Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Völva Costume--A Few Thoughts About The Cloak

Slowly, (especially since my spouse has a regular income again), I have begun to think about reviving long dormant costume projects.

I have been thinking about the cloak that I need to make for the völva costume.  My assumption, based upon other surviving garments of the same period and upon the description in Eric the Red's Saga (e.g., the fact that the völva's cloak has "straps") is that this cloak should be a semicircular cloak.  However, my last attempt to make a semicircular cloak, the Byzantine mantion I made some years ago, fits poorly and is hard to keep in position in wear.

I suspect, on the basis of the shapes of the surviving semicircular cloaks from the Viking age, that the fact that my mantion fits poorly does not mean its design is anachronistic.  Far from it; I'd bet that most semicircular cloaks in the early Middle Ages fit poorly, because a simple semi-circular design fails to take the protuberance of the shoulders into consideration.  It occurred to me that, if I want the cloak to be secure when simply tied on with long straps, I must do something about the shoulder problem. I would like to experiment with techniques that might make this cloak fit better, even if such techniques are not documentable to the Viking age.

One possibility would be to shape the relevant area of the cloak to my form with seams, stitched on the inside of the garment.  That could be worked out by pinning the seams first to check for fit.  I'm thinking that a few seams, radiating outward from (roughly) the center of the neck notch and reaching downward about 6 inches may work.  In that case, it might be possible to achieve a decent fit with  a simple circular neck-notch.

The idea would be to cut the neck notch and sew the fitting seams first.  Finishing the neck could be simple.  I am thinking of cutting a long piece of silk, a bit more than twice as wide as I want the "straps" to be.  The idea would be to use the strip to bind the neckline by placing the center of the silk strip against the back center of the neck notch, fold the fabric over each side of the neck notch, and stitch it down around the neckline. (Yes this will take some folding and tweaking, but might be worth it.)  Then stitch down the rest of the length of each strap, fold the edges inward and stitch together along the folds.  In other words, the silk strip would be fastened to the cloak all around the neckline, and the rest would serve as long straps.  That way, the straps would be unlikely to rip away from the cloak.  The sketch to the left above should give a better idea of what I mean.  (N.B.:  The two different pieces are not drawn to the same scale.)

This concept assumes, of course, that my piece of fabric is large enough to cut the cloak as a semicircle; I don't recall exactly how big it is.  If the fabric is not wide or long enough, it may make better sense to try to cut the cloak as a series of pie-shaped wedges and stitch them together to create a better-fitting shape.

If anyone has comments or thoughts about these ideas, please let me know in the comments.

15 comments:

  1. Are you wedded to the semi circle as the starting shape? The best fitting cloak I know is definitely not period correct. It's 1940s and made of 4 rectangular pieces (with slight nibbles out for the neckline) but reads as a semicircle and will not fall off even though it's a heavy velvet lined with acetate crepe. Basically a portion of the back is folded forward over the shoulder to make a "yoke" and the much longer and wider front pieces are gathered onto the yoke(producing very prominent shoulders). In contrast, my Mom's nursing cloak from the 50s has rectangular and wedge shapes, while my 60s plaid polyester cloak is all wedges.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, WKiss! Thanks for your comment.

    Actually, I would prefer going with a semicircular design if at all possible, because I know that design is period for most of Europe, particularly for cloaks worn by people of rank (and in Scandinavian a volva was a person of rank). I want to play with making the cloak a bit better fitting, but in the end I will probably go with more likely to be authentic over best fitting. Thanks for your input, though!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Cathy!
    I wonder if you know the cloak found at Moshchevaya Balka? It is far from Scandinavia, but it is semicircular, formed from straight pieces sewn together and has a fitted neckhole and darts at the shoulders. Here is a link for it's rough pattern: http://photo.qip.ru/users/zlodey30/3995452/95571294/#mainImageLink . It has a button and loop at a strange place but is seems to be fitting nicely on the mannequin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I was not familiar with the Moshchevaya Balka cloak. I'm encouraged by it, though; it suggests that some of the ideas I'd had in mind are not as non-period as I had thought. I will have to study the picture you linked to carefully to see whether I can make out the details well enough to use that cloak as a model. Thanks again.

      Delete
  4. This may be dumb as I am much more of a fantasy/ren fest costumer than a historical one, but is there any period evidence for straps which cross across the chest and are fastened behind the back? I own a very heavy essentially semi circular cloak that fastens like this and it cannot shift at all. It's a very, very comfortable method of attaching a cloak.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi, Maggie! Thanks for your comment.

    Do you mean that the straps cross in front, and then fasten behind the back under the cloak? It's an interesting thought, but to my knowledge it was not historically used. Moreover, I'd like the silk straps I'm planning to sew on to be visible, since the indications are that they were a kind of badge of rank.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, exactly. It's very comfortable but I haven't seen historical reference to it either. Jon Snow's cloak fastens like this in Game of Thrones.

      Delete
    2. It would certainly be possible to fasten the type of cloak I'm planning to wear that way--one would only need to lengthen the (already probably long) straps somewhat. But then the straps would be mostly invisible, which is not what I want.

      Delete
  6. I would concur with Katalin's comment. The Bocksten Man's cloak, though admittedly 14th C, is fashioned in a very similar manner to the way she described for the Moshchevaya Balka cloak.

    The Bocksten Man's is a semi-circle, cut from long strips of fabric, NOT made from wedges (personally, I'm beginning to believe that construction method to be anachronistic for the medieval period). It opens over one shoulder, being a man's cloak, but has a small dart to accommodate the other shoulder (the only dart I know of in extant medieval clothing). There's a rough cutting diagram for the cloak on Marc Carlsson's website.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll check out the Bocksten Man's diagram; thanks! That hadn't occurred to me for some reason.

      Delete
  7. By the way, I'm quite aware that pie-shaped wedges are 1) not the most efficient way to piece fabric into a cloak, and 2) not a period way of making a cloak in the first place. But I am willing to experiment with modifications of the basic semi-circle pattern that result in a cloak that will not shift around as I move my torso.

    The Bocksten pattern mentions a small dart, taken on one shoulder, but Marc Carlsson's diagram doesn't really show where it is (though his write-up conscientiously mentions it). Does anyone know of a more detailed diagram of the cloak's layout *other* than Marc Carlsson's?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Personally, I took the dart to be the small notch/slit in the neckline that is aligned vertically in the second diagram on his page about the cloak (the diagram based on the one by E. Lundwall). I believe the cloak is worn with the slit over the right side, as per many men's cloaks of the era, which would put the notch/slit over the left shoulder.

      Delete
    2. Yes, that seems to be correct; the "notch" is the dart. You are correct that the cloak is designed to be worn over the shoulder. However, I don't want an over-the-shoulder design for my project because: 1) I'm making a cloak that was worn, in the sagas, by a woman, and 2) the type of cloak with long tie strings seems to have been worn with the opening down the center of the body, not over the shoulder. Thanks, though, for your contributions to this discussion! They have made me think.

      Delete
  8. Marc Carlson's diagram on http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/bockclok.html is based on the scaled pattern drawing by E. Lundwall in Margareta Nockert's "Bockstenmannen och hans dräkt" 1985 [The Bocksten Man and his Clothes]. The drawing is clearer in that book, but it's shown at a scale of just 1:16 which makes it hard to give accurate measurements. Measuring from shoulder seam (on the right, open, side) to dart seam, the front neckline is about 36 cm long and the back neckline 34 cm.

    The fabric removed by the dart forms an isosceles triangle with 2 cm, 5 cm, and 5 cm sides. 5 cm (2") seems pretty short, but the wide neckline (total circumference 36+34=70 cm or nearly 28") means that the dart starts far out on the shoulder.

    The triangles removed to form the shoulder seam are slightly different in size; the front one is 8 cm tall and 5 cm wide, but the back one is just 6.5 cm tall and 4 cm wide. (The pattern shows seamlines only, and by "removed" I mean fabric that is outside the seamlines.)

    I've used such darts on the shoulders to fit of little kids' dress-up mantles, and it makes a great difference. I think a smaller neckline may have been cut out first, the dart fitted on the person and sewed, and the final neckline shape cut afterwards (I tried to draft it all, which took way longer).

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi, Anna-Carin! Thanks for your comment.

    I don't have Nockert's book, or easy access to it. In addition, from other information on line, I discovered that the Bocksten cloak was designed to be fastened on the right shoulder, as other 14th c cloaks are fastened. However, that kind of semicircular cloak is not appropriate for 11th century, let alone for a woman of rank such as a volva. So I am going to experiment with the Moshchevaya Balka design instead. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete