Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Recreating the Egtved Skirt


A day or two ago, I rediscovered the Facebook page of the Friends of Archaeological Textiles Review, which I recommend to historical costume buffs, particularly those interested in early period costume.  There is pure gold in some of the URLs posted on that Facebook page.

The most interesting item I have discovered on the Friends of ATR page so far is the video that appears to the left.  This video shows Professor Ida Demant, an archaeologist at Sagnlandet Lejre in Denmark, making a reproduction of the Egtved skirt, and explaining what she is doing, in English, while she is working.  The basic technique is to make a tablet-woven belt, leaving long weft loops, and twisting the loops together to make the thick fringe.  The video concludes with a few seconds of footage showing a young woman modeling the finished product for an outdoor audience.

To watch Professor Demant make this skirt is to acquire a new appreciation for the skills of textile workers in ancient times.  I commend it to anyone interested in the making of textiles as well as to persons interested in Bronze Age costume.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Random Thought About Viking Apron Dresses

Simple wool tube apron dress
(photo by my husband)
A pair of flat apron dresses,
wrapped in opposite directions
(photo by my husband)
A lined, wrapped, flat apron dress
(photo by my husband)
This afternoon, I had a random thought about Viking apron dresses--the sleeveless overdress associated with heavy bronze tortoise brooches that is associated with women's graves in Scandinavia during the Viking age. The purpose of this post is to clarify that thought and explain it.

As Hilde Thunem and others have observed, the surviving archaeological evidence at Kostrup shows that the Kostrup apron dress likely was a tube with a small section of pleating, probably located at the center front. The Hedeby fragment, believed to have been from an apron dress though this cannot be determined with certainty because it was not found in a grave, likely was part of a fitted garment. If that garment was an apron dress, it too would have been generally tube-shaped.

In her excellent general research article on apron dresses, Ms. Thunem summarizes a large number of textile finds that also appear to be from apron dresses. She mentions a number of textile finds in Norway that include pleated wool sections, similar to the pleated section on the Kostrup find.

Based upon these finds, Ms. Thunem and others have concluded that the apron dress, despite differences in design, generally had a tube shape throughout Scandinavia.  For that reason, she is comfortable with using the term smokkr to describe it.  Smokkr, a word used to describe a woman's clothing in one of the Norse sagas, is etymologically related to the verb that means "to creep through"--an apt name for a tube-shaped garment.

But if you examine all of the Scandinavian evidence in context, the overall picture is slightly different. Here is a brief summary of that evidence as I understand it.
  • The textile finds that support the idea of a tube-shaped dress with pleats or a fitted dress of some kind come from Norway and Denmark, not Sweden.
  • The Birka finds (from Sweden) believed to be part of an apron dress are not pleated, and do not show a seam or other evidence indicating that they might be part of a tube-shaped garment.
  • The Pskov find (from Russia) that is believed to have been part of an apron dress (the folded textile fragments found wrapped around tortoise brooches) also does not appear to have had a seam.
  • There are no finds in Norway or Denmark that resemble the Birka "apron dress" finds, which Agnes Geijer theorized were wrapped around the body instead of being sewn into a tube.
The thought I had this afternoon is that perhaps apron dress construction differed by region.  So far, the physical evidence amply supports Hilde Thunem's conclusion that apron dresses in Norway and Denmark were constructed in a general tube shape, a shape which evolved (possibly by becoming more fitted?) over time.

In contrast, the physical evidence suggests that Swedish apron dresses, and likely also the Pskov garment, were flat sheets furnished with small loops, which were wrapped around the body to form an overdress.   But this evidence does not necessarily contradict Ms. Thunem's conclusion that apron dresses were tube-shaped all over Scandinavia.  Although a wrapped apron dress looks very different from a sewn-tube-shaped dress when they are not being worn, both types can look very similar in wear.  The photographs of three of my apron dresses, shown at the upper right, illustrate the point.

I also agree with Ms. Thunem that Flemming Bau's theory of open-fronted apron dresses is not well-supported by the evidence.  She correctly notes that Inga Hagg and Thor Ewing explain why the physical evidence Bau cites does not require, let alone compel, the conclusion that any of the finds to which Bau refers was an open-fronted overdress.

So although the apron dress may have been made in different ways in different places at different times during the Viking age, its basic appearance--that of a tube suspended from tortoise brooches--tended to remain the same.    Ms. Thunem notes that there may have been minor differences in appearance.  I agree, and I think such differences likely resulted from differences in construction, as I've suggested above.  Moreover, since images of women on Viking pendants and other period art do not clearly show the apron dress, they provide no reason either to argue for a particular construction or to refute the theory that all apron dresses appeared to be tube-shaped in wear.

If any of my readers know of Swedish finds that support the idea of a tube-shaped construction, or of any evidence that might bear upon apron dress construction that is not discussed by Hilde Thunem or referred to above, please let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Woman in Blue--Online!

I just learned from a post by Jenn Culler on one of the Viking era clothing groups on Facebook that the Northern Women's Arts Collaborative has put a substantial version of the clothing information about the "Lady in Blue" find on the Internet, in English.  Go here to see the page, complete with illustrations, for yourself.  

A second page, webbed by the same group, provides an excellent English language description of the Marled Maher's and Marianne Guckelsberger's project of recreating the apron dress in which the "Lady in Blue" was buried.  That page may be found here.

Links to other textile projects, some of which have relevance to the Viking period, can be found at the home page for the Northern Women's Arts Collaborative, here. Enjoy! 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Fine Fabric In the Bronze Age

Many people who aren't knowledgeable about historical costume assume that clothing in early times, including the Bronze Age, was coarse and heavy and bulky to wear.  

Early Greek and Roman sculpture show that that wasn't true in the Mediterranean--the fine drapery shown in those sculptures could not have been achieved with coarse fabric.  And archaeological finds from early Egyptian tombs show their skill at thin, translucent, fine linen. 

Somehow, it's hard to imagine fine fabrics showing up in northern Europe much before the Middle Ages.  The Hammerum dress, for example, was brightly dyed and well-woven, but rather thick and graceless in appearance, if the recent reconstruction of the dress by Museum Midtjylland is a realistic guide.  But a recent discovery in England, of all places, suggests that fine fabric was not worn solely in southern Europe during the Bronze Age.  The Independent published a news article summarizing the discovery here.

According to the article in The Independent, the site is about 30 miles northwest of Cambridge at a place called Must Farm near Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire, and the finds are approximately 3,000 years old. Over 100 different textile fragments have been found there so far, along with evidence that textile production took place at the site.  The finest specimens found are linen, and appear to have been of sizes that would naturally be used for draped garments, according to the article, which reports:
Some of the yarn is of superfine quality – with some threads being just 100 microns (1/10 of a millimetre) in diameter, while some of the fabrics themselves are so finely woven that they have 28 threads per centimetre, fine even by modern standards. It’s likely that some of the fragments of textile are from items of clothing.
Originally, some of the textiles must have been of very substantial size – because they had been folded, in some cases in up to 10 layers. If made to be worn, these folded fabrics may well have been large garments, potentially, capes, cloaks – or even large drapes, perhaps similar to those known from elsewhere in the ancient (and sometimes modern) worlds – the ancient Greek chiton, the Roman toga and the Indian sari. A drape folded into 10 layers for temporary storage would have served as a substantial garment – potentially up to 3 metres square (i.e. 9 square metre).
There is no evidence that the fabrics found had been dyed, but this is not surprising due to the difficulty of dyeing linen with the vegetable dyes available during the Bronze Age.

There is other evidence that this site was the location of a wealthy village.  Jewelry items, notably glass beads, were also found, and the beads appear to have come from the eastern Mediterranean, probably Syria or Turkey.  Metal tools and articles, such as tweezers and razors, axes and awls, were found, along with wooden buckets and ceramic bowls and containers.  The evidence also indicates that the site was burned less than a year after it was built, and then was depopulated--food and food items found in place indicate that the people didn't just move away but were killed, enslaved, or both.

If you care about early material culture, including clothing, in Europe, keep an eye out for information about Must Farm--there is a lot of material to analyze that may completely change our view of the cultural history of northern Europe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From The "Nothing New Under the Sun" Department

Afghan man wearing a pakol
Boy wearing a clock, boots, and kausia.
Terracotta, made in Athens, 300 BCE
This evening, I was reading an Osprey text about the armies of Macedonia after the death of Alexander the Great, when I saw artists' images showing Macedonian army members wearing an odd kind of beret.  

I thought I recognized the beret.  It looked like a hat J. Peterman was selling in its upscale catalog back in the 1990s, which it labeled an "Afghan hat."  Nowadays, you can buy similar hats today on the Internet for as low as $9.99 USD; Amazon.com and Ebay sell such hats from various suppliers for prices ranging from about $15 USD to $30 USD.

When I attempted to find material on the Internet to confirm, or refute, my recollection, I came upon this Wikipedia article about a modern Afghan hat called a "pakol." Included with the article were two photographs from Wikimedia Commons (both featured here), one of a modern pakol, and one of an ancient Greek sculpture, showing a boy wearing a visually identical hat, which the Greeks and Macedonians called a kausia.  This style of hat originally was made as a woolen bag, with a bottom just a bit larger in circumference than the top. The bag is then rolled up until the hat is the right depth to sit comfortably on the head, and the larger bottom forms a kind of brim that lies above the rolled-up "headband." It is possible to tweak the circumference of the band by rolling or unrolling the bag.

At least some modern Afghans claim that Alexander introduced the hat to Nuristan and that there are modern Nuristans who are descendants of Alexander's troops. However, the actual adoption and wearing of the pakol in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and nearby areas today appears to date from the 20th century.

Back in the 1980s scholars debated whether Alexander's army introduced the kausia to Afghanistan and nearby regions, or whether he adopted the hat from the peoples there. One historical blogger summarizes the scholarly debate over the pakol's origins as follows:
It began with an article in American Journal of Archaeology in 1981, “The Cap that Survived Alexander”, in which Prof. Bonnie Kingsley made the arresting observation that the pakool closely resembles an ancient item of headwear, the kausia (καυσία)....
In 1986 Kingsley’s article received an academic response, and quite a decisive one. In Transactions of the American Philological Association Ernst Fredricksmeyer, an Alexander specialist, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kausia was just too established a staple of the Macedonian wardrobe for it to have been imported from Central Asia toward the end of Alexander’s campaigns. ....
The debate between Kingsley and Fredricksmeyer rumbled on for a while ..., with Fredricksmeyer latterly slightly less confident about any connection between the pakool and Alexander the Great. The coup de grâce was administered by Willem Vogelsang of the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden (under the not-so-catchy title of “The Pakol, a distinctive but apparently not so very old headgear from the Indo-Iranian borderlands”), who showed that the pakool is actually a simple adaptation of caps with rolled rims worn all over the borderlands of China, India and Central Asia.
But the resolution of the academic debate does not tell us where or why the pakol (or pakool) re-emerged.  If the cap was adapted from similar types of cap in Central Asia, why did it take the old Macedonian form?   Surely there are other forms such a woolen cap could take?  Maybe the answer is just as Vogelsang suggests; that an adjustable wool cap is ideal for fighters and military men in mountain country.  Though in a way, it seems a little odd that there isn't more continuity of use of the cap from Alexander's time and today, since in many ways life in the Central Asian mountains hasn't changed all that much in the past two millennia.

Whatever the reason, the existence of the pakol today is a minor boon for Alexandrine period reenactors, who can easily find a genuine-looking hat for their kit for a reasonable price.  Alexander's men appear to have worn the kausia in white, and undyed white wool pakol are among those easily available on the Internet.  If you want a pakol simply for style, black, brown, tan, and gray are also available.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Diamond Twill Wool Source

In light of my recent post updating my information about diamond twill wool fabric sources, I figured I should pass on the information I got from Jenn Culler's blog just the other day.

Jenn reported that Stas Volobuev, who is based in Kursk, Russia, is selling undyed broken diamond wool twill (as well as other fabrics) for 30 Euros per meter plus shipping. The thread count of Stas's diamond twill is 36 x 16 per cm, and thus is quite fine (and an unbalanced weave, as was true of many of surviving period fabrics).   The cloth is 158 cm (about 62 inches) wide, which makes 30 Euros a very good price (though shipping from Russia is likely to be substantial).

You can contact Stas to arrange a purchase at his Facebook page, here.  His Facebook page says that discounts for "natural dyes are available if you buy them together with cloth proportionally".  That may be worth exploring if you would prefer dyed diamond twill for your project.

EDIT (2/27/2017):  Facebook appears to have blocked access to Stas's account, for now.  Hopefully this will be temporary.  Stay tuned.

EDIT (3/13/2017):  Stas's Facebook page is accessible again.

Monday, February 6, 2017

An ATR Bonanza

Hardcore fans of archaeological reports relating to textile and costume knowledge have long known about the Archaeological Textiles Review (formerly known as the Archaeological Textiles Newsletter).  ATR is a wonderful source of information on archaeological finds that have not yet been fully published in more conventional professional journals.

ATR is published as an annual volume of about news magazine length; a one-year subscription costs 20 Euros.  Several years ago, ATR announced a policy of making old issues available for free download on their website, and issues 46 through 57 were previously available on this basis.

Last night, I discovered that ALL of the issues of ATR, except for Issue No. 58 (the current issue) are now available for free download.  Because of the way the site's HTML is structured, it is necessary to go to the general ATR page here and click the "Download issue" link to find the download page.  If you don't want to download more than 50 different PDFs without having any idea of their contents, the link to "Issues" is a listing of the titles of all the articles in all the back issues of ATN/ATR, making it possible to narrow down one's list of desirable issues.

I am really looking forward to tracking down articles in old issues that had previously been unavailable. To my readers, most of whom probably are also interested in ATR's subject matter, enjoy!