I have wonderful friends who gifted me with a copy of Bundled Up in Blue last fall. It is a great museum exhibit book that covers many details of a Viking grave find in Iceland. I was very happy last night to see the dress information now available online. You can find it here!
Those who have taken my Viking Age textiles classes know that I love to talk about scale. Things like how tiny plaids were or how tiny the diamonds in diamond twill were. The cloth used by high status individuals was quite fine. It is, however, very hard to find broken diamond twill at all, let alone in a fine cloth.
Well, someone is stepping up to the plate and offering some BEAUTIFUL fabric to reenactors. You can go directly to the Facebook post from this link, and I included images below. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=401269506889989&id=100010208285904
I have friends who joke about me counting threads in cloth. I can readily laugh with them about it because textiles are a passion for me. In part, because the historic construction of cloth fascinates me, but in part also because this is one of the few facets of Viking costume for which we have a definitive model. Most of us who recreate these ancient bits of clothing know that we do so with great limitations regarding what patterning, cut and construction was used (particularly when it comes to women's dress). There is always a great deal of guesswork involved on part of the costumer.
The cloth itself, however, we have thousands of examples of. We know what this cloth looked like, we can see, even today, the texture and quality of textiles that the early Norse women crafted. My patterning of garments is largely guesswork, but the cloth itself I can at least analyze and try to attempt to find textiles that bear similar visual qualities, including thread count. Of course, one can bring up the argument that there are still faults with this (such as wrong breed of sheep or improper width of yarn leading to a more dense or loose cloth than that of a specific period example). I still believe that studying the fabric yields us a wealth of information about dress in the past and can help us better reach the goal of more faithfully reproducing it.
One of the hardest things that I had to overcome (and I have mentioned this in past entries), is that notion that the Viking Era Norse were barbarians, that their craft was crude and clumsy. While that might be true in some areas, the wealth of extant textiles does not bear this out. There were fabrics, of wool, that had thread counts in excess of 150 threads per inch in the warp. That cloth was exceptionally fine, even by today's standard. A person of some status, who wore metal brooches and a string of beads, certainly did not garb herself in cloth as coarse as burlap.
Breaking those stereotypes should not stop with the fabric. Another example (again, something that I have discussed at length in this forum, in online groups and in my classes) is that other elements could, perhaps, reflect the same sort of refinement and quality as did the cloth.
Long have I pondered how the large, open, and often poorly wrought (I have too many examples of this on my own costume) Herringbone Stitch has made itself so prevalent in Viking costume.
I think part of this, has to do with some modern mentality of equating over-embellished design elements with wealth and status. We love to see miles of trim or stitching on costume, and see it as a perfected work, rather than one that is over-wrought. Interesting, I think, given that one of the staples of a modern woman's wardrobe is the rather understated, but always elegant, "Little Black Dress". Simplicity can often speak volumes in the modern wardrobe, but we often bypass that concept in costuming because it, like the concept of fine wool fabric, does not fit with our own internal visualization of the past.
To look again at the scant evidence for the Herringbone stitch, see below:
Breaking the Myth
So where did we go wrong with this?
I think the first fault lies in our own taste. In our own desire to make something "rustic" that fits in with our own misconceptions of the capabilities of these people, we opt for things that fit in with this ideal, but also that are simple enough for anyone to add to their attire. We also have this concept that "more stuff" means higher status.
The second issue is with the evidence, or rather, our misinterpretation of it. One of the most circulated articles online is one entitled "Viking Embroidery" by Mistress Thora Sharptooth. She has been a powerful inspiration in the SCA for digging deeper into Viking costume and textiles. She has a series of works posted on-line that I think most of us would give credit as the best aids we had when starting out. In her embroidery work there is a paragraph concerning the ornamentation of seams.
One additional type of embroidery that seems to have been practiced even before the Viking Age was the ornamentation of seams. This practice occurred in an earlier related context, on a seam from a seventh-century pillow cover from the Sutton Hoo textiles (Crowfoot, 422), possibly indicating a tradition of some antiquity in north Europe. In the ninth century, one of the Oseberg garment seams is oversewn in some sort of loop stitch with a thread used double (Ingstad, 92). In similar fashion, some of the ninth- and tenth-century Hedeby and Birka finds display corded or braided thread appliqué over the seams (Hägg 1984, 169). The tenth-century Mammen grave contained a wool cushion with embroidery over a seam (Hald, 282). The stitches used on the Sutton Hoo and Mammen finds are similar: both yield a thick, wide strip with a plaited appearance. But whereas the stitch used on the Sutton Hoo pillow was a complex interlaced variant of Vandyke stitch (see the figure on the left below, redrawn from Crowfoot), the stitch used on the Mammen cushion was simpler, a closely-worked variant of herringbone (see the figure on the right below, redrawn from Hald).
I feel the need to further elaborate on the statements contained in this measure, and help to provide context (as it is researching these items that helped me to better trace the origins of the myth).
Putting the evidence into context is of paramount importance. Understanding something being referenced in that article is not necessarily proof that all of our notions of "seam embellishments" are documentable. It is absolutely not documentation that a standard Herringbone, or catch stitch, was ever used in such a manner either.
Looking deeper at the sources and meanings of each item is valuable as we move beyond beginner and progress on a journey as a costumer who is attempting to recreate the past.
My own opinion is that seams were likely not embellished. Not only due to lack of archaeological proof, but because of the time it would take to craft something that would make reuse of a textile less likely. It would be hard to take in that garment if it were so embellished. I often also see people citing that it "reinforces" the seams. Why then would you need to reinforce the seam of an aprondress (a garment that Hagg describes as only "slightly fitted"), when you are not taking time to sew that stitch around an armhole of a dress, or down the seam in the back of the sleeve at the elbow. Both of those areas are far more likely to break from stress than a side seam of a slightly fitted dress. Why not instead use these complex stitches (and the stitch from Mammen is indeed time consuming) on a functional textile such as the cushion cover that you will not need to alter, and that might possibly need the strength from the applied needlework?
And finally, I need to mention Scale, because I think a lack of understanding regarding scale is one of the main contributors to the reenactorism of "decorative herringbone". As I mentioned above, the only thing close to the reenactor's use of herringbone is the Mammen cushion cover. It is important to view that piece in proper perspective.
What we typically see of this find is the diagram in the lower right corner. This usually appears on our screen at a size of about a half an inch wide. The weave of the needlework for the diagram is open, to better show how the stitches interlace. What many people have not seen, is the actual photos of the cushion, which I have included here. Note that the stitch is tightly worked, with no negative space visible to the eye. In fact, it looks at first like applied braid. And perhaps the most important thing here is to consider the scale of the piece. That line of braid is a mere 3mm wide.
I think the single biggest perpetrator of the "herringbone seam embellishment" myth is a misunderstanding of that diagram (or rather, lack of understanding about its context). If indeed you were to opt to use this type of stitching, I think the only credible way to do so would be to apply it in the same manner of the original. While I personally do not think it would have been used over a dress seam, I can at least understand where the tradition stands historically and it reads as something that might be plausible for the Viking age.
(A I have woven a couple of the Dublin headcoverings before, as mentioned in a previous post here (http://awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/dublin-scarf-finished ). I did those on a rigid heddle loom with two heddles and currently have one of the narrow scarves warped up on a table loom in an even more fine wool yarn.
But I have been trying to puzzle a few things out about the loops at the ends of the fringed items, and how the spacing was kept with out a tablet woven starting border. (Spacing by hand would not be difficult with a thicker yarn, but with a very fine yarn it could be a continual pain for the weaver.) String heddles some times help spacing, but sometimes they also can botch it up.
In Viking Age Headcoverings from Dublin, Elizabeth Wincott Heckett suggests that the headcoverings might have been woven on a two beam loom similar to the one found at Oseberg (which is also thought to be a sprang loom and possible the item that the famous Oseberg tapestries were woven on). Loom is pictured to the left.
Recently while cleaning I discovered a now unused stand that held wooden TV trays. I have repurposed it as a sprang frame/two beam loom, and figured I would play around with weaving a headcovering vertically.
I am more than pleased that my theories seem to be working out!
To get the warp yarn to space fairly evenly with little fiddling, I oped to wrap the warp around the beam an extra pass before stretching it down to the next beam. I did half my test warp in this manner, and half with two wraps between each vertical warp yarn. (A weaving comb would work to space for a thicker warp, but you would have to have an exceptionally fine comb for this and take care with it to not damage the fine warp yarn.)
In practice, it does very well at setting the spacing AND the additional wraps will allow me extra yarn at the ends to twist the fringe that will have the little looped ends that so many extant examples have. I absolutely cannot wait to try weaving some items on this loom now!
I will add string heddles and a heddle rod when I warp a full width piece (tonight I used a bone folder as both a pick up stick and weaving sword). I am quite excited and look forward to more work like this.
If you are interested in the headcoverings from Dublin, or Viking Era weaving in general, I cannot recommend Heckett's book enough. It is an amazing resource and has very, very detailed information about each item (thread counts, thread sizes, color, etc.). http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/viking-age-headcoverings-from-dublin.html
I have wanted for some time now to work up a class on Viking Era women's clothing, but stalled because I was not sure of how I wanted to approach the subject matter. A whole class could be devoted to interpretations of the aprondress, for example. There are quite a few people who teach excellent beginners courses on layers, colors and getting the right look, as there are others who are teaching "next steps" classes (I took a fantastic one at Pennsic last year).
The class I will be offering soon will be a bit more specific and a bit more research oriented. I hope to give a better understanding of the investment that textiles were in period and use that to give one a better perspective on how to use them. Having an understanding of the daily lives of these women, and how valuable textiles were at the time, will give a better foundation for our projects.
Part of the class will cover what period fabrics looked like and how to try to determine which modern substitutions would be best. Also covered will be examples of details and embellishments for garments that are based on extant items. The themes that will be covered for each item are Provenance, Perspective, Plausibility, Practicality and Proportion. As always, there will be a lot of tactile samples of items to be passed around to help illustrate textiles, ideas and techniques.
The official listing for Pennsic is:
Deeper Look at Textiles & Trim of Viking Age Dress
By looking deeper at both the textiles and the details from extant items, this class aims to help individuals make informed choices for crafting their garments. Tactile examples will clarify the weaves and weight of period fabrics and there will also be discussion of possible modern substitutions. Additionally, practical details for finishing or embellishing garments will also be explored and their history investigated. The goal of this class is to help the individual understand how daily life during the Viking Age could affect how textiles were crafted and worn.
I plan to teach twice at Pennsic and hopefully once at War Practice. Also on the agenda (hopefully) will be Atlantia University and AEthelemarc AEcademy (both this fall).
(Note, this class is geared towards women's garments because I will often be using aprodresses as examples for various things, but a great deal of the class can be applied to any garments from the period!)
I have made some updates to my Viking Textiles - A Deeper Look at Plaids, Stripes and Checks article. Added in a bit more information I got about several pieces, as well as some possible weaving drafts of those for which I did not have images.
Additionally, there is now a downloadable PDF at the end of the document that can be printed out to give a a rough sense of the scale for these plaids (since all monitors will show items differently, and many of the photos from the academic works are enlarged already).
I saw a wonderful article yesterday from Hakai Magazine on Viking woolen sails that is definitely worth sharing. http://www.hakaimagazine.com/article-long/no-wool-no-vikings
Last year around this time I was working on weaving lightweight wool scarves based on those from Viking Age Dublin. I fashioned two of them on a rigid heddle loom with two shafts. The first is the one I often wear, and the second is nearly identical except that I worked to get the weaving more even and correct the amount of draw-in I had by the end of the piece.
I do not, however, often make The Thing just to have and then be done with The Thing for good. The first is always an exploration and a learning experience. Each further iteration is either and improvement on my technique or a deeper exploration into a period practice.
Tonight I started sampling an even more fine wool single on my table loom. Eventually I will weave a veil of this type of cloth. After that, I plan to use an old TV tray stand I found and convert it to an Oseberg style loom an weave another cap or scarf on using a loom that functions as one did in period. Finally, sometime down the road, the plan is to spin my own yarn to weave one. I look forward to each step in this process.
The original wool scarves that I did have been written up here. http://awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/dublin-scarf-finished
Because it is shopping season, and also because the new year approaches and many of us start to thing of the projects the next year will bring, I thought I would take the time right now to share some of my favorite fibers and yarn that work really well for SCA projects.
While I definitely recommend the experience of working with raw wool and hand processing it, we often do not have time for that, and it can be very difficult for beginners. There is one processed wool roving/top that I have regularly spin and that I recommend to spinners of any level. That wool is naturally colored Shetland roving that you can buy from several vendors at Pennsic, including Brush Creek Woolworks and Minerva's Spindle. This stuff drafts and spins very well. It has lots of loft so you can make a thick wooly yarn, or you can spin it out exceptionally fine on Viking period spindles.
Yarn for Weaving
Harrisville Shetland Yarns
Harrisville makes two weights of Shetland wool yarn. The Highland is heavier, and for SCA purposes I would reserve it for cloaks or functional textiles (or for something where you want a bit more warmth or bulk). The Shetland yarn is a great weight for functional textiles (woven mittens, pouches, mats, possibly hoods or something like that). I highly, and I mean HIGHLY, recommend this yarn purchased as UNWASHED cones for new weavers. The unwashed yarn is smooth during weaving, which means the threads are less likely to hang up on their neighbors (which gives you a clean shed). Both weights work exceptionally well in rigid heddle looms and I have crafted many projects from this wool. The Shetland can be used for garments, but the resulting item would be much heavier, and have a much lower threadcount, than most of what we see in finds from the Viking era.
Another way to use this yarn as as an easy to manage warp for your own handspun weft.
My favorite vendor for hits is Halcyon Yarn. https://halcyonyarn.com/yarn/009/harrisville-shetland-yarn-_-unwashed-cones
EPiC Wool Yarn
I discovered this yarn early last year and fell in love. The problem is that the company disappeared before I could order enough to do a project with it. Well, we are lucky that Timeless Textiles have purchased the business and are offering this amazing yarn again.
This two-ply lightweight yarn is a true worsted wool. It is both smooth and strong and weaves very easily. It worked well at a sett of 20 for tabby on the rigid heddle loom when I sampled (and made a thick, almost canvas-like cloth at 25 for tabby). I also know many people who love this particular yarn for tablet weaving.
You can get more information in the company's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/timeless.textiles.sb2ollc/?fref=ts
Bockens and Borgs make wonderful yarns that are exceptional for weaving. They come in array of rich colors and can be worked into a number of items for reenacting use (including garments). The one issue you can run into is that often it can be difficult to get a large number of skeins on very short notice. It is good to plan larger projects well in advance so that there is time to get it from Sweden if need be.
Borgs 6/1 Faro wool yarn is a single ply yarn that works well at a sett of 20 or slightly higher for a twill. This is the yarn I used as the warp in my apron dress and I have played with it also as a brocading weft for tablet weaving. It is also often used as a tapestry wool. It can be a little sticky as warp, but I still consider it easy to use.
Borgs 20/2 Tuna wool yarn is both fine and strong. It is not sticky and works well for both tablet weaving and traditional weaving. I have only sampled with it (and used it for tablet weaving) but it would make a lovely fabric. This might be a good option for garment yarn for those who feel they are not quite ready to try weaving with singles.
Bockens 8/2 Mobelatta is very strong and has a bit of a sheen. It is great for functional textiles that will have a lot of wear and would also likely make a wonderful shawl or outer garment.
You can find these yarns at the following vendors (I use all of them and they are great):
Vavstuga Weaving School: http://vavstuga.com/
Glimakra USA (Borgs only): http://glimakrausa.com/
Loan Star Loom Room: http://www.lonestarloomroom.com
Even with amazing yarns such as those I listed above, it can still be very difficult to find the correct yarns for imitating historic textiles. Most garments in the Viking era were woven from singles. Faro yarn is nice, but still thicker than much of what was used at the time. Vendors who carry mill ends from the commercial weaving industry give us incredible access to exceptionally fine yarns. The only warning I have with these sources is that they often have only what they have and will not get more in stock of an item. I suggest ordering extra in the event you discover you need more later.
The weft in my handwoven aprondress was a large cone of mill end wool yarn that was gifted to me by a friend. (It is the same wool I used for my Dublin scarves.)
I have resourced these types of wool from two sources. One is WEBS (http://www.yarn.com/mill-end-weaving-yarns/). This vendor does not always stock yarns that meet our needs, but I purchased some there this fall that is exceptionally nice and will work very well for garments. Look at the Yorkshire 30s yarn if it is still there (and then be in awe of the price, it is a fantastic deal).
The other resource that I positively love is ColourMart in the UK. This vendor carries a massive supply of yarn including some incredibly fine wools (and silks as well). I highly recommend getting on the email list to be advised of sales. And, if you are purchasing a large amount of yarn for weaving garments, make sure you change the items to larger cones at check-out, as you will save your self a good deal of money. I have loved every yarn I have gotten there (especially the 1/13 wool and the 1/20 Merino/Cashmere). http://www.colourmart2.com/products/rootProducts.php
Below is a really fascinating video about the Lendbreen tunic and its recreation. Definitely worth taking the time to watch if you are interested in early textiles!
I dance, race cars, play video games and am on a fantastic journey to recreate the past via costume, textiles, dance and food.
Blogroll of SCA & Costume Bloggers
Below is a collection of some of my favorite places online to look for SCA and historic costuming information.
More Amie Sparrow - 16th Century German Costuming
Gianetta Veronese - SCA and Costuming Blog
Grazia Morgano - 16th Century A&S
Mistress Sahra -Dress From Medieval Turku
Loose Threads: Cathy's Costume Blog
Mistress Mathilde Bourrette - By My Measure: 14th and 15th Century Costuming
More than Cod: Exploring Medieval Norway