Thursday, January 11, 2018

New ATR Articles About Clothing Reconstructions

For those of my readers who have, or can get, a subscription to Archaeological Textiles Review, be advised that Issue No. 59 of that publication is out.  For those who do not and cannot get a subscription, two of the articles in Issue No. 59 are available on
The Lendbreen tunic is a long-sleeved, longish shirt, probably for a thin, smallish man or an adolescent boy, that was found in the ice near Lendbreen, Norway; it is dated to the third century CE.  The Lendbreen project actually made two reproductions:  one for the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo and the Norwegian Mountain Centre in Lom.  The wool of the Norwegian Villsau sheep was chosen because these sheep have a coat with both fine and coarse fiber.  The wook was hand rooed (i.e., plucked from the sheep) but spun by machine to save time and cost.  Fabric for the project was woven on a warp-weighted loom and sewn by hand emulating the period stitches used.  The two tunics took a total of 804.5 hours to make.

In contrast, Ida Demant's reconstruction of the Egtved girl's clothing from the Bronze Age (a short wool blouse and a corded skirt) took surprisingly little time to make.  The corded skirt (actually a skirt made of separate plied cords incorporated into a waistband, as the article itself points out) took an estimated 30-35 hours to make.  Demant does not discuss how long the blouse took, but it was woven in a simple tabby weave, and the sewing involved is not complicated, as I learned when I made a cruder version of the same garment.

Both articles look fascinating and I plan to plunge into them in greater detail.  People interested in reconstruction of historical clothing, as well as people interested in Scandinavian Iron Age and Bronze Age clothing, owe it to themselves to study these accounts.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

Lengberg--The Fingerloop Braids

Today I found more information about the Lengberg Castle textile finds. Professor Beatrix Nutz just posted a slideshow-type presentation about fingerloop braids that are part of some of the finds on  That slideshow can be downloaded here; it is written in English.

In addition to including photographs of some of the braid-containing finds and also reproductions of images showing the fingerloop braiding process, Professor Nutz's slideshow contains citations and references to fingerloop braiding instruction manuals of the 15th century, as well as some 16th and 17th century books.  Some of the books contain specimens of braids pasted into their pages. 

Professor Nutz's slideshow also shows the different ways that fingerloop braids became part of the textile fragments where they were found.  Some of them were attached to the edges of sprang pieces that were used to ornament some of the undergarments, probably to help stabilize them.  Other braids were used to ornamentally connect two pieces of linen for a garment, while still others were found as separate items and may have served as laces (fastening cords).  It even includes instructions on how to work a couple of the braids found.

There is a wealth of information concisely expressed in the slideshow.  It is worth studying by anyone interested in fingerloop braiding, or late medieval clothing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Køstrup Band!

In her paper on the Køstrup smokkr, Hilde Thunem mentions that she persuaded a friend to make a tablet-woven band for her Køstrup smokkr (i.e., apron dress) because she could not do one herself.    Nor can I; I do not know how to do brocaded tablet weaving, and I do not have the time and patience to acquire such skill at present.  

However, a week or two ago, I was delighted to discover that a seller on Etsy is selling reproductions of various Birka bands, and of the Køstrup one as well!  You can see the seller's Etsy store here, and one version of the Køstrup band is selling here.  I have already ordered that band for the Køstrup smokkr I'm planning to make.

Another Etsy vendor is selling a plied wool felt cord here; I will probably order that for my project as well.  

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Køstrup Dress: The Woven Band

Hilde's photograph of the surviving Køstrup band (used with permission)
For quite some time, I've been doing some thinking about modern reproductions of Viking age finds that are clearly associated with tortoise brooches, and (in all probability) with the smokkr or "apron dress", the sleeveless overdress that appears to be characteristic of Viking women's costume.  In doing so, I have been inspired by the work of independent researcher Hilde Thunem.

Hilde reads three of the languages in which many of the archaeological papers relating to Viking Age Scandinavian costume are written, namely, Norwegian, German, and English.  She has written several long, excellent papers of her own, summarizing that research and drawing her own conclusions from it.  Her paper on the smokkr may be read on the Internet here.

Hilde's conclusion seem to be based largely upon the analysis of Danish researchers Rasmussen and Lønborg, who did a detailed analysis of the Køstrup find.*  Based upon Hilde's summary in her essay (the Rasmussen and Lønborg work does not seem to be available in English), Rasmussen and Lønborg conclude that the band was fastened only to the front loops, and not to the top edge of the apron dress.  It is clear that the band was fastened to at least one of the front loops, because, as the photograph of the actual Køstrup band shows, one of the loops is still attached to that band.  But as Hilde notes, there is no consensus as to how the wool strings (also shown in the above photograph) were attached, and the extent that they were attached, to the tablet woven band and/or the smokkr itself.

Although it's clear from Hilde's comments about wearing her reconstructed dress that it's neither awkward nor impractical to sew a tablet-woven band just above the top edge, above the pleated section, something about the look of the finished result bothered me.  It bothered me because I couldn't figure out why a Viking woman might have designed her dress this way.

Top edge of Hilde's smokkr, showing band attachment (used with permission)
So I started thinking about Hilde's Køstrup smokkr design from a functional perspective. By that I mean I've been trying to think about each element of the dress's design and what purpose it serves.

For example, the straps and loops on the dress allow it to be fastened on the body without all the clumping and bunching of fabric that happens when you pin a strapless, tube-shaped peplos dress on the shoulders through several layers of cloth.

Similarly, the tortoise-shaped brooch is an improvement over the disk and cross-bow shaped brooches previously used because it can accommodate a number of straps for the dress and for hanging tools and accessories without sticking out awkwardly from the woman's body.  The smokkr design, coupled with tortoise brooches for fastening, also makes it easier to unpin and repin one shoulder in case the woman needs to pull the front of her dress down while remaining clothed (e.g., for breastfeeding purposes).**

Then I thought about the pleated area and the tablet-woven band above the pleated area at the top of the gown.  What purpose do those features serve?

Hilde's blue smokkr illustrates one possible, logical purpose of the pleats; they allow a close, attractive fit of the gown across the breasts while allowing for at least a bit more fullness around the torso, achieving what some of us call today a "figure skimming fit". The result is particularly flattering on a pregnant woman, as Hilde's own photographs of her dress (modeled while she was pregnant) indicate.  Moreover, there are at least two northern European finds from the late medieval period that use sections of small pleats in a similar manner, to create special shaping for a dress.  One is the Uvdal find from Norway, and another, which I learned about from Katrin Kania's blog, is a dress reconstruction based upon a pleated textile find from Turku, in Finland.  So it is not absurd to conclude, as Hilde did, that the pleated apron dress finds from Scandinavia represent early attempts to use pleated sections of fabric in women's dress design.

But why place the tablet woven band above the top edge of the dress?  It seems to me that placement of the band must be due, at least in part, to the pleats in the section of the dress that lies between the brooches.***

My Køstrup dress, made at a time when I had little information
about the band's attachment and size, and the size of the dress pleats.
(Photo by my husband, cropped by me)
When I made my version of the Køstrup dress over a decade ago, I didn't have very much information about the size of the pleats, or the length of the area they were supposed to cover, so I extended the pleated area from brooch to brooch, and made the pleats very deep--about an inch or so.  Then I stitched a piece of purchased trim (a substitute for the tablet woven band) right on top of the pleats, to help hold them in place.  Stitching the band down in this manner achieved that purpose, all right--but the top edge of my dress looks lumpy and weird, as the photograph to the left shows.

So it seems reasonable that the Køstrup band might have been fastened to the dress above the pleats to avoid mashing them down and crushing them.  And that's what Hilde did.  She sewed the tablet-woven band to the lower loops on the apron dress.  Her photos appear to indicate that the bottom of the band rests approximately a centimeter above the top edge of the dress.

But Hilde's reconstruction, unlike the band on the original Køstrup dress, does not have strings (thin cords, actually) sewn to the top and bottom of the tablet-woven band.  The presence of those strings in the original find is another detail I was unaware of until I read Hilde's paper about the Køstrup dress.  That fact may make Hilde's reconstruction less useful in understanding how the tablet-woven band was fastened to the original dress.

The existence of those strings suggests an alternative reason as to why we do not see evidence that the band was stitched to the apron dress.  The stitching may have passed into the very top edge of the pleats and just through the strings, or between the strings and the edges of the band, without entering the band at all.  Most of the string does not survive either--making it difficult to look for string-holes to prove or disprove this hypothesis.  Hilde's essay notes that there are finds from Birka that are ornamented only with a string or cord sewn along the top edge (Grave Nos. 511, 563, 838, 954, 973, 1083, and 1084).  It might be useful to know what type of stitch was used to fasten the string to the edges of these Birka smokkrs.

Just as Nille Glaesel disagrees with Hilde about how the Køstrup pleats were formed and stabilized, she also has a different view from Hilde about how the tablet woven piece was fastened to the top edge of the Køstrup dress. Ms. Glaesel notes that Rasmussen and Lønborg suggest, in their research paper on the Køstrup find, that the top of the dress was finished by folding the top half-centimeter of the cloth to the reverse side and stitching it in place (page 4).  However, Ms. Glaesel observes that, in a Viking era fabric such as the 1/1 tabby of the Køstrup find, the warp was "hard spun" and prone to fray unless it was "secured" with a piece of another fabric.  Thus, she believes that a piece of another fabric--probably linen, for no such fabric survives--was fastened to the tablet-woven band, and the band was stitched to the top of the apron dress along the edge of the linen piece sewed to the band.  But Ms. Glaesel does not indicate where the wool strings fit into this view of the Køstrup smokkr's construction.  Moreover, if a linen strip was sewn  to the top edge of the smokkr to "secure" that edge from fraying, it would be more likely, not less likely, that stitch holes in the smokkr's top edge would be apparent, and they are not.  There is no fraying apparent on the top edge of the smokkr's pleats, which more strongly supports Rasumussen and Lønborg's view that the top edge of the fabric was folded over before the pleats were made.

I think the key to understanding the placement of the tablet woven piece on the Køstrup dress is knowing that there were strings positioned on both edges of the band.  Although the strings and band may well have been sewn to the loops first, as Hilde has done with the band on her dress, the fact that the strings were present may explain why there are no apparent stitch holes in the band itself, and suggests a different theory as to how and where the band may actually have been attached to the dress.

The maker of the Køstrup dress could have "secured" the band-with-attached-strings to the pleated top edge of the smokkr by tacking the lower string to the top edge of all, or just some, of the pleats. The sewing needle need not have pierced the string--it might have encircled the string and entered under neath a thread at the top edge of the fold of each pleat, where it would be hard to detect a hole.  Alternatively, the needle might have passed between the strands of the string (which the photographs clearly indicate was plied) in a way that would not leave a hole.  Either way, the string would then be tacked to the band, and another string tacked to the band's top edge. The way the strings have come loose from the original Køstrup band suggest that they were never sewn very tightly or with closely-spaced stitches, either of which would have been more likely to leave holes.****

In short, I believe that there likely was not a large visible space between the bottom of the band-and-strings-combination.  I think the strings were lightly tacked to the band, and the band-with-strings was, in turn, lightly tacked to the top edge of the smokkr and stitched more firmly to the front loops of the dress.  Though it is difficult to tell even from the excellent photograph Hilde has provided, it looks to me as though parts of the string can be seen on the lower left-side of the photograph, still tacked to the band.  If that is true and my own biases are not misleading me, that supports my view of how the band was fastened to the smokkr.

I think my rose-red herringbone wool smokkr project has found a mission.  I can make my own Køstrup smokkr using the same type of pattern Hilde used, but adding wool strings (assuming I can find or make suitable ones) and attaching the tablet-woven band in the way I've just suggested.

Apologies to anyone who saw this piece on my blog or on Google Plus several weeks ago, when I posted an incomplete version by accident and then removed it.

*      Rasmussen, L. and Lønborg, B. 1993. Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup. Fyndske minder, Odense Bys Museer Årbog. 

**    My own experiences with wearing peplos dresses with different kinds of brooches as well as apron dresses with tortoise brooches confirms the difference in convenience in pinning and re-pinning one's overdress. It is much easier to repin an apron dress, where the pins only need go through loops of cloth, than it is to repin a peplos, which requires one to pin one's brooches through two folded edges of cloth (front and back).  This convenience advantage remains even if one is wearing one or more bead strings with the brooches, provided you allow the strands to sink to the bottom of the brooch pin during the fastening process. 

***   I agree that the pleated section of the Køstrup smokkr was located in the center front of the dress, not under the arm or in an otherwise non-central position.  Because I am focusing on the question of how the tablet-woven band was attached, I do not discuss the evidence for the central location of the brooch here.

**** It is an interesting question whether research has been done as to the extent to which stitch holes remain in fabric after the thread from the stitching has disappeared in the grave.   Such research might also help answer the question of how the Køstrup band was fastened to the smokkr.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Casemate Academic Sale!

Casemate Academic, formerly called the David Brown Book Company, is the American affiliate of Oxbow Books.  They are having two sales promotions on textile and costume-related texts until December 31, 2017.

One promotion offers a Year-End Sale discount of up to 85% on certain books, including, but not limited to, textile-related books.  The discounted books may be seen here; no code is necessary to receive the discount.  Among the textile-related books affected are the following items that I personally have my eye on:
In addition, a 20% discount will be applied to books in Oxbow's Ancient Textiles Series until December 31.  This discount does NOT apply to books already receiving a discount in the Year End Sale category (such as the books listed above) but does apply to all the other Ancient Textiles volumes.  The books subject to the 20% discount are listed here.  (Note:  The web page with the list says that the discount applies through September 30, 2017, but I just received a second e-mail today saying the discount will apply through the end of this year.)  Again, no code is necessary; the discount will be automatically applied at checkout.

Good shopping, and happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Medieval Histories, Inc.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tonight I came across the website of an organization called Medieval Histories, Inc.  Their homepage can be found here

Medieval Histories, Inc. is clearly interested in circulating information about new discoveries concerning the Middle Ages with more accuracy than the mass media. To that end, they have created free-for-download publications called "Medieval News" (formerly "Medieval Histories") and "Minor Medieval News."  The articles in Medieval News in particular include wonderful, clear color photographs of finds and articles that list sources of the information provided, and short reviews of scholarly books related to period issues.  They are not written with the wealth of detail commonly found in the archaeological academic literature, but they are fun for general readers and historical costuming enthusiasts.   As Medieval Histories, Inc. is based in Denmark, it's not surprising that a significant proportion of the articles in question involve the Viking period.

Some of the more interesting articles include:
  • Skiing in the Viking Age  (January 2016, No. 1).  Discusses the archaeological find of a sixth-century ski with the bindings intact, which has permitted a reconstruction of the ski to be made.
  • Byzantine Textiles in German Collections (April 2016, No. 4).  Describes the categories of items present, with color photographs.
  • Odin at Leire?  Or Freya? Or a Völva? (May 2016, No. 5). Discusses the seated Leire figure that some have claimed depicts Odin in women's clothing.   Most of the sources cited at the end are academic in nature and worth checking out.

Medieval Histories, Inc. has not been around long enough to have a large body of material on line yet, but what they have is interesting and potentially useful enough to be worth a bit of a costume researcher's time.

EDIT:  (12/20/2017)  Added links to the issues of Medieval News I referenced in this post.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Take Back Halloween Winners

The winning costumes in Take Back Halloween's annual Costume Contest have been posted.  They can be admired here. There's some interesting stuff (though I can't figure out why there were so many Frida Kahlo entries/winners!), but that's not the main reason I'm posting this. Take Back Halloween is making an effort to encourage interest in history, and historic costume, and that's a cause I am foursquare behind.