Monday, March 12, 2018

Embroidered Viking Kaftan

I decided last fall that I wanted to finally make myself a kaftan, and not only that, but I wanted to make a nice Kaftan, not just, fling something together as quickly as possible so I have something to wear. I have a shawl, I have a square plaid cloak, I can keep warm adequately at most events, but a kaftan is another layer, and more convenient in a lot of ways than a folded shawl or cloak.

while men's jackets, wrapped and belted in the style found in Hedeby, or in the case of Birka, fastened with buttons, are extensively (for viking garments) documented, women's Kaftans, or long coats, are not even a little. There are instances at birka, where silk loops, of the kind used to fasten a garment, have been found in a brooch positioned below the breasts. There was a hemmed piece of wool found running over the edge of a tortoise brooch. That and worked silver bands around the wrist area, not obviously associated with a serk, and decorative bands possibly associated with a lower hem, are about the the sum total of the evidence. Figurines are, notoriously, difficult. Women are shown wearing large triangular wraps which obscure the upper half of the clothes, leaving which layers are which at the bottom, debatable at best. But, considering the existence of a similar men's garment, and the practicality of another layer in a cold climate, it's not a far leap.

The presence of the single closure under the bust, the partially covered tortoise brooch, along with the practical difficulties of closing a garment over bulky brooch and beads, and the impracticality of covering your knife, keys, needle case, etc with a garment, argue for a sort of scooped cut away neckline, going around the broochs. This allows for the continued display of beads, and makes it possible for the chatalaine items to fall over the outer garment, thus remaining accessible. Some argue a high neckline could have been allowed to fold open, and while this is certainly possible, the shaped neckline of the hedeby mens coat, and the fact that the one fragment found over a tortoise brooch was hemmed, not folded, argues some against this.

The general consensus then, is that this was a long sleeved, calf length at least garment, with a scooped neckline, possibly trimmed with silk, held closed beneath the breasts with probably a Trefoil brooch threaded through loops. I will fully admit that this is the shakiest of all the viking garments in terms of evidence for it, and that building a full fledged garment from the very miniscule facts we have is questionable at best. Some people decline to admit such a garment even existed! But, my previous arguments about practicality stand, and I decided to make one anyway.

Having set my hand to the plow, so to speak,  I looked through my woolens, determined to use one of the larger pieces. I had a large peice of very soft grey, in a very pretty color, that I've been using as a mantle since the beginning of my little viking adventure more than three years ago. It had been in my mind to upgrade it into a kaftan for some time. But grey is very boring for a viking. They weren't much for undyed wools, and from chemical evidence liked flash and bright colors. Besides, the grey would have made a kaftan of scanty length. I also happened to have a chunk of heavy orange in plausible madder, which I quite liked ,but was too heavy, and too small to do almost anything with. That and the bag of wool threads my mom had given me, in shades of orange and red (originally intended for a color wheel that she never completed), sparked an idea: I would embroider the grey, to give it some flash, and then border it with the orange.

Of course there is the usual difficulty about large scale embroideries on viking garments, which can be argued ad naseum. I decided that I didn't care if it wasn't the purest interpretation of a garment already based on slightly dodgy evidence, and went for it. Animal themes are common in what embroidery we have remaining from the viking era, as well as in their artwork. I looked a lot of images, and decided to render a pair of my favorite birds, ravens, on the shoulders of the garment. I took the shape of the raven from a carving showing Odin with one of his birds perched on his shoulder (9th century rune stone from the isle of Mann), embellishing it from several brooches in raven form.

I particularly loved this little brass piece. it was listed as a horse harness ornament, but I was unable to find a specific date, or location for it. I loved how all the feathers had different textures in the tail. I decided to use different textures in all of the tail and wing feathers of my ravens, and try to use stitches to imitate textures found of pieces of raven jewelry.

I cut the kaftan in a very basic style similar to the hedeby coat. Straight fronts and backs with a sloped shoulder, with a center back gore, and side gores to provide fullness in the skirts. Since it's desireable to have the over layer slightly open in the front to display any decorations on the smokkr below, and since the coat didn't need to wrap like the hedeby coat, I did not use a split front gore. The sleeve has a slightly shaped head, and a underarm gusset, Because of fabric shortages the sleeve is a bit wodgy. The gosset is long and tapered at one end to give me more upper arm room, because I could fit that on the fabric I had, but not a wider upper sleeve. Considering the extremely funky piecing we've seen on some extant pieces I am going to call this totally period. Then I turned all the edges under, and whip stitched them down to finish the edges, using modern cotton thread in a matching color of grey. on a nice thick wool, it's easy to pick up the threads on the inside without your stitches showing on the outside.

I traced half of the upper back into my big sketch book, and drew one of a pair of ravens. The very vertical pose of these ravens makes them ideal to use across the shoulders, because they fit very nicely. The scale worked out so their tails end right above the tip of the back gore. Since they're not attached to odin's shoulder, I interlaced the toes for a little extra detail. You will notice the feet are staggered as in perspective view, but the same size. That's a typical feature of this period of art. I originally was going to use the curled beak you see on so many of the brooches to echo the curled toes and the swirl on the wing, but decided, as period as it is, i just don't care for it that much, and went back to the simple beak from the isle of mann carving.

Transferring it onto wool was, as usual, a lot of fun. wool is a super huge pain. I ended up measuring and marking reference points, then drawing the ravens on free hand with a fine tipped sharpie marker.

I chose to use chain stitch for the outlines. I worked the ravens on the cut out back piece before putting it together both to ensure I had enough embroidery thread to do the outlines all in once color (since I was working in a limited supply) and because then I didn't have to wrangle the whole coat around  I did not use a hoop for any of this work.  Although a hoop can be an invaluable tool, I don't generally care for using one in the first place, and particularly dislike it when working on wool. There are some situations in which it's unavoidable, but the way I work a lot of my outlining stitches make it somewhat counterproductive.

With the ravens outlined, I started on putting the kaftan together. My original plan was to use a decorative stitch both to construct and embellish. I had used van dyke stitch to construct a hood for Kitten earlier in the year, and it had both gone quickly and looked pretty. Since I was using one of the cousins of that stitch for this I decided to work it the same way. I ran the first half of the center back gore, from the point down. The ends didn't line up. This was odd, but I decided I hadn't measured correctly, and started the other side, working from the point down as well. This time the OTHER edge was longer. This was clearly not an issue of mis measurement. I laid the piece out flat on the floor, and the issue was clear to behold: the stitching was pulling up one side of the work as I went. Since I had worked both sides tip down, one seam had pulled up the gore, the other side the back of the kaftan. it was terrible and rumply, and steaming wasn't going to solve it. At this point the whole thing went into bad project time out for a few months.

Once I was over sulking and wanting to kick things. I took out all the stitching I had done, carefully, so I could re-use the wool thread (remember limited thread and no way to get more!) and (grumpily) basted all the seams. Then I went back and worked all the seams in the decorative stitch. It was really hard to get this as even as I wanted it to be, and I'm still not entirely happy with the outcome. I love the look of the stitch but don't love how un tidily I ended up working it.

Working the decorative stitch is a two step process.
I finished all my tails by the simple expedient of working a few split stitches on the seam allowance then running the tail under a short ways.

In between running the seams I worked on the ravens, being sure that all of the colors of thread used in the seams were also represented in the embroidery on the back. I used a feather texture worked in cloister stitch, a couched lattice work, spiraling split stitch on the lower beak, and bayeux stitch on the upper beak. I needed one more texture. I decided to run a series of tall and short osberg loops down the last feather to recreate the stamped circles used on a number of the brooches.

The first step of osberg loop stitch: pin all those loops!
(so many pins)

The bodies of the ravens looked empty and sad without any fill, after I'd filled in the feathers, so I used spirals to loosely fill in some of the upper bodies and sort of flying wedges of couched thread in the spiral of the wings. Again, textures taken off pieces of raven jewelry, which had knotwork or circles worked to fill in the bodies or portions of the body.
Finished ravens! 
Once I had run all the seams on the body, I had to attach the trim to the bottom. I had cut wedges and rectangles that continued the shape of the pieces of the main coat, I sewed them together and felled the edges down with white wool handspun.
 I sewed the seams with the allowance to the outside, trimmed the grey down short, and turned the seam up over the body, where I basted it down. I covered the seam with a couched down whip cord braid.
Then I hemmed the coat with a herringbone stitch, which shows neatly on the outside as a parallel row of straight stitches. This is a documentable period technique. Actually it's the only documentable period use for herringbone, as much as we vikings love to use it over seams on the outside for the fancy.

Whip cord braiding in progress with my
improvised bobbins.
Then I edged the front opening with bands of orange, and the neck edge with orange cut on the bias, which used the last scraps of the orange. I had enough cord to cover the raw edge of the bias wool with couched cord, but whip stitched the front edges down with white wool. That made it "finished not done" and wearable in time for Edlvatten's Winter Thyng which seemed like a reasonable debut. I'm now making more whip cord braid to finish edging all of the orange, and maybe run another line around the bottom somewhere, maybe with some decorative doodles. I'd also like to embroider some rondelles around the bottom, but have to figure out the exact design for that, so this project is on the back burner for now!

Of course no images of me actually wearing the garment seem to exist, but I did get some nice ones of it in outside light to share with you. It is a lovely sweepy flowy thing, and I do enjoy wearing it. It's also VERY warm. With the addition of my mittens and hood I am warmer than in a mundane outside jacket wearing it! And of course, for a really cold day I could add a cloak on top of this, plus wool stockings under my gown and possibly nallbound socks over them and under my turnshoes for outside wear.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tips and Tricks: Choosing and Washing Fleece

I'm currently embarked on my first fleece to garment project in a number of years, so it occurred to me that it might be a good time to write up a series of brief how to's on the process, with some of the things I've learned along the way by trial and error. I've been doing this whole spinning thing for a long time now. I think I was maybe less than twelve when I started: My mom caught me picking up little off cuts of fleece in the sheep barn at the fair, twisting them into yarn, and winding the yarn around a stick. I got a drop spindle and spinning lessons for christmas that year. I've been hooked ever since, and although I don't have as much time to devote to my spinning as I used to,  I still get through about a fleece a year most years. While you can purchase prepared fiber, I find I prefer to work from fleeces, unless I happen to stumble over some amazing dyed roving I can't resist! Fleece is more economical, and I find it very rewarding to work with.  I can pick general purpose fleece, or something for a specific project, like the romney fleece I'm working with in this series, which will grow up to be a cloak.

Medium to long staple length, good medium
Crimp. Not super fine, but not coarse. This
Romney is the vanilla of the spinning
First you have to pick your fleece! You have to kind of know what you're looking for, in terms of fiber weight, crimp, staple length, etc, so If you are newer it is good to take a fiber friend along to help you! Once you've worked with a few different fleeces you'll start to develop a feel for how different kinds of wools spin, and act as yarn when made into a finished object. You'll start to have opinions about what you like and don't like in a fleece too. I, for instance, firmly believe that the only GOOD use for merino is as bird nests. Or felt. It makes lovely felt.

This is my nice Romney fleece. Romney is basic, I don't
love it, but it's easy to work with, and it's suitable for the
Project I am doing. This fleece was not coated, You can see
that the tips are sunburnt because of this. 
Some things stay the same no matter what kind of fleece you're choosing:  Poke around in different parts of the bag to inspect the fleece, or ideally lay the fleece out so you can see all of it. You want to look for a fleece without a lot of Vegetable Material (VM) which is little bits of hay, dirt, weeds, and sometimes poop stuck in the fleece. You want to avoid second cuts, places where the shearer went over the same spot twice and left little short pieces that have to be laboriously picked out. And you want to look at the general condition of the fleece. it should be shiny, fairly uniform in color an  length (although some colored sheep have natural variation across their coats, or you have spotted sheep like jacobs), the ends of the locks shouldn't be matted, brittle, or gross (although they may be slightly darker or lighter in color.) The best fleeces typically come from sheep that have been coated, and it's a good practice ask if it was coated (there are always exceptions to this rule, Icelandic for instance is not typically coated, and there is very little difference in the fleece because of the long guard hairs). This protects the fleece from sun damage, dirt, and VM. Ideally the fleece should have been skirted at least some already, this means that the sections around the tail, and the belly, and parts of the legs have been taken off the fleece and discarded.  If it has not been skirted, you should pay less per pound for it, because you will have to throw some of it away (or leave it out for the birds to make nests.)

When you get your fleece home, lay it out on the floor, cut side down, and give it a good going over. remove any sections that are very short, matted, or have a lot of VM in them. Then flip it cut side up, and have a look for any second cuts that you can pick off. It's much easier to get those off now than when you're trying to card! If you've bought a fleece that hasn't been skirted yet, there may be quite a bit to come off. Don't be afraid to be brutal! You don't want to be trying to work with the crappy bits of the fleece! If you can't bear to throw it away, (do through away and bits really matted with dirt, trust me.) wash it separately and make it into dryer balls or something.

Now you're ready to wash! You need a plastic tote large enough for your fleece, and good quality hand dish soap, like dawn, or palmolive. Stick the tote in the tub, and fill it most of the way full with water that you can JUST stand to submerge your hand in. It should be uncomfortable, but not scalding. Too cold, you won't get enough of the lanolin out, too hot you scour the fleece and it ends up dry, scratchy, and brittle. Mix in a very large squirt of dish soap. More if the fleece is very greasy, less if it's fairly dry, but better a little too much than not enough. I probably squirted around 2-3 tablespoons worth into this wash. Now dump in your fleece.

Here's the tricky part! We need to wash this sucker, but:  Agitation + Soap + Hot = Felt. Felt is bad. The finer your fleece is, the thinner the individual fibers, the more prone it will be to turning into a felty mess (which will make you sad sad sad, ask me how I know.) superfine fleeces like merino or rambuilet felt practically if you look at them. So, pick a nice medium fleece to start with, and be gentle. You NEED to get the water swished through the fibers, but not rub the fibers together, or against your wash tub, so stick your hands flat on top of the fleece, push straight down until you feel resistance, but not till you squish it against the bottom of the tub, and let straight back up. Straight down, straight up. and Slowly and gently. do that all over the fleece until it's all submerged, Then leave it be. You'll want to come back a couple times and push it all down again, other than that, let it sit until the water is tepid. If you are washing a very fine fleece, First do yourself a favor and buy one that is very clean, preferably coated, then GENTLY submerge it, then don't touch it again. Better to decide that you need to wash the yarn because it's still a little oily than to have a felted mess.

Now to rinse! Dump the wool into the tub, if you have a screen to place over your drain, that's helpful, if not, use your hands to keep the wool away from the drain (Wool clogs drains evidently??? Who knew!). Let the wool drain a minute or two, then use your hands to press as much water out of it as possible. Again, you do NOT want to rub the fibers together, so you want to press down hard, release, fold/turn the fleece a little, press down till water stops running out, and repeat till most of the water is out and you have the fleece gathered up into a small mountain. Do NOT wring it, just press it against the bottom of the tub. (For a superfine fleece, you will limit this step as well). Then refill the tub with water about the same temperature as the water you just dumped out, dump the fleece back in, press it under the water, and let it sit five minutes. Repeat this process until the water runs fairly clear. There are two important considerations here: firstly, "shocking" the wool, by taking it from cold to hot or hot to cold WILL lead to felting. so keep the water an even temperature. Secondly, the more times you repeat this step, the more chance your fleece has to felt, so rinse it well, but don't be overly fussy about how "clear" clear water is. Three times was enough for this fleece, which was clean but had not been coated. Another real advantage of a fleece that's been coated (and why you may pay more for it) is that while the fleece still has plenty of lanolin in it, it has less dirt stuck to the lanolin. Less dirt = less rinsing = less chances for your fleece to felt (are you noticing a common refrain here?)
"Clear Enough" this tub has some iron stains, so the water
is a little lighter than it appears. There are no longer little
Sandy particles suspended in the water, which is the most
important sign that it's thoroughly rinsed. 

Dump it out one last time, and squeeze at least so it's not sopping, and then put it in your washing machine (the tub is a handy transport medium) run it through the "spin" cycle, and spread it out onto a rack to dry. I will note here that if you are within reasonable distance of your washing machine, you can spin it after the washing, before the first rinse. the more of that really dirty, soapy water you get out, the less times you have to rinse it. I have to trek across the house to get to the washer, and this isn't a superfine fleece I'm hyper concerned about felting, so I didn't bother. If you do not have a drying rack or screen, you can lay it out on a sheet, preferably outdoors in the sun. but it will dry more slowly, and you will need to turn it several times so it does all dry. Even on a rack, like this, if the fleece is really piled up you may need to turn it so the interior dries.

Now your fleece is all ready to process for spinning! it should be soft, and shiny, and still have some oils in it. you can see that the locks haven't formed little coats of matted fibers over them, that means I've done my job right and it will be easy to pick and card for spinning. It shouldn't be oily, but it shouldn't be dry either. the lingering lanolin aids in the spinning, 

You do NOT want to stuff this back into the plastic bag! Washed fleece needs to breathe! (in fact you really shouldn't store any kind of fleece in a sealed plastic bag. Better to wash it and store it clean even if you're not going to use it right away) Old pillow cases are the best way to store fleece, Stuff it all in there (an amazing amount fits, but you don't want to compact it too much, use two if you need to!) and tie off the top with a string. I always put a tag with a description of the fleece on the tie so  I don't have to open all the bags to find the one I want. Then I store the bags in a plastic bin.

You should stick a moth repellent into the pillow case with your fleece. Cedar chips and lavender tied off in a knee high stocking work just fine, Frequently at fiber fairs you can find people selling herbal moth repellent blends loose in bulk. These are particularly nice typically, and work well. You can make sachets but honestly, a knee high stocking knotted off is easiest and works best, as it lets out the scent, keeps in even very tiny herb fragments, and doesn't stick to the wool and get all tangled.

Any of you have additional tricks/tips? Leave a comment for me! I'm always super curious about other peoples methods!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Purple Smokkr

About a year ago, I aquired a lovely piece of wool twill, in a color I like to refer to as "plausible purple," with the intention of making myself a second smokkr, of the un-pleated variety, to expand my somewhat scant wardrobe. My black pleated smokkr is, at this point, more than three years old, and has made the rounds of many, many events. It's beginning to show some wear, and to be frank, I do get a little tired of wearing the same thing all the time. With the massive rush to get us ready for camping events last year, I did little to expand my own wardrobe, aside from necessary new undergowns and fighting gear. But this winter  I wanted to add a couple nicer pieces to my wardrobe, made properly, not in haste and out of absolute panicked necessity. With a kaftan and a second smokkr, I would be set for any events for the next few years, until my old things started wearing out at least. It would be a relief to just not have to worry about my own garb, and be able to focus on keeping the gremlins in clothing that actually fits.

As far as historical reference, I could go on at great length, but that would be reinventing the wheel, instead I would like to direct your attention to these two fabulous articles by Hilde Thnumen, who has gathered all of the primary source material, translated as necessary, and discusses the conclusions that may be reached at length. I cannot do better.
Viking Apron dress: Smokkr
 haithabu smokkr interpretation

Silver-gilt Viking pendant, Oland, Sweden,
6th century
I am going to be basing my reconstruction on the Haithabu smokkr, which is closest geographically to my persona's residence in what is modern Scotland, and on this wonderful little figurine, usually interpreted as a Valkyrie. I love the surface detail of the braided decorative bands. although this figurine seems to be wearing a separate trained garment over the top of her smokkr (we assume it is a smokkr, although we cannot see the turtle brooches) the slightly trained silhouette seems to be a theme among the figurines, and, as I find it graceful personally, I have maintained it in my recreation.

I started out by pinning the wool around my bust, to a comfortable tightness. that gave me a measurement of 41 inches (without seam allowance) separating half to the front, and half to the back, and adding seam allowance, gave me two panels of 21" Measuring down from where the top of my smokkr sits now, to where I wanted it to start to flare, gave me a measurement of about 8"

Then it's a matter of fitting the pieces onto the available fabric in the most efficient way possible. there are a number of hypothosized layouts for the fitted style smokkr, and you can make one work for almost any size and shape piece of fabric. I made the first cut with the front and back, then unfolded the leftover square to make the side gores. I did not curve the bottoms of the side gores because I wanted a train effect, the longer, diagonal side will go towards the longer train side. This also keeps the front relatively flat while flaring the back out, which matches with the shape of existing figurines.

With the rough seams sewn, I popped it on. I had the usual problem in the back, and had to take a large pinch out. I have an extremely curved lower spine, and it makes for a funny fit for almost all the basic layouts. One of the advantages of the pleated front smokkr is it alleviates this issue. I will probably have some horizontal wrinkling on this dress almost no matter what  I do, although cutting the back top down some helps, as does not trying to fit it tightly through the waist, which would be unflattering on me at present anyhow. with it on inside out I placed pins for the darts at the front, and also for the loops to hang my brooches from.

although I did run the long seams by machine, it was easier to run the very narrow darts (no more than a quarter inch at the widest!) by hand. Although the original piece, the ridge appears to have been set to the outside, then covered by fine braid, I had an oopsie here, and went on autopilot and put them to the inside. This is incorrect, however I plan to cover them with braid, so it will not be obvious.

Then I overcast all the seams by hand with contrasting thread, which is a period approved method of seam finishing.  I used blue DMC floss, since my ball of blue linen has gone walkabout. I'm not... entirely thrilled with the results. it's not as tidy as I'd love it to be, although certainly it's just as tidy as the overcast stitching on the dart of the extant garment.
 A number of the smokkr fragments found have been lined, or faced, with linen. It's impossible to know whether they were fully lined or not, since no full length garments have been found. because I ended up cutting the back of my smokkr down quite fat to make up for my curved spine and prevent unsightly wrinkles, I had a long bias edge from brooch to back. I wanted to stabelize this and keep the weight of the gown and pulling it on and off, from distorting the edge, so I used a partial lining of a natural colored linen. I also used this linen for the bottom brooch loops. Linen is actually more common, particularly for the hidden lower loops, than wool on extant smockkrs, probably because it wore better. I sewed the long hidden seam by machine again, doubling seaming it along the armpit/back portion.  Then flipped it into the inside of the dress, hand top stitched with purple wool, and used threads pulled from the selvedge of the linen to whip stitch the loops, and hem the lining down to the shell of the smokkr.

Fragment from Sarnanger b 10722 showing corded hem
Then remained hemming. I had my imagination caught by a fragment of twill, edged with a cord overcast with woolen thread. this seemed tidy, and like it would give the hem a beautiful shape. According to the article about the find (Thnumen covers it in her paper about smokkrs) it's a braided cord, whip stitched over with a two ply thread. I extrapolated that the cord was probably wool, since it still remained, although it could have equally been linen. I had wool, so I braided a 3 strand cord. The easiest way was to baste it to the edge of the smokkr, which kept it even, then overcast it with 2 ply wool, as seen in the fragment. you can see that the stitches are close, but not crowded. I attempted to recreate that, as well as the scale of cord/fabric. Of course I ran out of thread with an small section left in the center front. I was left with a few options. I could use another color to do the front section of the hem. I could undo the braid for the darts and use that thread to finish the hem, then make different braid, or I could find a way of decorating the front that hid the block of missing hem. Number one would have been the most historically accurate, and in the end, the least time consuming. Of course I chose the less historically accurate, more difficult, and super fancy option, and decided to make the front block purple, and root an appliqued tree into it.

My original plan had been to tablet weave wide trim and apply it in horizontal bands like on the valkyrie figurine. That plan is completely authentic and documentable (by viking standards) The new plan was less historically proveable. We do know that the vikings did use applique, the Osberg ship find included a wool gown with blue animals applied to the hem. Valkyrie figures show bands of decoration on skirts, but there is not real evidence for large scale blocks of decoration of this type. Even so, I liked the idea so much I ran with it. the best tree image I could find, was this one from a church in sedestal (for people with so many trees in their mythology, they sure didn't use tree images that much. Or my google fu for viking stuff has gotten weak), it's 12 century, so later, but the art has the proper shapes. I loved the acanthus like tree leaves. Acanthus shaped embroideries were part of the Mamman find, which is 10th century, so I felt the use of acanthus shapes was not out of context for my persona.

Also at Mamman was a embroidery showing two beasts (perhaps leopards?) facing a tree in the center. This was a common motif in oriental textiles of the period, which we know the vikings had access to, particularly from the pskov find that Thnumen goes over in her articles. It is thought that this motif was a reproduction of that style of artwork. Working from this base, and digging through my wool stash, I decided to use an appliqued tree with two Eastern Tygers facing it. Making my dress both a reference to the extant embroidery finds, and a nod to the east kingdom.

I drew the tree onto some aqua wool, and pinned it onto the gown. and then I started basting. And basting. And MORE basting. Followed by stitching it all down. I used small whip stitches, spaced out slightly. I've seen this technique used on early surviving applique pieces, and it was the most apt for the material I had to work with. The wool was more loosely woven and less fulled than is ideal for applique, so the edges required more stabelization, and I needed to cover more of the edge to keep the applique from just tearing out of the stitches.

That done, I sketched a quick Easter Tyger, slightly simplified to be more in line with the style of the mammen embroideries, and the extent oriental textiles. The extreme detailing of the EK tyger is much more in line with later artistic styles, so I just dialed it back a bit while trying to keep it recognizeable.  I cut that out of a gold wool skirt that I had for upcycling (moth holes) and pinned/basted it down. and by baste I mean overcast the edges with very tiny whip stitches to keep the little points from flying apart when I tried to applique around them.

Then I couched blue cord around the Tygers. Technically the Eastern Kingdom Tyger is blue on a field of yellow, but this looked good, and was still a nice nod at the East.

With the embroidery done, and thoroughly steamed (Even being careful it gets a little lumpy while you're working it) all that remained was to baste the braided trim (six strand braid in two colors like
in the Haithabu fragment) over the darts, and make the shoulder straps. Although there are plenty of examples of Smokkrs with both the upper and lower loops out of linen, I decided that I preferred the look of the matching straps, and made the upper straps/loops out of a remaining scrap of purple wool.  these were whip stitched down to the lining with my newly found blue linen thread, and my new EK Smokkr was done! and in plenty of time to wear to Birka. Of course Birka then didn't go as planned due to car trouble, and I missed the fashion show and only got to wear my new getup for a little bit. I did however, get to wear it with all my other fancy for walking into court at a part of my friend's pelican procession this weekend at dancing fox. I had the privilege of being the person who got to put together all the bits of his regalia cloak (it was a group project which a lot of hands worked on), and they asked me to carry it into court, which was a surprise and an honor! so I was happy that I had my new fancy EK Smokkr to wear. Now I just have to get an eye bleeding gold Serk to wear under it!

Of course there are no actual pictures of me wearing it in which you can see the garb.

A couple final notes: because it's more fitted through the body, it makes my serks shorter! ACK. So I will at least make my fancy court serk to wear with this longer. Also, this lay out doesn't lay as gracefully across my back as I would like, due to the previously noted curvature of my lower spine. I think I need to add a small center back gore to alleviate this problem and make the gown flow gracefully from top to hem. Possibly I could also flip the center back pieces so the angled edge is at the center back, and the straight edge at the side back and get a similar effect, although that would effect the side flare (which I like) some.  As it is cut, there's a little wrinkle lump in the small of the back now, and there's not much I can do about it. I'm going to take the gown to my mom's and put it on inside out and see if with another set of experienced hands I can somewhat sort the problem, but alas, the only real solution is to put at least a small gore into the center back seam. Again, the pleated front smokkr doesn't have this problem. it's actually much more modest in fabric use as well. It's interesting the things you discover about fit while doing this sort of reconstruction work. I wonder if one of the reasons for the pleated fronts was because it provided good fit with less fabric. We'll never know of course, but it sure is fun to speculate! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Viking hood and mittens

I attended my first fall outdoors event this year, fighting at 100 minutes war in November with my household, and realized the week before the event that I haven't got warm outerwear for my fighting, thorsbjurg trouser clad self at all. As in ANY. My gear is designed with the 90 degree summer heat in mind, not 45 degrees and raining. In my armor, it's not as big of a deal: I have my gambeson, and can layer under it, and I'm moving, but out of my armor waiting for go? I was going to get COLD, and fast. Now there are a number of very good naalbound finds for vikings in terms of mittens and hats and suchlike, as well as some woven/fur edged caps. But I needed this fast, and didn't want to fiddle with naalbinding, (my understanding of which is rudimentary) and I wanted something a bit warmer than a cap. Headgear was easy enough. A couple years ago I researched and made a Skjoldehamn hood for my toddler, so that was an easy, authentic, warm solution. Something for my hands was more difficult. I resorted to scrolling through google image search hoping to find something I hadn't seen before, and stumbled on these pairs of woven woolen mittens.

I managed to track these back to the national museum of Iceland, and confirm that they were from the viking era, but that was, sadly, all the information I was able to find on them. I was unable to locate them through the National Museum of Iceland website, or find more information about them on a reverse image search. I could however copy them roughly from the pictures. The thumb is a standard pattern, exactly like the ones on my gloves. it even looked like it might have a gusset extending into the thumb from the hand, based on the seam lines. There was a gore inserted to the outside hand seam to give extra room. So far, so good. I used my glove pattern for a base, and drafted something that looked like it would work.

I had to decide what fabric to use for these items. The gloves look like tabby weave, and the Skjoldehamn hood was as well. Color is hard to tell without chemical testing. I retreated to the B̶a̶t̶c̶a̶v̶e̶ basement to check the stash for possibilities. I had several likely suspects, all heavily fulled tabby woven wool, in varying shades of brown, and one piece of black. Now I KNOW that black is not even the smallest bit authentic for viking era. But my house's colors are black and red, and I had just acquired several hanks of red crewel wool. I couldn't resist. Besides the black was brushed to the fuzzy delightfullness of fleece on one side, which would be lovely on the interior of the hood and mittens. It was so fleecy that I questioned whether it was 100% wool, and lit a piece on fire. It is, indeed wool. Delightfully warm and beautifully fulled and brushed.

Fabric choice made I traced the mitten pattern onto the fleecy side of the wool with my trusty silver metallic sharpie. (with supervision from Kitten) and cut them out.

The original mitten shows a standard seam at the thumb. I don't like the feeling of that against my hand, even with the seam allowances felled flat, so I overlapped and whip stitched, just like I do on gloves, and the seamed up the finger portion of the seams and felled the sides down flat.

I used the same technique for the rest of the mitten, I overcast the gore on one side, for a decorative touch, then sewed the side seam, opened it flat, and felled it down with a running stitch. I used contrasting thread, and let the running stitch show on the outside. I have mixed feelings about this technique, which is currently quite popular amoung the SCA vikings. I've seen documentable evidence for interior overcast seams with contrasting thread, and herringbone'd hems with contrasting thread that showed on the outside as a double row of running stitch. The seams on the skjoldehamn hood were not felled at all (although the seaming method there tends to let make them lay flat) I tend to think this trend is a reenactorism, but haven't done the research to decide 100% yet. (If anyone has sources to point me at, please do share!) I chose to use it on the gloves because pretty and practical. I hate nubby seams on the insides of things on my hands!

I had to fiddle a little with the shape of the top of the hand, but eventually got something I was happy with. Since I was in a hurry, I just cut the pattern a bit generous, then pinned, seamed, and trimmed to fit. I left the hems unfinished, which is the beauty of fulled wool.

I had decided I wanted to use a decorative seam on the hood. Van dyke stitch is very close to the osenstitch found overworking seams on one of the osberg garments, and it's a relative of the stitch found on the cushion at mammen. It has high plausibility and the advantage of running the seam at the same time as decorating it. (unlike the evils of the decorative members of that family, which is why my kaftan is in time out right now.... ) Van Dyke stitch is easiest if you first hem all the pieces, then work the stitch. So I hemmed all the pieces with a basic overcast stitch, mitering the corners of the front and back squares, and leaving the edges that would make up the hem raw.

Then I pieced it together with van Dyke stitch. Van dyke, with it's cousins, can tend to ease one side of the seam in, causing a lopsidedly bunchy seam when you open and steam it, also ends that do not to line up. So I controlled that with pins. I worked right over the pins, instead of taking them out as I came up to them, forcing the two sides to remain the same length.

I ran out of time, and hemmed in the car, on the way to the event (muttering THIS IS CROOKED the whole way, much to the amusement of the house brother I was riding with) which meant I just got the points hemmed before I wore it, and the face wasn't treated at all. But it worked like a charm, I wasn't exactly TOASTY but neither did I turn into a viking popcicle.

It's hemmed with a overcast stitch, perpendicular  to the edge of the fabric, and paralell with the threads of the weave, as in the extant piece. This is more moderately spaced than my last overcast edging, because this wool is too fulled to fray, and therefor It's much closer to the original. I darned the stitches at the points at the front and back on the reverse side, to keep them from spreading.

I finished the hemming, and the stitching inside the hood opening when I got home. I did not stitch the cockscomb onto it, because I liked the fact that I could drop the hood almost over my face. It kept me warmer. I like this hood the way it is now, but am considering using it as a slate for some further embroidery. I think it would lend itself well to some mammen style work front and back, and maybe a pair of maltese crosses on the shoulders, since this is something I will basically only wear when I've put on my leg wraps and gone to war (to paraphrase the saga). The mittens, I decided to be super fancy and trim with a little grey fur.... because... pretty that's why. Caps were trimmed with fur, so I figure the mittens are plausible at least, although  I fully admit it is a bit of a stretch.

Then that was so fun and pretty I decided to put a little black fur around the face of the hood. In for a penny in for a pound right? The result is pleasingly pretty, although I can't vouch for the strict historical accuracy of it.

The only problem with the hood, is that it doesn't work well at all with a flat folded cloak. AT ALL. so if I want to wear it regularly I'm going to have to make myself something along the lines of a birka coat to wear with it. If  I want to wear a cloak, I'm going to need to make myself a hat.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Soft Parry Cloak for Husbeast (with cutting diagram)

1629 etching from
"Le Jardin de la Noblesse Fran├žaise..."
I'm not usually effected by "scope creep" the phenomenon where a project starts out simple, and then gains momentum until it's a jaugernot of complexity, for the simple reason that most of my projects start out at "crazy person" and go from there. But this one definitely hit that pitfall. What started as a "make something for the husbeast two days before christmas" project turned into..... Well, you'll see.

For christmas this year, the husbeast got fencing gear. My contribution to the haul was was a small cloak for use as a soft parry. A soft parry can be anything floppy, a piece of leather, a towel, a floppy hat: but typically a small cavalier style cloak is used. Although the cavalier style cloak is very late in our period, and it's heyday seems to have been in the early 1600's, (along with the wide brimmed hat and floppy topped cavalry boots, it's one of the signatures of what we modernly think of as the "Musketeer" look) period fencing manuals do show people using a similarly sized cloth or cloak in defense.

diGrasse's True Art of Defense 
I was, myself, unsure what a good size for this object would be. Husbeast has a small cloak taken from similar patterns in Patterns Of Fashion, made of wool, trimmed with velvet, and lined in silk. It fits him perfectly, but is manifestly too large to be used effectively as a soft parry. My conclusion was that, because of his size relative to normal humans, anything that would fit him as a cloak would be on the large side for use as a parry. So I consulted my rapier fighting house sister, and she measured her fiancee's cloak for me, which is heavier than she likes, but of a size suitable for a bigger guy. It's a wonderful pattern because it makes a very nicely draping cloak from a yard of 60" wide fabric, if you're willing to have a seam at the center back of the collar, or a yard and a quarter if you want the collar in one piece. It makes a very dashing shoulder cloak for a person of medium size, if not for my linebacker sized husband. Originally I did not plan to use the collar, since he won't wear it, but after I cut it and flapped it around a bit, I found the collar stiffens the neckline and makes gripping the cloak easier, as well as making it easier to fan the cloak out when you need to. I suggest using the collar even if you won't be wearing the cloak. 
Cutting Diagram for 1 yard of 60" wide fabric. Half inch seam allowed at center back of collar. if you don't want a seam in the collar, use a yard and a quarter and cut the collar 13.5" long on the fold. 
I won't get into construction here, as this is a pretty simple project (and I didn't take any pictures) I will note that if you plan to wear the cloak you may wish to slightly curve the collar piece so it will lie flatter, up to you. In that case you would want to cut from a yard and a quarter. It is also preferable to cut the lining at the same time as the cloak, with the two layers pinned together, so as to avoid having them be different sizes. 

I am still trying to make things with only items I have on hand, so I used a brown faux suede material for the outside of the cloak, and a burgundy satin for the lining. The faux suede is sturdy, drapey, and slightly grippy, all useful in a soft parry. I added some appropriate trim I had in stash, wrapped it and stuck it under the tree.

And this is when the scope creep happened. I kept thinking about how the trim was the perfect mount for spangles, and how it would sparkle in the light when he flipped it..... so with christmas safely past, I fished out my spangles and started applying them.

It takes a remarkable amount of time to spangle all of the everything, even on a moderately small cloak. I applied the spangles every other bunch on the trim, and knotted each one down with it's own knot, then ran the thread under the lining to the next spangle. This eliminated tails, but if he snags one and pulls it off, it will only be the one that is pulled off. The spangles are put down with Sulky 12 wt cotton, matching the lining, each sewn down with three equally spaced stitches, as seen in my favorite source book for these things: Elizabethan Stitches.

 Then I decided those spangles looked a little lonely, and wouldn't some gold braid set it off. I have a cone of Krenik braid, but I also have a lot of semi worthless DMC metallic floss. Having just learned how to bobbin braid..... Well I separated the floss into strands, wound it onto bobbins, and braided it, two strands of gold, two strands of copper.
and couched it down onto the cloak with the same 12 wt. cotton thread. I couched it fairly closely to prevent snags. Gold elements are seen couched both with matching silk threads, and with contrasting silk threads in period pieces (according to my same favorite source book.)

There was enough braid to edge both sides of the trim and do a little fancy in the corners, I left the collar plain because with the multiple rows of spangled trim, the effect of adding gold braid was a touch frenetic. 
 The only complaint I have, is working along the bias, it was easy to slightly stretch the fabric as you couched the cord down, you can see a few kinks in the cord where that happened. Not the end of the world but a little frustrating.
 Of course ideally this would have all been done before I put the lining on, but it does have the unintended benefit of stabilizing the edges of the lining, although it's not as tidy as it would have been if I had done it all before I lined it.

 All in all a pretty outcome, and the Husbeast loves it. If you were going to wear it, you would add cords at the neck. since he isn't going to, they'd just be an encumbrance.