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.