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