Thursday, 29 January 2009


I'm looking forward to the weekend so much, even if there is housework to be done. The last half of this week somehow dragged its feet instead of rushing by like second halves of weeks usually do for me.

I'm still working on the flyer and on the paper, and don't have time for much else. And after those two, there are already two other things-with-deadline looming overhead. (I'm in need of a writing flash, does anybody have one to spare?) So in case you are looking forward to the next parts of the Kruseler blog post, I'm sorry that I haven't been able to post the follow-up yet. I know what I want to write about, and it will probably be enough for two posts, but I am still lacking the photos needed (and the time and photographer to make them).

It will come up as soon as I can manage, but it will have to wait until both flyer and paper are further along the way. And thank you for your patience.

Things semi-related to garments

Today feels just like yesterday work-wise, except that all the things with a deadline that haven't been finished yesterday are one day more urgent today. And since I'm hunting for double files right now (or to be precise, I let a program hunt for them), I can't even do proper work on the computer since all the RAM has been taken already.

And I'm only hunting for the double files to get more space on the external disc so I can do a full back-up before installing updates for two of my programmes. Which I don't really need to do urgently, but wanted to do to have it off my list since I thought it would not take long (and another full backup is never wrong). Speak of efficiency.

No, never mind. Speak of back-ups. I know it hasn't much to do with medieval clothes on the first glance, but when writing my thesis (about archaeological garment finds, which should explain the blog post title), two hard disks died in my computer. Yes, you have read correctly. Two. And the second one was bnly about three months old when it gave up. Since I had one disk dying years before, with less-than-pleasant results, I had grown religious with making backups, so it was not the disaster it might have been - even though the second drive managed to die slowly in such a curious way that it corrupted the most recent backups, costing me about a month of time. Incidentally, I handed in my thesis one month later than I had planned.

With a complete data loss, I would not have finished my thesis by now. In fact, I'm not sure I would have found the heart to do it all over again. Should you be one of those people who are doing it all without a backup copy of your files and a deep belief that you will be the lucky one, please reconsider. Backup media doesn't cost much money nowadays, and it will save you a lot of anxiety and tears (and of course, unnecessary work!) should bad things happen to your hard disk. I'm using a small freeware programme called SyncBack, and I'm content with that, but there are oodles of programmes out there and there's surely the right one for you too, even if you don't like SyncBack.

So please, do yourself and your friends and relations the favor. Do your backups regularly - it doesn't take much time, but boy, can it make a difference!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

New shoes - and lots of work

My new shoes arrived yesterday. Medieval shoes, of course - hand-stitched beauties made to measure on a replica of historical lasts. (Photos may follow once I find the time to make proper ones.) Now I'm almost through with my wardrobe updates for the summer half of the year - one dress remains to be altered a bit.

Otherwise, I am very well occupied with design and typography of my brochure, preparing for the conference in May and doing a myriad of other small things besides - so I have nothing really interesting or new to blog about. At least there is progress being made in all those areas.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Blog stuff and Funnie

I've just re-ordered the gadgets and finally managed to substitute the blogroll (that can't be divided into parts with different titles) with link lists. You can now see whether it is a writing & publishing themed blog or a medievalist blog that you are about to click, should you be willing to leave this blog via another one.

In case you wonder why I have this type of blogs on my reading list:
I stumbled over most of them when I was preparing the book proposal for my thesis. I had tried before to get my master's thesis to a publisher, and luckily I made all the beginner's mistakes then, and not this time around.

Having grown not only older and bolder, but a bit wiser at the same time, I read a lot of how-to texts and do-and-don't-lists before sending anything out. And while doing this, I found a few blogs that had helpful advice and nicely written texts. Since I enjoy reading nicely written texts, I stuck around.

And while I'm writing about the book biz:
One of my favourite funnies about the business is a video by Jackson A. Pearce, where she shows how she once imagined the writing and publishing process. It's wonderful. I watch it regularly to have the good feeling that I am not the only person who once had a much too optimistic view about the publishing business - and that I am in good company indeed.
Here you go - enjoy!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Surcot Ouvert with fur lining

This is the sewing project I finished Friday, a sideless surcot. It had been on my list for ages.
I finally started sewing it this winter, with high hopes of keeping warmer next year during the colder parts of the season.

Cut and proportions are based on the garments from Burgos de las Huelgas, in Spain. Unfortunately, I am too poor to afford handwoven silk brocade in bright colours with arabian characters brocaded into a broad strip on the fabric, or something similar.
Thus it is made from blue wool twill, sewn with linen thread, and the upper part is lined with rabbit fur (there was rabbit fur lining found with one of the royal surcots, though, so this at least is similar material).
Should this prove not warm enough, I will add in more fur, but for the moment, I am quite content.

Since I dragged the unfinished piece around folded together, it still has some creases that will gradually hang out. And, of course, there's still lots of rabbit fur clinging to the fabric. But all that is left to do is shake out the garment and brush it down once, and then maybe hang it into the damp bathroom for a few hours to smoothe the creases... and so I can tackle the next thing on my craft projects list.

Which is? Let's call it "simple precision tablet weaving" for now.

Friday, 23 January 2009

No frozen fingers for me, thank you!

The end of last week was very successful sewing-wise for me, since I managed to get a lot of work done on two projects. Number one was the pair of mittens, lined with rabbit fur, to keep my fingers from freezing.

Those were roughly orientated on the pieces from Mühlberg, but no copies or reproductions. I used blue wool twill and rabbit fur. Since I have very small hands, one single rabbit fur, of normal size, was just enough for the pair of mittens.

I made the fur lining first, stitching it together from smaller bits where necessary. I worked from an outline of the hand and with forming a piece of fur around the thumb for the difficult bits. It is no perfect fit nor a good-looking pattern of fur bits, but as this is only the lining, I spent no time on making it look nice.

The wool covering for the mittens was again traced out on the fabric, cut and stitched together with a very simple thumb set into a slit at the appropriate place. It is a tight fit over the leather, just as I intended.

The mittens were wearable just before the weather got warmer again - from -17°C to more than 3°C. They do a wonderful job in keeping my fingers snug and warm, even the thumb in its single compartment.

Making them took several hours, mostly due to the fact that I was a) not aiming for speed, but instead trying them on often to enjoy the soft fur and the warmth, b) taking my time to find out how I could best use the fur and not waste anything, c) not having worked with fur for quite a while, d) stitching small pieces together around the heel of the hand and the thumb (think jigsaw here).

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Finally - a new date for the Textilforum!

It has taken us longer than we hoped to find a new date, but at last, the search was successful. Now we don't have a too tight schedule or an overlap with the planned dates of either of the two conflicting conferences, the EXAR conference 2009 in Hungary and the Conference for Archaeological Dyes and Dyeing.

The new date is even a bit earlier in the year, which hopefully means warmer and overall slightly better weather. The Textilforum will take place in the beautiful Open Air Museum in Eindhoven, Netherlands, from the 8th to 13th of September. If you are interested in historical textile crafts, this might be the place for you!

You can find more information at the forum website, where you can also subscribe for the forum newsletter, bringing you news and notice of updates of the site. Or contact me if you have questions.

A stitch in time has been linked to.

Thank you, Dr. Richard Scott Nokes from Unlocked Wordhoard.
If you don't know that blog, go have a look - it is one of my regular reads. And if you like to read medieval-themed or medievalist blogs, the Wordhoard features a huge list of blogs that might entice you to spend hours and hours reading...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Skjoldehamn neck flap

At last I found the time to check back to the lively discussion about the closure of the Skjoldehamn shirt on pearl's livejournal. The discussion already made another webmaster put up more and larger pictures, so it is high time I post my promised photo.

Here you have the neck flap, in colour, with the bead as closure and the broken loop of wool thread that probably served to hold the bead:

If I remember correctly, the bead is made from metal. Here's an even closer closeup, where you can see that it is not a leather thong, but a woolen braid or something similar that holds the bead to the flap.

And finally, in the last picture, you can see the upper left part of the flap, with the braiding running along the edge. The stripes can be seen clearly here.

I took the photos myself; please respect copyright rules when linking to or using them.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Working my way through the list

Another day has raced past, and I only just remembered that I am still due a blog post. I have a good excuse, though, since I spent the day on the telephone (work-related) and preparing several pieces of written stuff. There is still a huge list on my blackboard, but at least I'm not feeling all overwhelmed anymore.

Somehow, having too many things to do will not result in frantic activity but in a state of mind (and body) rather like paralysis. Sometimes I wonder why that is so. There were times when I thought it was only me, and a sign of not being up to this or that, but I have found out since that it is a rather common thing. So at least I am not alone.

Overcoming this paralysis can be hard, though - especially when working on one's own in a cosy little study, with the internet and books and telephone and whatever else right there to distract and eat up time badly needed for work. Beginning might seem hard, but once the first task is done, the rest does get easier. But then, sometimes, it is better to take half a day off to sort through things in the mind, even if matters seem pressing.

For now, my list is adequately diminished for one day's work. There are a few things that I want to have finished by the end of the current week, even if I'm not sure this is possible, but I'll try my very best. And I have the good feeling of overwhelm overcome.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Advertising Material

After finally designing (and getting printed) a new business card last year, now it is time to get some more promotional material. So these days see me surfing the web to catch up on the do's and don'ts for flyer and brochure design - like the Flyer Tutorials on allgraphicdesign.

I know that for a lot of small-scale freelancers, doing all the things needed for a business (even a tiny business) is exhausting and unnerving. For me, that is not so, and I count myself very lucky for that. While I don't actually enjoy bookkeeping and writing invoices and haggling for money, I know that it is part of the whole package, and I do it for me. Other things, like design work for advertisement or typography for texts? I love them. And it just adds to the beauty of the job, in my eyes, that I get to do something new and refreshing from time to time.

I have the basic concept ready, now I need to write the advertisement texts and spice it up with some pretty pictures. Both text and pictures will probably take a good bit of time, but fortunately it is not pressing yet. I want the flyers to be ready by end of February, so there is still some time to mull over the design in between other work - just the way I like to do these things.

Why sewing by hand?

HandsewnZM6 or machine sewn? For normal modern people, that is no question - a machine is faster and will almost guarantee you even, smooth stitches. When going into the living history field, things are different - machine sewn garments are then a sacrifice to modern style, to laziness, or to the fact that nobody has enough time for all those enticing projects and all the clothes needed. Or is that so?

When I started sewing for living history events, I was seventeen years old and had just gotten into the "medieval market" scene. My first piece was a hood - what else? It took me ages to stitch together the two halves of a hood (cut after a pattern drawing in a journal, not after an archaeological find). Even worse, the cloth was a mix of wool and polyester. But I had my first deep experience with hand-sewn clothing then, and I found that it really makes a difference.

Unlike modern patterns for clothing, medieval patterns are not designed with a sewing machine in mind. On the other hand, sewing technique is such an important thing in medieval tailoring that fabric, sewing thread and seam type were carefully matched together to get best results - this can be seen when comparing the extant medieval garments.

Choosing the right fabric for a pattern, and the right seamtypes for that fabric, is an essential part of historical tailoring and sewing. Which already answers part of the question that I hear regularly: Why do you sew by hand?

Historical patterns are not designed for sewing with a machine. Many stitches cannot be reproduced with a common household sewing machine at all (and not even a high-end one). In addition to that, hand stitches are much more versatile than machine stitches, and the beauty and functionality of good hand stitching are astonishing. On the Viborg Shirt*, up to eight layers of fabric are stitched together into a join that will lie absolutely flat - and this is even possible with thick, homewoven old linen. A hand-sewn seam will always look, fall and drape differently than a machine seam. And last but never least, it is much sturdier - as everyone who has ever picked a hand-seam apart will know.

Sewing by hand does of course take much longer than just running it through the machine. For an authentic presentation, however, handsewing is essential, and I can promise each hopeful beginner that he or she will have a wholly different attitude towards the hand-sewn garments, compared to something quickly machined together.

Here's a picture to whet your appetite for hand-sewn garments: It is one of my reproductions of St. Elisabeth's dress, sewn with linen thread from medium-thick wool twill. The hem is finished with a double row of running stitches and overcast stitching with inlaid wool yarn. Isn't this a nice thing to behold?

* There is a very thorough article on the shirt by Mytte Fentz, "En hørskjorte fra 1000-årenes Viborg" in KUML 1987; Årbog for Jysk Arkælogisk Selskab

Friday, 16 January 2009

Oh, those To-Do-Lists!

I have a huge To-Do-List today, looming beside me on my blackboard. I hope the amount of chalk white will be reduced significantly by tonight.

At least I have made good progress during the last two days, with finally an idea for a catchy advertisement phrase (that will go on the flyer/brochure thing) and an amount of writing done. Furthermore, I had the pleasure of reading a very old print (from 1573) in the library, which is always something special.

Word count in Current Writing Project today is 5.021 words. I wrote a bit more yesterday, but most of that is lying in a different file, as notes, and waiting to be edited into text and transferred. Rest of yesterday's work was mostly reading and thinking. The outline and the thoughts relevant to it are finished, and I have a pretty good idea what can be achieved with this book and where it can go.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


I love libraries. Especially those where you can keep the books for a long time.

Having studied in Bamberg, I grew used to the wonderful library there, with very friendly librarians, good light, lots of tables (and in the archaeologists' library building, with a wonderful view included) and very kind and fast service. There's the "book of wishes", for example: If you miss a book in the catalogue and think that the library should have it, you write it into the book, and most of the times, it gets ordered. (And then you get that wonderful book with a slip of paper between the pages, saying "Your Name" and "Erstausleihe" (first loan).) Thank you, TB 5 in Bamberg!

The library in Erlangen, on the other hand, has not too many books for my research. And those they have are all scattered across town, standing in smaller library rooms with often reduced opening times. A lot of those books can't be checked out. There's only one Erlangen feature I miss in Bamberg: You get an automatic email notification once your book is nearing the end of checkout time. Nevertheless, this wonderful feature won't help anything if the book can't be checked out.

And that is the main reason I'm still going to Bamberg now and again: The wonderful library. (I don't mind at all that it also gives me the chance to have coffee and a chat with friends and colleagues there, too, during much-needed library breaks.) And today is library day, so I'm on my way to the car, lugging along a stack of books that need to be returned (or, in some cases, checked out again). And I'll come back home with even more books.

Paperwork buildup

Somehow, that nasty paperwork stuff has a tendency to agglomerate on my desk. I have a stack of urgent, semi-urgent and non-urgent paperwork stuff to occupy myself with, and I really feel like I should tackle it today. If not yesterday.

Well, usually I am glad about any pronounced drive to do paperwork. The problem is that I have dedicated this week to work on Current Writing Project, and I want to stick with that decision. I have given myself an incentive to get a chunk of work done, shaping the project and doing the groundwork, and that is what I want and need to do. Current Writing Project is coming along nicely, by the way, sporting 3412 words at the moment.

Still, those urgent paperwork things nag me and nibble at the back of my conscience daily. Do you know that situation? Do you have a fail-safe, fool-proof, wonderful way of dealing with that? If so, please tell me about it!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Kruseler and Hairdos, Part I

Since my kruseler is finally finished, I have started to play around with it. It is not as voluminous as the one worn by the lady on the left, but the appropriate size and form to try things out. As a result, I feel like I'm finally getting the knack of putting up the hair and then putting on the veil so it looks like the medieval pictures show.

When wearing a kruseler, it depends mostly on the hairdo worn underneath whether it will sit nicely or not. I am sure that form and type of the hairdo will also decide whether the finished thing looks more angular or more rounded.

The updo I'm mostly using for trying things is the "logroll", one of my staples for wearing my hair. I will try to make a proper description with photos during the next days, since that is much easier than trying to describe.

The importance of the hairdo, in turn, means that putting up the hair in the appropriate (and symmetrical) way will make or break the kruseler reconstruction. Fortunately, I have long enough hair to play around with all kinds of different braided and non-braided updos, though I still have problems to fix the buns at the temples. With braids, it is a little easier to put up the hair - unfortunately, I especially like the smooth unbraided hairdo that can be seen on the Arnolfini Portrait. I have not managed yet to replicate it properly, but I'm working on it...

Monday, 12 January 2009

Garment Production

After a phase of almost no sewing work, things have advanced during the last two or three weeks.
I have finally finished a kruseler that is now waiting to be tried out with the appropriate hairdo underneath, and a woolen sideless surcote is finished apart from the hem. The upper area of the surcote is lined with rabbit fur for extra warmth, and I am looking forward to testing this garment, though proper wearing will have to wait some months.

While working with fur, I have also decided to sew myself fur mittens. I get very cold fingers very fast, and I have rabbit furs and wool, so why not make fur-lined woolen mittens to keep my hands warm? I wanted to make non-modern ones (of course) so I can also use them on medieval events during winter time (or in severely cold spots). For medieval handwear, both gloves and mittens are known, and in the 14th and 15th century, even "lobster mittens" (two compartments for two fingers each, and the thumb) can be found on pictures. I opted for the earlier (and warmer) classic mitten type, though.

There are not many finds of fur garments, and cut and shape are usually impossible to tell from pictures. But the bookshelf, again, comes to the rescue with Rainer Atzbach's wonderful thesis about the finds from Kempten in Southern Germany. The Mühlbach-Ensemble in Kempten is a complex of a few buildings that sported hollow spaces between floor layers and between rooms. Those were filled with remnants of daily life - fragments of clothes, wood pieces, dust, straw, coins, paper scraps, and so on. Because there was no soil environment, and because it was all kept dry all the time, vegetable fibres and furs have kept well.

Fur usually degenerates in the soil, due to the tanning process (with alum) that does not result in leather as resilient as oak-tanned (or similarly tanned) leather. Thus, tannin-tanned leather might still be found in digs with good conditions, while furs or alum-tanned leathers will have disappeared. And this is why the Kempten finds are so important: It is the largest known find of furs from medieval times. If you can read German, Rainer's book "Leder und Pelz am Ende des Mittelalters und zu Beginn der Neuzeit: Die Funde aus den Gebäudehohlräumen des Mühlberg-Ensembles in Kempten (Allgäu)" is definitely worth a look. It is not only a documentation of the finds from Mühlberg, but he also gives very well-researched, concise histories of leather and fur garments. If you need to know something about shoes and fur garments, the book is a good start to delve deeper into the topic.

By the way, the first mitten fur lining is finished already, and the second one is coming along nicely. I hope to finish both mittens, including the woolen layer, on Friday.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Freezing cold!

It's about 10°C below zero outside, the coldest it has been in this otherwise mild region for ages. There's snow outside, covering most of the bike paths and some of the streets, and for once it has not turned to mud and slush. People are bundled up in thick, warm jackets, wearing gloves and scarves and hats; bicyclists slow down while their wheels dig forward through the snow.

I'm sitting in my cosily heated study again and pondering the near future. Two of my projects have ground to a halt, one lying on ice for the next four months, the other tagged with "take it easy, go slowly, evaluate thoroughly" and thus not on speed either. So this is the time to occupy myself with number three, going on with building the concept and figuring out things - mostly reading and brainstorming work. And with that phase come the worries - is it enough? is it too much? is the concept good? how long will it take? how much good, useful material can I get?

So the next week will see me stockpiling books from the library, reading, researching and brainstorming. I am confident that by the end of next week, I will have a nice concept and a better overview over the topic, since I have already done some preliminary work on this a few months ago. And probably I'll be all excited about it again and raring to write. While the phase of doubts and worries can be stressful, I'm still glad about it - after all, it is a good thing to re-evaluate and re-think a concept after a while. And a little doubt can help a lot at the right place and time.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Connecting Textile Researchers

Things always come up in bunches - like when you are going to a flea market, and there are lots of stalls selling, say, pots? (Probably when you are not looking for a pot, that is.) And the next time, about everybody sells plates? Somehow, there seems to be something in the air that will instigate the same thing happening at several places.

With research, it seems to be the same thing. There are several things on the Skjoldehamn garments that have cropped up over the last years, and I have just realised that I'm way behind on this topic. Those garments are still extraordinary (there are only two proper trousers from the whole European middle ages that I know of, and one comes from Skjoldehamn), and I'm sure they will stay special forever. And I am very glad that they are getting re-evaluated and reconsidered, because they are absolutely worth it.

And now, connecting textile people seems to be in the air as well. I have received a very nice e-mail from Beth Matney with information about a duo of lists, started to help us all keeping up with the goings-on in the historical textile world:

As you know, it is a bit difficult to keep up with the literature, conferences, symposia, etc. in the field of textiles and clothing from the post-Roman through the early modern periods (500-1600CE). It is a field spanning many disciplines in many languages with the indexing of the journals quite scattered (if indexed at all) and many titles not well publicized or easily available. Well, in an informal discussion after a DISTAFF session at the last International Medieval Congress (Kalamazoo 2008) several of us (Dr. Carole Collier Frick, Dr. Gale Owen-Crocker, Robin Netherton and Beth Matney) bemoaned this and it was decided that an elist might be useful. So I have created two Medieval Textiles and Clothing groups:

A discussion list (restricted membership), MEDTC-DISCUSS:

and a newsletter list for announcements of titles, etc. : MEDTC-RESOURCES:

Though MEDTC-RESOURCES will include the titles and announcements from MEDTC-DISCUSS, it will not include any of the discussion of them and only in MEDTC-DISCUSS will you be able to post directly.These lists are academic in focus and scholarly in tone. Please see the full descriptions at the links above.
(Text Beth Matney)

So for all of you interested in historical textile stuff, maybe one of these lists would be a good idea!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Spinning Threads

Over the holidays, I have finally found the time to pick up my hand spindle and do some spinning.

I like to spin, I just never get around to doing it - there are so many other textile things that beg for my attention or that lie around half-finished. And so my spinning implements lie dormant most of the time. Since there was not much space at the lodgings where we spent the days around New Year, and since I was not up to complicated work anyway, I sat down and spun on the hand spindle. The output of the two hours timed spinning - normal thin thread and thicker thread, for one hour each - is still on the spindle stick, waiting for evaluation. It will be useful for preparation of the spinning experiment, one part of the Textilforum that I am very excited about: An experiment to find out more about the influence of the spindle and the spinner on the thread produced. If that has piqued your curiosity, you find the whole outline for the experiment on the forum pages, here.

The date for the Textilforum is not yet fixed (and thus not up on the website) - we are working on it, though, and hope to have it nailed down and ready for publication by the end of the week. Unfortunately, it is not too easy to find five days where we can have most of a museum and not get a date cross-over with one of the other textile or experimental archaeology events taking place in autumn - so if you have some fingers unoccupied, please keep them crossed for us!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Goodbye 2008, hello 2009!

First things first, and a happy, healthy and successful year 2009 to all you readers out there!

I'm back home since yesterday in the afternoon, but today and tomorrow are still for rest and relaxation, before work starts again. I started the new year with a bout of 'flu or something like it, and so I'll be going easy tomorrow.

2008 for me was full of exciting things, and the most sparklingly important happenings for me were finishing my thesis (I handed it in at the end of March) and successfully defending it in July. The first half of the year thus was filled with alternately stressing (much) and trying to de-stress; the latter with one short trip to Berlin (with a concert given by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain) and one long trip to Copenhagen. The Denmark trip was not overly much destressing, though, since I also went to NESAT, but a wonderful experience. I went hunting for a publisher for my thesis, which was exhilarating, and I learned a lot about the publishing process while reading up about the business and putting the materials together. I also thought a lot about the future, money, insurances and how I want to make the money I need, and I will find out in 2009 whether freelancing only is possible for me. Our main holiday trip was spent canoeing on the Mecklenburger Seenplatte, and it was wonderful and very quiet, since we went rather late in the year. I had a stressful though fun order for a new exhibition that will come up as soon as the building in Hartenstein is finished, and that saw me busy through most of September and all of October. Not that I've not been busy since - there is next year's summer season to prepare, since I have a few medieval events on my calendar already; I have a conference to attend in March and a talk to give in January; and a bunch of other things to prepare and write besides.

Alltogether, 2008 has been a good and very successful year for me, and I hope that 2009 will turn out as well - for me and for you, too.