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.