Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From The "Nothing New Under the Sun" Department

Afghan man wearing a pakol
Boy wearing a clock, boots, and kausia.
Terracotta, made in Athens, 300 BCE
This evening, I was reading an Osprey text about the armies of Macedonia after the death of Alexander the Great, when I saw artists' images showing Macedonian army members wearing an odd kind of beret.  

I thought I recognized the beret.  It looked like a hat J. Peterman was selling in its upscale catalog back in the 1990s, which it labeled an "Afghan hat."  Nowadays, you can buy similar hats today on the Internet for as low as $9.99 USD; Amazon.com and Ebay sell such hats from various suppliers for prices ranging from about $15 USD to $30 USD.

When I attempted to find material on the Internet to confirm, or refute, my recollection, I came upon this Wikipedia article about a modern Afghan hat called a "pakol." Included with the article were two photographs from Wikimedia Commons, one of a modern pakol, and one of an ancient Greek sculpture, showing a boy wearing a visually identical hat, which the Greeks and Macedonians called a kausia.  This style of hat originally was made as a woolen bag, with a bottom just a bit larger in circumference than the top. The bag is then rolled up until the hat is the right depth to sit comfortably on the head, and the larger bottom forms a kind of brim that lies above the rolled-up "headband." It is possible to tweak the circumference of the band by rolling or unrolling the bag.

At least some modern Afghans claim that Alexander introduced the hat to Nuristan and that there are modern Nuristans who are descendants of Alexander's troops. However, the actual adoption and wearing of the pakol in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and nearby areas today appears to date from the 20th century.

Back in the 1980s scholars debated whether Alexander's army introduced the kausia to Afghanistan and nearby regions, or whether he adopted the hat from the peoples there. One historical blogger summarizes the scholarly debate over the pakol's origins as follows:
It began with an article in American Journal of Archaeology in 1981, “The Cap that Survived Alexander”, in which Prof. Bonnie Kingsley made the arresting observation that the pakool closely resembles an ancient item of headwear, the kausia (καυσία)....
In 1986 Kingsley’s article received an academic response, and quite a decisive one. In Transactions of the American Philological Association Ernst Fredricksmeyer, an Alexander specialist, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kausia was just too established a staple of the Macedonian wardrobe for it to have been imported from Central Asia toward the end of Alexander’s campaigns. ....
The debate between Kingsley and Fredricksmeyer rumbled on for a while ..., with Fredricksmeyer latterly slightly less confident about any connection between the pakool and Alexander the Great. The coup de grâce was administered by Willem Vogelsang of the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden (under the not-so-catchy title of “The Pakol, a distinctive but apparently not so very old headgear from the Indo-Iranian borderlands”), who showed that the pakool is actually a simple adaptation of caps with rolled rims worn all over the borderlands of China, India and Central Asia.
But the resolution of the academic debate does not tell us is where or why the pakol (or pakool) re-emerged.  If the cap was adapted from similar types of cap in Central Asia, why did it take the old Macedonian form?   Surely there are other forms such a woolen cap could take?  Maybe the answer is just as Vogelsang suggests; that an adjustable wool cap is ideal for fighters and military men in mountain country.  Though in a way, it seems a little odd that there isn't more continuity of use of the cap from Alexander's time and today, since in many ways life in the Central Asian mountains hasn't changed all that much in the past two millennia.

Whatever the reason, the existence of the pakol today is a minor boon for Alexandrine period reenactors, who can easily find a genuine-looking hat for their kit for a reasonable price.  Alexander's men appear to have worn the kausia in white, and undyed white wool pakol are among those easily available on the Internet.  If you want a pakol simply for style, black, brown, tan, and gray are also available.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Diamond Twill Wool Source

In light of my recent post updating my information about diamond twill wool fabric sources, I figured I should pass on the information I got from Jenn Culler's blog just the other day.

Jenn reported that Stas Volobuev, who is based in Kursk, Russia, is selling undyed broken diamond wool twill (as well as other fabrics) for 30 Euros per meter plus shipping. The thread count of Stas's diamond twill is 36 x 16 per cm, and thus is quite fine (and an unbalanced weave, as was true of many of surviving period fabrics).   The cloth is 158 cm (about 62 inches) wide, which makes 30 Euros a very good price (though shipping from Russia is likely to be substantial).

You can contact Stas to arrange a purchase at his Facebook page, here.  His Facebook page says that discounts for "natural dyes are available if you buy them together with cloth proportionally".  That may be worth exploring if you would prefer dyed diamond twill for your project.

Monday, February 6, 2017

An ATR Bonanza

Hardcore fans of archaeological reports relating to textile and costume knowledge have long known about the Archaeological Textiles Review (formerly known as the Archaeological Textiles Newsletter).  ATR is a wonderful source of information on archaeological finds that have not yet been fully published in more conventional professional journals.

ATR is published as an annual volume of about news magazine length; a one-year subscription costs 20 Euros.  Several years ago, ATR announced a policy of making old issues available for free download on their website, and issues 46 through 57 were previously available on this basis.

Last night, I discovered that ALL of the issues of ATR, except for Issue No. 58 (the current issue) are now available for free download.  Because of the way the site's HTML is structured, it is necessary to go to the general ATR page here and click the "Download issue" link to find the download page.  If you don't want to download more than 50 different PDFs without having any idea of their contents, the link to "Issues" is a listing of the titles of all the articles in all the back issues of ATN/ATR, making it possible to narrow down one's list of desirable issues.

I am really looking forward to tracking down articles in old issues that had previously been unavailable. To my readers, most of whom probably are also interested in ATR's subject matter, enjoy!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A "Mini-Mill" in Iceland

Icelandic sheep (ram).  Photograph by biologyfishman,
Found on Wikimedia Commons
Today, I learned that Marled Mader, whose Icelandic apron dress reconstruction I wrote about a few months ago, is involved with a crowdfunding project, started by a friend of hers, to create a "mini mill" in Iceland to make and sell yarn spun from Icelandic sheep.

The friend's name is Hulda Brynjólfsdóttir and she owns a farm in Iceland.  According to her IndieGoGo page, her objective is "to produce high quality Icelandic yarn from our own wool and the wool being produced here in the area" that is traceable to the farm from which it came. She also plans to sell wool bats for people who like to do their own spinning. Hulda is hoping that, by starting such a mill, she can make it possible for farmers to get a better price for their wool, as well as serving a growing Icelandic wool market.  A wool decorative pillow, made from fabric woven by Marled, is one of the backer perks for the project. Note that this is a "flexible funding" project, which means that Hulda will receive whatever funds backers commit, even if the project does not achieve its funding objective.  She hopes to be able to start wool production in October 2017.

Parties interested in following Hulda's progress may wish to consult the project's Facebook page, which can be found here. In addition, Hulda sells wool batts from her sheep on Etsy, here.  

If I had a real income right now, I'd back this project, since I would dearly love to be able to make Viking clothing items from Icelandic sheep wool.  If you are interested in Viking age clothing, or in hand spinning, you may want to support this project, or at least buy some wool from Hulda.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Long Overdue Diamond Twill Wool Update

About eight years ago, I looked on the Internet for sources of diamond/lozenge twill wool fabric, hoping to find a vendor selling some at affordable rates.  My problem with the available choices at the time was that the weave wasn't quite right, and the thread count was far too coarse to be desirable for apron dresses--the type of garment which I would be most likely to want to make from diamond twill wool. I checked out a number of potential sources, and reported on what I learned here, here, here, here, and here.

It recently occurred to me that it might be useful to look for diamond/lozenge twill vendors again, to see whether the availability, authenticity and/or cost have improved since my last posts on this subject.  It turns out that while new and in some cases more satisfactory fabrics have entered the market, some of the diamond twill sources I found in 2009 and 2010 no longer sell such fabric or are otherwise defunct.

For example, although the German vendor Naturtuche is still in business, and still sells fabric, its current diamond twill offerings are limited to a large diamond twill in natural linen and a bicolor wool diamond twill in brown.  Judging from pictures on the site, each diamond motif appears to be about 1-inch (2.5 cm) across.  The linen costs 23 Euros per meter and the wool costs 30 Euros per meter.  There are also lovely wools, not of a diamond twill weave but dyed with vegetable dyes (including madder and weld) that sell for 30 Euros per meter. Best of all (for someone who doesn't want to use a credit card to make fabric purchases across international borders), Naturtuche now accepts Paypal.

Handelsgillet, a Swedish vendor whose wools I discussed at some length, no longer sells diamond twill at all. Instead they sell what they call a Lodose diamond check, which is a reproduction of a later medieval fabric from Lodose where the stripes of a plaid, and only the stripes, are woven in broken twill and form a diamond twill motif where the stripes intersect.  It is an interesting and striking fabric, but not useful for my (Viking age) purposes.

I also wrote about Ardalanish Farm, a wool mill in the Hebrides, back in 2010.  They will sell you up to 4 meters of diamond twill wool tweed in two-toned, undyed wools, for £ 75.00 per meter, which is still well beyond what I'm prepared to pay, particularly as the fabric is fairly coarse in texture, which isn't right for the Viking age garments in which I am interested.

Regarding the other sources of usable diamond twill that I found, Sagnlandet Lejre in Denmark no longer seems to be selling diamond twill fabric, and Wollstoff is rebuilding its website, so I don't know what it may be selling. Wollstoff did not formerly sell to customers outside the European Community, and I have no reason at this point to believe that has changed.

Now, for some newer sources.

A vendor known as Elspeth on Etsy is selling bi-colored diamond twill for 385 SEK ($40 USD) a meter. That doesn't sound excessively expensive until one learns that the fabric is only 24 inches wide.  At that width, I would need at least three meters of fabric to make myself an apron dress, which adds up pretty fast.

Blue Wool Studio, a Lithuania-based seller also on Etsy, had for sale a  ready-made cloak plus several pieces of diamond twill fabrics dyed with natural dyes for a total of 2,880.70 SEK ($306.24 USD); her fabric is 36 inches wide.  The pictures of these fabrics are gorgeous, but the prices--though likely appropriate given the amount of skilled work involved--are still far beyond what I can hope to pay. Blue Wool Studio has sold those items since I began writing this post, though the site indicates that negotiating an order for a piece of fabric with specific characteristics (of size, fineness, and color) is possible.

One new source I found that I might actually be able to afford (soon) is a German site called Faserhaus. Faserhaus sells several different diamond and broken diamond twills. There are a diamond twill and a broken diamond twill fabric in undyed, untreated white wool.  The diamond twill costs 26.40 Euros per meter and is 147 cm (about 57 inches) wide.  Their broken diamond twill costs 23.20 Euros per meter and is 158 cm (about 62 inches) wide.  That's more than enough for an apron dress for me.  Faserhaus also sells a light weight, pale brown diamond twill wool (and two other neutral-ish colors also), 160 cm wide (about 63 inches), for 22.80 Euros. Some of the photographs include a marked ruler, and the diamonds appear to be about 0.8 cm tall by about 1.8 cm wide--a good size for an apron dress in my opinion.  I'm bad at doing fiber counts from photographs, but the diamond twills appear to be about 20 threads per cm and the broken diamond twill is finer--maybe 25 per cm.  That's a good quality for an apron dress, too.

Faserhaus accepts Paypal, and doesn't charge for samples (though they do charge 6.50 Euros for postage/shipping of samples to the U.S.)  I may well order some samples to assess the quality of the fabric. If I do, I will post scans of the samples and my observations on this blog.

EDIT:  (1/20/2017)  Note the comments by Marled (a reader of this blog who will weave diamond twill wool among other fabrics to order) and by Bruce Lee about a Swedish on-line vendor, Medeltidsmode.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Potential HSM Projects: 2017

The Dreamstress is continuing her popular web event, the Historical Sew Monthly:  a collection of historical clothing themes, a different one each month, to inspire interested costumers to make and compare suitable items.  Click on the "Historical Sew Monthly" image on the left-hand sidebar of my blog to be taken to a page that explains this web event in detail.

2016 was not a good costuming year for me.  I spent much of the spring ill and worried over taxes, and at the end of the summer our household income was dramatically slashed, which discouraged me from purchasing costuming materials for the projects I had originally meant to start. As a result, I made a few fitful attempts to start projects, but completed nothing.  However, our household's financial prospects for 2017 look rather better. Moreover, most of the HSM themes for 2017 fit well with several projects I have had planned, but never completed, in years past. The projects I would like to complete in 2017 I've listed below:  hopefully I'll have better success at project completion than I did last year.  The italicized sentences in the discussion that follows are quotes from the Dreamstress's description of each month's theme, which I've included only where the theme isn't obvious from the title.

January:  Firsts and Lasts.  Create either the first item in a new ensemble, or one last piece to put the final fillip on an outfit.  Either my plan for a sprang hair net (a final piece that could be worn with several of my Early Period outfits) or the hood for my völva costume (the first actual clothing item I will have made for this ensemble) would fit this theme, and I would like to do both this year.

My Hedeby dress
(Photo by my husband)
February:  Re-Make, Re-Use, Re-Fashion.  Some years ago, I made a Viking smokkr or apron dress from brown wool, using a pattern by Peter Beatson based on a find from Hedeby harbor (photograph on the right).  It was snug on me at the time--probably more snug in fit than any decent Viking woman would have worn her clothes.  Now, years later, it probably would not fit me at all; I have gained at least 15 pounds since I made the dress, mostly on the parts of my anatomy where the fit was originally the snuggest.  I would like to find some brown wool flannel, as close to the color and weight of the dress as possible, unpick the seams (or at least part of some of the seams), and see whether I can make the dress fit me properly.   If I can obtain a suitable wool fabric in a color close to the original brown, I could unpick appropriate seams and add gores to do the job (unfortunately, I no longer have enough of the original brown wool left).  I'm not sure I can get this done in February, but it's worth doing sometime in 2017, if I have enough time and find appropriate fabric.

March: The Great Outdoors.  The long, dark blue wool cloak that would be part of my völva costume is a natural fit for March's theme.

April:  Circles, Squares & Rectangles.  Many historical garments...use basic geometric shapes as their basis.  In this challenge make a garment made entirely of squares, rectangles and circles. Nearly every garment made before the 12th century (and many afterward) are based on squares, rectangles, and/or circles, including most of the items on my planned projects list.  The völva's hood would be a natural fit for this month's theme, as would the shift I intend to make for my Vendel period outfit.  The cloak, which I would make as a half-circle (pieced together from triangles if necessary) would also qualify.

May:  Literature.  My völva costume is, of course, an attempt to recreate the clothing of the traveling völva or wise woman described in Eric the Red's Saga, one of the literary masterpieces of the Viking age.  To have the costume complete, or nearly so, I would need to finish the hood, the cloak, and the wool shift by the end of May.  Unlikely, but a good objective.

June:  Metallics.  According to Eric the Red's Saga, the völva's cloak should be trimmed with "stones" set in metal. I have concluded that the stones would be set in wire-cradles made by a process resembling nalbinding. Again, I doubt I could finish this work by June, but it's very worth starting.

July:  Fashion Plate.  Since the Vikings didn't really have fashion plates in the modern sense, I have no clue how to proceed on this one.  I could try to make a costume based upon one of the Viking age pendants depicting a woman, but the details on those are pretty vague.  It may be something to consider, though.  One possibility would be to try to replicate the clothing on the figurine from Hårby, Denmark, since at least one scholar thinks that such figurines are symbolic figures rather than realistic, and on a certain level, the same is true of fashion plates, which depict the ideal figure contemplated by the styles of a particular period.  More on such a project below.

My Byzantine savanion
(Photo by my husband)
August:  Ridiculous.  Fashion is sometimes a little silly, and historical fashions can look particularly odd.  Make something that was considered outrageous in its own time, or is just utterly ridiculous to modern eyes.  I'm not sure what to do here, either.  The first Viking era items I thought of that fit into this description are men's wear (the extra-wide "puffy" Viking/Rus trousers for example), and I don't know any men who need clothing from that period.   I could make an argument, based in part upon the chess piece found by Elizabeth Heckett in County Meath, that in the latter part of the Viking age high-ranking women may have worn a wrapped linen headdress like the Byzantine one I completed years ago (which is arguably a bit ridiculous looking today), but (obviously) I have already made that item.  I need to think about this theme some more.

The "refugee" dress
September:  Seen Onscreen.  Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen...and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.  The only movie costume that ever inspired anything other than wry amusement in me from a historical costuming perspective is Eowyn's "refugee" costume from Lord of the Rings.  However, in my opinion that costume is more mid-to-late medieval in inspiration than Viking, and in any event, I'm not sure I'm inspired enough by it to try to design a historically accurate version.

But wait!  Eowyn's costume bears a surface resemblance to what we can see of the clothing on the Viking era figurine recently found in Hårby, Denmark.  That figurine shows a woman holding a sword and wearing an overgarment with no sleeves (or long sleeves?) and a deep V-shaped neckline. Yes, it's unclear at best how many different fabrics are included in the costume, but that's what makes recreation fun, right?

This is an interesting idea, though possibly it's not an idea I'm prepared to deal with this year.  I'll just pencil it in for now.

October:  Out of Your Comfort Zone.  Either my planned sprang hair net or my nalbinded mittens would qualify for this theme, and hopefully I can finish ONE of them by October!

November:  HSF Inspiration.    That is, make something inspired by someone else's HSM creation. I'll have to see what projects turn up on the HSM Facebook page, where costumers participating in the HSM (which used to be the Historical Sew Fortnightly, hence the difference in initials) post their creations.

December:  Go Wild.   You can interpret this challenge as an excuse to make something that incorporates animal print, or to simply make something wild and over the top.  The völva's hood is, according to the saga, lined with white catskin.  I will, of course, use fake fur, but that might be sufficient "animal" involvement to qualify.

So my list of potential projects is:
  • Remake my fitted brown wool apron dress [February]; 
  • Make a black wool hood lined with (fake!) catfur [January, April, December]; 
  • Make a blue wool cloak trimmed with stones set in wire frames [March, April, June];
  • Make a shift with the white wool I bought for the purpose years ago [April].
  • Make a reconstruction of the costume on the Hårby figurine [July, September]
  • Complete my nalbinded mittens [October]; 
  • Make a sprang hair net [October];
  • Complete the rest of the pieces of the völva costume [May].
Sounds like a plan to me!

Monday, January 2, 2017

An Interesting Viking Fabric

Fabric found against tortoise brooches from Bryndum
Church Grave No. 12  (Photo: Sydevestjyske Museer website).  

Happy (only slightly belated) New Year!

Yesterday, I found a news article from late 2016 from the Sydevestjyske Museer website.  The article, written in Danish by museum curator Michael Alrø Jensen, was about a new archaeological dig in Denmark; it can be read in Danish here.

The dig is of a Viking age burial ground, located at Bryndum Church.  Fourteen graves were found, and although only a third of them contained artifacts, some of those artifacts were very interesting.

In particular, Grave 12 contained a pair of tortoise brooches of a new type, along with an unspecified number of beads, and the remains of a knife that appeared to have been hung from one of the brooches.  The brooches preserved several layers of fabric, a close-up photograph of which appears in the article.   Interestingly, the caption in the article refers to the stripes shown above as "diagonal stripes" ("diagonalstriber" in the original).  I'm not quite sure what is meant, as the stripes above do not appear diagonal to me (though the fabric does have the diagonal ribs of 2/1 twill).  However, this fabric fits in well with the few other Viking age clothing textiles known to have involved a pattern, in that the stripes are small and modest, and small, fine patterns rather than bold large ones seem to have been characteristic of Viking age clothing.

The article closes with a promise of "exciting studies", and I agree.  I will be on the lookout for publication of a scholarly report about these fascinating finds.  The new brooch type is very interesting, and the layered textile clump measures roughly 5 cm by 10 cm (a substantial size for a Viking textile specimen).  Just thinking about what information can be gleaned from these items is thrilling to me.  If your costume interests involve the Viking age, put Bryndum Church on your radar; you'll want to read any publication of these finds too.

EDIT:  Corrected caption on photograph above, consistent with Anna-Carin's comment, since she reads Danish much better than I do.  She says that the textile was found on the front of the brooches, not the reverse as I'd originally reported in the caption.