Sunday, March 24, 2019

One Afternoon Tutorials--All the Bags

Today's collection of one afternoon tutorials has a built-in theme.  All of these tutorials are instructions for how to make various kinds of bags to carry things in.  Some of these can be very ornamental, while others are plaintly utilitarian.  I suspect that many of us would greatly value the opportunity to have a period-appropriate bag to wear and use with historical costume.

Some of these patterns, obviously, are simpler than others, and a few require special skills (such as knitting or crochet, and the ability to interpret knitting or crochet pattern notation), but most of them are simple enough to finish in a single long afternoon.

I've already provided a link to a good tutorial for the Viking age wood-framed bag elsewhere, but I'm going to list it again in this post along with all the other bag tutorials to make it easier for people to find it through my blog.  Although this list does not, and cannot, include tutorials for every type of bag ever made, it includes a significant cross-section of items that are not commonly written about or made by costumers or reenactors.  I have listed the tutorial for each type of bag in rough chronological order of when the original bags were made and used.  
  • Anglo-Saxon Ring Bag.  Another interesting bag type shows up in early Anglo-Saxon finds.  It's a cloth bag with a ring, big enough to admit a hand but smaller in diameter than the rest of the bag.  Such bags don't truly have a closure; the contents stay put because the bag is hung from a belt so it stays more or less upright in position, and because the ring is sized as small as possible to allow a hand, with the contents, to be inserted.  It has been theorized that they were used by well-to-do women to keep small sewing projects close at hand.  A similar design turns up in the late Middle Ages,* apparently to hold small game collected during a hunt.  This one comes from Brígiða Vadesbana's eponymous blog.  The tutorial may be found here.
  • Viking Wood-Framed Bag.  I've already tried out Kristine Risberg's tutorial for a wood framed bag; it works very well.  Wood frames have been found at several Viking sites, and reasonable reproductions can be found on Etsy and other places if you are not brave enough to make your own frames based upon photographs of original finds.  The bag I made using Kristine's tutorial may be seen here, and the tutorial itself is here.  
  • Medieval Trapezoidal Shoulder Bag.  Next come tutorials for a medieval bag with a trapezoidal shape and a shoulder strap.  These could be made as large as a modern messenger bag, but the period art shows them to be quite small, more the size of a small modern handbag.  Here are two different tutorials:  one by Coblaith, and one by Sabine Scholl.
  • Medieval Carry Sack.  Here is a tutorial for a medieval "carry sack" that looks like one of the "miser bags" from the Victorian era (see below) enlarged to military duffel bag size.  This tutorial was written by Peter on the blog of the reenactment group Albrechts Bössor; it may be found here.
  • Late Medieval Coin Pouch.   Cathrin of Katafalk shows how to make a no-sew leather coin pouch here.  The original purse was found by archaeologists in Bergen, Norway and dates to the late 13th-early 14th century CE.  (This tutorial inspired me to write today's all-bags post.)
  • Medieval Drawstring Purse, with Tassels.  This tutorial on how to make a type of textile drawstring bag commonly seen in artifacts and art in the late Middle Ages, may be found on Cathrin's Flickr, here.   
  • 18th C. "Ditty" Bag.  Here's a design sketch and instructions for an 18th century sailor's "ditty bag", the period term for a sailor's bag for carrying useful small items.  Tim Abbott provides these resources on his blog, "'Another Pair Not Fellows'; Adventures in Research and Reinterpreting the American Revolution".
  • Regency Reticule.  Drawstring purses were also fashionable during the Regency period (1800-1820s), when they were called reticules.  Here's a pattern for a cut-and-sewn reticule from DawnLuck's Photobucket account. For further guidance in reticule-making, here's an interesting article with useful, general advice on making cut-and-sewn reticules by Kelly at Tea in a Tea Cup.  Some reticules were crocheted, and AllaboutAmi has a pattern for a crocheted reticule
  • Metal-Framed Coin Purse.  Most people have seen, and many own, small purses with a metal frame at the top, and a kind of snapping clasp at the center.   Depending upon selection of frame and materials, this type of purse can be period for nearly any time from approximately the 18th century onward.  Such frames can be bought on line or in sewing and craft stores.  A tutorial for supplying the rest of the purse and uniting it with the frame here.  
  • Miser Purse.  This is shaped like the Medieval carry bag mentioned above.  Like that bag, it has a slender center containing the entry slit.  The contents are meant to be stored in both ends, and can be kept from falling out by pushing rings toward the contents.  They were commonly used as a coin purse by women in the 1800s.  They were usually crocheted; it was unclear whether any were knitted.  Here's one tutorial for a crocheted purse, as well as a second one that is knitted, courtesy of Severina and Koshka the Cat, respectively.
  • 1940s Purse.  For those with more modern interests, here's a free pattern for a 1940s crocheted purse shaped like a conventional handbag, not like a miser's purse.  
Finally, the simplest kind of bag requires no sewing at all; it consists of a circle of leather, with holes evenly made about 1/4-1/2 inches from the edge, and a string or thong drawn through the holes to close it.  In case a tutorial for such an item is required, Martha Stewart has provided one here.  This idea is simple enough, both in design and construction, that such bags could well have been made as early as the Stone Age, and Martha's blog post shows that they are still being made for use today.

* From Les livres du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio, from late 14th century. This particular image was found on Exploring the Medieval Hunt.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Style is Eternal

Today I found an article on the blog My Modern Met featuring an article about an ancient Roman shoe that is on display at the Saalburg, a museum and archaeological park located at the Saalburg Pass in the Taunus Mountains, near the site of an ancient fort built by the Romans.

The shoe itself is a delight, full of lacey punchwork.  It ties on across the top of the foot, near the point where the foot would join the leg, and has a large round opening on the top of the instep.  The photograph featured with the article was originally posted by u/Mictlantecuhtli on Reddit. The article suggests that its thick sole and fancy design indicate that it was a shoe made to be worn outside the home by a woman.  I wonder what the original color of the shoe was.

Enjoy the picture while I get back on track with my current costuming projects!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Red Plaid Underdress--Calendering the Linen (Part 1)

Fabric, dry rubbed, mostly on the left side.
Today's photograph shows the results of my first attempt to "calender" my linen.  Calendering is the technical name for any process used to make a fabric smooth and to give it special properties, such as shininess.

On an industrial scale, calendering is done by running otherwise completed fabric through large rollers, and applying lots of pressure.  I have no idea how much rubbing the Viking women applied to their linen; a certain amount of trial and error will be required here.

The first photograph shows the fabric after it had been rubbed for about a minute with the glass stone; again, click the photograph to see it bigger and with more detail.  The result was a pronounced smoothing of the fabric, but only a faint increase in shininess that doesn't show up very well in the photograph.

At that point, I started looking for more information about the process.  Phiala's String Page states that linen can only be cold pressed (i.e., without heat) so long as it is damp, and I have seen similar comments on other educational sites.  That suggests that damp rubbing appears to be the way to go--particularly given my lack of obvious results from dry rubbing.  But how damp?  Slightly, or just short of dripping?  And for how long?  I suspect that if linen needs to be damp in order to be modified this way, the rubbing probably needs to continue until the linen is dry.

Thank heaven I only have two yards of linen to handle. 

There will be more on this subject after I have had time to experiment with damp rubbing.

EDIT:  To correct my spelling error:  Rubbing fabric to smooth it and give it a nice finish is called "calendering," not "calendaring".  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Red Plaid Underdress: Washing the Linen

Fabric as received.  The coins are to give scale.
These pictures show the changes in appearance of my linen fabric after soaking it for about 4 hours in lukewarm water, washing it in lukewarm water, and letting it hang up overnight to dry.  Click on any of the photographs to see the image larger and with more detail.

The first photograph shows the fabric as I received it in the mail, before any soaking or washing was done; I've added a .5 Euro coin and a US quarter to the photographs to give the viewer a better idea of the scale of the grid of the fabric's design.  The Etsy vendor's page said that the squares of the grid are 3/4ths of an inch on each side, and that looks approximately right though I haven't measured them.  

In person, the fabric looks more orange in tone, and less rose-colored, than it does in the as-received photograph, and the grid threads appear to be yellow in the direction of the warp and light sage green in the direction of the weft.  As my first post about the fabric shows, I thought that both sets of grid threads were white when I placed my order, but the difference between the photographs of the fabric on Etsy and the actual appearance of the cloth is subtle enough that I feel no need to complain to the vendor or abandon the project.

Fabric after soaking, washing and hanging to dry.
The second photograph shows the linen after the soaking, washing, and drip-drying had taken place, but before anything else had been done with it.  Because it was taken during the day, with natural sunlight coming in the window, it shows the true colors of the fabric.

At the point where I had the washed and dried fabric, it occurred to me that I didn't really know anything else about the rubbing process.  Do you rub the fabric when it is dry, or  while it is damp?  Maria's post doesn't answer this question, but I've seen at least one Internet article claiming that you should keep a spray bottle of water or other means to keep the cloth damp as you rub.  I will try both approaches, on different parts of the cloth, and photograph each, before I decide on how to treat the rest of the cloth.  At that point, it will be time for another update on this project.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Volva Outfit--Another Piece Done

My faux "shaggy calfskin shoes"
At least six months after acquiring the necessary components for the "shaggy calfskin shoes" for my völva outfit, I have assembled them into something I can wear.  The result is shown in the photo to the left.

My method here was not even remotely historical, so I am not counting this as a Historical Sew Monthly project.  This is essentially a quick-and-dirty modern "costume" style item, meant to approximate the possible appearance of the shoes described in the Saga of Eric the Red.  As I said in an earlier post, the foundation of these "boots" is a pair of Minnetonka brand boots, which in turn are based, loosely, on historical Amerind moccasins.  The shaft is a band made of faux fur, sewn into a tube and slid onto my leg, where it's positioned so that it conceals the top of the Minnetonkas at my ankles.  After settling the bands in place, I took a long thin lace for each "boot" and strung and knotted large brass beads onto the ends, and used those laces to tie the faux fur cuffs closely around my ankles.  Originally I was going to tie the thongs around the both top and bottom of the faux fur band, criss-crossing the laces in back, but it occurred to me that for that to work I would need to sew the thong into a channel at the top or bottom of the band, and since the band stays up pretty well without any tying, I thought that for my purposes it would be sufficient to just wrap the length of the band around my ankle (and over the faux fur band).  So that's what I did.

Interestingly, if I tie the thongs with enough length between the knot and the beads, the beads clack together when I walk.  I wonder if that was why the völva wore big brass knobs on her boots?

Calves, Highland Cattle breed
(from Wikimedia Commons)
Finally, since the shoes are described in the saga as "calfskin" the faux fur I used is a bit of a stretch.  Most cattle do not have thick fur like the faux fur I have chosen for this item.  One of the plausible exceptions, a breed called simply Highland cattle, has long fur that looks rather like the sheepskin-textured faux fur I am using (see the picture of Highland calves to the right of this post).  However, Highland cattle were brought to Britain during the Neolithic period, and, to my knowledge, did not arrive in Scandinavia during Viking times (though it can be found there now). Highland cattle are more cold-tolerant than many cattle breeds, though, and they probably could have survived in Viking age Scandinavia had they been taken there.  (Icelandic cattle, which probably do go back to the Viking age, don't look anything like Highland cattle, and do not have shaggy fur, unfortunately.)  I can't use the thongs I selected with the Minnetonkas alone, leaving off the faux fur cuff, because the thongs are too thin.  In addition, the balls I strung onto the ends of the current thongs do not have holes big enough for me to string them onto thicker thongs that might work with the Minnetonkas.

So I've accepted that my boots are for general Northern flavor, and are not really historical.  I could always experiment with wearing the cuffs and thongs with my more accurately styled Viking shoes, or even get other thongs if I find brass balls with suitably sized holes--my improvisation only cost about $10.00 USD.

In other news, I have concluded that I should use my old Migration Period necklace for this outfit, to avoid having to incur additional costs for beads to make a new necklace. That makes sense, since the necklace won't show much, if at all, underneath the type of hood I'm planning to make.

And I still have the mittens to finish.  I'm not sure whether that will come before or after the lambskin hood, since I still haven't bought any lambskin or lambskin substitutes yet.

Friday, February 1, 2019

An Embroidered Computer

A computer programmer friend brought my attention to this article about an interesting development--the embroidered computer!

In this machine, electronic relays are composed of metal threads and magnetic metal and glass beads; the result is equivalent to a circuit board.  Gold thread is heavily used because of its conductive properties, not because of its beauty, but the result is beautiful anyway; pictures of the computer are part of the article.  Sadly, there doesn't seem to be an output device attached, though Irene Posch of the project says it is a programmable 8-bit computer.  

This is not the first foray of Ms. Posch and Ebru Kurbak, her co-designer, into the world of textile electronics. Articles about still more electronic textile works by Posch and Kurbak, such as a sweater that acts as a radio transmitter, can be found on Ms. Posch's webpage,

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Slickstone on the Cheap

Whalebone plaque, probably used for
linen smoothing.  Found in 1991
in the Scar boat grave on Sanday, Orkney,
Scotland.  Photo by Orkney Museum
(found on Wikimedia Commons).
Glass linen smoother, unknown date
64 mm wide, 39 mm thick, 242.12 g.
Trustees of the British Museum
(Wikimedia Commons)
Costumers interested in Viking Age Scandinavia are well-aware that the artifacts discovered by archaeologists include "ironing boards"--flat plates of wood or bone used for flattening cloth, and "slickstones"--rounded, flat-bottomed pieces of glass about 3 inches (75 mm) in diameter.  The cloth would be placed on the board, and vigorously rubbed with the slickstone.

According to Maria at In deme jare Cristi, linen that has been properly washed and dried will become not only flat, but will acquiring a pleasing shininess if rubbed with a slickstone in this manner.  (The link includes detailed instructions as to how to wash linen properly.  The process involves presoaking new linen fabric in cool water, washing it in water that is warm at best, and then hanging it up to dry.)

After reading what Maria said about the effectiveness of a slickstone in improving the appearance of linen, I was eager to try the process out.  I have several boards (plain, but usable) that would serve as smoothing boards, but where could I get a slickstone?  I don't have enough money to buy the necessary equipment to work glass!

Then it occurred to me that I do know how to get a glass object of the right shape--they are used in aquariums and as game pieces.  The problem is that the rocks used for these purposes are usually about the size of my thumbnail--much smaller than historical slickstones and too small to easily hold and rub against fabric.  Were larger glass rocks even commercially available? 

My glass rock, seen from above.
My glass rock, seen from the side.
Some Internet searching confirmed that the answer to my question turns out to be "yes!"  I found a company on line called Wholesalers USA, Inc., ( that sells glass stones for various kinds of home decoration and crafts in sizes up to 60 mm.  Moreover, for 50 cents USD they will sell you a single stone as a sample!  I ordered one of the 60 mm (2.36 inch) stones, and it came today--pictures of it appear to the right of this post.  It weighs 83 grams, and as the picture shows, it's a lot flatter than the slickstone finds.  Still, my hands are small, and its not too difficult for me to grab it by the sides and rub things with it.

I can't wait to try my modern slickstone out, but to try it out properly I need to get some new linen and wash it in the proper way first.  When I have tried it out, I will write about what I discover.

EDIT:  I have ordered some linen for my experiment.  It is reddish with a tattersall plaid, or grid of squares, in white.  A similar fabric was found in grave 27/1963 at Hedeby, except the background was white and the grid was blue.  However, each square in the grid of the Hedeby find was 4 mm wide, as compared to the 19mm (about 3/4ths of an inch) in the fabric I bought.  However, my fabric was cheap ($4.99 US per yard) and it was the last 2 yards available from the Etsy vendor I purchased it from.  The checked material at Hedeby is believed to have come from an underdress, so I will use my fabric to make an underdress also.

EDIT: (2/6/2019)  My linen arrived on Monday!  It's beautiful, so beautiful that it's hard to imagine making it more beautiful.  Pursuant to Maria's tutorial, soaking it in the bathtub (so it can lie as flat and unfolded as possible) is next.

EDIT: (2/8/2019)  I think I've found my project for the March Historical Sew Monthly; the underdress that I'm going to make from the linen prepared with my new slickstone!