Friday, 19 December 2008

Almost Holiday time!

All the recent Christmas celebrations (and all the rich food) have taken their toll, and I'm feeling a wee bit poorly today. This is why I'm mostly drinking tea and relaxing today, trying to get back to normal.

Starting tomorrow, I'm on holiday, and this means no computer work and no blogging (unless I feel much like it and will make an exception). So since I'm away until the beginning of January: Have a wonderful time and a good start into the new year!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

St. Elisabeth questions

Teffania came up with questions on yesterday's post, and to avoid getting lost in comments, here are the answers.

So is this seam similar to the way some of the hose in the museum of London "textiles & clothing" book are constructed? (except the hose has running and overcast/whip stitch).
This method is near impossible to do by machine, but I've actually made a pair of hose with both sides in overcast stitch by mistake. I noticed that my fabric frayed less if my stitches were perpendicular to the seam on the cut side and diagonal on the other side. The opposite appears to be true of the stitching in your photo. (but then again, my fabric had more fabric than I'd prefer, and was on the very curved portions of the hose foot.
Yes, the hose in some of the London finds have the same seam in the foot parts, where it is most important to have flat seams.
Regarding the machine sewing, I would say it is absolutely impossible to do that seam on a machine, since you can't get proper overcast stitching. And I'm a handsewing advocate for medieval garments anyways, because you just get a different result. Especially when overcast seams come into play!

Anyway, while sewing this I found the easiest way to sew was to sew one side, then turn over and sew the other side. (Always sewing on the side with the cut edge visible).
Yes. Frankly I don't remember ever trying to sew from the other side, but since you don't see the edge, it would be incredibly hard and time-consuming. And medieval crafts may be time-consuming, but they are also very, very efficient.
My normal, don't think, do-them-fast overcast stitches are diagonal on the outside, and that's why they are diagonal on the gowns as well. And they are on the original. I don't know anyone who does perpendicular overcast as the standard (that would mean conducting the needle diagonally through the fabric, which is not the easiest way, especially when hem-stitching).

I notice in the photo that the stitches are prominent on the cut edge, but much less so for the other line of stitching. Do you think this is evidence for this garment being sewn this way? Did you get to see the other side of the garment? Did the seams look the same from the other side?
Yes, the stitches can only be seen on the outer side. I did not see the inner side of the garment, but on my hand-sewn gowns, you see one line of stitches on the outside and two lines of stitches on the inside. Why? Because it's so much faster.
I start sewing the outside line. When doing this, I have to align the two cut edges so I get an even overlapping, about 5 mm wide. This takes time (and sometimes nerves, when the overlap somehow sneaks away, and I have to re-sew a couple of centimeters).
Then I turn the half-finished garment around and sew the other side. Now I don't want the stitches from the inside to be visible on the outside, so it is actually a hem stitch and not a simple overcast stitch. Since doing the hem stitch means only catching one or two fabric threads instead of just ramming that needle through, this is also taking concentration.

Doing the seam that way means I have to concentrate only on the overlap while doing the outer edge, and only on the stitches while doing the inner edge. The other way around, I have one no-brainer (the outer edge) and one double-concentration-stint (the inner edge). And I'll still end up with a less-than-perfect outer seam, because even if you really really concentrate, there will be some wiggling of the second seam (because of that tendency of the overlap to sneak away).

This seam type doesn't seem as strong as some types to me - the edge is exposed to fraying, (unless it fulls a lot which I can't see in the photo) and the stitches can pull out by fraying the fabric. Are the high stress areas (eg armholes) constructed in the same way? How do these seams stand up to wear and tear in your recreations?
This very, very much depends on your fabric. And your sewing, of course. When I did my first copy, I did not know much about these seam types. I had an unfulled fabric, and I made very large, very wide-spaced stitches.
Seeing the original dress was an eye-opener for me. These stitches are tiny, and they are very closely spaced. I tried that version, and to my surprise, there is no fraying.
I would say that putting stitches in closely protects the cut edge, so it can't fray (or at least not much). Because it can't fray and more importantly, because you have overcast both edges onto the fabric of the counterpart panel, there is no stress on the cut edge. It is somehow hard to grasp for the modern mind, but it really works. You need to have closely spaced small stitches however, or there are not enough "anchor points" for the seam on the inside of the dress (only hem stitches, remember?).
The seams stand wear and tear with no problem. There are one or two places at one of the dresses where a few threads have moved away from the cut edge, but only a centimeter or so in length. There is a lot of fulling in the underarm region, but the seams are stronger than you'd think.

Finally, if the garment has some badly reconstructed bits, how many seams are original?
The seams attaching the sleeve to the body, the seams on the sleeve side of the body. The shoulder seams. Those running diagonally across the body were probably put in to compact the dress after lots had been cut away, and my guess is that these parts are remnants of the gores from the left side of the garment.

I hope this was helpful!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Medieval Togs - St. Elisabeth's dress

I got linked to - pearl over at Livejournal put in a link on my homepage in connection with the so-called penance dress of St. Elizabeth from Thuringia. She also gave one of my articles (a very early one, I'm afraid that can be told from reading it) as a reference.
I am certainly very happy about getting referred to and cited - but alas, the article she mentions in her LJ post is written in German, and I'm feeling a bit sheepish because of that.

When writing my thesis, I realised that while writing archaeological papers in the language of the home country is easy on the author, it can be very hard on the reader - especially if he or she has not learned the language in school. I since decided to write more in English, and I'm feeling even more sheepish when I have to admit that I don't always manage. I do try, though, and I promise to continue trying in the future. (Before somebody asks and I have to introduce a third degree of sheepishness, due to technical reasons, my thesis is also in German. But once it is up and running as book version, I will try to get it translated and published in English. Promise.)

Well, back to what I wanted to post about: St. Elisabeth's "penance dress". This 13th century dress was preserved as a relic and can be found in a small church, St. Martin in Oberwalluf. It is a brown dress today and was brown in Elisabeth's time. I have not found out why it was called a "penance dress", and I think this name is mostly based on the brown colour and perhaps some misunderstanding of medieval garment cut. The fabric is an evenly woven, good quality twill that was napped on the inside. The piece survived as a relic, which explains why so much of the dress is missing today in spite of the wonderful preservation of the fabric: It was cut away and gifted. Typically, such gifts might go to pilgrims, important church members and into new altars, which need a relic for consecration. (That is why catholic altars always are consecrated to one saint, and usually the church is named for the main altar's saint.) One sleeve is missing completely together with a large bit of the breast area, and only half of the other sleeve is still there. The hemline is lost too. The gown today is lined with linen, and most of the cut edges are secured with brown linen bands.

One of my favourite aspects of this gown is the sewing technique. I first found this special seam type on Elisabeth's gown, and I nicknamed it "Elizabeth seam". The two cut edges of the garment pieces that are joined together are overlapping for about 5 mm. Then both edges are sewn down on to the other fabric piece, using overcast stitches. This gives a flat seam, uses very little extra material (much less than a regular seam) and looks nice as well. On the original gown, the overcast stitches on the left (inner) side of the garment are not stitched through, so only one line of stitching can be seen from the outside. The seams are worked with fine linen thread and in very fine stitches, and very evenly, too. You can see how fine and even the seams are in this picture, and you can get an impression of the fabric quality as well:

When I was in Oberwalluf to have a look at the original, I had brought one of my "copies" to show, as a thank-you for letting me in. The gentleman who opened church and shrine doors for me (you can see the little blue key on the edge of one of the doors) also took a photo of me in my gown, in front of the original:

The original dress and a reproduction worn by me
St. Elisabeth's dress is the one garment that I have reproduced most often during the last few years - not only because 2008 was "her" year. It is also the garment that taught me about the importance of details in medieval tailoring, about form-fitting clothes that don't look the part when hung on a clothes-hanger, and about choosing your fabric and sewing thread to match (but not necessarily in colour). In short, it has taught me how to think of medieval tailoring - and that is only one of the reasons I will always love this dress.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Stuff always happens in bunches.

Somehow, it seems as if things always come in batches, never one at a time. A while ago, I had a batch of things all progressing smoothly, working out and falling into place with no effort whatsoever. The last few days, the opposite is happening: Obstacles and complications seem to pop up everywhere.

I hope that at least the most important issues can get resolved before next week - I fully intend to have the holidays off. It's a much needed break from everyday computer work, and I'm looking forward to that. All the problems that have not been solved by the 23rd will just have to wait a few days!

Until then, however, some time is left to tackle them. And unlike their way of appearing in my life, I will not tackle the whole batch at once, but work at them one at a time...

Monday, 15 December 2008

Winter Things

I really enjoyed the last two days and today. It is pretty wintery at the moment, with low temperatures, and we had wonderful weather yesterday - just the right weather for a bike ride to the Christmas Market in Fürth.

Winter is nice when the air is cold and crisp, and I like the singing of the bicycle spike tires on the cold streets. Nights with spice cakes and chocolate and tea, maybe with some candles burning. Book buying binges (that I'm especially prone to in winter time). Strolling through a christmas market. Riding a sleigh down the small hill close to our home. Evenings in front of the fireplace. Roleplaying sessions in the warm room when it's cold outside. Snuggling up with a good book somewhere (the book buying binges come in here). Baking (and eating) cookies. Finding presents for friends and family that are utterly pleasant surprises. Visits at the spa where you can swim in the outdoor pool - the pool water all hot while the air is so cold that you think your nose will freeze off. Hot chocolate. Chick flicks and christmas-time movies (especially "3 Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel", the Czech version of Cinderella filmed in the 70s)... Winter Goodness.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Waiting Game

Today's blog is later than usual, but it fits into the spirit of the last two days.

I have already learned that waiting is a very important part in the writing and publishing business, but I have yet to learn more patience. There's a wait for decisions, a wait until things can be evaluated properly, a delay because of this or that. It all takes a bit longer than planned initially, on both sides, the writing and the editing or publishing side - and I can relate so much better after having been part of the editing and proofing process for a journal once.

I know that it is necessary to wait. Still, sometimes it is hard - and at the moment, I have just found out that at least one really long one has come upon me. So it is time for me to take a deep breath, have some comfort chocolate and then accept it - and get on with some other exciting project. There was a wonderful post about the Waiting Game on Kristi Holl's blog a few weeks back, and I will try to wait productively and patiently.

But not yet. Tonight, I'm allowed to pity myself a bit. And to eat that extra piece of chocolate. And tomorrow, I'll tackle these things that lurk on the back of my desk - let's see how long it takes to get them into the Waiting Game stage!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

New things are always something special...

... and so I'm doubly excited about next October! Why? Because we are organising a get-together for historical textile crafts at the wonderful open air museum in Eindhoven.

I have heard a lot of people in the last years utter something like "it is a pity that living history and current research don't communicate more". And we could surely all profit from more and better communication and better sharing of experiences. But how, and where? During the Exar conference in Oldenburg last October, we decided to give it a try and organise such a meet-up possibility.
At long last, there will be a place and time for professionals, researchers and living history/reenactment people to get together and hopefully learn from each other.

Today I spent the whole morning getting the website up and running, just so you can have a sneak peek at (and so I can finally spill the beans about it). There are no pictures yet and of course we don't have the full programme already, but you can subscribe to the newsletter and get an update whenever the website or our planning does.

If you are working in historical textile crafts, do take a look - and I hope that you get as thrilled about the Textilforum as we are!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Academic Housekeeping

I have made a resolution to do some academic housekeeping (a.k.a. filing of papers) every day to reduce the huge stack of copied papers that are still left from the time of thesis-writing. Since filing here means taking the paper and typing all the necessary data like author, editor, title, year, journal or book title, ... into my database before actually punching holes into the sheets and binding them together and physically filing them, this is not one of my favourite jobs - it can get pretty tedious after a while. At the moment, I am filing mostly papers written in Czech, which means "after a while" translates as "after the third or fourth article". Even with a keyboard heavily altered to include almost all special characters that are needed for writing Czech, Polish, French, and the Scandinavian languages, getting all the words typed out correctly is taking a lot of concentration.

Yet keeping such a database is a huge help when looking for that "something I once read somewhere", not to speak of citing things in papers and articles. I would not want to be without that database - I am using Endnote, but if you are looking for a literature database, you might want to look at Zotero, a free plugin for Firefox doing the same job as Endnote. I bought the commercial programme a few years ago because it included an add-in for MS Word, and there was no alternative product on the market. I was convinced before buying that adding references to texts with a flick of the finger really is something, and I never regretted buying the software. Even better if you can get the same functionality for free nowadays!

So now I'm tackling the paper stack three or four papers at a time, and I'm looking forward to the day in the future when all the sheets have been filed into one of my file folders. And I hope it will come soon!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Planning things...

I feel like I've never done so much planning so far in advance before, and this might be true. After all, this is my first year of working freelance in full-time, not just part-time in addition to studies.

All these dates and deadlines and things that are already filling up my calender make me a little queasy in the stomach region, but on the other hand, I get really excited about them. At least I won't be dying of boredom next year! There is a bunch of conferences during the year, some that I have already applied for and more that would love to go to - and how can you not want to go to a conference that calls for papers like Borderlines XIII? Though there's a family birthday on that date, which is kind of sad since I can't be there and here at the same time. Then I need to figure out how much time all my projects will eat, so I don't plan too many trips and conferences.

For the moment, I have two presentations/lectures coming up, one in January and one in March, at the conference about colours in the Middle ages, so it is time to prepare for those. Powerpoint, here I come!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Oh no, not another blog!

Yes, there is no way to ignore it: Another blog has seen the light of day, struggling for readers. Do we really need this? Do I hear a "Yes!" there? Somebody?

So, welcome to this sparkling, nice, brand-new blog. I am a medieval archaeologist specialising in textiles or, more specifically, in medieval garments and their reconstruction. For a living, I am currently giving talks and workshops, writing about medieval garments, tailoring garments for museums and exhibitions, and I am fully enjoying myself doing it. I have a few nice things for next year in planning too, and you will hear about them here as these projects take shape. In addition, I will blog about all kinds of freelance things here, garment reconstruction and research, gadgets that spice up my computer and that I don't want to be without, and whatever else I can think of. I have no idea how this will all turn out - but as with every brain child, I hope for the best!