Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Cloak for a Medieval Pilgrimage

The cloak
I have an inexplicable passion for short cloaks. They're not the commonest or most documentable of garments, though, especially not for late 14th century women. When it comes to preserved examples, there's the famous Bocksten Man's cloak, which is c. mid-14th century, male, and not particularly short. Then we have the wonderful Cloak of St Brigitta, which is...patchwork, but not short either.

Various types of outer clothing, including cloaks, are mentioned in several medieval Scandinavian wills. The words cappa and mantel are used, among other terms, and while mantel seems to be the more feminine version of the two, both are used by both men and women, it seems. The wills don't say much about the construction of the garments that go along with the different terms, though – whether they are long or short, open or closed... If you read Scandinavian languages, I recommend Kläderna och människan i medeltidens Sverige och Norge by Eva Andersson and the papers by Camilla Luise Dahl in Middelaldercentret's Workpapers vol. 1 for discussions and definitions of various medieval terms for outer clothing.

There are numerous cloak-wearing shepherds in various manuscript from all over the 14th century, all male. From Sweden, we have these two lovely carved fellows from Martebo Church on Gotland, receiving the message of the birth of Christ.
Shepherds from Martebo Church, Gotland. The second one is playing a dog-headed bagpipe. Early 14th century. Pix by Vix.
More often than not, these cloaks have hoods and look more like...well, huge hoods. I personally like to call them hoods, to differentiate them from hood-less cloaks, but this is my modern preference and it may not have anything to do with how these garments were defined in medieval times, of course (I actually tend to call them 'jättehätta', literally 'big hood' – it sounds a lot funnier in Swedish). 

Here's a rather slim selection of 14th century women wearing some sort of short cloak-like garment. The first two are Italian, which is perhaps not the best source when you're reenacting Scandinavia/North Germany like I do. They seem to have done a lot of things quite differently south of the Alps. The last three images are a bit more interesting to me, as they are German in provenance. They all come from an appliqué wall hanging showing episodes from the romance of Tristan and Isolde. Although not particularly detailed, some of the ladies do seem to be wearing what might possibly be interpreted as a short cloak.
BNF MS Français 343: La Quête du Saint Graal et la Mort d’Arthus, fol. 49v.
Tacuinum Sanitatis, late 14th century, Italy. There are more examples of short cloaks in this manuscript, on both men and women.
The Tristan wall hanging, 1370-1400, Germany. Victoria & Albert Museum. Pix by Vix.
I've found that a good place to look for cloaks is on monumental tombs. All those weepers and mourners that decorate fancy people's graves tend to wear more outdoorsy clothing than most. I've no idea why. Maybe it's something to do with the transitional aspect of death and burial, funeral processions or the journey of the soul, as cloaks appear to be typical travel clothing (or maybe that's just my modern schooling struggling to assert itself with fanciful interpretations...). Maybe they just liked their weepers bundled up properly; after all, it can get rather chilly hanging around a tomb waiting for Judgement Day. And so it was that I found my Favourite Cloak Ever: This weeper from the tomb of Thomas and Catherine de Beauchamp in St. Mary's Church, Warwick, dated to 1369. 
De Beauchamp Weeper, Warwick, 1369. From http://www.themcs.org/
I just had to make it, nevermind the fact that it's a one-off garment I've never seen anywhere else - in Albrecht's Bössor we usually require at least two independent sources as basis for the kit we make. It's also English, but I decided to make a prototype anyway of some left-over fabric I had lying around just to see what it would look like. The fabric was a really nice 2/1 twill, but I only had some rather narrow pieces left so the cloak ended up being pieced together of triangular gores.
Me in my 'Warwick' cloak
I liked the model so much that I did a "proper" one, too, in grey and without the piecing. Both have tablet-woven edges around the arm-slits and buttons down the front and they are wonderful bad-weather clothing! Unlike open cloaks, they don't flap open and let out the warmth when you move, and since they're short, they don't get stuck in the vegetation when you walk in a forest, for example. At least not as often as a long cloak does. I haven't mustered either cloak for use with Albrecht's Bössor (we have informally formal inspections of our clothes and gear in AB, to maintain a mutual standard and encourage members to research their stuff) and I don't think I will either, since I personally feel it's slightly off for our chosen period, at least geographically. I make things like these because it's fun, because I learn stuff doing it, not necessarily because I will use them for serious reenactment.

As I wrote in the previous post, planned events really get me working on Stuff I Need – I find deadlines incredibly inspiring! For the medieval pilgrimage I took part in in May this year, I both needed and wanted some clothing for bad weather that would also measure up to the standards I have set for my medieval kit. And that would pass muster for Albrecht's Bössor too, preferably. The usual answer to dealing with cold and rain when wearing medieval clothing is simple: just add another layer. And that's all well and good. But if you're spending a day or two outdoors in constant rain, you will get wet, no matter how many layers you put on. And although wet wool still keeps you warm, it only does so to a certain point and eventually the chill will get to you. It does make a difference if you wring out the water occasionally – wool can retain a good deal of moisture before it starts dripping by itself so it needs a bit of help. Wet wool slowly channels the water towards the lower points of the garment (that's gravity for you!), which means that if you're wearing something with sleeves, some of the water will inevitably stick around around your arms. With a cloak, on the other hand, the water will eventually end up in the lower edge (where it's easy to wring out) and generally the wet fabric stays further away from you body than it would with a fitted garment. So, in short – when it's raining, I want a cloak!

I settled on making one with an integral hood, the shepherd model. The evidence of women wearing a garment like this is...well...basically non-existent, at least in the north European art I've looked at. Short cloaks and hoods with an extended collar seem to work for both sexes, though, so I decided to extrapolate a little. If a woman can wear a hood that reaches half-way down her arms, like the two female servants from Martebo Church on Gotland do, it's not a huge step to lengthen the hood 30 cm so it reaches over the hands. 

Edit: People have commented that the Martebo servants might not be wearing hoods/cloaks at all (both here and on Facebook) - that it's the dresses hitched up over a belt in combination with wide sleeves that narrow towards the wrists instead. Taking another look at the photos, I think I agree. Considering that the carvings are early 14th century, it fits so much better with contemporary fashion and preserved dresses like those of Elizabeth of Thuringia and St Clare. The reason I saw hoods is the rather sharp divide between the upper and lower part of the dresses and the deep fold by the shoulder: I have inserted gores on one of my hoods that look just like that! 
Female servants, Martebo Church, Gotland, first half 14th century. Pix by Vix.
Judging by the terms used in medieval wills, outer clothing seems to be reasonably flexible when it comes to gender. Or at least that's what I'm trying to convince myself... To make my hood a little less like the standard shepherd's hood, I chose to base it on...wait for it!...a swineherd's hood instead. With buttons down the front. A completely different kind of animal! ;-)
Carving from the choir stalls, Lund Cathedral.1370s. Pic by Vix.
The carving comes from the choir stalls of Lund Cathedral. The good thing about it is that it's probably of German origin, which suits my kit perfectly. If I'm going to wear a garment that's not particularly female, I at least want it to be geographically suitable.  

The shape of the thing, pieced together – Sometimes there's just enough thread... Finishing the edges
The pattern I opted for was simple enough. I used an existing pattern of a Herjolfsnes-type hood, did away with the front gore and just added enough length for it to reach down to my hands. I had to piece my fabric a little, but other than that, only one long back seam was needed to put it together. I lined it with a very thin, dark grey worsted fabric. Since both my fabrics were grey, I decided to compensate for the lack of fancy colours by putting more effort into the finishing details. I stitched around all the edges and hems with tiny red stitches. It looked very nice, but took just about forever to do, and I quickly abandoned my original idea to make two rows of stitches (like they have done on some of the Herjolfsnes clothes). I also decided to use pewter buttons for the front, to save time (and add fanciness!). On the choir stall carving, it's hard to tell exactly how the buttons are placed, at least from my photos. Sometimes the buttons seem to be placed two and two together, in places there might even be three. Or maybe they're spaced evenly, but the carving's a bit worn. Since I couldn't go to Lund to double check (or had time to send one of my minions), I decided to place them evenly, but ran out of both time and buttons. For the pilgrimage, I made do with just half of the intended number of buttons and added the rest...well, yesterday, actually.

The jättehätta ready for the pilgrimage – With the last of the buttons added

Edit 2015-01-10: I found another image of a woman wearing a short cloak: Herodias (mother of Salome) in the Triptych of the Martyrs from Dijon, dated to 1390-91. Being worn by a queen, it's a far fancier garment than the swineherd's hood, but not completely dissimilar to the jättehätta I made!
Herodias and Herod, from the Triptych of the Martyrs, Dijon, 1390-91.

The pilgrimage
So, what about this pilgrimage then? Here you can read some of the organiser Frida's thoughts about the project: The medieval pilgrimage reenacted. During four days in May this year, a motley crew of 12 pilgrims, two dogs and four horses walked about 55 km along the medieval pilgrim route between Visby and S:t Olofsholm on the island of Gotland. 

Unlike medieval pilgrims, we slept in tents, and brought all our food with us. In medieval times, pilgrims travelled lightly and would have found housing and food along the way to refuse hospitality to a pilgrim was considered extremely bad manners... In medieval Sweden, there was a law that stated that there should be a hostel or similar place for travelling people to spend the night no more than a day's march apart (a day's march was considered to be about 30-40 km), so pilgrims would have had little trouble finding a place to stay. And sleeping outdoors was of course always an option. Being modern medieval pilgrims, however, we were not particularly used to sleeping rough, and although asking people along the way to let us stay the night would have been the medieval way to do it, sleeping in a modern place would just have felt wrong. So tents it was. The upside of bringing so much stuff with us was the sumpter horses. To have horses around made an already fantastic experience even better. I'm actually afraid of horses, so it felt very good when I, on the very last day of the pilgrimage, even dared to ride for the first time in my life! 

For me, despite not being religious in my everyday life, the pilgrimage still ended up being a spiritual experience. I got time to slow down, to think and feel, and I realised a lot of things about myself. It also gave me a different understanding about medieval life and religion and how different things were back then. Walking 50 km in medieval shoes was definitely an interesting experience, both for my boots and my wimpy modern feet... It was a good thing I finished my big hood, too. The weather was quite good most of the time, but it started raining on the very last morning and it continued raining throughout the day. My hood did its job as you can see towards the end of this little film that Johan made about our pilgrimage:

Medieval Pilgrimage 2013!

I promised myself I would finish this post before Christmas...and well, I suppose I have. I haven't written anything about the leather costrel that I also made for the pilgrimage. Or my staff and scrip, which were blessed by the Bishop of Visby during the send-off mass. But this post is long and rambling enough as it is, so I'll just finish off with a few pictures from the road instead...

Getting to know the horses
The road goes on...
At Väskinde Church, the old wall still had stones with holes for tying up horses!
Johan and pilgrim dog Boudica taking a nap
The boots that did the walking

And last, but not least: Boudica helping to model my jättehätta. With a medieval source...

Happy New Year!

Andersson, Eva. 2006. Kläderna och människan i medeltidens Sverige och Norge. Diss. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet, 2006. [https://gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/16894/5/gupea_2077_16894_5.pdf]

Dahl, Camilla Luise. 2005. Workpapers – tekstilforskning på Middelaldercentret vol. 1. [http://www.middelaldercentret.dk/pdf/workpapersvol1.pdf]

Monday, 28 October 2013

These Boots Are Made for Walking - a very, very late report from the Winter March

When it comes to reenactment, few things are as effctive as a planned event to get me working on Stuff I Need. In February 2013, it was time for Albrecht Bössor's annual winter march, when we test our kit and cooking skills under winter conditions - so I made boots with plenty of room for extra socks. Towards the end of May, it was time for a medieval pilgrimage on Gotland - and I made a travelling cloak to cope with the possibly fickle spring weather, and a leather costrel to solve the problem of transporting a day's worth of water.

This post deals with the boots and the winter march. The next one will be about the pilgrimage!

The Boots
The boots are the fourth pair of shoes l've made and I based them on a find from the ubiquitous Shoes and Patten-book from the Museum of London. There are several similar models described in Stepping Through Time, too, from 14th century Dordrecht.

The first boot, inside out - The finished boots before turning - The boots all done with laces untied...

I used my tried and tested slipper pattern (see this post) as a starting point and more or less draped the rest of the boot straight onto my foot with fabric. This is what our living room floor looks like when I'm making a shoe pattern...

Boot in the making...
The finished shoes were a number or two too large in order to comfortably accommodate two pairs of socks and still leave me enough room to wriggle my toes. During the march, the temperature hovered around zero degrees Celsius and we trudged though almost half a metre of wet snow at times. 

Stopping for lunch in the snowy forest
It didn't take long before my boots were completely soaked through. It was fine as long as we were on the move, but as soon as we stopped to cook dinner, my feet got very cold indeed. I was glad I had brought an extra pair of socks so I could change into something dry.

Cold feet - dry socks. Photo by S. Sternler
Another thing I learnt from the winter march was that wearing knee-high stockings with nothing else underneath my linen underdress was more than enough for warmth, but the underdress itself was not ideal. It only reached to a little below my knees, but there was a lot of snow and so it got really soggy really fast. And unlike wool, wet linen is both cold and uncomfortable and not something you want to have next to your skin. The wet underdress chafed my knees and calves and was rather unpleasant towards the end of the march. It's kind of obvious when you think about it, but there's nothing like personal experience for driving home a lesson in the properties of different textile fibres... 

So for the next winter march, I'll wear a woollen underdress instead. And seeing that it's only a few months away now, I should really get sewing...

Grew, Francis & Neergaard, M. de (2001). Shoes and pattens. New ed. Woodbridge: Boydell Press

Goubitz, Olaf, Driel-Murray, Carol van & Groenman-Van Waateringe, Willy (2001). Stepping through time: archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800. Zwolle: Stichting Promotie Archeologie

Monday, 30 September 2013

Tabby Test!

Now that I've started spinning for real, I couldn't stop myself from making a test swatch out of my first bit of purpose-made warp yarn. Making samples and test swatches is pretty much second nature to me. My teachers at the crafts school where I spent two years doing all sorts of textile-y things were great supporters of samples and it rubbed off. And when I went to university to do my degree in handweaving, I met another teacher with a healthy degree of sample obsession - to see her office with row upon row with binders stuffed full of handwoven samples was an eye-opener! 

So I make swatches and samples. I collect threads and yarns and fibres and put them on cardboard for future reference. It's a bit obsessive, I know, but also strangely satisfying. 
And when it comes to weaving with my handspun yarn, swatching is a Really Good Thing. It answers questions. Will it break? ls the thickness right for what I want to weave? How will the high-twist behave in the loom, how will it affect the finished fabric? Is there a point in continuing with this project or is my thread useless? 

I still haven't got my big loom up and running (soon, very soon!). But for making simple samples I have a small table loom. It looks a little like a toy loom, but with proper heddles and a proper reed so I can change the sett. Unfortunately, it only does tabby, but for testing my yarn it's perfect.

My table loom, on the floor.
 The yarn I spun at the Ronneburg event was just enough to make an eight-centimetre wide and 150 cm long piece at 8 threads/cm. Well, I had  to spin the weft too, of course, but that was reasonably quick work since I already had a bit of suitable yarn lying around from my previous practice sessions (the brown yarn in the pictures below). The warp yarn is somewhere in the region of yarn number Nm 15/1, or thereabouts. It's rather thin, so with the wide sett of 8 threads/cm the weft needed to be thicker and fluffier to give a bit of body to the fabric. The weft is perhaps Nm 7-9/1 (next time, I will remember to weigh and measure my skeins and calculate the yarn number for real...).

The first few centimetres...
I was pleased to find that my yarn wove beautifully with no breaks and very little stickiness. Before I did the warping, I blocked the yarn to settle the twist temporarily - it is a really high-twist yarn! Ideally, it should have been left wound in a ball for a bit to settle it more permanently, but I couldn't wait for that. After washing the finished pieced of fabric, the twist came alive again, displaying the characteristic 'crow's feet' pattern of high-twist threads in a tabby weave. Just like in historical textiles! I love it!

'Crow's feet tabby'
I will have to make more samples with my yarn. The fabric I'm going to use it for is not a tabby, but the old 14th century favourite 2/1 twill, which of course requires a different sett. But now I know that my spindle-spun threads work and will stand up to the wear and tear of being dragged through a loom. So...back to spinning!!! 

Obsessive Sampling Disorder (OSD)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Spinnst du? -Ja, ich spinne!

For some reason, my first version of this post disappeared yesterday. I don't know how, but it's not online or on my blogger homepage. People's comments are still there, but not the actual post. Ah, well. I'll have to try to reconstruct it, since my next post is connected to it. Here goes...

My spindle, now with thread!
I'm spinning again. After years (yes, years) of quiet practice, I'm now reasonably happy with my handspun thread. At last, I feel that I control the output of my spindle. So now would be the time to get going with the Slightly Insane Wool Project I wrote about here. But combing and carding all that wool...well, it takes a lot of time. And I want to spin now!

So I've chosen to go for a Slightly Modified Wool Project instead. Rather than preparing the wool myself at this time, I've settled for pre-prepared Shetland wool, just to start things off with. I begun spinning warp thread from it a couple of weeks ago, at the 100 Jahre 14tes Jahrhundert event at Ronneburg, Germany, where I went together with friends from Albrechts Bössor. It was a wonderful event with great people, excellent food and lots and lots of textile talk, including a workshop on frilled veils (which Isis of Medieval Silkwork has written about here). I spent most of the weekend hanging out in the "textile room" upstairs in the burg, lounging in the (mostly) sunny courtyard or down by the gate with the guards, always with my spindle close at hand.
At the Ronneburg: Spinning and talking textiles with Mervi of the Hibernaatio blog
I also - finally! - got to fire a 14th century handgonne!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cold feet?

It's March, but winter refuses to go away. I know that most of my medieval gear works fine when the temperature creeps below zero, that's one of the advantages of wool - it's good at keeping you warm. If necessary, just add another layer. There is one thing I'm not happy with, though: my shoes.

Medieval shoes pose a bit of a problem for me since I insist on making them myself. I'm a reasonably competent spinner, a passable seamstress and a rather good weaver. I'm not a shoemaker. To date, I've managed to cobble together a handful of shoes and, looking back, I think I ought to be rather pleased with my leaning curve, if not the shoes themselves. Learning new things about old things is why I do this, after all - it's the reason I've spent 10 years making historical clothing without actually joining a re-enactment group until just recently (as of September last year I'm a member of Albrechts Bössor). However, wearing a pleasing learning curve on your feet when it rains, snows or when you're wading through 10 cm of mud is not necessarily an enjoyable experience, especially when the learning curve mostly consists of low, slipper-style shoes.

For the medieval-style LARPs I take part in, I bought myself a pair of ankle boots online. They were cheap, but - according to the seller - still made of vegetable-tanned leather. Well, um...no. They weren't. But they were cheap, and I suppose you get what you pay for. I just hope the Indian worker who made them got paid too. Even though the Cheap Shoes refuse to accept any kind of oil or grease and stay as hard as cuir bouilli after getting wet, I use them. They look acceptable at a distance, and will probably survive a nuclear explosion.

The Cheap Shoes taking a mud bath. This is not an arranged photo - the entire camp looked like this for two days.

The first pair
I made my first pair of proper turn shoes in 2009. I took a line drawing of a front-laced shoe from the Museum of London book "Shoes and Pattens" and simply enlarged it until the sole fit my foot - and there I had my pattern. I cut it from 2.5 mm vegetable-tanned leather, sole and upper both, and stitched it together using the seams and stitches described in the MoL book (I skipped the bit about using a last, since that would mean having to make one first). My biggest problem back then was to make the seams tight enough - it's still a bit of a problem for me. My first shoes served me well, though, although they kind of twisted themselves around my feet after a while. I blame it on the pattern not being adjusted to fit me properly.

The first pair of shoes, with a twist

Still, I wore this pair until last year - in the forest, on gravel roads, asphalt and cobbled streets. They put up with a lot of abuse and bad weather, but, despite looking like something chewed on by a goat now, they've held together.

The second pair
For my second pair of shoes, I reworked the pattern completely. I made the sole a lot narrower with a pronounced waist, which, according to a little googled research, should  ensure a better fit and stop the shoes from rotating on my feet. I constructed the pattern for upper using these instructions , a couple of fabric mock-ups and a lot of cellotape. Unfortunately, I got a little too enthusiastic about reducing the size of the sole and the finished shoes ended up a size too small. Not a huge problem, since veg-tanned leather stretch quite a bit and after a day of walking in damp grass they fit me well enough. Quite a bit of the upper is now under the shoe, though, to make up for the slightly-too-short soles. Lesson learnt: make soles narrow, not shorter! And try to make the seam holes on the soles exit closer to the grain side to prevent gaping seams.

The second pair

The third pair
For my third pair of shoes, I wanted to try something a little fancier than plain old front-laced slippers. I thought about adding a rand to improve the seam connecting the sole to the upper, but decided not to since I still had trouble with the basic construction. Instead I went for simple decoration and a latchet closure, using this shoe from Historiska museet (National Museum of Antiquities, Stockholm) for inspiration:

Eva Vedin SHMM 2007-04-17
 It's frustratingly dated as being "medieval" by the museum, but looking at other, better dated finds I think the style works fine for late 14th century.

The third shoe with fancy crenellation and latchet closure

At last I managed to produced a pattern that fits and the resulting shoes are my best to date! Comparing them to my first pair, I've certainly improved both the construction and the sewing. They won't keep my feet warm in winter, though... So I've made a forth pair: ankle boots with extra room for double socks. They will hopefully get a blog post of their own, some time in the not-too-distant future...

End and beginning of a learning curve

References and inspiration:
Making Medieval shoes:

Historiska Museet - Sök i samlingarna:

Grew, Francis & Neergaard, M. de (2001). Shoes and pattens. New ed. Woodbridge: Boydell Press