to the inside.  With regard to the top seams, that create the cock's comb effect, she uses only a single seam.  Kristine's version adds the cords, but makes a single color cord with a lucet instead of doing a four-strand fingerbraid in two different colors.  She also omits the allegedly decorative stitching in red and yellow.  Finally, Kristine sewed her hood with linen thread, not wool as used in the original.

2.  The woman who blogs at Geirlaug.blogg.se takes much simpler approach; her tutorial can be found here.  She also correctly uses three pieces of fabric for the hood, but does not cut a slit in the big piece for the face; instead she cuts it as a much longer rectangle than in the original design, folds this long piece in half lengthwise, and fits the smaller square pieces into the bottom. She does not use a seam to make the "cock's comb" at the top of the hood, and she omits the cords on the back. Like Kristine, she sews her hood with linen thread using a running stitch but finishes edges and seams with whipstitch.  However, her versions of the Skjoldehamn hood are unlined, like the original. Her tutorial is aimed at people who want a hood that looks at least somewhat like the Skjoldehamn hood (it lacks the coxcomb shape to the top of the hood and the closer fit around the face) but is simpler and faster to make.

3.   I also found a tutorial on Imgur, here. This tutorial, by probablyilsa, recommends cutting a set of three pieces out of both an exterior fabric and a lining, sewing each set together, putting the lining inside the hood exterior (right sides together) and then turning the resulting hood right side out to complete the process--which is a modern lining technique.  She also recommends cutting part of one edge from each of the two square gores before sewing them to the main piece, on the ground that this will make it easier to sew in the gores.  Interestingly, probablyilsa recommends stitching around the face opening (though she doesn't suggest this is meant to be decorative).  As with the Geirlaug.blogg.se design, there are no top seams and no back cords, and the face opening is even wider than the face opening in the Geirlaug.blogg.se design.  There is no indication of the type of stitches used, and it is possible that this pattern is meant to be sewn using a sewing machine (though the writer does not say so). The tutorial is labeled an "Easy Skjoldehamn Hood", though that may only be true for people familiar with modern sewing techniques.

I've discussed these tutorials to make the point that it's important to understand what you're trying to accomplish with your project before you choose a tutorial to help you create it.  For example, if you want to try to duplicate the exact look of the Skjoldehamn hood, or understand how the medieval techniques used in the original affect the sewing process, you should work with Kristine's tutorial, because that tutorial preserves a lot of the steps that would have been involved in making the original and explains what she's left out.  If you want a simple hood that looks somewhat like the Skjoldehamn hood and are willing to do some handsewing to achieve that objective, the Geirlaug.blogg.se tutorial may work for you. Finally, if you need a lined hood that can be run up quickly on a sewing machine, the Imgur tutorial would suit you best.

In short, don't take all advice you read on the Internet (including mine!) at face value.  Don't be afraid to review carefully whatever tutorial you're thinking of using and doing some research of your own before making a choice.  Not every historical costuming project needs to be a museum-quality replica. Only you can decide what compromises you are prepared to make and what level of consistency with the original will satisfy you.  Just remember:  All tutorials for a historical style are not necessarily alike.


  1. Good point, and well demonstrated! It's interesting that the correct three-piece cut fits nicely into a rectangle of about 60x90 cm (2x3 ft), so it would've been a very economical cut on 60 or 90 cm wide fabric. The four-piece cut fits in the same space, which made it a plausible alternative, while the three-piece cut at Geirlaug.blogg.se would've been very wasteful of fabric (unless the fabric was 30 or 180 cm wide, or multiple hoods were cut at once, which seems less likely).

    1. Hi, Anna-Carin! Welcome. You make a great point about the original size of the pieces of the hood being very economical of fabric. As you probably are aware, such economy is typical of early garments in general.

    2. Yes, and to some degree in later periods as well (e.g. "L'art de la lingere" from 1771 has very economical layouts for making shifts, linen caps etc).

      I wish that possible pattern layouts on period fabrics were discussed more. Reports on textile finds tend to take the safe route and say that there was no piece with both selvedges preserved, so the fabric width is unknown... and costumers mostly worry about how to fit the pattern pieces onto their *own* fabric. :)

    3. I recall seeing a proposed layout for an 18th century shift that conserved fabric.

      In most cases, there is simply not enough surviving material to discuss possible cutting layouts for 11th century garments. Actually, there's few surviving 11th century garments, and most of the survivals were of rich people's clothes. So the Skjoldehamn find is a true rarity and worthy of much discussion and analysis.