Monday, 31 January 2011

Archaeology of York free publications!

York Archaeological Trust has made several of its out-of-print volumes available for free download, including the volumes 17/14, Finds from Anglo-Scandinavian York, and 17/15, Finds from Medieval York. Hooray!

You can download the files from this Resources page of the York Archaeological Trust website. Enjoy!

Friday, 28 January 2011

I'm working on it.

January is a good time to stock up wares, resupply and order exciting new stuff - it's already this year, April is looming on the horizon already and with end of April comes the season's start for me.

And that means I'm currently working on acquiring yet another craft-related skill: Cutting quills. Those are textile-craft-related because drawing with ink and quill is the traditional way of preparing an embroidery design, and the tools and materials for the full process of embroidery work are something that I wanted to offer for a good while.  After hunting for proper medieval ink for a good while, I have now found somebody that will make it for me and ordered some, so it's about time to hone down my quill-cutting skills.

There are several "scriptorium" suppliers on the market that offer writing implements. Quite often it's a biro tip set with a (brightly coloured) feather on top - which is about as un-medieval as you can get, since the first thing you are going to do is to cut the barbs from the rachis (I looked those terms up in Wikipedia, and so can you) - that is, you cut the interesting stuff that makes a feather look like a feather from the boring central stem. Why? Because the stuff gets into the way otherwise.
A very few suppliers also have proper quills (unprepared, hardened, or hardened and cut), but the cut ones are always intended for writing. What I need is however something else: I need a tip that will reliably (and without blotting) draw fine lines on linen cloth.

So I sat down yesterday and tried several different feathers from different birds, with varying preparation steps. And that's the result:

 I'm still figuring out what makes a cut a successful one, but at the moment, it looks as if I'm getting way better and more reliable results in cutting quills from reed than using feather quills. So what will be on sale next season will probably look like this:

I'm not yet sure whether I will test each quill or not - though I'm heavily leaning towards testing each one even if they will not look pristine and unstained on the table then.
Would you prefer unstained and untested or stained and tested?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Kalmazoo Programme

Via the MEDTC-List, I received this info about K'zoo:

Forty-sixth International Congress on Medieval Studies
May 12–15, 2011
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, Michigan USA

A 'preview' of the program is available here

I had a look at that programme. Oh my goodness. How on earth are you supposed to choose which sessions or papers to attend? That conference programme has a freaking two hundred and ten pages! This really, really boggles my mind, which is used to small or medium conferences only. Must be really nice to have such an enormous group of medievalists all together in one spot! (Though I still think it must be awfully hard to choose what to listen to...)

For those of you interested in textile stuff, I will just repost the list of of-interest-sessions that also came via the list. I had planned to go through the pdf myself and list the page numbers with the textile-related sessions, but I'm afraid I will get lost in that document and never find my way out again. Do I need to say that I would love to hear those papers? Alas, K'zoo is far away...

Thursday 7:30 p.m. Session 157 (Schneider 1280)
Vair, Able, Phoenix, and Kitty-Cat: Desire and Reality in Medieval Fur Fashions
Sarah-Grace Heller, Ohio State Univ.

Friday 1:30 p.m.Session 243 )Fetzer 1010)
Dress and Textiles I: Documentary Evidence
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and
Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)
Organizer: Robin Netherton, DISTAFF
Presider: Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Univ. of Manchester
Textiles and Dress in the Household Accounts and
Inventories of Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443–1509)
Susan Powell, Univ. of Salford
Histoires and Misteres: Understanding Medieval Tapestry
Tina Kane, Tina Kane Textile Conservation and Restoration
“Translating” a Queen: The Wardrobe of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots
Michelle Beer, Univ. of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
Juana of Portugal’s Farthingale: Rumors of Scandal and Shame
Emma Lehman, Independent Scholar

Friday 3:30 p.m.Session 301 (Fetzer 1010)
Dress and Textiles II: Implications and Interpretations
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and
Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)
Organizer: Robin Netherton, DISTAFF
Presider: Robin Netherton
Lanval’s Lady: An Uncovering
Monica L. Wright, Univ. of Louisiana–Lafayette
Cosmographic Coverings: Textile Language in Alan of Lille’s Plaint of Nature
Jonathan Abresch, Univ. of Toronto
Late Medieval (Chiefly Middle English) Attitudes towards Dagged Clothing
John Block Friedman, Independent Scholar
To Be or Not to Be Medieval: Costuming Maid Marian for Film and Television
Sherron Lux, Library, San Jacinto College–North Campus

Friday 5:45 p.m. Fetzer 1055 Medieval
Dress/Textile Arts Display and Demonstration
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and
Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)
Organizer: Robin Netherton, DISTAFF
Presider: Robin Netherton
A display of reproduction textile and dress
items, handmade using medieval methods and materials. Items
will include textiles, decorative treatments,
garments, and dress accessories. Exhibitors will
demonstrate techniques and be available to
discuss the use of historical evidence in
reproducing artifacts of material culture.

Sunday 8:30 a.m.Session 523 (Fetzer 1005)
Recycling Clothing in Late Medieval Paris
Kathryn J. Kelsey Staples, West Virginia Univ.

Sunday 8:30 a.m.Session 543 (Bernhard 210)
Dress and Textiles III: Techniques
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and
Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)
Organizer: Robin Netherton, DISTAFF
Presider: Robin Netherton
Loopy Clues: Unraveling Errors, Omissions, and Assumptions in Loop Braiding
Cindy Myers, Independent Scholar
Early Knitting Techniques and Tools: Clues from Extant Middle Eastern Socks
Jackie Oppelt, Independent Scholar
Cornettes: Variation and Change in a Fourteenth-Century Hairstyle
Barbara Segal, Independent Scholar

Sunday 10:30 a.m. Session 576 (Bernhard 210)
Dress and Textiles IV: Armour, Dress, Textile
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and
Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion) and
the Brill Encyclopaedia of Medieval Dress and
Textiles of the British Isles, c. 450-1450
Organizer: Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Univ. of Manchester
Presider: Julian Deahl, Brill Publishing Company
What’s In a Name? Identifying Textiles
Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Textiles and Thomas Becket
Elizabeth Coatsworth, Manchester Metropolitan Univ.
What’s the Pourpoint?
Karen Watts, Royal Armouries
Padded Protection: The Rothwell Jack
Maria Hayward, Univ. of Southampton

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Oi vey.

This blog post is late. Not just because somehow I fell asleep again and woke up much later than I had intended to, but also because I had not the shade of an idea about what to blog today. This lead to me totally having to do this and that little chore before sitting down to blog - and then I found the mail where somebody told me that one of my followers was a porn spammer. And can you believe it took me a good while to figure out how to block that guy? (Turns out that you have to click on "Followers" from the dashboard listing of your blog, and not from the blog itself. Gah.)

So now I'm back to 98 followers, a bit smarter on how to block somebody from the list (though I hope it won't be necessary often) and still out of an idea for something nice to blog about. So instead you get a gratuious photo from out of my private life:

Yes, that's from the wedding.

Oh, and almost one hundred followers - anybody up for a bet on when it will reach three figures?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

"Medieval Garments Reconstructed" is out!

Finally the long-awaited book by Else Oestergaard is out: "Medieval Garments Reconstructed" (link goes to The official release date is February 2, so you can still pre-order for a few more days, but I have heard along the grapevine that some folks who pre-ordered it when that became possible have already received their copy (mine hasn't arrived yet, though).

Cathy Raymond has already posted a short first-leaf-through review on her blog. I'm very, very curious to see how the team around Else Oestergaard made the garments, and looking forward to good renditions of the original patterns (which I do hope to find in the book). I am a good bit sad, though, to read Cathy's citation of how the garments were sewn (with modern sewing machines) and especially finished - with cotton bias binding.

If you know the original publication, Woven into the Earth, you will know that the original garments are finished with exquisite care and some techniques that have been forgotten in the meantime. Those edges show wonderful detail and beautiful finishings, and of course I had to try these techniques. Since then, I have become an utter fan of stab stitch edges (you just can't beat the neat, crisp line that stab stitches give an edge) and singling finishing (invisible finishing of a cut edge in thick cloth, with no bulky folded-in bit? That's unsurpassed, really). I have become such a fan that I regularly do my very best in courses and workshops to get more people addicted to these unknown and wonderful finishing techniques - in fact, I will still keep them in the programme when it is already clear that there is not enough time for the full nine yards of programme. So knowing that a quick, modern approach with a very modern material has substituted these wonderful edgings is a real letdown for me. I can understand, however, why the team opted to do this - if you've ever tried (or had to try, because I made you) stab stitches or singling, you will know how immensely time-consuming these two methods are. Add to that the expense of time necessary for the finishing touches often applied on the original garments from Herjolfsnaes - tablet-woven edging, footweaving edges or braided bands attached to the garment edge - and you are facing a real hardcore time-sink. In my opinion, those techniques are totally worth the time invested - but they are no quick finishes, and if you are working on a deadline, they might be totally out.

So... now I hope that my copy will arrive soon so that I can get a look at it myself instead of reading other people's first impressions - and I'll post a little more about the book once I have read it.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Friday, 21 January 2011

I have new socks!

A few days ago, I have finally finished binding off and weaving in the ends of my new socks.

After knitting a pair of Skew socks one sock after the other (which brought a problem in size, since one was done with very different tension than the other) and modifying the pattern so it would fit my higher instep, I had decided to do another pair, and that time simultaneously. Only... with some more tweaking of the pattern since the original heel is not roomy enough for my foot.

So after some knitting, some re-thinking, some maths, some more maths and lo and behold! not a single rip-back, my new socks are now finished. The heel has become roomy and maybe a tad too baggy even (there's a little bit standing out where the heel graft starts), but they fit perfectly otherwise and are oh so comfy.

I think there might be more socks like that in my future - or at least socks with skewed toes, or with otherwise anatomically more correctly shaped toes than standard socks, since I find the fit thoroughly delightful!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Good reasons. (I think.)

When people ask me whether I would have liked to live in the Middle Ages, I usually answer the same: I have four very good reasons to not want to live back then - coffee, tea, chocolate and contact lenses. Those four are quite known not to exist in premodern times, so they (as reasons) are obvious to visitors, and most of the Living History folks get a laugh out of those Fabulous Four.

Have you ever been to a historical fair, market or something where there was no tea or coffee to be had? In my experience, that doesn't exist - or will only when hell freezes over. For every hardcore (and non-caffeine-addicted-in-modern-life) person that will forego tea and coffee while doing LH, you will probably find a hundred that do very much enjoy that cuppa in the morning and maybe also the afternoon, and a few of those might not function at all without their hot beverage starter.

Usually, that's it - I make my joke about The Four Reasons, people laugh or smile, and we move on. But sometimes, there is more behind the question. Sometimes people are trying to figure out whether the Middle Ages (or another given time in history) would have been a better place to live, or maybe a worse one, than our time here and now. And then, this question of "would you like to live back then" gets another answer.

If there actually were a time machine that could go backwards and you would stuff me into it and throw me back into the Middle Ages, it would be very interesting for me - but also very different from what I'm used to, and very difficult as well. I do not drink alcohol, and (low-alcohol) beer was a standard drink if not the standard drink back then. Though I do like my coffee and chocolate, I can do without - but I'm severely short-sighted, and once my lenses are worn out, I would be stuck with an eyesight that might enable me to do fine embroidery or paint miniatures or do something similarly tiny and detailed, but would be a noticeable handicap in day-to-day business. I don't have very resistant tooth material, and I might end up with cariouse or missing teeth quite fast. I would at least have some basic understanding of how to build and control a hearth fire, how to work with textiles, and how to get along on a medieval technology level, but I'd have to learn the language before communicating properly with people, and I'm pretty sure that my way of thinking is thoroughly modern.

It would probably be comparable to somebody from our modern world thrown into a so-called "primitive society" in the rainforest or a djungle somewhere, with a totally different cultural structure, other conventions, another language and a widely different way of thinking and technological level. In short, if you'd pop me back with that time machine, I'd be happy if you would also fetch me back after a few days or weeks.

But that's my modern person we are talking about, rooted firmly in the twentieth century. Like I just did, I can speculate on how I, personally, would feel if thrown back in time.
But the people born into their time naturally did not have these problems because they never knew our modern life and society - which means that life felt for medieval folks just like ours feels to us, normal with maybe an occasional dash of the not-so-normal. If there is no coffee in the world, nobody can miss it. If there is no other way to heat up a pot than to make a fire, that's just the way. And if short-sighted people just have to cope, they will. Daily life is the unspectacular thing, in any time, in any society; it has its ups and downs, but it's business as usual overall. And because we are so far away from living in the Middle Ages, we might look back on an aspect of life then and shudder because we, from our experience and expectations of living here and now, think it unbearable - but so will people frown and shudder in the future when they look back on our life. And if we want to know how daily life felt in any part in history, it's probably just like our daily life feels - with different structures, technologies and conventions, but that is just on the outside.

On the inside, it's all normal. Daily life. Comfort and boredom, linking us to everybody else that ever lived... isn't that a nice thought?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The knowledge... it dies off.

When we modern folks are confronted with some archaeological find of yet unknown use, sometimes speculations ensue that seem totally plausible and yet can be quite wild. That's no wonder... knowledge dies out once something is not in use anymore, and that, in the worst case, leaves us guessing wildly on what this or that might have been used for. Or saying "unknown use". A bit like the children in this video...

I had a lot of fun watching it - and it is amazing, and also sobering, to see how easy it is for totally known and common things to drop out of the experience pool of the next generation. It's no wonder that we archaeologists sometimes stand in front of some find and really, really don't have any clue whatsoever at what that might be!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Sex sells!

I'm blogging late because I got caught up reading an article that I found (again) via - about medieval sexuality and "erotic" images in medieval art.

The article touches on one of the core questions for any interpretation of historical circumstances: How much does our modern view of things influence our interpretation or appreciation? Sexuality and eroticism are one of the topics very much touched by our modern perceptions, and things have gotten looked at from different angles since the rise of feminist and queer perspectives - a good thing in my eyes, since it helps us re-evaluate our interpretation and our own premade (mis-?)conceptions when approaching medieval art.

Oh, and you can find the abstract and link to the pdf article here, at

Monday, 17 January 2011


Today is a nice day, since I am going to take today (at least half) off - I spent Thursday and half of Friday in a very constructive get-together about experimental archaeology, then hopped into the car for some ugly travelling to Vechta (there was rain and jam, which is not delightful in contrary to toast and jam), had a workshop there on Saturday and thus spent most of Sunday on the Autobahn, driving home again - so I'm probably due an easy day to relax.

The workshop was very nice and fun, and we managed to get through the very large programme that the participants had wished for - lots of theory and then practice stuff to top it off. I got to spend the night in the museum which has prison cells as part of the exhibition, so now I have also spent a night in an actual cell (thankfully nobody pushed home the bolts on the outside of the door while I was sleeping). And the most curious thing about the workshop for me? Of the six participants, five were... men! Hooray for men in the textile field!

Friday, 14 January 2011

How do you like your sewing thread?

It's the time of year to work on the wares for next season, and I've been thinking about my linen sewing thread. Currently, I'm offering the thread in 20 metre packages, but seriously sewing with this thread means that 20 metres won't last for long - and that means needing to buy several rolls at once.

So I am wondering: What package units (length in metres) would you prefer when buying linen sewing thread? 20 metres? 50? Maybe even a hundred on one roll? Or should I offer different unit sizes? Please let me know what you would prefer!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Spectacular Undies!

From time to time, the rather small amount of surviving medieval garments grows a bit bigger by favourable circumstances and a lucky find. And such a thing has happened fairly recently, at Schloß Lengberg (sorry, links will be all in German!) in Austria. When renovation works started in the building in 2008, archaeologists were making a spectacular find in the fillings of one of the spandrels of the vaulted ceiling: Lots and lots of small finds dating from the 12th to the 18th century - playing cards, coins, shoes, wooden, iron and copper implements, glass, paperwork and - be sure you are seated - garments. And these include underwear!

You can read a bit about the textile part of the find here, and if you do not read German, I still recommend to take a look at this .pdf, an excerpt of the magazine "Harpfe" - there are pics of some of the small finds, including a flute, and there's a picture of one of the underpants found in the spandrel.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

It's Linky Time again!

It's been a while (I think) since the last links-to-other-pages blog, so it is time for me to do it again, and I hope that you can find something interesting in this list...

Through my blog reading of other blogs, I stumbled across this one: My Textile Notes. It's the blog of an Indian textile engineer, giving a totally fascinating mix of modern industry-related and traditional crafts-oriented information to the reader. I will definitely keep this blog on my list!

Another interesting textile blog is The Textile Blog, a blog with an emphasis on textile design. It's not only medieval (though you can do a tag search for medieval stuff), but I find it nice to have a look at 19th and 20th century design now and then as well.

Just in case you are knitting colourwork and have problems with it and are not yet reading the Yarn Harlot's blog, hop over there for instructions for "Slightly Less Crappy Knitting". I really like this lady's style of putting things, and I especially appreciate her approach to knitting: Do whatever you (feel) like, there is no Knitting Police.

And if you ever wondered about depictions of the Seven Arts in medieval artwork, especially Grammar, you might want to take a look at this article from Marginalia.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Illness in the Icelandic Saga?

Via an link at, I stumbled across this really interesting article in the Scientific American. It's a look at the Icelandic saga of Egil, a man of heroic stature and singular ugliness. There are quite a lot of descriptions of this man, including poems he supposedly wrote himself with complaints about body conditions, that according to this article all hint on him having an illness called Paget's Disease, a disease causing abnormal growth of bone.

I found this article fascinating due to two reasons. Firstly, it (again) shows that it is a good thing to look at a given historical source from all different kinds of angles and perspectives, not only literary or historical. And secondly, it shows in a very impressive way that the oral tradition that served to hand down the saga material from its start to it being written down at least a century later must have been very accurate in passing from one "carrier" to the next one, preserving all the details and hints that led to this diagnosis in 1995. I totally recommend reading this article!

Monday, 10 January 2011


Even if I don't enjoy working up the backlog of mails that accumulated during the holidays and needs to be taken care of, I'm quite happy to be sitting at the computer today or doing other, not-too-exhausting stuff - we spent the weekend helping a friend paint his old apartment, including the ceilings, and that did mean some exertion on our part. Most of the rooms were not white when we started but in some (nice and textured) colour, which meant that we had to give them two coats of paint to make sure nothing shone through, and that gave us plenty to do for the two days.

It was kind of fun as well, though - especially the part when we all three together tackled the living room ceiling to get an even coat of pain on it and got all sprinkled with tiny white dots of paint. After this weekend, I'm also happy that we were able to give back our old apartment unrenovated when we moved out, since that would have also been quite a thing to paint.

So... nice, un-stressful, not-much-movement work for me today!

Friday, 7 January 2011

I'm back!

First of all, a "G'sunds Neus" to you! (Literally, that's "Healthy New", the wish for a good and healthy new year.)

I'm back from our traditional New Year getaway with friends, and it was as gloriously relaxing and immensely fun as I had hoped for and expected - lots of good food, staying up late and having very late breakfasts, and all time was garnished with friendly banter and bad puns. And my current pair of socks is almost finished, despite extensive changing of the pattern.

So now it's back to work in a brand-new year, and I'm looking forward to see what it will bring!