Wednesday 4 July 2018

Tablet Weaving Articles

10 years ago, I analysed and reconstructed the weaving techique of the medieval silk belt commonly known as Eric of Pomerania's Belt. It was for my bachelor's thesis in historical textiles and handweaving and eventually resulted in a paper that I presented at NESAT conference in Copenhagen.

I've been meaning to put up the article online forever, and now when my friends over at Historical Textiles wrote a post about the girdle I've finally got around to it!

Because of a miscommunication with the editors of the NESAT X volume, the wrong pictures were used for my article, which made all the pretty diagrams almost incomprehensible (not enough contrast between the different shades of grey to see what colour went where). In the version below, I've added the original colour images throughout, making it much easier to actually understand how to weave this previously unknown (?) tablet weaving technique.

Article: A Study of Two Medieval Silk Girdles: Eric of Pomerania's Belt and the Dune Belt

I then used the Eric of Pomerania project as an example in another article discussing  the use of reconstructions and craft skills as analytical tools when working with historical textiles. I also threw in some some thoughts on medieval tablet weaving looms and the limits (and/or possibilities...) of using modern crafts to investigate historical craft practices...

It was originally published in the Textile Forum conference volume Ancient Textiles, Modern Science in 2013.

Article: The Use of Craft Skills in Historical Textile Research


Sunday 28 February 2016

Historical Sew Monthly - February challenge: Tucks & Pleats

Another Historical Sew Monthly challenge finished well ahead of schedule! It's just so much easier with fabric from the shop and a sewing machine. Unfortunately, writing a blog post takes just as long time as usual, but I did manage to get it up before the end of the month!

The February challenge is 'Tucks & Pleats', which equals another opportunity for me to venture into 20th century dress making. I thought I'd start with something simple: a mid-to-late 1920s drop-waist dress. As it happened, I was going to make one anyway – a couple of friends and I were going to the nightclub-party-event-thing Party like Gatsby when it came to Gothenburg on January 23. As usual, I was more interested in making the clothes, learning about finger waves, makeup and fancy powder compacts than actually going to the when it turned out I had to spend the entire weekend in front of the computer preparing two full-day lectures instead, I wasn't too upset. Well, I was, but it could have been worse. Anyway, here's the story of the outfit:

I felt that it was a good idea to start with the underwear. I have both a vintage (late) 1930s bra and a girdle with suspenders, but although similar styles do appear towards the end of the 20s I thought they were a bit too modern and decided to make new ones. I looked at pictures of original underwear, especially from mail order catalogues of the time, and opted for a simple bra with a few darts to give it some shape and an equally simple suspender belt (the knickers/underpants would have to wait). Truth be told, I probably aimed more for a 30s style with the bra in the end, since that would be more useful to me... I draped my mock-ups straight onto my dress form with a thin but sturdy cotton fabric, tried them on and made some adjustments and that was it. I had made my very own made-to-measure underwear and I even ended up using the mock-up as the real thing. The bra was just as comfortable as the ones I wear every day. I'm still a bit surprised at how well it went; I still need to work on my machine sewing and finishing techniques, but the patterns were pretty much perfect!

Underwear! Probably more 30s than 20s, but no one's going to see it anyway...

I spent a full day shopping for fabric for the rest of my outfit (interspersed with long discussions over coffee with a friend). Since it was going to be a party dress, I wanted silk, pure silk. Eventually I settled for a pale pink habotai for the underdress and a striking pink, slightly stiff Indian silk for the overdress. To top things off, I brought out a piece of vintage net with golden threads and glass beads from my stash for that extra touch of fanciness. 

Silk...glorious silk! I don't know how old the decorated net is, but it's definitely pre-1950s and in great shape. I've saved it for an occasion like this.

Spurred on by the success of my self-made bra and suspender belt, I went fully DIY for the dress pattern too. But first I Pinterested my way through lots and lots of pictures of original dresses and tried to recall all the lovely 20s outfits my colleague and I had spent months packing when the museum I work at moved two years ago. With this page from La Mode du Jour as inspiration for gathered sides and this helpful sewing tip for vertical pleats I set about draping my dress form again.

Draped mock-ups for the under- and overdress. My confidence grew and I didn't even make a full mock-up for the overdress!

Things were going so well, it was about time that something happened to halt my easy progress. And it did. My lovely bright pink silk decided to produce a veritable blood bath when I washed it (I always prewash; I want to know how the fabric behaves when it's off the shelf and introduced to the real world. And my real world includes washing). There was so much excess dye in it that the water was still strawberry red after 3 washes. I got worried the colour would continue to run just from getting damp... At least there was no discernible change in colour on the actual fabric, which was a good thing. But as it dried, I got another surprise. Apparently, it was one of those Indian silks of the handwoven type where high-twist threads are used seemingly at random throughout the fabric. They're invisible as long as the cloth is left well alone, but come alive if it's washed... I now had an uneven, scrunchy mess of a fabric and not the slick and shiny silk I wanted for my dress. I went over it with the iron, which made it look sort of alright, but it was clear this fabric would have to go into the stash pile and wait for a more suitable project.

The following day, I ran off to the fabric shop to get a substitute, but couldn't find a single bolt of silk that would work. Eventually I found a red wool/viscose crepe. It was a great fabric with beautiful drape, but not the fancy silk I had envisioned for my party dress... However, I was low on time and money by now and it would just have to do. I'm not sure how common a wool/viscose blend would have been in the mid-20s. Viscose was certainly around in the twenties, but as far as I know, in the early days it was almost exclusively used in the form of filaments, mimicking the look and feel of silk. Using it as a staple fibre (i.e. cut to look like cotton or wool) came later (but I will really have to look into this more thoroughly to get my materials right now that I've moved into modern times!). Anyway, since the viscose in my fabric actually appeared to be used to add a subtle silk-like sparkle to the wool, and not as a wool substitute, I figured it was kind of alright.

Nice fabric! But where did the party go?
Challenging pleats!
Back on track with the new fabric, I quickly finished the under- and overdress, adding a vintage velvet ribbon as a fake belt to the overdress. At the time, I still thought I was going to the party and as a last minute attempt to make it a little less like a daydress I decided to do a bit of embroidery. I copied the design from a very fancy vintage 20s dress I stumbled upon online, toned it down a little and stitched like mad to finish it in time. 
My version of a 1920s embroidery.

Embroidery progression.
On the morning of January 23, the day of the party, I had a very presentable dress with 1/3 of the embroidery in place, but realised I would have to spend the weekend preparing lectures rather than dancing the Charleston. I consoled myself with posing for a couple of pictures in the dress, wearing my vintage spectacles and reproduction shoes from American Duchess.
Pleats, gathers, a vintage ribbon and a half-finished embroidery.

And the underdress.
I then spent the whole of the challenge month of February finishing the embroidery at a very leisurely pace. All I have left to do now is attaching it to the dress...

The last part of the embroidery.

The Challenge Details:
Tucks & Pleats - a mid-1920s dress

Material: Wool/viscose crepe, habotai silk

Pattern: Self-made

Year: Mid-1920s, moving towards the end of the decade.

Notions: Vintage velvet ribbon, embroidery

How historically accurate is it? Pretty accurate, although my French seams (on the underdress in particular) are a lot wider than those on original pieces (I'm still learning to handle a sewing machine...). I'm a little uncertain about the wool/viscose blend.

Hours to complete: I never manage to keep track of time when it's not work...

First worn: For the pictures

Total cost: Approximately $77 / €70 for the fabrics; everything else came from my stash.'

Saturday 23 January 2016

The Historical Sew Monthly - January Challenge: Procrastination

When you live and love all things history, textile and crafts as I do, it's almost impossible to stick to one period of interest when it comes to reenactment or similar activities. There's simply too much fascinating stuff out there to find out about, but over the years, I've been exceptionally good at staying with my chosen period. After a false start in the Viking Age and a short detour into the late 13th/early 14th century, I've been firmly lodged in the late 1300s. It's got everything I want, and just enough of it to make interesting. The sources are more varied and detailed than for the Viking Age, but a lot of detective work and interpretations are still needed to create a reasonably accurate material impression of the time (not to mention what it takes to achieve even a tiny bit of the non-material aspects!). For me, half the fun is figuring things out, reading up on this and that and looking for sources and references. And making stuff, of course; most late 14th century clothing and the (reconstructed) methods of their construction are still simple enough for someone like me without formal training in dress-making to manage.

But then I started working at the Textile Museum. It's the only museum in Sweden solely dedicated to textiles, but it's main focus is the industrial era. Our collections are pretty much the result of the textile industry in western Sweden, which took off in the early 19th century. We have older stuff as well, of course, and lots of handmade textiles too, but the things that stand out in our collections are nevertheless the clothing of ordinary people from the early 1900s through to the 1960s, a lot of it factory-produced. And the more I worked with these 'modern' clothes (they're not 14th century and therefore modern), the more interested I got. What would it feel like to wear a 1920s dress with a bandeau bra and a suspender belt to hold up the seamed stockings? How would I feel in a 1930s evening gown of bias cut rayon? And the wonderfully weird 1940s hats...hey! I would look great in one of those! Being allowed to handle all these amazing clothes was, and still is, a great privilege and the curator in me would never ever dream of putting on something with an inventory number. But the ever-curious reenactor in me still wanted to know what wearing them felt like, so I began looking for vintage clothing to buy for myself. Luckily for me, the Textile Museum doesn't buy things for the collections at the moment (except for textile art), so me raiding second hand shops and online auctions for old clothes doesn't create a conflict of interest.

Little by little, I got myself a small vintage wardrobe, focused mainly on the 1930s to early 40s. My work has certainly benefitted from this hobby, and vice versa. I've developed a rather accurate feel for dating (female) pre-1950s clothing and for telling the difference between later styles that look like earlier ones and 'the real deal'. That many of my reenactment friends like the style of the interwar - WW2 period has naturally helped fuel my interest too.

Anyway. All this is just background for what this post is actually about: my re-newed attempt to join the Historical Sew Monthly. Last time, I failed miserably, but then my sewing was all 14th century. Since my goal with my medieval clothing these days is to use handwoven and naturally dyed fabrics as much as possible, one challenge a month is just a little too much... But now I've finally dragged out the old sewing machine and started learning how to make clothes the 20th century way, which means I might just stand a chance this time around. We'll see. Unfortunately (for me), the HSM has pushed back the date for 'historical' from 1945 to 1938 this time around, but I think I'll be able to stay away from the 40s for the challenges at least. If nothing else, it'll help my wardrobe to become more...temporally focused.
The theme for the first challenge of the year is Procrastination and I have the perfect item for that: A knitted jumper that I started in 2012:

Smart jumper - Australian Women's Weekly, 1936.

I found the pattern through Ravelry; it's in the Australian Women's Weekly magazine from March 14, 1936. I only had parts of the sleeves left to finish along with the jabot and collar. The reason I put it to the side three years ago is that I discovered that the alterations I had made to the pattern - adding two pattern repeats to the body part because I thought it wouldn't fit me otherwise - were completely unnecessary. The jumper had become too big instead and I got annoyed with myself for not measuring more carefully and put it away. Over the years I thought about finishing it several times, but put it off every time because I dreaded assembling it and having to deal with those irritating extra inches (which shouldn't have been there in the first place if I had just stuck to the original pattern, dammit!).

However, just before Christmas, a couple of friends and I went to play boule in 1930s getup and finished the evening off with a dignified pub crawl. I had such a great time, and although my brown woollen dress and matching hat worked very well, I kept thinking how perfect my unfinished jumper would be for a casual sporting activity like boule...and that I should really get over myself and just finish it. After Christmas, I finally did.

Gingerbread girl ready for boule and a pint down the pub. With a hat like that even the most mundane (or sordid...) activities become dignified!

I had a really, really bad cold over the holidays and no spare energy whatsoever. Sitting in the sofa knitting was just the perfect level of activity for me, and I picked up the Smart jumper again. The sleeves were done in no time (I knit them both at the same time) and the cause of my procrastination - those annoying extra inches - disappeared into the side seams without leaving too much bulk. Putting the rest of the pieces together went smoothly - handknitted wool is a really forgiving material. With a little dampness and heat it moulds to fit just about anything!

So here it is - my 1936 "Smart Jumper", just over three years in the making:

Australian Women's Weekly: "We feel sure that the woman who prefers smart simplicity, whose one desire is to present a well-groomed, tailored look to the world, will hasten to make this jumper, for it will be a permanently smart acquisition to the autumn and winter wardrobe."

Looking at the notes I made when I first started on the jumper, it seems I made it one repeat longer than the pattern said. I'm quite happy with it the way it is, but if I made another one (I won't!), I might add even more to the length, especially if I was going to wear it with a belt like in the drawing above.

With and without jabot. Australian Women's Weekly: "This long-sleeved jumper, with its charming fluted double jabot, is very becoming to those who cannot wear a perfectly plain jumper."

And here are the Historical Sew Monthly details for the Smart Jumper:

The Challenge: January 2016 - Procrastination 
Material: Wool 
Pattern: Smart Jumper, from Australian Women's Weekly March 14, 1936 [] 
Year: 1936 
Notions: None 
How historically accurate is it: Pretty much 100%. The pattern is vintage, I followed it to the letter (except for the alterations made to the size), and the material is correct. 
Hours to complete: No idea. Exactly three years and 2 months from start to finish because of that procrastination thing! 
First worn: For the photo. 
Total cost: Can't remember what I actually paid for the wool, but perhaps about €30/$33.

Friday 18 December 2015

Ode to the Distaff II: Bonus picture!

As I kept spinning from my rolled up wad of wool, I eventually came to the point when I hade to re-roll it to make the cloth tighter. When I put it back onto the distaff, I arranged it in the same manner as in the image of the Virgin Mary from the National Museum of Hungary I showed in the previous post. It puts the wool in a really comfortable position for drafting, escpecially when having the distaff standing straight up in a floor stand, so I thought I just post a picture of it. My wool is a lot more untidy than the Virgin's, but it works great for the fluffier and less even weft thread I'm spinning at the moment!

The Virgin Mary spinning with a free-standing distaff, the Nationl Museum of Hungary, c. 1410, and my sloppy version of her distaff...

Saturday 5 December 2015

Ode to the Distaff

Handspinning has completely taken over my spare time lately. I work full time and commute for a total of three hours every day, so I need to set goals for my crafting to actually get things done. If I don't, I will just collapse on the sofa when I come home in the evening and do nothing. Sad but true. So a while ago, I decided to try to spin for an absolute minimum of eight hours per week (with a spindle - wheel spinning doesn't count). It's not much, but it's something and it has made a little difference - I'm getting faster for one thing! And since spinning for me partly consists of collapsing perching primly on the sofa anyway - see video below! - it's not even particularly taxing to keep it up.

These days, I almost always spin with a distaff if I have the choice, twirling the spindle with one hand and drafting with the other. It wasn't love at first sight when I started learning this traditional and time-honoured technique, though. I think 'complete and utter frustration' sums up my initial feelings quite accurately. All aspirations of thread control went out the window and it was like starting all over again with only thick-and-thin, useless yarn as the result (useless for my purposes, that is. I don't do art yarn. Not at the moment, anyway). It took a fair amount of practice, but once I got the hang of it, it quickly became my preferred way of spinning. I went from total frustration to 'No more suspended spindling for me, EVER!' in less than 3 months.

The distaff is a fantastic tool - it works as a third hand. Judging from how spinners are depicted in contemporary art, it also seems to be virtually ubiquitous to medieval spindle spinning (there are a few exceptions, of course, like in this early 13th century manuscript, and perhaps this one from the 14th century). Even when more or less suspended spinning is shown - as in this rather rare depiction of a top whorl spindle, for example - the distaff is still there, and the one-hand drafting technique, too:
British Library, 'The Rutland Psalter', Add MS 62925 fol. 86r, c. 1260.
With a distaff to hold the fibres, my hands are free to draft and twirl the spindle and it gives me a much better workning position than suspended spindling without a distaff does. I also find that it's much easier to control the amount of twist that goes into the thread this way (which is kind of important when you spin yarn for historical purposes). In addition, it completely removes the problem of back-spin - that annoying phenomenon when your thread has eaten all the momentum of the turning spindle and it starts going the other way while you're still busy drafting. Many medieval spindle whorls are small with a low moment of inertia, which means they spin fast, but stop turning really quickly and you have to restart them a lot to avoid back-spin when you're spinning suspended. And guess what - the distaff/spindle in hand-technique more or less takes the 'drop' out of 'drop spindle' (a term I've never really understood anyway - it has no Swedish equivalent; here we just have 'sländor' (spindles), plain and simple). Now I don't mind using my precious clay whorls on our hardwood floors at home, because even if the thread breaks, I don't drop them anymore.

Here's a video of me spinning warp thread for weaving, with a distaff made out of a broom stick. When I've spun a length of thread, I stop drafting and add extra twist to it. As I relax the thread to unhitch the half hitch that keeps it on the spindle, I simultaneously check the twist by feeling the resistance as the thread curls back on itself.
More and more medieval reenactors use a distaff and hand-held spindle when spinning these days. It's becoming quite a trend among historical fibre geeks! Usually, I'm not a huge fan of reenactment fads. Far too often they are based on scant sources and result in odd over-representations when suddenly the whole reenactment community is doing the same thing. And people often end up copying other reenactors rather than looking at the sources themselves, which is not the way to go in my opinion. But when it comes to distaffs and spinning, it's a trend that simply can't go wrong! It's raising the authenticity in reenactment displays by showing tools and techniques that were actually common and widespread both geographically and over time.

In art, medieval distaffs appear to be around a metre in length, held under the arm, tucked into the belt, held between the knees while sitting or sometimes mounted on a stand. The Roman or ancient Greek tradition of short, hand-held distaffs doesn't seem to be the way to go for medieval spinning. I've found one medieval image - or rather a sculpture - with what might be a hand-held distaff. It's St Gertrude of Nivelles, a 7th century saint often portrayed spinning and surrounded by rats. However, it might just be that the rest of the distaff has broken off, but I couldn't tell by looking at the statue whether that was the case or not. It's a nice rat, though...
St. Gertrude of Nivelles, wooden sculpture,1390-1400. Originally from Pfarrkirche St. Michael in Spiringen, Switzerland. Swiss National Museum, Zürich. Pix by Vix.
As far as I know, not a whole lot of finds have been identified by archaeologists as distaffs. I mean, a lot of the time they would just be plain sticks, so there's not much to identify really. There's a medieval one from Schloss Gottorf in northern Germany (see below), though, and several distaff heads have been found at medieval Novgorod in Russia. From Staraia Ladoga, also in Russia, there are reported finds of distaffs from as early as the 9th century. Both the ones from Novgorod and those from Staraia Ladoga seem to be 'bat distaffs' with a top section shaped like a paddle, a type that remained popular in Russia well into the 19th century (Sherman 2008). It's not a type that seems to be depicted in European medieval manuscripts, though, and although similar distaffs exist here in Sweden from post-medieval times, I've decided to stick with the straight stick version for now. Although Novgorod traded a lot with Europe through the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages, I'm personally a little wary of using finds from such a relatively far-off place when my focus is southern Scandinavia/northern Germany (on the other hand, the huge amount of well-preserved wooden objects makes it very difficult not to glance eastwards to Novgorod every once in a while...).
Medieval distaff (and also spindles and parts of niddy-noddies), Schloss Gottorf, Germany. Pix by Vix.
There are many ways of dressing a distaff. The most commonly depicted versions in medieval manuscripts appear to fall into two (very!) broad categories:
- the more or less fluffy fibre bundle, often tied in place by a narrow band
- the cone-shaped fibre bundle, either tied with a band or with some sort of cloth (?) cover, or both. More images of medieval distaffs and spinning can be found over at my Pinterest board Medieval Fibre Preparation & Spinning, where I've also tried to add the original source for all the pins.
'The Holkham Bible', British Library, AddMss 47682, fol. 4v & 6r, 1320-30.
A nun (St. Gertrude?) spinning in the company of a helpful cat. 'Maastricht Hours', British Library, Stowe MS 17, fol. 34r, 1st half of the 14th century.
British Library, MS Royal 10 E IV, fol. 49v, early 14th century.
Another one of those rarely depicted top whorl spindles! 'The Taymouth Hours', British Library, MS Yates Thompson 13, fol. 23v, 2nd quarter of the 14th century.
Could this perhaps be an image showing the elusive practice of spinning dyed wool (see this previous post)? 'Ormesby Psalter', Bodleian Library, MS Douce 366, fol. 71v, c. 1310.
Basically, it's perfectly possible to achieve all these different shapes using a simple straight stick as a distaff. The cone-shaped ones may have some sort of structure underneath, perhaps like a 'modern' (19th century) cage distaff or something similar, but it's difficult to tell from the contemporary images exactly what's hiding under the fibres.  

In some cases, it's obvious that the images show flax being spun rather than wool - if the spinner (or monkey, in the case of the illuminated manuscript below) is running the thread through their mouth, it's a pretty good indication of flax (or hemp) spinning, since it's commonly spun wet.
A monkey spinning flax. British Library, Additional 18851 f459, 1480s.
But sometimes people claim you can tell what fibre is being spun in an image just from the shape of the fibre bundle on the distaff. I'm not so sure. Medieval images just aren't detailed enough and most distaff shapes can actually be created with either wool or flax. It's just a matter of how you arrange the fibres. Wool can be gathered into long, thick tops that look very much like flax strick (hackled flax bundles) when tied to a distaff and flax, on the other hand, can be wrapped like candy floss around the distaff head. Which ends up looking rather round and fluffy and wool-like. Long fibres that hang straight down may of course be flax, but then again, this is what my distaff looks like when I'm spinning worsted wool:
Combed wool from the double-coated Värmland sheep, a Swedish landrace breed.
And this is how I go about dressing it:
Top left image: hand-combed tops rolled into little 'bird's nests' for storage. Bottom left image: a wide band of woollen cloth (150x10 cm) with pieces of the tops arranged in layers. Right image: the band and wool rolled around the distaff and secured with a pin and a linen tie. A similar way of doing this can be found at Katrin Kania's blog A Stitchin Time: How I dress my distaff.
Here's another way of getting the fibres onto the distaff; this works very well for industrially prepared tops or for hand-combed wool, but carded rolags can also be tied to the distaff in this way.
Combed tops (or their modern counterpart) can also be wound around the distaff, as may be the case in this image:
'The Queen Mary Psalter', BL Royal 2 B VII, fol 158, between 1310 and 1320.
Modern carded batts or hand-carded (or even just teased) wool collected into a big pile can be rolled into a nice little package like this...
...which looks a lot like the distaff arrangement in this image...
'Speculum humanae salvationis'. GKS 80 2o, fol. 6r, the first half of the 15th century. Det Konglige Bibliotek, Copenhagen, Denmark.

...and also like the Virgin Mary's fibre bundle in this image (but without the angel):

Virgin Mary, pregnant and spinning. Anonymous, c. 1410. Hungarian National Museum, Budapest.
The package can be attached to the distaff at a jaunty angle as in the image above, or simply stuck unceremoniously onto the top of the distaff as it is:
There! Let's start spinning already!
As long as the fibres aren't too sticky, I've found that almost anything goes when it comes to dressing a distaff. A great messy tangle is fine - as long as it's possible to pull the wool off it one-handed, it'll work - but it will affect the thread. Snags, neps and sticky fibres on the distaff naturally make a less even thread, while carefully prepared wool really helps in spinning a smooth thread. Like so many other things, the end result owes so much to the preparations. I often use the tie around the bundle to control the flow of fibres, adjusting it to give me just enough resistance to draft against when I want a non-fuzzy thread. I personally find it helps with a little bit of resistance when I want a smooth thread, but for fluffier yarn I just let twist do most of the drafting for me. At the moment (in between sessions of spinning for weaving), I trying to learn how to do a proper woollen long draw, which of course requires yet another slightly different one-handed drafting technique. I'm starting to get some usable thread out of it now, and it's good practice for the day when I finally get myself a great wheel...

Textiles tools from medieval Novgorod:

Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Volym 4: "From Flax to Linen in Medieval Rus Lands" - Heidi M. Sherman, 2008.

Dressing distaffs:
How I Dress My Distaff- A Stitch inTime

So what IS just sogreat about adistaff? - 15th Century Spinning

Monday 19 October 2015


Life's full of challenges, and some of them are all about textiles...

The Historical Sewing Fortnightly/Monthly
After an enthusiastic start in early 2014, I think I can safely say that I utterly failed to complete any more of the Historical Sewing Fortnightly's challenges, even when it changed to its current monthly format... Alas, too many things to do; too little time to do them in.

The Manuscript Challenge
In August 2014, I joined the Manuscript Challenge and failed to complete it within the specified year. I did a little better than with the Historical Sewing Fortnightly, though. For the Manuscript Challenge, I choose this picture from the Weltchronik in Versen: MS BSB Cgm 5, fol. 44v. The manuscript is from around 1370 and belongs to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Regensburg, Germany.

Rebecca. Weltchronik in Versen, c. 1370. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

It's Rebecca from the Bible, looking fashionable in a lovely red dress lined with ermine, worn over a green dress, and with an amazing kruseler that looks like a decorated cake. What's not to love about this image?!

My plan was to weave the fabric for the overdress, dye it with madder, spin the sewing thread and sew the whole thing by hand. I also decided to weave the fabric for the green underdress, while buying the fabric for the kruseler. I had never made a kruseler before (they're bit out of my fanciness league, at least one as sumptuous as this) and I didn't want to risk messing up a handwoven fabric on this first attempt.

I did actually finish the first part of the challenge - the red overdress. It's my Weaving Vadmal-dress. It turned out more rustic-looking than I imagine Rebecca's dress to be, because my fabric is on the coarser side and it's cut a lot more...economically. Obviously I left out the ermine lining altogether. 

The kruseler, then. Well, it's an ongoing project that I drag out from underneath the big pile of UFOs (UnFinished Objects) every once in a while to work on it for a few hours. At the moment, it's just a bunch of wide linen strips that need to be hemmed. Let's just say I'm not overly excited about hemming about 10 miles of linen strips, and leave it at that... 

The green fabric is still hanging around somewhere in the planning stage. I have one or two (perhaps even three) projects for the Big Loom that I'm much more excited about and it might get bumped even further down the queue. I do have the yarn, but I'm in no hurry to do anything about it for the time being. 

To sum things up, the most accurate status for my Manuscript Challenge right now would probably be Dormant But Not Dead.

But then something else came along about a month ago...

The Herjolfsnes Challenge!
The warp that was in my loom when the Herjolfnes Challenge was announced was already meant to become fabric for a Herjolfsnes 39/D10581 dress, so I joined straight away. I don't expect the fabric to be anything like the original, though. The wool's not quite right, and I don't have enough weft yarn to make the typical Herjolfsnes weft-faced 2/2 twill either. I will just have to make do with a generic medieval twill. Which will be red...bright madder red, quite the opposite of the undyed fabrics used for the Herjolfsnes garments. I will put the challenge efforts into the cut of the garment, and the seams and finishing techniques rather than the fabric itself...

Yep, that's the warp yarn. It's quite red.
I have these old, full-scale Herjolfsnes patterns from Nationalmuseum in Copenhagen that I have been meaning to try out for years and, encouraged by the Challenge, I finally dug them out only to discover that one of them was actually for Herjolfsnes 39 (although it certainly didn't look it at first glance). 

Full-scale Herjolfsnes patterns from Nationalmuseum, Copenhagen, with suspiciously long sleeves in the line drawing of number 39... I bought these some 10 years ago and the museum doesn't sell them anymore.

So I decided to use the ready-made pattern rather than making my own. When I checked its measurements against those given for the preserved dress, they seemed to be pretty close. These patterns were made by Else Østergård and Lilli Fransen and I think that they are pretty much the same as the ones that ended up in their book Medieval Garments Reconstructed (Nordbomønstre. Dragtsnit fra middelalderen in Danish).

Project sketch for my challenge dress.

I made a cotton mock-up to test the pattern. The only alteration I made was to add 25 cm to the bottom of the dress, so it would reach the floor. Other than that, I used the original measurements.

I didn't have enough fabric to make both side panels reach the floor, and I had to skip one of the sleeves, but there was enough of the dress to decide that the fit was absolutely perfect! And look at those draping folds in the middle picture. I'm SO looking forward to making this dress!

I got so enthusiastic about the Challenge that I couldn't wait until I had finished weaving the fabric. I wanted to make something straight away. In my stash I found a piece of old handwoven twill and decided to make it into an 'in-between challenge', to practise the seams and finishing techniques. The choice fell on hood number 72/D10602 as it was included in the full-scale pattern.

The pattern given for the hood 72/D10602 in Medieval Garments Reconstructed is bigger than the original to make it possible to pull it over the head without adding an opening (the original is just too tight for that).
Trying out the 'sømmesting' which is described as an invisible stitch sewn from the right side
in Som syet til jorden (Woven into the Earth).

Finishing the hem with a tabby-woven edge.

The finished hood, with close-ups of the woven edge.

Fabric: handwoven and fulled 2/1 twill.
Seams used: 'sømmesting' from the outside for the assembling seams, overcast stitches to sew down the seam allowances, two rows of slanted stab stitches around the face opening, singling around the lower edge.
Weaving: 'foot weaving' (ordinary tabby) around the lower edge, done with the same handspun thread used for the sewing.

Differences from original hood: 

Size (see above).
Sewing thread is Z-twisted instead of S-twisted.
2/1 instead of 2/2 twill
The edges weren't preserved on the original so the finishing techniques are taken from other Herjolfsnes hoods.

Nordbomønstre. Dragtsnit fra middelalderen (Medieval Garments Reconstructed) - Lilli Fransen, Anna Nørgaard & Else Østergård, 2010.

Som syet til jorden (Woven Into the Earth) - Else Østergård, 2003.