Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Weaving Vadmal VI - The Dress

At long last, I'm finally able to post a few pictures of the finished dress made from my hand-woven, fulled and plant-dyed fabric of the previous posts!

I had hoped to get some nice photos of it during Albrechts Bössor's spring march/fighting practice in early May, but it was so cold then that I never removed my overdress during the three day camping-in-the-forest event. It even snowed a little!

But the sun came out for a bit so I could hitch up my overdress without freezing my legs off!

This past weekend, however, was the opposite of cold. It was also the re-launch of Medeltidsdagarna at Hallands Kulturhistoriska Museum, an event that Albrechts Bössor have been proud to attend for several years with our living history display. For some reason, the Varberg event always tends to be very, very hot and this year was no exception. It was well over 30 degrees and we had our camp pitched on top of the ramparts with little shade during the day. Needless to say, I didn't have to worry about the overdress this time... So here it is: the (almost) finished dress!
Staying cool in wool, with a reed hat
Picture (cropped) by

Me talking about medieval textiles during our 'From sheep to hem'-display
(Från får till fåll - it sounds a lot catchier in Swedish...). Picture by Karl

I still have to do the buttons for the sleeves, but other than that, it's done!

Here you can find more pictures from Medeltidsdagarna; Albrechts Bössor are in quite a few of them!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Weaving Vadmal V - The Finished Fabric

In medieval times, the fulled fabric was stretched on tenterhooks while still damp to get its final shape (from which we get the English expression 'to be on tenterhooks'). Not having a tenter around, or even a wall on which to nail my fabric, I had to make do with the slightly more modern finishing treatment of rolling it on a plastic tube instead. And re-rolling it once a day until it was completely dry. Normally, this wouldn't have been a problem. As it happened, me and boyfriend J-E were leaving to go backpacking in Switzerland the day after I returned from the fulling mill... No time for the fabric to dry.

Rolling the fabric (or keeping it stretched out) while it dries is rather important to get a good finish and remove any wobbliness introduced into the fabric by the violent fulling process. Skipping this stage was not something I wanted to do after spending so much time and effort on my fabric... Letting it dry on the plastic tube was not an option either; I didn't want to risk it going mouldy in my abscence! Eventually, I resorted to a kind of speed drying that worked surprisingly well: The house we live in has room for drying laundry in, equipped with a great big hot air fan. I stayed up all night (more or less), re-rolling my fabric every couple of hours, letting it sit on the plastic tube in the drying room in between.

Fabric. On a roll!
The result was that, by morning, my fabric was completely dry and had been stretched and rolled just as many times as it would have been had I done it the proper way. And it was nice and smooth too. Success!

After two weeks of trains, medieval churches struck by iconoclasts and quite a few alps and weird biscuits, I was back home and ready to cut my cloth. 

Swiss Collage: Best train ride ever! - Neuchâtel tomb - Happy Swiss biscuits
I used the body block I made for my supportive shift as a basis for cutting out the pieces. I've made enough dresses of this rather simple late 14th century style for myself to know how they work on my body, so these days, I usually do the fitting on myself with the real fabric, skipping the mock-up stage. I prefer dresses without back and front seams, so all the tweaking to get the fit right is done in the side and shoulder seams. Cutting with a little extra seam allowance in those areas gives me enough room to do the necessary adjustments. For this dress, I wanted to have lacing down the front, but I still put all the shaping into the side seams. I calculated that I could get at least two long-sleeved dresses out of my fabric, and probably something small like a hood, if I cut it economically. Eager to get going, I cut. 
Pattern pieces
The first cut! The brown thread marks one of the three weaving faults in my cloth...
And then realised that I should probably have added at least another centimetre of extra seam allowance since I was going to dye the damn things too! Mordanting and dyeing the cut pieces would almost certainly wreak havoc on the raw edges and ruin my precious seam allowance... Ah, well. I threw them in the dye pot anyway.

I had enough madder left for a weak 14% dye. This wouldn't be the bright red I got on my sample, but I was fine with that. I just didn't want a completely grey dress... Still, I was surprised by how strong the colour ended up – not a muted, watered-down pink like I had expected, but a cheerful orange, only tempered by the dark weft! The edges did fray, but not too badly. The seam allowance on the Herjolfsnes garments is about 7 mm and there was at least twice that left, so I had no reason to complain. 
Both the colour and the frayed edges turned out a lot better than expected
Despite this vadmal project, spinning was really my main focus last year (I just realised I've spent almost 5 years just practising spindle spinning! My blog post from 2010 sounds awfully naive, now!). I finally mastered (well, sort of) spinning with a distaff, which seemed like a necessary skill to accquire if I wanted to spin the way it was done in medieval times (there are practically no medieval depictions of spinners not using a distaff) and I tried my hand at producing sewing thread.
A slightly hairy thread...
I could probably make it thinner with more practice (after all, the 2-ply sewing thread from the Herjolfsnes garments is less than 1 mm in diameter), but it turned out to be a perfect thickness for my vadmal fabric as it was. My sewing thread has a lot of give in it; I think this will be a very good thing for a tight dress. The thread will take a lot more strain before breaking than the 2-ply linen I usually use for hand sewing.

All that's left now is for me to finish the dress... And decide what to do with the rest of the fabric!

Felling the shoulder seam à la Herjolfsnes

To sum things up: 
My version of a medieval vadmal fabric ended up with the following technical specifications after fulling, drying and dyeing: 

Weave type: 2/1 twill 
Warp: light natural grey 1-ply wool, z-spun, 9 threads/cm 
Weft: dark natural grey 1-ply wool, z-spun, 10 threads/cm
It was fulled in cold water for approximately 4 hours, with a total shrinkage of 10% (width) 
Finished width: 82 cm 
Finished length: ca 11 m
Dress pieces dyed with 14% madder.

Next time: Weaving Vadmal VI - The Dress

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Weaving Vadmal IV - Fulling

Two days before the vadmal weaving class were suppose to go the fulling mill in Skrekarhyttan, I realised had woven a lot less than I thought I had. A lot less as in only about half of what I had in the loom... Six metres of fabric do not a medieval dress make (well, it does actually, but I wanted all of my fabric fulled), so I promptly decided to take some extra time off from work just to be able to finish it. Subsequently, I spent two of the hottest days in July this year indoors, sweating in the loom and weaving like mad. 6.4 metres in two days - I'm happy (and a little proud) to discover I still had speed weaving in me after all these years of not weaving at all...

Two hours before my ride to the fulling mill came to pick me up, I cut the fabric out of the loom. 
The fabric taking a short rest on the sofa. I would have liked a rest too, but I had to go pack for a weekend of fulling...
The fulling mill (link to photos by Vikers Hembygdsförening) was built in the 1990s, but based on an old design. In the beginning, it was even powered by a water wheel, but these days it runs on electricity (but the electricity is actually generated by the very stream that used to power the mill!). I tried to find out a bit about the history of fulling mills in Sweden, but didn't get very far back. There were water powered fulling mills here in the 16-17th century. A sign at the mill in Skrekarhyttan claimed there weren't any earlier than that, and I haven't found anything to contradict that yet. In Europe, of course, water-powered fulling mills were all the rage in medieval times, but I suppose we kept doing it the old-fashioned way with our feet up here in the north a while longer. One of the Swedish words for fulling - stampa - literally means to stomp/step on. A fulling mill is simply called stamp - "a stomp".
The mill with its fulling tubs
It was an extremely hot day outside, but it was nice and cool by the fulling tubs. There were three of them, hollowed out of a single tree trunk. Each tub could take about 40-50 metres of fabric and it was quite hypnotic to watch as the fabrics went round and round while being pounded by the heavy "stompers". We used water from the stream outside to wet the cloths. The people of the local handicraft guild who take care of the mill these days said they usually heat the water first, but the wood stove used for that wasn't safe to use when we were there. Cold water worked just fine, too. 

I shot this slightly shaky and out-of-focus video of the "stomp" at work:


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Weaving Vadmal III - Interlude: Going to the Hebrides

In early June, most of the vadmal weavers took a break from their looms and went to the Outer Hebrides. Or in my case, just took a break.

I hadn't actually woven anything at this point, other than the sample piece, because work had got in the way of spending time at the loom. The museum I work in re-opened in late May after having been closed for two years. We had moved approximately 35 000 textiles, several hundreds of tons of textile machinery, archival material and assorted museum workers across town into a completely made-over old textile mill to be part of the new Textile Fashion Center.

So spring was mostly spent in a constant state of frustration and stress to get everything ready at the museum for the grand opening, with very little time for anything else. But we opened on time, with most of our sanity intact. Needless to say, the trip to the Outer Hebrides came as a very welcome holiday for me...

The Hebridean adventure was all  planned and booked in advance by our wonderful teachers Margareta and Maria, so all I had to do was just to be there. It was just what I needed and it was all pretty magical. Four days of breathtaking landscapes, sheep all over the place and lots of wool. I will go back there for sure.
Passing by a Passing place on Lewis
Tweed yarns at Carloway Mill, Lewis 
 Sheep in the rain
Sunset just outside Carloway 
We also visited Uist Wool at Grimsay, but since I don't have any pictures from there, please check out their Facebook page and blog instead. It's a fantastic project!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Weaving Vadmal II - SAMPLES!!!

Like I wrote in the previous post, I decided to weave a cloth with a similar number of warp threads/cm to the mid-14th century Bocksten tunic: 8-10 threads/cm. During weaving, the fabric naturally shrinks a little as the weft is introduced and the process of fulling of course shrinks it even further. So my chosen sett of 7 threads/cm in the loom would result in a much closer weave when finished. To get a general idea of what the cloth would be like, I wove a short piece to use for sampling.
In the loom. I weave 2/1 twill with the weft-faced side up to avoid raising more threads than necessary for each shed
The test piece had 8 threads/cm when it came off the loom, which was a bit too loose to keep as it was, but probably perfect for fulling. I cut it in two, pressed the first half while damp to keep as a reference and fulled the second one on a washboard in the bath. After fulling, the piece both looked and felt a lot nicer with a handle I was quite happy with. And it had ended up with 9-9.5 threads/cm, which was pretty much spot on! That meant I didn't need to adjust the sett in the loom and could just go on weaving, knowing that a total shrinkage of 10% was what I was going to aim for at the fulling mill later on. 

A couple of threads' difference might not sound like a lot, but it is. It becomes really clear when comparing the samples.
Fulled piece at 9-9.5 threads/cm and untreated piece at 8 th/cm
It didn't take long for me to realise that grey isn't the most exciting of colours. My spools of weft looked like fat little woodlice lined up on my pretty but plain fabric...
It's a nice fabric, but...grey... Over 12 metres of grey.
I already have a natural grey medieval dress, so the idea of dyeing the finished fabric became more and more appealing... While running a madder dye bath with some yarn for a future weaving project, I chucked one of the samples into the pot too to see how the grey yarns would fare. I'm by no means a particularly skilled plant dyer, but madder has never let me down. The colour was amazing and while weaving the rest of my grey fabric, I pictured it bright red like the sample:
Madder madness!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Weaving Vadmal I - Getting started

After years of staring miserably at my empty loom, I finally decided what I needed to get weaving again: set deadlines and external pressure. That might not sound like much fun, but when it comes in the form of a parttime, wool-themed weaving class, it is! At Grebbestad folkhögskola they have such classes and in February this year I enrolled in one called "Vadmal & Tweed". 

The purpose of the class was for each participant to weave a woollen fabric, full it together with the rest of the group at a traditional small-scale fulling mill and then sew something wearable out of it. The class also included trip to the Outer Hebrides (hence the "tweed"-part of the title). We all worked at home on our own looms, but met up every other month to share our progress, talk about looms, wool and weaving, and plan the trip to Scotland.

Being me, I naturally decided to weave a medieval style 2/1 twill and use the fulling mill experience to finally get myself a properly finished fabric. And make a late 14th century dress out of it. No surprises there. The yarn was a really lucky find on Tradera (Swedish version of EBay) - 6 kg of high quality weaving wool (yarn number Nm 6/1) for approximately €8/kg!!! Normally, it would have cost at least ten times as much! Having worked with wool of this thickness before, I knew it works rather well for 'medieval' fabrics. I once used it for a fabric with the same thread count as the mid-14th century cloak from Bocksten, but this time I planned for something more along the lines of the cloth used for the Bocksten tunic. The yarn used in the original is spun differently for the warp and weft; the warp is z-spun with a higher twist than the s-spun weft. My industrially spun yarn was all z, but that was OK since not all medieval fabrics have mixed spinning (although it was rather common). Sometimes it's a good idea to add some twist to modern warp yarn to get a more medieval look, but I wanted to get started with the actual weaving and simply decided that my yarn was 'good enough' as it was...
Obsessive Sampling Disorder - Yarns: Natural dark grey, natural light grey and burgundy wool yarn, with a nice mix of soft and slightly coarser fibres, especially in the undyed yarn. I chose the light grey yarn for the warp and the darker grey for the weft
These days, the word vadmal has a rather specific meaning in Swedish. It's considered to be a heavily fulled fabric in which the finishing process has more or less completely obscured the actual weave, usually a tabby. It almost (but not quite) looks like felt, is quite thick and pressed, but not shorn. In medieval times, however, vadmal basically referred to any locally woven woollen fabric, as opposed to the more exclusive imported stuff. Medieval vadmal could be thoroughly fulled like its modern counterpart, just given a light treatment or perhaps none at all. The fabric I wanted to make belonged to the 'lightly fulled' category; a fabric of medium thickness with a nice drape. I made a tiny sample to help decide how many threads/cm I would use...
Obsessive Sampling Disorder - Sett: Even small samples have their uses. Any sample is a good sample. Did I mention that I love samples? This one has 7 warp threads/cm which also was the sett I chose for my cloth
The whole process of setting up the loom and beaming the warp was rather uneventful. My weaving hiatus may have lasted for six years, but once I got going everything came back to me.
Warping. I don't own a warping mill. Luckily, I work next door to the Textile School at the University of Borås and can borrow theirs
Using a raddle and water bottles as weights to beam the warp. It's quick and easy, and I can do by myself without assistance. And the warp always ends up completely even!
Heddling with coffee. A slightly risky undertaking. Note to self: get a cup holder for the loom
Technical details:
Type of weave: 2/1 twill
Yarn: wool Nm 6/1
Sett: 7 threads/cm
Width in loom: 97 cm
Total number of threads: 680
Length of warp: 12.6 metres

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Historical Sew Fortnightly: Challenge 1 & 4

After some internal debate ('I don't need more things to sew. Or time constraints!' -'Yes, you do. Besides the Facebook group is really nice with lots of interesting stuff and knowledge going on there.'), I joined the The Historical Sew Fortnightly a couple of weeks ago.

I had already finished the first challenge by then (Make Do and Mend), because I had first decided to just tag along in secret this year and do the challenges I felt like doing. Which is kind of stupid, since that's pretty much the prerequisite for actally taking part, and I'd just miss out on the sharing-your-work-with-others-bit. However, I felt it was a bit late to post the first challenge when I joined, so I've decided to lump it together with challenge #4: Under It All in this post (I had really intended to do challenge #3: Pink, too, but failed to even start on the mock-up for the pattern...). So here goes:

The Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #1: Make Do and Mend
An apron for the late 14th century.
I've used the same old apron for years and years and it's one of the first handsewn things I made, before I even started making historical clothing. I've used it for everything from LARPing to protecting my ordinary clothes while sorting and preparing dirty wool for spinning. The stitching was kind of clumsy and the piecing on the waistband with a seam ending up centre front annoyed me. My first attempt at rolled hems wasn't exactly a success either. So after 12 years of use, I thought it was finally time to redo my apron. I removed the waistband and re-did the piecing. I cut off the fraying rolled hems, folded the edges and sewed them down with overcast stitches instead. Instead of the deep knife pleats I'd used on the top edge of the apron, I simply gathered it to the waistband which I stitched on with small stab stitches.

It's a linen apron of a type that can be seen in pictorial sources from the early 14th century and onwards. Sometimes, contemporary images seem to depict aprons with smocking, but since they are amply represented within the 14th century reenactment community as it is, I chose to keep mine simple and more suitable for my social standing.
After looking at the first photo, I decided to apply my very non-14th century iron to the apron and take another one...
The Challenge: #1: Make Do & Mend
Fabric: Linen (it used to be unbleached, but now almost white...)
Pattern: None
Year: 14th century
Notions: Linen thread
How historically accurate is it? It's handsewn with waxed linen thread and the materials are correct (but not handspun or handwoven, though). No medieval aprons have survived to this day, but it's based on contemporary pictorial sources, so it's almost as accurate as it's possible to get.
Hours to complete: approximately 3 hours
First worn: The day after it was finished (mid-January 2014) when washing wool in the bath tub.
Total cost: All the fabric came from the original apron, the sewing thread from my stash, so it didn't cost anything.

The Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #4: Under It All
A supportive linen undergarment
Linen cap, fake flax braids and a push-up shift
The Challenge: #4: Under It All
Fabric: Unbleached linen
Pattern: Self made.
Year: 14th century
Notions: Linen thread, some hemp string for lacing it up
How historically accurate is it? It's handsewn with waxed linen thread and the materials and sewing techniques are historically accurate (nothing handspun and handwoven, though). No supportive shifts have survived from the 14th century, but written sources mention some sort of supportive undergarment with 'bags' for the breasts in the 14th century (the now-famous underwear from Lengberg Castle in Austria are too late for me, being from the late 15th century). I've simply taken a page from Isis Sturtewagen's book (or rather her blog Medieval Silkwork!) and defer to her research and the 'bra-shirt' she made, based on a c.1360 statue from Münster zum Heiligen Kreuz in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany.
To sum things up: It's a 'plausibly medieval' garment, the look of which is based on a single medieval depiction.
Hours to complete: approximately 12 hours, with an additional 3-4 hours for fitting the body block used as a base for the supportive upper part.
First worn: During Albrechts Bössor's annual winter march on February 15, but it wasn't quite finished at the time. I added a couple of lacing holes and hemmed it afterwards.
Total cost: All materials came from my stash, so it didn't cost anything.

In the pictures below, it's worn under my blue woollen dress (without the apron). The woollen dress is tight, but not supportive. It's pulled on over the head and wriggled into - so the supportive underdress really helps to give me the somewhat 'pushed-up' late 14th century look. To make sure the fabric of the overdress would be nice and smooth in the chest area, I put the lacing of the underdress in the side seam.