Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Planning ahead - peplos & party dress

I'm still not feeling well, so I'm spending one more day in bed (or rather, on the sofa) with a runny nose and a throat that feels like it's been jammed with a cactus. At least this gives me time to plan ahead! Yesterday I came to the conclusion that a peplos is what I should wear this weekend in Gamla Uppsala, and since I don't actually own one I will have to sew one. At the moment I'm hoping on getting down to the fabric store tomorrow for some nice wool (I just hope I find something good!) and I'll have two days (or rather, evenings) to sew. Which really shouldn't be a problem since it's such a simple design.

Then in just three weeks or so my cousin is getting married (hurray!), and I've decided on sewing a new dress for the occasion. Scary, since I've never actually sewn anything like it, I'm just used to the medieval stuff! The pattern is this one from Buttericks, the version to the right. Last night my wonderful friend Cissi came over to help me make a toille, which I wouldn't have managed on my own. So thank you Cissi!

Not actually having the energy to do anything else about it right now, I've just been looking through the sewing instructions. Once again, it's scary! Plus I just realized that I have completely missed that I need a lining fabric so I'll have to look for that too, once I get down to the fabric store... I absolutely love the fabric I bought for the dress, a pale golden brocade with a bit of 18th century feel to it. Underneath I will have a fluffy petticoat which is at the moment only half-way finished. I completely underestimated how long it takes to sew ruffles! (It's been too long since my dancing days, when we put ruffles on all of our stage clothes...) Now I just have to find a suitable lining fabric that fits in with the white-golden colour scheme.

So that's what's on my mind right now. Feels like a LOT of work, but it really isn't that bad, since the peplos should take just a couple of hours to finish. And of course I'll show you the end result as soon as I can!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Iron Age event this weekend at Gamla Uppsala Museum

This weekend the Gamla Uppsala Muesum (yeah yeah, most people say Old Uppsala in English but frankly, I find it silly to translate place-names!) hold an Iron Age event and we are planning to attend together with a couple of friends. That, and a nice little phone conversation I had with Ida got me thinking about Iron Age fashion, the problems of Viking Age clothes (more specifically the female clothes) and purely practically speaking... what I should wear in Gamla Uppsala.

A couple of years ago I made a couple of  Viking Age outfits according to the nowadays traditional interpretation: simple, long dress in linnen underneath and an apron dress in wool worn above. Why? I'm sad to say it was just because that's what people (fellow students, archaeologists and generally crafty people) told me was most correct. Sure, I knew that there were other versions as well but to be honest, I didn't really look into them at the time.

Just a few years later I listened to a very interesting lecture by Dr Annika Larsson about her interpretation of the textile finds from a certain burial in Pskov, Russia. If I was to retell all of her theory this post would be way too long, so I'll settle for showing a picture. If you're familiar with the normal apron dress-type of dress I know this looks weird and wrong, but after hearing Annika's arguments and looking at pictures of the textiles from Pskov, I gotta say that I think she's onto something...

It is however very important to note that Annika never claimed that this was the only outfit used by Viking Age women. No, her interpretation is that this is an outfit for very specific events, probably ceremonial. So all those who refuse to accept this theory based on the "but that would be SO unpractical when you are working in the field" argument can just go away, please. =)

What the everyday Viking woman still makes me feel highly uncertain. Flipping through my old copy of Viking Clothing by Thor Ewing I found myself once again considering the more odd possibilities. For example, have a look at this carving from Oseberg (from the cart!).
"Around her neck hangs a very long double string of beads, and instead of the brooched dress, she wears a skirt and a blouse. The skirt appears to be belted at the waist and hangs in folds around the back: the front of the skirt is either covered by an apron or, more likely, hangs flat like a kilt front, and it appears to be patterned. The waisted, patterned skirt is strongly reminiscent of the shorter garment from Huldremose with its drawstring gathering." (Ewing 2006:46)

I find this horribly interesting! If you've ever seen a reconstruction of this outfit then please tell me, because I'd love to see one! Now if you look at the male figure next to her... doesn't it look like he is wearing a sort of waistcoat? Either that or only the sleeves are pleated, with  a smooth front. However, if you'd accept the interpretation of is as a waistcoat, then what is there to say that the woman isn't also wearing a similar garment, seeing that she too has pleating only on the sleeves but not on the front! Probably not, but I still think that there are more possibilities than the one Ewing suggests, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as well.

Considering the difficulties in interpreting the female Viking Age clothes, I'm not sure I want to wear my old apron dress to Gamla Uppsala. Continuing to wear it would only solidify the general view of it as 'the' Viking Age dress, and I'm not sure I want to be a part of that... So what to wear? One possibility is to make a simple garment suitable for a slave woman, sleeveless and probably only kneelength (Rigstula describes the slavegirl as having tanned arms, suggesting a dress without sleeves, and there are pictures of simple dresses only reaching down to the knees...). Or I go for something completely different! The event isn't Viking Age, it's Iron Age! So why not come dressed in an outfit from the early Iron Age? The marvellous finds from Danish bog bodies offer enough textile remains for a good reconstruction! Then as far as I can tell, I should probably make myself a peplos or a waisted skirt like what they have found in Huldremose, Denmark. Since a peplos seems to be the easiest to make (I only have a few days and lots of other stuff to do as well!) I think that's what I'll choose. That, and the fact that I can't find ANY pictures of the other outfit where you can actually see what's worn below the cape. A tunic? A dress that stretches down below the skirt? Nothing? *giggling* Well... since my mind seems to be going around in circles I think I'll just stop this rambling. If I can just get rid of this horrible cold that's been keeping me in bed I'll go get some nice wool for a peplos. And no, I wont have time to sew it by hand, so don't even think about it!

Have a great day and as usual, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this so feel free commenting!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Late 14th century illustrations - help me figure this one out!

 Have a look at these two illustrations, dated to 1380-1400. Pretty, aren't they? Now look a bit closer at the ladies...

First, I noticed this pretty lady whose outfit got me wondering. The lines seen around her arm and wrist as well as around her waist are just seams, or she is actually wearing a tight jacket of a sort, over her dress! Sewn in the same fabric as the dress, yes, but only reaching to her elbow and opening in the front. My first thought was that no, the lines are probably just the seams of the dress... But that doesn't really add up, does it? Ever seen a 14th century dress with seems like that? With no other seams at the skirt or anywhere else? And looking at the other garments from the same illustrator you can't really see seams like that either, can you? No, I can't see it as anything other than a separate garment.

Next, have a look at the hood. What a pretty chaperon, with a contrasting colour on the part covering the shoulders... But hang on, is this really a normal chaperon? Doesn't the colour of the hood and the shape of the front (under her chin) suggest that it's not actually attached to the purple cape, but to the garment below? Could this in fact be a hooded jacket of some sort, worn underneath a short cape?
 Now look at the next picture. Look at the hood, matching her dress rather than the cape. Now I don't feel like suggesting a hooded dress, but it sure does not look like the hood at all connects to the cape, right? Or am I just imagining things here?

Lastly here is a third lady, wearing something rather different. She does however seem to have a hood like the ones we've seen before, but without the cape part. Generally, this lady's outer dress is pretty interesting (I have some trouble figuring out how it all fits together), and once again the hood could actually be a part of the outer dress rather than being a separate piece... But I'm not sure, this outfit gets me a bit confused.

In conclusion, I really don't know how to interpret these outfits. First, the possibility of a tight jacket worn over a dress... Have you ever seen anything like it? I don't think I have, but on the other hand I haven't really been searching for it either so I'm not sure. Then, have you ever seen the hood of a chaperon being attached to a jacket or a dress? Do you think it's a completely ridiculous idea or might there be something here for further research? And when it comes to the third lady here... sigh... can you make sense of it? With wide sleeves and tippets from just underneath the shoulders?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this so please write me a comment! Do you see what I see or am I just a bit crazy here? The pictures are dated to 1380-1400 but unfortunately I haven't been able to find further information, but perhaps you know more?

And thank you for reading such a long post!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sewing linen napkins

To some people, sewing linen napkins probably seems like a waste of time. Why not just use paper napkins? Why spend so much time on something that ordinary? Many people probably think of it as a redundant luxury for the rich and wealthy, or for fine dining restaurants.
I must admit, I have at times thought the same. But lately I have come to appreciate the beauty in ordinary objects made to last. I am tired of buying paper napkins just to throw them away, no matter how pretty they are. And after having switched to washable cloth rags for cleaning the kitchen and dusting, and feeling that there was absolutely no loss of hygiene (since I wash the rags as soon as they start getting the least bit icky) while at the same time sparing the environment... I felt that it was time to also start using linen napkins.

So earlier this week I walked by the local fabric store and bought some pale greyish green linen that was both discrete and beautiful, and this evening I began sewing. By now I've finished five and I have eleven more to go, but there is no rush and I'll finish the rest another day. I'm even considering putting monograms on them, how crazy am I!?

I admire the way people of the past put time and love into creating everyday objects, and these napkins to me represent a tiny step towards recreating that. I just hope that they will be good and functional, and that I'll be able to wash away future stains...

By the way, this environmentally friendly thinking... I wonder which really has the least effect on the environment, washing cloth napkins in the washing machine or throwing away paper napkins and thus wasting paper... What do you think?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Unicorn embroidery!

My latest embroidery project is based on this gorgeous 14th century unicorn embroidery, from Köln in Germany. My version is done on a piece of pink linnen and is meant to be stitched onto my 14th century outfit. I am using split stitches, letting the needle pass through the thread, creating a very smooth surface.

This is the first time I've worked with this type of stitch and I think I'm starting to get a hang of it. I should however admit that I made a silly beginner's mistake as I transferred the pattern... Despite me being careful when tracing the lines, they ended up just a millimeter or so outside of the template, which I didn't actually realize until after I'd done most of the head. At that point, when I noticed that my unicorn wasn't as slender as the original, it was already too late to go back without ruining it all. I just hope that it'll still look good in the end.

Though I am really an archaeologist (master's degree from Uppsala University), at the moment I have a much less inspiring day job selling insurances, which basically just pays the bills. But what's even better, I have no problem sewing or needlebinding while at the same time doing my job! Actually, I feel that having that distraction helps me keep sane and focused, and helps me perform damn well. The last picture hints of my favourite work position: laid back with my feet up on the desk with my embroidery in the lap, and the computor running next to me.
At first I got some weird looks from the others, my bosses especially wondering if I could really concentrate on my job while at the same time doing all this other stuff! Now they don't even raise an eyebrow when I pick it up, and I can do my thing in peace. So yes, I do like my work, and I don't think I've EVER gotten so much hand sewing done before!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Learning something new (weaving edging strips with a rigid heddle)

Good evening dear readers! I thought I'd tell you about a marvellous little workshop I went to during the Visby Medieval Week this year, held by Åsa Martinsson.(whose blog you can find right here). The 'real' workshop was held the evening before, but as some of us couldn't make it to that gathering Åsa was very kind to give us an introduction the morning after, in the lovely medieval tavern called Kapitelhusgården. Thank you Åsa!

Now, I have practiced regular tablet weaving for a couple of years (though I still have very much to learn) but weaving with a single card - a rigid heddle - was all new to me.

So here we are, just starting our venture into this unknown world of rigid heddles, fiddling away with the yarn and peering over each other's shoulders.

The task was not only to weave a ribbon, but to weave it directly onto a fabric, creating a nice edging. In theory it was all clear to me, but my fingers were still very much stuck in regular card weaving and it took a while for me to get a hang of.

The picture to the right is of course me, just getting started. As you can see I have one end stuck to the table in front of me and one end fastened to my belt, allowing me to weave directly over my lap. Very comfortable actually! Though I am quite fond of this little contraption shown below, which Åsa uses at times when being stuck just isn't practical.
The rigid heddle in the picture is one that Åsa brought with her, and if you check out her website you can find a close-up of what it looks like (right HERE). We used two different colour of yarn, threading one type through the holes in the tablet and one type through the slits. Then, by moving the tablet up or down the yarn is separated and it's easy to get the needle through.

My problem was first of all to get the tension right, as I started out not tightening it enough and thus creating a sort of checkered surface. But with a little help from Åsa I soon managed to get the desired striped look, and I'm proud to say that I even got the corners right!

Since the whole thing started out wrong it never actually looked good (it was supposed to end up as a small wallet/pouch) so as I came home I discarded it, immediately beginning anew with a fresh set of ideas. However, since this little thing called WORK came upon me as I returned from the Middle Ages, I have not yet finished it. But when I do, you'll be the first to know!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Home again after a week well spent in Visby Medieval Week

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity... it was Visby Medieval Week 2011, and it was glorious! 

A week ago we returned home after a lovely stay in the Middle Ages. Visby was beautiful, as always. The crowds were unfortunately mainly modern, yet the general mood was good and the quality of the arrangements slightly better than last time I was there!

There is just too much to say about the whole thing yet I am way too tired for lengthy writing, so for now you'll have to settle for some pictures. 

Here we are, waiting for dinner...

Food gone!
Taking a stroll.
I love this headdress! 

Warriors assembling for the Battle of Wisby 1361.

Riders attacking!

Preparing for battle.


Friends of ours in downtown Visby, showing off their amazing outfits.


Ehm... huh?

Friday, August 5, 2011

14th century outfits finished!

As the wedding of our dear friends K and A approached, we scrambled to finish our 14th century outfits. Isn't it strange how you always work on a project up until the last minute, no matter how much time you've had?

The deal was this: Marcus did the main part of the sewing (on a machine, neither of us particularly enjoy sewing clothes by hand... I know, it's almost blasphemous to say so but get over it!) and thus put together both of our outfits, while I made buttons (lots and lots!) and did the embroidery for both of us. The actual fastening of the buttons on the clothes we both worked on.

I had hoped to get much more embroidery done... but it took forever! The small collar embroidery took longer for me to finish than it took Marcus to sew both of our outifts! Gaaah! *frustrated* But the outfits turned out pretty good I think, even though they're not as heavily decorated as I had wanted them to be. Or what do you think?

Here is a close up of the collar I made for Marcus. The pattern I found online somewhere, I'm sorry to say I forgot to note where it came from...

At least I know where I got the inspiration for my embroidered belt. Have you seen the gorgeous Malterer tapestry? See the borders? Yeah, that's it!

At first, when I thought of the 14th century fashion I imagines Marcus in tights and a short tunic, a bit like this. And for me, something like this one. The thing is, neither of us really appreciated that style! So we searched for alternatives and found quite a lot of late 14th century sources with a completely other feel to it. The inspiration for my dress came from a multitude of sources from the late 14th century, with buttons along the front and wide sleeves, and a rather tightly fitted body. For Marcus' we went with the long and flowing outer robe over a tightly fitted tunic. (Like the robe of the man to the left in the picture to the right, and the inner tunic of the gentleman in the middle of the pic to the left!)

So here they are, our finished outfits. Or well, at least semi-finished - I am still determined to to put on some more embroidery and perhaps other decorations as well, but that could take a while for me to finish. So for now, here they are.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Baking Apron

A few months ago as I strolled around the local fabric store I came upon this horribly cute fabric with pale yellowish roses, just the type of pattern that I usually find rather off-putting. However, as I saw this fabric I couldn't help myself, I just loved it. In my mind an apron emerged, with sweet ruffles and an air of the 50's. The vision left me with no choice, I just had to buy the fabric and try to find a suitable sewing pattern.

Now as you might have read, I haven't had the time to work on anything other than my 14th century outfit lately, so the apron has laid unfinished in a closet. Until this week, when I finally got to working on it for real. And here it is, complete with pocket and embroidered monogram! What do you think?