Monday, 28 September 2015

First Dress Experiments

Among the other projects I was involved with at the Garb Weekend, one was an experimental project with Lady Órlaith.
At this point, I was just starting to agonise about how to construct the Hedeby Apron Dress based on the few fragments found, when Lady Órlaith, also seeking help, volunteered herself and her fabric as test subjects. We had a brief discussion about my ideas so far, and she agreed happily to the one I wanted to try. Handing over her beautiful jade green linen, I snipped it into a one piece front panel, and two back panels, pinned it, and handed it back for sewing. Darts in the back panels and hip-length gores in the back and sides swiftly followed, all sewn up by Órlaith. Truly this was the best of partnerships, with each of us feeling that we'd gotten the better end of the deal.
The finished dress is a fitted linen sheath, shaped to the hip, and flaring out thanks to the gores and is almost completely self-supporting even before the straps are added. Unfortunately, I misread some of the Hedeby information, so the darts lie to the inside as per the modern aesthetic, rather than the outside of the dress. The lady herself seemed utterly delighted with it, for all that it was, in my mind, full of "first dress mistakes". Truly it was very generous of her to allow me to experiment on the dress that she'll be wearing. 

The final effect this experiment had for me was to set my mind down the path it needed to go to consider the Hedeby dress. I've seen various reenactor versions featuring 3, 4 or even 5 panels, and arguments against each. And there being no final say which one is correct, I needed to make up my mind how I was going to attempt my own final version, and I'll cover my thoughts on that in my next post.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Finished(ish) Hedeby Underdress

At the Garb Workshop hosted by Dun in Mara last weekend, I had thought since no-one had requested my aid, that I'd be able to spend the weekend concentrating on my own stuff. But three impromptu classes and a whole lot of sewing and cutting advice later, I still managed to I made respectable progress on my Hedeby Norse costume.
It's amazing how much focus a room full of like minded people with similar tasks to hand can provide the drive needed to get moving on a project. For me this involved winning the fight I'd been having with the dress gores, drafting a sleeve pattern and setting them, and finishing the neckline. I had a bit of a Moment when cutting the sleeves and managed to cut them without seam allowance. Given that fabric was short, I decided to cut some gores from the scraps and added these at the top and bottom of the sleeves, reasoning that even this would have been more reasonable in period than scraping the whole thing. I had been concerned previously that the dress would end up too short, but the hem just overlaps the top of my najlbound socks slightly, so it's worked out rather nicely. Overall I'm rather happy with how this is coming along. I believe my construction is reasonably accurate, and it's a very comfortable garment to wear. 

The final underdress has some slight shaping on the torso to make it a little more fitted; with an hourglass figure there's only so much fitting you can do if you still want the dress to pull off over the head without any additional openings. The dress has side gores to the waist line and front and back gores to the hip line. The hem at the wrist and end of the dress was cut on the fabric selvage to minimise work with hemming, though this is my own invention. I haven't seen any evidence to support the idea, but I can see no reason why they wouldn't have done it if they could. The sleeves are gored to make up for my earlier mistake, and are fitted as per the Hedeby finds, though apart from the last minute gores, I decided to cut the sleeve as a single piece, so without the secondary piece seen in the Hedeby sleeve finds. Similarly, the neckline is a shallow scoop shape found to be particular to Hedeby rather than the keyhole shaping found in other towns. If I'd used a wool I may have been able to get a better fit, but given my fabric restrictions, I think it's turned out well. The arms and side gores still need to be felled, but if I run short on time, I at least have a wearable garment for the event.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Norse Socks

Progress, of sorts!

I have the first part of my Norse outfit completed; a pair of najlbound socks. I started these just after Raglan, while the post-event energy was still low, but I wanted something to play with. Having attended Mistress Rogned's class on Roman style najlbinding, and having made many pairs of socks before, I dove straight into making a pair for my first najlbinding project.

Oh my, I learned a lot in making these. The socks are currently a little loose around the ball of my foot, but fit comfortably on the rest of the foot. I'm not too worried about that, as having worked with this yarn before, Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted, I know it's fond of felting when it's in heavy use, so I expect with time and wear these will become a much snugger fit. 

I found documentation supporting Norse women's socks coming just over the ankle, or having a gap in front to allow the sock to be pulled on. As I didn't want to end up with yet another quarter ball of yarn hanging about, I just kept going until I ran out of yarn. Who would've thought it was possible to get a whole pair of socks out of a single ball of worsted weight yarn! And they're so soft, and think and cosy. Even if they don't end up being worn for the even, they're going to make a fantastic pair of winter socks for round the house.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Norse Underdress

Unfortunately my garb making has not been going as well as I'd hope this month. I had originally hoped to have my underdress done by the garb workshop this coming weekend (not a hope), and be able to work on the apron dress there. But as you can tell from the picture, weellll....  I'm a fair bit off from finished.

To make my Norse under dress, I'm using the information from this previous shared link, specifically the couple of paragraphs on the Hedeby/Haithabu finds. This page shows a possible layout for a Hedeby style underdress based on finds.  I've come across various cutting diagrams for Norse style underdresses in my searches, but I find it very hard to believe that a dress where every square inch of fabric had to have spun and woven, would have been cut with large waste pieces. So to this end I've been making this up so far by using a rectangle system of fabric cutting to use the fabric as efficiently as possible.


If you'll forgive my dodgy paint skills, I've made up a basic, if wonky diagram of how I cut out my pieces.
  • The front and back pieces are half the width of my hips, plus seam allowance, and the length is the full width of the fabric, so it may be a little short when worn.
  • The width of the fabric halved is longer then my arm length, so I cut a strip of fabric which is measured at my bicep, plus seam allowance, to become my sleeves.
  • Lastly, I folded the remaining fabric in half, and cut out my gores, measured from my wasit to the hem of the dress, so I'd get the maximum width possible for bottom hem. Gore pieces 1 and 2 will be the side goes, while gore pieces 3, 4a and 4b will be shortened slightly, and become the front and back gores. Gore 4 will have a central seam to join the two pieces, and because of this will be place in the back.

This is the diagram of the fabric as adapted for the width and amount I had, and my own body shape, but it really is worth measuring and adapting these kinds of layouts to your own shape in order to get the best of your fabric usage. This isn't necessarily the most period method of construction, especially as modern fabrics are generally a lot wider then pre-industrial ones, but it's efficient. This has left me with a small amount of leftover linen that is destined to become a hat trimmed with white rabbit fur - in keeping with the colour scheme.

Ah yes, the colour scheme. While I've been endeavouring to ensure the correct shape for my garments, my fabric selections are a little less realistic. Partly due to the fabric being what I had available, and partly due to the required Shenanigans colour scheme, I have a purple linen for the underdress, where an undyed linen was more likely in period, allowing for the few samples that seem to contain traces of blue or brown dyes. And for apron dress, I have a thick cream fluffy fabric, which a burn test concludes is mostly cotton, but which could conceivably fool the man on the galloping horse into thinking it's a wool from a distance.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


My dress is progressing slower than I'd like at the moment, so I thought I'd post about my bready experiments instead. At the upcoming Norse event, the feast will be a potluck, with a simple system to tell attended what they should bring for a good variety on the day; my item was bread. So I got it into my head to try a vaguely period recipe.

Given that sourdough has been around in one form or another for several centuries, I decided to try that. I used the Paul Hollywood organic grapes recipe to make up my starter, and the hardest part of getting that going was trying to find somewhere to sell organic grapes. I learned since that any organic fruit of veg that tends to develop a white film can be used to seed the starter with wild yeast, but having spare grapes to snack on was no hardship. It took about a week to properly dial in on the recipe, to get the water temperature and flour quantities right, but my starter seems very happy with me at the moment, with a scent that varies between natural yoghurt and home-brewed beer. I don't follow exactly the feeding measurements given in the recipe above. I vary my flour and water quantities on any given day to keep the mixture at a thick batter consistency.

After the requisite four day start up time, I started using the "discard" in the Classic Sourdough recipe to make up my loaves. I brought two loaves down to CoLD with me, where they were promptly devoured, and I got many compliments on the flavour and tang of the bread. My oven is a little on the old side so my loaves are coming out a little dark. I almost have my cooking time perfected.. maybe just a little more work so they come out golden rather than mahogany...

But uplifted by the reception at CoLD, I decided to try and a little experimentation, and sought out some sweet flavours to try. The white chocolate & raspberry loaf was again one of Paul Hollywood's recipes, though the walnut & apricot and the chocolate & berry loaves were my own inventions, taking the basic classic sourdough recipe and adding the extras. The chocolate loaf also has some added dried yeast, as the cocoa can inhibit the natural yeast and sometimes a booster is needed. I think I may have added the fruit too soon in the kneading step, and this has resulted in a rippled effect, most noticeable in the white chocolate & raspberry loaf.

Overall this is a really interesting experience. Though I love baking, I rarely do it everyday, but now that I have the starter stable, and am using it roughly every second day, it means I'm baking enough to really dial in on what the starter and the bread dough need to come out perfect. Clearly there's more science to be done.. tasty, tasty science...

Monday, 7 September 2015

The New Champion

This weekend just gone saw my shire of Dun in Mara host the Champions of Lough Devnaree event, and as, at the time, current A&S champion, the A&S competition to decide my successor.

The competition format I decided on drew from the Drachenwald Kingdom artisan competition. I invited the artisans of the isle to enter as many entries they wanted in as many categories as they liked, and the winner of each category would receive a prize, with the person with the best average score overall becoming the new A&S champion.

There was such a wonderful response! I had enquires about entries and format, but unfortunately, some people ran out of time. But there were a total of twelve entries covering six of the categories! And the quality of these entries were wonderfully high, and their scope varied. I had many wonderful judges to help me review the items, and it was a close run thing; I would not have been able to call the winner before the numbers were totted up. I felt almost more nervous than last year, when I was competing, but I was delighted to name Lady Órlaith as my successor with her many wonderful entries, and I look forward to seeing what competition she comes up with next year.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Dressform Adjusting

I started my 30-day challenge in a bit of a round about way.

With wanting to base my Norse dress on the Hedeby tailored look, there's going to be a lot of fitting involved, and trying to fit a dress onto one's own form can be an exercise in sheer frustration. I do have an adjustable dressmakers form, but it was bought so long ago that even at it's greatest extension, it can't match the curves I sport these days. So changed had to be made.

I picked up a couple of metres of 4ox batting from my local fabric store, and got to work sewing it on in layers until it matched, or was close enough to, my current measurements. And then I applied a bit of trickery.

The half finished form, you may notice, is a bit flat on front. I was concerned you see, seeing as I do several different eras of costume, how adjustable something stiff like a batting stuff bra might be on the form. So I opted to follow an idea of American Duchess's, and installed bean boobs!

I used about 1.5kg of pearl barley as I had it to hand already for a leather working project, and an old pair of tights from an old costume, and voilà, adjustable boobs!

To finish, I slipped a cheap t-shirt over the top to help everything stay in place and make the batting a little more resilient to pin-abuse. And now that I have a dress form that's a curvy shortarse just like me,  I'll finally be able to get on with all those draped projects I've wanted to do!