Saturday, July 15, 2017

Paths Less Traveled

It's the middle of Summer where I am, so I figured it was time for something completely different.

Here are links to some very interesting websites containing information about historical clothing that is off the beaten track of ancient Rome/migration period/medieval England and France/Renaissance etc. costume.  Most of the areas below are hard for the beginning researcher to find information about. They should help people wanting to explore truly different areas of clothing history, and at the very least they are interesting to read!

1.  Clothing in the Netherlands, 1480-1610:    Between the two of them, Margaret and Karinne show the rest of us how people in the Netherlands dressed between the late 15th and early 17th centuries. I first met Karinne through the now-defunct MedCos forums, and her skills have, if anything, improved since then. Go here to explore Margaret and Karinne's creations and research.

2.  Sarmatian Costume:  Here's an interesting alternative to all those Elizabethans, Vikings, and Romans:  a Sarmatian persona!  The Sarmatians are a Central Asian people who migrated into Southern Russia and the Balkans and settled there between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.   Jess Miller-Camp's blog, Sarmatian in the SCA, has interesting information about her research into Sarmatian culture, including her work on Sarmatian costume.  You can find the blog here.

3.  Middle Byzantine:  You may be familiar with Timothy Dawson's Middle Byzantine site, Levantia, but Anna of Anachronistic and Impulsive, covers much of the same costuming ground from a somewhat different perspective.  The blog's home page is here.  As a side note:   Do not miss her post about making ancient Mesopotamian costumes for herself and her spouse!

4.  Medieval Korea:  This information about how a 16th century CE Gisaeng might have dressed is available due to the research skills of Rebecca Lucas LeGet/  Find it here.

5,  Medieval Japan:  There are a number of pages out there on medieval Japanese costume, but this one is fairly detailed and well-organized--for men's costume.  There are places for information about women's costume, but they have not been written yet.  You'll find the index here.

Enjoy the extra reading, and have a good summer (or winter, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere).

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Even More Diamond Twill Sources

Recently, I've found a few more sellers of diamond twill cloth on the Internet.

The Mulberry Dyer, a seller of natural dye substances and naturally dyed yarns and fabric in the United Kingdom, sells madder red, yellow, and blue diamond twill wool "off the peg" at £35 per meter and cochineal red, green, and black diamond twill wool for £45. Go here for the fabric purchase page. 

Plateau Imprints Archaeology and Heritage Consulting sells a diamond twill blend, 50/50 silk and wool, using dyed and woad-dyed fiber, from their Facebook page. A piece 70 cm by 200 cm costs £30.

Nornilla on Etsy sells fine diamond twill wool fabric for $45.51 USD per meter.  All of the fabrics of this type are two-toned and in the photographs appear to have a slight sheen.

Finally, and surprisingly, advertises two-toned diamond wool twill fabric for 400 Czech Koruna--about $17.00 USD--per meter! At that price, it's not surprising that they are currently sold out of this product.

In other news, I have learned that the diamond twill wool sold by Stas Volobuev, who sells fabric from his Facebook page, has very small diamonds indeed.  The photograph I've seen appears to indicate that three diamond motifs can fit across the diameter of a U.S. penny (a length of a bit more than a centimeter).  My understanding is that the price is about $30.00 USD per meter, but you can always check with Stas yourself.

I still have my rose-red herringbone twill to make into an apron dress, but it's good to see that diamond twill is slowly becoming easier and cheaper to obtain.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Menswear of the Lombards

Paul the Deacon, from a period MS  Artist unknown
 MS from Laurentian Library, Plut.65.35, fol 34r
(Wikimedia Commons)
As I previously posted, I recently learned of, and obtained, an ePub copy of the following book:
Gordino, Yuri. Menswear of the Lombards. Reflections in the light of archeology, iconography and written sources. (Bookstone, Dec. 25, 2016).
The Lombards were a Germanic people who conquered and ruled substantial portions of Italy between the mid-sixth and late eighth centuries CE.

My only regret is that I do not have a printed, paper copy of this book instead of an electronic copy. The book is lavishly illustrated, mostly with photographs of reproduction fabric, weapons, accessories, and clothing from the Lombard culture between roughly 550 CE and 770 CE that are based upon the research in the book.  Many of the illustrations show reproductions in lovely, primary colors that look as though they were made with period-available dyes. Despite the book's title, some of the photographs show women in period Lombard clothing, as well as men.  It would be wonderful to see those images as color photographs printed on good paper. 

The book is so beautifully illustrated that it is difficult to focus on the text.  It would be wrong to consider either text or illustrations in isolation, however, because examination of period art forms a critical element of Mr. Gordino's conclusions.  According to Mr. Gordino, information about Lombard clothing has to be derived from multiple sources, including "archaeological data, written sources and iconographic evidence" since surviving items of clothing from the region are nonexistent and only small textile scraps have been recovered from archaeological sites.  Consequently, a number of sketches based upon the most important pieces of period art appear in the book as illustrations, highlighted to demonstrate information about particular garment types. The text also discusses clothing information from Paul the Deacon's history of the Lombards, which is a major source of information about the Lombards in general (see the image in the photograph above).  In addition, the author has reviewed the available evidence in light of what is known of other Germanic people's clothing during the period of the Lombards' rule, though little explicit discussion appears on this point.

For those who are familiar with the known information about contemporary Germanic races associated with other parts of Europe, the book's conclusions will not be surprising.  They include the following:
  • Lombard men typically wore undershirts and drawers made from linen.  The drawers were made with a drawstring with legs extending to just above the knee, like the underbreeches that appear in the art of the later Middle Ages in northern Europe.
  • The most commonly found weaves are tabby, herringbone twill, diamond twill, and repp. Higher status men tended to wear the diamond and herringbone twill weaves, which were dyed in bright colors.
  • There is some evidence for trousers as outerwear, decorated with a broad ornamental band at the hem.
  • There is also evidence that other men wore leg wrappings, as did the Anglo-Saxons and various northern European peoples.
  • Outer tunics were long-sleeved and A-shaped.  They came to about the knee and were decorated with broad bands of contrasting cloth, either in a straight line from shoulder to shoulder (including the neck area) or with a broad band from shoulder to shoulder and a perpendicular band starting from the neck and running down the middle of the torso to about the waist level.  
  • The outfit was completed with a short (no longer than to the hem of the tunic) cloak, fastened with a brooch on the right shoulder, with the opening exposing the right side of the body.  
  • There is evidence for two different types of hat:  a pillbox style, and a felted hat shaped like an inverted modern flowerpot with a small brim.  
  • There is also evidence that low, slipper-like shoes were worn by Lombard men.
The book concludes with an essay on the type of sword belt of which evidence is most often found in Lombard graves.  

Menswear of the Lombards has a few drawbacks.  It is short, especially given the breadth of subject matter covered. Possibly in consequence, long descriptions of the evidence or of the analysis leading to the author's conclusions do not appear.  In addition, the book is written in English, which judging from the grammatical constructions used does not appear to be the author's primary language.  Thus, it's important to read the text slowly at first, making frequent reference to the illustrations based upon the period art evidence in order to absorb the author's meaning.  There is a significant bibliography, but note that many of the sources listed are written in Italian.

In conclusion, Menswear of the Lombards is well-worth its modest EPub price for costumers and other amateur scholars interested in the region and period, though it is far from the final word about Lombard costume.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Midsummer Crop of Short Tutorials

Because it's been a while since I published links to short tutorials, today seemed a good time for a new collection of them.  Although I can't say for certain that all of these qualify as "one-afternoon" projects, none of them should take weeks or months to complete, even for a beginner.
  • From Kristine Risberg at the Náttmál blog comes this detailed tutorial on how to make your own wooden-handled Hedeby type bag (see this post of mine from a few days ago).
  • If your interests run more to the Italian Renaissance, here's a post from Lady Ydeneya de Baillencourt with instructions on how to make a simple partlet.  I have posted other partlet tutorials in the recent past, but this one is even simpler and thus more versatile in application.
  • Here is a tutorial on how to make a fontange, a late 17th century lace cap. It is without illustrations, and the author admits that she had to "wing it" because she could find little useful material on fontange construction, but it may be amusing to see whether one can improve on her effort.  A fontange might well qualify as a "ridiculous" fashion for the Historical Sew Monthly's August theme.  
  • Finally, here is a tutorial on how to make this hood, referred to as a London hood, based upon a late 14th century CE find from London, England. nbsp;
Have fun!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Odds and Ends

Here are a few interesting tidbits that I discovered on the Internet over the past few days.

Archaeologists are still recovering textiles and other material culture finds from the Lendbreen glacier in Norway.  One such find is a quite large piece of textile still colored a deep blue (scroll down the page to the second picture from the bottom).  My thanks go out to Jenn Culler for directing me to this article.

Here's something rather different than the developments I usually discuss:  an article from the journal Asian Social Sciences discussing Chinese textiles from the Han and Tang Dynasties found on the Silk Road.   The gist of the article is that embroidered Chinese textiles of the period greatly influenced embroidery motifs used in textiles made along the Silk Road.

It is now possible to purchase of the back issues of the Archaeological Textiles Newsletter/Archaeological Review from 1985-2007 as a matched set of three bound volumes for 1000 Danish Krone (about $151.35 USD or 134.45 Euros).  The volumes are a bit more expensive if purchased separately.  For more information, go here.

Finally, Leiden University in the Netherlands recently made available a new dissertation for free in PDF format.  This book is a detailed analysis of archaeological textile finds with a view toward deducing what the clothing from which the finds came was like, including photographs of some interesting reconstructions of men's and women's headwear found at sites in the Netherlands.  The specimens range in age from 400 CE (late Antiquity) to about 1000 CE (late Viking Age).  The entire book, or various portions thereof, may be downloaded in PDF form from this page and the citation is:
C.R. Brandenburgh. Clothes Make The Man: Early medieval textiles from the Netherlands. (Leiden University Press, May 10, 2016).
Chicago University Press is the distributor of the hard copy of the book in the United States, in case you wish to track down a paper copy.  Thanks, once again, to Jenn Culler for pointing me toward this discovery.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Reflections on "Birka" and "Hedeby" Bags

Antler purse handle from Sweden. 
Photo:  Historiska Museet database (Object No. 604,027)  
Recently, reenactment vendors, reenactors and costume enthusiasts interested in the Viking age have started to make their own versions of ... bags!  These bags are inspired by wooden and bone finds at Birka, Hedeby, and other places which, it is currently believed, were bag handles.  The photographs to the right show what some of those items look like today. They are roughly 20 cm (approximately 8 inches) to 30 cm (approximately 12 inches) long.

Most of the bag reconstructions seem to be about 12 inches (~ 30 cm) deep and have long strings attached to the wooden handles, like a handbag designed to be carried over the shoulder. The opening of most of these bags is a few millimeters narrower than the length of the wooden handles, and the pouch is made from a single piece of folded fabric with seams only on the sides, though there are exceptions.   The most common material used for them is a sturdy wool, sometimes with a linen lining, though a few are made from leather.  Some of the bags are attractively and ingeniously decorated, with a sewn-on strip of silk or tablet weaving, embroidery, or even fringe.

Because all we have of any of these bags (to the best of my knowledge) are the wooden handles, it's hard to say how close to the actual Viking originals these reconstructions actually are.  They are attractive, and probably useful to the Viking reenactors who use them.

A wooden purse frame and parts of other purse frames
found in the water outside Birka. Image: Christin Mason, SMM
I personally suspect that most of the current designs have been made to allow women reenactors to carry modern items (such as smartphones, keys, and wallets) in a convenient, period-plausible way at events. But I wish there was even more experimentation in their design!  Instead of just making lovely items that may not reflect the way the Vikings actually used such bags, we should think about considerations that would affect the construction of these bags. For example:
  • Who used them?  There seems to be a common assumption that these bags were used by Viking women. This may be a reasonable assumption, since bags found in male Viking graves tend to be more securely closeable (e.g., nomad-style pouches made to be worn on a belt).  The answer to this question in turn makes it possible to make at least limited responses to other questions, such as:
  • For what purposes were such bags used?  Consider a few examples.  A bag intended to carry a lot of silver coins, or hack silver, or tools, would need to be more sturdy than a bag intended to carry a woman's embroidery project and sewing supplies.  If the bag was intended to carry root vegetables, it would need to be both sturdy and stretchy.  Leather would be good for carrying heavy coin or woodworking tools, while a mesh design would be better for vegetables.
  • What materials were used to make them?  Wool fabric is plausible, but so is linen fabric, or leather.  And there are other options.  If such a bag were used to carry root vegetables, for example, it could have been made of sprang, or nalbinding.  
  • Would a lining be necessary?  Appropriate?  If the fabric from which the bag is made is loosely woven and the planned contents are sharp metal, or have pointed edges, it might be necessary to make a lining.  The properties of the contents, the potential bag material, and the potential lining need to be kept in mind.
Function would determine whether these bags really had long cords for carrying, as all of the modern reconstructions I've seen on the Internet have had.  If the bags were used as work bags, shorter cords might have been used.  If they were used to carry heavy objects, narrow leather straps might have been employed.

It is interesting to look at 20th century wooden handled bags, which were made in a variety of styles over decades and also had a variety of purposes. This model, made during the 1940s of imported silk, might have been used for sewing or knitting work. This bag from the 1960s was crocheted from jute and, given the differences in taste between the 40s and 60s, might have simply been a handbag. In the 1980s, there was a vogue for much smaller "preppy" bags that were carried by the wooden handle and often had changeable fabric pouches, like these.   And to this day similar wooden handled bags are still being sold, as this modern design, sold in 2016, shows.

There is a place for thoughtful experimentation here, maybe more so than with regard to apron dress design, and I hope to see more of it in the coming years.  Eventually, I will purchase a replica set of wooden handles and make one for myself.

EDIT:  (6/4/2017)  Added some additional thoughts I had upon re-reading parts of this post.

Friday, May 19, 2017


For those of us interested in early European textiles, it's exciting to review the program of the thirteenth North European Symposium on Archaeological Textiles ("NESAT XIII") which starts on Monday, May 22 in Liberec, Czech Republic.

The conference schedule may be found here and there appear to be even more presentations than usual for scholars interested in pre-medieval clothing and textiles.  Here are just a few that excite me:
S. Harris – A. Jones:  Beautiful things: textiles from an Early Bronze Age cremation, Whitehorse Hill, England.
U. Mannering – I. Skals:  Textile News from Bornholm in Denmark. Recently excavated textiles from a well-known Late Iron Age cemetery.
F. Pritchard: Twill weaves from Viking-age Dublin.
E. Wincott Heckett: Textiles from the Viking Warrior Grave, Woodstown Co., Waterford, Ireland.
K. Vajanto--M. Pasanen: Dyes and Dyeing Methods used in Finland 1000 Years Ago.
K. Kania: To Spin a Good Yarn--Spinning Techniques with Hand Spindles.
I. Demant: Making a dress of an Iron Age woman--the results of experimental archaeology used in praxis.
At least I have time to save my money for the published conference report when it comes out in a few years!