Sunday, October 27, 2013

From the "Forgotten" Pile

I've been neglecting my orange linen dress. I had put it aside to get some other things done, and, alas, it had sort of stayed aside.

I really had not gotten that far on it. I had run into an issue with seam allowance (namely that I'd left too much allowance on some areas), and trying to work through that issue, I'd sputtered out on it. I had also started to feel like my pieced-together full lining had been a bad idea. It really just looked terrible.

Since putting it aside, I've been introduced to a few new methods of seam finishing, and since I really didn't have much sewing done on the dress, I figured back-tracking was probably the order of the day. I pulled all the existing stitching, and removed the lining. I kept the heavy linen bodice lining for a future dress, since it's still good. I was going to purchase a new lining material, but my budget just wasn't making that possible, and I really wanted to get the dress completed. So, I decided to proceed without a lining.

Since it had been a considerable enough of an amount of time since I started the dress in the first place, I figured that doing a quick refit wasn't a bad idea. I'm glad I did that, since there were definite modifications that needed to be made. Luckily, I've done enough of these dress fittings to be able to wing the adjustments, and not need the extra set of hands. My husband gave me the final thumbs up on the fit.

But then, as it waited about 3 weeks for me to get back to it, I came across Medieval Market's Cotte Simple Type 3, and began to rethink the needs of my wardrobe. In fact, several hours of perusal of their entire women's clothing line turned out to be a great advantage to inventorying my existing garb and identifying what may still be missing. Ultimately, I decided to convert the orange dress into the same type of dress as their #3 by converting the front to a fixed curved seam, and moving the lacing to the side. In this manner, it can function as a supportive layer under just about anything, and can certainly work on its own if needed during the summer.

You can see here the three lines of fitting on one of the sides- the outermost was the seam as determined by the lining fitting, and the innermost seam is after switching the front to a fixed curved seam.
The alteration in construction required one more refit, and it lost another considerable amount all around. I believe the primary reason for that loss was because I'd introduced a curved into the front seam. In addition, I was very keen on trying to manipulate my bust upward enough to reveal how narrow my ribs are in comparison, without looking too comically top-heavy, and was therefore much more judicious in what I was taking off. I also ended up pulling a significant amount out of the shoulders. All of this working to take the pattern pretty far away from the lining pattern I had so painstakingly fit back in the spring.

After getting all four main panels of the dress sorted out, I decided to move forward with using the Elizabethan seam for the entire dress. After trimming all my seams down to 3/4" seam allowances, I began the hand-sewing phase by finishing the sides and shoulders with double folded hems, securing them down using running stitch with a matching cotton thread. I made sure that I marked on each panel the insertion points for the gores to make sure everything was lining up correctly.

Finished panels, waiting to be joined by the gores.
At this point, I've completed that first stage of finishing on all four panels, and now I'm moving on to the gores. I've accomplished more on this dress in the last 3 days than I had accomplished up to that point. I suppose, sometimes all it takes is rethinking a project in order to get it done!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blog Referral

This month, my blog referral is:


Cathrin, a "crafty girl living in Sweden", uses her blog to share her sewing, tailoring and crafting projects, which, lucky for us, include a great number of medieval items. She's extremely well-rounded in her skills, switching from sewing to wood-working, to leatherwork. I get the sense reading her blog that the act of making things, whatever method is required, is enjoyable to her, and her results are very inspiring. Her version of the Lengberg bra is a must-see for anyone with more than a D-cup, and all her tutorials are very informative and easy to follow.

She also has a Facebook page that she uses to fill in more details or for sharing smaller, quicker projects, so I highly recommend getting updates from her there as well.

So take a moment (or twelve) to check out Katafalk!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Properly Assessing Your Work

Today, I'd like to talk about something we tend to gloss over as sewists- properly assessing the work we do.

There's a huge difference between the words "critique" and "criticize". When you criticize your work, you're unfairly comparing it to some level of perfection you've assumed you are capable of at that moment. Nobody is perfect, and even those people that seem to have all the right skills to produce amazing garb have areas they wish they could improve upon. Judging yourself against a standard of perfection is begging for hurt feelings (which you can most definitely do to yourself.) Criticizing your work sounds like, "That eyelet is horrible and ugly, and no one with any talent at all would produce an eyelet like that." Now that might sound like an over-exaggerated statement, but for those struggling with craftsmanship, it's probably not that far off base from some of the things we've said to ourselves. For me, a typical criticism is, "You look like an idiot." And that's a mean thing to say to myself.

When we critique our work properly, however, we remove judgement from the equation. Let's say our eyelets don't look that great. Instead of insulting ourselves in our evaluation, a proper critique is to assess what may have gone wrong, and brainstorm what may have worked better. "This eyelet is a bit wonky. I think I pulled the thread tighter on these few stitches than on the others. I should probably pay more attention to my tension as I stitch." The difference is obvious. In our non-emotional, non-self-depreciating, constructive critique, we've not only made ourselves more aware of an issue, we've provided a goal to achieve the next time around.

There is nothing wrong with looking at every item you create and noting the "things you would change". In some cases, doing that can be a huge advantage to the learning process. You're essentially saying, "There's still something for me to learn here," in a polite and goal-oriented manner. No insult, no hurt feelings, no judgement. The trick is to do it without adding comparisons into the mix. When we begin to assess our work according to what others are creating, especially when those others are beyond our skill stage, we start grading our work on the wrong scale.

If you must compare your work, there are two appropriate areas of comparison I can suggest. One is to compare your current work to your past work. It's a satisfying feeling to see your progress, and I believe there's very little that is as encouraging than to see for yourself what you've learned by looking at what you didn't know how to do in the past. The second is to compare your work to the scale of progress that leads to your goal- NOT the goal itself. This is very tricky. You need to determine what progress milestones you want to hit, then you need to be realistic with your expectations. For historical costumers, your goal is probably to be as authentic as possible for your period of choice. Your progress scale, then, is to progressively add more authentic techniques, materials and style choices to your work as you learn how to do them/work with them/understand them. Working toward recreating extant pieces, and breaking that goal into its parts is a great way to accomplish that. Just make sure to give yourself time to learn.

Finally, remember that being technically good at your craft is only part of the equation. Be sure to critique your acquired knowledge as well. If you can do a technique with your eyes closed, make sure to assess why you do that technique, and what bearing it has on your goal. In that way, you allow yourself to not only become a better sewist, but to become an expert sewist in time!

So tell me, what part of properly assessing your work do you struggle with the most?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Plain Weave Inkle Loom Weaving

Each month I'm presenting a new tutorial on a medieval skill from various types of textile-related crafts. The purpose is two-fold. First, it will allow me to locate, study, and try a variety of new techniques I might otherwise overlook, and second, it's an easy way to get information out there about skills that other people might be looking for or find helpful. This month, I present Plain Weave Inkle Loom Weaving.

I'm not entirely sure how the decision to sit down and learn inkle weaving came about. All I do know is that one moment I didn't know what it was, and the next I was stringing a loom. I also know that it was very easy to figure out, and I really like doing it!

Inkle weaving falls into the same category as card or tablet weaving as a narrow or band weaving technique. Unlike card weaving, however, inkle relies on a more basic principle of weaving and does not involve twisting threads along their paths. It produces a much more defined weave.

There are two categories of inkle weaving techniques. "Plain" inkle weaving involves nothing other than a consistent pattern of warp exchanges with the weft passing through on each exchange. "Pick-up" inkle weaving involves one of two variations of warping the loom with specific pattern and ground colors, and manually creating a pattern by "picking up" individual strands independently of the basic weave. I'm still working on understanding pick-up weaving, so in this month's feature, I'm going to focus only on plain weave. Don't let the name fool you, however. Patterns are still possible in plain weave inkle bands- they rely on patterns of color.

Inkle bands consist of any number of warp threads that are either "open" and moveable, or "heddle" and stationary. The threads always alternate between open and heddle across the width of the band. Pushing the open threads above (up) or below (down) the heddle threads in sequence creates the weave of the band. For most plain weave bands, it doesn't matter if the open threads start up or down, since plain weave inkle bands are only able to produce simple, two-phase repeating patterns.

Heddles are required for inkle weaving. Heddles are extra strings or devices that wrap around or capture warp threads. The most common style of heddles for inkle weaving are strings that secure the heddle threads by pulling them to the static heddle peg. It is also possible to use a rigid heddle for inkle weaving, but I've never tried the technique.

The length of your heddle threads is usually dictated by the particular loom you use, so check your loom's specifications. In general, they will be determined by the specific location of your heddle peg. The heddle peg is simply a stationary piece of the loom positioned relatively near the working area. Looms designed for inkle weaving (the "inkle loom", go figure) have a heddle peg, a tension bar of some variety, and several pegs to wrap the warp threads around for your band's length. I'm using my mom's inkle loom, an Ashford loom that's been through the ringer and had an extra piece attached to keep everything lined up. Here's how I set-up heddles on my loom:

Brown heddle string wrapped around both the top and heddle pegs for sizing. After sizing all my heddles, I pull them off the loom and set them aside for warping.
I start by placing a heddle string on the heddle peg. After positioning my warp thread over the top peg, I pull my heddle up and over it.
Then I secure the other loop of the heddle string on the heddle peg, pulling the heddle thread into position.
The next warp thread is "open", so I simply pass that between the top and heddle pegs to my back peg.
Your loom may be arranged differently, but all plain inkle weaves need to have this same type of basic setup.

You'll also need a shuttle- a special stick that holds your weft threads. Belt shuttles are great for inkle weaving. They have a rounded edge for holding the weft thread as well as a tapered edge to "beat" the weft threads down after you pass them through the shed. Unfortunately, I don't have a belt shuttle, but any type of shuttle will work, as long as it's narrow enough the beat the weft into place effectively.

On the technical level, creating a plain weave is a 4-step process. Pass the weft through the shed (the space between the open and heddle threads), exchange the position of the open threads (if they were down, you pull them up), pass the weft through the shed again from the other direction, exchange the open and heddle threads again. Rinse and repeat along your entire length. So, technically speaking, inkle weaving sounds pretty dull.

To create patterns in your weave, which is the really exciting part, you'll need a pattern. There are two basic types of patterns for plain weave inkle weaving. The first puts both the open and heddle threads on a single row, and the second splits them up into two rows.

Both of the patterns above produce the exact same band- a 22-thread band with blue and gray stripes and wider blue edges. In both cases, each column represents one warp thread. Every other thread will pass through a heddle, while the others will remain open. With Style 1, it's up to you to determine if you will start with a heddle or an open thread. Once you pick one, you alternate between the two until you have all 22 threads. In this case, since we're looking at an even number of threads, half of the threads will be heddle. Note that you will end with the other type from the one you started with. Style 2 helps you out a bit more by detailing which warps are open (O) and which are heddle (H), but it's the same pattern. The white spaces are meant to be ignored. It's really a matter of preference which you like, but since patterns are available using both methods, is a good idea to wrap your brain around both. There's a great site, the Inkle Loom Pattern Generator, which allows you to create patterns using Style 1. The popular book The Weaver's Inkle Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon, utilizes Style 2 (calling the rows Heddled and Unheddled).

The thickness of your threads has a great deal to do with the look of your band. Using the 22-thread pattern above with worsted weight wool yarn will produce a much wider band than working the same pattern with crochet cotton. It's also common to group threads together to bulk them up. Warping 4 strands of crochet cotton together and treating them as one warp will produce a thicker band than just using a single strand alone.

To show you how to inkle weave, I've created the pattern below. I'm using a heather teal wool yarn and a white acrylic yarn.

This pattern uses 15 warp threads and will produce a pseudo-checker pattern. Since I'm working with an uneven number of threads, I will end on the same type I started with. I'll have 8 heddle and 7 open so that my band is capped by two heddles (which is my preference- some people prefer it the other way).

To begin the band, I'll need to warp the loom. Since this is just a tutorial, I'm going to use the shortest band size available on the loom. Wrapping the warps around combinations of pegs produces different lengths, and inkle looms have both minimum and maximum possible lengths.

Begin by securing your beginning thread to the starting peg. Some people use masking tape and tape the end to the loom. I just use a slip knot.
Here is one length around the loom. You can see that my tension pad is not up, but my thread is pulled fairly tight.
Depending on the type of thread you use, you may be able to wrap the threads around the starting peg so you can secure the heddle. If not, a piece of tape will work, or you can even work on setting the heddle with only one hand, so you don't have to let go with the other.
Since I decided that my pattern would start with a heddle, I apply that to the thread I just warped.
The pattern calls for the next thread to be white, so after cutting the teal, I knot the white on.
After getting all 15 warp threads in place, I untie the starting thread and tie it to my ending thread.
When it's all warped, it looks pretty sloppy.
So I straighten my heddles and set my tension. Not sloppy now.
There are a couple different methods for starting the weave, but if I can get away with the simplest one, that's what I prefer. After passing the weft (blue cotton) through the shed twice, I pull it tight and knot it. This helps to also give me a better idea of the width.
The starting position of my open thread falls naturally under the heddle threads, in the down position.
When it's time for the open threads to be up, I manually grab them and hike them up above the heddle threads.
Since that's not normal, I need to slide my shuttle into the shed before releasing them.
Then I slide my shuttle down the shed, and beat the weft thread into place.
Then I manually push the open threads back down, below the heddle threads.
I wait to fully tension the weft until after I've beaten the newly exchanged weave down. This helps with keeping the weft perpendicular across the band.
Here's the band after several passes of the shuttle. You can see that it took a few turns to find the right weft tension (look at the widths of the white areas). I was also surprised to see that my teal yarn is not equal to the white within the weave, and is just small enough that it gets relegated to more of a background than an equal component of the checkered pattern.
After a while, as you work, you may notice that the warp threads shift around. On an open loom like mine, that can be a problem, since, if I'm not diligent, the warp can slide right off the loom. Every so often, push your warps back into place in the middle/ inside of the pegs.

When you get to a point when your shuttle can no longer pass through your shed, you'll need to shift your warp. Here's how I do it:

When you're done with your band, there are a variety of ways to finish it off. The easiest is to cut each warp off two at a time and tie them together. There are much fancier methods, but this simple finish won't inhibit you from doing something else with it once it's off the loom.

I hope that this has been clear and enough information for you to try inkle weaving for yourself. I know I'm hooked!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Project Complete: Frilled Hood-Style Veil

A linen headdress with hood-style shaping and frilled edges, inspired by styles used between circa 1380 and 1420 primarily in England.

Medieval women certainly had a penchant for frilled or decorated edges on their veils. Subtle frills are depicted on women's headdress as early as the 12th century, if not earlier. As weaving techniques advanced, so too did the ability to create elaborate, multi-layered frilled edges on linen pieces. I'm not a weaver, so the technique and logistics of the process are not too clear to me, but essentially an alteration to the tension and thread count on the selvage edges allows the weaver to create frills as part and parcel of the whole woven cloth. For an interesting article explaining this technique in relation to the famous frilled veil seen in the "Arnolfini Portrait" by Jan van Eyck, check out Carla Tilghman's article, "Giovanna Cenami's Veil: A Neglected Detail", in Volume 1 of Medieval Clothing and Textiles.

In the late medieval period, layered edges became the medium for a variety of veil types that expanded and evolved from simple frills to goffering, honeycombing, many more. Some of the depicted styles were soft and natural, while others were rigid and geometric, and still others were wondrously complex to the extent that their reality seems doubtful. For a glimpse into the variety-filled world of frilled headdress, I highly recommend perusing Isis Sturtewagen's extensive research paper on the subject (not yet offered in English).

This particular veil is patterned after a type of frilled headdress that appears in late 14th and very early 15th century artwork, with a frilled edge not only framing the face, but wrapping around the shoulders as well. In order to achieve such a shape, the frilled item is shaped remarkably like an open hood (which was becoming popular among lower ranking women at a round the same time). The resulting item can, therefore, be more accurately labeled a "frilled hood", though calling a veil in general is still appropriate.

In addition to the progress posts I shared here that detail my working method, I also developed a starching method to create the final, stiffened and shapely frills.
While the frills on the hood are technically box pleat frills, their front edges are loose, creating a much more free-form quality to the frilled edge than many of the other types of frills I've seen from some of my favorite bloggers. When the frills are stitched through their depth, they create specific shapes, either diamonds, circles or even tear-drops, which can be stuffed with "setting sticks" after they have been soaked in liquid starch. The open frills of my hood, however, are not able to hold any such sticks, so the stiffening process has to be slightly different. Also, in my first attempt to wear the the hood, I'd relied on a modern starch recipe that used cornstarch, which is not a medieval material. So, since I had to do it over again anyway, I decided that I wanted to give barley starch another go.

To create a stiff starch, I used 1 box (11oz.) of Quaker Quick Barley with 6 cups of water (2 more than called for on the box). I boiled the barley according to the directions, but where the box said to let sit off the heat for 5 minutes, I drained the liquid into another pot, so that I could retain as much starchy liquid as possible.

After letting the starch cool down just to the temperature I could touch it without getting scalded, I gave it a good stir, then dipped the two frilled edges in (not the whole thing), then set it on a head form.

Since all the shaping had to be done by hand, I needed to let the starch dry on the frills long enough that they were no longer drenched, but were still flexible. Then I started shaping the frills basically by poking my finger into one of the pleats, then punching it in from either side to round it. I did that on both layers of the top frill, then walked away. I'm not sure if I could have done the shaping/drying phase without a head form.

Once the frills were completely shaped and dried, they were very stiff. I ended up missing the event I planned to wear them to, so they actually sat around for a week. While they didn't collapse during that time, I did notice that they lost some of their stiffness. They became a bit softer to the touch. Unfortunately, the starch yellowed the veil in areas where the starch saturated the linen a bit more.

The veil is very fun to wear! I wore it with my sideless surcote for a 1380-ish look. I got a few compliments (and had my picture snapped a few times), so in terms of the look, I think the veil is a great success.
The amazing thing, however, was the performance of the starch. It was very humid in the morning, but the top frills didn't seem to register the moisture. Then, a storm rolled in right when I needed to walk across the event, first to the bathroom, then to teach a class. I was outside, getting rained on, for a total of about 5 minutes. The top frills do not collapse!

Where the veil got the wettest at the shoulders and back, they really didn't stand a chance, and mostly flattened. But those frills were also already fighting gravity anyway. The front frills, however, stayed open all the way through court at the end of the day.

I'm very pleased with the frilled hood. I think it's a very good addition to my headdress wardrobe, and worth the effort to make it. It does, however, need a bit of help still in the center seam shaping. That's not quite right, and puckers more than I really care for. I'm not going to try to fix it, though, since I'm already thinking about making a new one with a different type of frill.

I'm also incredibly thrilled with the barley starch. My only complaint with that is the staining. I'm wondering if I poured the starch water through a cheese cloth while it was still hot, would it retain the starch, but lose whatever component is causing the discoloration? Something to try out. I could also combine the starch liquid with lemon juice and let it dry in the sun to see if the bleaching action of the lemon juice would counter the staining action of the starch. The solution is in there somewhere.

This project was a great learning experience for me on several levels. As my first frilled hood, I think there are good things about it as well as areas for improvement the next time around. Perfectly fits my new motto- "Constantly trying. Consistently improving."