Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Meaty Item

Readers with long memories may recall that I have written, in the past, about costumes made of meat and other foods.  I used to think that this sort of costume was a purely 20th century form of humor, but the photograph with this post shows that I am wrong.

I recently re-discovered a photograph I once found on the Internet, dated April 1894.  It appears to the left side of this post.  Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I found it.  It appears to be from a newspaper, and records that the gentleman won 40 guineas as first prize at a fancy dress (i.e., costume) ball in Covent Garden.

He is not wearing bacon.  But he is dressed in a costume meant to depict him as a side of bacon.  That is, if a side of bacon wore a hat.  

It seems to me that someone should compile a history of historical costume that focuses on costumes meant to depict strange and fantastical subjects.  The 16th century concept of a masque involved such costumes, and the costumed parties would participate in a kind of skit, often based on mythological themes.  Masques may have involved concepts that are in better taste than a side of bacon, but the ultimate purpose--entertainment--was the same. 

If any of my readers are aware of other manifestations of the modern idea of a "costume" before the 20th century, please let me know in the comments.   Otherwise, have a great April Fool's Day!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Paper on Advanced Tailoring Based on Lengberg Finds.

About two months ago, I posted a link to a YouTube presentation about how analysis of some of the 15th century Lengberg Castle finds support the use of unusual techniques in tailoring for women's garments.  

Today, I found a paper on  The paper is a more formal write-up by Dr. Nutz, Rachel Case, and Marion McNealy of their hypothesis.  It was presented at the North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles (NESAT) at the Czech Academy of Sciences last year.  The paper is illustrated with photographs and reproductions of period art, and though the images are in black and white, they include photographs of completed reproductions based on the authors' theories and other material that compliment the slideshow. 

Anyone interested in the history of tailoring, or late medieval women's clothing, should check out this paper.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The "Bag" Part of the Hedeby Bag--Construction

Bag pattern
Over the last few days, I have been thinking about cutting my fabric for the wooden-framed Hedeby bag, and how the bag should go together.

A lot of the people who have made such bags simply cut a piece of fabric for the body of the bag that is twice as long as the intended depth of the bag, fold the piece in half, and then sew up the piece on both sides.  This type of construction has the advantage of not requiring any seam along the bottom of the bag, making the resulting bag stronger.

The downside of this construction is that the amount such a bag can contain is very limited relative to its depth.  It would be fairly simple to give the bag additional volume without making it deeper by adding bottom gores (thus making the bottom of the bag much wider), but doing so would create structural weakness by adding seams in areas that need to be weight-bearing. 

Outer layer with gores pinned in.
The Sami bag Kristine Risberg talks about in her post uses a somewhat different approach to increase volume.  It appears to have a circular or oval piece set in along the bottom of the bag.  This way, there is no bottom seam, just a seam that runs along the bottom edge of the bag, all around the sides at the bottom of the bag.    For a small bag that is unlikely to need to hold much, this much labor struck me as excessive for some reason.  And it also adds potential structural weakness.  Now, instead of having one piece of fabric for sides and bottom, there are three pieces; one for each side and one for the bottom.  That still seemed to create weakness.  On the other hand, the gores in the sides approach, though still involving three pieces, allows one large piece to be used for the wider sides and bottom, preserving much of the strength advantage of the fold-over design.

Then I started thinking about ways to add side gores.  The most attractive possibility that occurred to me was to add gores on the side that are narrow isosceles triangles.  This gives width to the bag without surrendering the strength and integrity of the folded bottom.  Though I'm no graphic artist, it is easier to explain what I mean with a diagram (see the graphic to the right of this post).  I've also included a photograph showing the gores pinned where they will be sewn.  Poor quality though it is, the photo gives a better idea of the finished bag's shape than the pattern sketch.

Under this plan, the lining will feature the same shapes as the exterior felt fabric, but since linen frays while felt does not, the lining pieces will have to be cut a bit larger than the main bag pieces--enough to allow for flat-felled seams.  That is desirable because linen, unlike wool felt, does fray, and the lining will suffer closer contact with the contents of the bag than the outer bag will.

I really like the bag shape the side-gore setup provides, so I'm going to use it.  After sewing the out and inner bags together, I will turn the outer bag right-side out, and stitch the frames to the bag using the tabs.  Once that is done I will insert the sewn linen lining (which will be a second bag, in effect), turn the top edge of the lining over, and whipstitch the lining and bag together along the top edge all around.    I have not yet decided whether I will apply the amber wool strip before, or after, stitching the frames on.  If I do so afterward, the top edge of the amber strip will lie against the bottom edge of the wool tabs holding the frame in place.

This approach will be different than that used on any of the bags I've seen pictured on line.  I'm excited to find out how (or whether) it will work.  

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Some One Afternoon Tutorials for 2018

It's been a while since I posted a collection of links for short costuming projects that I call "one-afternoon tutorials" because most of them can be completed in a single afternoon, or less.  

Here's another "one-afternoon tutorial" collection.  For a number of these, you will want copper or brass wire and tools for making wire jewelry (e.g., round-nose and other pliers, wire cutters or pliers that can do the same, files) because they are tutorials for making various historical jewelry items.  
  1. From Eleanor Deyeson's blog comes a tutorial I should try out--a tutorial for making Bronze Age spectacle brooches or. as she more aptly describes them, double spiral brooches. I have wanted a pair of these brooches for a long time, and reproductions are still more expensive than I am able to pay. 
  2. Marya Kargashina's Novgorod to Three Mountains blog has a tutorial on how to make Novgorod-style coil temple rings.  Temple rings were rings, the size of modern medium-sized hoop earrings, that could be worn on a headdress, woven into the hair, or even worn through earlobe piercings, like modern earrings.
  3. Konstantia Kaloethina has a tutorial on how to make U-shaped hairpins that reproduce the design of a 14th century London find.  
  4. Also from Konstantia Kaloethina's blog is a tutorial on how to make figured bezants--small pieces of metal with a figural design.  Great for early Scythian or Sarmatian costumes.
  5. Speaking of the 14th century, the Family de Huntington blog has a tutorial on how to make a frilled-edge veil in 10 hours.  The technique used is not a period technique, but it does give a reasonably good period appearance.  
  6. Finally, La Bella Perla describes how she made her own 10th century reliquary pouch in sufficient detail that many sewists will be able to make a similar one on their own.  Her pouch used beading techniques, but other types of decoration were possible in period.
I enjoy reading tutorials even for projects that do not interest me, because i find it fun to see the ingenuity costumers employ in learning period construction techniques (or, sometimes, getting the right effect without period techniques).   Hopefully this collection will be interesting to others.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Me and the HSM

I really like some of this year's Historical Sew Monthly challenges.  I've had a slow start this year (i.e., it's February and I haven't made anything yet), but there are quite a few themes on this year's list that I can imagine doing, and would like to do since I haven't done any historical sewing in too long.  Here's a sample of some of the projects that fit into this year's HSM monthly themes and where they might fit.

A Viking Age Bag.  My latest project--making my own Hedeby bag using an inexpensive pair of wooden frames found on Etsy.
Works for:  April:  Buttons and Fastenings: "Create an item where the closures are the star of the show.".  (Thank you, Stella, for pointing out that the bag's unique closure works for this challenge!)
Works for:  November:  Purses and Bags:  You've got your arms covered in July, your hands in September, now make something amazing to dangle from them!

Køstrup Apron Dress.  Another recent idea:  Make my own pleated-front apron dress to try to work out how the tablet-woven band on the Køstrup apron dress may have been sewn onto the dress.
Works for:  August:  Extant Originals:  "Copy an extant historical garment as closely as possible."
Works for:  October:  Fabric Manipulation:  "Take fabric to the next level with any kind of historical embellishment or manipulation:  smocking, shirring, embroidering, beading, pinking, ruching, printing, painting, dyeing, etc."

The Völva Shift.  The long, wool dress that is to be the underlayer and foundation of my long planned but barely started völva costume.
Works for:  February:  Under:  "Make something that goes under the other layers."
Works for:  March:  Comfort at Home: " Make something to wear around the (historical) house."

The Völva Cloak. The long, wool cloak that will be the most conspicuous part of the volva costume.
Works for:  April: Buttons and Fastenings:  Description below. As I've said before, I believe the völva's cloak fastened with long ties or straps, which were a prestige item on cloaks in late Viking Age Northern Europe.

Embroidery for the neckline and cuffs of my Byzantine Tunic.
Works for:  October:  Fabric Manipulation:  Description above.

Nalbinded Mittens or Socks.
Works for:  September:  Hands and Feet.  Create a fabulous accessory for your hands or feet.

And, of course, anything I don't manage to do earlier can be presented for December:  Neglected Challenge!   (E.g., Any challenge from this year's HSM, or any HSM or Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges that never got completed!)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Red Heels

Archaeological Textiles Review has just made its 2016 (vol 58) issue available for free download on its free downloads page here. (Follow the "download issue" link on the left, and when the subpage comes up in the box, click the link for "ATN 58".)

The lead article is about the surprising prevalence of surviving 17th century red-heeled and soled shoes in Denmark, but the articles that interest me the most are the following articles about surviving 10th-11th century textiles from Russia.  
Kochkurkina, Svetlana & Orfinskaya, Olga.  Archaeological Textiles of the 10th to the 12th Century from the Gaigovo Barrow Group in Russia.  Archaeological Textiles Review, vol. 58, p. 21.
Frei, Karin Margarita,  Makarov, Nikolaj, Nosch, Marie-Louise, Skals, Irene, Vanden Berge, Ina & Zaytseva, Irina.  An 11th-Century 2/2 Twill from a Burial in Shekshovo in Russia.  Archaeological Textiles Review, vol. 58, p. 34.
The Gaigovo Barrow finds are especially fascinating in that they contain many specimens of tablet weaving as well as jewelry.  Happy reading!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

To Make A Bag

Having discovered on Etsy a reasonably-priced pair of wooden bag frames based upon one of the Hedeby finds, I impulsively decided to make my own Hedeby bag.  Naturally, the Historical Sew Monthly challenge where this fits best is the November challenge, but perhaps I can delay completion of this project item until October, the month before (which is permitted under the HSM rules).

What I have already discovered is that I am thinking about the construction of these bags in a significantly different light than I did before I had actually planned to make one.  Before I sat down to plan how I wanted to make the bag, I was looking at the idea of bag-making in terms of what would be possible, based upon materials and processes we know were available during the Viking Age.

Once I had ordered my reproduction wooden pieces (they aren't really "handles," as I may have called them, because it is not possible to hold the bag well just by using them; the cord or strap threaded through them is the only real handle such bags have), my thinking changed.  I began to consider what would be most likely given what I know about Viking textile technology and other material culture practices.

Part of this change was driven by additional information I obtained from Kristine Risberg's post about her Haithabu bag project.  From that post, I learned that one of the Haithabu frame pieces was found with wool ("fabric or yarn", according to Kristine) through holes which are in a natural place to use to fasten the bag to the frame.  That suggests that wool was used to fasten the frame to the bag, which in turn suggests that at least some of these bags may have been made from wool.

Even more interesting is that similar bags, with bone or antler frames instead of wooden ones, appear to have been used on leather food bags from Lappland, according to an early article by Arvid Julius.  The idea that the Viking bags were also used for food is supported, to some extent, by their sizes.  The Lapp (i.e., Sami) bags discussed by Julius were 20, 22, and 24 centimeters long which is close to the size of my reproduction (about 23 cm/9 inches long).  However, some of the Hedeby frames were much larger.  According to Kristine, the examples in the Haithabu Museum "are described by Westphal to "have a length of 181-495 mm and a thickness of 7-13 mm". The thickness of my piece is within that range, but its length is on the small end of the range. 181 - 495 mm equal 18.1 - 49.5 cm, or about 7 - 19 inches. In other words, the Haithabu bags were somewhere between lunch bag size and shopping bag size.  The Birka frames were largely incomplete fragments, but the one set of fragments that appear to constitute a single frame are 282 mm or 28.2 cm (11 inches) in length--within the range of the Haithabu frames though near the lower end of the range.  At 9 or so inches, my bag would be among the smaller bags based upon these finds, but I am content to make a (roughly) lunch bag sized container for this project.

The Sami frames were ornamented with simple carving, while the Haithabu and Birka examples were plain, their shaping being the only ornamental element.  Viking Age tools and useful articles differ greatly in how ornamental they are.  For example, most Viking needlecases and spindles are plain, though some examples bear simple decoration.  The wooden Viking frames fall on the low side of the decorative spectrum, which suggests that the bags they were part of were not adorned in a showy manner.  The likelihood that these were utilitarian items is further supported by the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, none of them came from graves--the Birka examples, for instance, were found not in any of the graves, but in an underwater area that was long known "to contain wooden logs and cultural layers."  With these facts in mind, I selected the components from which the bag would be made. Pictures of them appear with this post, and my rationale for each will be discussed below. 
WOOD: The birch frames

The elements to be decided upon for making the bag include: (1)  the type of wood for the frame;  (2) the material from which to make the body of the bag; (3) whether to line the bag and, if so, what material to use; (4) the color, weight, and (if using fabric) weave of the materials for the bag; (5) what material to use for the handle (e.g., fiber cord or leather strap), and how long a length of cord/strap to use, and; (6) how and whether to decorate the bag, and what materials to use for decoration.  Here's the reasoning I used to make each of those decisions.

BAG:  Wool felt fabric for the bag itself.
WOOD:  The frame pieces of the original finds that Kristine discusses in her post are typically ash or maple.  It is possible to purchase reproduction maple frames, but they tend to be more expensive ($30-$40 USD per pair).  The crafter from whom I bought my frame pieces uses birch and stains them walnut-colored, but I did not like the look of the staining and thus asked her not to stain my set.  (In addition, staining the frames I received would make it very obvious that that the wood grain on them runs vertically, instead of horizontally across the length of the frame as is true of all the original finds of which I've seen good photographs or drawings.)  The low price ($15 USD for frames that are about 9 inches/23 cm long) led me to go with the birch frames. 

BAG MATERIAL:  Strong, water-repellent, light, easily available--wool, the workhorse fabric of the Vikings, is a logical choice for a food bag.  The only drawback, if we're assuming the frame bags were used for food, is the possibility of moth damage, but that can be evaded with care and with using the bag solely for foods that are already wrapped or have natural protective coatings (such as apples or eggs).  

There are many different types of wool fabric, and that would have been true even in the Viking Age.  I purchased a fairly thick felt, since it seemed unlikely that a fine wool, suitable for elegant clothing, would have been used for a mere bag in the Viking Age.  Fine wool scraps might have been used for ornamenting an item, or for making small items such as hats or mittens, but a bag of the size that would match my frames would be need to be bigger, at least 9 inches wide and as much as 24 inches long--more than a mere scrap.  I selected a dark brown (the actual color is much darker than it shows in the photograph here) because such a color could be easily achieved on wool during the Viking Age, either with dyes or by using the wool of a dark brown sheep.  I have seen pictures of some lovely herringbone wool Haithabu-type bags, and I was tempted by vendors who were selling some truly lovely herringbone twills on line, but herringbone twill wool is not that common a fabric in the Viking Age, and I suspect such wool would be reserved for clothing or other items more display-oriented than these simple bags seem likely to have been.

LINING:  Linen for lining.
LINING: The Sami bags, being leather, would not necessarily need to be lined. However, what limited indication we have is that the Vikings made their bags from wool.  Since food stains on wool tend to attract moths, leading to fabric damage, it would make sense to line a wool food bag in a material other than wool.

The other commonly used fabric in the Viking Age was linen. We have no information that the Vikings used linen, waxed or dry, to wrap food, though there are hints in some of the Birka graves that linen was used as linings for dresses, underclothing, or both. But linen is not subject to moth damage, which would make it useful for a wool food bag lining.  If one uses a "bag" style lining (i.e., a lining that is sewn separately from the outer bag and sewn to it only at the top), it would be possible to remove the lining and replace it with a new one if the old one became too damaged or soiled in use.  In addition, I had a suitably sized scrap of linen in a plausible period color, so a linen lining was a reasonable choice.

COLORS:  Substances were available in the Viking Age could dye wool in many cheerful tones of the primary colors.  Originally, I thought I would use dark blue wool for the bag, since I had some large scraps of blue coat-weight wool on hand, and it's a color I really like.  However, judging by the fine wool smokkrs found at Birka and Køstrup, blue seems to have been a prestigious color during the Viking Age.  In contrast, the frame bags do not seem to have been heavily decorated items, and not the type of item one ornamented to flaunt one's wealth.  So it seemed best to stick to a color consistent with the undyed wools available to the Vikings, which came mostly in grays and browns.  
HANDLE:  Cotton cord; not authentic, but expedient.

With regard to the lining, linen is difficult to dye with the materials and techniques of the Viking Age, and a utilitarian bag would not need a fancy colored lining.  Most of the scrap linen I have on hand is either white (to mimic bleached linen) or light blue (a prestige color, again).  I do have some medium-weight linen in a light antique gold color that did not seem too fancy but would still make a pleasing contrast with the dark brown, so I chose that for the lining. 

HANDLE:  Wool cord didn't seem like a good material to use for the handle of a bag that might hold rather heavy objects (such as apples), because wool tends to stretch with use and would be vulnerable to breaking from stress.  Leather stretches much less and is much stronger, but an appropriate weight and color of leather would have significantly increased the cost of the project.  A quick search of my stash produced a length of heavy cotton cord in a cheerful yellow color, with a diameter just small enough to thread through the holes in the frames.  Though it's unlikely the Vikings had access to significant amounts of cotton, and equally unlikely that a bast fiber such as linen, ramie or hemp could be dyed that shade of yellow with Viking Age dyes, I selected the cord because it was suitable for my budget for the project.  

As a practical matter, the cord for one of these frame bags has to be at least long enough so that the bag could open fully.  Medieval pilgrims' bags had straps long enough to allow the bag to be carried over the shoulder, and since many existing frames indicate bags too large to hang on one's belt or easily carry in the hand, it is fortunate that I have enough cord to make it possible to use the proposed bag as a shoulder bag.

ORNAMENT:  Finer wool fabric for trim.
ORNAMENT:  I have seen photographs of reproduction bags on the Internet that were decorated with scraps of silk and/or embroidery.  If such bags were used as the Viking equivalent of a lunch bag, I suspect that such effort would have been deemed inappropriate.  But I could not tolerate the idea of making a totally plain bag, and suspect that many Viking women would have found some way to make even such a bag a bit less plain.  The fragments of apron dress from Birka that are trimmed with a simple wool cord indirectly support this idea.  So I bought a small piece of amber-colored wool, which I figured would harmonize with the other yellow components of the bag.  I will cut a piece of that wool that is about two inches (5 cm) wide, and stitch it around the top of the bag, just below the straps securing the frames.  That should look attractive without requiring the kind of effort that likely would have been reserved for formal clothing and other forms of status display during the Viking Age.  Alternatively, I could use the amber wool for the straps fastening the bag to the frame, but think that using the stronger felted wool would be structurally more sound for that purpose.

The best thing about a bag project is that its small size and geometrically-shaped pieces mean that it will be quick to assemble.  If I do not decide to save it for the November HSM, I should probably have it finished pretty soon.  When I have it completed, I will post pictures on this blog.