Sunday, February 23, 2014

Project Complete: Orange Linen Kirtle

A hand-sewn linen kirtle for use as a supportive under-layer.

I don't have any specific sources for a dress like this, but it's a pretty straight-forward example of the four-panel "Gothic fitted dress", with some notable differences. First, there is no lacing- it slides on over my head and I shift everything into place once it's on. Since I don't ever seem to unlace my kirtles anyway, this method gives me a consistently tighter fit without the work of putting in eyelets and making a lace.

As I was assembled the pieces, I decided that this dress would be exclusively a non-fashion underdress, except when I needed another lightweight dress for the hot months. As an underdress, the skirt isn't very full (which was just a consideration of how little fabric I had), and it really doesn't have any bells and whistles.

I've shared a good deal of the fitting and other details about this project in other posts. The primary purpose of this garment was to update my old orange linen dress, and to create it using only hand sewing. After some trial and error, I decided to use the "Elizabethan Seam" method. Each panel was finished used a double-fold hem and secured using running stitch in matching orange cotton thread. Then the panels were stitched together using overcast stitch in a grey heavy-duty cotton thread (the kind meant for jeans). I can't really explain the thought behind using the gray- I just liked it.

I finished the major sewing, and instantaneously made for myself the case for the bra-like undergarments springing up in the medieval recreation circles lately. Somewhere along the line, probably between the second fitting and yesterday, the shaping the orange linen dress was meant to perform stopping creating the correct curves. In other words, as a supportive dress, it got a solid C-. Sure, it pulled and firmed my squooshier bits, but gave me a horrible, irregular chest shape in the process.

So, after tossing it on a chair in another room for a few hours, I decided to try using a supportive dress that I know works great under the new supportive dress. My linen "short cotte", which was a godsend this past summer, is a calf-length, sleeveless fitted dress, with center front lacing. It is a single layer of 3.5 oz linen- perfect for layering under ever dress in my arsenal. Except that not having sleeves means I can't use it under short sleeved gowns, like my gold wool Grandes Chroniques gown. My short cotte is what I had come up with for standardizing the fit of my gowns, but it could have very easily been something more like the Lengberg bras or even the supportive "breast bags" with attached skirts that I've seen other costumers make. The point of the garment is to provide a singular shape regardless of the minor changes in your body. And now I can tell you- it works.

With my short cotte on, I tried the orange dress again, and voila! I had a perfectly acceptable kirtle that I no longer had reason to hate. Always makes for a good day.

Fit issues aside, I'm mostly happy with the finished result. I had some sleeve fitting issues, and the neckline is a bit wonky, but these are not major issues considering that, most of the time, it will be under another dress. The gores are placed a little lower than they ought to be, but as the dress rides up a smidgen as I move, it mostly corrects itself. This is one of the few dresses I have made that seems to benefit by having a belt on.

I'm extremely happy with the seams, both how well I did with sewing them and how they look in final form. The gray line adds an interesting touch, and in general, you don't really register the color until you're right next to me.

The Elizabeth seam isn't the easiest to employ for every seam. Sleeves were pretty tricky, since they have to be exact. There is to "fudging" the set-in fit when the panels are already finished.

The skirt is short, and as a multifunctional underdress that's certainly not a problem. It really makes me feel, though, that this dress is lower on my class scale than I've generally aimed for. Nothing that says it can't function well for those days when I'm performing the more strenuous household duties. though, and it's really well-suited to muddy and wet ground.

This dress definitely took longer than I intended to complete, but the hand sewing was fun and not as daunting as I expected. It sat around so long because everything else started taking precedence, not so much because I felt overwhelmed by it. Having a solution for the fit issues really saved this dress for me, and I'm convinced more than ever that standard undergarments, rather than "fit from scratch every time" dresses, might really be the better way to go in making fitted garb.

As always, check out the whole photo set on either Flickr or Facebook.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Baltic-Style Pick-up Inkle 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 Baltic-Style pick-up Inkle Loom Weaving.

First, I have to advance apologize for how much text leads up to the visuals. Trust me, you'll be better off muddling through the text.

After learning how to inkle weave using the plain weave technique, I ran into a bit of a brick wall. Try as I might, I simply could not locate the informative visual instructions online that I needed to be able to understand both how to set up the loom and work a pickup weave. For some reason, all the tutorials sort of skim over the warping as if it wasn't important. Luckily, for Christmas, I received a great book that really got me pointed in the right direction. I highly recommend The Inkle Weaver's Pattern Directory by Anne Dixon. While she's highly technically oriented, it answers some key questions for the beginner and has a great collection of ideas.

With plain weave inkle weaving, the only technical thing you really need to pay attention to as you weave is whether or not your shed is up or down. Sort of mindless, really, once you get the hang of it. You are, however, limited to few categories of patterns. To achieve more complexity in the pattern as you weave, you have to start manipulating where your warp threads are in relation to the weft. In other words, you stop relying on the regular over/under pattern of plain weaving, and you start to, literally, mess with the order. If you like controlled chaos, you'll love pickup inkle weaving. There are several types of pick-up weaving techniques, and each results in a different type of pattern offering. I find, however, that Baltic-style is an easy technique for achieving the sorts of angled patterns SCA folk tend to gravitate toward.

In Baltic-style pickup weaving, there are two categories of warp threads. Pattern threads are the warp threads that create the pattern in the weave. Background threads (or ground threads) are the threads that fill the weave around the pattern. As you manipulate threads to create a pattern, you're only dealing with pattern threads. Background threads are never shifted out of their regular over/under sequence. The background threads keep the whole inkle weave from falling apart, providing a regularly woven platform for the pattern to be worked on. You can also remind yourself  to leave the background threads alone by remembering that Pattern and Pick-up both start with P.

I just mentioned that the pattern is worked "on" the inkle weave. That was a deliberate choice of words. Since the ground threads are creating a woven band as you go, your pattern threads work mostly independently. In order for the pattern to not get lost in the regular weave, it needs to (for lack of a better word) overpower the ground. The easiest way to achieve that is to use pattern threads that are thicker than the background threads. Another option is to double (or more) the number of individual strands per pattern thread. For example, I can use a single strand for each ground thread and two strands for each pattern thread. From now on, as I explain warping, when I say "thread", I mean the entire group of strands working together as a single warpped thread. So if you're using a thicker pattern thread, I mean that one thread, and if you're using three threads together to bulk up your pattern threads, I'm talking about those three threads together.

In order to facilitate everything above, the basic rule for many varieties of pick-up inkle weaving is that you encase every one of your pattern threads between background threads. Your entire pattern warping scheme, therefore, is made up of groups of three warp threads: a background, a pattern, a background. This also means that in-between each pattern thread, you'll have two background threads. If I was working a red and green band, with red as my pattern, here's what that would look like:

Clear as mud? Maybe this video will help clear that up:

In Baltic-style pick-up weaving, you can think of the pattern and the warp as separate things (even though they aren't). For the warp, you follow the same types of pattern diagrams used with plain weave. Alternating heddled and open threads as you go. Here's the warping diagram for the pattern I'm using in this tutorial:

I've included a few threads on the edges for a border, and my five brown pattern threads alternate between heddled and open in the middle. This tells you nothing, however, about what the intended pattern is. For the pattern, you follow a chart. My chart looks like this:

Charts show at least one "repeat" of the pattern, and are typically read from bottom to top (in the same direction you inkle weave.) Pattern threads are represented the colored blocks, but it's really not so clear cut. What's actually going on is that each colored block represents that the thread a that point should be picked-up to be above the weft, while blocks that are white indicate that the thread at that point should be pushed down below the weft. In my pattern, the longest a thread will be carried above the weft is 5 picks, and that's a good max length. Beyond that, you risk your pattern threads getting minds of their own and catching on stuff. Also take note that the pattern completely disregards the background threads. Again, you leave those alone and let them weave naturally as you raise and lower the shed.

[NOTE: It was pointed out to me in the comments that there's a missing blank row between rows 3 and 4, counting up from the bottom, that would shift the pattern threads into their naturally up positions. It doesn't change the technique as I show it, or how to read the chart, but it would make the pickup and dropping of pattern threads easier, since the up thread would be more likely to be up.]

Alright, enough talk. The easiest way for me to share with you how to accomplish this technique is by video. You can ignore the part when I talk about using an orange weft in a "previous video"- I decided that it wasn't worth sharing that other video.

So, there you have it. Hope you learned something new!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Alms Purse: Figures Completed


With the Crone's embroidery finished this evening, I've now completed the three figures on the front panel of my new alms purse. Small milestone, but exciting none the less.

I've been under great debate about the background. While the couching would certainly fit the embroidery style, I'm also thinking that I'd like something with a bit more of a pattern. I don't want to overdo it, though. Still brainstorming on that. The ground fabric isn't ideal for counted thread, but it wouldn't be impossible. Just need to explore my options.

For now, I'm going to complete the archway using a gray DMC linen. I'll need to place an order for more of the pink, blue and green linen thread used on the figures to get the back panel completed. I'm also planning a bit ahead for the trim. Since I'm using linen for the embroidery, it's really important for me that I use exclusively linen on everything. I really love the finishing on this pouch by Tristan. I love the diversity of techniques, and the way he pulled the colors together. I think I'll be using neutrals, though, since both my panels will be pretty vibrant.

When I think ahead with everything that needs to be done for this project to be called finished, I'd say I'm about 20% complete. Lots left to do, but lots of variety to keep it interesting!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Authenticity: Where Edyth Lived

You may recall that at the beginning of the year I stated I wanted to pay more attention to my personal authenticity this year. The fact of the matter is that true medieval authenticity is absolutely impossible to obtain. We have neither the correct set of materials nor the definitive set of evidence available to claim anything more than a best guess. But close accuracy can be obtained if we pay more attention to specifics, and find ways to integrate those details into our recreation. This means that authenticity comes by knowing not just what we would have worn and how we made it, but also in where we lived, when that was, what we did, who we associated with, and more.

Now I recognize that I'm at an advantage with my chosen persona period, and that not everyone has the amount of primary and secondary sources available for their time or place. For those with less than ideal amounts of evidence, your best guess needs to rely a bit more on scholarly analysis and crowd-sourced agreement. In other words, those who also do your time and place will be your best authenticity advocates, and the closer you all are to each other, and the more you share your findings with each other, the better your recreation will be. In smaller "niche" persona groups, such as late-period Eastern European or New World, the thumbs-up from those in your persona group doing research is going to be your best bet for determining if you're close to what that group believes is correct. Whether or not it actually is correct can really only be determined by primary source evaluations scholars are making available. And in the end, you (and your group) need to be willing to accept if your long-held ideas of authenticity are challenged or refuted by new evidence. Which, really, is just as true for everyone else.

So, as a start, an authentic approach to your persona recreation should account for where you lived. A few years ago I came across a persona worksheet (I don't know who created it, unfortunately) that asked a few questions that focused on place. It asked for not only where you live, but also how far you have traveled in your life, and how long it takes you to get to your local church. It forced me to stop and question the sort of broad-sweeping location statements we always make. It was after seeing that worksheet that I refined my persona from " in Flanders..." to "... living in an urban house in Bruges near the art district...."

There are very few places left from the known medieval world that haven't been researched in some way, archaeologically speaking. Even if the exact locations of buildings in a Norse settlement can't be determined, there are maps available that share where settlements have been found, and records of when they may have been founded (or overtaken.) A few searches on Google for more specific maps or location information can get you started. In some cases, you might not find exactly what you need online, but you should eventually find out where you can go off-line for it. The bottom line is that honing in on authenticity entails making less generic statements about where you live and what your local community is. Instead of being a "Norse woman in England", maybe you're a "Danish woman living in Jorvik." The difference provides the potential for greater authenticity.

I originally chose Bruges because I knew it was the place to be if you were English, in Flanders, and had anything to do with wool (all elements of my persona story that haven't changed in the past 7 years.) However, I knew squat about the city otherwise. Luckily, Bruges' history is pretty well documented. I have available a map of Bruges by Marcus Gheeraerts, drawn in 1562, which was obviously not going to be entirely accurate for 1400, but is certainly a good place to start (and is really cool to boot.)

Bird's Eye View of Bruges, 1562, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder. Click here to zoom in and explore.

With that map in one hand, and Google Maps in the other, I started to "stroll" around the city to get my bearings. I located the central Markt and the Belfry- easily the best landmark in the city. I navigated from there to the Beursplein, the intersection where the Italians set up their banking centers (found by matching it to a drawing from 1641 by Antonius Sanderus.)

I even stumbled across one of only two buildings with intact wooden facades from the 15th century. The Google street view image wasn't the best, but I did locate a good image online:


The other 15th century facade is known as Houtin Huis (on Genthof street a bit further north) and is just as gorgeous:

I'd wanted some way to be able to account for my SCA foray into award scroll illumination, so I decided that living near the art district in Bruges would work. I had no clue where that was, though, or even if one existed. I searched around online, and eventually found a brochure for an "off the beaten path" tour of Bruges that included Gouden-Handstraat, labeling it the "Homebase of Workman and Artists". Apparently, Jan van Eyck's Bruges studio was located here, but in the early years of the 15th century, there may not have been a great number of artists there yet. It's close enough for my purposes, however. There's not much now to see on the street, but around back, where one of Bruges' many a canals runs, you can see how enchanting Bruges might have been during its Golden Age in the 14th and 15th centuries.

A few blocks further north is Saint Giles' Church (Sint-Gilliskerk), built in the 13th century. If I was living anywhere in the vicinity of Gouden-Handstraat, this would have been my church.

I wandered around the area between Saint Giles and Gouden-Handstraat, trying to get a sense of the neighborhood. Obviously, I won't know if any of the houses I saw were stone originally, or looked like the two wooden facades. Google's aerial view helped me locate spans of homes with inner courtyards. A mid-sized house with a "back yard" would have been appropriate for my persona, and would have provided a plot for a kitchen garden and space for poultry. In addition, quick access to the canal would have also been preferred for my family. In my persona story, my husband is heavily involved in the wool industry, and his need for traveling through the city would have been fulfilled by proximity to the canals.

The house at 13 Langerei is not medieval to look at. According to the Flemish Architectural Heritage Inventory, the facade is 18th century, and doesn't it look it? However, the inventory also states that the older core stayed intact. The shape certainly suggests that the front was older, what with the offset gothic arch on the left. The house does appear in the 1562 map.

I don't believe the outbuilding is original, but the courtyard certainly is. On the corner, facing the canal and a mere minute's walk from Saint Giles', this home would have been a pretty ideal place to live. Not large (the neighboring building in much bigger by comparison), but stately and no doubt prominent, it seems possible that a moderately wealthy bourgeois family would have found the home to be just grand enough to make the statements necessary to maintain their social status.

Unless I can find more in-depth information on the exact history and nature of 13 Langerei, this is all best guess. I can certainly do more research, but at this point, I believe that to be splitting hairs. As far as establishing anything for the purposes of hobby recreation, I've found all I really need to at least feel comfortable that I've found a plausible home for Edyth Miller.

While there's really no easy way to integrate this into a more authentic persona directly, it does provide a key component to greater accuracy- context. I can, from here, begin looking at urban interiors, knowing that the southern-facing windows of my home would have provided great light and beautiful views of the canal and street beyond. I can now know that the activities of and around the church would have impacted my daily life. I would clearly hear the church bells whenever they rang. Living in urban Bruges, I would have had a unique experience as a medieval person. The countryside, agriculture, distances between towns would have all been somewhat foreign to me. The hustle of Saint Giles' Quarter, the noises, the smells and the people, would have been comforts, and my sense of community would have encompassed not only the joys of having neighbors to associate with, but also that unique feeling of private isolation that only comes with living in a large city.

I encourage you to try making the same sort of "trips" for your persona location. Virtually walking the streets of Bruges has given me a great sense of the city, and a greater ownership of my persona.