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 suspected that if linen needs to be damp to be affected 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 ends 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!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

An Interesting Bead-centric Blog

Recently, I discovered this blog by a woman named Valerie Hector, who crafts jewelry.  But she also has a blog, and though the blog now appears to be defunct it contains a number of interesting and well-illustrated posts about the history of beads that she calls "Quantum Leaps", because they are about "quantum leaps" in beading technology.  They are worthwhile for the captioned pictures of archaeological bead finds and other citations, if for nothing else.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Resolutions--The Historical Sew Fortnightly

Happy New Year, everybody!

December 2018 kind of got away from me.  By the time I had time to work on one of my projects, I was out of motivation to do so.

But this is a New Year, and with it, a new set of Historical Sew Monthly challenges!  To see them, click on the "Historical Sew Monthly 2019" image on the top left corner of my blog, or go here

Some of this year's challenges have me totally stumped, while others give me scope for finally finishing so many different projects that I'm not sure where to start.  Here's some examples based on my thinking so far.

March:  Sewing Kit.  I could use my tablet weaving loom and tablets, I suppose.  But I'd rather stretch the definition of "sewing kit" another way, by finally making the copper needlecase I've been thinking about trying for so many years now.

April:  Upping your game.  That sprang hood project still chides me, from the depths of my closet.  

June:  Favourite Technique.   Almost any of my Viking age sewing projects would fit here, because my favorite technique is whipstitch, and all of my handsewing involves whipstitch in abundance.  Maybe this is when I finish my white wool tunic (for the völva and Vendel outfits).

September: Everyday.  The white wool tunic works again here.  Also the peplos I want to make for my Vendel outfit.

October:  Details.  The Kostrup apron dress comes to mind, because the details of how the dress is pleated and how the bit of tablet weaving is attached are what inspired the project in the first place.

November:  Above the Belt.  Several orphaned projects work here, because they involve headwear.  They include the catskin hood, the D-shaped veil, and the sprang hood for that matter.  If I'm lucky and well-organized, maybe I can finish all three in November.  Or by November.  Hopefully November 2019.

December:  On A Shoestring.  This challenge appeals to me, because money remains a bit tight here.  But I'm having trouble thinking of a project I can start anew and finish cheaply, especially if one is to count the original cost of my stash materials.  Maybe something in the Linens (February) category?  I need to think about this one. 

Any ideas?  Please feel free to pass them on in the comments!