Monday, 23 July 2018

Opus reticulum

Today I'm taking a short break from my usual focus on the ancient world, to present a Regency era dress inspired by the ancient world.




This dress consists of cotton net, which I made using the same technique as fishing net, over a foundation of cotton voile, trimmed with blue silk.  It needs a petticoat underneath, but I haven't made one yet so for now you will have to use your imagination.  When the petticoat is finished I'll take some more photos.  




This is the first time I've done Regency.  It's not a period I typically pay much attention to, but I am a sucker for classicism.  Enter the Dreamstress with her copy of An Agreeable Tyrant, in which we find this fascinating Regency homage to ancient Egypt:


Image from the DAR museum.

My version isn't an exact copy of the DAR original for reasons I'll talk about later on in this post.


Back view showing how the net skirt is gathered onto the edge of the bodice.
This is not how it's done on the DAR dress, but there is at least one extant net
dress that does have its skirt attached this way.

Like the original, mine is a standard Regency round gown, with a lining that closes separately from the outer fabric.  It closes with pins, which is an appropriate period way to fasten a round gown and totally not something I did because I'm lazy.





Fishnet overdresses were a fad between about 1798 and 1802, and were presumably inspired by the western world's discovery of Egyptology at this time, thanks to Napoleon's Egyptian campaign.  Note that although the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799, the Westcar Papyrus wouldn't be translated until 1890, so Regency fashion designers had not actually read the Story of the Green Jewel.  Nor, of course, did they know about the tunic covered with beaded net found in Tutankhamun's tomb.  But Egyptian art sometimes shows net dresses, so people knew about the concept.

Fashion plates of the time show these Egyptian-inspired dresses could be made with or without a train, and with white or coloured net.  I like blue, and blue is very Egyptian, so mine is indigo blue over white cotton lined in white linen.  Making a trained version was just not feasible due to the amount of time it would take to make the net, which meant I had to alter the sleeves as well.  This is because the absence of a train is unusual for the 1790s and suggests my dress should be dated slightly later than the DAR original, so I've made the sleeves in a style which works for that slightly later date.  I've therefore copied the net detailing from the DAR dress's sleeves, but attached it to the short, straight sleeve shape typical of the very early 1800s.

It seems likely that these dresses were usually finished with ribbon, but I used strips of silk due to the difficulty and cost of acquiring appropriate silk ribbon.  I stand by that choice on the basis that it's historically plausible, and I would not have been happy to use polyester ribbon.  Even good quality poly ribbon still looks like poly ribbon, and it doesn't behave the same way as silk.

The pattern I used is a late 1790s overdress from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion.  I adapted it a little bit to better resemble the dress in An Agreeable Tyrant, and to size it up a couple of inches, but overall I found the pattern worked pretty well as-is.  It's easy to work with and I highly recommend it.  However, I did have trouble with the sleeves.  This is to be expected.  Due to better childhood nutrition people today have more muscle mass in our arms and shoulders than our ancestors did, so original patterns will often need sleeve alterations (thanks to the Dreamstress for that information).

If you're fitting a Regency dress and, like me, don't know what you're doing, here's a link I found very helpful: Diary of a Mantua Maker's guide to fitting Regency gowns.



HSM details

The Challenge:  Sleeves.  The net overlay on these sleeves shows an interesting mix of Egyptian and Greek influence, and their construction is characteristic of early 1800s sleeves.  The pattern itself is as simple as a sleeve can be, but the overall effect is highly decorative thanks to the use of classically-inspired drapery.

Material: Half a meter of cotton voile, plus about one and a half square meters of cotton net and half a meter of blue silk for trimming.

Pattern: Late 1790s half robe shown on page 45 of Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion.

Year:  1800.

Notions:  Around 540 meters of cotton yarn to make the net.

How historically accurate is it?  Perhaps 60-70%.  I made an effort to research appropriate construction methods and fabrics, but this is my first Regency project and there are undoubtedly lots of things I don't know and could have done better.

Hours to complete:  No idea, and frankly I don't want to know.  Suffice it to say I've been working on this thing off and on since Christmas.

First worn: For fitting purposes.

Total cost: $40. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Minoan kilt reconstruction

Here it is: a Minoan kilt based on the ones shown in the procession fresco from Knossos.  It's decorated with embroidery in an effort to demonstrate that embroidery techniques can produce the kind of textiles shown in Bronze Age Aegean art.





Here's the fresco for comparison:


Knossos procession fresco Group C, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Kilts had cultural significance for the Minoans, and giving a young man his (first?) kilt was a Big Deal. It was such an important life event that it was recorded on seal stones.  Most kilts in Minoan and Mycenaean art are fairly plain, but the Knossos procession fresco shows an important cultural event, most likely a seasonal religious festival, and the people involved are wearing special clothes for the occasion.

Ornately decorated kilts may also have been reserved for specific members of society, though in theory anyone could own a kilt like this as long as someone in their social circle possessed the time and technical skills needed to make one.  One of the things this project taught me is that making a kilt this way is not particularly difficult, it's just time consuming.

I embroidered the kilt before I cut it out, then finished the edges by simply turning them under and stitching them down, which may or may not be something the Minoans would have done.  It would also be possible to line the kilt, or even just leave the edges raw since fulled wool doesn't fray.


Fabric edge folded under and stitched with linen thread.



Close up of the kilt.  Pictured: plied cord used to tie it round the waist and traces of chalk left from drawing the embroidery design.  The plied cord is conjectural, but was a common method of fastening clothes in the Bronze Age Aegean.


Here's what it looks like laid out flat.


The kilts in the procession fresco are a little unusual.  As far as I'm aware that tapered border at the bottom doesn't occur anywhere else in Minoan art; decorative borders are common, but not tapering to points at each end.  Additionally, all the kilts in the procession fresco are made in the same colours (blue with yellow stripes or yellow with blue stripes), with the same overall design and decorative features.  If the trade delegation shown in Rekhmire's tomb is anything to go by, Minoan clothing was normally much less uniform than this, even for important occasions.  This suggests the procession fresco kilts were a specific style of garment related to the event shown in the fresco, and potentially even made specially for this event.

Where exactly does all this get us?  Sure, this is a garment the Minoans could have made, but is it a garment they're likely to have made?  Unfortunately there isn't enough evidence to answer that question conclusively.  I can say this reconstruction is consistent with what we know about the Knossos textile industry, and solves an important problem with making the procession fresco kilts - specifically, the fact that the tapered stripes at the bottom would be extremely challenging to weave even for an experienced weaver using sophisticated techniques.  So this is a plausible interpretation, but not a definitive one.

Important public service announcement: if you think you might like to make an embroidered wool kilt, I strongly recommend  using a dust mask.  Yes, a dust mask, like you would use for sanding down a surface before painting.  You may laugh, but trust me, your sinuses will thank you for it.  The wool constantly sheds tiny fibers that will do unspeakable things to your nasal membranes.



HSM details

The Challenge:  Specific to a Time (of day or year).  The men pictured on the Knossos procession fresco were participating in a festival, which would have happened at a specific time of the year.  The similar colour and design of their kilts, which appears to have been unusual, suggests they may have been made specifically for the event shown in the fresco.

Material: Half a meter of fulled tabby wool.

Pattern: Based on Dr. Bernice Jones' research.

Year: 1470 - 1315 BCE.

Notions:  Wool yarn for embroidery, linen thread, plied linen cord.

How historically accurate is it?  The purpose of this reconstruction was to demonstrate that embroidery techniques can produce textiles consistent with those shown in Minoan art.  But we don’t have enough information about the textiles shown on the Knossos frescoes to know for sure how they were made and this is one of several possible interpretations.

Hours to complete:  I lost count, but I think somewhere around 60-70.

First worn:  Round the house after I finished hemming it.

Total cost: $45.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Minoan textile with embroidery

Previously, I discussed the idea that the textile designs shown in Minoan and Mycenaean art were not always woven directly into the cloth.  The designs shown on Minoan frescoes can easily be made using embroidery techniques, so I’ve started a reconstruction of one of the kilts shown on the Knossos procession fresco using embroidery techniques.  The results are promising, and consistent with Linear B evidence for textile finishing processes.




When it's finished, the embroidered cloth will be a kilt like these ones shown on the procession fresco from Knossos:


Knossos procession fresco, group C.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.


The procession fresco is life size and painted with a lot of attention to detail, which means it's easy to see what the fabric designs looked like.  I'm doing the kilt on the far right of procession fresco group C (pictured above), with a pattern of tessellated quatrefoils on a blue background.  Although this part of the fresco is not well preserved there is enough of the quatrefoil design left to see what it looked like, and the decoration at the bottom of the kilt can be reconstructed with reasonable certainty based on better preserved parts of the fresco.

I’ve used embroidery stitches found on Tutankhamun’s clothing to make the design: stem stitch, running stitch, and chain stitch.  King Tut lived either around the time the procession fresco was painted, or about a hundred years later (Aegean chronology is not an exact science) so his clothing is roughly contemporaneous with the procession fresco kilts.  If the Minoans were using embroidery, it's reasonable to assume they would have been using the same sort of stitches used in the Near East around the same time.

I picked the quatrefoil pattern in part because I think it would be difficult to weave.  Brocade techniques don‘t adapt well to designs that require long thin straight lines.   These are better suited to embroidery, so I chose this design for my proof of concept.

All the kilts in the fresco have two stripes of contrasting colour which bear a superficial (and probably not coincidental) resemblance to the bands of fringe pictured on women’s kilts, but in this case analysis of the stripes reveals they are not fringes.  They taper to points at each end, which is just not possible for a woven fringe.  Based on comparison with Near Eastern iconography, there is also some evidence that fringed decoration on clothes signified kingship and/or divinity for the Minoans, so it may not even have been appropriate for these men to wear fringed kilts.

I don't believe these stripes represent one or more woven bands sewn onto the kilt, either.  In my view this is more likely to be a panel of embroidered decoration* because the stripes, and the space in between them, are shaped like an elongated crescent.  If you unfolded the kilt it would look like this:




Weaving bands of cloth that taper to a point at each end is difficult if not impossible.  It makes more sense to interpret the decoration as an embroidered panel, or perhaps applique, and as you can see in the top image embroidery reproduces the stripes nicely.


*  It would be possible to weave this decoration directly into the fabric using tapestry techniques, but it would be difficult.  If the piece was being made on the standard Aegean warp-weighted loom, it would be extremely difficult.

Monday, 12 February 2018

The added value textile hypothesis

Otherwise known as the "weaving a large polychrome textile is not feasible for me, so let's think outside that box" hypothesis.

Most studies of patterned Minoan and Mycenaean textiles tend to focus on textiles with patterns woven into them, because weaving does seem to have been an important method of producing patterned textiles.  The weaving techniques used involved brocades made with supplementary threads, and probably also tapestry.  But weaving is only one of several ways to create patterned cloth, and in fact we know from the Linear B evidence that textiles frequently had decorative elements applied after they were woven.

The reason for this is that not all textiles were woven on-site at the palace administrative centers, and the weavers had a range of different skill levels.  Woven fabric came from a variety of sources, because in the Bronze Age taxes were paid in labour or in commodities like cloth.  Polychrome weaving demands a very high level of technical ability, especially for the kind of designs attested on Aegean frescoes, and quality could not be guaranteed when the weaving process happened outside the palace.  The solution was to get weavers to produce plain cloth and then decorate it using a separate finishing process at the palace, where quality could be assured.

Presumably cloth woven at Knossos and other palace sites was made by specialists and involved advanced techniques, such as brocaded patterns.

The process of adding value to plain cloth was carried out by specialised workers listed in the Linear B tablets. Men were employed as fullers, while a-ka-te-ri-ja and o-nu-ke-ja were women whose job was to decorate finished cloth.  o-nu-ke (onukhes probably) literally means fingernails or claws, but in a textile context it means wool-based decorative elements applied to cloth.  It may therefore be the Mycenaean term for embroidery, or perhaps fringed trim applied to garments.

Embroidery was used across Europe and the Near East in the Bronze Age.  Considering Greece's extensive trade links with the Near East, and the influence of Near Eastern traditions on Greek textile production known from the first millennium, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect Near Eastern-type embroidery in Greece.

Interestingly, one of the Akrotiri frescoes shows a piece of cloth decorated with dashed lines that may indicate running stitch.  However, these dashed lines may also represent carnelian beads.

Image result for akrotiri frescoes
Image from the Ancient History Encyclopedia

Textiles decorated with beads and other sewn-on ornaments appear to have been popular.  Large numbers of small gold foil shapes, like these ones from Mycenae, have been found in Mycenaean tombs.  They appear to have been sewn on to textiles, and would be a very effective way to add value to plain fabric.

Image from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Another method of adding value to plain textiles, which is clearly shown in Minoan and Mycenaean art, is the use of decorative bands and fringes.  The women on the Aghia Triada sarcophagus (pictured below) wear dresses made of plain cloth, ornamented with with coloured bands which appear to have been sewn onto the finished garment.  These bands could be fairly ornate, like the one from Tyrins I copied a couple of years ago.  Making and applying such bands may have been the job of the workers known as o-nu-ke-ja (onukheiai).

File:Sarcophagus from Aghia Triada.jpg
Image of the Aghia Triada sarcophagus from Wikimedia.

Evans also suggested the possibility that Minoan and Mycenaean textiles may have been painted or block printed.  There are, in fact, examples of painted textiles from ancient Egypt, but these appear to have been associated with funerary contexts rather than clothing for living people.

It's not entirely clear whether this sort of added value process also characterised the Minoan textile production model.  Minoan textile production didn't operate in exactly the same way as the Mycenaean system reflected in the Linear B archives, but the scholarly consensus is that the Mycenaean system developed from the earlier Minoan model.  When the Mycenaeans took over Crete, they simply used and adapted the infrastructure that was already in place.  Therefore, the two systems had a number of similarities, particularly in the sense that cloth was delivered to the administrative centers but not necessarily made there.

The Minoan system appears to have been a little less centralised, meaning cloth was even less likely to have been made in a palace workshop staffed by experts.  However, the Minoans had extensive international trade networks, beginning around 2700 BCE.  It's reasonable to expect this trade included textiles which would have needed to meet a consistent quality standard, so the assumption that Minoan cloth sometimes started life plain and was finished at Knossos is consistent with our understanding of Minoan textile production.

I don’t wish to downplay the importance of patterned weaving in the Minoan and Mycenaean textile industries.  There’s plenty of evidence to show it was important.  What I’m saying is that when we consider the Linear B texts it becomes clear weaving was not the only method used to create patterned textiles, and therefore it is not the only method we should consider when trying to reconstruct Bronze Age textiles.


References

Abdel-Kareem, O. et al.  2008.  "Conservation of a Rare Painted Ancient Egyptian Textile Object from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo".  e-PreservationScience 5, 9-16.

Alberti, M. E.  2007.  "The Minoan Textile Industry and the Territory from Neopalatial to Mycenaean Times: Some First Thoughts".  Creta Antica 8.  243.

Barber, E.  1991.  Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean.  Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

Casson, L.  1991.  The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times (2nd edition).  Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

Evans, A.  1921.  The Palace of Minos.  London: MacMillan & co.  You can download it here.

Gleba, M.  2017.  "Tracing textile cultures of Italy and Greece in the early first millennium BC".  Antiquity, Volume 91, Issue 359, pp. 1205-1222  Available here.

Immerwahr, S. A. 1990. Aegean Painting in the Bronze Age. University Park (PA): The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Laffineur, R. & Betancourt, P. P. (eds) 1997.  TEXNH: Craftsmen, Craftswomen, and Craftsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age.  Philadelphia: Temple University.

Nosch, M. L. 2014 "The Aegean Wool Economies of the Bronze Age". Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. 900.  http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/900

Nosch, M. L. (ed)  2014.  Prehistoric,  Ancient Near Eastern, and Aegean Textiles and Dress.  Oxford: Oxbow Books Limited.

 Nosch, M.L. & Laffineur, R. (eds)  2012.  KOSMOS: Jewellery, Adornment, and Textiles in the Aegean Bronze Age.  Leuven: Peeters Publishers.

Nosch, M. L. & Gillis, C. (eds)  2007.  Ancient Textiles: Production, Crafts and Society.  Oxford: Oxbow Books Limited.

Ortiz-Garcia, J.  2017.  "Painting on Linen Cloth in Antiquity: Shrouds from Roman Egypt as a Source for Research".  Textile: Cloth and Cultutre, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp. 34-47.

Ventriss, M. & Chadwick, J.  1959.  Documents in Mycenaean Greek.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Or download it here.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

No thank you, Mr Volstead

Human beings are problem solvers.  Other animals may be faster, stronger, or reproduce more quickly than us, but we think our way around problems.  So in 1920, when the Volstead Act outlawed the sale of intoxicating beverages, vast numbers of Americans discovered how easy it is to make alcohol.

Beer was easier to make than spirits, and didn't require any equipment that couldn't be found in a normal '20s kitchen.  This naturally made home brewing an attractive choice.  Making beer* at home was illegal under the Volstead Act, but in practice this part of the Act was too difficult to enforce and everybody knew it.  The Prohibition Commissioner himself admitted that "the government is not in a position to prosecute the non-commercial home brewer."

Prohibition-era beer recipes

The following is a fairly typical prohibition-era home brew recipe, kindly contributed by Stephen Hansen of Stanford University and published online by Realbeer.com:

  Ingredients: 
  • 1 can Blue Ribbon malt
  • 1 pack Fleishmann's yeast
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5 pounds powdered cane sugar
Procedure: In a large (3 gallon) porcelain pan, add 3 quarts water and bring to boil. Add sugar, stirring. Bring back up to boil and add 1 can of malt. Return to boil again and let simmer for 15 minutes. Fill large glass 1/2 full of luke warm water (not over 130 degrees) and add rice, yeast, and salt. Clean crock and fill 1/3 full of warm water. Pour in wort. Add cold water to within 3 inches of top. Add yeast solution and cover. After 6- 10 hours remove foam with wire strainer. Let sit until hydrometer says "bottle." Fill bottles, adding 1/2 teaspoon sugar to each. Cap and let stand 21 days. Comments: Back when I first started making beer (about 20 years ago now) I actually made several batches using this recipe. The results varied from barely drinkable to snail bait. I especially like his comparison in the last line of the original---"This should make 5 cases of pint bottles of beer equal to or superior to Millers High Life."


The crock used in this recipe would have held around five gallons of liquid** and was intended for making pickles or sauerkraut.  Pickling crocks were a common piece of kitchen equipment during the early 20th century.  They were made of thick stoneware which helped to keep the beer at a nice even temperature for optimal fermentation.

Notice the recipe does not call for hops, which were already incorporated into the malt syrup.  Using a single can of hop flavoured malt extract supplemented with corn sugar or regular white cane sugar seems to have been the norm.  Supplementing (or even completely replacing) malt with other types of sugar had been relatively common in the United States during the colonial period because barley was not always available, and during prohibition home brewers revived this traditional practice.

Like their colonial ancestors, Americans of the '20s and '30s couldn't necessarily obtain malted barley.  But they could enjoy the latest modern convenience: concentrated malt extract packaged in convenient tins.

The malt to sugar ratio varied, but all the prohibition-era malt extract recipes I've seen use one can of malt and derive at least half the fermentable sugar from some type of baking sugar rather than malt.  Sugar was cheap, and readily available in large quantities without attracting suspicion from the authorities, but it does not make great beer.  This, in fact, is the main reason why recipes like the above example did not result in a very drinkable product: beer made with so much sugar would have been thin and unpalatable.

I suspect the reason so many prohibition home brew recipes were so similar is that they were all variations on the same original recipe.  If you had bought a can of Blue Ribbon*** malt and weren't quite sure how to turn it into beer, you could write to the address on the tin for a free recipe booklet.  It was a nice printed book containing a wide variety of recipes made with malt extract, and not a word about beer.  A couple of weeks later, you would get a plain brown envelope with no return address in the mail, which contained a mimeographed sheet of instructions for making beer.  This arrangement was in operation right up until the '70s, because home brewing was illegal in the United States until 1978.


Beer for everyone

Regardless of what the beer tasted like, these prohibition-era malt extract recipes were revolutionary.  They were very simple recipes made with inexpensive ingredients which were legal and available at the local grocery store.  Even if you had never made beer before and knew nothing about brewing, you could easily follow one of these recipes.

Using malt extract meant home brewers didn't need to mash their own grains to make wort, and this was important.  Mashing is time consuming, and requires the brewer to have some idea of what they're doing.  It also requires the brewer to obtain malted barley, and creates large quantities of spent grains which then have to be disposed of somehow.  Malt extract makes the brewing process less complicated, and more discrete.

Thanks to malt extracts and recipes that used them, home brewing became quick, easy, and inexpensive.  This allowed home brew to be made on a scale that has not been seen before or since.  It's impossible to know exactly how much home brew Americans made during the prohibition years, but the numbers we do have are staggering.

In Cleveland alone it was estimated that by 1923, 100,000 residents were making beer or spirits.  To put this into perspective, the 1920 census recorded a total of 116,545 dwellings in Cleveland.

In Detroit, the state Bureau of Taxation reported that 14 million gallons of home brew were produced between January and July 1932.  That was just the home brew they knew about.

These isolated data don't give us a comprehensive picture of home brewing during prohibition, but they do illustrate the popularity of home brewing, and the fact that it had become both accessible and convenient.



*  Making wine at home for personal consumption remained legal.  There were exemptions in place for wine due to its use in Holy Communion.

**  Prohibition home brew recipes typically yielded about five gallons, because that was the typical size of a pickling crock.  Even today most home brew recipes will yield about 5 gallons, and I have to wonder whether this is a remnant of the prohibition tradition that has somehow been retained.

***  Yes, that's Blue Ribbon as in Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

A brief history of malt extracts


Captainjamescookportrait.jpg
Captain James Cook.
We learned in school that he was the first European to circumnavigate New Zealand, but what we didn't learn is that he was also one of the first people in the world to brew beer from malt extract.

Many brewers are suspicious of malt extracts, either because they think it's cheating (which it kind of is), or because they think it will make inferior beer.  Once upon a time that was true, too, but malt extract has come a long way over the years and the extracts available today will make excellent beers if used correctly.  This post is about the history of malt extracts.

Malt extract is made by taking the sugar extracted from malt during the mashing process and drying it, until it becomes either a syrup or a powder.  Some brands also contain hop extracts, so that the brewer doesn't need to purchase hops separately.  It is of course primarily used to make beer, but it is also used in cooking, and when I was a kid malt extract (without hops) was sold as a health food.  It was the '80s, when people were obsessed with health but somehow you could still get away with marketing concentrated sugar syrup as a health product.

In fact, malt extract does contain vitamins and minerals.  The British Navy was experimenting with malt extracts as early as 1772, trying to create an easily transportable concentrated malt to supplement sailors' diets and help prevent scurvy.  These first malt extracts were not a great success.  When Captain Cook took some on his second voyage to the Far East (1772 - 1775), his crew found that the beer they made with it had an unpleasant burnt taste.  However, it apparently improved when they added spruce leaves and molasses.  Eventually, the British Navy discovered that lemon juice was a more effective and less expensive way of preventing scurvy.

The trouble with early malt extracts was it took so long to boil away the excess water that by the time manufacturers produced a concentrated extract, the malt was burnt and unpalatable.  Technological advances in the late 19th century made it possible to boil the malt in a vacuum, which reduced the boiling time and created a better-tasting product.  At this stage malt extract was primarily a dietary supplement, but from the 1880s onwards British breweries began using it as a cheaper alternative to all-grain brewing.

The birth of modern extract brewing

Ironically, the glorious golden age of home brewing products we now enjoy began as a direct result of prohibition.  The kind of malt extract we're familiar with today, designed for the home brew market and often containing hops, was developed in the 1920s.  When the Volstead Act came into force American breweries could no longer legally produce beer, so they had to adapt, and one of the ways they did this was to produce malt extract instead.  Of course the extract could not be marketed as a home brewing product, so it was promoted as a baking ingredient.  This 1928 advertisement insists that Zobelein's Bohemian hop flavoured malt extract is a food product for use in cooking and baking.  Not for brewing at all.  Honestly.


Courtesy the Homestead Museum
Image from KCET.org

Customers knew perfectly well what the extract was really intended for.  Once you have malt syrup with hop flavouring conveniently added, you can make beer by simply adding water and yeast, and this clever innovation ensured that absolutely anybody could make their own beer.

Prohibition homebrew recipes tended to be a simple mixture of malt syrup, water, yeast, and sometimes corn sugar.  I'm hesitant to try one of these recipes because the results were often pretty horrible.    1920s malt extract was not as good as the extracts available today, and many Prohibition-era recipes didn't use it very well.

Malt extracts for craft brewing

The United States beer industry took a long time to recover from Prohibition.  Beer was produced commercially as soon as it became legal again, but the range of beers on offer was sharply reduced.  Beer enthusiasts who wanted styles that were no longer available were forced to make their own.

In New Zealand and Australia the primary reason for making home brew has historically been to save money, but like their American counterparts Antipodean brewers were also interested in making styles of beer that weren't available commercially.  Until recently the New Zealand and Australian commercial beer industries were decidedly basic, and anything more exotic than a lager or IPA could be difficult to get hold of.

Malt extract manufacturers responded to the increasingly sophisticated home brew market by developing more sophisticated products.  There is now a vast range of malt extract types available, and to some extent this has been enabled by the internet.  Thanks to Google it is easy to find recipes for any style of beer you like, as well as plenty of tips to help home brewers achieve good results whether they're using grain, malt extract, or a combination of both.

To paraphrase Leibniz, everything that is marketable demands to exist.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Finished shaft grave helmet



Here it is folks, the shaft grave helmet is all done.  Sorry it's taken me so long to get this post up; life gets in the way sometimes.

This helmet was much easier to make than my last beehive helmet, and definitely faster, mainly because this time I had a better idea of what I was doing.  Otherwise it's fundamentally the same thing as my Phaistos helmet; the differences in shape and style are largely superficial although, as I'll explain, I do think the shaft grave style would offer better head protection.




So how historically accurate is it?  That depends on how correct our understanding of beehive helmets is, which we don't know for sure.  Unfortunately we don't have any surviving Mycenaean helmets to study, so any reconstruction necessarily involves some conjecture.  Based on art, literature, and archaeological finds it is possible to make deductions about how Mycenaean helmets were made and what materials they were made from, and I like to think this is a reasonable reconstruction based on the evidence available.

Here's what the shaft grave helmet looks like when worn:


Selfies are acceptable for research and/or educational purposes.

As you can see there's a lot of bulk in the helmet to cushion my skull in the event of an enemy hitting me over the head with a blunt object, or firing a sling stone at me.  Even at the lower edge of the helmet, which is its thinnest point, there's a good inch and a quarter (30mm) of padding and tough leather.

Although my shaft grave helmet is the same basic construction as the Phaistos helmet, I think it would do a slightly better better job of protecting the wearer's skull because of the extra padding.  Helmets made this way are naturally thinner around the lower edge, and placing curved pieces of leather stuffed with linen around the lower edge is one way to increase the level of protection the helmet provides in this area.


This is the internal structure of my Phaistos helmet.  You can clearly see how the thick bundle of leather strips at the top gives more protection than the lower rim, which is just one layer of leather.  Adding extra padding around this area makes sense.