The article has been published in the Archaeological Textiles Review for the Lendbreen constructions. I love that the time needed to reconstruct the garments was included, as it is very important for providing context for the garments. (Yes, I also love that they used Villsau wool!)
I have seen a few things recently (some were from online arguments, some from online whines) that made me want to make some comments regarding research in the SCA. This is not so much a post about “how-to” research, but more about how research has changed for me, how my thinking in that area has matured, and how it has changed in the SCA since I started 25 years ago.
To share my background, I was an art major for 2.5 years in college with a focus on Fine Arts and Illustration, my minor was English and then History. I changed my major at that point to History, but only for a semester before I dropped out for a couple of years. The bulk of my classes during that time were art (drawing, painting, printing, design, etc.). I positively loved my History courses (hence the major change), but they were, for the most part, not high level. When I did reports for my history classes, they were book reports. We wrote essays on topics discussed in class. When I wrote an actual (long) paper for the first time, the only requirement was that we use at least three sources. I think I had five. All were from books that I walked into the library, selected off the bookshelf and then checked out to read. I did not vet my sources. I did not know to do so. I did not hit the stacks to look for research articles on my topics, because I did not know that I should.
In my art history class, we had to write a paper. It could be on whatever we wanted. I started to write what was essentially a book report on three different books I had on Celtic Art. We had to turn in a draft and the professor complimented my writing skills, but told me I needed to make a conclusion from what I was reading, that I needed to approach my subject as if I was trying to prove something. That is the one and only time during my education that that was ever brought up.
I ended up finishing my liberal arts degree by picking up random classes at other schools after I moved to Maryland. It was mostly the general requirements that I was missing, and I needed a few more high level courses and chose to take Psychology classes. We learned little in terms of research methods in any of these. The one class that did have impact on me during this time was some sort of health course that talked about health fads. We did learn a little (very little) about taking a better look at an article (and its sources) to see if it had merit or if it was just pseudoscience trying to look impressive. I wish the whole semester had been on that.
Now, about my SCA research. My first attempt was in college. I went to the library and looked at Kohler’s costume book and another that had less in the way of extant examples, but did have pretty line drawings of what costumes from each century would look like. I also owned (insert groans here) Braun & Scheider’s The History of Costume. Essentially we looked at pictures and tried to revamp American Civil War patterns into those things. We had enough garb as a result to make it to those first few events.
My second attempt at actual research played out much the same way. I went to a college in Baltimore and looked in the library for costuming books, freaked out over how much photocopies cost but made a few, then tried to take notes on the rest. See the issue here? I did not even know enough to look beyond very broad (and VERY dated) books on the topic. The internet was really not even a thing at that time, so I had no resources to tell me how to better approach my subject.
In the late 1990s, someone in another reenacting group told me about Janet Arnold. My mom got me Patterns of Fashion 3 for Christmas and this opened my eyes and started letting me try to look at things from a different angle. I started to see more depth in what research could be. Eventually I came across Drea Leed’s Elizabethan Costuming site and my eyes were opened to how expansive costume research could be. I was still in my infancy though, regarding research, because really, if something was in a book, or on a very nice website, it had to be correct, right?
In 2004, I really had this urge (as a budding Middle Eastern dancer) to make costuming that was period for use at SCA events. I was able to find a few sites online that were made by SCAdians, and went to the Ottoman Style & Status exhibit in DC. I got Ipek (a glorious volume detailing silk production and textiles of the Ottoman Empire), the exhibit catalog and saw Ottoman Costume: From Textile to Identity but failed to buy it that day (thinking I could easily get it later). It was impossible to get here after that, but my boss went to Turkey that spring and her history-buff husband drug their tour group through 3 used book stores to find me a copy. That was the book that woke me up. I suddenly had a wealth of detailed information about small topics under the bigger field of Ottoman costume. That one book changed the way I approached research. I bought additional books on the topic, and found a handful of articles online, but it was enough to let me know the sorts of things I would need to find when I really got hit with the research bug in 2007 when I switched my persona to a Viking one.
Why did I tell you all of that? Because I see too many arguments about how research is too hard. I had someone get pissy with me and a few others online because we had both been to college (even though education was never part of the argument, nor should it have been). Apparently, to them, that means that everyone who went a university has some sort research skills beaten into them and I want people to know that it is simply not true. I started college in 1990 and finished in 2000. I did not really start to understand research processes until 2004-2005 and did not start digging in really deep until 2012.
Fact, this is the SCA and no one has to research anything. You can make whatever attempt at pre-17th Century attire you like and show up to an event without ever cracking a book. If, however, your goal is to try to produce more accurate work you will need to do some amount of research at some point. You also need to learn to weed out dated or poor research materials. And you might need to become familiar with another language (note, I did not say you need to learn it, but for some fields, you need to get a grasp of certain terms).
I am now frequently seeing arguments about how much harder it is to get a Laurel now than many years ago. About how people used to make do with less research and fewer materials then we look for now. And this is partly true. Yes, your research might be have been limited to 10 resources for a topic while the same topic now might really need three times that many. Note though, that if you look at effort, not just content, the effort to get that material is about the same. There is also far more material that we can sort through, rather than just making do with what few books we can ILL or what few journals exist within driving distance. Used book sites online actually make owning some of these precious materials easier as well. Also, back-in-the-day, if you had something in German, and did not speak it, you had to painstakingly (and often badly) translate using a dictionary. Now it is easier to get a reasonable (if not perfect) translation online, and the internet makes it far easier to network with others to perfect a translation. I agree that the bar should not be set higher with each generation of Laurels, but I do not believe in ethics when it comes to these matters and I do not think that pulling 10 articles off the internet is enough work to equal the effort put in some years ago. Modern technology is helping expand our access to materials and our horizons, to the betterment of all that are invested in accuracy. (And no, let us NOT indulge in a conversation here about how one might view that the bar is set too high… that is another topic entirely.)
So, here are things I want to point out that I had to learn the hard way:
Sources – do not just settle for online sources. Do not limit yourself just to books. Do not limit yourself to the one journal your libaray has. At some point realize that you might either have to buy a book (or download) or actually go to a library to try to ILL something you really need. Learn to mine the bibliographies of academics to try to find additional details about a topic.
Languages – you do not need to learn another language (unless you want too), but for many areas, you will have to learn to deal with foreign text. Some things have been translated by other researchers, so you might look online for those, or network with others to see what they have found or produced. Online translators are a wonderful start, but not always trustworthy when it comes to complex discussions. Again, you might need to network to help you sort out details in key materials. At the very least, I do not think it is too much to expect someone to learn the key terms of their field in the more common languages used for publication of that material. (And realistically, I have learned enough Norwegian at this point that I can read the titles of most articles when I am searching for things. I did not set out to learn that, but use of translation tools and when getting help from friends to translate items, I have picked up enough that I can run online searches and weed out materials without help. I never expected that, but it is a nice bonus!)
Current Articles/Duplication of Articles – Often an author will cover the same, or very similar topics, over a span of decades. If you start seeing a name pop up over and over in bibliographies, it would be good to find a list of their work online. Try then to track down the most current articles FIRST. People revise theories as new evidence comes to light, and that might be your best plan to start with the most current items. I still recommend eventually tracking down the older works, because they might have additional details, and it is also sometime enlightening to see how thinking on a topic has changed. A great example here is for those interested in Viking Studies to get Hägg’s newest Haithabu book, before tracking down those from the 80s. She condenses some of the theories on dress in the new volume that can be quite useful.
Application of Critical Thinking – this is very important. Making a step from pure research into applying that knowledge is very powerful. You need to be willing to make that leap at some point. You need to be willing to process the data yourself and, quite possibly, be wrong. It is ok really, there is always more to learn and research is a living science. For some fields, there is a great deal of experimentation that needs to happen, because the evidence is scant. This can be stimulating, but it is also important here to approach this as a science (and work with any evidence we do have) and eliminate the woulda/coulda/shouldas from the scene.
Also in terms of Critical Thinking, we need to remember that everyone can make mistakes. It might be that someone has a beautiful, polished website, but has missed critical material in their research. It can be European reenactment groups that seemed as though the stepped directly out of the past that it is easy to believe that what they are doing just has to be correct. It isn’t always that way. I will use an example here, Wulfheodenas is a Vendel age reenactment group. They always look amazing, and well put together. They also wear wolf pelts as part of their kit. Because they look so fantastic (all of them) people make the assumption that that is actually part of the typical warrior kit from the period. If you talk to them about it though, that that is not actually the case, and that it is not supported as a broad fashion, and that they use it to distinguish their group of elite warriors from others. If you never have that detailed conversation with them about their inspiration or their kit, you would never know that. Yes, I said it. Just because some group in Europe does it, does not make it correct. Some of the groups do amazing work, many of the individuals are beyond compare in their research and presentation, but it is always better to dig deeper to the sources and to figure out why they made the choices they did. (“Group X did this thing” is not documentation.)
And to go beyond reenactors, look at some of the museums out there. Some have very dated displays. Someone sent me pictures of a museum in Ireland of the costumed mannequins with a huge question about their accuracy (because they did not look “right” to her). One of them was based on very, very dated information. One of them was based on total bunk (the person who designed the item was later asked about it and could not remember which bit of research lead to that particular bizarre conclusion.
And research? Same thing. Some academics (cough – she-who-shall-not-be-named) would rather make headlines than produce ethical, scientific research. Other items might have some value, but you need to look more closely at the details before you can really determine how valuable that piece is to the over all scope. Remember that 50% of Women Were Warriors hoopla that spread online several years ago (and about every 6 months since)? Those click-bait titles were based on an actual research article, but what you need to see is that the academic piece only covered a small number of graves, from one single site, and the conclusion drawn was actually that 50% of the SETTLERS at that site were potentially female.
Finally, I want to mention that we all have challenges that we have to overcome. For some, it is physical. Many people do not realize that I have some pretty serious neck issues that actually can radiate down into my hands (making them pretty useless). This not only impacts my ability to sew or spin, it stopped my progress in becoming a professional dancer, and it affects how long I can sit at a computer. This means that some days, going to work is all that I can handle. I have to work with these limitations as best as I can. I am not going to make excuses for lackluster work because of it. I know that it is my limitation, and not someone else’s issue, and it means that I have to take care in my approach to my projects and know that it might take me five times as long to sew a garment as another person. I have attention issues, and problems focusing, or bouncing around from one incomplete topic to the next. I have actually learned to make this work for me, to some extent. I know that I will not complete something on time, so I rarely plan to enter competitions. Rather, I let myself bounce between projects, and often I learn enough more about Project A while working on B and C, that when I get back to A I might need to revise something, but that in the end it will actually be better. (And yes, this also means many things never get finished, but I have also learned that it is not the end of the world and I am better off doing things that make me happiest at a given moment.) Some people have much deeper hinderences than I face, some people have time, family or money issues that slow down progress. None of this is fun, but remembering that sometimes things might just take longer for one person than the next can, and that that is OK, really can help keep one in a “happy place” in terms of our chosen arts.
Research is an art and science on its own. For some people, such as myself, it is the driving force in what I do. For others, they only do it to reach some other end goal. It is all good. We can choose to do more or less of things as we like to and, honestly, as life would allow. It is not always easy, and nope, it is totally not for everyone (seriously, if it is torture, just don’t put yourself in that position), but I am hoping that this random mess of thoughts will let people see that this, just as much as learning to sew the perfect dress, is a long process with each step building on the one before.
If you would like a bit of a taste of this author's work regarding silks, you can checkout an article on silk trade that she wrote here: https://www.academia.edu/10620737/Silk_trade_to_Scandinavia_in_the_Viking_Age._In_Textiles_and_the_Medieval_Economy_Production_Trade_and_Consumption_of_Textiles_8th_16th_Centuries._Angela_Ling_Huang_Editor_Carsten_Jahnke_Editor_._Oxbow_Books_2015
Below is the link to and article that discusses costume albums from 17th century Ottoman Empire. The images are early 17th century and, despite that, are still used frequently by members of the SCA as documentation so I thought I would pass this one on.
I will note here that the Herjolfsnes finds are dated several hundred years past the Viking Age. However, most of the information on textile production is still highly relevant as the use of dual coated sheep and the warp-weighted loom continued longer in Greenland than it did in many other places. These books are fantastic for that information alone. Beyond that, it is also important that Inga Hägg, in her work with the Hedeby textiles and garments, describes the construction of the garments there to be very much like those at Herjolfsnes. Indeed, Hedeby shows us that the Viking Age Norse had some advanced methods of tailoring such as set-in sleeves, and, with some careful research, the patterns in Medieval Garments can help you to construct items that would fit well into the late Viking Age. I personally used the books to pattern my first gown which I used for my Beyond the Aprondress class and handout. ( awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/beyond-the-aprondresss )
I actually have both of these books in an electronic format, but also own the hard copies as well (and tend to reference those more often than my electronic copies). They are great reference volumes and I often take Woven Into the Earth to events if I need to illustrate the process of crafting wool in period without taking my own bulky display.
Because I also like to include some additional resources that fit well with these volumes, I also recommend downloading the two articles below:
Dress, Cloth and the Farmer's Wife by Michele Hayeur Smith: This article gives additional details on textiles from Greenland, but also provides insightful information into what was being manufactured/used in Iceland at that time. It can help provide insight into how the Greenland cloth evolved, and this information assist a Viking Age researcher better determine what information in the books above might be unique to Greenland.
The Burgundian Hat from Herjolfsnes Greenland by Michele Hayeur Smith: This study redates one of the hats from Herjolfsnes. The information given is very fascinated and shows us exactly how precious (and how often reused) cloth was in period.
Life, Cats and Events
This summer and fall have been crazy. I rarely talk about real life here, as I know that most of my audience came to this page for Viking research, but many still know that we had a long battle, over several years, with acromegaly in my Savannah cat, Nimar. We lost him at the end of May (and he was a a Champion up to the end and my heart is still very sore over his loss), and shortly after got a new little Savannah girl who we named Siada. Integrating a new kitten, plus Pennsic prep (including finishing my Beyond the Aprondress class - awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/beyond-the-aprondresss ), work crazies and family illness... well, that means I have been pretty busy. (And to add to that, we are getting a second Savannah kitten tomorrow morning!)
But, I wanted to make an announcement that on Saturday, November 18, in the Barony of Stierbach, in Atlantia, at the event Holiday Faire, that I will be taking Lady Petra as an apprentice. She is an amazing person and I very much look forward to this journey!
As for other events on the Horizon, the next one will be Æthelmearc's Kingdom 12th Night!
I mentioned yesterday that I am working on a very large annotated bibliography. Actually, it is a bit more than that even, as it will eventually need some sort of database because it breaks down the articles and books by region, timeframe and content. But as I am doing that, I will also be doing book reviews here. I don't know about you, but I often browse books and think "I need this one... but not just yet" and then six months later I go to make the purchase only to find out that it is no longer in print and the price on used copies has quadrupled.
My hope is that by adding book (and some article) reviews here that people can better determine what they might need "now" vs. something that they can just ILL later. These posts will be added to a new category here titled Library.
I also want to share that I have a second blog to chronicle my current life journey with Siada (and her new sibling), and also plan to share more details about all that we went through with Nimar with acromegaly and diabetes in the event that it can help someone else cope with the disease (and his story is included in a separate tab of the blog as well). If you love to be overwhelmed by cat photos and cat advice, you can find that blog by clicking the image below!
Research is important to what we do as individuals who strive to recreate the items and processes of the past. The foundation of our research is our resources. Often we start small, with a few websites (often built by other members of the SCA), maybe a few museum links, and eventually we end up building whole libraries (often of rare books and articles) in our chose area of interest.
My recommendation is to start organizing it, and keeping track of it, now. Manage your bibliography in a manner that not only allows you to know what sources you already have, but in a way that allows you to readily search it for quick details that might let you know that a book in your possession already has some of the information you need for a new project. Make notes about each item that can assist with this.
There are amazing reference managers out there that are free, such as Mendeley, which I personally love. ( awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/mendeley-for-the-sca-researcher ) But even a spreadsheet would serve the purpose here.
It is much, much easier to start early, than to start 10 years into it (which is where I am at, and trust me, it is a painful place to be). I am working on a bibliography (with a focus on Norse textiles and costume) now, that I will eventually share publicly, but I am only 200 items into it and have many, many more to go.
So yes, it is in your own best interest to start early!
(As I work on this eternal-seeming project, I might be posting some book reviews here, so keep an eye out for those as well!)
I have mentioned before how I feel about the Woulda/Coulda/Shouldas in reenacting, and how I try not to rely on things like that when crafting my interpretations of period clothing or practice. (An example would be broad statements such as "well the Saxons did it, so I would have too" or "if I would have lived back then, I would have done it that way".) I have also mentioned before my dislike of the word "Creative" being thrown around as an excuse for rather impressive, but unfounded, leaps of logic in the process of making things. That is not to say that you cannot use something like denim in your Norse kit in the SCA because we, as a Society, have no rules beyond an "attempt". Using what you have in yours stash or that you personally might just find attractive needs no other rationale. It is leaps of logic along the lines of "the Romans knew about cotton and the Norse had met Romans, making cotton possibly period, and they had twill and indigo was period elsewhere....." that can be frustrating. A better, more honest, explanation is "I had five yards of denim so I decided to use it". (And also, if you have been here before, you know that I applaud the whole concept of using what you already have in your stash!)
For me that term "Creative" means something very different than that describe above. It means putting together a puzzle with whatever scant evidence that we might have access too. It is a complex process, and we start out knowing that we are, in fact, missing many pieces. The creativity comes in in the manner in which we approach reassembly. We have to put together all of the pieces that we do have first, then look at the size and shapes of the holes. We often have to go to the next closet thing, such as the next settlement or a previous timeframe, to see if the missing pieces can be found there. We take baby steps, one at a time, away from the source to explore the evidence and extrapolate what we can from it. Eventually we often have to take steps even further out from there - the next country, the next century, the network of trade - and very carefully see what those have to offer that might help us frame out some additional portion of our puzzle. It is an amazing journey and you absolutely have to invoke creativity to make it all mesh together, in a reasonable fashion, in the end.
And the best thing about my making this journey right now is the joy is that new evidence is found every day (with some of it even being fairly accessible without having to wait decades for a published paper), and that can mean shifts in thinking which can not only help fill in the holes but that can also be inspiring on a bigger level (possibly in a way that changes the picture on the surface of the puzzle all together).
I love this game.
I think that this could also be subtitled "My love-hate relationship with Herringbone cloth".
In my Textiles and Dress Class, I discuss what types of cloth are the most common in the Viking Age and talk bit about tracking down modern textiles that, even if not perfect, are good options for reenactment. Another item I touch on in that class is making good choices. We all love the rare graves, and unique items, but one kit made of 20 different unique pieces steps away from being a good historic representation of a time. An easy way to start building a better kit is in your cloth choices, and one can consider weave structure, threadcount, and color when making those choices.
For me personally, I lean towards the most common weaves (tabby and twill), whenever possible. I will add an element such as broken diamond twill to my kit for a very high status persona, but would not add broken diamond twill, herringbone cloth, a silk band, tablet weaving, and possements all to one costume because it would be showing too much that was rare in period all at once. My love-hate relationship with herringbone reflects the fact that I find the weave attracted, but I am often frustrated when it tends to be more readily available in the weights I want than the more historically common twill and tabby. (And this is additionally frustrating when the herringbone cloth is two tone, which is also something less common in period.)
I turned the data from Lise Bender Jørgense's book Prehistoric Scandinavian Textiles, as well as some additional works, into charts to help illustrate how common (or not) weaves were in various areas.
Denmark - 9th Century
Jørgensen's work on the textiles of Denmark covers graves, excluding Hedeby, and is nicely broken down into two centuries. One issue with this work that it only covers weave structure in the synopsis, and for me to break it down between linen and wool, I would have to reference back to collect that data. Further, some of the data here is provided by textile pseudomorphs, which only show us the weave structure and leave no cloth to analyze. It is likely that some amount (even a good amount, according to the author) of the tabby shown here is linen. It is also possible that some of the tabby weave represents a type of fine, open weave wool that was used for veils and mantles but that was also used as specific burial clothes or covers. It is also noted by the author that there are additional "fine silks" not covered in her work because they were detailed elsewhere.
For Denmark the charts are based on the total number of textiles/textile impressions.
Denmark - 10th Century
The notes above apply to this category also.
For Hedeby I had to reference the book Tools for Textile Production from Birka and Hedeby by Eva Andersson; Die Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Grabern von Haithabu by Inga Hägg; and VikingAge.org, as well as Jørgensen's work to obtain data for the chart.
Note that I only have the percentages for weave structure, not total number of fragments for Hedeby, and the percentages in Andersson's work are listed below. I believe it is, in part representative of the silk cloth, possaments or metal brocaded bands found in the graves. As mentioned previously, some of the fine tabbies might represent burial cloth.
It is also interesting to note that only one of the "other twills" is a herringbone weave, and the only herringbone sample from the settlement finds was from a legwrap. Also relative, the most common cloth from the settlement is 2/2 twill.
Sweden - Excluding Birka and Gotland
One of the nice things about Jørgensen's work is she does break out unusual segments of data, such as that from Gotland. This allows the reader to look at Sweden and Gotland (which tend to have very different types of grave goods) individually, rather than as a whole, which can skew the presentation.
Birka - Linen & Wool Cloth
For Birka I had two separate sets of data from which to work. One from the analysis in Jørgensen's book, and the other from Andersson. This first breaks it down into fiber types, as well as weave, but is based on number of graves, rather than number of textiles.
Birka - Textiles
This chart was based on a chart produced by Inga Hägg that covers the Birka textiles and that was reproduced in Andersson's work.
My only note here is that Jørgensen makes the comment that the Broken Diamond Twill is far more common in Western Norway, than in the South East.
For York I had to compile information from Anglo-Scandinavian Finds from Lloyds Bank, Pavement and Other sites by Arthur MacGregor and Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate by Penelope Walton. Some of the fragments might represent one piece of cloth, but the author's were not completely sure and hence they, and I, listed them separate.
I think that by now that everyone with even a passing interest in Viking anything has seen the media extravaganza that is the Warrior Woman of Birka. I will not bother to post the mainstream news source click-bait headlines, here is the link for the piece about the recent DNA analysis of Birka grave Bj 581.
Unfortunately, this is stirring all sorts of Laegertha-esque fantasies in people. There is more to the science behind learning about the lives of those interred long ago. In this case, there is also an issue of whether or not those bones indeed even belong to that grave.
Other considerations also need to be processed. If weapons = warrior, then does that mean children buried with weapons took to the field of battle? Does it mean a 5 year old child was a master tailor because she was buried with the tools of the trade? There are also things like a female grave in Norway that contained a sword that was too large for her to wield. A great deal more study needs to be done before we can make any real determinations about whether warrior-women are more than a myth.
I have read three well-thought-out countpoints so far, and expect to see more in the future. My hope is that perhaps we will look more closely at additional graves (particularly those excavated more recently).
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