Sunday, 28 December 2014


You know how it goes.  You see these things on the internet and you just have to make one.  You know you're going to wish you hadn't, but you can't help yourself.

I saw this recently:

Georg Pencz, Portrait of a Lady, c1540, image from here.
It's a flinderhaube, a hat covered in sequins (flinderlein) which was fashionable in the 16th century in what is now Germany.  It's absolutely perfect for the last Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge of 2014, All that Glitters.

As it turned out, drafting the pattern was a bit of a challenge.  Flinderhauben could be made with netting, like this one, but I think my Georg Pencz example is made out of cloth.  I tried a number of different ideas for the pattern, but I found I got the best shape using the goldhaube pattern developed by Genoveva von Lubeck, which she has very kindly made available here.  I've made a couple of alterations to get the same look as in the picture, but only small ones.

There are a lot of different flinderhaube shapes shown in paintings, so I think there may have been quite a range of different patterns in use.

Anyway, this is what I ended up with:

I think it's better photographed with a flash, which shows up the shot silk and makes the flinderlein glitter properly.  These things must have looked pretty spectacular in the sun or by candlelight.

The Challenge: All that Glitters.

Fabric: Half a yard of pink and gold shot silk, and the same of red linen for lining it.

Pattern: Genoveva von Lubeck's goldhaube pattern.

Year: 1540 or thereabouts.

Notions: Lots of little gold teardrop shaped sequins, glass pearls, and some gold thread.

How historically accurate is it?  The fabrics and sewing are probably okay, and the pattern is a very well researched one.  However, budget constraints meant that I used glass imitation pearls and synthetic gold thread.  I think they actually did have glass pearls at this time, but they wouldn't have looked like these ones.

It does need more flinderlein and I may add some more at some point, but right now this will just have to do because I've had enough of sewing flinderlein on this thing.

Hours to complete: Maybe 15 - 20?  I didn't really keep track.

First worn: Today, for photos.

Total cost: All up, about $45.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Modern history

So there's this Poiret pattern I'd been meaning to make for ages, and HSF Challenge 23 is Modern History.   This means garments that are historical, or based on historical garments, but are wearable in a modern context.  I think this is a great idea for a challenge, not least because I want some new work clothes.  I realize making a pattern from the 1920s is a very obvious way to approach this concept, but sometimes things are popular for a reason.

The pattern is reproduced in The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930 and was originally a dress, but because I don't wear dresses I removed the skirt and made it into a top.  The original looked like this:

The Challenge: Modern History.

Fabric: A bit over a meter of cotton/synthetic blend from a Fabric Warehouse sale.

Pattern: Diagram LXXI from Norah Waugh's The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930.

Year: 1922.

Notions: N/A.

How historically accurate is it?  Removing the skirt was the only change I made to the pattern, but obviously the pattern is not 100% accurate as a result, and the cotton/synthetic blend fabric would not have been available in the '20s.  I suspect my sewing techniques aren't very accurate either.  But then, what do you expect with a cheap knock-off?

Hours to complete: Around 4.  A lot of it is hand-sewn.

First worn: Today, to work.  It makes a lovely work shirt and is also suitable for parties.

Total cost: I think the fabric was $5/meter, so about $7.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The banyan

It's finished.  While I can't say this was an easy project, the result is very rewarding.  In fact, the main reason for the frustrations and problems I've had with this project is simply that I haven't made anything like it before.  If I did it again, it would probably be easier.

The fact that it's finished already is thanks to's stunningly quick shipping.  I had to order some more paisley, and to my absolute amazement it turned up in just a few days.  Standard shipping too.

In some ways this was a good choice for my first ever coat, because in structural terms the banyan is fairly simple.  I used thin cotton sleeve heads and interlined the collar and cuffs, but otherwise there's not much to it.  The original that inspired me doesn't look overly structured either, and I know early banyans weren't structured like a frock coat.

I've learned a few things making this pattern:

  • Making a coat is a lot like writing SAS code.  It has to be done step-by-step, and the steps have to go in the right order.
  • Yards are not meters.  I know that yards are not quite as long as meters, so I reasoned four yards should be a bit under four meters - plenty for a coat.  Wrong.  Four yards is three meters.  Not enough for a coat when the fabric is only a meter wide and has a directional print that runs across the fabric instead of vertically.
  • Early 19th century coats can be really flattering.

The Challenge: Gentlemen.

Fabric: 4 and a half yards of Kaffe Fassett "Paisley Jungle" printed cotton.  This is intended as a quilting fabric, but I don't think Mr. Fassett would mind.

Pattern: This one, with some modifications to make it look like this.

Year: Mid 19th century.

Notions: Silk thread in black and cream.

How historically accurate is it?  I'm not entirely sure, because I have no experience with this time period.  The original is made of printed cotton and this one is printed cotton too, but in terms of historical accuracy I'd say this fabric is really pushing it.  While the original appears to be self-lined, mine is lined in plain cream-coloured cotton, something I've seen on other mid-19th century garments.  Apart from the fact that my banyan is machine-sewn where possible, I think the construction is probably mostly okay.

Hours to complete: Oh God, I don't want to think about that.  There were a lot of hours.

First worn: For fittings.  It's a bit too hot for this time of year, but come winter I think it'll get a lot of wear.

Total cost: Somewhere around $50 - $60.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Why I don't do 19th century

Ever since July I've been having an on-again off-again fight with a 19th century banyan pattern.  It was supposed to be done for HSF Challenge 14: Paisley and Plaid, because I saw one on the Dreamstress' Pinterest board and decided I absolutely had to have a paisley banyan.  I rather fancy myself as the sort of chap who wears a paisley banyan.  Now I get another chance to finish the wretched thing as the theme for Challenge 22 is Gentlemen, and it will be late again, because I had to order more fabric.  Turns out four yards is not enough for a banyan.  Thankfully, still has the fabric in stock.  Whew!

Anyway, I'm determined to get the thing finished at some point, because it's actually showing a lot of promise.  Quite apart from the fact that it's psychedelic paisley, it fits well through the back and sides with virtually no alteration to the original pattern.  This is a novelty - clothes never fit me properly, but this coat has a nice line in back and disguises what a weird shape I am.  It doesn't quite hide the lumpy bits in front, but it's a coat after all, not a magic wand.

In fact my arse is quite large, but this thing makes me look much better proportioned.

I used this pattern as the basis for my banyan.  It's about half a century earlier than the example I'm working from and needed substantial alterations to the collar and front (and some small cosmetic adjustments to the sleeves), but the basic shape is quite similar to what I want to make.  By happy accident it turned out to be a good size for me, once I scaled it up to a 5 cm grid.

Drafting cuffs and a shawl collar like the one in the inspiration photo was pretty easy too.

Unfortunately after that everything went a bit pear shaped.  There are no words in the English language to adequately express how much I hate 19th century sleeves.  I spent hours fighting with these things, trying to make them sit right.  Of course, those of you who have done 19th century before are looking at the photo and sniggering, because you know what I did wrong.  I lined the seams up incorrectly.  Of course, then I had to unpick the damn things again, because I was only checking the fit and my cotton mock-up doubles as a lining.  Now I have to install the sleeves for realsies.  Yay.

Sleeve problem.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Medieval sweet and sour fish

Sweet and sour fish is a Chinese takeaway staple, so I was surprised to come across it in the 14th century English book The Forme of Cury , where it is called "egarduse".  The recipe is simple:


Tak Lucys or Tenchis and hak hem smal in gobette and fry hem in oyle de olive and syth nym vineger and the thredde party of sugur and myncyd onyons smal and boyle al togedere and cast thereyn clowys macys and quibibz and serve yt forthe."

Quibibz are cubebs.  They taste, apparently, like a cross between allspice and peppercorns, so I used a mixture of allspice and peppercorns.  Lucys are probably pike.  I don't have pike or tench, so in this case the fish is hoki.  I have to say, I was a bit suspicious of this recipe, because the primary ingredient in the sauce is vinegar.  It sounded awful, but I hoped all that sugar would take the edge off it.

It doesn't look all that great either.

I "hacked my fish into gobbets" (I love how medieval recipes tell you to hack or smite the meat) and fried it.  Then I took it out of the pan and got started on the dubious sauce.  This consisted of putting two parts red wine vinegar and one part sugar in a pan and simmering it until it attained a syrupy consistency, along with spices and some finely chopped onion.

It looks to me like the sugar is there to thicken the sauce, instead of the cornstarch we might use today.  This isn't too surprising, bearing in mind that corn was unknown in England when the Forme of Cury was written.  Unfortunately, adding lots of sugar is not an ideal way to thicken sauce.

I like to think I'm well placed to evaluate this dish in relation to its modern counterpart, because I'm a sucker for sweet and sour anything (and plenty of other Chinese takeaway options as well).  Safe to say,  this dish has come a long way since the 14th century.  Surprisingly, it doesn't actually taste bad.  Not as such.  The problem with it is that it's very sweet, with very little sour flavour in spite of all the vinegar.  Basically,  it tastes like spiced candied fish.

The Challenge: If They'd Had It... This challenge is an exploration of foods that we still eat today, but at an earlier point in their evolution.

The Recipe: "For to Make Egarduse" from The Forme of Cury.

The Date/Year and Region: 1390, England.

How Did You Make It: As described above.

Time to Complete: 30 minutes or so.

Total Cost: The vinegar cost around $4, and I already had the other things.

How Successful Was It? It wasn't horrible, but it certainly wasn't good.  Since making this, I've seen Clarissa Dickson-Wright do a version of egarduse that appeared to be a lot more successful than mine.  She used currants and much less sugar.  Perhaps medieval sweet and sour can be good if you know the trick to making it.

How Accurate Is It?  Probably reasonably accurate, apart from being made on an electric stove.  In the middle ages vinegar was a by-product of the wine industry, so I assume red wine vinegar is what they would have used.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The "sacral knot"

The "sacral knot" is a loop of cloth with two fringed ends hanging down, and it occurs quite often in Minoan and Mycenaean art.  In some paintings, like this one from Knossos, people wear these knots attached to the back of their clothes.

La Parisienne
Image found here.

It was Arthur Evans who coined the term "sacral knot".  I don't like the term and I think Evans tended to let his romantic sensibilities run away with him.  The knot certainly had cultural and possibly ritual significance, but we don't know exactly what it signified.  It may have been a kind of protective amulet, similar to the Egyptian tyet hieroglyph.

Anyway, the knotted scarf has a very long history in the Aegean.  When the knot occurs in paintings, it's coloured blue and red*.  It usually has a reticulated pattern with blue and red fringes, which confirms that there are two warp colours involved.

Faience "sacral knots" from Grave Circle A at Mycenae.  Picture found here.

Working out how to finish the ends was a bit of a problem for me.  The warp threads are allowed to hang loose on these knots, and don't appear to have been knotted together to prevent unraveling.  So how should I stop the ends unraveling?  And what about the coloured stripes at each end?  Those could be supplementary weft threads, but that doesn't explain how to finish the ends.  So I've taken a bit of an educated guess and twined red yarn around the warp threads.**  I should stress this is totally conjectural.  It stops the fabric unraveling and replicates the coloured stripe at the ends of the Mycenaean knot, but beyond that there's no support for this method.  This is another one for the "you can't prove it's wrong" file.

The Challenge: Re-do.  I'm repeating Challenge 10: Art, but also Challenge 13: Under $10 and Challenge 2: Innovation, which is cool because I didn't manage to do Innovation the first time round and that really bummed me out.  Using supplementary yarns to create patterned textiles was a very early innovation, but one of the most important innovations in the history of Bronze Age Aegean textile manufacture.

Fabric: Relatively balanced tabby weave woolen cloth with a supplementary warp pattern.

Pattern: I drafted it myself based on Minoan and Mycenaean art.

Year: Anywhere from 1700 to 1050 BCE.

Notions: N/A.

How historically accurate is it?  Well, I know the colours are about right, but this wool will have been dyed with synthetic dyes and while wool is probably the right fiber, Bronze Age wool was structurally different to the merino wool available in my local shop.

I have tried to construct the fabric in as accurate a way as possible, based on what we know about Bronze Age Aegean textile production, but as I said my method of binding the ends is conjectural.  All up, I'd guess maybe 8/10 for accuracy.

Hours to complete: Somewhere around 5 hours.

First worn: Yesterday to Classics Department movie night.

Total cost: $9.90.

*Crowley, J. L. 2012 ‘Prestige Clothing in the Bronze Age Aegean’  in Kosmos pp 231-239.
**The stripes on the ends of the Mycenaean bands are clearly stripes of contrasting colour.   You could do that with a weft faced weave, but many depictions of sacral knots predate the use of weft faced weaving in the Aegean (see Smith, J. 2012 ‘Tapestries in the Mediterranean Late Bronze Age’ in Kosmos, pp 241-248).  Weft faced cloth only shows up at the end of the Bronze Age, probably for the simple reason that it's very, very hard to achieve on a warp weighted loom.  It might be doable using linen warp, wool weft and very heavy weights, but tapestry looms would be a better choice.  In later periods weft-faced cloth was made on tapestry looms.  

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Humble pie

Meat pies, sweet pies, I love them all.  But what about pies that fit into both categories?

This 16th century recipe combines spiced minced meat and dried fruit.  At the time this was a common flavour combination, but it's very different to the kind of flavours we're used to today.  The recipe says:

To bake the humbles of a Deere. Mince them verie small, and season them with pepper, Sinamom and ginger, and suger if you will, and cloues & mace, and dates, and currants, and if you will, mince Almonds, and put unto them, and when it is baked, you may put in fine fat, and put in suger, sinamom and ginger, and let it boile, and when it is minced, put them together.

Although the recipe doesn't say so, this is a pie filling.  My understanding is that the fat/sugar/cinnamon/ginger mixture is poured into the pie after it's baked to preserve it; it solidifies on top of the meat and keeps germs out, thus extending the pie's shelf life.

Ingredients ready to go.

Now, "humbles" means offal.  I did not use deer offal, I used venison mince.  I would be game to try it with offal, especially if the offal was braised heart, but they don't sell deer offal at the supermarket.  The mince is nice and convenient too, because it means all I have to do is mix all the filling ingredients together and dump them in a pie crust.  I haven't used any sugar, or any dates (because I discovered I didn't have any), but I did put crushed almonds in.  I didn't measure my spices either.  These old recipes don't provide measurements, and I tend to ignore measurements for things like spices anyway.

I baked the pie for half an hour at 200 degrees C.

So what was it like?

Really good, actually.  The combination of meat and dried fruit is unusual by modern standards, but it's tasty.  My opinion is that the almonds don't really add anything, and can be left out, but your mileage may vary.

The recipe could be made with beef instead of venison, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Beef mince is much fattier than venison and this pie requires very lean mince.  If you used a fattier meat, you would end up with a soggy pie swimming unpleasantly in grease.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Supplementary warp band

For HSF Challenge 10 I made a woven band based on a fresco from Tyrins, and it damn near killed me.  So naturally I'm doing another one for Challenge 21: Re-do.  But this time it will be different, because I've chosen a simpler design and a different construction method.  Last time I used supplementary weft.  This time it's supplementary warp and in only two colours.

What made my last attempt at Bronze Age band weaving so particularly hellish was that I had to juggle five colours of supplementary yarn.  Here, however, I only have one.  I learned that lesson.

When I made the Tyrins band a couple of people on the Historical Sew Fortnightly Facebook group asked if I took photos of the construction process, but unfortunately I didn't have this blog at the time and hadn't taken any pictures.  Well folks, prepare to laugh yourselves silly as I show you the dodgiest warp weighted loom set up you will ever see.

This loom has everything.  Cardboard tubes I fished out of the recycling bag, parts of a rigid heddle loom (the rigid heddle may or may not be period), teacups used as weights, a chair back, and of course lots of string.

The skein of red wool hanging over the chair back is the supplementary warp, which will create the design on the finished cloth.  In this next photo, the supplementary warp is woven into the fabric.  Supplementary warp is the most likely method for making the decorative bands that adorned Minoan and Mycenaean clothes, although based on my experience with the Tyrins band I'm pretty sure that design couldn't be done just with supplementary warp.  Because it has thin horizontal lines it would need supplementary wefts as well.  I'm not game to find out.

The blue and red look nicer together than I thought they would.

This band is based on examples from Knossos and Mycenae.  It's easy to make, and the pattern is even reversible.  I think of it as a fishing net pattern, though I have no idea if that's what it was supposed to represent.

Warp weighted looms are a fairly complicated concept, but as I've demonstrated they're extremely simple to make.  The Greek term is a histon, and the looms used in the Bronze Age were probably just like the ones pictured on later Greek vases.  My loom obviously uses modern materials, but it works in just the same way as an ancient loom and it makes the same type of cloth.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The side-pleated skirt is finished

Here is my entry for HSF challenge 20: Alternative Universe.  This is an alternative to the pattern proposed by Bernice Jones in her 2012 article The Construction and Significance of the Minoan Side-Pleated Skirt, featured in the latest Aegaeum book.  To recap my thinking on this, I hypothesize that there were two methods of making side-pleated skirts: one way is a tube of fabric pleated and tied at the waist as Dr. Jones has described, and the other is the two piece pattern I've used, which is essentially an A-line skirt with what we would now call organ pleats up each side.

The reason I think there were two patterns in use is that there are two different skirt shapes depicted in Minoan art.  Some skirts are clearly tubular like the one Dr. Jones reconstructed, while others appear to be fitted at the waist.

So did my pattern work?

Overall, I think it was reasonably successful.  Here it is from the side, showing the side pleats:

My pleats are held together at the waist with two little ties.

And here it is from the front.  As you can see, it could use an underskirt to help it keep its shape:

It does, however, have the flat, A-line shape that we see in Minoan art.  Here's my inspiration picture again for comparison:

Bronze female figure Cretan Late Minoan I 1600-1450 BCE Metropolitan Museum
Late Minoan bronze figure, image from Pinterest.

I think my pattern does a pretty good job of replicating the sculpture's skirt, but of course I'm biased.

Like the original, my reconstruction sits slightly south of the dummy's natural waist (though you can't really tell with the loose heanos underneath), and I found this was really helpful in terms of getting the thing on and off.  The original has no visible closure, but it would be easy to conceal a slit in one of the pleats and the ties holding it shut would be hidden under the belt.

Speaking of the belt, I've photographed mine with a strip of wool tied around it to emulate the rolled belt Minoans wore with their side-pleated skirts:

What would I do differently in future?

If I was making this skirt again I would make the side pleats deeper - probably 10cm instead of 5cm.  As I mentioned before, the skirt also needs more structure.  This could be done by wearing it over an underskirt, but if it was made of heavier, stiffer fabric an underskirt might not be necessary.  I don't think it would need a boned undergarment like a farthingale or panniers.

The Challenge: Alternate Universe

Fabric: 2.5 meters of purple coat-weight wool.

Pattern: I drafted it myself based on various Minoan bronze and clay figurines.

Year: 1600 to 1450 BCE.

Notions: Linen thread.

How historically accurate is it?  As this is a speculative reconstruction, it's hard to say.  It's reasonable to assume the original was made from wool and of course it would have been hand-sewn, but otherwise there isn't a lot to go on.  My fabric is machine-woven, but I doubt it's all that different from Minoan fabrics.

There's no way of knowing whether the colour I chose is appropriate for one of these skirts.  I chose it because I like it, and because the Minoans liked purple too.  Purple cloth was apparently being produced on an industrial scale in Minoan times*, so purple cloth would have been available.  However, this garment had ceremonial significance and it's possible there were rules about what colour it should be.

Hours to complete: About 5 hours.

First worn: Directly after pleating it, to see how it drapes.

Total cost: $52.

* Apostolakou, V. et al,  2012, ‘The Minoan Settlement on Chryssi and its Murex Dye Industry’ in Kosmos pp 179-182
Barber, E. 1991, Prehistoric Textiles.
Brogan, T.M. et al, 2012, ‘The Purple Dye Industry of Eastern Crete’ in Kosmos pp 187-192

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Making up the side-pleated skirt

As I said last time, my pattern for the Minoan side-pleated skirt is simply two trapezoidal pieces of fabric.  I stitched them together with linen thread using a lap over seam; I've discussed here why I think this kind of seam is appropriate for Minoan and/or Mycenaean items, and why I don't think it matters that the thread is a different colour.  The lap over seam is quite cool in that it joins the pieces together and binds the raw edges at the same time, but since this is fulled wool it doesn't fray.  The seams are hidden inside the pleats, so they aren't really visible once the garment is made up.

My lap over seam.  This picture is a reasonably good indication of the fabric colour.

After sewing both side seams I laid the skirt flat on the spare bed and folded the pleats. They're 5 cm deep, or 2 inches if you prefer imperial measurements.  I pinned right through each set of folded pleats, and turned the skirt inside out to fix the pleats in position.  I know, I know.  Pins are not period for the Bronze Age Aegean.  I suspect the period way to do this would be to baste the pleats together with one or two lines of basting stitches.  But I'm lazy, so pins it is.  The pleats are fixed in position with strips of cloth*.

Fixing the pleats in position.

Next time, I'll show you the finished skirt and we can see if this really is a viable way to construct a side-pleated skirt.

One of the best things about blogging is that you get feedback.  Leimomi made a really good comment on my last post.  She said "...I agree that the skirt looks like it flares from top to hem, but I immediately noticed the fabric wastage in a trapezoid, which is unusual for really early garments. Any theories on that?"

This is a great question, and it hadn't occurred to me to discuss this issue on the blog.  Thanks Leimomi!  Taking fabric consumption into consideration, here's the cutting layout I propose for this skirt:

This layout requires a piece of fabric 1 meter wide by 2.15 meters long, which is easily doable on a period loom.

The shaded triangles show the waste pieces of cloth.  There isn't a lot of wastage with this layout, and in general fabric wastage seems to have been less of a consideration for the Minoans than it was for other comparable cultures.   Compared to the kind of rectangular construction used in Classical Greece, Egypt, or Bronze Age Europe, Minoan and Mycenaean clothes are wasteful.  The pattern pieces are typically curved and this inevitably results in wasted fabric.  To demonstrate, here are cutting layouts I've used to make a heanos and a kilt:

Not to scale.

These patterns were developed by Bernice Jones** based on paintings and Mycenaean logograms which depict the items in question.  Dr Jones' heanos had a shoulder seam, but I made this one without because the fresco I was copying didn't show a shoulder seam.  Leimomi is right; this is very different from the kind of pattern layout you get with most early garments.  Because these clothes were worn by high status people, I actually wonder whether fabric wastage may have been a feature rather than a bug.

In Egypt and Classical Greece, everyone from kings to slaves wore clothes made in much the same way.  The difference was largely a matter of fabric quality and decoration.  What if Minoan and Mycenaean clothes were also constructed differently, depending on the wearer's status?  If that were the case, it's possible the average person's clothes were a lot more like Classical Greek clothes than the garments shown on palace frescoes.  If anyone has any thoughts on how to test that hypothesis, I'm all ears.

* There's a good description of how to make organ pleats in Sarah Thursfield's book The Medieval Tailor's Assistant.

** Jones, B. 2003, 'Veils and Mantles: An Investigation of the Construction and Function of the Costumes of the Veiled Dancer from Thera and the Camp Stool Banqueter from Knossos' in Metron.
Jones, B. 2009, 'New Reconstructions of the "Mykenaia" and a Seated Woman from Mycenae' American Journal of Archaeology Volume 113, Number 3.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Side-pleated skirts

For HSF Challenge 20 the theme is "Alternate Universe".  This could mean making something from a book or movie, or, says Leimomi: "An alternative history might provide the opportunity to explore a garment that is theoretical, but not proven, to see if it makes sense as a working garment."

That's the approach I plan to take with this challenge.

The latest Aegaeum publication has a fascinating article from Dr. Bernice Jones* about the Minoan side-pleated skirt.  It's nowhere near as well known as the flounced skirt, and that's a shame because it really is a fascinating garment.  It's wide and flat like an 18th century robe de cour, and has three deep pleats down each side.

Here is an example:
Bronze female figure Cretan Late Minoan I 1600-1450 BCE Metropolitan Museum
Late Minoan bronze figure, image from Pinterest.

You can clearly see the pleats at the side of the lady's skirt.

Dr. Jones has reconstructed the skirt as a tube of fabric pleated at the waist.  The following pictures show a selection of Minoan figurines wearing side-pleated skirts, and the reconstruction Dr. Jones made based on them.

I've taken the liberty of photographing these pages from my Kosmos book.

With the greatest respect to Dr. Jones, I would like to propose an alternative method for constructing the Minoan side-pleated skirt.  My method involves organ pleats.  Organ pleats are what you get on a houppelande, and I think they look very much like the pleats on these Minoan skirts.

Looking at these figures' skirts, I wonder whether there might be two different construction methods.  Some of the skirts look like a tube gathered in at the waist, as per Dr. Jones' reconstruction, but others are narrow at the hips and widen out towards the hem.  I wonder if this A-line style might be made from two pieces of cloth.  Dr. Jones notes that Colette Verlinden reconstructed the side-pleated skirt with two pattern pieces, but frustratingly her book is in French and I do not read French.

My experimental pattern uses two trapezoidal pieces:

It doesn't matter which is the front of back because the seams will be hidden in the pleats.

Will it work, or not?  I don't know.  We'll find out.

If that looks like a very large waist measurement to you, it is.  Each set of pleats will take up 30 centimeters, and of course I also have to get the thing on and off.  I'm not yet sure how that's going to work.  I think laces will probably be involved.

Another question is whether there should be a support structure like a set of panniers underneath the skirt.  I suspect if you have a reasonably heavy wool cloth you probably don't need panniers; Dr. Jones' reconstruction didn't need any foundation structure.

*The article I'm referring to is: Bernice Jones, ‘The Construction and Significance of the Minoan Side-Pleated Skirt’ in Kosmos pp 221-230. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A late entry

This is the kind of project you do when you're avoiding something else - in this case setting sleeves.  I hate setting sleeves, especially those two-part 19th century jobs where the sleeve head is never the same shape as the armhole.  So instead of spending at most half an hour setting sleeves, I spent four hours making a piece of Neolithic linen textile.

I'm entering this one for HSF Challenge 13: Under $10, which I didn't manage to make anything for at the time.  Of course, Challenge 13 was due in July, but better late than never, right?  I did actually start a piece of twined cloth for Challenge 13, but the timing didn't work out.

Fragments of textile like this were found at Nahal Hemar in Israel, in 1983.  They date from the Neolithic, before the invention of pottery, and they are not woven the way cloth is woven today.  Instead, the linen warp and weft threads are twined together; the people who made these 8500-year-old textiles had not yet invented weaving as we know it today.  However, there was nothing coarse or primitive about the Nahal Hemar textiles.  This tiny scrap of fabric is only 5.5 by 7.5 cm.

פיסה אריג
 צלם:עמית קלרה
Scrap of fabric from Nahal Hemar.  Picture found here.

In Prehistoric Textiles, Elizabeth Barber has a section on the Nahal Hemar textiles and diagrams showing how they were made.  The weft threads are twisted around each individual warp thread, and the result is a sturdy, net-like fabric.  I've made the selvage by wrapping the warp ends in thread, which seems to have been how the Nahal Hemar pieces were finished.

Here is my piece in close up:

The Challenge: Under $10.

Fabric: It is fabric.

Pattern: N/A.

Year: Around 6500 BCE.

Notions: None.

How historically accurate is it?  The technique is fine, and the original Nahar Hemal textiles are made of linen.  While my fabric is not as fine as the example I included in this post, I think it's within the general ballpark in terms of thread diameter.  So maybe 9/10.

Hours to complete: About 4.

First worn: N/A.

Total cost: Virtually none.  I don't remember how much I originally paid for the big spool of linen warp I used to make the piece, but the few meters of linen would cost only a few cents.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

With thanks to Catherine Raymond

Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge 19 is HSF inspiration.  It's an excellent theme, but it was very hard for me to decide what to do because I was spoiled for choice.  There are so many HSF people making so many awesome things.

In the end I took my inspiration from blogger and HSF participant Catherine Raymond.  Catherine has made some stunning projects for this year's HSF, and in this case I'm thinking particularly of her Roman earrings for Challenge 7 and the Egyptian bag tunic she made for Challenge 9.

I decided to try making jewellery, and since I've never made anything Egyptian before I thought this would be a great opportunity to try something Egyptian.  I made a beaded headband of the type that was popular in New Kingdom Egypt.  Mine is based on an 18th Dynasty tomb painting showing a lady named Tjepu.

I couldn't find any existing examples of this type of headband, so I had to work out a plausible way to reconstruct it based on examples of ancient Egyptian beadwork that do survive.  Yes, there is an ancient Egyptian headband in the Petrie Museum, but it is a completely different style to Lady Tjepu's band and is constructed differently.  So, instead, I looked at other beaded items like this dress from Qau to see how the beading might have been done.

The Petrie Museum has an excellent handout titled Textiles in the Petrie Museum, available here, with instructions for making a number of ancient Egyptian garments including the beaded dress.  It's done with peyote stitch.  And how do I know about Textiles in the Petrie Museum?  Well, that's thanks once again to Catherine Raymond, who posted the link on her blog a while back.

Armed with this knowledge I used peyote stitch and size 8 seed beads to make my headband, and can confirm that the peyote stitch worked well for me.  I found I needed to use a combination of one- and two-drop peyote stitch to get the pattern looking right.  I've seen this combination on ancient Egyptian beadwork, so I'm confident it is an acceptable period method.

My version of Lady Tjepu's headband ties around the head with a plied linen cord.  This is an educated guess on my part since I couldn't track down any indication of how these headbands were attached.  Plied cords are easy to make and were extremely common in ancient Egypt, where they were used for all kinds of purposes.  The cord was easy to stitch unobtrusively to the top of the headband, using the ends of the tread I used to stitch the beads.

The Challenge: HSF Inspiration

Fabric: None.

Pattern: I drafted it myself based on the painting of Lady Tjepu.

Year: 1390 to 1353 BCE.

Notions: Glass beads and linen thread.

How historically accurate is it?  The beads are plausible colours and a plausible size, but I imagine they are probably a different chemical composition to ancient Egyptian glass.  I'd give this one 9/10, because it is as good as it's going to get with modern materials.

Hours to complete: About 6 hours.

First worn: To check the size.

Total cost: $16.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Hera's veil

HSF challenge 18 is Poetry in Motion, and when I think poetry I automatically think Homer.  In this case I'm thinking of the passage from book XIV of the Iliad where Hera is getting dressed up for the night so she can pull a fast one on Zeus.  She completes her ensemble with a newly made white veil that shines like the sun:

κρηδμν δ' φπερθε καλψατο δα θεων
καλ νηγατέῳ: λευκν δ' ν ἠέλιος ς
          -Iliad, book XIV

Nice and transparent, just like the Akrotiri picture.

To figure out what a Bronze Age Greek veil might look like, I used the veiled dancer fresco from Akrotiri.  The fact that the Iliad was written down in its current form almost a thousand years after the Akrotiri frescoes were painted isn't actually a problem, because the Iliad is set in the Bronze Age and contains plenty of Bronze Age elements.  For example, warriors in the Iliad have massive tower-like shields which were long since obsolete by the time the poem was written down, and these tower shields are shown in the Akrotiri frescoes.

Veiled virgin:73 x 100 = 300 euro
The picture I based my veil on.  Image found here.

The Akrotiri veil is yellow, of course, while Hera's is white.  This isn't surprising - yellow wouldn't be appropriate for Hera.  Yellow was associated with unmarried women in ancient Greece, and Hera is (among other things) the goddess of marriage.  I did keep the blue borders at each end and the little carnelian beads, because a plain white rectangle is boring, but I had to guess at the size of the veil.  I settled on 200 centimeters by 90 centimeters based on the fresco.

The stripes at each end of the veil could either have been woven into the fabric, or stitched on.  I tend to think they represent a decorative band that was separate from the main fabric and stitched into place, which seems to have been a common way of decorating Minoan and Mycenaean clothes.  Allow me to refer you to my previous blog post, where I talk about weaving a sample of decorative band from Tyrins.

I didn't weave bands for Hera's veil.  I was already intending to sew some 300 carnelian beads onto it and was uneasily aware that I wouldn't enjoy the process.  Instead I stitched two stripes of blue silk taffeta to the ends of the veil.  You do often get plain bands in a contrasting colour, especially in Mycenaean art.

When I sewed the bands on I made a really interesting discovery: the blue silk is stiffer than the white gauze, and it holds out the ends of the veil when they hang down.  Without this stiff edging the fabric would just bunch up.  This is exactly what we see in the picture from Akrotiri, and is another reason why I think the picture shows separate cloth bands stitched to the ends of the veil.

HSF details...

The Challenge: Poetry in Motion

Fabric: Two meters of white silk gauze and scraps of the same blue silk taffeta I used on the Akrotiri dress.  See this previous post for a summary of evidence for silk use in the Bronze Age Aegean.

Pattern: None.  It's a rectangle.

Year: The Iliad isn't set in a specific year, but the Akrotiri fresco I based the veil on dates from 1650 to 1550 BCE.

Notions: Silk thread and lots of 3mm carnelian beads.

How historically accurate is it?  Well, it probably isn't too bad, although the silk comes from a different type of moth to the ones they had in the Aegean.  One thing that's almost certainly not accurate is the small rolled hems along each side.  The original would have been woven to the desired width, but the selvages of my silk were very clearly the product of a modern jet loom and at least little rolled hems are plausible for the period.

Hours to complete: Maybe 8 or so.  I lost count.

First worn: In front of the mirror to see how it draped.  I can neither confirm nor deny that I made a tit of myself posing like the Akrotiri girl during this process.

Total cost: I think about $32.  I can't remember how much the beads were, but I think they were somewhere around $12. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Egypt and the Aegean: sewing techniques

Fragment of linen. From the Fayum, c. 5000BC Bolton Museum 1929.56.109. Photograph by Jana Jones
Egyptian linen from 5000 BCE, image from the Bolton Museum.  Note the scale bar - this is very fine linen!

When reconstructing Aegean Bronze Age clothes, I rely heavily on the kind of techniques that were used in Egypt around the same time.  The reason for that is simple: we have evidence from Egypt.  We know nothing about the techniques used in the Aegean, because no textiles survive in that region.  We do know a bit about ancient Egyptian sewing and textile manufacture techniques, because we have surviving examples even from the Old Kingdom.

Because these Egyptian garments are so well preserved, we can tell how they were made.  The Egyptians used a very simple range of seams, sewn with either running stitch or whip stitch.  Sewing thread was usually undyed, but there are some dyed examples.  Either way, sewing thread didn't necessarily match the colour of the cloth it was used on.  Here are some examples of seams and hems from Egypt:

Illustration from Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, 2000, edited by Paul Nicholson and Ian Shaw, page 283.

Egyptian needles were made from copper, bronze, silver, or fish bone.  Thorns (and, I suspect, fish bones) could be used as pins, but the Egyptians didn't generally use pins.  They held the two pieces of fabric together with their fingers as they sewed.  Scissors weren't available until the first century CE, but I use 'em anyway.  My commitment to historical accuracy doesn't extend to cutting pieces with a flint knife.

Of course, the problem with using Egyptian techniques to make Aegean clothing is that this approach relies on assuming Aegean techniques were similar to Egyptian ones.  This assumption may not be correct, since even a cursory look at art from the period shows that Aegean clothes and textiles were quite different from Egyptian ones.  We also know that textile production methods in Egypt were quite different from those employed in the Aegean.

Ancient Egyptian clothes usually involved draping a rectangle of cloth round the body.  The cloth was woven to size and did not require much in the way of seams or hems.  Aegean clothing, however, utilised curved pattern pieces that had to be cut out of the fabric piece.  This meant raw edges that had to be prevented from fraying.  Flat-felled seams weren't common in Egypt, but they do a good job of stopping raw edges from fraying, so it may be that this type of seam was more common in the Aegean.

In spite of these important differences I still think Egyptian sewing techniques are probably the best indication of how Bronze Age Aegean garments were constructed.  They are techniques that can be used to manufacture a wide variety of items, including the types of clothes shown in Aegean art, and there is plenty of evidence for trade between Egypt and the Aegean during the Bronze Age.

For information on Egyptian sewing techniques (and all sorts of other interesting stuff), see Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, edited by P. Nicholson and I. Shaw.  It was published by Cambridge University Press in 2000.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The infamous pineapple

HSF challenge number 17 is Yellow, and it was probably inevitable that at least one of us would knit a pineapple bag.  Reticules knitted to look like pineapples were a popular 19th century accessory and are well known among the historical costuming crowd.  What may be less well known is that there is a nice, modernised version of an original 1860s pattern available here.

The writer of said pattern, Franklin Habit, has this to say about the pineapple: “I knew with sick certainty that I would have to make one”.  See, this guy gets me.  I felt exactly the same way about it.  But once I’d deciphered the abbreviations, I found the pattern is actually very simple.  All it requires is a bit of manual dexterity and the ability to count.  It’s fun, and even weirdly addictive.

The original pattern called for four shades of green and four shades of yellow yarn, but as Mr. Habit correctly observes wool doesn’t come in that many shades these days.  Not a problem.  I wasn't planning on buying wool anyway because I already had some white lace weight wool lurking around at home.  I dyed skeins of wool in brownish-green, emerald, and yellowy green.  Didn’t like any of them.  Overdyed them with green.  Still didn’t like them.  Overdyed them again with blue.  Finally, I had three similar shades of green that I quite liked.  That took care of the leaves, but there was none left for the bottom of the bag so I had to make up another dye batch when I got to the bottom.

Being lazy, I didn’t make four shades of each colour.  The yellow is all one colour, but I made it variegated because I thought that would look more lifelike.  It’s fair to say the variegated dye effect didn’t come out quite how I would have liked, but it’s okay and it is a nice sunshiny yellow.

I dyed my wool using food colouring.  It’s essentially the same thing as the acid dyes you can buy to use on wool (and other protein fibers).  The main difference is price.  Do your research and don’t be fooled into buying something you might already have in your kitchen cupboard.

HSF details as follows...

The Challenge: Yellow

Fabric: Lace weight wool, plus a scrap of yellow silk for the lining.

Pattern: Franklin Habit's pineapple pattern, available here.  I made mine a bit smaller than Franklin's; this is easy to do because the pattern is just a 16 stitch repeat.  Any multiple of 16 stitches will get the job done.  However, Franklin and I have different interpretations of the pattern, which says to put a drawstring "at the termination of the top leaves".  Franklin puts his drawstring at the top of the leaves, while I put mine at the base of the leaves where they attach to the fruit.  This is purely a matter of personal taste.

Year: 1860s.

Notions: The pattern gives instructions for beading the bag if you want to, but I didn't.

How historically accurate is it?  Not bad at all.  Perhaps 9/10.

Hours to complete: No idea.  I did it on the train in the mornings.  Wellington must be the only city in the world where you can knit a pineapple in public without anyone even seeming to notice.

First worn: Not really applicable.

Total cost: $9 for a set of needles.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Reconstructing a possible Minoan silk dress

Last time I posted, I talked about evidence for silk in the Bronze Age Aegean.  I thought it would be interesting to see what a Minoan style silk dress looks like, and by happy accident I can make it fit the most recent Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge: Terminology.  This challenge is about picking a term defined in Leimomi's big glossary of historical textile terms and making something with it.  Now, I wanted to take a modern fabric term that we use today, and see how it relates to the kind of fabrics we see on the Akrotiri frescoes.

"Gauze" is the term I'm going with here.  That's because I want to try copying this:

"The Necklace Swinger," girl age 16 - 18 in procession
Image found here.

Like the veil I talked about in the last post, this dress is made of a very fine, sheer fabric that may have been silk.  Alternatively, the picture may represent very fine linen.  I've never seen linen that fine, so off I went to The Fabric Store and bought two meters of the finest silk gauze I could find.

This style of dress was called a heanos by the Mycenaeans.  I've seen people describe it as a blouse, but it was a full-length garment.  Look carefully at the bottom of that picture and you will see it peeking out underneath her kilt.  This heanos is a bit unusual in that it's loose and doesn't have the shoulder seam covered by a decorative band you see in most cases - here's a good example of what they usually look like:

Typical figure-hugging heanos with shoulder seam.  Image from here.

They are the same type of garment, but they're clearly made differently, using different fabrics.  I would guess that the first one is a loose fit for practical reasons.  The heanos was T-shaped and made from two pieces of cloth with a single long, curved side seam under each arm.  Because this seam is cut on the bias it stretches, and if the heanos is close-fitting it needs to be fairly strong.  I suggest the fine, gauzy fabric of the blue heanos wasn't strong enough to be made into a tight garment.  The threads are clearly delicate, and if it was an open weave the structure may not have been very stable.

So how does my reconstruction compare to the picture?  Well, here it is with a kilt:

The kilt was made for one of 2013's Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges.

And here's how my gauze compares with the original:

That's definitely the same level of transparency we can see in the Akrotiri fresco.  Of course, the fresco is a stylized painting and not a photograph, but it doesn't surprise me that the Minoans could produce fabric as fine as what we have today.  Highly sophisticated textiles have been produced in Europe since the Neolithic and like Egyptian art from the same period, Minoan art is considered to be quite reliable in terms of showing us what kind of clothes Minoan people wore.  The difficulty with Minoan art lies in determining whether it shows everyday clothes, or clothes worn on specific occasions by specific people.

Here's the heanos without the kilt:

HSF details as follows:

The Challenge: Terminology

Fabric: Two meters of silk gauze, plus silk taffeta scraps for the decorative edging.

Pattern: I've used the heanos pattern developed by Bernice Jones (see New Reconstructions of the "Mykenaia" and a Seated Woman from Mycenae in the American Journal of Archaeology, July 2009).  I've adapted Dr. Jones' pattern to make a loose fitting heanos without a shoulder seam.

Year: 1650 - 1550 BCE.

Notions: Silk thread and two tassels made from rayon.  I didn't have any appropriate silk and I can always swap them out for silk ones later.

How historically accurate is it?  It's as accurate as I could get it, but there are some problems there.  For starters this is silk from the Bombyx mori moth.  If the original was made of silk it would have come from a moth in the Saturnia genus -  what we now call wild silk or tussah silk.  We don't, of course, know if the original was silk.  It may have been linen.  As I said, the sleeve tassels are rayon.

Inevitably, there's a certain amount of conjecture involved in reconstructing something like this.  We can never know for sure exactly how close my reconstruction is to the original.

Hours to complete: Maybe 8 or so.  I'm neither especially quick nor especially good at hand sewing.

First worn: Lots of times for fitting and refining the pattern.

Total cost: $44.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Silk in the Bronze Age Aegean

I've finally got an excuse to make one of these:

Veiled virgin:73 x 100 = 300 euro
Picture of a girl wearing a veil from Akrotini, image found here.

The question is, what was it made of?  Scholars usually interpret the orange dots as carnelian beads, but the fabric is something of a mystery.  It's a lot finer than any linen I've ever seen.  In fact it's so fine and transparent that it looks like silk to me, and I'm not the only one who thinks that.  Scholars like Elizabeth Barber and Marie-Loise Nosch suggest that although wool and linen were the most common fibers in the Bronze Age Aegean, silk may also have been used.

There is evidence of silkworms on Santorini from the middle of the second millennium BCE (see Panagiotakopul et al, 1997, A lepidopterous cocoon from Thera and evidence for silk in the Aegean Bronze Age).  Insects resembling silk moths are common in late Bronze Age Aegean iconography, though we don't know for sure if they are meant to be silk moths or, if so, whether the images have anything to do with textile production.  Linear B text evidence is inconclusive; Panagiotakopul et al discussed some Linear B fragments that may refer to silk, but equally they may refer to linen.

Certainly there is no reason to think silk moths couldn't have survived in the Aegean.  Prior to the Thera eruption Santorini did have the right kind of climate and vegetation for cultivating silkworms and/or harvesting wild silk (Asouti, E., 2003, Wood charcoal from Santorini (Thera): new evidence for climate, vegetation and timber imports in the Aegean Bronze Age).

Further east, Cyprus had a highly sophisticated textile industry and was producing wild silk as early as 2000BCE, along with a range of other fibers including cotton and hemp - you can see photos here.  Cyprus was very definitely part of the Minoan and Mycenaean trade networks.  So was Egypt, and there is evidence that silk was used in Egypt from around 1000BCE.  The evidence from Cyprus and Egypt is particularly interesting to me because it consists of actual fibers, and this is always the major problem when researching Aegean textiles.  Unlike Egypt, the Aegean has what are probably some of the worst conditions in the world for textile preservation and there are no surviving textile fragments from Minoan or Mycenaean settlements.

In summary, it looks as if wild silk was available in the Bronze Age Aegean.  However, it's not clear how widely available silk was, who was using it, and whether it was being produced commercially in Greece.  It would certainly have been a luxury product, and would have been less common than linen and wool, but it's not unreasonable to conclude that pictures like the veiled girl may represent garments made of silk.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Mongolian mystery hat

[UPDATE] Many thanks to Jeanette Murray from the Historical Sew Fortnightly Facebook group, who informed me this style of hat is known as a toortsog!

My hat

// Mongolian Hat. National Museum ofCopenhagen. Denmark
The original hat as shown on Pinterest

I saw the original hat on Pinterest.  It was tagged as 16th century and said to be in the Copenhagen Museum, but I haven’t been able to find it on their website.  Still, I’m pretty sure it is pre-1945 and therefore fair game for the Historical Sew Fortnightly, and I don’t have any doubts that it comes from somewhere in Central Asia.  I’ve seen similar looking Mongolian hats in pictures going back to the 14th century - see here or here, for example, or here.

This is my entry for HSF challenge 15: The Great Outdoors, because you don’t get much more “great outdoorsy” than Mongolia.

Despite having only one unreferenced photo to go on, I reckoned I could recreate the hat anyway.  It appears to involve six triangular panels that are rounded at the bottom.  These are sewn up into a cone, and then the lower edge of said cone is folded back to create the brim.  The grain of the fur looks like it goes toward the point of the cone, and it seems to sit better on the head that way, so that’s how I cut the fur.  The fur comes from an old coat which I suspect is made from rabbit pretending to be mink.  It was badly damaged (and therefore cheap) but a lot of the fur is still usable.

I chose not to copy the cloud pattern on the original hat because I didn't find any appropriate gold braid, and I can always add a cloud pattern later if I find the right braid.  There are plenty of Mongol Period pictures showing hats without cloud patterns, so it can't have been mandatory.

This is the pattern I drafted.

The knot on top of my hat is hemp cord, wrapped with silk fabric.  I very much doubt this is a period construction technique, but it looks better than synthetic cord on an obviously silk hat.  Hemp cord was available in Central Asia from the Neolithic; hemp has a long history of cultivation in this region, where it was used for both textile manufacture and medicine.

HSF Challenge: The Great Outdoors

Fabric: 0.4 meters of blue/green shot silk and a small amount of fur.

Pattern: Drafted myself based on the picture.

Year: Probably anywhere from the 14th century up to today, which is a very impressive cultural tradition when you think about it.

Notions: Silk thread; Turk's head knot made from silk-wrapped hemp cord.

How historically accurate is it?  I must stress here that this is a speculative reconstruction.  I haven’t seen this hat or one like it in person, so I don’t know if this is really how the hat was made.  I don’t know for sure what materials it was made from, though I’d say silk is the most likely fabric and rabbit fur should be plausible. 

However, the silk is *ahem* dupioni.  I know.  I like the colour, and it isn't too slubby, and I needed relatively stiff fabric.  I remember hearing, though I forget where, that shot silk was being produced in China from a very early date, so I think the colour is okay.

Hours to complete: Four or five, not counting research time.

First worn: Quite often for fitting and testing the pattern.

Total cost: Probably about $18.